Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
THE FIGHTING ABOUT PETERSBURG.
THE ENEMY DISLODGED FROM THE RAILROAD—ANOTHER FLANK MOVEMENT—FIVE HUNDRED PRISONERS CAPTURED—OPERATIONS OF THE ARMIES.
From the Petersburg papers of Saturday, we make up the following summary of the operations of the armies around that city:
THE ENEMY DISLODGED FROM THE RAILROAD—A FLANK MOVEMENT—ANOTHER HAUL OF PRISONERS.
On the report coming that the enemy had again occupied the railroad six miles from Petersburg, in large numbers, torn up the track, and were busily engaged in fortifying, General Mahone was speedily despatched, at the head of a body of troops, to drive the rascals off. Upon approaching the spot about one hundred and fifty of Grant’s horsemen were discovered displacing rails and removing sills. They fled precipitately upon the appearance of our forces, but it was soon ascertained that there was a heavy body of infantry in the woods, east of the track, massed for the purpose of supporting the cavalry.
General Mahone threw forward a heavy line of skirmishers, engaged the attention of the blue coats and then put into execution, one of these flanking movements for which he has become somewhat noted. About twilight Perry’s brigade, now commanded by General Finnegan, succeeded in swinging around and brought up in rear of the enemy. A volley or two in the rear put the enemy to thinking, and another volley or two brought about a very lively double quick on their part.—We succeeded in securing only four hundred eighty-three of the invaders, the remainder running so swiftly that it was found impossible to overtake them.
The prisoners were marched into the city and turned over to Major Bridgford, General Lee’s Provost Marshal. There were ten commissioned officers among the number, but none higher than the rank of colonel. These prisoners, in point of appearance or morals, are an improvement upon former instalments. They seem to have been collected from every quarter of the globe, both civilized and uncivilized, and elicited from a spectatour in our vicinity the remark “that Grant had scraped all creation with a fine tooth comb for men to reinforce his depleted ranks.”
A FURIOUS CANNONADE.
Friday morning the most profound quiet prevailed along our entire line until a few minutes before seven o’clock, when all of a sudden there opened a bombardment from a heavy battery of Confederate artillery stationed in Chesterfield, upon the enemy’s extreme right. The firing was the most rapid that has been heard in Petersburg during the war, and soon attracted to the house tops and surrounding hills, a great concourse of spectators. From the roof of a five story building could be seen the discharges of our cannon, and it really seemed that such a shower of shot and shell ought to have annihilated every Yankee invader in the county of Prince George. In the meantime there was a brisk musketry fire opened in the vicinity of Jordan’s farm, on the City Point road, and the uninitiated at once came to the conclusion that a general engagement had commenced.
The cannonading ceased at a quarter past eight A. M., and the musketry fire was stopped about the same hour.
About four hundred of Hagood’s South Carolina brigade, who were thrown forward as skirmishers to ascertain the strength of the enemy’s rifle pits, allowed their zeal to get the better of them, and not only carried the pits, but charged up to the enemy’s breastworks. They were received with a severe musketry volley, and suffered considerable loss. None estimate their loss at less than one hundred and fifty, and some put it down as high as three hundred. This brigade was among the first to rush to the rescue of Petersburg, and its people feel a peculiar interest in its welfare. They have suffered heavily, but not so heavily, we hope, as has been reported.
Thirty-one prisoners were brought in from the fight of Friday morning. They were all from York State, and tired of the war, of course. This is the statement of every one who is captured. A couple of sergeants were the highest officers in this batch, and they were rather good looking, but the very personification of impudence.—They showed no signs of contrition, but smiled and chatted as pleasantly as if they were in Petersburg on a holiday excursion.
The last the Petersburg papers heard of the raiders they had burnt the junction at Burkeville and then, to the surprise of everybody, moved off towards Danville, instead of the High bridge.
The junction, as its generally known, is at the intersection of the Richmond and Danville and Petersburg and Lynchburg roads. Here there were a large number of buildings, several turn-outs, side tracks, turn tables, etc, all of which, it is feared, have been destroyed. A gentleman who was there a few days ago, reports that he saw a very large quantity of rolling stock, including many locomotives; but it is hoped the railroad authorities had taken the precaution to remove these to a place of safety. We do not hear that Wilson’s band met with any opposition at Burkeville, although it is known that General W. H. F. Lee was in pursuit on Wednesday, at the head of a very formidable body of cavalry, so far as numbers can be considered formidable. They encountered the rear guard of the bandits at two points on Wednesday, near Dinwiddie Court House, and at the Five Forks, on the White Oak road, about seven miles from Ford’s depot, but did not inflict a great deal of damage. We hope that they have succeeded in heading the raiders, or will do so, before they reach Danville.
A gentleman who reached Petersburg Friday night, direct from Ford’s depot, informs us that the destruction of the vandals in that vicinity was very great. From the fourteen mile post, six miles below, to some distance above the depot, the telegraph poles have been cut down, the wire destroyed, the railroad track tore-up, and the iron burnt and bent. Several citizens in the vicinity suffered heavily. Mr. William H. Beasley was stripped of every article of value; Mr. Edward H. Osborne lost thirteen horses and mules, six negroes, all his bacon and half of his corn. Mr. John D. Pool and Mr. Thacker were also robbed of nearly everything.
In their march towards the Junction, the Yankees swept the country, burning the depots and court buildings at Nottoway Court House.
A despatch from Rice’s; (illegible)—Lynchburg and Richmond, states that, when last heard from, the raiders were moving up the Danville road, and were within a few miles of Meherrin station.
CAPTURE OF REV. DR. PRYOR—HE MAKES HIS ESCAPE—FULL AND INTERESTING ACCOUNT OF THE EXPEDITION.
