No. 203. Report of Bvt. Major General George A. Custer, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division.1
HEADQUARTERS THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION,
April 15, 1865.
SIR: The following is a brief summary of the operations of my command since the 29th of March last:
My division left its camp near Petersburg on the morning of the 29th of March. From this date until our arrival within four miles of Dinwiddie Court-House, on the evening of the 31st, we were employed as escort for the trains of the entire command. On the afternoon of the 31st a
staff officer from the major-general commanding the cavalry conveyed me an order to move two of my brigades rapidly forward to Dinwiddie Court-House, leaving one brigade as escort for the trains. The two brigades designated moved forward at the trot. Upon reaching Dinwiddie Court-House the head of the columns was halted, and I reported for orders to the major-general commanding, who directed me to place my command in position to support and relieve the Second Cavalry Division, then engaged and being driven back. Most of my command were dismounted and placed behind a hastily constructed barricade. Lord’s battery of horse artillery, which had been ordered to report to me, was also placed in position. The attacking force of the enemy proved to be infantry. Several vigorous efforts were made to displace us from our position. A strong line of the enemy’s infantry, formed across the road leading to Five Forks, was charged by portions of the First and Third Brigade, and driven handsomely until their supports were reached and they were enabled to make a stand. No further demonstration was made upon either side. My command bivouacked within short range of the enemy’s line of battle. In anticipation of an early attack the next morning my command slept upon their arms, but daylight disclosed to us the retreat during the night of the enemy. The march was resumed early next day in the direction of Five Forks, connection being made with the Fifth Corps at a point about two miles distant from Dinwiddie Court-House. My command then left the road leading direct to Five Forks and moved across the country parallel to the White Oak Creek. No opposition from the enemy was encountered until the advance had nearly reached the road leading from Five Forks across White Oak Creek. A brief skirmish ensued for the possession of this road, which resulted in the enemy being driven back in the direction of Five Forks, we pursuing until communication was restored upon our right with the left of the First Division. The enemy had evidently resolved to oppose our farther advance with the greatest determination. Heavy lines of earth-works were discovered, extending for miles in either direction along our front. In advance of these were strong barricades of rails, logs, and other obstructions. Every point seemed to be strongly manned with infantry and artillery. Repeated charges by portions of my command at various points showed the enemy to be in heavy forces. At one time my entire command was dismounted and fighting as infantry in the woods skirting along the enemy’s front. Nothing was accomplished in this manner. About one hour and a half before dark a staff officer informed me that the major-general commanding had placed the Fifth Corps in position to assault the enemy’s left. The First Cavalry Division had been dismounted and were to attack in the center, while my command was to engage the enemy on his right, keeping up the connection with the First Cavalry Division. An examination of the ground in front and on the enemy’s right seemed to favor a movement by a mounted force against the enemy’s right and rear. With this object in view I deployed the First Brigade dismounted, Colonel Pennington commanding, along the entire line held by my division. The Second and Third Brigades, commanded, respectively, by Colonels Wells and Capehart, were mounted and moved opposite the extreme right of the enemy, and waited the opening of the general assault before advancing to turn the enemy’s right flank. As soon as the firing on the line held by the Fifth Corps indicated the inauguration of the attack the Second and Third Brigades were moved at a gallop against the right of the enemy’s line of battle. To cover the movement and to draw the fire of the enemy’s batteries in front
Lieutenant-Colonel Bliss, of the Eighth New York Cavalry, was directed to charge with his regiment upon the enemy’s batteries. Without a hope of successfully carrying the enemy’s position Lieutenant-Colonel Bliss gallantly led his regiment up to the very muzzles of the enemy’s guns, at the same moment exposed to a terrible cross-fire from the enemy’s infantry posted in rifle-pits and behind barricades within easy range. Although suffering a heavy loss in men and horses and compelled to retire the object of the charge was accomplished. Before the enemy could shift the position of his batteries my columns, had pushed past the extreme right of his line and were moving rapidly to place themselves directly in rear of his position. Although this movement was almost entirely under the view of the enemy it was so rapid he was unable to prevent it. W. H. F. Lee’s division of cavalry was discovered to be moving upon us. Portions of each command moved simultaneously to the attack. For some time success was varied and uncertain. My line was then facing in the same direction toward which that of the enemy had faced two hours before, the enemy being between my command and the line of battle of the Fifth Corps and First Cavalry Division. The gradual nearing of the firing indicated that the enemy’s left was being forced back. This fact had its influence on the position of the enemy with whom we were engaged and aided us in effecting a total rout of the entire force of the enemy. The retreat of over 5,000 of the rebels was then cut off, and this number was secured as prisoners of war. Besides these the loss in killed and wounded was very heavy. The First Connecticut Cavalry, belonging to the First Brigade, was the first regiment to gain the enemy’s works, and succeeded in capturing two pieces of artillery, which were at once turned upon the retreating foe. The pursuit was maintained over a distance of six miles and only ended on account of the darkness. Returning from the pursuit at a late hour my command encamped on the battle-field.
