No. 201. Report of Brigadier General Thomas C. Devin, U. S. Army, commanding First Division.1
HEADQUARTERS FIRST CAVALRY DIVISION,
April -, 1865.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of this division from March 29 to April 9, 1865, inclusive:
The division-consisting of First Brigade, Colonel Peter Stagg, First Michigan Cavalry, commanding; Second Brigade, Colonel Charles L. Fitzhugh, Sixth New York Cavalry, commanding, and Reserve Brigade, Brigadier General Alfred Gibbs, commanding-marched from camp in front of Petersburg on the morning of March 29, encamping the same night near Dinwiddie Court-House.
On the morning of March 30 the division advanced to feel the enemy’s position, and was disposed as follows: The Second Brigade was massed two miles in front of the Court-House, at the intersection of the Brooks road with that to Five Forks, one regiment of this brigade in advance to the Boydton plank road; the First Brigade massed at Boisseau’s house, with a regiment advanced across Gravelly Run toward the White Oak road; two regiments of the Reserve Brigade were advanced upon the direct road to the Five Forks, while the two remaining regiments were thrown out upon the right flank to communicate with the advance of the First Brigade. The whole line formed nearly a semicircle, radiating from the position occupied by Second Brigade. During the day demonstrations were made upon different points of the front, and it was ascertained that the enemy in force occupied the White Oak road and the Five Forks. About 3 p.m. Major Morris, with 150 men of Fifth and Sixth U. S. Cavalry, had pushed the enemy to within three-fourths of a mile of the Five Forks, when he was suddenly surrounded by overwhelming numbers and was forced to cut his way out, losing three officers and a number of men. The First U. S. Cavalry and two regiments of the Second Brigade were at once ordered to his support, and another attempt made to carry the position; but the enemy advancing a strong line of infantry, the command was ordered to retire and encamp a short distance in rear. The position at Five Forks was difficult of approach for cavalry, the front being covered by a swamp and heavy woods.
On the morning of March 31 the First Brigade was advanced, as on the previous day, and the enemy in force were found occupying the White Oak road. The Reserve Brigade was massed at the intersection of the Brooks road, and the Second Brigade was dismounted and advanced toward the Five Forks. It was now ascertained from prisoners captured that the Forks were occupied by Pickett’s division of infantry and at least a division of cavalry, and Colonel Fitzhugh was ordered to hold his position and communicate on his left with Davies’ brigade, of Second Division. At this time the Second Brigade occupied the apex of a triangle, the left of which was held by Davies’ brigade and the right by Stagg’s brigade, of First Division. One mile in front of the Second Brigade and across Chamberlain’s Swamp were the Five Forks, the direct road to which was held by the Second Brigade. It will thus be seen that Colonel Fitzhugh’s position was far in advance of the other lines, necessarily retired by the conformation of the ground. About 2 p.m. heavy firing was heard upon the left of Second Brigade, and immediately after I received a pressing request for support from Colonel Janeway, of Davies’ brigade. I at once ordered a regiment of First
Brigade to his relief, and on proceeding to that part of the line found the troops retiring precipitately. Finding it impossible to rally them, Major Dana, of the division staff, was sent to order Colonel Fitzhugh to move his brigade by the left flank and take up General Davies’ position, leaving a regiment to hold the Five Forks road. This disposition was promptly effected and the enemy’s advance checked. At this time a heavy line of infantry moved down the direct road from Five Forks and drove in the Sixth New York, which had been left to hold that front; part of a regiment of First Brigade was pushed in in support of the Sixth, and the enemy was checked, but only for a moment. At the same time the left of the Second Brigade was outflanked, and a heavy line emerged from the woods on its front. In a few minutes the brigade would have been surrounded. I ordered Colonel Fitzhugh to retire and connect with First Brigade. While this was being effected the rebel cavalry charged down the road through their infantry line, but the stubborn valor and well-directed fire of our men repulsed them on each occasion. Twice the brigade was obliged to halt and charge the enemy while retiring. On reaching the point where I had left the First Brigade I found it had been forced back by the rapid advance of the enemy on our left, who then occupied its position and had cut us off from the cross roads. Colonels Fitzhugh and Stagg were at once ordered to fall back across the country in the direction of the Brooks road, in accordance with orders from General Merritt, should we be unable to connect with the left. The men retired in order, showing such a front as prevented the rebel cavalry (which now hovered in force upon their right flank) from charging them. A line was now formed in front of the plank road and the led horses (which had been sent toward the left of our infantry) were brought up. I was about to push down the Brooks road and endeavor to connect with the Reserve Brigade, when General Davies (who had joined the division with a portion of his brigade) assumed command and directed me to march to Dinwiddie Court-House by the plank road. On reporting at Dinwiddie Court-House I was ordered to march to Crump’s farm, where the division encamped.
