FROM THE [PETERSBURG] FRONT.
THE MOVEMENTS OF YESTERDAY [JUNE 22]—YANKEE BATTERIES SILENCED—A SUCCESSFUL FLANK MOVEMENT—GLORIOUS RESULTS—SIXTEEN HUNDRED PRISONERS AND FOUR PIECES OF CANNON CAPTURED—ALSO EIGHT STAND OF COLORS—THE FIGHT PROGRESSING, ETC.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: This is a lengthy and fairly detailed account of William Mahone’s division-sized June 22, 1864 flank attack against the Union Second Corps, Army of the Potomac during the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road. Mahone skillfully utilized a ravine to his advantage to fall upon the exposed left flank of Second Corps, routing them back to the Jerusalem Plank Road and taking for the first time ever some artillery from this unit on a field of battle. It was a disastrous defeat for the proud men of Second Corps and a brilliant victory by Mahone. The attack was prevented from being an even larger victory by Confederate Division commander Cadmus Wilcox, who was facing the Union Sixth Corps further south and was supposed to cooperate with Mahone. He failed to provide support that could have caused an even larger stampede. Currently, there is no good monograph of this day of the battle or of the Second Offensive as a whole, but John Horn is planning to rectify this situation in the near future. For now, see A. Wilson Greene’s first volume of his Petersburg Trilogy, pages 234-243, with a map on page 237.]
The unusual quiet which prevailed along our lines at an early hour yesterday [June 22, 1864], was the subject of universal remark through out our streets. At early dawn and until nine o’clock, scarcely a heavy gun was discharged, and if the pickets continued their shooting, the rumbling of heavy wagons, and the busy hum of the populace, prevented its being heard in Petersburg.
This state of quiet prevailed until nine o’clock, when heavy cannonading was heard on our extreme left, and upon enquiry, it was ascertained to proceed from a Confederate battery admirably posted in Chesterfield. This battery had obtained the range of two of the enemy’s twenty-pounder Parrotts, planted at batteries Nos. 1 and 2, on Jordan’s farm, and by the admirable aim and precision of our gunners, rendered admirable service. In less than thirty minutes after our battery opened, the enemy’s guns were effectually silenced. Repeated attempts were made during the day to reopen these guns, which for several days past, have been throwing shells into our city, but every attempt was met by a hot fire from the Chesterfield Heights, which prevented the accomplishment of the enemy’s purpose. Our city yesterday [June 22, 1864] enjoyed a remarkable exemption from these annoying missiles of the enemy, and many were surprised at the amiable disposition which seemed suddenly to have taken possession of our uninvited visitors.1
About 2 o’clock, p. m. [on the afternoon of June 22, 1864], heavy firing was heard on our extreme right, to the rear of Wells’ old place, in Dinwiddie, about two miles from Butterworth’s Bridge. The firing was rapid, and the discharges of musketry were plainly heard by persons residing in the suburbs in that portion of the city. The report that a fight was progressing in that direction, spread rapidly through the city, and many hastened where they supposed they would be enabled to witness the battle. In this, however, they were disappointed, for the country was too thickly wooded to see the conflict, without exposing one’s person to the flying balls and bullets. All, however, could hear the firing, and listened to the exciting sounds with breathless attention. The enemy had advanced an entire corps [actually two Corps, the Second and Sixth] around to this extreme southwesterly direction during Tuesday night [June 21, 1864], for the purpose of seizing and holding the Weldon [Rail]road, and our Generals were on the qui vive at a very early hour. Shortly after mid-day [on June 22, 1864], a flank movement which had been planned, was put into process of execution, and this brought on the fight which had attracted [illegible].2
It soon became evident that our gallant boys were driving the invaders, and before four o’clock [on the afternoon of June 22, 1864] it was ascertained that we had gained a very decided success. Three brigades, under the command of General Mahone, had by the skillful manoeuvering of their officers, succeeded in getting to the front, right and left of a large body of the invaders3, before the vandals were fully apprised of the danger of their situation. Their front was protected by a heavy line of breastworks, which had been thrown up during Tuesday night [June 21, 1864], but this did not deter Confederate troops from their duty, for no sooner was the order to charge given, than our boys rushed forward with one of those characteristic yells, which for the second time lately has been distinctly heard in Petersburg. Simultaneous with this charge in front of the enemy, the two other brigades mentioned opened on both flanks, and between the three fires, but a few moments sufficed to end the conflict, the great bulk of the vandals throwing down their arms and begging for quarter.4
