Defeat of Wilson’s Raiders.
CAMP, SIXTY-SECOND GEORGIA REGIMENT, CAVALRY,
NEAR PETERSBURG, VIRGINIA,
July 2, 1864.
DEAR TELEGRAPH: I have just returned from an eight days’ trip “up the country,” after the Yankee raiding party under [Brigadier] General [James H.] Wilson, and as I have not written you any account of the movements of the Sixty-second [Georgia Cavalry] in some time, probably a description of the part it took in the pursuit of these “raiders” would not be uninteresting to many of your readers, who have friends in this regiment.1
The brigade to which we were “temporarily” attached ([Brigadier] General [James] Dearing’s) [Dearing/Hampton/Cavalry/ANV]2 in company with General [Rufus] Barringer’s [North Carolina Cavalry Brigade, Barringer/Rooney Lee/Cavalry/ANV] left camp on the morning of June 21 [22?] 3 and went to Reams’ Station (ten and one-half miles from Petersburg on the Railroad) as we were supposed to drive away any raiding party that might attempt to tear up the track or do any other damage to the railroad. On arriving there we found that a large raiding party of Yankees under General Wilson had just crossed, after having done the railroad a little injury, by tearing up the track for a short distance and burning a few cross-ties.
General [William H. F. “Rooney”] Lee, being in command, immediately started us after them, General Barringer’s Brigade in front. After a brisk ride of five or six miles, his advance came up with the rear, and sharp skirmishing ensued. We continued to skirmish with them until near Ford’s Depot, on the South Side Railroad. We captured a good many prisoners from them and wounded several during this day’s march.4 Having rested for four or five hours during the night, we pushed on after them early in the morning [of June 23, 1864], but they had reached Ford’s Depot, on the South Side Road, in time to destroy two long trains of cars with five locomotives attached, to burn all the public buildings at the station, and then decamp, before we could come up with them.
Fired with a spirit of revenge at the sight of these burning ruins, and the tales of woe the frightened ladies eagerly poured into their ears, our men were eager to overtake the “robbers” and put an end to some of them, and if possible all. The Yanks kept along the main road (the enemy knew not of); we came up with their advance near Blacks and White’s, a station near Nottoway Court-House on the South Side Railroad also, and where the country road intersects in a deep cut. Colonel William Booth Taliaferro’s [7th Confederate Cavalry] Regiment being in the advance was soon dismounted, deployed in the woods on our right (a large field being on our left) and advanced against the enemy, who were in the “cut” which ran at right angles to the road, and forming a long curve, we being on the inner side of this curve, the enemy on the outer, both ends extending around the right and left of our line, giving them the advantage, not only of the railroad cut and the deep ditch on the top of the banks on each side, but of an enfilading fire also. Colonel Taliaferro’s Regiment, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel [Thomas D.] Claiborne, having advanced some distance in the direction of the railroad, were soon hotly engaged with the enemy.5
Colonel [Joel R.] Griffin’s [62nd Georgia] Regiment [soon to become the 8th Georgia Cavalry] was now dismounted and was led by Colonel Griffin at a double-quick down the road, and into the woods to the support of Colonel Claiborne. Our men were carried forward under a hot fire and placed in position, on Colonel Claiborne’s right. Captain [Edward] Graham’s Battery [aka the Petersburg Virginia Artillery]—two pieces—was now brought forward and placed in position on the left of the road in the open field, within 400 yards of the enemy, and immediately opened fire upon them with cannister, shot and shell. As each regiment was brought forward and placed in position, the firing along the lines increased. As soon as all was ready, a charge was ordered and under the protecting fire of our battery, which was very effectual, our troops advanced, sending up such a “yell” as only Southerns can, drove the Yankees out of the railroad cut, away from their fence rail breastworks, and held the position for some minutes, but being enfiladed by the enemy’s fire from the left, and about to be flanked on our right, we fell back some twenty-five yards in rear of the railroad. Soon the Yankees were discovered advancing, and our men poured a very destructive fire in their ranks, mowing them down by scores. The firing was now at its height, and the mingled roar of the musketry and heavy lumbering of the artillery, seemed to rend the whole heavens. Soon the enemy regained the railroad cut, which was evacuated by us as being useless, unless we could drive the enemy from our extreme left and prevent their crossing. Though of but little use to us, it was of immense service to the enemy, being a great protection as a breastwork to their men. The fire was slackened and only a few straggled shots were fired. A lull of some fifteen minutes took place; suddenly (as if mutually enraged at the sound of these desultory shots) each party fired volley after volley into the other, and the report of the musketry swelled into a long, loud and prolonged roar, which was wafted from hill to hill for miles away and startled the peaceful citizens of this beautiful country….
