THE MOVEMENT ON PETERSBURG, (VA.)
The movement on Petersburg (Va.) last week was made with about five thousand men, under the command of Gen. [Quincy A.] Gillmore and Gen. [August V.] Kautz. The latter had fourteen hundred cavalry, and the former one brigade of his own corps [2/1/X/AotJ] and one brigade of colored troops, under the immediate command of Gen. [Edward W.] Hincks [sic, Hinks].1 The particulars of the expedition are given in the annexed letter:
HEADQUARTERS IN THE FIELD, JUNE 9, 1864.
Last evening [June 8, 1864] there was an unusual stir around headquarters. Staff officers and orderlies arrived and departed in quick succession. An indefinable feeling of expectation was experienced by everybody. In Gen. Butler’s tent a council of war was held. Gens. Gillmore and Kautz had arrived shortly after sunset, and remained in consultation with the Commanding General for several hours. During the still hours of the night 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, and about a quarter of a mile below Point of Rocks. On the bridge had been placed a thick covering of hay, to deaden the sound made by the troops as they marched across. They numbered about four thousand, and were composed of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Gens. Gillmore and Kautz were in command.
Between midnight and two o’clock this morning the troops crossed noiselessly and safely. They rested for about an hour, and then took up their line of march for Petersburg. Gen. Gillmore, with the infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and some of Gen. Hinck’s colored troops, was to enter the city by one of the country roads. Gen. Kautz, with his cavalry, was to enter by the turnpike 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.
Gen. Butler had laid his plans for the capture of Petersburg with great skill. It appeared almost 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 Gens. 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.
Our gunboats 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 calibre 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.
The expedition, 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. 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 Gen. 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.
The line of march of Gen. Gillmore’s troops was through a pleasant country. In a short time a few shots were fired at Gen. 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 Gen. Gillmore, accompanied by Brig. Gen. [Robert S.] Foster, reconnoitered the enemy’s works, and found that 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 Gen. 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. After giving the subject due consideration, and consulting with his staff officers, Gen. Gillmore decided to return to the Appomattox. No word had been received from Gen. Kautz and no firing had been heard, except from the gunboats and the batteries on our front. We proceeded at a very leisurely pace on our way back to the Appomattox, and arrived there safely about five o’clock this evening. Gen. Gillmore’s loss, all told, is about twenty-five wounded. I did not learn that any deaths had taken place.
Gen. 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.2
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Ken Perdue.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The USCT Brigade was a provisional brigade composed of the 1st USCT and 6th USCT. This was not a permanent organization. Hawley’s Brigade of the Tenth Corps, Army of the James, was the other portion of this infantry force. ↩
- “The Movement on Petersburg, (Va.).” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), June 14, 1864., p. 3, col. 4. ↩