No. 217. Report of Major General George L. Hartsuff, U. S. Army, commanding Defenses of Bermuda Hundred.1
PORT HURON, MICH.,
October -, 1865.
GENERAL: In accordance with your request, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my command while under your command, from the 19th of March, 1865, to the time when you were relieved from the command of the Department of Virginia:
Having reported to you for assignment to duty, in accordance with instructions from Lieutenant-General Grant, I was, by your order, assigned to the command of the line of troops between the James and Appomattox Rivers called the “Bermuda Hundred front.” I assumed the command March 19. It was the most important part of our line, since it was the only point which directly threatened the enemy’s communication between Petersburg and Richmond, every other point being protected by either the James or the Appomattox Rivers. The command consisted principally of artillery and was, in round numbers, about 5,000 effective for duty (I am without any data and can give only approximations from memory) and was organized into a mobile division, to act as infantry, if necessary, and an immobile brigade of heavy artillery, the division being commanded by Bvt. Major General E. Ferrero and the brigade by Bvt. Brigadier General H. L. Abbott. This force was so small and the importance of the line it was to guard so great, that it required the most constant and careful watchfulness, and made duty very hard and onerous. It is the most trying duty a soldier is called to perform, and yet it was most faithfully attended to. When a part of the Army of the James moved across to operate with the Army of the Potomac General Weitzel, commanding the Twenty-fifth Corps, was, although a junior to me, left in charge of the line held by the Army of the James. Understanding the reason of this to be because of General Weitzel’s intimate knowledge of the lines, the troops, and the country, while my knowledge of each was very limited, I very cheerfully acquiesced and obeyed General Weitzel’s orders as willingly as though he were my senior.
A day or two before the evacuation of Petersburg I received a dispatch from General Grant that Mahone’s division of the rebel army, which had been holding the line in my front, was at Burgess’ Mills, in front of our left. I replied that the division was still in my front. Later I received another dispatch that there was strong reason to believe that some portion, at least, of that division had been detached. I then, in accordance with directions, through General Weitzel, made demonstrations to develop the enemy, and, failing in this, I gave to General Ferrero the instructions appended, marked A. My report through General Weitzel, marked B, gives the result. The loss, as afterward ascertained, was, I believe, eighty-four, including thirty-four prisoners, most of whom were soon recaptured.
The assaulting column in this movement, led by Major Campbell, of the Tenth New York Heavy Artillery, behaved splendidly, Major Campbell, who was wounded, being entitled to marked credit.
On the morning of the 3rd of April, I think, the rebel line in my front was evacuated. I immediately moved a force to the railroad and found there that Petersburg was evacuated. Advancing then rapidly up the railroad toward Richmond I learned, on arriving at Chester Station,
that Richmond also was evacuated. I succeeded in capturing 200 or 300 prisoners, stragglers, principally, from the retreating army, and returned to camp, leaving a force at Chester Station. Directions meantime had arrived from General Grant to connect my pickets with those of the Army of the Potomac on Swift Creek; but, as the position I held was already some miles in advance of that line, I informed the general commanding of the fact, and maintained my original position. The next day I received instructions to proceed to Petersburg with a portion of my force and occupy the city and defenses, still holding with a small force the Bermuda Hundred line. Soon afterward the line of the South Side Railroad, from Sutherland’s Station to and including City Point, was placed under my command. My command was not afterward engaged in active operations of any kind. It fluctuated a great deal in size and duties, but, without any data at hand, I am unable to give dates and details. I remained in Petersburg during the time you continued to command the Department of Virginia. I had neither precedent nor, until you returned to Richmond, instructions in the management of the negro or other questions under my control, but from first to last there was no trouble in my district, and I left it quiet and prosperous.
I am very sorry I must make this report so general in its statements, and submit it asking due allowance and consideration for the circumstances under which it is made.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. L. HARTSUFF,
Asst. Adjutant-General, U. S. Army, Late Major-General Vols.
[General E. O. C. ORD.]
HEADQUARTERS DEFENSES OF BERMUDA HUNDRED, VA.
I have just sent the following instructions to General Ferrero:
GENERAL: If the enemy has not replied to our fire on our right and center you had better send out a column to attack and capture their picket-line at that point, if possible. If this develops the fire of their batteries in force let the column withdraw; if not, push and successes you may obtain, even to the capture of their main line, holding the remainder of your command ready to support the attacking column. We must not let the enemy leave our line without our knowing it. If at any time or in any manner in the course of executing the above directions you learn positively of the continuance of the enemy in force on any part of this line, do not push the reconnaissance any farther, as the object of the movement will then by accomplished. Do this as soon as possible.
GEO. L. HARTSUFF,
HEADQUARTERS DEFENSES OF BERMUDA HUNDRED,
April 2, 1865.
My demonstrations this morning resulted in developing the enemy in force along his line. They were driven from their picket-line for more than half a mile with ease, and six of their pickets captured. Our advance was then opened upon by artillery throughout the whole of their line which bore upon it. Having heard from the prisoners
that their line was still held in force by Mahone’s division, the troops were ordered to withdraw. The enemy followed with a strong line of infantry to their picket-line, which they re-occupied. List of casualties not yet known.
GEO. L. HARTSUFF,
GENERAL ORDERS No. 39.,
HDQRS. DEFENSES OF BERMUDA HUNDRED, VA., ARMY OF THE JAMES,
April 3 , 1865.
To the troops engaged in the reconnaissance this morning the major general commanding tenders his warmest thanks and his high appreciation of their services. The promptness with which they got in readiness and moved when ordered to the attack, their celerity in capturing the picket-line of the enemy, and the steadiness with which when ordered they retired under a heavy artillery fire, and in the face of a strong infantry force, prove the possession by them of the qualities of a soldier and merit the highest praise. It was considered of the utmost importance by the lieutenant-general commanding the army to determine positively whether the enemy in our front had been changed or weakened, and when all other means had failed no recourse was left but to develop his line and strength by the armed reconnaissance which you have so gallantly and successfully made.
By command of Major-General Hartsuff:
J. M. HOWARD,
- 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. 1170-1172 ↩