[SOPO Editor’s Note: The following account, originally published in the June 16, 1864 Petersburg Express, covers the first day’s fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 15, 1864. These accounts from Petersburg papers are important to publish because they were so close to the fighting, and also because many of these issues of the Petersburg papers are not easily available or are no longer in existence at all.]
REBEL ACCOUNTS OF AFFAIRS AT PETERSBURG.
WASHINGTON, June 19 .—The Petersburg Express, of Thursday, the 16th [of June, 1864], says:—
We learned last evening [June 15, 1864] that the main point of attack was on the City Point road, at a distance of six or seven miles from town [Petersburg]. At an early hour the enemy advanced with at least seven regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, upon some breastworks thrown up hastily during Tuesday night [June 14, 1864], at BAYLOR’S Farm, by Col. [Dennis D.] FEREBEE, of the Fourth North Carolina Cavalry. They were held in check by Col. FEREBEE’S men and GRAHAM’S Petersburg Battery for four hours, who fought bravely, but were finally compelled to fall back before overwhelming numbers.
FEREBEE’S men inflicted serious loss upon the enemy, and [Captain Edward] GRAHAM’S battery shelled the masses of his men with admirable effect. Our men retired in good order, and sustained but few casualties during the fight. It is stated that GRAHAM lost one gun in consequence of the horses being disabled, but this is not confirmed. The enemy demonstrated at other points along our lines, but all attacks were feeble, and easily repulsed.
It is stated that our sharp-shooters did admirable execution, picking the enemy off wherever he showed himself, and in some instances at a distance which appeared almost incredible. It is estimated that effective arm of our service placed not less than sixty Yankee hors du combat along our lines yesterday [June 15, 1864]. A few prisoners were taken. Among the number was a fellow who rode into our lines at full speed, minus his cap.
He was mounted upon a blooded steed, no doubt, stolen from some Virginia gentleman in one of the recent raids, and could not rein the animal up. In fact the fellow was a poor rider, and let go the bridle and hung on to the pommel of the saddle with as much tenacity as a drowning man would to a drifting log.
Some of the prisoners stated they belonged to BURNSIDE’S corps, and asserted also that BURNSIDE, the barber, was at City Point with his whole corps.
We presume it is not very formidable, since it was pressed into service on the second day of GRANT’S fearful encounter with General LEE and has been engaged ever since. BURNSIDE may probably expect to win some laurels around Petersburg, but we can assure him in advance that he will pay dearly for them. Our authorities are more than ever alive to the importance of defending Petersburg, and should the invaders renew their attempt this morning, as it is probable they will, a very different reception will be given them to any which has been heretofore extended.
From Chesterfield [Bermuda Hundred] we learn that the enemy withdrew all their white Yankees from BEAUREGARD’S front in Chesterfield on Tuesday night, and substituted negro Yankees in their stead. Yesterday morning [June 15, 1864] our pickets over there were surprised when day dawned to find themselves confronted by soldiers of pure African descent. Be it so! If the elegant, refined and fastidious BUTLER desires to achieve the reputation of a warrior with such troops it is not in our power to prevent him, however much we may object; but when the actual conflict does come it will be a sad day for those sable sons of Mars, and their burly leader, too, if he should take the field.
Desperate Fighting—The Enemy Charge and Take a Portion of Our Breastworks.
The above account was written at 5 P. M., yesterday [June 15, 1864], when comparative quiet had prevailed along our lines for two hours or more, and it was the general impression that fighting had ceased for the day. In this, however, our troops were mistaken, for it was ascertained before dark that the enemy had massed a very heavy force on our left, especially on the City Point and Prince George Court House roads.
At sunset the enemy charged our batteries commanding these roads, coming up in line of battle six and seven columns deep. The brunt of the assault was sustained by the Twenty-sixth [Virginia] and Forty-sixth [Virginia] Regiments of WISE’S Brigade and STURDIVANT’S Battery of four guns. Five previous assaults were made, the enemy coming up with a yell and making the most determined efforts to carry the works.
Our troops were received with a terrific volley each time, sending the columns back broken and discomfited. The fourth assault was made by such overwhelming numbers that our force found it impossible to resist the pressure, and were compelled to give way.
