Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
A CAVALRY CHRONICLE.
That Fighting Cavalry From South Carolina—The Most Brilliant Exploits of the War—Wade Hampton’s Devotion to Duty.
Col. Zimmerman Davis 1, in Weekly News.
After the lapse of eighteen years it is no easy matter, in the absence of notes taken at the time, to give minute details of events and incidents, however vivid and real they may have appeared at the time of their occurrence. The war times! How far off they now seem! The intervening years have been so full of battles of other kinds—struggles to master adversity, to win bread as well as fortune, to rehabilitate our homes, to conquer defeat, to lift up our fallen and prostrate State, and to make our very adversities the basis of a greater prosperity—that the memory of those days may well seem indistinct and unreal. But if their history is ever to be written, it ought to be done by those who lived through those four terrible years. Our State Legislature has made a beginning by endeavoring to have placed on record a list of the names of her sons who responded then to her call, though it is to be feard that even now it is too late to procure anything more than very imperfect and incomplete rolls. Who, then, will write the history? The Southern Historical Society has been endeavoring to collect and publish, during the past six or seven years, everything which would appear to be of general interest to all to whom the “Lost Cause” is a hallowed memory, and has done much to correct false impressions, and to put into durable form truthful and valuable material for the historian. But there are many incidents, full of interest to particular States and communities, which will probably never find their way into the papers of this Society, and the publishers of the Weekly News have done well to invite contributions from those who were eye-witnesses of and participants in the scenes they describe. “The Story of the Surrender,” “The Bloody Bend,” “The Fight of the Rear Guard,” “The Last Flag of Truce,” “The Battle of the Crater” and “In the Pen at Point Lookout,” have all been told with graphic pen, and the hearts of the old veterans have throbbed with a quicker glow, while their eyes have lighted up with a brighter gleam, or mayhap have been dimmed with a sudden moisture, as they read or discussed again with each other the story of the past. No article has yet appeared describing the deeds of our
SOUTH CAROLINA CAVALRY,
and while what I write will give but an imperfect idea of its gallant service during many months in Virginia, I trust that it will show that the cavalry was in very truth the “right arm” of Lee’s army.
In the spring of 1864 the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Regiments of South Carolina Cavalry were ordered from South Carolina to Virginia, and constituted what was thereafter known as
Being armed with Enfield rifles, its chief fighting was done on foot, and it soon won for itself throughout the Army of Northern Virginia the name of “That Fighting Cavalry from South Carolina.” All through that spring and summer and fall its activity and arduous service was ceaseless, as the list of the battles in which it was engaged will show. Beginning with “Drury’s Bluff,” “Cheater Station” and “Atkinson’s Farm,” fought by the Fifth Regiment, which served as infantry while waiting the arrival of the horses from South Carolina, followed by the Battles of “Charles City Courthouse,” “Hawes’s Shop” and “Cold Harbor,” in May; “Trevillian Station,” “White House,” “White Oak Swamp” and “Riddle’s Shop,” in June; “Nance’s Shop” and “Pappony Church,” in July; “Gravelly Run” in August, “Reams’s Station” and the “Vaughan Road” in September, and “Mrs. Cummin’s Farm” and “Burgess’s Mill” in October, besides innumerable skirmishes, which, though sometimes unpleasantly hot, did not attain to the dignity of being mentioned as battles. These served to fill up the measure of a very vigorous campaign, and made fearful havoc in the ranks of both men and horses. I do not remember the losses of the other regiments, but my own regiment (the Fifth) lost over
FOUR HUNDRED OFFICERS AND MEN
in killed and wounded, besides about fifty captured, during the six months above mentioned.
As I have stated, the chief fighting was done with the rifle, but there were not wanting the brilliant dash and the headlong charge with sabre or pistol, the shock of which the enemy seldom waited to meet.
