Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.
A BRILLIANT CAVALRY COUP.
How Hampton Captured Grant’s Entire Beef Supply
Col. D[avid]. Cardwell, of the Stuart Horse Artillery [McGregor’s Battery], Tells a Thrilling Story of the Greatest Cattle Raid of the War, which Furnished Fresh Meat for the Starving Army of Northern Virginia—How 2,480 Beeves were Driven from Coggins Point on the James Safely Into the Confederate Lines.
After that fateful day, May 11, 1864, when the bullet of the enemy took from the cavalry corps its great commander, J. E. B. Stuart, at Yellow Tavern, that man who, Longstreet said, was the greatest cavalryman America ever saw; that man upon whom Jackson threw his mantle, like Elijah of old; that man upon whom Gen Lee depended for eyes and ears—Gen Lee did not have to look for his successor; no, he was close at hand and had carved his name with his sabre high in the list of the world’s great soldiers. It was Wade Hampton upon whom the mantle fell, and who was worthier? We have heard and do know of the achievements of this command and that command, from the pens of officers and privates, and I am glad it is so. I read everything of the kind I come across.
I have read of Stuart’s great ride around McClellan’s army on the Chickahominy, and it was a wonderful performance. I know it is considered by military men as a unique feat. I wish I were able to describe it. I recall the enthusiasm it created and also remember the fate of the gallant Latane, the only casualty.1
It is not of this that I would write. I was not with the boys then. It is of Hampton’s great “cattle raid,” in September, 1864, that I propose to write in my own plain way, just as I remember it, and just as I read of it, now that it is all over.2
THE MISE EN SCENE.
In the early part of 1864 Gen Lee’s army was facing Gen Grant’s at Petersburg, and his infantry lines extended from the Appomattox on the east to about Dinwiddie Court House on the southwest. South of this the cavalry held the lines. I say held them, not as the infantry did, but patrolled them all the way down to Stoney Creek and sometimes beyond. We were too few to man the lines, so we rode them one night here, and to-morrow somewhere else on the line, repelling from time to time by the hardest kind of fighting the repeated attacks made upon the lines of communication, i. e., the Weldon Railroad and the Boydton plank road. The preservation of these means the life of the army and of the country.
A QUESTION OF BREAD AND MEAT.
And this brings us to a question of bread and meat, and I tell it was at that time a very serious matter. My comrades knew how we were put to it for something to eat. Sometimes we had bread, (such as it was,) sometimes meat, sometimes neither. Men resorted to all sorts of devices to get a square meal. If perchance they met a farmer they at once cultivated him as a long lost brother and made all sorts of excuses to call; took the girls to ride, etc., and never left without eating some meal, either dinner or supper. Our orderly sergeant, a Frenchman of many accomplishments, is said to have called on the Widow Hancock, in Dinwiddie County, and on taking his leave also took her gray cat, and his mess ate her in a stew smothered in garlic the next day. “They say so.” I don’t know. A Frenchman has the reputation of eating anything.
GEN HAMPTON PROPOSES A RAID
Be that as it may, on the 8th of September Gen Hampton addressed a note to Gen Lee informing him that his scouts reported to him a large herd of cattle grazing in the rear of Grant’s army, in the neighborhood of Coggins Point on James River, and asking permission to take a force of cavalry and go down and drive out the cattle.3 The old General was perhaps hungry himself. On the 9th Gen Lee replied that the only difficulty of importance he saw was in getting back with the cattle. Gen Lee said he was not sufficiently acquainted with the country to say how that could be effected, if embarrassed with wagons and cattle, and advised Gen Hampton to take such a circuit as would allow ample space for his flank pickets to notify him of danger. He said that the Federal general, [David McM.] Gregg, was near the Weldon road, and that he would move two brigades of infantry down the plank road behind Gen Dearing, who was on that road with his brigade of cavalry.
