(For the Bedford Inquirer)
HEADQUARTERS, Co. “I,” 21st PENN’A. CAVALRY,
5TH ARMY CORPS, August 20, 1864.
It is now dark [on the night of August 20, 1864], after a series of marches and countermarches we are stationed in the woods three miles north of Reams Station, On the Weldon R[ail]. Road, between the enemy and that famous thoroughfare.1
The men are working by reliefs, throwing up advance lines of breastworks. And now as I have a little rest I will devote a few moments in informing the many readers of your excellent paper, how we came here and what we accomplished. The Rebel papers have been boasting of the failure of Gen. Grant’s Campaign, and of his purpose to withdraw his army, stating that he had already shortened his lines at the commencement of the retrograde movement. Acting upon these notions, the enemy charged most furiously upon the lines of the Ninth Corps, about 1 o’clock in the morning of the 18th inst. [August 18, 1864], but were repulsed with great slaughter.
Our Corps (the 5th) had been relieved from those works on the 15th inst. [August 15 1864], were placed in reserve with orders to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. The heavy cannonading on the morning of the 18th, roused us from our slumber, we stood in groups viewing the shells as they sped through the air, some dropping around an in our camp; this ended our repose for the remainder of the night, and as we had orders to move at 4 o’clock A.M., the boys prepared their coffee and were waiting for the command “march.” Soon the red cross of the First Division [1/V/AotP] made its appearance followed by the commander and staff. The column quietly advanced as we belong to that Division, we fell in our proper place.
The column soon formed to the left and struck the Jerusalem Plank Road (but minus planks). We marched along this road for several miles, then filed right and turned our anxious faces toward the [Weldon] railroad. We soon passed the advance cavalry picket, then under cover of a friendly ridge, and formed in three lines of battle. We deployed skirmishers and advanced in the above order. Our skirmishers drove in the enemy’s pickets, and we advancing through swamps of mud and water knee deep, soon reached the railroad after capturing some twenty Rebels.2
The 21st Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry3, was the first to commence destroying the [Weldon rail] road, and the Company to which your correspondent has the honor to be connected with, was the first to destroy the wires. This regiment pitched into the destruction of the road with great, avidity, exclaiming as they capsized the track, “Remember Chambersburg!”4 After destroying several miles of this road, means were used to hold the same; temporary breastworks were speedily thrown up, skirmishers advanced and pickets thrown out to protect the left flank. Also at noon a heavy shower of rain came up, and as is customary with the rebels, they took advantage of the storm to charge upon our lines. They accordingly charged, but after our men poured several volleys into them, we in return charged on them, driving them and keeping the advanced position until the killed and wounded were disposed of, when our men would return to their former position; thus the conflict continued back and forward until after dark. It is said that the loss is considerable on both sides; the enemy, however, suffered more severely than we, leaving their dead and wounded in our possession. The enemy is in earnest, trying to regain this road; and from their furious and numerous charges we are led to believe that their very existence depends on the possession of this road.5
Friday the 19th [August 19, 1864] passed without much fighting. Toward evening under cover of another rain storm, they again assailed our lines; but we are so accustomed to this mode of attack, that we are never taken unawares, and always look for the Johnnies in the rain storm remembering Cromwell’s battle cry: “Trust in God and keep the powder dry.” Accordingly they were repulsed.
Again, and again, they rush on our lines, are in return driven back, finally they mass their forces again at our right, with a determination to flank us. They were met at the onset with usual bravery, but the living mass hurled against our right causing it to waver and fall back. The successful and exalting enemy surrounded some of our men and took about 500 prisoners.6
Their successful rejoicing was however of short endurance, as our men soon rallied, and charged on them with renewed vigor determined to avenge their loss, Gen. Griffin brought his batteries to bear on them, and mowed down their lines, a great many wisely fell, as dead upon the field, our brave soldiers charging upon them, recapturing many of those taken from us, and many more of the enemy taking with them on their return those who escaped destruction by falling to the earth. This last charge of the enemy was the most desperate, indeed the effort appeared to be the very extremity of their power as they fought men who refused to charge. But they suffered severely in killed, wounded and prisoners, and have made no effort since to drive us from our position. We have thus lengthened our lines, instead of contracting. We have an unbroken front from the Appomattox, across the Weldon R.R., have taken many prisoners, nine hundred and thirty-eight of which passed by in one squad today.
The prisoners say they have been two days in the swamp before us without food, that it was by this road all their provisions were brought, and they cannot surmount its loss. Our boys exhibited great feelings of pity for them, giving them both food and clothes. We do not hate but pity those poor deluded men, one man said that two of his brothers were shot on refusing to charge on us.
Sunday [August 21, 1864], 4 o’clock P.M. I cannot close without noticing another fearful effort put forth by the enemy this morning to recover the R.R., they charged in force in what they considered the weakest part of our lines, the center of this Corps. Simultaneous with this attack they also advanced on the extreme left, with a determination to flank us. In the center we took five battle flags and all that remained alive of two brigades among the prisoners, were observed wearing stars on their shoulders. On the left our cavalry dismounted, advanced, and drove back the flanking foe, we then advanced, our left built new breastworks to protect the flank. After this disaster to the enemy and the advance of our lines, quiet has been established and further preparations are in progress for the overthrow of the enemy.7 J. Speer, 1st Lieut. of Co. “F” of this Regiment, was mortally wounded, he is a native of Johnstown, and was a brave officer, I have as yet not ascertained the casualties of the Regiment.
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Roy Gustrowsky.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: This is an exciting letter because it was written right in the middle of Grant’s Fourth Offensive against Richmond, during the August 18-21, 1864 Battle of Globe Tavern. Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, to which the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry belonged, had made an aggressive movement west to get onto the Weldon Railroad, the direct route south from Petersburg to supplies in North Carolina and the rest of the Confederacy. The Confederates attacked fiercely on August 18 and 19, 1864. At the point this letter was written the next day on August 20, the Fifth Corps was digging in and preparing to hold the railroad permanently. There would be more Confederate attacks to come. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Doyle is describing the early portion of the first day of the Battle of Globe Tavern August 18, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The letter writer’s regiment, the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, was at this time fighting dismounted and acting as infantry. They would be mounted in October 1864 and assigned to the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania had been burnt to the ground by Confederate cavalry on July 30, 1864. For more, see here. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Doyle is describing the later portion of the first day of the Battle of Globe Tavern August 18, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Here Doyle is discussing the second day’s fighting at the Battle of Globe Tavern on August 19, 1864. He severely understates the extent of the disaster on the Union side. An ad hoc force commanded by Confederate General William Mahone wrecked Crawford’s Division of the Fifth Corps, with over 2,500 Union soldiers falling prisoner. Still, Warren’s Fifth Corps clung to the Weldon Railroad at the end of the fighting, a strategic win for the Union. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Doyle here writes about the fourth day of the battle, and third day of fighting at Globe Tavern on August 21, 1864. This day ended the battle in favor of the Union. The Weldon Railroad was firmly in their control just south of Petersburg, forcing the weary Rebels to haul their supplies from Stony Point Depot to Boydton Plank Road to northwest to avoid the Union lines. The Union stranglehold had tightened. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: A quick glance at the roster of Company I, 21st PA Cavalry showed the author must have certainly been 1st Lt. Martin P. Doyle. Doyle was “wounded at Cold Harbor, Va., June 3, and at Boydton Plank Road, October 27, 1864. He resigned January 11, 1865.” ↩
- “Army Correspondence.” The Bedford Inquirer, September 2, 1864, p. 2, col. 2 ↩