Our men, becoming tired of this Yankee style of fighting, determined to drive them out of the railroad cut again. The word being passed along the lines, a loud huzza was given and away they went, driving the enemy before them and out of the cut, but as before, seeing that it was useless to try to hold it, our valiant men again retired. The Yankees made three attempts to charge our line but were easily and bloodily repulsed each time. Seeing the enemy massing their troops on their right, (our left), preparatory to making an assault on our lines, Colonel Griffin detached all his men but two companies and sent them to the threatened point, just as the Yanks made the only “charge” worthy of the name during the day. After a hot fight of ten minutes, they were driven back with heavy loss. Again our men were made ready to charge and this time took and held possession of the railroad, and soon after the enemy retired, but our forces were too weak to pursue, and we were contented with our success. For eight long hours—from 12 o’clock m[eridian aka noon]. till 8 p.m.—had we fought a force of the picked men of the United States Army, six times our own, and finally whipped them. General Lee says it was the hardest cavalry fight of the war. Our loss all told was sixty-four killed, wounded and missing, forty-one of which were from the Sixty-second Georgia, Colonel Griffin’s Regiment.
The enemy’s loss could not have been less than seventy-five killed, nearly 300 wounded and about forty prisoners. We had between 600 and 800 men engaged—the enemy had 5,000.6 Our men behaved splendidly—troops never fought better, while the firing of the artillery could not be excelled. Night closed the scene, and her sable covering was a fit sight for such a scene—it had been a warm day and our men suffered much from heat and thirst, but more from hunger than all else—as General Dearing had sent our wagons back to Petersburg, fearing their capture, and our men were compelled to do without a morsel of food all that day and a large part of the next.
I must [sic, not] close this sketch without paying just tribute to the cool skill and daring bravery of Colonel Griffin. He was ever in the front in a charge, and in the rear in a retreat. He handled his troops as if he knew when, where and how to strike the most telling blow. He held the right of our line with a mere handful of men, while he sent all his force to the left to the assistance of Colonel Taliaferro’s Regiment [7th Confederate Cavalry], which was bravely contending against vastly superior numbers, and his timely reinforcements gained us the day. Captain Brown exhibited great coolness and daring bravery in charging the enemy’s lines. Sergeant [James W.] Calhoun, of Company B, O. S. Sergeant Harran7, and Sergeants [Thomas A.] Hannah and [Robert J.] Arington, of company F, deserve special mention for their gallant conduct under the hottest fire. Many others on other parts of the field did equally as well, but I can mention only a few who came under my own observation. Our brigade, having no wagons or anything to eat, or any means of getting provisions or forage, was left here, when General Barringer’s followed on after the enemy. The next morning [sic, June 26]8, after the raiders were repulsed at the Staunton River Bridge by the militia and were returning, and had passed us, we followed on in their wake. A messenger having been sent to General [Wade] Hampton to inform him of the movements of the raiders, we had nothing to do but follow the enemy and let General Hampton finish them, which he came very near doing, killing, wounding and capturing about 2,000 of their number, taking eighteen pieces of the finest artillery in the United States Army, thirty-five wagons, as many ambulances, and last, but not least, nearly 1,000 horses and 700 Negroes they had stolen.9
Thus terminated this great thieving expedition of Major-General Wilson. The damage done to us will hardly compensate for his losses, as he must have killed not less than 1,000 horses on the roads, 127 having been counted for twenty-seven miles, and that not on the main road the Yankees traveled. It would be great injustice to the people of the counties of Nottoway, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, Brunswick and Mechlenburg [sic, Mecklenburg], through which we passed were I not to give them deserved mention. Though in many instances deprived of nearly everything they once possessed, whenever advised of our approach large buckets of ham and biscuits, buckets of milk, and huge bowls of butter greeted us at every house, and when no time was allowed for this, buckets of ice water were substituted—none the less acceptable. Each and every one seemed to vie with each other in assisting us. No fears of the Yankees, ever afterwards burning their houses, detained the men from acting as our guides, or fighting the enemy with us, or the ladies from feasting us….