On the 13th, Lieut John F. Lanneau, of Hampton’s engineer corps, wrote Major McClellan, Hampton’s adjutant general, for a detail of forty men and two commissioned officers from Butler’s and W. H. F. Lee’s divisions. He would furnish the detachment with tools; they would be armed with pistols, and would serve during the expedition as a mounted engineer troop under his direction. He designated Lieut. Johnson, Company A., 4th S[outh]. C[arolina]. cavalry, and Lieut. Bauskett, 6th S[outh]. C[arolina]. cavalry, as suitable officers to take charge of the detail from Gen Butler’s division.
The detail from W. H. F. Lee’s division were ordered to report to Lieut F. Robertson at Gen W. H. F. Lee’s headquarters and tools would be furnished them by Lieut Lanneau. The men were to be selected from those accustomed to the use of an axe.
BUGLER SOUNDS “BOOTS AND SADDLE.”
On the morning of the 14th of September, 1864, long before daylight, we were aroused from our camp by the notes of the bugle sounding “boots and saddle” and the command to which I belonged (the Stuart horse artillery) was ordered to saddle up and move out behind the 13th Virginia cavalry. We waited, seated on our horses, for a long time—all waiting seems long—and while we waited we speculated upon where we were going and what we were going for. So little do soldiers know of the intentions of their officers, that some said we were going to surprise and capture a brigade of negro troops, and we began in a spirit of humor to tell what we were going to do with our share of the negroes. We had no intimation nor idea that beeves had any place in the picture at all.
Gen Hampton in his account says: “On the morning of the 14th I moved with the division of Major Gen W. H. F. Lee, the brigades of Rosser and Dearing, and a detachment of 100 men from Young’s and Dunovant’s brigades under command of Lieut Col Miller, 6 S[outh]. C[arolina]. cavalry, and moved down from Rowanty Creek to Wilkinson’s bridge on that stream, where the command bivouacked that night.”
The command left Wilkerson’s [sic, Wilkinson’s] bridge at an early hour on the 15th and struck out on a trail for Sycamore Church, in Prince George County, a point most central and nearest to the cattle, and the place where the largest force of the enemy was camped. Gen Hampton’s idea was that by disposing them here it made it impossible for them to concentrate any force in time to interfere with the main object of the expedition. By a rapid march the command reached the Blackwater, at Cook’s bridge, which had been destroyed. Gen Hampton knew that the bridge had been destroyed and purposely selected this route, as the enemy would not be likely to look for an attack from that quarter.
HOW THEY BRIDGED THE BLACKWATER.
When we reached this bridge we were halted and dismounted to await the arrangements being made by the pioneer people for us to cross. I shall never forget how the boys went out into the fields and dug up sweet potatoes, and how they were stopped when they made fires to cook them. We could not afford to make a smoke, we were informed, and so some men devoured their potatoes raw. Gen Hampton had stopped all citizens en route, allowing none to go forward for fear information might reach the Yankees of his movements. While here, we rested and fed our tired horses.
The bridge was completed, and at night we crossed over the Blackwater and were now particularly enjoined not to make a noise, and several times the musical men of the column were cut short in attempted songs, which they thoughtlessly began. Nothing was heard but the steady tread of the horses and the rattle of sabres. The guns of the artillery had been muffled by grain sacks being inserted between the elevating screws and the guns. Some time, about half-past 3 or 4, we were halted in a road very dark, and overhung by the branches of trees; everything was as still as death; nothing disturbed the whip-poor-will’s notes, so lonesome at all times, but more doleful then.
WITH THE SENTINEL STARS ABOVE THEM.