The enemy now poured over the works in streams, captured three of our pieces, and turning the guns on our men opened an infilading fire which caused them to leave precipitately. The guns captured belonged to STURDIVANT’S Battery, and we regret to hear that Captain STURDIVANT himself was captured and two of his lieutenants wounded, both of whom fell into the enemy’s hands.
The gallant manner in which the battery was fought up to the last moment is the theme of praise on everybody’s tongue. All present with whom we have conversed say that Captain STURDIVANT and his men stood up manfully to their work, and his last discharge was made by the Captain almost involuntary and alone.
The city was filled with rumors last night regarding the killed and wounded, but as we could get nothing authentic regarding names, we forbear to give them. It is generally conceded that Captain STURDIVANT was captured, and also Major BOTTLE [sic, BATTE], of the Petersburg City Battalion.
The position gained by the enemy is a most important one. Our generals are fully aware of this, and we shall undoubtedly have hot work to-day [June 16, 1864].
Officers in the field, yesterday [June 15, 1864], estimated the number of the enemy actually seen fronting the different positions of our lines at from 10,000 to 12,000. It is believed that this is only the advance column, and that GRANT has nearly his entire army on this side of the river.
Thirty odd transports ascended the James river yesterday [June 15, 1864], with troops.
Twenty-three prisoners were brought in yesterday, belonging chiefly to the One-hundred-and-forty-eighth New York Regiment. All concur in the statement that BALDY SMITH’S Army Corps, the Eighteenth [from the Army of the James], is on this side of the river again; other prisoners taken yesterday morning state that they belong to BURNSIDE’S [Ninth] Corps.
The Fight on the Baxter Road—The Enemy Repulsed.
An officer engaged furnished us, at a late hour last night, with a brief account of an engagement which occurred on the BAXTER road yesterday [June 15, 1864], about three miles from the city. It seems that the enemy appeared on this road, near the residence of Colonel AVERY about 12 o’clock [noon].
Immediately in front of battery No. 16 was stationed the Macon, Georgia, Light Artillery, Captain C[harles]. W. SLATER [sic, Slaten], supported by a portion of the Thirty-ninth [sic, Thirty-fourth] Virginia Regiment, WISE’S Brigade. The enemy showed himself at once, driving in our pickets and planting a battery in front of our works, with which he opened a furious cannonade.
He was promptly and gallantly responded to by the Macon Artillery. His fire was maintained for two hours, when the enemy charged our works, but after coming within two hundred yards of the fortifications, was repulsed with considerable loss. The artillery sent round after round of shell and canister into their ranks with great rapidity and accuracy, and, the work becoming too warm for them, they broke and fled in confusion.
They were pursued by the Thirty-fourth [Virginia] for some distance, who poured several galling volleys into their ranks. Among the dead left on the field was Colonel [Simon H.] MIX, of New York [commanding 1/Cav/AotJ], who seemed to have been instantly killed by a canister shot in the breast. About sundown the enemy disappeared from this portion of our lines and returned to the left.
Fires were seen in various portions of the county of Prince George, yesterday, from the hills surrounding Petersburg. Persons familiar with the country essayed to locate them. This was all guess work, but we understood last night that the residence of Mr. ALEX JERDAN, on the City Point road, was destroyed, and that the dwelling of Mr. WM. BOWDEN on the Baxter road, was also destroyed. The torch was applied to several outhouses on the estate of Col. AVERY, also on the Baxter road, but we understand the dwelling was not burned.
Three of GRANT’S miscegenators taken yesterday in Prince George’s county were brought in last evening and assigned to quarters at the Rock House prison near WELLS’ foundry. One of these invaders was a Sergeant attached to SPEAR’S Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry. The other two are attached to Company F, One-hundred-and-forty-eighth New York Regiment, Eighteenth Army Corps, commanded by BALDY SMITH.
These prisoners had two days’ cooked rations in their haversacks, and stated to the Provost Marshal that they expected to eat one of them in Petersburg to-day. They will not be disappointed in this respect, but they will eat under very different circumstances from what they expected.
GRANT had as well make up his mind at once to take the back track, for he will never take Richmond.1
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
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- “Rebel Accounts of Affairs at Petersburg.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), June 20, 1864, p. 1, col. 5 AND p. 8, col. 1 ↩