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Bryce Suderow. No images were provided with the transcription. If you can locate an image of this article, please CONTACT US.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the June 21-July 1, 1864 Wilson-Kautz Raid. Two Union cavalry divisions under James H. Wilson and August V. Kautz were sent to tear up the railroads south and west of Petersburg. The Confederates sent Rooney Lee’s Division to follow them, while Wade Hampton moved to intercept them with infantry and his own cavalry division. For more, see “Destroy the Junction”: The Wilson-Kautz Raid and the Battle for Staunton River Bridge, June 21, 1864 to July 1, 1864 by Greg Eanes. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Dearing’s Brigade was temporarily attached to Rooney Lee’s Division during the Wilson-Kautz Raid, but officially belonged to Wade Hampton’s Cavalry Division at this time. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The listed start date of June 21 for the Confederates seems off. The Union raiders from Wilson’s and Kautz’s divisions did not move to Reams’ Station until June 22, 1864, and the Confederates skirmished with them from Reams’ Station to Ford’s Station on that same June 22. I do not know if the date was incorrect in the paper itself, because I do not have a copy of the article. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This ongoing skirmishing on June 22, 1864 from the vicinity of Reams’ Station in the morning and then to Ford’s Station is officially known as the Skirmish at Reams’ Station in the Official Records. I thought about creating a new skirmish tag for the running fight between the two stations to differentiate that fighting from the morning skirmish at Reams’ Station, but it seems the Official Records lump this all together or don’t consider the running skirmish enough of a fight to name it. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The fighting described in this paragraph and most of the rest of the article is the June 23, 1864 Skirmish at Black and White’s, the official name given this fight in the Official Records. It was also referred to as the Battle of the Grove or the Battle of Nottoway. See A. Wilson Greene’s book A Campaign of Giants: The Battle for Petersburg, Volume 1 for more details and a map of the action on page 279. I suspect John Horn will be covering this and the other fights of the raid in his upcoming book on Grant’s Second Offensive. The Historical Marker Database has a description and map of this fight as well. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Wilson’s Union troopers numbered about 3,500 at this fight, so the author of this letter doubled their numbers. It is estimated Rooney Lee had around 2,000 men on the field, so it appears as if the author is referring to Dearing’s Brigade and maybe Graham’s Petersburg Artillery to get to his number of “between 600 and 800 men engaged.” He was pretty close on Confederate casualties, but wildly overestimated Union casualties, which modern accounts put at around 75. See the Historical Marker Database page on the fight. To be fair to “GRANT,” the letter writer, overestimating your enemy’s numbers and underestimating your own was a common phenomenon throughout the Civil War and, one assumes, throughout every war humans have ever experienced. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I could not find this man in the CSRs for the 62nd Georgia Cavalry or the 8th Georgia Cavalry. Perhaps he belonged to a different unit or was detached on the brigade staff. The version of this letter printed in Broadfoot’s Volume 7 of their Supplement to the Official Records indicates his name was James R. Harran, but I could find nothing to back this up and so I’ve omitted it in the main text. If you can shed any light on identifying this man, pleases CONTACT US. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The fight at Staunton River Bridge occurred on June 25, 1864. Wilson’s raiders retreated and would have been passing Dearing’s Brigade on June 26, 1864. The timeline seems to be condensed here for some reason, which is unusual given how shortly after the battle this was written. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The writer is referring to the June 28, 1864 Battle of Sappony Church, where Was Hampton’s Division tried to engage the Union raiders, and the June 29, 1864 First Battle of Reams’ Station, where Fitz Lee’s Cavalry Division and Confederate infantry from Mahone’s Division ambushed Wilson and Kautz, who escaped in two different directions, leaving most of their artillery to be captured. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I was unable to find the identity of “GRANT.” If you know who the author of this letter is, please CONTACT US. ↩
- “Defeat of Wilson’s Raiders.” Macon Daily Telegraph & Confederate (Macon, GA). July 14, 1864, p. 2 col.4-5 ↩