One by one the men would step down from their horses to the soft grass overcome by the fatigue following rapid movements. We had now ceased to speculate upon where we were going. We were too sleepy, and soon most if not all were dozing on the ground with our bridle reins around our elbows. If we dreamed it was of home—not of cattle, nor war’s alarms. The horses too slept and showed no disposition to move or disturb their sleeping masters. Here we waited. Gen Hampton, it seems, had directed Gen Lee to move by the Lawyer road to the stage road, at which point he would encounter the first pickets of the enemy. Here’s where we were sleeping. These pickets he was to drive in, and move then to occupy the roads leading from the direction of the enemy to Sycamore Church. Gen Dearing was to proceed by the Hines road to Cook’s Mill, where he was to halt until the attack in the centre was made, when he was to dash across to Mingo Ferry road, attacking the post on that road and cutting off all retreat, guarding at the same time against an attack from Fort Powhatan. Rosser’s brigade and Miller’s detachment moved on by roads direct toward Sycamore Church. Gen Rosser was to carry the position of the enemy here and after doing so to push forward at once to secure the cattle. Gen Hampton says the three columns all reached the points to which they were ordered without giving alarm. Our long wait was about to end, our naps were soon to be broken.
ROSSER ATTACKS THE ENEMY.
At 5 in the morning Rosser over on the right made the attack. At the sound of the first shots every man in the road who had dismounted sprang to his saddle and we heard the well-known yell, that cry known as the “Rebel yell” and which had struck terror to our enemies on a hundred bloody fields. It is an exultant sound, unshrouded by the form of words, and on our right it rang out on the early morning air from lusty lungs and in a minute every horse was in full gallop in our road and we were upon the picket, who seemed to have no idea of an enemy, although we had been so near him since 9 or 10 o’clock that night. We rode the picket down and found the camp on both sides of the road. Some, of course, were up and on guard, but the majority of the Federals were in bed in their little buttoned tents.
CAPTURED IN THEIR NIGHT CLOTHES.
We ran them out and took them prisoners in their night clothes. It was the 1st District of Columbia cavalry, and I think we took the most of them with their camp and splendid horses. I remember how forlorn they looked as we mustered them later in the day, many sitting on barebacked horses with nothing on but their shirts.
Gen Rosser, it appears, had about as much as he could attend to. He encountered Col Spears, 11th Pennsylvania cavalry, the same command that had made a name for itself as a fighting regiment. They made a good fight for their meat, but Rosser finally whipped them and they fell back, leaving their dead and wounded in the field, as well as their camp. Gen Dearing, on the right, made his attack according to programme, and was entirely successful.
THE MONSTER CATTLE DRIVE.
Gen Rosser without delay began to drive out the cattle, and Gen Hampton says: “There were 2,486 head of them.” Gen Hampton says in his report to Gen Lee that he withdrew all of his forces before 8 A. M. and the different columns were united before reaching the Blackwater.
That’s all right in the abstract; but now comes the return, which Gen Lee said he feared more than anything else. Before we united at the Blackwater the command I belonged to moved on to Prince George Court House and looked for the opposing troops. Some of the cavalry found the enemy and, while others cut down trees on the edge of a piece of woods, tried to toll him up where we had our artillery posted with a dismounted support.
THE GUNBOATS OPEN FIRE.
They did not at once show a disposition to come out, but very soon Uncle Sam’s gunboats in James River got our range, and, as we did not go down there really to fight, we took the back track at a trot, stimulated by the bursting of a huge shell every now and then in uncomfortable proximity.
As I said we moved at a trot. In fact we trotted most of the time, that is when we were not on a gallop. We were making haste to join the columns at the Blackwater, Rosser ahead with the catt[l]e, followed by Gen Dearing and Col Miller, Gen Lee bringing up the rear.
After the command had crossed the Blackwater we trailed towards the plank road. Gen Rosser advised Gen Hampton that a large force of the enemy was approaching on that road. Gen Hampton ordered him to take position at Ebenezer Church and to hold the road there and send the cattle by Hawkinsville crossing the plank road two miles in the rear of the line of battle, which was at once formed. Major Venable, Gen Hampton’s adjutant general, and Major Ryals, provost marshal, took charge of the cattle and were to put them across the Nottoway River, at Freeman’s Ford. Gen Rosser held his ground and Col Miller and Gen Dearing soon came up to his assistance.
LEE’S MEN TAUNT THE YANKEES.
