No. 210. Report of Major Walter R. Robbins, First New Jersey Cavalry.1
HEADQUARTERS FIRST NEW JERSEY CAVALRY,
Bladensburg, Md., May 25, 1865.
GENERAL: I have the honor to transmit herewith a report of the operations of this regiment form the 28th of March, to date:
On the morning of March 29 the regiment broke camp near Petersburg, and, in connection with the brigade, moved out on the Reams’ Station and Dinwiddie Court-House road, crossing Rowanty Creek at Malone’s Bridge. The cavalry arrived at and occupied Dinwiddie Court-House that night. Colonel Janeway was ordered to move out on the Flat Foot road and hold it for the night, which he did. On the 30th the brigade moved up on the Five Forks road to the support of General Merritt, but did not become engaged.
On the morning of the 31st Captain Craig, Company A, commanding first squadron, who was picketing on the mill road leading to Chamberlain’s Creek, took a portion of his reserve and cleverly passed through the rebel cavalry vedette line, surprised and captured an infantry picket reserve of the enemy and brought them into our lines, without any loss to his command. For this bold and skillful act Captain Craig is deserving of great praise. From these prisoners it was learned that the divisions of the rebel Generals Pickett and Bushrod Johnson were in our front. After receiving this information Colonel Janeway directed Major Hart to strengthen and extend the picket-line. Colonel Janeway then ordered me to move out with my battalion and make a reconnaissance on the left and ascertain if the enemy was moving around in that direction. In doing this I found the old Scott road, leading across Chamberlain’s Creek, to be entirely open, thus giving the enemy a splendid opportunity to move his troops between the brigades of Generals Davies and Smith. Feeling the importance of this road, I left Captain Hick with Companies K, L. and M to cover it, while I Pushed farther to the left with Company H, Lieutenant Killey commanding, communicated with General Smith, and ascertained from him that the enemy were quiet in his front. I then returned to the old Scott road and moved by battalion down to the ford on Chamberlain’s Creek, dismounted, sent my horses to the rear, caused a breast-work of rails to be made, and communicated the importance of the road and what I was doing to Colonel Janeway. The colonel came down and approved of the course I had taken, and ordered me to remain and hold the ford. About this time the enemy made a spirited attack on the lines of Generals Gregg and Smith, and vainly endeavored to drive them from their position. Meanwhile they pushed two brigades of infantry down to the ford and engaged my command, which was holding it. The firing soon became sharp and vigorous. We had great advantage in position, being behind works and on much lower ground than the enemy fell before our withering fire; among the number was General Ransom. Seeing that we were not to be forced from our position in this manner, they passed one brigade to our right (which met Major Hart’s battalion) and one to our left, enveloped our flanks, and charged the Third Brigade in our front. The battalion, I am proud to say, remained at their post in our front. The battalion, I am proud to say, remained at their post and kept up the firing until the enemy were within fifteen yards of them. Hopes of longer holding the ford could not be entertained. The order was then given to fall back, which was done, first in a broken and con-
fused line, but was quickly formed and placed in position to cover the left flank of the Tenth New York Cavalry, which had been ordered to our support some time before. This regiment, after delivering two or three volleys, went rapidly to the rear, leaving my battalion to cover their shameful retreat. The enemy were in strong force and moved rapidly against us, and my men could do nothing but keep up a running fight until we passed through Colonel Janeway’s lines, who, with the first and second battalions and a Michigan regiment, was gallantly holding the enemy in check. Major Hart, with the first battalion, had been sent out to my support, but meeting the brigade of the enemy which had moved on my right was unable to get to me. Hart fought his command, as he always did, with signal courage, great skill, and telling effect upon the enemy. It was his last fight. He was shot dead in his saddle; the bullet entered his right cheek and passed through the spinal column. Colonel Janeway, with his own and a Michigan regiment, with detachments from other regiments, slowly retired before the overwhelming force of the enemy to the road leading from Dinwiddie to Five Forks, where he connected his left with the remainder of the brigade. The enemy here changed his direction and operated wholly on the left, forcing the whole Cavalry Corps back to Dinwiddie Court-House. Here we remained for the night, the enemy in pistol-shot distance.