At the time that the First and Second Brigades were forced to retire on the right, the Reserve Brigade (which was massed at the intersection of the Brooks road), with Miller’s section of battery, became hotly engaged with the advancing enemy. The brigade was dismounted, and in a brilliant charge drove the exulting foe for nearly half a mile; but, as on the right, the heavy masses of the enemy soon pressed back the gallant handful of men. At dark the brigade was relieved by the Third Division. While engaged the section of battery rendered most valuable service in checking the enemy’s advance.
On the morning of April 1 the division, nothing daunted by the repulse of the two previous days, again moved toward the stubbornly contested battle-ground of the Five Forks. Colonel Stagg, with the First Brigade, met the enemy as usual at Chamberlain’s Swamp, and an infantry line was immediately developed, showing that the position was not to be taken without a hard fight. The whole of the Second Brigade was now dismounted, and Colonel Fitzhugh was ordered to cross the swamp, gain a position on the opposite side, and cover the crossing of the First Brigade mounted. The movement was gallantly effected under a heavy fire, and the First U. S. Cavalry and First, and Sixth Michigan Cavalry were crossed on the left of the brigade, while the Fifth Michigan was crossed upon the right to cover that flank. The Reserve Brigade was thrown out upon the right and rear in the direction of the White Oak road. A charge was now ordered to gain the wood in
front of the Forks. The Second Brigade, flanked by the cavalry, gallantly advanced at the charging step, and, driving the enemy clear through the woods, developed a strong line of breast-works, covering the Forks and filled with masses of infantry. In this advance the cavalry charged up to within twenty yards of the works, and the dismounted men of the Second Brigade captured and dragged off prisoners from the breast-works. Captain Ham, of Seventeenth Pennsylvania, was mortally wounded at this point. But the work was too strongly held for our line to carry, and the brigade was forced to retire to the wood. The line was thus held until 4.30 p.m., when a brigade of Third Cavalry Division having connected upon our left, and the Fifth Corps advancing to attack the enemy’s right flank, the whole division was dismounted and ordered to advance and again charge the enemy’s works. Captain Lord, First U. S. Cavalry, was ordered to keep his regiment mounted and in readiness to charge should the enemy’s line be broken. The whole line advanced under a terrible fire from the enemy’s works; but the regiment on the right of Third Division giving way, the Third Division was halted and reformed. On the second charge the troops on our left again fell back; but notwithstanding this defection, the division pressed forward the enemy’s works were carried after an obstinate struggle, the right was connected with the left of Fifth Corps, the front of the division changed to the left, and the enemy pursued for two miles. As the works were carried Captain Lord was ordered to charge with his regiment, and gallantly responded, clearing the breast-works at a bound, and charging far in advance of the division. In carrying the position we captured on our own front 1,000 prisoners, 2 battle-flags, and 2 guns. Thanks to the friendly cover of the woods, which extended to within less than forty yards of the enemy’s works, our loss was comparatively light, except in officers. In some regiments every squadron commander was killed or wounded.
With regard to the conduct of officers and men it is sufficient to state that under the hottest fire not a straggler could be seen along the whole line-every man was in his place and at his work. The division encamped upon the battle-field.