During this campaign Gen. M[atthew]. C[albraith]. Butler had been promoted to be major-general, and Col. [John] Dunovant2 to the temporary rank of brigadier, but the brigade was always known as “Butler’s,” being unwilling to part with a name which had become historic even in that army of gallant brigades. The limits of this paper will not admit of many details of the performances of the cavalry during the campaign of 1864, and I will confine myself to one or two incidents which I have not seen described by any one else heretofore. September found Wade Hampton, then lieutenant-general, and commanding all the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, occupying the extreme right of Lee’s army, extending from Hatcher’s Run, ten miles south of Petersburg, indefinitely on that flank, so as to protect the Southside Railroad, and keep open the country from which Gen. Lee drew a large part of his supplies. Ever devising schemes to embarrass and punish the enemy, Hampton determined to make Grant contribute to the supply of Lee’s commissary department, and accordingly on Tuesday, the 13th of September, with a picked body of four hundred men, selected from the various commands of his corps, Hampton made an incursion into the enemy’s lines. While the whole front of Lee’s army opened a brisk fire to divert and engage the attention of the enemy, Hampton made a long, but rapid detour, and sweeping round, completely surprised and captured an encampment only a few miles in rear of Grant’s lines, and though pursued and attacked by a large force sent to intercept him, he kept them at bay and successfully brought off his entire command, together with three hundred prisoners, three hundred horses and mules, ten wagons laden with valuable plunder, and
2,500 HEAD OF BEEVES.
I think this may safely be cited as the most brilliant single exploit of the war. All honor to “Jeb” Stuart for his complete circuit of Grant’s army, but remember that he was in light marching trim, with no encumbrances. Of course the rest of the cavalry who were not on this raid with Hampton had their hands full engaging and intercepting the enemy while he was safely bringing out his captures. It was a lovely and picturesque sight never to be forgotten as those 2,500 cattle came in sight of the brigade camp at Burgess’s Mill on Saturday morning, September 17th. The sun was just rising as they appeared coming over the crest of a hill and spreading out over an extensive field to grase [sic], all fine, large cattle in splendid condition, from Texas, driven by trained mounted drivers in blue, cracking their long whips and shouting as no one but a cowboy knows how, each impressed driver himself closely attended by a jaded but exultant escort in grey. The rejoicing in Lee’s army at the results of this expedition can well be imagined, as it was enabled to enjoy full rations of good fresh beef for several weeks thereafter, a luxury to which the poor Confeds had long been strangers.
THE SOUTH SIDE RAILROAD
was one of the main arteries by which the Army of Northern Virginia was supplied, and repeated efforts had been made by the enemy to reach and destroy it. The first attempt of any strength was made by the cavalry of Gens. Wilson and Kautz, which, however, was intercepted and literally cut to pieces by Hampton at Sappony Church. After this reconnoissances in force were frequently made by the enemy’s infantry for the purpose of dislodging our cavalry on the Vaughan Road, and thus getting possession of the White Oak Road upon which they proposed to advance towards the railroad. One of these demonstrations was made on the morning of October 1st, but it was repulsed, and the enemy was driven back through several successive lines of works to “Mrs. Cummin’s Farm,” across Hatcher’s Run. The brave,
GEN. JOHN DUNOVANT
was instantly killed by a bullet through the brain while leading his brigade in a brilliant charge.
The last serious attempt to break our lines at this point occurred on the 27th of October. The enemy’s force consisted of parts of three army corps, numbering (as we learned from prisoners) upwards of ten thousand men. They advanced by several roads, and as fast as our brigade was dismounted to fight, we would find ourselves in danger of being flanked, and thus were forced to remount and fall back successively across the Squirrel level, the Quaker and the Boydton Plank Roads, and through our camp on the Quaker Road, from which, however, everything had been sent to the rear early in the day. The enemy’s plans and strength having been fully developed, Gen. Hampton placed
YOUNG’S AND BUTLER’S BRIGADES
of cavalry in their front at Burgess’s mill, while orders were dispatched to Gen. W. H. F. Lee, stationed ten miles south of us, to move up as rapidly as possible with his division, and attack the enemy’s left flank, while it was understood that Mahone’s division of infantry and Dearing’s cavalry were to cross Hatcher’s Run below Burgess’s mill and strike them on the right flank.