The results of this admirably planned and no less admirably executed movement, are: The capture of sixteen hundred prisoners, eight stands of colors, four pieces of artillery, and two formidable lines of breastworks. But better than all, we relieve the line of [Weldon] railroad, and still maintain our communications with the South.5
Among the prisoners are fifty-seven commissioned officers—but none higher than Colonel. The men belong mainly to the 2nd and 4th Brigades, Birney’s Division, Hancock’s Second Army Corps.—We captured no general officers, Cols. [John] Fraser [of the 140th PA, commanding 4/1/II/AotP] and Custard6, both commanding Brigades. Some of the prisoners taken, say that the movement towards the railroad was generally regarded as hazardous, and Gen. Hancock, was unfortunately taken sick just on the eve of the expedition. Birney was in command, of whom the prisoners do not speak at all complimentary. They say he invariably manages to get them into trouble.7
As usual, all nationalities are represented among the prisoners, and many of the men say, that they left the trenches around Washington twelve days since. A majority of them express great satisfaction that they are now prisoners of war, and declare that they have no heart to fight.—A somewhat matured son of the Emerald Isle, whose head is heavily sprinkled with grey, upon being asked where he was from, promptly responded, “Ireland, by Jasus, and would to God that I were back there to-day.”8
LATER—THE FIGHT STILL PROGRESSING
At nine o’clock last night [June 22, 1864], a gentleman just from the vicinity of the front, informed us that the fight was still progressing, and that we were driving the enemy rapidly.—We had forced him from the vicinity of the railroad back to and across the Jerusalem Plank Road, a distance of four miles. It was discovered as we moved, that the enemy had many lines of breastworks, extending easterly from the main line around the city, to prevent flank movements, but from each of these he was handsomely driven.
After being forced from the two first lines, the enemy were reinforced and made an effort to recapture them; but our boys turned their own guns upon them, (many having left their muskets when they fled,) and repulsed them in gallant style.
Batches of prisoners continued to arrive up to the latest accounts; and a gentleman who left the vicinity of the battle at dark, thinks our total captures will reach 2500.
A large number of the enemy were killed and wounded, all of whom were left in our hands. Our casualties will be heavy, but the most of them, we are pleased to hear, are only slightly wounded.
Military men with whom we have conversed, regard the affair of yesterday [June 22, 1864], as one of the most brilliant of the war, the numbers engaged considered, and not a few are of the opinion, that it may bring on a general engagement to-day [June 23, 1864]. Should such a result be brought about, we can only say, that it would be gladly accepted by our army, for never have we known men more “eager for the fray,” and more sanguine, that by the help of God, they will conquer.9
A RAID UPON THE WELDON [RAIL]ROAD.
A large body of the enemy’s cavalry, estimated by many as high as four thousand, made a dash at the Petersburg Railroad yesterday morning [June 22, 1864] between the hours of six and eight o’clock, at Reams’ Station, ten miles distant from Petersburg. They cut the telegraph wires, burnt the water tanks, wood sheds, and office, and tore up about 150 yards of the railroad track. The entire party is said to have taken the old stage road to Dinwiddie Courthouse upon leaving, and are of course aiming for the Southside and Danville Railroads. A large body of Confederate cavalry are in hot pursuit, and not more than two hours in their rear.10
We learn that the telegraph on the line of the Southside Railroad ceased to work at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon [June 22, 1864], and it is supposed that the advance guard of the raiders have reached this line of travel. It is generally hoped that these raiders many be captured, but all such hopes have been so repeatedly disappointed, that we must prepare ourselves for a failure. In the event of success, it will be all the better when it comes.