The casualties this day were as follows: Major James H. Hart, killed; First Lieutenant J. Killey, captured; First Lieutenant and Acting Commissary of Subsistence C. W. Camp, captured; 3 enlisted men killed, 6 enlisted men wounded, and 4 captured.
Early the next morning the enemy was pushed back, his forces routed, and many prisoners taken. On the 1st and 2nd of April our brigade remained in camp near Dinwiddie Court-House, guarding the trains of the corps. On the night of the 2nd we moved from Dinwiddie Court-House, in the rear of the trains, to the Claiborne road, in the vicinity of Hatcher’s Run, bivouacked for a few hours, and then (the morning of the 3rd) pushed on, crossing the South Side Railroad at Sutherland’s Station. We marched that day to Wilson’s plantation on the Namozine road, where we encamped for the night. The line of march was resumed early the next morning, the 4th, on a road running parallel to the one Lee was retreating. We arrived at Jetersville, on the South Side Railroad, about 4 p.m. It was expected that the enemy would be found in force at this place; nothing, however, was found, and the cavalry was ordered to bivouac for the night. Pursuant to orders received from the brigade headquarters, Captain Craig, with Companies A and B, reported to General Davies, who instructed him to push down the Amelia Springs road and ascertain if any force of the enemy was there. Captain Craig obeyed his instructions to the letter, returned, and reported having captured 22 infantry soldiers, 38 horses, and a number of mules, all of which he brought into camp. From these prisoners it was learned that Lee with his army was at Amelia Court-House. At 3 o’clock on the following morning our brigade was moving toward that place. Arriving at Paine’s Cross-Roads General Davies learned that the enemy’s wagon train was but a short distance off. Pushing rapidly on we soon struck the advance guard, consisting of one brigade of cavalry, one regiment of infantry, and a battery of artillery. General Davies at once charged and routed this force, captured a large number of prisoners, 5 pieces of artillery, 180 wagons, 340 horses and mules. The wagons were all burned; the prisoners, artillery, and animals were all brought off. In this charge five battle-flags were captured by the following-named
officers and men of this regiment: Captain Samuel Craig, Company A; First Sergt. George W. Stewart, Company E; Private Lewis Locke, Company A; Private Christian Streile, Company I. After the capture of the wagon train, &c., General Davies directed Colonel Janeway to move up on a road to the left, and hold it until he got well to the rear all captured property, prisoners, &c. Through some mistake no orders were received by Colonel Janeway to retire. Ascertaining that everything had recrossed the stream he wisely withdrew, but on arriving at the bridge he found it in possession of the enemy. Captain Brooks, with Companies H and K, made in elegant charge and drove the enemy from the bridge, and held the road leading to it while the remainder of the regiment crossed. Captain Hick, with Companies L and M, now formed the rear guard. Arriving at Paineville the regiment was ordered to remain there half an hour and hold the roads while the captured property was being taken off. The enemy now began to show himself in large numbers of our front and on both flanks. I was directed by Colonel Janeway to take Company H, strengthen and assume command of the rear guard. The enemy pressed us vigorously, making several charges which were, with one exception (the last one), handsomely repulsed. The enemy route us in their last charge and drove us back to a detachment of the regiment which had been formed for our support. This detachment made a splendid charge and checked the enemy, which enabled us to withdraw to where the remainder of the brigade was formed. In this charge the gallant Brooks, captain of Company K, was taken prisoner and sobered by General Gary after he had surrendered. A number of the men were also wounded. The enemy here displayed a much larger force than our own-they lapped both our flanks and engaged us sharply in our front; but the regiment, with brave, skillful Janeway in command, unflinchingly stood their ground and used their Spencer carbines with telling effect upon the enemy.