Gen Lee came into the fight before it was over, and I well remember how his dismounted men as they advanced to a mill pond through the bushes called to the Yankees to come over and get their bulls, and bellowed at them in derision. We had some little fighting—not half as much as we anticipated—and before 9 o’clock we had left our enemy far in the rear and crossed the water by a dam, and were trotting toward our own lines. We had captured some prisoners, and among them a telegraph corps. They were splendid looking fellows, much better dressed than the average Yankee soldier, and their wagons and teams were splendid. In crossing the dam, which was very narrow, our wagon with six mules fell down the bank, and to make the road clear it was bodily thrown into the water so we could cross.
THE GALLANT M’CALLA KILLED.
I shall never forget how sorry I felt for the telegraph men, who had to drop all their dignity and trot to keep up with the hurrying column. Among the killed was the gallant McCalla of the 1st South Carolina cavalry. He and Hogan, one of Butler’s scouts, were along and rendered valuable service. We had travelled one hundred miles and had two fights, and, best of all, had furnished fresh meat for Gen Lee’s starving army, many of whom had not tasted fresh meat for months.
THE NUMBER OF HAMPTON’S MEN.
I have always understood that Gen Hampton’s entire force on this expedition was about 2,700 cavalry and four pieces of artillery, two of McGregor’s guns and two of Hart’s battery, of which all South Carolinians have heard.
WHAT THE FEDERALS SAY.
Now let’s see by the record what our “friends the enemy” were doing all this time. It seems that they had gotten wind of the proposed raid.
The first I find in the “Official Records” of the “War of the Rebellion” is a dispatch from Col Geo H. Sharp to Gen Humphries [sic], chief of staff to Gen Meade, simply stating that he had information from a prisoner from the 7th Virginia cavalry, who reported that Hampton had broken through at Sycamore Church, and had captured 2,500 head of cattle with but little loss, etc. Humphries [sic] ordered Gen Davis to strike the returning enemy at once.
HAMPTON REPORTED “FOURTEEN THOUSAND STRONG.”
The next is a dispatch at 6 A. M. of the 16th from Gen [August V.] Kautz to Capt H. C. Weir, assistant adjutant general, to the effect that his pickets had been driven in from Mount Sinai Church to Powhatan stage road, that the commanding officer of the 11th Pennsylvania cavalry thought quite a number of horses had been captured. He did not consider it serious, as the reserves had not yet been disturbed. He had not the news good yet. At 7 A. M., he says he feared that the 1st district [of Columbia] cavalry had been entrapped and that the sounds of firing were quite lively on the Powhatan road, and that he had sent a squadron of the 3d New York cavalry to the stage road, and that Col Jacobs had been ordered to dislodge them. At 8:30 he knew we were after the cattle; at 9:15 he knew that the cattle guard and 1st D. C. cavalry were captured; at 11:30 he knew that we had the cattle and that we were “14,000 strong.”
“GEN HAMPTON’S LEGION FIVE THOUSAND STRONG!”
A dispatch from Major W. A. Van Renselaer, of the 8th New York infantry [sic, Heavy Artillery?], to Gen [Marsena] Patrick, provost marshal, says: “I have just met a private of the 1st District of Columbia cavalry, who was captured, and he says they had 4 killed and about 300 captured. They also got one herd of 2,600 cattle. One man reports he saw ten regiments of infantry and a battery of eight guns. The 1st district is terribly demoralized. One of their captains says he killed a brigadier general. From what I can learn I think the Rebels are about 5,000 strong with eight guns. They all belong to Hampton’s Legion. Gen Kautz and Gregg are after them.” The suggestion that Gen Hampton’s Legion was 5,000 strong is amusing. I don’t think he ever had over half that amount in the best days. This same major reports us in full retreat at 9 A. M. I think in this he was correct.
Gen Patrick at once ordered Col. T. B. Gates, commanding at City Point, to put his command in a position to protect the depot. At 10 A. M. of the 16th Gen Meade advised Gen Grant that at daylight his pickets and reserves, between the James and the Blackwater, were strongly attacked and that at the same time a dash was made for the cattle herd at Coggins’s Point, and he feared that the herd had fallen into the enemy’s hands.