On the morning of April 2 the division marched on the White Oak road, and turning to the right struck the South Side Railroad midway between Ford’s and Sutherland’s Stations. General W. H. F. Lee’s division of rebel cavalry was found in position at this point. Skirmishers were advanced and the division placed in readiness for a fight, but a few rounds from Miller’s section of battery were sufficient to induce the enemy to retire with precipitation. The railroad was then torn up, ties burnt, and rails heated and bent. The division then advanced, and turning to the left at Cox’s road again came up with Lee’s cavalry. Fitzhugh’s (Second) brigade, in advance, dismounted and rapidly drove the enemy from one position to another, until, at 5 p.m., we met the rebel infantry in heavy force at Scott’s Cross-Roads. A heavy fire of musketry and artillery was at once opened upon the Second Brigade. The First Brigade was dismounted and deployed in support of the Second. Miller’s section was placed in position on the road, and by its rapid and effective fire materially assisted in repulsing several attempted charged of the enemy’s infantry line on our position. The Reserve Brigade was disposed (mounted) on the flank and in support of the battery. The enemy was finally driven to the shelter of the barricades he had erected covering the cross-roads, from which it was impossible to dislodge him with our limited force. The force opposed to us con-
sisted of Pickett’s and Johnson’s divisions of infantry and Lee’s division of cavalry. At night-fall the command was retired half a mile and encamped, the front being held by the Reserve Brigade and one regiment of First Brigade. During the night the enemy made several attempts to feel our line. Captain J. H. Bell, of the Second Brigade staff, rendered meritorious service at this point by opening communication with General Sheridan, at Sutherland’s Station. Communication was also opened with Crawford’s division, of Fifth Corps, which had advanced upon the Namozine road within a mile of our position. At daybreak the lines were advanced, but the enemy had retired.
On the morning of April 3 the division marched in rear of the Third Division by the Namozine road to Deep Creek, and encamped.
On the morning of April 4 the division crossed Deep Creek, between the Fifth and Second Corps, and, turning to the right, marched to Drummond’s Mill, on Beaver Pond Creek. At this point the First Michigan Cavalry was ordered to reconnoiter toward Bevill’s Bridge. The division then crossed the creek and immediately met the enemy’s infantry (Pickett’s and Johnson’s divisions) in heavy force, covering the road to Amelia Court-House. The First and part of the Second Brigade was at once dismounted, and led horses sent over the creek. Heavy skirmishing ensued and the position was held until 10 p.m., when the division was ordered to march to Jetersville, on the Danville railroad. After a long and exhausting night march the command reached Jetersville about noon of the 5th, and was placed in position on the left of the Third Division. On being relieved by the Second Corps the division was marched to the rear of the army and encamped.
On the morning of April 6 the division marched in the direction of Deatonsville, following Third Division; soon after the enemy’s train was reported to be moving upon the road to Rice’s Station, on the South Side Railroad, and the division was ordered to cross the country and attack. The country was broken, intersected with ravines and ditches, but in a very few minutes the division struck the flank of the train, only to find it covered by a heavy force of infantry and artillery in position; moving still farther to the left the same result was obtained. Learning that the Third Division had pushed in on the left of the Second, I moved rapidly toward the left of the Third, hoping to strike the train at a vulnerable point. As I was passing to the rear of Third Division I received an urgent message from General Custer, stating that he had struck and captured part of the train and was hard pressed. On joining him I found it necessary to bring up the division on a gallop, and form on his right, in order to hold the ground across Sailor’s Creek and secure his captures. The division succeeded in checking the enemy’s advance, and was soon after ordered to the extreme left. The division had scarcely reached its new position when it was found necessary to return to the support of the Third Division, which had been forced back. The enemy being checked, the division was again ordered to the extreme left, and succeeded in reaching the road within two miles of Rice’s Station. It was now dark, but the command pushed on and soon struck the enemy’s rear guard. They were pushed rapidly forward, until, at the crossing of (upper) Sailor’s Creek, we found Mahone’s division of infantry in position, with artillery covering the crossing. On attempting to force a crossing the enemy opened a heavy fire of musketry, shell, and canister at short range, and, in accordance with instructions, the division was retired one mile, and encamped at 12 p.m.
I had omitted to state that on first moving to the left the First Brigade and section of battery had remained upon the extreme right and rendered efficient service. Colonel Stagg, in a brilliant charge on the flank of Sixth Corps, captured 300 prisoners. Miller, with Fuger’s section, made great havoc in the train by his splendid practice.
At daybreak on the morning of the 7th the division marched on in pursuit of the enemy. It was now ascertained that he had turned to the right in the direction of Farmville, and the command advanced upon that road. I soon after was ordered to countermarch and move in the direction of Prince Edward Court-House, from whence, after a short halt, the division marched to Buffalo Creek and encamped.