It would be useless for me to particularize the actions of any officer or man-they all performed their duty in their usual manner as soldiers; but the conduct of Surgeon Willis was so different from medical officers generally that I can not pass it by without notice. He was in the thickest of the fight, and was of great service to Colonel Janeway in conveying orders and rallying men from the different regiments, taking them to the skirmish line, remaining there himself, and encouraging them on. We were relieved by the Second Brigade of our division, when we retired to a point near Amelia Springs, and we remained at this place till 2 p.m., when we were again ordered into action.
Colonel Janeway was ordered by General Davies to support two other regiments in a charge; these regiments were repulsed in the charge and driven back to their support. Colonel Janeway immediately ordered a charge, in leading which our brave gallant colonel was shot through the head and died almost instantly. This cast a gloom over the whole regiment. His superior we never knew; a brave skillful officer, a courteous gentleman, a true, earnest patriot, qualities which have endeared him to every officer and man of the regiment. We held the line until after dark, when we were relieved and ordered back to Jetersville.
The casualties of the day were as follows: Colonel Hugh H. Janeway, killed; Captain Joseph Brooks, Company K, wounded, and prisoner; First Lieutenant and Adjt. James T. Clancy, wounded; Second Lieutenant James S. Metler, Company D, prisoner; Second Lieutenant William Wilson, Company G, prisoner; 1 enlisted man killed, 8 wounded and 21 prisoners.
We bivouacked at Jetersville that night, and moved out at 10 a.m. the following day. Generals Merritt and Custer had captured and
burned a large number of wagons near Sailor’s Creek. They were heavily engaged with the enemy when we came up. The Cavalry Corps was formed to charge the enemy; this regiment formed the connection on the extreme right of the Second Division with General Custer’s division (Third). In front of our regiment was a plan open field where the enemy had a good line of rifle-pits. I received orders from General Davies to charge this line of works. I expected the whole line would charge at the same time. I moved on their line of works at once; the troops on my right, instead of charging the enemy, were being pushed back. The regiment acted splendidly, but it was impossible for us to make any impression on the enemy’s line. General Custer’s division, on my right, and a portion of our brigade, on my left, was giving way. The fire from the enemy was terrible. Lieutenants Ford and Metler and many of the men were wounded; horses were dropping fast. I was forced to retire, which I did by moving the regiment to the right, in order to place them under cover of a rising piece of ground. Major-General Crook and others complimented the regiment very highly for the gallant manner in which they conducted themselves. I received orders from General Davies to form the regiment in its original place in line. I understood afterward that the order given for the regiment to charge was rather premature. Some two hours later a simultaneous charge was made by the Sixth Corps and the cavalry. This was probably the grandest cavalry charge of the war. General Ewell with nearly all his corps was captured, besides a large number of cannon. In this charge I suffered the temporary loss of Captain Hughes, Company C, commanding the second battalion. He fell from his horse, wounded through the head. He is a brave, capable officer, and I could illy spare him. In going to the rear he discovered two pieces of artillery, which the enemy unable to move off had secreted in the woods. He collected some dismounted men, and with a team of mules brought them off. First Lieutenants Johnson, commanding Company H, and Carty, commanding Company L, charged and captured two light field pieces from the enemy. Captain Craig, as usual, had his horse shot. We encamped on the battle-field that night .
The casualties of the day were as follows: Captain William Hughes, Company C, wounded; First Lieutenant Lieutenant Thomas H. Ford, Company D, wounded; Second Lieutenant James S. Metler, Company D, wounded; with 7 enlisted men wounded and 2 missing.
