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NP: February 6, 1865 Weekly Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon): The Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry at the Skirmish on Fort Holly Hill, December 10, 1864

Soldier’s Letters.—J. C. Grubbs, who went from here last Summer and enlisted as a private, has risen by energy and perseverance to the position of Sergeant-Major of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry.  We have been permitted to read several of his letters to friends in this city, from which we take the following extracts:

“On the morning of Dec. 9th [sic, December 10, 1864], our coffee was hardly swallowed when the rapid firing of pickets gave us warning of a fight.  Wildly the bugle sounded ‘boots and saddles,’ and soon as wildly went our old regiment into the charge.  The rebels had taken one line of our breastworks at the outset.  Finding they were behind the works, we dismounted and charged them as ‘dough boys’ (the name we give infantry).  We stormed the place three times, and the fourth carried it, driving the Johnies like sheep, and capturing two brigades.”1

Speaking of a fight on the Southside Railroad, in which a rebel attack was unsuccessful, he says:

“The poor fellows we killed were many of them without shoes, and had scarcely clothes enough to cover them.  Longstreet and Field, who led their charge, told them most of our men had been removed to join Warren, and that they could just walk in and help themselves to our Commissary and Quartermaster stores, which God knows they needed bad enough.  But the Old Fifth was there, and though we had to stand the shock of battle which should have been met by nearly an entire corps, we held them at bay and discharged finally many a luckless conscript.”2

In the same letter he speaks in the highest terms of the labors and efficiency of the Sanitary and Christian Commissions.3

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Nadine Kirchner.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Grubbs is talking about the December 10, 1864 Skirmish in Front of Fort Holly, north of the James River. Confederate General James Longstreet, only recently back from his wounding at the Wilderness, led Charles Field’s infantry division, a battalion of artillery from E. P. Alexander, and Gary’s Cavalry Brigade to probe the Union defenses on their far right, north of the James River. Grubbs exaggerates when he says the Union cavalry captured two Confederate brigades.  The casualties were light in this fight.  See Henrico County Field of Honor, Volume 2, pages 812-820, including map on page 816 and a detailed description of the role the 5tth Pennsylvania Cavalry played in this little affair.
  2. Despite the newspaper editor’s claim that this paragraph discusses a fight on the Southside Railroad, I believe Grubbs is still talking about the December 10, 1864 fight at Fort Holly. Clues include the fact that Longstreet and Field were in charge of the Confederate forces, and that the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry was in the Army of the James’ Cavalry Division.  They almost always operated north of the James River, far away from the Southside Railroad, which ran west from Petersburg.  This cannot be the Wilson-Kautz Raid because Longstreet was present. He didn’t return to action from his Wilderness wound until October 1864.
  3. “Soldier’s Letters.” Weekly Oregon Statesman (Salem, Oregon). February 6, 1865, p. 2 col. 4
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  • Lisa Fulton September 10, 2020, 12:24 pm

    Brett, Well, I had to find out if that incident appeared in the Jeffers’ letters. Sure enough, they is mentioned it – though the brothers do not report being driven like sheep. They do mention the weather, which I know you like to track.

    From Spann Jeffers:

    “Camp 7th So Ca Cav, Near Richmond
    December 14th 1864
    My Dear Sister Annie

    I must write to you to-night though it may be only a few lines, to acknowledge the receipt of your kind favor of the 4th inst. You have no doubt heard of Henry’s safe arrival here. I was indeed glad to see him looking so much better than when he left us.

    The only news of interest which has transpired since my last letter was a reconnaissance in force by our troops which took place last Saturday [10 Dec 1864]. Our Brigade was ordered to protect the left flank of the assaulting column. The ground was covered with snow and when we mounted our horses at three o’clock in the morning the white flakes were still falling. Imagine what a pleasant! ride we had, our weak animals slipping and sliding along through the snow and darkness, their manes & tails one mass of ice and mud, our hats and cloaks crusty with the frozen snow and rain, while little icicles hung suspended to the tips of our red noses! – through which the huge proportions of the elephant were dimly transparent.

    We remained in line of battle all day, changing position occasionally to suit the movements of the infantry, and returned to camp about ten o’clock. The weather is very cold and cloudy and I am looking for snow again in a day or two….”

    From Captain Henry Jeffers, barely recovered from a severe illness:

    “Camp 7th SCC, Decemb 15th 1864
    My dear Sister

    … I presume Spann or William has given you a full account of the cold and trying time we had the other day. I did not suffer much at the time. Had we been compelled to have remained out all night, it would have proved more serious. It seems that we will have no more fighting here for the present. I rather think, before the Spring campaign can open here, Grant will find use for his Army at other points….”

    It sounds like Henry knew about Grant and Butler moving men away from the James, to use in a attack on Fort Fisher. Ironically that is where the third Jeffers brother, Thomas, would be when those attacks started a couple of weeks later.

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