Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Ken Perdue.
From the Petersburg Express of the 10th.
ANOTHER EXCITING DAY.
Daring Attempt of Kautz’s Cavalry to Capture Petersburg — They Charge and Take the Breastworks — Their Final Repulse and Defeat.
Yesterday was another day of excitment in our midst, and but little else was done by our citizens than to prepare for the stern realities of the crisis which stared them in the face. It will be recollected that we stated in Wednesday’s issue of the Express, when noticing the skirmishes which occurred on two roads in Prince George county, the evening previous, that they were but the precursors of more formidable demonstrations, which in all probability would soon threaten us. Our opinion proved correct, and the formidable demonstrations were not long delayed.
Yesterday morning at 1 o’clock, three distinct discharges of cannon were heard in the direction of the enemy’s whereabouts, and at early dawn our picket were driven in on the City Point and Prince George Courthouse roads. It was subsequently ascertained that these movements were but feints to deceive our forces, while the real movement for the surprise and capture of the city was on the Jerusalem plank road, coming into Petersburg from a southerly direction. On the two first named roads, the enemy appeared in considerable numbers, as early as seven o’clock, and brisk skirmishing was kept up for some time. At eight o’clock, the Courthouse and engine bells were rung, to which the citizens responded with the usual alacrity, and manifested every disposition defend their homes and firesides.
In the meantime, the enemy’s gunboats ascended the Appomattox river, and opened a furious fire on Fort Clifton, and at various other points along the river, for the obvious purpose of occupying the attention of our troops in Chesterfield.
At nine o’clock, our pickets on the Jerusalem Plank Road, were driven in, and before ten the enemy showed himself in overwhelming numbers, filling the road, and the woods on both sides. Our breast works here extended from the residence of Timothy Rives, Esq., on the left to and across the road, and beyond the house of Mr. Wm. A. Gregory, on the right. The enemy manœuvred for a while, thinking probably that our raw troops would abandon their position without a fight. But never were Yankee invaders more mistaken. Our men were made of sterner stuff, and inspired by the cool determination of their leaders, Gen. Colston and Col. F. H. Archer, maintained their ground like veterans. Finally, the enemy ordered a charge, and came down to our breast works with a yell, their drawn sabres flashing in the sunlight. When within forty paces of the fortifications, the order was given to fire, and the Yankees recoiled, and fell back. A prisoner taken, subsequently, states that in the charge, the notorious Speare led, and that they had forty wounded and two killed. This charge was repeated twice, but with like results, when the enemy resorted to the flanking process, which by reason of his overwhelming numbers, he was enabled to do with much ease.
A short time afterward a regiment came around Rives’ house on our left, another appeared on our right, and a large body came down in front. We had but 170 men all told, and it was impossible to guard center, right and left, along a length of three quarters of a mile or more. The order was given to retreat, and in a few minutes the enemy had possession of our works, our camp, and were in full pursuit of our men. Couriers had been despatched for reinforcements, but they did not come up in time to save our fortifications, and many of Petersburg’s best and most gallant sons, fell to the affray, some killed, and others wounded.
The enemy came in double column, with sabres drawn, until they reached the hill opposite the Water Works, where the planted a cannon for the purpose of shelling the city. They then started down the hill, and their advance column actually took possession of a bridge which crosses Powell’s run at the foot of the Water Works hill.
They were almost in Petersburg — could see its spires and steeples, and many of the houses on our suburban limits — but again that Divine arm which has been so often outstretched in our behalf, was bared, and our city was saved from the tread of the ruthless invader. Just at this opportune moment, Graham’s Battery reached the Reservoir Hill, unlimbered in an instant, and with a precision and rapidity which we have heard spoken of as being almost without precedent, threw into the ranks of the enemy a shower of shell. The missiles of death coming so unexpectedly to the foe, he at first seemed overwhelmed with surprise and halted, neither advancing nor retreating, but a minute or two later, another branch of our service made its appearance, which quickly determined the enemy as to the best course for him to pursue. Dearing’s Cavalry Brigade quickly dismounted, and descending the hill with a yell, charged upon the enemy in beautiful style. This was more than they expected (since they had encountered a few militia in the breastworks, and had advanced nearly a mile, without seeing any reglars) and they instantly wheeled their horses, and started back up the hill in great confusion. Graham’s Battery continued to play upon them, and Dearing’s men crossed the ravine and ascended the opposite hill, in gallant style, their carbines keeping up a regular and most musical fusilade upon Kautz and Speare, and their rapidly retreating followers. Upon reaching the top of the opposite hill, the enemy hoped to make a stand, as here another column, which they had sent on to the city for the purpose of entering by the Blandford Church road, hove in sight. But this column had also started on a retrogade movement, for to their surprise too, they had encountered Sturdivant’s Battery, which had gone out by another road, and the two columns met and continued their retreat at a speed not at all slackened by the Confederate shell and balls which were falling thick and fast among them.
In Jackson’s field, a mile or so from the Blandford church, we captured a handsome cannon and six horses, which the enemy were compelled to abandon in their flight. Our forces pursued them for a few miles, killing and wounding many, and taking some few prisoners.
Yesterday afternoon late, our pickets extended for several miles out on the Jerusalem Plank Road, but no signs of the enemy could be be seen, and it is supposed they have retreated to the river. This is only supposition, however, and the vandals will bear constant and vigilant watching.
Gen. Kautz was in command of this force, and prisoners taken variously estimate it from three to five thousand. None put the number at less than three thousand, and some say it was even more than five thousand. There is no doubt it was intended to capture this city, and all the circumstances are strongly corroborative of this view. Thanks to a kind Providence, who has nerved the hearts and strengthened the hands of our brave men, we have been again preserved.
The enemy crept up behind the residence of Mr. Wm. A. Gregory, ascended to the roof, and knocking off the shingles, were enabled not only to obtain an excellent view, and ascertain the number of our forces, but through the openings thus made, fired upon and killed many of our men behind the breastworks.
The residence of Timothy Rives, Esq., fell into the possession of the invaders, after our forces retreated, and the scoundrels not only ransacked, and robbed it of all its valuable contents, but then applied the torch, and burnt it to the ground. They also carried Mr. Rives off a prisoner.
The foregoing are substantially all the facts connected with this bold attempt to capture Petersburg, so far as we have been enabled to collect them, but the saddest part of our statement yet remains unrecorded. Petersburg’s bravest and best blood flowed freely yesterday, and many a household has been plunged into the most inconsolable grief. We witnessed scenes yesterday afternoon, which we trust we may never witness again. All who have been so stricken, have the consolation — a sad one it is true — but nevertheless, it is consoling to know, that those who have been so suddenly snatched from them, fell in a glorious cause. Their memories will ever be held in grateful recollection by our people, and this whole community deeply sympathize with the bereaved.1
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- Macon Telegraph, June 16, 1864 ↩