Soon after daylight the following morning the pursuit was taken up, the command moving toward the South Side Railroad-one brigade crossing the latter at Ford’s Station, the other two brigades crossing at a point between Ford’s and Sutherland’s Stations. But little skirmishing was had with the enemy during the day. The entire command encamped that night near the intersection of the Sutherland Station road and the Namozine road. On the morning of the 3rd moved on the road leading to Amelia-House. The enemy was found posted at the crossing of Namozine Creek, having destroyed the bridge and erected strong breast-works on the opposite bank. Under a heavy canister fire from one of our guns a force of dismounted men were thrown across the creek some distance and flanked the enemy from his position. After removing the felled trees and other obstructions from the ford my entire command crossed and began a vigorous pursuit of the enemy. He was not permitted to make any decided stand until near Namozine Church, when about one brigade of his cavalry charged my advance and endeavored to break it. Colonel Wells, commanding the advance brigade, repulsed the charge with the Eighth New York Cavalry alone. At Namozine Church the enemy divided his forces-Fitzhugh Lee’s division moving toward Amelia Court-House, W. H. F. Lee’s division taking the road leading to Bevill’s Bridge, across the Appomattox. I directed Colonel Wells, with his brigade, to pursue the former, while Colonel Capehart, commanding Third Brigade, was ordered to pursue the latter. Colonel Pennington, commanding First Brigade, was directed to send one regiment in support of each brigade, holding the remainder of his brigade in reserve at the cross-roads. A
running fight then ensued on both roads, the enemy being driven at the gallop before a vastly inferior force. Prisoners, guns, and battle-flags were captured all along the line of retreat. After crossing Sweat House Creek the enemy were re-enforced by six brigades of infantry. Here a desperate struggle took place, which gave a temporary check to our farther advance. As soon as the brigade in rear had reached the ground another advance was ordered, but the enemy had not waited to receive it. It was found impossible to again overtake him that day. The command encamped on Sweat House Creek. From this point we marched to Jetersville, on the Danville railroad, reaching the latter point at 7 a.m. of the 5th. Leaving Jetersville at 6 a.m. of the 6th we marched to Harper’s farm, on Sailor’s Creek, where we charged and routed the forces guarding the enemy’s wagon train, capturing over 300 wagons. While engaged in securing and destroying this train two divisions of rebel infantry, commanded by Generals Kershaw and Custis Lee, the whole under command of Lieutenant-General Ewell, attacked my command with a view to recapturing their train. After a severe engagement, during which my command was several times driven back, the enemy’s line of battle was broken by a charge of the Third Brigade, supported by a portion of the First. The enemy was driven form his breast-works in great confusion. Thousands of his men were captured on the spot, others surrendered after a short pursuit. Besides these advantages already gained we secured a strong position in rear of that of the enemy’s force engaging the Sixth Corps, which eventually compelled the surrender of the entire force of the enemy engaged on that part of the field. Lieutenant-General Ewell and six other general officers were captured at this point by my command. In addition, we captured 15 pieces of artillery and 31 battle-flags. After the pursuit had ended my division encamped upon the battle-field.
