Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
THE WAR NEWS.
A Petersburg paper was received in the city early yesterday morning, and its accounts of the defeat of the Kautz raiders and capture of a great number of them, corroborated and exaggerated by the accounts of persons who had just come over from Petersburg, set the community in a blaze of excitement. The Petersburg paper said “a batch of prisoners who were brought in last (Wednesday) night [SOPO: June 29, 1864] at half past 11 o’clock, confirm the rumoured capture of twelve hundred of Wilson’s raiders.” This report was the burden of every tongue until it was knocked flat by another, later and more delightful. A colonel, it was said, had just come over, who had seen fifteen hundred of the captured raiders and fourteen pieces of cannon taken from them. After this from moment to moment additional stories sprang up magnifying the enemy’s disaster to that extent that, had they been near the truth, Kautz’s raiders would have been henceforth classed among the have beens. The last thing we heard was that the whole raiding party had been captured except twenty-seven.—Why the fertile imagination that originated this spared the twenty-seven we cannot conceive, unless it was supposed that arithmetical exactness would seem to imply positive information.
About eleven o’clock the following official despatch from General Lee, relative to the raiders was promulgated and posted on the bulletin boards. Of course the facts stated in it falling so lamentably short of the raving stories that had preceded it, it fell upon the heated imaginations of the people like a wet blanket. But for the forerunning insane tales screwed out of scared prisoners or begot of idle minds, it would have been received joyfully. This is the despatch:
“HEADQUARTERS ARMY NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
“June 29th, 1864—8 30, P. M.
“HONOURABLE SECRETARY OF WAR:
“Sir—General Hampton reports that he attacked the enemy’s cavalry, yesterday afternoon, on their return from Staunton river bridge, this side of Sappony church, and drove them beyond that point.
“The fight continued during the night, and at daylight this morning he turned their left and routed them.
“When they reached Reams’ station they were confronted by a portion of Mahone’s division, who attacked them in front, while their left flank was turned by General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry.
“The enemy was completely routed, and several pieces of artillery, with a number of prisoners, wagons, ambulances, etc., captured. The cavalry are in pursuit. R. E. LEE, General.”
Sappony Church is about twenty miles southwest of Petersburg, on the road to Lawrenceville, in Brunswick. From Sappony Church the road leads to Reams’ station, on the Petersburg and Weldon railroad, ten miles south of Petersburg.—According to the above despatch, Hampton, proceeding from Petersburg, met the enemy full in the road at Sappony Church on Tuesday evening, and drove them back towards Lawrenceville. “The fight continued during the night, and at daylight this (Wednesday) morning [SOPO: June 29, 1864] he turned their left and routed them.” Hampton, after fighting all night on the road with his face towards Lawrenceville, moved to the west at daylight, thereby leaving the road open. By this movement he also turned the enemy’s left and routed them, and the road to Reams’ station, ten miles distant, being open, they fled in that direction. To get to Reams’ the enemy had been fighting all night; as a matter of course, as soon as they found the road no longer obstructed, they quit fighting and ran for it.
At Reams’ station they had expected to find Grant. They had left him there. Great indeed must have been their surprise and disappointment when, on reaching this point, for which they had fought and run as for a haven of safety, to find themselves “confronted by a portion of Mahone’s division, who attacked them in front, while their left flank was turned by General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry.” This was a dreadful fix certainly for Yankee cavalry to be in. Confronted by a part of Mahone’s division, struck in the left flank by Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, and with, we presume, Hampton’s cavalry thundering in the rear, unless, indeed, Hampton was so encumbered with the cannon, “prisoners, wagons, ambulances, &c.,” that he had captured as not to be able to follow hotly. What does the enemy do in this critical juncture?—It seems to us, at this distance of time and place, and with only the facts stated in the despatch to guide us, that the best and most natural and obvious thing in the world for them to do was to file to the right—that route, according to the facts before us, not being stopped—and, proceeding five or six miles to the southeast, take the Prince George Court House road northeast into Grant’s lines. But it appears the enemy would not do this thing quietly. They fought, and “were completely routed, &c., &c.,” and then took the road we have just indicated, and, at last accounts, “the cavalry were in pursuit.” They could have gone no other way but this, for, be it recollected, Mahone was in front, or northeast; Fitzhugh Lee on the left, or west, and Hampton on the south. They must have taken this route, or run down the Petersburg and Weldon railroad, which we take it would have been rough travelling for leg-weary cavalry.
If our explanation of this affair and of how the enemy escaped, is not satisfactory to the gentle reader, we respectfully refer him to a study of General Lee’s despatch and the press despatches, and the accounts taken from Petersburg papers, to be found in other columns of this paper.
During the day many persons were inclined to believe that all the hard fighting and heavy captures had been made after the date of General Lee’s despatches, and by much talking and oft repeating of the same affair over with variations, they managed to revive the stories of the morning. About two o’clock the press despatch, previously alluded to, and which will be found under the telegraphic head, was received and made public.
This despatch says, “General Mahone, assisted by cavalry, came up with Wilson’s raiders near Reams’ station, &c., &c., fought and routed them, DRIVING THEM FOUR MILES, &c., &c.,” Which way did he drive them four miles? “Our cavalry were in pursuit of them at last accounts, and a large number of them ought to be captured.” If it is here meant that the raiders deserve to be captured, we perfectly agree with the despatch. In this sense we will say that every Yankee in Virginia and everywhere else ought to be captured. But if it is intended to be conveyed that the chances are that they will be captured, we do not agree with the despatch. The road was open to the enemy by the right flank, and Grant’s army was not far off. But, again, the question recurs if we were driving and pursuing the enemy, WHICH way were they going. This despatch says, “The enemy are retreating in great disorder by the route which they came to Reams’.” When they came to Reams’ which time? If the last time, then they are retreating towards Lawrenceville; but this cannot be, for we have just left Hampton down that road.
If the enemy did not cross the railroad at Reams’, run for the road leading to Prince George Court House and fly up that road, we cannot imagine what did become of him.
The train from Petersburg brought no further intelligence from the battle with the raiders. It was said, by passengers, that four hundred Yankee prisoners, and the same number of captured negroes, had arrived at Petersburg, but our informants had not seen but only heard of them.
A gentleman who came from Stony creek, twenty miles south of Petersburg, after the fight on Wednesday, is positive that he saw two hundred Yankee prisoners in one gang and six hundred in another. We give his statement, warning the reader that the appearance of men in mass is very deceptive, even to experienced eyes.
From General Lee’s despatch, which contains all the positive information that we have on the subject, we very much fear that Kautz and Wilson, are at this moment, safe behind the Yankee lines.1
- “The War News.” Richmond Examiner. July 1, 1864, p. 1 col. 1-2 ↩