No. 216. Report of Lieutenant Joseph H. Lathrop, Adjutant Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry.1
HDQRS. FOURTH REGIMENT MASSACHUSETTS CAVALRY,
Camp Lee, Va., April 25, 1865.
MAJOR: Being the senior officer of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry who escaped uninjured from the fight near High Bridge, Va., on the 6th instant, I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of the cavalry during that day:
At 4 o’clock on the morning of April 6 a detachment of thirteen officers and sixty-seven men of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, under
command of Colonel Washburn, left Burkeville to co-operate with the Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania and One hundred and twenty-third Ohio Infantry in burning a long railroad bridge over the Appomattox River about two miles from Farmville. We proceeded quietly until, when within some two miles of our destination, the advance guard was fired on by a few mounted rebels. The cavalry then pushed forward to hold a road leading to the bridge, while the infantry followed slowly. A few minutes later we came to a small stream, the bridge over which had been torn up, and on a hill just beyond were about thirty rebel cavalry who commenced firing as soon as the head of our column came in sight. The advance guard, under Lieutenant Davis, dashed forward, laid the planks, charged up the hill, and drove the enemy for more than a mile until, near Farmville, they were re-enforced and made a stand. We skirmished with them for half an hour or more, when they opened on us with artillery, and we gradually fell back, hearing our infantry firing quite rapidly in our rear.
The fight took place at about noon in a small strip of woodland nearly a mile from the bridge, the country adjacent being very rough and hilly, so that it was impossible for cavalry to work to any advantage. When we reached the scene of action the infantry were deployed and holding a fence just inside the woods, while a few beyond was a brigade of dismounted rebel cavalry engaging our infantry at short range. Immediately on our arrival Colonel Washburn held a consultation with General Read, and at once determined to charge the enemy. Forming the squadron on the brow of the hill we moved forward in column of fours, at a trot, until beyond the right flank of our infantry, and then, wheeling to the left, fours we charged into the woods. This charge was eminently successful, the enemy scattering in every direction, and we captured a number of them. The squadron was then reformed and we charged back into the woods, meeting a large force of rebel cavalry who had come up during our first charge. The men fought desperately hand to hand, but the conflict only lasted a few minutes, for, overpowered by numbers and all the officers being disabled or captured, many of our men surrendered. Some tried to cut their way out, but it was useless. The guidons of Companies I, L, and M were captured, but the regimental flag was burned by Color-Sergeant Hickey when he found that escape was impossible. Our whole force, infantry and cavalry, numbered about 800 men, while the troops we fought were General Rosser’s division of cavalry, with Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry and Longstreet’s infantry within supporting distance.
The enemy’s loss was much greater than ours, but our cavalry suffered severely, particularly in officers; of 11 who went into the fight, 3 were killed, 5 wounded, and 3 taken prisoners. Our surgeon and chaplain remained in the rear with the wounded and were captured after the action was over.
Five officers and sixty enlisted men were taken prisoners and remained in the hands of the enemy until the 9th instant, when General Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court-House.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. LATHROP,
First Lieutenant and Adjutant Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry.
Major H. B. SCOTT,
Commanding Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry.
- 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. 1168-1169 ↩