FROM THE [PETERSBURG] FRONT.
NOTHING EXCITING AT THE FRONT—THE CANNON AGAIN AT WORK—A VIEW OF THE ENEMY’S OPERATIONS—THE UNERRING AIM OF OUR SHARPSHOOTERS—THE RAIDERS INTERCEPTED—A SHARP FIGHT—ENCOURAGING REPORTS, ETC., ETC.
Since our report of yesterday [June 29, 1864], which brought a statement of the operations in this vicinity down to 12 o’clock, Tuesday night [midnight between June 28-29, 1864], we have observed nothing of very marked interest in our front. During all of Tuesday night [June 28, 1864], there was rather more than the usual amount of picket firing, with a loud report from the “big dogs of war,” every five minutes, and frequently at much shorter intervals.1
From an observatory, elevated far above the house tops2, we yesterday obtained a good view of Battery No. 2, from which there came no “glad tidings” for this section. From this same stand-point, we also saw the operations at Battery No 5, from which the Yankees were fulminating “doctrines” both dangerous and damnable, but they failed to “indoctrinate” (another term might be considered contraband,) any Confederate, so far as our knowledge extends.3
All beyond these Batteries, as far as the human vision could sweep, great clouds of dust were ascending, and other evidence of progress were palpable to the naked eye.
A youth who ventured much too near the enemy’s lines for comfort, in pursuit of an estray cow, informs us that the dust was raised by wagon trains, and says he counted thirty-one in a continuous line—We have no reason to doubt this statement, as it must require a large amount of “rolling stock” to haul only grub and ammunition, for such a host of “miscegenators.”4
We are happy it is in our power to state, that the enemy have made but little progress in their contemplated flanking movement on our right. They have manifested a great disposition to push matters to extremes on their left, as it brings them in the vicinity of the Weldon Railroad, and the poor, misguided creatures think we depend mainly on that road for supplies.5 The truth is, that our army and our people could live out “the lease of nature,” if another pound of meat or grain of corn, were not to be transported over that track for twenty months to come. We give this information to the invaders, and hope it will not be deemed contraband by the authorities.
We have it from good authority—one of the Yankee newspaper correspondents—that our sharp shooters have been doing a good work, in reducing the number of the enemy. They fall by scores every day before the unerring aim of the Southern rifle, and we hope our boys who are detailed for this sharp practice, may persevere in the good work. Their fire is telling with fine effect in the Yankee ranks. See letter to the Boston Transcript, which we publish in to-day’s Express. Should the Transcript proprietors see this, they will pardon us for the liberty we take with their correspondence.
The many wiseacres who crowd our street corners, and shake their heads with such a knowing nod, and predict with such emphatic gestures, that a general engagement is about to take place, have so frequently proved to be false prophets, that we hope they will hereafter withhold their prophecies. Their course only tends to excite the people, and all should now endeavor to allay, rather than create excitement.
THE RAIDERS—SEVERAL VERY ENCOURAGING REPORTS—BRIG. GEN. WILSON SEVERELY PUNISHED FOR HIS CONTUMACIOUS OPINION OF SOUTHERN CAVALRY.