Wilson’s raiders captured the Rev. Dr. Pryor on Wednesday, but subsequently the doctor succeeded in effecting his escape and returning to Petersburg, Dr. Pryor resided many years in Petersburg, during which time he officiated as pastor of the Second Presbyterian church, but for the past twelve or eighteen months he has been serving as chaplain in the army of Northern Virginia. Dr. Pryor was riding leisurely along the Boyton plank road on Wednesday about 2 o’clock, en route to see a relative in Brunswick county; now prostrated by sickness. When twelve miles from the city and within two miles of Dinwiddie Court House, he was suddenly halted by three of the enemy’s pickets and ordered to dismount.
He told them frankly that he was a chaplain in the Confederate army, on an errand of affection to the sick bed of a dear child, and requested that he be allowed to proceed on his journey. This was refused, and he was at once conducted to Wilson’s Provost Marshal, who, after a brief examination of his letters and papers, carried him before the commander-in-chief. This officer received him with marked courtesy, and invited him to partake of lunch. This the doctor politely declined, and proceeded to state that he was a chaplain and a noncombatant, and according to the usages of all civilized belligerents, entitled to a discharge on his parole. General Wilson heard the statement with patience, regretted exceedingly the doctor had fallen into his hands, because of the embarrassment which he alleged it caused him, but stated that his orders from General Grant were imperative, and that he would be compelled to produce him at headquarters.
Dr. Pryor describes General Wilson as a fine looking man; about thirty years of age, a pleasant countenance and most urbane manners. He says he is a graduate of West Point, and claims Illinois as his home. He spoke freely of Confederate officers, said many of them were personally known to him, and dwelt particularly upon the fatality which had attended them during this war. General Wilson was very jauntily dressed in black velvet pants, polished high top boots, a neat fitting jacket, and wore an elegantly trimmed cap. After insisting upon the doctor’s giving him a copy of a Petersburg paper of Wednesday, and speaking in terms amounting almost too continually of the inefficiency of the Confederate cavalry, he turned him over to the Provost Marshal’s guard. The captain of the guard overhauled the doctor’s saddlebags and haversack and read all his correspondence, but returned him his letters and papers, and also his saddlebags and haversack with their contents.
Dr. Pryor informs us that Wilson is in supreme command, and he is accompanied by Colonel Speare, but the man informed him that Kautz was not along. They claim to number four thousand, but Dr. Pryor did not see more than half this number, which he was informed was only one column of the expedition.
When reaching Five Forks on the White Oak road, a courier rode up and informed the general that his rear guard had been hotly engaged at Dinwiddie Court House with the advance of the rebel column. General Wilson received the communication with much apparent NONCHALANCE, and coolly inquired if only cavalry showed themselves. Upon being informed that no other branch of the service was seen; he smiled derisively, and rode on with the remark that he did not regard the Confederate cavalry in the least.
The party are reported to have twelve pieces of artillery, but Dr. Pryor did not see a gun. They have a train of forty wagons, in which they carry all their ammunition and such commissary stores as they have. The horses became much jaded before reaching Ford’s depot, and the teamsters several times informed the captain of the guard that they would be forced to stop, their horses then having the “thumps,” and being scarcely able to put one foot before another. The captain told them that stopping was out of the question, and that they must apply the whip freely. By following this advice, the wagons reached Ford’s depot about nine o’clock.
The expedition left its rendezvous in Prince George at three o’clock Wednesday morning, and traveled over forty miles the first day. The heat was very oppressive, and dust intolerable, and Dr. Pryor thinks that the wagon train could have been easily captured, if it had been encountered. Upon reaching Ford’s depot, the raiders were highly exhilarated at the rich harvest which was spread out before them. Here was a depot containing eighty or ninety sacks of county salt. On the track were three first class locomotives, and some twenty or more cars. The cars and two of the locomotives belonged to the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad, and many of the former were filled with valuable oils, machinery, etc. All hands dismounted, the guard pitching their quarters some distance to the south of the railroad, and picketing their horses at a fence close by. The thought now occurred to Dr. Pryor that he might make good his escape, and the immediate departure of the captain of the guard with the remark that he was going in pursuit of food for the horses, resolved him on the attempt. Leaving his favourite mare, which being a present from the citizens of Petersburg, he deeply regretted, and throwing down his saddlebags, as an additional blind,” he groped his way through the darkness about a hundred yards, when he struck a dense body of undergrowth. He had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile before he heard an exultant about, and immediately there burst through the darkness a great blaze of light. This he knew was the depot in flames, and by its light he was enabled to direct his steps with more accuracy, as he kept his back in that direction until he had proceeded probably a mile. Here he suddenly plunged into a marsh, and in his efforts to extricate himself, suffered smartly from severe falls, and lost his hat. Finally getting upon hard ground again, he lay down in the woods, and there remained until five o’clock, Thursday morning.—He heard the raiders when they departed, which was at two o’clock in the morning, but knowing that there are always many stragglers, Dr. Pryor did not venture to [illegible] his way to any house until the hour above mentioned. About nine o’clock, his bare head exposed to the rays of a scorching sun, and suffering greatly from loss of sleep and undue exertion, he reached the house of a friend, and was hospitably entertained. He was then provided with a hat and horse, and reached Petersburg late Thursday evening.
The raiders made a great many inquiries of Dr. Pryor about the roads, and particularly of that which would take them to the junction. They had ten days’ rations, which would indicate a long journey; and as they have diverged from the junction towards Danville, we shall not be at all surprised to hear of their extending the expedition to a section never before visited by raiders.1
- “The Fighting About Petersburg.” Richmond Examiner. June 27, 1864, p. 2 col. 5-6 ↩