January 11, 1865: A Foraging Expedition Meets Confederate Guerrillas
On January 11, 1865, 150 years ago today, two companies (H and K) of the green 189th New York from the Second Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, were sent south down the Jerusalem Plank Road on a foraging expedition. While out, and a mile away from the plank road, the 240 man force was ambushed by Confederate guerrillas, who wounded expedition leader Captain Burrage Rice.
Rice, who was mortally wounded, ordered his men to guard the trains and leave him where he lay. But he had the presence of mind to send a man for help. General Gregory, commander of the Second Brigade, led the remaining eight companies of the 189th to the rescue of their comrades. This force found the body of Captain Rice with one wound in his body and two bullet holes in his head. By all appearances, he had been executed while still alive by the guerrillas1:
“When within half a mile of the place of the attack all were halted, and Company A, with a detachment of Company H, under Lieutenant Rutherford, sent forward. It was now dark. They had proceeded about half a mile when Sergeant Vose, of Captain Stocum’s Company, called out he had found a body. Captain S. identified it as Captain Rice’s, but received command to proceed cautiously half a mile further and wait for orders. No enemy was found in front, but while halted he heard firing in the rear. This was the rebels attacking a company searching in vain for the body. Captain S. thereupon received orders to report to his regiment on double-quick. Which being done, General Gregory, having posted two companies as flankers on both sides of the road, ordered Captain S. to “go in and bring out the body.” Advancing his line of skirmishers a few roads beyond the body, he halted them and directed Sergeant A. Van Wie, George Blakesly, Warren Halbert, and Stephen Sayles to be the bearers. While doing this they were fired on, but promptly returning the fire, and charging through the woods, quickly routed the ambushed murderers, and brought in the body. It had been stripped naked and shot once through the waist and twice through the head.”
Acting Fifth Corps commander Samuel Crawford, in charge while Gouverneur Warren was away on a leave of absence, demanded to know what had happened from First Division commander Charles Griffin2:
“I understand that a party from General Gregory’s brigade, who passed out of our lines this morning for the purpose of procuring truck, &c., was attacked beyond Warwick Swamp and an officer killed, as well as several men wounded. General Gregory, as I understand, passed out subsequently with a party to recover the body. Please call upon General Griffin for a report in regard to this affair.”
Griffin claimed ignorance at first, though he did eventually get a report from Brigadier General Gregory, the Second Brigade commander3:
“The foraging party that left these headquarters this morning was attacked by a band of guerrillas, and in the skirmish Capt. Burrage Rice was killed and one private wounded. The body of Captain Rice was recovered and brought to these headquarters. The train was brought through in safety loaded with forage.”
Despite the death of Captain Rice, the foraging expedition had been a success when judged by the object of its mission when it set out on January 11, 1865. The Federals continued to get stronger while the Confederates saw desertions steadily increase as supplies ran low and events deteriorated in the rest of the Confederacy. The end was in sight. It was just a matter of when at this point.
- EXCERPT: Skirmish Near Warwick Swamp, January 11, 1865 (History of the 189th NY)
- Rogers, William H. History of the One hundred and eighty-ninth regiment of New-York volunteers(New York: John A. Gray & Green, Printers. 1865.), pp. 85-89
- OR XLVI, P2, pp. 96–97: Samuel W. Crawford to Seth Williams et al. January 11, 1865.
- Rogers, William H. History of the One hundred and eighty-ninth regiment of New-York volunteers (New York: John A. Gray & Green, Printers. 1865.), p. 87 ↩
- OR XLVI, P2, pp. 96: Samuel W. Crawford to Colonel Locke. January 11, 1865—6:30 p.m.. ↩
- OR XLVI, P2, p. 97: E. M. Gregory to Captain William Fowler, AAAG First Division, Fifth Corps. January 11, 1865. ↩