GEN MEADE’S FEARS WELL FOUNDED.
Gen Meade was certainly correct in his report. Gen Meade says he had feared this raid for some time, as with the limited force of cavalry at his command and the great extent of country to be watched he had always considered Coggins’s Point an unsuitable point for the cattle herd, it being liable to capture at any time by a coup-de-main of the enemy in force.
Now I thought it was a beef raid, and all the time it was a “coup-de-main.” I have heard of them, but here I was face to face with one “in force.”
Gen Grant telegraphed to Gen Meade from Harper’s Ferry at 9 A. M. of the 18th that if the enemy made so rich a haul as the cattle herd that he would be likely to strike far to the south or southeast to get back with it and that their cavalry should either recover what was lost or else in the absence of so much of the enemy’s cavalry that they should strike the Weldon road. Gen Meade reports to Gen Grant on the 16th at 10:30 P. M. that Kautz reports the enemy retired as soon as he got the cattle and that he was in pursuit o the Prince George Court House road and Davies on the Jerusalem road, but that Hampton’s force was so far superior to their’s [sic] and he had so much the start of him that he could do no more than harass us. Well, I will testify that he did harass us, I did not (at one time) see how we could get out of the trouble. From this on everybody began to make reports and they seemed to think that we would certainly attack Fort Powhatan on the River James. They did not know how anxious we were to get away from that river.
THE FORCES PURSUING HAMPTON.
Now let’s see who they sent after us. First, Gen Humphries, Gen Meade’s chief of staff, sent Gen Davies with all his cavalry; then came a brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery to the Jerusalem road. Next came Gen Kautz, with his cavalry, to the Prince George Court House road. Next Gen Humphries ordered Col Smith, of the 2d division, 2d corps, to send a strong brigade to the Prince George Court House road. Next he directed Gen Hancock to send a strong brigade and a battery of artillery down the plank road, and last he directed the cavalry force which was picketing between the plank road and the Blackwater to be withdrawn and to join in the pursuit.
THE PETTY FIGHT THE FEDERALS MADE.
And all that any of them did was to make the little fight that Gen Davies reports at 10.30 P. M. of the 16th. He reports from Proctor’s, on the Jerusalem plank road, that he marched there at 12.30 P. M. and sent a brigade over the Jerusalem plank road to intercept the enemy; met them at a point about five miles hence and drove them about a mile (he did not drive us, we were going for all we were worth.) to the vicinity of Hawkinsville, where he found them strongly posted behind earthworks, having in their front an impassible swamp. He moved down and found Gen W. H. F. Lee’s division, which he failed to dislodge, and gave up the job on that road and sent a brigade to Stony Creek to try and intercept the head of the column there. All this time our cattle were on the trot, and with all their forces they could not stop them.
A SAFE APPEAL TO THE VERDICT OF HISTORY.
I think, as I have intimated, this raid ranks as high as any performance by any troops, and I am surprised that abler pens than mine have not long since given it the prominence that it deserves.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain William Latane of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, was, as Cardwell notes in the article, the only Confederate casualty during J. E. B. Stuart’s famous ride around McClellan’s army on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Hampton’s Cattle Raid or Beefsteak Raid took place from September 14-17, 1864, with the main attack on the Union lines occurring on the morning of September 16, 1864. Shortly after, Hampton’s men gathered up over 2,400 cattle and spent the better part of September 16-17, 1864 getting the herd back to Confederate lines. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Scout “Shadburne” of the Jeff Davis Legion Cavalry had prepared a report of the Federal defenses near Coggins Point on September 5, 1864 and sent it in to Hampton. OR XLII, P2, pages 1235-1236: “Shadburne” to Hampton. September 5, 1864. ↩
- “A Brilliant Cavalry Coup.” Charleston News and Courier. October 7, 1894, p. 3 col. 1-3 ↩