VANDALISM OF THE ENEMY.
All accounts from Prince George represent that the country is being thoroughly scoured by the worse than vandal foe, who now invade that section. Every house is visited, and not an article of any value is overlooked. The enemy’s cavalry horses are turned into large fields of wheat, corn and oats, and allowed to trample and graze the crops as they like.11
Yesterday [June 22, 1864] among the prisoners captured, was one cut-throat looking fellow, who fell into the hands of Charlie W. Grant, of the 45th Georgia. This Union-restorer, had on his person, the Family Bible of Mr. Geo. M. Browder, a well known citizen of Prince George. Mr. Browder resides near the Plank Road, about 4 miles from Petersburg, and fled from his home a few days since to escape the vengeance of the despoilers. We saw his precious Bible restored to him yesterday evening at the office of the Provost Marshal, and we witnessed the joyful emotions which a sight of its sacred and familiar pages produced. Mr. Browder [illegible] to hear form his wife and dear little ones who remained. We trust that his fearful anticipations may not be realized. Who can measure the depth of degradation to which these incorrigible scoundrels have descended, when they actually steal the Word of God, and that too under circumstances, from which any but a Yankee would revolt?12
This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.
If you are interested in helping us transcribe newspaper articles like the one above, please CONTACT US.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Although I can find no corroboration of this artillery bombardment in the Official Records, when a Petersburg paper reports something in this level of detail, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt. There had been artillery bombardments of Petersburg and counterbattery fire from Chesterfield Heights and elsewhere over the previous few days. It seems these artillery duels continued on June 22, 1864. As a result, I have created a new action which I have dubbed the “Artillery Duel Near Chesterfield Heights.” ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the beginning of Mahone’s three brigade attack on elements of the Union Second Corps. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Mahone’s men mostly came around the left of Birney’s Second Corps. A gap had opened between the advancing Union Corps, with the Second Corps’ left and the Sixth Corps’ right now open to attacks. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: As mentioned above, the second half of this paragraph is a little off in the details. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Weldon Railroad connected Petersburg to North Carolina. It was the focal point of the Second, Fourth and Seventh Offensives. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: No one named Custard or Custer commanded a Second Corps Brigade on June 22, 1864. If you know who this captured Colonel is, please CONTACT US. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Birney was indeed in command of the Second Corps on June 22, 1864. A. Wilson Greene, in the first volume of his Petersburg Trilogy on page 248, mentions the Second Corps enlisted men generally blamed Birney and Barlow for the disaster. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: An oft-repeated Confederate sentiment involved the Union hiring “foreigners” to populate the ranks of its armies. Here is another example. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This assessment has held up over the years. June 22, 1864 was a disaster for Second Corps, and a brilliant victory for William Mahone. ↩
- The Wilson-Kautz Raid coincided with the Union Second Offensive. The Confederates were correct as to Wilson’s targets as well. The Confederates would tail Wilson throughout the raid, and he was nearly captured on the return trip to Ream’s Station in late June 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reports of the Unon cavalry behaving badly would become a daily theme in the Petersburg and Richmond papers throughout the course of the Wilson-Kautz Raid. While stealing from private houses is certainly a less than gentlemanly tactic, trampling fields full of food seems like a reasonable way to deny their use to an enemy. ↩
- “From the Front.” The Daily Express (Petersburg, VA). June 23, 1864, p. 2 col. 2-3 ↩
Finding and publishing these articles from the Petersburg Express is an important contribution to our knowledge of the siege.
Thanks John! I thought so too. Once I knew these were available via microfilm, I had to have them. I also have an excellent and consistent transcriber in Roy Gustrowsky. Together we are through mid-August 1864. I am just a little behind on getting them posted. My goal is one post a week every week on Tuesdays until I run out. These From the Front articles are loaded with information, a lot of which is new to me, especially on the “ordinary” days where there were no major battles. They are helping me fill out my Minor Events, Skirmishes and Actions Page quite nicely.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!