THE REAL FIGHT OF THE DAY
began about 3 o’clock, when Butler’s brigade charged across an open field on the right of the White Oak Road, and drove the enemy to the cover of a dense pine thicket. Major Theo. G. Barker, A. A. General of Butler’s Division, was seriously wounded while gallantly leading the brigade in this charge, he alone being mounted, and therefore a conspicuous target for the fire of the enemy. After the brigade had reached a little knoll it was halted, and ordered to lie down, and protected partly by the gently undulating ground and partly by a rail fence, it kept up a heavy and continuous fire until night closed in upon the scene. The enemy being massed in the pine thicket already referred to, poured a very heavy fire upon us, but fortunately generally overshot the men lying down. During the afternoon Gen. Butler sent me (though placed in command of my regiment the next day, I was on this day, and had been for several months, serving on the brigade staff as acting adjutant and inspector-general,) to the line of battle to direct Lieut-Col. [Robert J.] Jeffords to charge the enemy as soon as he heard firing from Gen. W. H. F. Lee on the enemy’s left flank, and upon riding forward I met the lifeless body of Col. Jeffords being borne to the rear, he having been shot through the head and instantly killed. After delivering the order to Maj. Ferguson, the next in command on that part of the line, I was making all the haste I could to get out of a fire which was uncomfortably hot to a man on horseback, several bullets having already passed through my clothing, when I saw
A STAFF OFFICER,
who appeared to be riding towards me, fall from his horse. I galloped up to see who it was, and Gen. Hampton and his staff rode up at the same moment. We all at once dismounted, and the General, stooping over the prostrate form, gently raised his head and kissed him, saying “My son, my son.” It was his son, Lieut. Preston Hampton, his aide-de-camp. The little group being in full view of the enemy a volley was fired at us, wounding four, one of whom was Capt. Wade Hampton, Jr., another son of our noble chief, who having been upon the staff of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston had reported for duty with his father upon the temporary removal of Gen. Johnston from command at Atlanta. Assisting him to mount his horse, I conducted him to Gen. Butler, who had taken position a little to the rear, overlooking the field, and galloped a hundred yards or so farther to the rear for a surgeon. Returning at full speed, with Dr. Burkhalter, we met the General and his staff. A spring wagon had been found in a yard near by, which some of the couriers or staff were dragging out of the line of fire, while Dr. B. W. Taylor was sitting in the wagon supporting the head of poor Preston Hampton upon his shoulder. Alas, he was dead. Gen. Hampton simply said, “Too late, Doctor,” and turned his horse’s head and rode over to where two guns of
under Lieut. F. M. Bamberg [sic, Bamburg], were engaged in an artillery duel with apparently several batteries of the enemy stationed on a hill on the other side of a pine thicket. And there, with compressed lips and flashing eye, the great hero directed the fire of those two guns until dark. The accuracy of the fire was evident the next morning when we saw on that hill several exploded caissons and over twenty dead horses.
I trust I have not violated the sanctity of private grief by relating the details of Preston Hampton’s death, but there was something so grand and noble in the pure patriot soul of Wade Hampton, who could, at such a time as that, with one son killed and another severely wounded, subordinate parental affection to duty, as to excite admiration and respect, that I cannot resist the impulse to speak of it.
The distances which Gen. W. H. F. Lee had to march on the one side and Gen. Mahone on the other were so great that no combined attack could be made that evening, but arrangements were made for it to take place at dawn the next morning. The enemy however
SAW THE TRAP
which was laid for them, and quietly but hastily retreated during the night, leaving their pickets on post to be captured, and all their killed and wounded on the field. Citizens informed us that Grant himself was present in our front a part of the afternoon previous, and boasted that he would sup that night in Petersburg. Heavy demonstrations had been made by him all along Gen. Lee’s lines between us and Petersburg that day, and he doubtless thought that he could walk over the cavalry on his left and turn Lee’s right flank and force him to change his base. Is it too much to claim that Butler’s Division of Cavalry, being in the enemy’s immediate front, and bearing the brunt of the battle, by checking their advance, saved Petersburg from capture on that day?
This was the last pitched battle of any consequence fought by Butler’s Brigade in Virginia, as the roads soon became well-nigh impassable, and both armies went into winter quarters.4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Zimmerman Davis was Colonel of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Former Colonel of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry, John Dunovant commanded Butler’s Cavalry Brigade after Butler was promoted to command the division. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Hart’s Washington South Carolina Artillery ↩
- “A Cavalry Chronicle.” Anderson (SC) Intelligencer. June 8, 1882, p. 1 col. 1-3 ↩