Our city was rife with rumors at an early hour yesterday [June 29, 1864], to the effect, that Wilson’s great raid6 had terminated much sooner than was contemplated, and that he was returning at a much earlier day and by a much shorter route than many anticipated. To give all these rumors would require much more time and space than we now have at our command, but we have enquired at every source likely to give us correct information, and we think we may state with certainty, that the raiders have been again encountered, and subjected to a much severer castigation than they have heretofore received.7
It seems that the enemy found the line of the Danville Railroad a very unpleasant route, after the attempt to burn the Staunton River bridge, and hastily set about retracing his steps, striking for City Point through Lunenburg, by way of Lawrenceville, Brunswick, Dinwiddie Courthouse, Stony Creek and possibly Jarratt’s Depot. The last two mentioned places are depots on the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad.8
On Tuesday [June 28, 1864], at 12 o’clock, they were within four miles of Lawrenceville, with Gen. W. H. F. [“Rooney”] Lee close behind them, and in hot pursuit. A courier reached here at one o’clock yesterday [June 29, 1864] morning, bringing this information, and a body of cavalry, between the Southern railroad and Dinwiddie Courthouse, immediately prepared to receive them with suitable honors. Our informant states that they were met yesterday [sic, June 28, 1864] morning at Sapponi [sic, Sappony] church, a venerable Episcopal edifice, about seven miles southwest of Dinwiddie Courthouse. A sharp fight ensued, but it was of short duration, for with Gen. W. H. F. Lee on one side, and another bold cavalier, (whose name we withhold lest it be considered contraband,) [Wade Hampton] on the other, the arrogant Wilson was literally between two fires, and had to do some very rapid traveling.9 One report says, we captured twelve hundred prisoners, but this we must decline accepting as strictly correct, until we get the official report. But we have the evidence of a prisoner, who was captured at an early hour, and reached here about twelve o’clock, for stating that the enemy were defeated, and retreated, leaving 39 dead on the field, and several wounded.—Many prisoners, it is also stated, fell into our hands.10
Heavy firing was heard about ten o’clock [on the morning of June 29, 1864] in the vicinity of Reams’ Station, and it is reported that this was caused by an engagement with four hundred of the enemy, who had separated from Wilson, with the hope of reaching Gen. Grant, and asking that reinforcements be sent to the braggart.11
Another report states that quite a formidable body of the enemy, supposed to have numbered 900, were encountered yesterday at Stony Creek, and they also were made to show their heels to a brigade of our brave horsemen.12
We are compelled to write this account at an early hour (7 p. m.,) [on the night of June 29, 1864] to get it in type. We hope before going to press that it will be in our power to give additional information, confirming all, or at least a portion of these encouraging reports.
DEPREDATIONS OF THE RAIDERS.
From a citizen of Petersburg, who has just returned from Nottoway, and who was compelled to walk 20 miles to get here, we have some information of the thieving and plundering of Wilson and his followers, in the counties of Dinwiddie, Nottoway and Lunenburg.13
From Mr. Robert Snyder, an estimable citizen of Dinwiddie, they stole 40 gallons of wine, and twenty-five barrels of corn.
From Mr. Edward Scott and brother they stole some 40 or 50 negroes.
At Ford’s Depot, they arrested Mr. Pegram, the Railroad agent, and confined him in a hog pen. Mr. Pegram had given his watch and $1,800 to a servant for safe keeping, but it is stated that the negro proved recreant to his trust, and went off with the raiders, carrying the watch and money with him.
From Mr. Freeman Eppes, of Nottoway, they stole 27 likely negroes.
From Thomas H. Campbell, Esq., they stole all his negro men, but two. They also plundered Mr. Campbell’s house of all its valuable furniture, silver plate, etc. Dr. Campbell, the father of Thomas H. and a neighbor, was also robbed of every thing; and Mr. Algernon Campbell, a brother, shared a similar fate. Mr. T. H. Campbell is a son-in-law of the Rev. Dr. Pryor, and the Dr.’s escape, probably incensed the raiders against the family. All necessary information was abtained [sic, obtained] from Mr. T. H. Campbell’s long trusted carriage driver, who was re-captured, piloting two Yankee raiders, by the Hon. Roger A. Pryor, who accompanied Gen. W. H. F. Lee in pursuit of the Vandals.
From Mr. Lee Hawkes, of Nottoway, they stole and burnt 150 bales of cotton. Others in Nottoway suffered great losses, but our informant could not recollect the names.
From Mr. Edward Stokes, of Lunenburg, the raiders stole a set of silver service, for which was paid $5,000 before the war.—They also took all of Mr. Stokes’ negro men, and much gold and silver coin.
The residence of Capt. Wm. A. Adams, who formerly commanded the Dinwiddie cavalry, was robbed of every light article of value it contained, the furniture broken up, and the house then committed to the flames.
We hear many other reports of valuable residences ransacked and burnt, but as they are not authentic, we forbear giving particulars. We presume, however, when full and authentic accounts, shall have been received, that it will be safe to estimate the loss of property by this raid, at $1,000,000, if not more.
It was represented last night [night of June 28-29, 1864] that Sheridan’s cavalry crossed the [Weldon] railroad at or near Reams’ Station, at an early hour yesterday morning [June 29, 1864], but this is not authentic. Indeed, we think it very improbable, if the account we have of the disposition of our forces be correct. But it is idle to speculate on mere rumor now. To-day [June 30, 1864] will, in all probability, put speculation at rest, and give us full and reliable particulars.14
THE VERY LATEST!
CAPTURE OF AN ENTIRE YANKEE BRIGADE—GENERAL WILSON BELIEVED TO BE AMONG THE NUMBER.