The line of march was taken up early on the morning of the 7th, and the enemy pushed rapidly to Farmville and across the Appomattox River. Here they made a stand and enticed the Second Brigade of our division into a beautifully-laid trap, which resulted in their complete rout. This brigade came back in great confusion, and but for the timely order of General Davies would have swept a portion of this regiment along with them. The general, seeing the state of affairs, directed me, through Captain Lebo, of his staff, to move rapidly to the left of the road, and there form and check the enemy, which order was executed to his satisfaction. The action of the regiment upon this occasion gave great confidence to the troops in rear, who were following us in the line of march. The brigade was formed in line and the enemy held by us until dark, when we were relieved by the infantry. Lieutenants Watts and Fay were wounded during the day. That night we marched to and encamped at Prospect Station, on the Lynchburg railroad.
On the 8th we marched to Appomattox Depot, on the Lynchburg railroad. The regiment was not engaged that day. Four trains of cars loaded with supplies for Lee’s Army were captured at the depot.
On the morning of the 9th our hearts were gladdened by the intelligence that the enemy were now headed off, we being in possession of the road on which Lee was retreating, and that if we could hold this road until our infantry came up Lee and his army could not possibly escape. The bright, smiling faces which could be seen in the regiment told plainly that for their share of the work we could depend upon them. General Davies was covering a road on the right of Lee’s army. The remainder of our division was fighting on our right. The general, learning that the enemy were driving them, ordered me, through his very efficient aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Robert Henry, Company A of this regiment, to take the regiment, find and engage the enemy’s flank, favoring as much as possible the brigades of Smith and Gregg, who were being so vigorously pushed. Captain Craig, who had the advance in this movement, reported a rebel cavalry brigade moving toward us in an oblique direction, and apparently coming from General Davies’ front, and with the intention of cutting us off. I immediately sent Captain Beekman, with the remainder of his battalion, Companies G and I, to strengthen Craig and throw out a strong skirmish line. At the same time, Captain Hick, commanding Third Battalion, was directed to move to the left and rear and remain there as a support. Taking Captain Brower, with his battalion, I maneuvered till I succeeded in getting between the enemy and the remainder of the brigade. Captain Beekman at the same time changed to the left, keeping his skirmishers between Brower and the enemy. Hick was then brought down to Brower’s position. The ever ready Henry, of General Davies’ staff, coming down, I requested him to inform the general what I was doing and what was opposing me; learning it, he sent the Twenty-fourth New York Cavalry down to report to me and orders to fall slowly back and connect my skirmish line with that of the infantry on my right and rear. All this was performed with the loss of one man killed-Lemuel O. Smith, private, Company E. The infantry relieving us, we were ordered still farther to the left, when we again engaged the enemy, and, for the last time, Captain Beekman, with the first battalion, was sent out on the skirmish line. An irregular and harmless fire was kept up for some time. Finally the skirmish line of the brigade was ordered to charge the enemy, supported by the regiments. The enemy were quickly driven in confusion from their position. The successful charge had hardly terminated before orders were received for hostilities to cease. The order was immediately followed by a flag of truce from General Crook to the commanding general of the rebel forces in front of our lines, informing him that Generals Grant and Lee were having an interview, and arranging the terms of surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant.
In this last engagement I cannot speak in too high terms of Captains Beekman and Cause. Beekman so maneuvered a portion of his command as to destroy the left of the enemy’s skirmish line, by driving it pell-mell into the road for Canse to make his last charge, and a gallant and successful one it was.
Second Lieutenant R. Darnstaedt, Company I, we claim to be the last officer wounded in the combined armies operating against Lee’s forces.
Our cavalry division was the last to receive orders for a cessation of hostilities. The last flag of truce sent out was through our brigade lines. Lieutenant Darnstaedt received a painful but not dangerous wound in the head after the truce had passed our lines.
Hostilities ceased, and the terms of the surrender agreed upon. We bivouacked that night on the battle-field, and our hearts were made glad by the appearance of Captain Brooks, who had just been released from captivity.
On the morning of the 10th we commenced our return march to Petersburg. On the night of the 10th, while we were encamped at Prospect Station, we had the pleasure of receiving back our captured comrades, First Lieuts. Joseph Killey and C. W. Camp. These officers, before the surrender, managed to make their guard prisoners, and escaped with them into our lines. We arrived at Petersburg on the 18th day of April.
