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NP: June 12, 1864 New York Herald: Butler: Attempt to Destroy Rebel Supplies at Petersburg


Attempt to Destroy Rebel Supplies at Petersburg.


A Large Force, Under Gillmore and Kautz, Cross the Appomattox.

Kautz Enters Petersburg and Captures Forty Prisoners.

Gillmore Fails to Support Kautz, who Withdraws.

Our Batteries and Gunboats Shell the Rebel Works

Mr. Charles H. Hannam’s[?] Despatches.



Everything remains unchanged, and the picket firing on both sides has ceased, apparently by mutual consent.


General Butler was again at the front to-day inspecting the line of defences.  During the last two days considerable additions have been made to the number and strength of the breastworks, forts, rifle pits and other defensive works on our front.




Last evening [June 8, 1864] there was an unusual stir around head-quarters.  Staff officers and orderlies arrived and de-parted in quick succession.  An undefinable feeling of expectation was experienced by everybody.  In General [Benjamin F.] Butler’s tent a council of war was held.  Generals [Quincy] Gillmore and [August V.] Kautz has arrived shortly after sunset and remained in consultation with the Commanding General for several hours.  During the still hours of the night [of June 8-9, 1864] troops were moved down and across to the easterly side of the Appomattox river.  A pontoon bridge, seven hundred feet in length, had been thrown over the river, about a quarter of a mile below Point of Rocks.  On the bridge had been placed a thick covering of hay, to lessen the sound made by the troops as they marched across.  They numbered about four thousand, and were composed of infantry, cavalry and artillery.  Generals Gillmore and Kautz were in command.


Between midnight and two o’clock this morning [June 9, 1864] the troops crossed noiselessly and safely.  They rested for about an hour, and then took up their line of march for Petersburg.  General Gillmore, with the infantry, one regiment of cavalry and some of General [Edward W.] Hinck’s colored troops, was to enter the city by one of the country roads.  General Kautz, with his cavalry, was to enter by the turnpike at the south side of the city and destroy the iron bridge at that place.  If they found it possible to hold the city they were to do so.  But the principal object was to destroy the immense quantities of government stores at that point.


General Butler had laid his plans for the capture of Petersburg with great skill.  It appeared at most impossible that the expedition should prove a failure.  The rebels were known to have a very respectable force on our front, and to prevent them annoying the rear of the column commanded by Generals Gillmore and Kautz he had determined to engage their batteries during the whole day.  With that object in view he proceeded to the front shortly after six o’clock this morning, and remained at the signal station in the vicinity of Fort Wisconsin during the whole day.


had received orders to pay their respects to Fort Clifton.  This is the strongest of the rebel works on our front.  The firing from the Commodore Perry and other gunboats stationed in the Appomattox river was beautifully accurate.  The report of a heavy gun was heard and in a few seconds it was followed by a lesser report.  The shell had burst right inside the rebel works, as the white puff of smoke indicated.  Firing was continued during the whole day from our batteries, and also from the gunboats.  The guns in the rebel Fort Clifton replied very feebly, and are either of very small caliber or the ammunition they use is of an inferior quality, for not one in a dozen of their shells came at all near our works.


A short distance to the rear of Fort Wisconsin a signal station is in course of erection.  It is an immense combination of poles, boards, ropes, and pulleys.  From the top a splendid view of the adjacent country can be obtained.  During the whole day it has been occupied by a number of officers and others interested in the success of the expedition.  Glasses were leveled in the direction of Petersburg, and all waited with breathless interest for some sign that Gillmore and Kautz had reached and entered the city.  The shells thrown from our batteries and gunboats were from the lookout station seen to burst directly in and over the rebel works.  After the lapse of a few hours the rebel guns replied, but feebly, and it was very evident that our fire was too severe for them.


to facilitate and insure the success of which all the above mentioned precautions had been taken by General Butler, took up its line of march for Petersburg about three o’clock this morning [June 9, 1864].  The roads were dry and in capital marching condition.  Skirmishers were sent ahead, and also placed on either flank.  After marching unmolested for about two miles General Kautz, with his veteran raiders, turned sharply off to the left, and General Gillmore, with a regiment of cavalry, the infantry, colored troops and several pieces of artillery, went to the right.  They were to reunite their forces in the city of Petersburg.  But “man proposes and God disposes.”


of General Gillmore’s troops was through a pleasant country.  Vegetation of all kinds grew with the greatest luxuriance.  The fruit was fast ripening on the trees.  On either side of the road were fields of wheat, clover and grass, almost ready for the sickle of the reaper as the mower’s scythe.  Occasionally a house was seen, from the windows and doors of which faces, both white and black, gazed with wonderment and alarm on the passing troops.  Large numbers of quail were started up, and occasionally a frightened rabbit scampered across the road.


In a short time a few shots were fired at General Gillmore and his staff, while riding at the head of the column.  None of the shots, however, took effect.  The General’s escort pushed ahead, and again a volley was fired.  This time one soldier was wounded, and several horses were maimed.  Until the column arrived within about two miles of Petersburg the skirmishing continued, but no large force of rebels was encountered.


On arriving within sight of Petersburg General Gillmore, accompanied by Brigadier General [Robert S.] Foster, reconnoitered the enemy’s works, and found that [General Pierre G. T.] Beauregard, for the defence of the city, had thrown up a most elaborate and perfect series of works.  A few mounted men were ordered forward, when the fact was ascertained that the works were fully manned and the Rebels on the alert to receive our troops.


During General Gillmore’s march up from the river a woman had come forward with the intelligence that Beauregard had received information of our intended movement as early as one o’clock P.M. on Wednesday [June 8, 1864], just twelve hours before our troops began to march.  She further added, that, being in Petersburg on Wednesday for the purpose of making some purchases, the people there advised her not to return home for at least forty-eight hours, as the Yankees were coming up on Thursday [June 9, 1864].


After giving the subject due consideration, and consulting with his staff officers, General Gillmore decided to return to the Appomattox.  No word had been received from General Kautz and no firing had been heard, except from the gunboats and the batteries on our front.  We proceeded at a very leisurely place [sic] on our way back to the Appomattox, and arrived there safely about 5 o’clock this evening [June 9, 1864].  General Gillmore’s loss, all told, is about twenty-five wounded.  I did not learn that any deaths had taken place.


General Kautz, with his tried and veteran raiders, about eighteen hundred in number, rode considerably to the south, and finally struck the turnpike leading to Petersburg.  They then rode briskly forward, and appear to have taken the enemy considerably by surprise, for they managed to enter the rebel works, and actually penetrated for a short distance within the city.  Finding, however, that General Gillmore and his troops had failed in the co-operating movement, and that he was in danger of being surrounded and cut off, a retreat was ordered.  They, however, managed to bring off with them a large number of prisoners and several pieces of light artillery.  The destruction of the bridge was not effected, in consequence of the rapidity with which the rebels were gathering in his rear and on his flanks.1

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  1. “Butler.” The New York Herald (New York, NY), June 12, 1864, p. 5, col. 4
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