A batch of prisoners who were brought in last night [June 29, 1864] at half-past eleven o’clock, confirm the rumored capture of 1200 of Wilson’s raiders.
These men say that it was an entire Brigade, and that they were captured at or near Stony Creek.15
They also state that Gen. [James H.] Wilson was with this Brigade, and it is believed that he is among the captured.16
These prisoners were taken in a fight yesterday afternoon [June 29, 1864], near Reams’ station, and the guard who brought them in informed us that they conversed with one man who had seen the prisoners at Stony Creek, but did not know that Gen. Wilson was among them. We took horses, arms and equipments, and about 400 negroes, who were following the Vandals.
There was heavy fighting yesterday [June 29, 1864] in the vicinity of Reams’, commencing as early as 8 or 9 o’clock [in the morning]. The enemy’s cavalry were strongly posted behind a rude fortification, which they had hastily thrown up. Our men charged them across an open field a half a mile in length, and were repulsed, and the enemy closing around them, captured the 10th and 14th Alabama regiments, of Wilcox’s old Brigade. We had but few cavalry during the fight at this particular point.
Yesterday afternoon [June 29, 1864], reinforcements came up, and another engagement took place, which resulted in the total defeat of the enemy, with heavy loss in killed, wounded and prisoners, and the re-capture of the two Alabama regiments.17
The guard represent that we have the enemy to the right [west] of the [Weldon] railroad, with every crossing strongly guarded, and the entire command will probably fall into our hands to-day [June 30, 1864].18
The prisoners brought in last night [June 29, 1864] represent the Third New York [Cavalry], Sixth [sic, Eighth?] Illinois [Cavalry], and First District [of] Columbia Cavalry.19—They were completely exhausted from long marching and covered with dirt, and state that they have suffered terribly from the heat, many of their men having fallen from sun stroke during the raid.
Col. [Everton J.] Conger [Lt. Colonel of the 1st DC cavalry], of New York, is badly wounded in the thigh, and several officers have been rendered totally helpless by the heat and fatigue of the journey.20
They say that the Brigade reported captured at Stony Creek, is commanded by Col. [George H.] Chapman, of Illinois [sic, Indiana].21
If you are interested in helping us transcribe newspaper articles like the one above, please CONTACT US.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The “big dogs of war,” of course, were the large siege weapons the Union had brought up after the First Offensive. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: If you know where this observatory was located, presumably in Petersburg, please CONTACT US. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: “Battery No. 2” and “Battery No. 5” were positions along the Dimmock Line east of Petersburg which had been captured during the fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg. Of course the Petersburg paper is going to continue to refer to them as they were known for so long. For a REALLY good map of the batteries along the Dimmock line east of Petersburg, see Earl J. Hess’ book In the Trenches at Petersburg¸ page 22. See also the excellent page on the Dimmock line at PetersburgProject.org. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I’d like to comment on two things here. First, I can find no evidence in the Official Records, Volume XL, Part 2 for any special Union activity east of Petersburg on the morning or afternoon of June 29, 1864. All of the focus seems to be how to get Wilson and Kautz safely back into Union lines utilizing Sheridan’s remaining cavalry divisions and Wright’s Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. It seems this was just the usual activity of supplying an immense army. Second, Confederate papers often liked to use the word “miscegenators” when describing Union soldiers and armies. For those who do not know, miscegenation is “…sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race.” The Confederate papers liked to imply Union armies were in favor of Black males having intercourse with (especially Southern) White women, with the implication that this intercourse would be nonconsensual. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The first portion of this paragraph refers to Grant’s Second Offensive against Petersburg, June 21-24, 1864, which resulted in the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road and occurred at the same time as the Wilson-Kautz cavalry raid on Confederate supply lines west and southwest of Petersburg. You’ll see much more coverage of this raid in the rest of this article. As the Express notes, the Union army did not capture the Weldon Railroad in this offensive. They would not permanently gain that foothold until the Fourth offensive in August 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: “Wilson’s great raid” is, of course, what is now popularly referred to as the “Wilson-Kautz Raid.” Led by James H. Wilson, who commanded his own cavalry division as well as that of August V. Kautz, led these Union cavalrymen on a raid from June 22-30, 1864 on the railroads west and southwest of Petersburg. The Southside RR and Richmond & Danville RR were the targets. Wilson had been turned back at Staunton River Bridge, and was doggedly pursued east by W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee’s Confederate cavalrymen. Wade Hampton attempted to move from Petersburg to intercept Wilson before he could get back to Union lines, even utilizing some Southern infantry on June 29, 1864 at First Reams’ Station. For a good map of Wilson’s route, see Hal Jespersen’s map on one of my 150th Anniversary posts on the raid. For the only book to focus specifically on the raid, now out of print and rather expensive, see Greg Eanes’ Destroy the Junction: The Wilson-Kautz Raid and the battle for Staunton River Bridge, June 21, 1864 to July 1, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Wilson’s Raid had been prematurely ended after the failure to burn Staunton River Bridge on June 25, 1864. It was a race back to the safety of the Union lines from that point forward. