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NP: June 24, 1864 Philadelphia Inquirer: Rebel Attack at White House, June 20


Generals Fitzhugh Lee and Hampton Attack Our Forces—They are Driven Back by the Gun-boats—Arrival of General Sheridan at White House—General Getty Succeeds General Abercrombie.

FORTRESS MONROE, June 22.—The steamer Iolas has arrived from the White House [on the Pamunkey River], which place she left yesterday morning [June 21, 1864] at six o’clock.

On the morning of the 20th [of June 1864], [Confederate cavalry] Generals FITZHUGH LEE and [Wade] HAMPTON made an attack on our forces, intrenched there under General [John J.] ABERCROMBIE, and charged upon our works, but they were repulsed and driven back by our gun-boats there.1

The COMMODORE MORSE [sic, USS Morse] and CAPTAIN [Charles A.] BABCOCK and two others [sic, one other, the USS Cactus] also opened a heavy fire on the Rebels. At seven o’clock, the Rebels, having succeeded in planting a battery of three guns within range, returned the fire upon our gun-boats and land forces.

This artillery firing was kept up, as we learn by a subsequent arrival, until four o’clock, P. M.

About noon, the COMMODORE MORSE [sic, USS Morse] threw a shell that exploded a caisson in the enemy’s battery, causing great confusion, and having the effect to slacken their fire perceptibly.  Their loss was comparatively heavy.

Some of the prisoners captured say they mistook our gun-boats for transports, and had expected to capture our troops at the White House before General [Philip] SHERIDAN’S command arrived, and then intercept his force, and, if possible, prevent his safe arrival at the White House, in all of which they were defeated.  Our loss was only three wounded—one mortally.

At three o’clock, P. M., SHERIDAN’S advance guard arrived at White House, and at five o’clock the General arrived there with his entire command.

Yesterday morning, the 21st [of June 1864], there was some skirmishing among the pickets, and it was expected that there would be an engagement.

General GETTY had arrived and relieved General ABERCROMBIE, who had been previously ordered to report at Washington for duty. During the continuance of the Rebel attack, General ABERCROMBIE received a despatch from General GRANT to hold his position at all hazards till assistance arrived, which, by the aid of the gun-boats, he was enabled to do.

The General arrived here [at Fortress Monroe] to-day [June 22, 1864], bound for Washington.

During the attack at the White House, a Rebel shell penetrated the telegraph office, but the operator, Mr. BLISS, had escaped.2

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.

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  1. The running fights at White House and along the Pamunkey River on June 20 and 21, 1864 involved Union and Confederate land forces as well as the Union gunboats located on the Pamunkey River. Confederate Cavalry was pursuing Union Cavalry after the fight at Trevilian Station on June 11-12, 1864.  Sheridan’s Union Cavalry was moving south, trying to cross the James River to safety, while Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee were pursuing, trying to prevent a James River crossing and capture as many of Sheridan’s troopers as possible.  On June 20, 1864, the Confederates attacked White House Landing, which had been the Union Army’s supply depot while at Cold Harbor. Now, in late June, the supply depot was shutting down, but there was still a garrison of Union troops present under Brigadier General John J. Abercormbie.  When the Confederate Cavalry attacked on June 20, Abercrombie’s garrison was defending in conjunction with the gunboats USS Morse and USS Cactus. See Lieutenant Commander Charles A. Babcock’s report in the Official Records of the Navy, Volume X, page 166 for details of the Naval side. Babcock, commanding the Morse, indicates there were three Confederate batteries, and that they opened fire around 9 am. I am unsure which Confederate cavalry battery or batteries were involved. If you know, please Contact Us.
  2. “Rebel Attack at White House.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), June 24, 1864, p. 1, col. 2
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