GENERAL BUTLER’S DEPARTMENT.
The Attack upon Petersburg—The Second Cavalry Brigade—Brilliant Charges—The Enemy Driven into his Works—Cowardly Conduct of General Wise.
Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: The following article is a detailed description from the Union perspective of the First Battle of Petersburg, June 9, 1864.]
IN THE FIELD, June 11th, 1864.
The Second Cavalry Brigade, General KAUTZ’S Division, Colonel S[amuel]. P. SPEAR commanding, crossed the Appomatox [sic] River on pontoon bridges, during the night of the 8th instant [June 8, 1864]. The whole division (excepting a part of the First Brigade, Colonel [Simon H.] MIX) was across by 4.30 on the morning of the 9th, and at once took up the line of march in the direction of Petersburg.
A Gallant Charge.
About six o’clock our advance met and charged the enemy’s pickets, capturing four of them, two of whom were mortally wounded, and have since died. Captain [Gerard] REYNOLDS, with one squadron of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, was ordered to charge about one hundred of their cavalry, with drawn sabres, which he did in gallant style. The Rebels could not see the necessity of remaining in front of the Captain’s brave boys to become martyrs to cold steel, consequently they changed base to the rear in double quick, and made the woods their next base of operations. After having driven the Rebs into the woods, the head of the column was turned to the left, and proceeded on the road leading to the Petersburg Plank road.
When within three miles of the plank road the advance was again fired upon by the enemy; the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry was at once dismounted and skirmished the woods to the front, while the Fifth Pennsylvania [Cavalry] skirmished to the right and left. They had not gone more than fifty yards when the enemy opened on the Fifth skirmishers, with two howitzers, from a redoubt; the Fifth immediately charged their works, driving a regiment of cavalry, under Colonel DENIN, of Virginia, and the cannon, from their camp and works, leaving in their precipitate flight all their horse equipments, and a large lot of new clothing and arms. We had no means of removing our captured property, and they were consequently committed to the flames, and so perished Colonel DENIN’S camp, with all surplus baggage he may have had on hand, under the very noses of his boasted chivalry.1
Cowardice of General Wise.
General [Henry A.] WISE was in command of a line of forts in the rear of those we had just captured, and the retreating Rebs took refuge in them. WISE being in command accounts for their not coming out of their works to fight us, for he always prefers having his miserable carcass behind forts or in a bed, as he did at Roanoke, to having it where there is the slightest chance to be the recipient of a shot. He may be perfectly right, for I have no doubt but it is rather more healthy behind forts than in the open field.
Charge Along the Whole Line.
After having succeeded in driving them into their works, we marched on in the direction of the plank road, crossed the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad at ten o’clock, and reached the plank road at eleven; marched up the road to within one mile of Petersburg, when the advance came upon the enemy’s works. A squadron of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry was at once ordered to charge the works with drawn sabres, which was done in good order. They charged to within twenty yards of the works, when the enemy opened upon them a most deadly and destructive fire of musketry, compelling the squadron to fall back on the main column, the enemy at the same time firing into the column as it stood massed in the road.
The First District of Columbia Cavalry (a detachment of the First Cavalry Brigade, accompanying the division), with Captains LOOMIS’ and BAILEY’S squadrons of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, were gotten into position to charge and take the right of the works. A section of the Eighth New York Independent Battery, Lieutenant PETER MERTON [sic, Morton] commanding, with the remainder of the Eleventh Regiment, were put in position in the centre, while the Fifth Pennsylvania took position on the left, and in front of a very large redoubt. The charge was ordered simultaneously on the right, left and centre. Lieutenant MERTON keeping the enemy’s guns engaged while the cavalry charged the works. The Fifth [Pennsylvania Cavalry] moved down on the left, gallantly led by Major C[hristopher]. KLEING [sic, Kleinz], commanding the regiment, as steadily as though they were on dress parade, to within about one hundred yards of the redoubt, when they struck up that demoniac yell of their’s which the Rebels have every reason to so well remember, and went at full speed on to the works. The enemy held their position nobly and would not give way until our men had climbed up the embankments, and fired down into them; such work they evidently did not expect from cavalry; and when they found our men had actually gotten in their works they skedadled in splendid confusion, leaving everything behind them; while the Fifth was thus engaged the First District of Columbia and Eleventh Pennsylvania were doing their work well on the right and centre, they, at the same time the Fifth charged, charged and carried the works in front of them.
The enemy left one twelve-pounder brass gun caisson (chests full of ammunition) [of Sturdivant’s Albemarle Virginia Artillery]2, horses, harness and everything connected with a battery of artillery, in the hands of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry; they also left all their dead and wounded, numbering about one hundred and fifty, prisoners in our hands. We destroyed their tents and all camp and garrison equipage, with the exception of a few tents left for shelter for some wounded Rebels.
The Advance Toward the City.
After having accomplished our work effectually at the works just alluded to, the column was pushed on towards the city, (it then being in full sight), Col. SPEAR, or old “Spuds,” as he is familiarly called in the brigade, and his staff riding in advance of the column some distance, we arrived within less than one hundred yards of the city, when the enemy’s sharpshooters opened upon the Colonel and Staff, and at the same time firing upon the main column from a battery on the right flank. “Spuds,” however, with his usual daring, charged directly on at full speed, until he found it utterly impossible to get into town with the force he had up with him without a fearful sacrifice of life, consequently he wheeled the advance to the left about by fours, and marched back about fifty yards under cover of an embankment, and then waited orders from the General commanding division. The orders, when received, were to retire slowly, as it was very evident the enemy had been heavily reinforced from [P. G. T.] BEAUREGARD’S forces out of town. The trains could be distinctly heard coming into the city, and they were undoubtedly loaded with troops. The enemy followed up the rear of the column as we were marching away, with infantry, cavalry and artillery, for over ten miles, keeping up a constant fire upon us. Colonel SPEAR and staff, with Captain BAILEY, of the Eleventh, remained in the rear until all danger was passed, when they went to the front, and brought the column into camp about twelve o’clock the same night, without further molestation.
The cavalry of this department have been doing splendid service since the opening of the campaign, and are constantly on the move.
Our loss was very slight, not exceeding fifty, killed, wounded and missing. Among the latter, I regret to state, is Captain GEO[RGE]. D HART, of Company F, of the Fifth, a brave and efficient officer.
Great credit is due to General A. V. KAUTZ, Colonel S. P. SPEAR and their subordinate officers, for their gallant attack upon the strongly fortified city of Petersburg.3
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I am unsure which Virginia Cavalry might be mentioned here. I do know that a battalion of the 24th Virginia Cavalry under Major Barham was still serving with Dearing’s Cavalry Brigade, and that at least some of Dearing’s Cavalry Brigade was in the vicinity of Petersburg on June 9, 1864. That said, I am not at all confident this newspaper account is referring to this detachment. If you have more information, please Contact Us. ↩
- Robertson, William Glenn. The Petersburg Campaign: the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys, June 9, 1864. H.E. Howard, 1989, pp.62-68. ↩
- “General Butler’s Department.” Philadelphia Inquirer. June 14, 1864, p. 1 col. 4-5 ↩