On the morning of April 8 the division marched in rear of Third Division to Prospect Station, thence by Walker’s Church to Appomattox Station. While en route Lieutenant Trimble, of the division staff, with a regiment of the First Brigade, was ordered to make a reconnaissance to Cut Bank Ford, on the Appomattox, and ascertained whether the enemy were crossing. The reconnaissance was a success, establishing the fact that the enemy’s column was marching along the north bank of the Appomattox. On arriving near the station, General Custer was found to be engaged with the enemy’s advance, and the First and Second Brigades of the division were dismounted and pushed in on his right. The enemy fell back rapidly to Appomattox Court-House where, being heavily re-enforced, they again advanced and occupied the woods in front of Clover Hill.
At daybreak on the morning of 9th instant Colonel Fitzhugh, with Second Brigade, was about to advance upon the direct road to Appomattox Court-House, when he was relieved by Smith’s brigade, of Second Division. On the previous night I had reconnoitered a road on the enemy’s left flank leading in the direction of the Court-House. Colonel Fitzhugh was now ordered to advance upon this road and the whole division ordered to mass upon the enemy’s left. Heavy firing had at this time commenced on front of Second Division. The command was now moved to the right and well to the front of Second Division, when the enemy as discovered advancing in two heavy lines of battle. Fuger’s section of Miller’s battery was at once placed in position, and opened a rapid and effective fire; the First Brigade was dismounted and advanced through the woods on the enemy’s left; Fitzhugh (who was by this time two miles in advance upon the right) was recalled, and ordered to connect upon the right; and every exertion was made to effect a diversion in favor of General Crook and hold the position until the arrival of our infantry. The heavy masses of the enemy soon forced back the Second Division, and a strong line was now advanced upon the First Division. We were shortly forced back, and, after a hard fight, pushed across the road, Fuger’s section remaining in position until the enemy’s line was within 100 yards. The Third Brigade having come in the whole line was no dismounted and horses retired; barricades were being erected, and every preparation made to hold the crest in rear, when the Fifth Corps arrived and advanced in line of battle. The division was now ordered to mount and move to the extreme right. As it was requisite to lead the horses far to the right, in order to retard the advancing line of Fifth Corps, a slight delay occurred in mounting, but the division was ready to take up its position (the Reserve Brigade being already engaged) at the time hostilities were ordered to cease. On that night the command encamped on the field, and on the next day marched to Prospect Station.
Throughout the series of engagements preceding the surrender of the Confederate army the conduct of officers and men was admirable. When at times forced back and overwhelmed by largely superior numbers the command retired in order, and a line could be reformed at any moment. From the nature of the country most of the fighting was dismounted-a most fatiguing and arduous duty for cavalry.
The brigade commanders were prompt. Brigadier-General Gibbs, with his decimated command, rendered on several occasions valuable, service. The gallant and determined stand of his brigade while holding an important position near Dinwiddie Court-House (March 31) is fast in the memory of all. Colonels Stagg and Fitzhugh fought their brigades with coolness, judgment, and gallantry, and, though at times hotly pressed by heavy masses of the enemy, brought off their commands with slight loss.
The division staff-Major Dana, assistant adjutant-general, Captains Bean and Halberstadt and Lieutenants Trimble, Hill, and Brown-rendered me valuable assistance on all occasions. Lieutenant Wiggins, signal office, volunteered his services on all occasions, and at Five Forks rendered gallant and efficient as aide-de-camp. I would respectfully recommend him to the department for promotion. Major King, quartermaster, Captain Hale, commissary, Captain Malone, ordnance officer, and Doctor Clarke, surgeon-in-chief of division, performed their duties with zeal and efficiency.
Among officers of the division conspicuous for gallant services in the late engagements, Lieutenant Cols. G. R. Maxwell, First Michigan; Briggs. of Seventh Michigan; Vinton, Sixth Michigan; Hastings, Fifth Michigan, and Captain Crooks, First Michigan-all of First Brigade; Major Morris, and Leib, of Reserve Brigade; and Colonel Durland, Majors White, Smith, and Captains Blunt, Cating, and Bell, of Second Brigade, deserve special mention.
The division captured during the several engagements, from March 30 to April 8, inclusive, 1,434 prisoners of war, 112 of whom were officers; of those about 1,000 were captured in the battle of Five Forks; 2 guns and 4 battle-flags were also captured.
Reports of casualties have already been forwarded.*
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
THOS. C. DEVIN,
Brigadier-General Volunteers, Commanding Division.
Captain E. M. BAKER,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Cavalry
*Embodied in table, p. 591.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 1122-1127 ↩