No. 271. Report of Major General Joseph B. Kershaw, C. S. Army.1
CAMDEN, S. C., October 9, 1865.
MAJOR: On the morning of Monday, the 3rd of April last, I moved, in obedience to the orders of Lieutenant-General Ewell, from my position on the lines near Fort Gilmer through Richmond to Mayo’s Bridge, reporting in person to Lieutenant-General Ewell.
Under his orders I detached two battalions to suppress the mob then engaged in sacking the city. Arriving at the bridge I found it in flames, and rapidly passed my command over to Manchester, informing General Ewell of the facts. By the efforts of some boatmen the flames were arrested before they had rendered the bridge impassable. By the time the infantry had passed, the large mill above the Danville depot-and too far distant from it to have been ignited by the burning of the latter-was observed to be on fire, the smoke being first seen to issue through the roof in all parts of it, and then the windows on all sides, indicating that it had been set on fire in the interior. As much of the conflagration which ensued was caused by the burning of this building, the circumstance has been deemed of sufficient importance to be stated here, in order to remove the erroneous imputation that the conflagration resulted from the action of the authorities.
A few miles from the river the command united with that of General Custis Lee and moved in the direction of Amelia Court-House. Learning that all the upper crossings of the Appomattox were impassable, on Tuesday the command moved to the railroad crossing, and by night had succeeded in passing the river with the entire train. The next day the rear of the Petersburg army was overtaken at Amelia Court-House, and marching all night the command arrived at Amelia Springs a little after sunrise the next day. From this point Gordon’s corps marched in the rear. About 10 o’clock the command reached a point where the wagon train was moved to the right upon a cross-road which intersected that upon which the troops moved at right angles. Here the column was posted to resist the cavalry of the enemy-Merritt’s and Custer’s divisions-which attacked at that point, and repulsed several charges upon different parts of the line. They were held at bay until the last of the train had passed the point attacked, when I was directed to follow the movement of General Custis Lee’s division. Before my troops left the ground Gordon’s advance appeared, while his rear was engaged with the enemy. I was not informed that Gordon would fol-
low the wagon train as he did, and was therefore surprised on arriving at Sailor’s Creek to find that my rear was menaced. As the troops in my front had halted, I detached Humphreys’ brigade, commanded by Colonel Fitz Gerald, and Gary’s dismounted battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Barham, to take position near the house occupied as a hospital by Pickett’s division, to cover my crossing Sailor’s Creek. Upon arriving at the top of the hill on the south side of the creek, I was informed by General Ewell that the enemy had possession of the road in front of General Anderson, and that we were to hold the enemy in check while that officer attempted to open the way. My command then consisted of only three brigades -Humphreys’, Simms’ [Brigadier General J. P. Simms commanding], and Du Bose’s brigade [Brigadier General D. M. Du Bose commanding]- and the dismounted cavalry already mentioned; the whole at that time amounted to less than 2,000 effective men. Du Bose was placed in the edge of the wood, with his right resting on the road; Simms, on the left of the road, a little in advance. General Lee’s division was on the left of the road, his right occupying a line in front of Du Bose, his left on the same line, or nearly so. In the meantime the enemy attacked and overpowered Humphreys and the dismounted cavalry, forcing them back to my position. They were formed at once on the left of the road, and Simms was moved farther to the right. The enemy planted batteries near the hospital and swept our position at short range, and under cover of the fire the Second and Sixth Corps attacked us. Both in his [General Lee’s] front and my own they were repulsed, with loss, on every advance, but pressed on constantly with fresh troops, extending all the while to our left. During this attack I received from General Anderson a message, through Captain S. D. Shannon, aide-de-camp, to the effect that he had commenced his movement, and hoped to be successful if I could hold out a few moments longer. Sending him an encouraging reply, I continued to resist the enemy for some time, hoping to hear from General Anderson that the way was open. Unfortunately his attempt had failed, and the enemy made his appearance in rear of Simms’ brigade at the same time he was engaged in front and flank. That officer attempted to extricate his command, but found it impossible to do so without confusion, as he was attacked on all sides. This condition of things being discovered by the other troops, all fell back toward the rear and left. I kept up something of a skirmish as the command retreated; but after moving some 400 yards I discovered that all who had preceded me had been taken by the Yankee cavalry, who were in line of battle across the road. I then directed the men about me and the members of my staff to make their escape in any way possible. I discovered afterward that but one had succeeded, as the enemy had completed the circle around our position when General Anderson’s line was broken. My losses in killed and wounded must have been considerable, but I have no means of estimating the number.
The conduct of the officers and men of the command under these trying circumstances is beyond all praise, and worthy the reputation of these veteran regiments. On no battle-field of the war have I felt a juster pride in the conduct of my command.
I beg leave expressly to include in these just encomiums the little command of Lieutenant-Colonel Barham, and especially that officer.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. B. KERSHAW.
Major CAMPBELL BROWN,
- 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. 1283-1284 ↩