From Sailor’s Creek we moved, on the 7th and 8th, without opposition until we reached Appomattox Station, where we surprised the enemy and captured three large trains of cars loaded with rations for the rebel army. The locomotives being in good running order the trains, with their contents, were run back to a point of safety, in the direction of Farmville. Learning that the enemy was moving a large train upon the road from Appomattox Court-House across the Lynchburg railroad I ordered the entire division forward to attack. The train was found to be guarded by about two divisions of infantry, in addition to over thirty pieces of artillery, all under command of Major-General Walker. Most of the enemy’s guard were placed in position and their fire concentrated upon the road over which it was necessary for me to advance. The enemy succeeded in repulsing nearly all our attacks, until nearly 9 o’clock at night, when by a general advance along my line he was forced from his position and compelled to abandon to our hands twenty-four pieces of artillery all his trains, several battle-flags, and a large number of prisoners. Our loss was slight. Our advance reached Appomattox Court-House that night and charged into the camp of the rebel army.
The following morning my command was moved toward Appomattox Court-House, about which point the entire rebel army was massed. Moving at a rapid gait and under a heavy artillery fire I placed my command upon the extreme right of our army, which was then moving to the attack of the enemy’s position. Driving back his skirmishers, we had almost gained possession of his trains, when a staff officer of General Longstreet came galloping into our lines under
a flag of truce, requesting a suspension of hostilities. After making a proper disposition of my force either to repel or make an attack the truce was agreed to until instructions could be received from the proper authority. The result is already known.
The rapidity with which battle followed battle in the late campaign, each time resulting in a glorious victory for our arms, has prevented me from going into detail. A mere reference to each important engagement is all that has been attempted in this report. During the brief period of ten days my command captured in open battle 46 pieces of artillery and 37 battle-flags. This of itself is the best evidence I could wish to offer of the gallantry and heroism displayed by this division.
G. A. CUSTER,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding Third Cavalry Division.
Brevet Major-General MERRITT,
Acting Chief of Cavalry.
HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY, MIDDLE MILITARY DIVISION,
May 20, 1865.
In justice to the Second Brigade of the First Division, Colonel Fitzhugh commanding, it is stated that the two pieces of artillery captured at the Five Forks by the cavalry are claimed as captured by his brigade. The infantry, I hear, also claims to have captured these guns. They were, I think, without doubt, captured these guns. They were, I think, without doubt, captured by Colonel Fitzhugh’s command, which conducted itself with pre-eminent gallantry on this most important occasion. The undersigned was there and saw it.
Major-General, Commanding Cavalry.
HEADQUARTERS THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION,
Appomattox Court-House, Va., April 9, 1865.
SOLDIERS OF THE THIRD CAVALRY DIVISION:
With profound gratitude toward the God of battles, by whose blessings our enemies have been humbled and our arms rendered triumphant, your commanding general avails himself of this his first opportunity to express to you his admiration of the heroic manner in which you have passed through the series of battles which to-day resulted in the surrender of the enemy’s entire army. The record established by your indomitable courage is unparalleled in the annals of war. Your prowess has won for you even the respect and admiration of your enemies. During the past six months, although in most instances confronted by superior numbers, you have captured from the enemy in open battle 111 pieces of field artillery, 65 battle-flags, and upward of 10,000 prisoners of war, including 7 general officers. Within the past ten days, and included in the above, you have captured 46 pieces of field artillery and 37 battle-flags. You have never lost a gun, never lose a color, and have never been defeated, and notwithstanding the numerous engagements in which you have borne a prominent part, including those memorable battles of the Shenandoah, you have captured every piece of artillery which the enemy has dared to open upon you. The
near approach of peace renders it improbable that you will again be called upon to undergo the fatigues of the toilsome march, or the exposure of the battle-field, but should the assistance of keen blades, wielded by your sturdy arms, be required to hasten the coming of that glorious peace for which we have been so long contending, the general commanding is proudly confident that in the future, as in the past, every demand will meet with a hearty and willing response. Let us hope that our work is done, and that, blessed with the comforts of peace, we may soon be permitted to enjoy the pleasure of home and friends.
For our comrades who have fallen, let us ever cherish a grateful remembrance. To the wounded and to those who languish in Southern prisons, let our heartfelt sympathies be tendered.
And now, speaking for myself alone, when the war is ended and the task of the historian begins; when those deeds of daring which have rendered the name and fame of the Third Cavalry Division imperishable, are inscribed upon the bright pages of our country’s history, I only ask that my name may be written as that of the commander of the Third Cavalry Division.
G. A. CUSTER,
- 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. 1129-1134 ↩