In this eventful campaign the regiment in every engagement bore itself with conspicuous gallantry. The conduct of the officers in every instance was such as to elicit the praise of every one. Adjt. James T. Clancy throughout the whole campaign rendered me most efficient service. His conduct in the action of April 5 called forth the commendation of Major-General Crook and several of his staff officers. On this day, while gallantly charging with a detachment of the regiment, he received a painful saber wound in the hand. He declined to leave the field in this and subsequent battles. Great credit is due to Captain Hughes for our final success in the afternoon engagement of April 5.
On the 6th of April First Lieutenant Thomas H. Ford received a wound in the left breast by a glancing shot, prohibiting the use of his bridle arm and the wearing of a saber-belt, but he remained with and took an active part in all the battles of the regiment.
The following non-commissioned officers and privates received medals of honor from the Secretary of War for gallantry in the campaign: First Sergt. George W. Stewart, Company E; Sergt. Aaron B. Tompkins, Company G; Sergt. David Southard, Company C; Charles E. Wilson, color-sergeant, William Porter, sergeant, Company H; Charles Titus, sergeant, Company H; John Wilson, sergeant, Company L, William B. Hooper, corporal, Company L, and private Christian Streile, Company I. In these medals of honor the soldier received a token which is of more value than anything which could be given him. They stamp the recipient a brave, faithful soldier, a man to be honored and received.
Segt. Major William T. Allen, Sergt. Samuel Walton, Company A; Sergts. Charles Kriselmier and John Tynon, Company B; Sergts. William R. Bransom, Culver Marshall, and Chester Merritt, of Company C; First Sergt. John H. Warner, Company D; Sergts. John Shield, William Russell, and John Fogarty, Company E; Michael Williams and Edward F. Wenner, sergeants of Company G; John Brockbank and William Hudson, sergeants, Company H, and Corpl. Philip Klespies, Company H; Corpls. Joseph Marsh and Francis Brown, of Company K; Sergts. George W. McPeek, Aaron H. White, William S. Booth, and William H. Powell, Company K; Sergt. William R. Stout and Corpls. John McKenna and James Brady, Company L; Sergts. John H. Dane and James M. Tillman, of Company M, and Corpl. John B. Easton, of Company M-are all worthy of mention. They are well known in the regiment for their good conduct in this memorable campaign.
We remained in camp near Petersburg until the morning of the 24th of April, when, in connection with the Cavalry Corps, we took up our line of march to Danville, Va., to operate against the rebel General
Johnston’s army. After a march of five days we reached Boston Bridge Station, on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, where we learned that Johnston had surrendered his army to General Sherman. We encamped there for the night, and on the following morning commenced our return march for Petersburg, arriving there on the 3rd day of May. The regiment was not engaged during this march.
In this, as well as in the previous campaign, we are indebted to Lieutenant Robert Henry, Company A of this regiment, and aide-de-camp to Brevet Major-General Davies, for many good services he rendered the regiment. In all engagements of this regiment, when possible, he was sure to be with us, and with his courage and zeal won the admiration of both officers and men.
On the morning of the 10th of May we broke camp and commenced our march for Alexandria, via Richmond and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. We arrived at Alexandria on the morning of the 16th of May. On the 21st we marched to Bladensburg, Md. On the 22nd we had the pleasure of receiving our State colors. On the 23rd we took part in the grand review. The regiment was complimented by many for the neat uniform dress and soldierly appearance of its officers and men and for its precision in marching. We are now encamped near Bladensburg, Md.
The health of the regiment is good.
I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WALTER R. ROBBINS,
Major, Commanding First New Jersey Cavalry.
Brigadier General R. F. STOCKTON,
Adjutant-General State of New Jersey.
- 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. 1148-1154 ↩