FROM THE [PETERSBURG] FRONT.
HEAVY PICKET FIRING—ARTILLERY PRACTICE—A NEW MOVEMENT—ATTEMPT TO REACH THE WELDON RAILROAD FRUSTRATED, ETC.
During all of Monday night [June 20, 1864] the moon shone out brightly and beautifully from a cloudless sky, and the pickets of the two armies, availed themselves of these luminous rays, to keep each other wide awake. From 10 o’clock [Monday night] until day-dawn [of Tuesday morning, June 21, 1864], around the entire line, the popping of musketry was distinctly heard throughout the city. It was incessant, not a second’s time elapsing between the discharges of the pieces, and at the distance we occupied, resembled more the irregular explosion of fire crackers than anything to which we can liken it.1
THE BIG BLAKELY.
Yesterday morning early [on June 21, 1864], that same old 32-pounder Blakeley of the enemy, which has now become so familiar to the ears of Petersburg people, commenced its daily business, and at the usual intervals of five minutes, its reverberating noise would break upon the ear, and elicit the remark from every one, “that Blakeley is about again.” This gun is stationed at or near Pace’s Farm, on the City Point Road, and has thrown many shells into the lower part of the city, but so far has caused no destruction of life. On Monday evening [June 20, 1864], one of its missiles fell near the Market House, entering one of the small brick buildings to the west of the Market, occupied by Mr. Frank Perkins, cutting a girder in two, and scattering the plastering in all directions. Another scraped the tin roof of the Southside Depot building, glanced over into the Depot yard, ricocheted, and finally brought up at the bottom of the Appomattox.2
THE ENEMY OPENED ON FROM THE CHESTERFIELD SIDE.
About ten o’clock [on the morning of June 21, 1864], a couple of our batteries, occupying an advantageous position on the Chesterfield side of the Appomattox, paid their respects to the enemy’s guns in the vicinity of Jordan’s farm, stopping the thunders of the Blakeley monster for a while, and causing the gunners to leave—at first in twos, and then as the locality became hotter, in squads of five, eight, ten and fifteen. Our batteries were supposed to have disarranged matters in that locality considerably, as we did not hear from the Blakeley for several hours. About seven last evening [June 21, 1864] she opened again, and continued her firing at the usual intervals.3
THE ENEMY FEELING OUR RIGHT.
About 11 o’clock yesterday [June 21, 1864], a movement was made by a portion of Grant’s army, on our lines near the Jerusalem Plank Road, in the vicinity of the residence of Mr. Wm. A. Gregory. But his advance guard only drove in our pickets, for he discovered a body of troops, which had they continued their advance would have administered to them a terrible castigation. This same body, which shall here be nameless, has already rendered not less than 20,000 of Grant’s army wholly unserviceable since the present campaign commenced.4
A MOVE ON THE WELDON RAILROAD.
Nothing now occurred to disturb the equanimity of our brave boys occupying the trenches, until about two o’clock [on the afternoon of June 21, 1864], when our mounted videttes discovered the enemy in much force moving around towards the Weldon railroad, on a road which crosses the rails at a point about two miles from Butterworth’s Bridge, and in the immediate vicinity of Wm. H. Davis’ place, at the forks of the Halifax and Vaughan Roads. The Yankees engaged in this movement, were encountered by a body of N[orth]. C[arolina]. Cavalry, who held them in check until reinforcements came up, both of cavalry and infantry, when the enemy were speedily driven back—the cavalry alone becoming engaged. The fortunes of war are conceded to be very fickle, but we predict for such of Grant’s forces as may attempt to sweep around in that direction, the most severe drubbing of the campaign. The Confederates who now have that portion of the approaches to Petersburg in their keeping, are fighting men in every sense of the term, and have never yet known defeat. To subserve the cause, and comply with what we believe to be the wishes of the commanding general, we refrain from mentioning troops by name, but we hope at no distant day to give all the gallant regiments, brigades and divisions, now engaged in the defence of Petersburg, their due meed of deserved praise.5
BALDY SMITH CROSSING THE APPOMATTOX.
Yesterday [June 21, 1864], large bodies of troops supposed to be attached to Baldy Smith’s Eighteenth Army Corps, were observed crossing the pontoons on the lower Appomattox, and it is not improbable that General Ulysses [S. Grant], chafing under the restraint imposed by our well massed lines around the city, will to day [June 22, 1864] repeat his often tried process of hurling large columns against our entrenchments. They will be welcomed as they were at Spotsylvania Courthouse and Cold Harbor. Let them come. Our boys are impatient to require them.6
GRANT’S FORTIFICATIONS IN PRINCE GEORGE.
A gentleman who left Prince George a day or two since, says that Grant has apparently a very large force between the defences of Petersburg and City Point—He is heavily fortified, his line of earthworks extending from the Appomattox, at a point a short distance below Petersburg to and beyond the farm of Timothy Rives in Prince George—in a southeasterly direction. Here its [sic] unites with another line, which stretches off towards the James river in a northeasterly direction—the two forming an acute angle—or in other words a very broad letter V. The northeasterly line is of course intended to guard against any movement which may be made to strike the enemy in his flank from the eastern side.
DEPREDATIONS OF THE ENEMY.