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Express was a little off on Wilson’s return route. He took a more southerly route on the way back, trying to reach Stony Creek Station on the Weldon Railroad. Read on to find out what happened. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Wilson’s command was turned back from the Weldon Railroad by Hampton’s Confederate cavalry division 20+ miles south of Petersburg a little west of Stony Creek Station at the June 28, 1864 Battle of Sappony Church. Contrary to the Express’ report, Rooney Lee’s cavalry division was not involved in this fight. Hampton fought Wilson’s raiders with four brigades of cavalry. On June 29, Wilson then attempted a roundabout move north to Reams’ Station. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I have never seen a breakdown of the raiders’ casualties by fight, and I’m not sure that is even possible given the nature of a cavalry raid, but this Express article overstates the losses for sure. The worst day of the fighting for Wilson was June 29, and we are not even to that portion of this article. All told, in the entire raid, Wilson and Kautz suffered a combined 1,400 casualties, including what was to come after Sappony Church. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was actually Wilson’s entire division, but Wilson did indeed send a small detachment of men under Captain Whitaker to try to reach the main Union lines and ask for help. See Jim Epperon’s page on Wilson’s Creek for this piece of information. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This article is a bit scatter-brained in its execution. Here, we are again referring to the June 28, 1864 Battle of Sappony Church. To be fair to the paper, they were receiving these reports in real time, and they were fairly impossible to verify in the way we can today in such a short amount of time. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: If you find one theme among the Richmond and Petersburg papers in late June and early July 1864, describing the “depredations” of Wilson’s Raiders, many of them factual, is it. Not a lot was going on in the main lines of fortifications during this time frame, so this was the lead story for days. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Meade and Grant sent Wright’s Sixth Corps in the direction of Reams Station on June 29, 1864, but they arrived after the fighting was over and did Wilson no appreciable good. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The equivalent of an entire brigade became casualties, captured, wounded and missing, during the raid, but these men were not all from one brigade, but rather from two divisions of cavalry. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This belief was incorrect. Wilson made it safely to the James River on July 2, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: These various engagements on June 29, 1864 are collectively known as the First Battle of Reams’ Station. Note that the much more famous (at least when considering the various battles of the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, anyway) battle near the same location fought on August 25, 1864 is the Second Battle of Reams’ Station. It is often simply referred to as the Battle of Reams’ Station, ignoring the cavalry/infantry engagement of June. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This is not what happened. Though the railroad was strongly guarded, Wilson and Kautz took different routes across the railroad and both managed to make the Union lines with their commands mostly intact though damaged significantly. Kautz arrived earlier than Wilson, but both were completely back by the evening of July 2, 1864, minus the 1,400 to 1,500 losses they suffered during the raid. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 3rd New York Cavalry and 1st DC Cavalry were part of Kautz’s Cavalry Division from the Army of the James. The 6th Illinois Cavalry was never in the Eastern Theater, so the article is clearly incorrect here. However, a detachment of the 8th Illinois Cavalry was present with the Army of the Potomac during this time, serving as raid and division commander James H. Wilson’s personal escort. Clearly these prisoners came from that escort. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: See page 270 of this history of the 1st Maine Cavalry and 1st DC Cavalry for Conger’s wounding. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Chapman was from Indiana, though born in Massachusetts. He commanded the Second Brigade of Wilson’s Third Cavalry Division in the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. This brigade was not captured in its entirety, as is implied in the newspaper article. Chapman himself was not captured on this raid either, going on to lead his brigade in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, as well as an entire division. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Kautz and Wilson were both in the vicinity on June 29, 1864 before being separated during the fighting and forcing them to find separate ways back to the Union lines. ↩
- “From the Front.” The Daily Express (Petersburg, VA). June 30, 1864, p. 2 col. 2-3 ↩