Out informant states that the people of Prince George, as everywhere else where this army of Vandals has visited, are suffering greatly from their depredations. Crops of wheat, corn, and oats, have been destroyed, and every garden has been stripped. As confirmation of this last mentioned fact, we would state that many of the prisoners brought in last week, upon being searched at the Provost Marshal’s office, were found well supplied with fresh onions, which some of the rascals stated that they had taken from the gardens of the Prince George people to keep them from “spieling.”
We learned last night [June 21, 1864] that our troops engaged the enemy yesterday afternoon near the Weldon road, and after a short but sharp fight, repulsed them handsomely. The enemy’s movement was watched by a party of our scouts, who first discovered them about 12 o’clock [noon], near Mr. Richard Williams’ farm in Dinwiddie, a half mile west of the Jerusalem Plank Road, and some three miles from the Weldon Road. They consisted of Hancock’s Second Corps and a Brigade of Cavalry.
ARRIVAL OF THE PRISONERS.
A batch of prisoners taken near the Weldon Railroad yesterday afternoon [June 21, 1864], were brought to Major Ker’s Headquarters last night, and by him turned over to Provost Marshal Hawes. They state that they belong to the 2d Army Corps, (Hancock’s) and had been in the trenches around Petersburg, up to Monday night [June 20, 1864].—They were then relieved by a new army corps, the number of which they did not learn.
It only arrived Monday night [June 20, 1864], and was four hours in passing. An intelligent Sergeant, from Philadelphia, attached to the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters, states that it was reported in camp, that a very heavy body of cavalry had gone down to the rear of Petersburg, and intended to cut the railroad at some point between this city and Weldon. We give his statement for what it is worth.9
The privates in this batch are all foreigners, and the most ordinary, illiterate, ragged, dirty, cut throat looking creatures, we have ever seen. One, a raw Patlander, says he only landed in this country last February, when he was immediately well plied with whiskey, enlisted to fight under the stars and stripes, and then sent to the army. Such is the material our gallant soldiers are now fighting.
THE LATEST FROM GRANT’S ARMY.
The latest from Grant’s army, now around Petersburg, reached us last night [June 21, 1864] at eleven o’clock, in the shape of a villainous shell. This noisy missile fell on Bank street, striking the large mulberry tree in front of the old Intelligencer building, and cutting off a limb, some eight inches in diameter. Nobody hurt, but the compositors in the Express office, and our friends at the Provost’s office, were greatly enlivened by the music.10
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: This increased skirmishing was probably due to the shuffling of the Union lines east of Petersburg, as Grant and Meade tried to free up Union Second Corps to move south and then west across the Jerusalem Plank Road in the direction of the Weldon Railroad. This move would result in the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road from June 21-24, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Union Sixth Corps was in this area east of Petersburg until the evening of June 21, 1864, but both field batteries and siege batteries were already being placed east of Petersburg without necessarily always being tied to their infantry corps. In a note to General Meade on the afternoon of June 21, 1864, Union Sixth Corps commander Horatio Wright references some “30-pounders” on his line, which I believe are almost certainly 30-lb. Parrott Rifles. Julie Steele, who works at Petersburg National Battlefield and who also is co-editor and co-owner of the always excellent Petersburg Project site, directed me to her page on Herbert Valentine, who discusses the situation on the ground along the Appomattox River only a few weeks later on July 11, 1864. The maps accompanying this report clearly show what was called Dow’s Battery positioned along the river, just behind the Page farm, with the ability to fire into lower Petersburg. This battery had at least two 30 lb Parrott Rifles. Based on this information, I suspect this location behind Page farm was the cause of so much misery in Petersburg in late June 1864. If you can clarify and/or have more information on this section, please Contact Us. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This artillery duel is corroborated from the Union side by Union Sixth Corps commander Horatio Wright, who reported to General Meade that Confederate artillery was engaging his lines on the Union right near the Appomattox River, including from “the other side of the river” on Chesterfield Heights. I’ve added it to my ever increasing list of minor actions and skirmishes. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Union Second Corps moved to the Jerusalem Plank Road on June 21, 1864 and started to move west towards the Weldon Railroad. The Express is probably talking about Mahone’s Division or maybe Hill’s Third Corps as a whole, but was practicing censorship to prevent Grant from learning too much about the Confederate force locations. This was the first day of the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road, but very little happened compared to the next two days. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Below I note that the 2nd United States Sharpshooters made up at least part of the Union skirmishers opposing the North Carolina Cavalry, of which the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry was a part. The latter unit set up an ambush and captured some members of the 2nd USSS. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This information was spot on. Baldy Smith’s Eighteenth Corps was crossing the Appomattox River to take the place of the Union Sixth Corps along the Appomattox facing Petersburg. The Sixth Corps would leave on the night of June 21, 1864, headed south and then west to threaten the Weldon Railroad with Second Corps. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Stoughton was captured by the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry, having “advanced straight into a trap sprung by the Confederate Cavalry and were soon nearly surrounded.” See Gerald L. Earley’s book The Second United States Sharpshooters in the Civil War: A History and Roster (McFarland, 2009), page 187, for more details. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain Murry of Company F, again see Earley’s book on the 2nd USSS, page 187. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was also good information. The Union cavalry divisions of Wilson and Kautz headed for the Weldon Railroad at Reams Station, looking to threaten the railroads running into Richmond and Petersburg from the west. This was the Wilson-Kautz Raid. ↩
- “From the Front.” The Daily Express (Petersburg, VA). June 22, 1864, p. 2 col. 2-3 ↩