No. 277. Report of Major General Fitzhugh Lee, C. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Corps.1
RICHMOND, VA., April 22, 1865.
GENERAL: I comply with pleasure with the desire expressed by you to have a report of the last operations of the cavalry of your army, and have the honor to submit the following:
On the 28th of March my division moved from its position on the extreme left of our lines in front of Richmond, on the north side of James
River, marched to Petersburg and up the South Side Railroad, reaching Sutherland’s Station, nineteen miles from Petersburg, on the 29th. In compliance with verbal instructions received from you, I marched the next day [30th] toward Dinwiddie Court-House, via Five Forks, to watch and counteract the operations threatened by the massing of the Federal cavalry at Dinwiddie Court-House under Sheridan. After passing Five Forks a portion of the enemy’s cavalry were encountered with success, and driven back upon their large reserves near the Court-House. Night put an end to further operations, and my division was encamped in the vicinity of Five Forks. My loss, though slight, included Brigadier General W. H. Payne among the wounded; and the loss of the services of this bold, capable officer was severely felt in all subsequent movements. I was joined during the evening by the divisions of Major Gens. W. H. F. Lee and Rosser, and, by order of the commanding general, took command of the Cavalry Corps.
On the 31st of March, Pickett coming up with five small brigades of infantry, we attacked the very large force of the enemy’s cavalry in our front at Five Forks, killed and wounded many, captured over 100 prisoners, and drove them to within half a mile of Dinwiddie Court-House. Munford, in command of my old division, held our lines in front of the enemy’s position, whilst the remaining two divisions of cavalry, preceding the infantry, moved by a concealed wooded road to turn and attack their flank. A short stream, strongly defended at its crossing, presented an unexpected obstacle to the sudden attack contemplated. It was finally carried, however, with loss in W. H. F. Lee’s and Rosser’s divisions. Munford, attacking about the same time, also successfully carried the temporary works thrown up in his front, and by a gallant advance again united his command with the other divisions. Darkness put an end to our farther advance. Amongst the wounded were numbered Major-General Rosser, slightly, Captain Dawson, my very efficient and gallant chief of ordnance, severely, and Lieutenant-Colonel Feild, Third Virginia Cavalry; Lieutenant Croxton, Fourth Virginia, was killed, and a number of others whose names I have not been able to obtain.
Our position in the vicinity of Dinwiddie Court-House brought us in rear of the left of the infantry confronting the right of our line of battle at Burgess’ Mills, and ascertaining during the night that that force, consisting of the Fifth Corps, had about faced and was marching to the support of Sheridan and his discomfited cavalry, which would have brought them directly upon our left flank, at daylight on the 1st we commenced moving back to our former position at Five Forks, where Pickett placed his infantry in line of battle. W. H. F. Lee was on his right, one regiment of Munford’s command on his left, uniting with the pickets of General Roberts’ command, who filled the gap between our position and the right of our main army, then at Burgess’ Mills. Rosser was placed just in rear of the center as a reserve, Hatcher’s Run intervening between him and our line. Everything continued quiet until about 3 p.m., when reports reached me of a large body of infantry marching around and menacing our left flank. I ordered Munford to go in person, ascertain the exact condition of affairs, hold his command in readiness, and if necessary order it up at once. He soon sent for it, and it reached its position just in time to receive the attack. A division of two small brigades of cavalry was not able force soon crushed in Pickett’s left flank, swept it away, and before Rosser could cross Hatcher’s Run the position at the Forks was seized and held and an
advance toward the railroad made. It was repulsed by Rosser. Pickett was driven rapidly toward the prolongation of the right of his line of battle by the combined attack of this infantry corps and Sheridan’s cavalry, making a total of over 26,000 men, to which he was opposed with 7,000 men of all arms. Our forces were driven back some miles, the retreat degenerating into a rout, being followed up principally by the cavalry, whilst the infantry corps held the position our troops were first driven from threatening an advance upon the railroad, and paralyzing the force of reserve cavalry by necessitating its being stationary in an interposing position to check or retard such an advance. The disastrous halt was made at Five Forks upon the day of our retrograde movement from Dinwiddie Court-House, on account of the importance of the location as a point of observation to watch and develop movements then evidently in contemplation, the importance of preserving which intact could not be overestimated. It was thought Pickett’s infantry and my cavalry could successfully contend against the superior numbers of the enemy’s cavalry [and which the fighting the day before amply verified], and should their infantry be withdrawn from the position of their lines contiguous to our operations, a corresponding force of our own would have thus been made available and could be used to restore the status, the distance from Burgess’ Mills [the terminus, respectively, of the right and left of the two lines of battle] being short from Five Forks, with a plain road joining the two. I remained in position on Hatcher’s Run, near Five Forks, during the night, and was joined by the cavalry which was driven back the previous afternoon and by Lieutenant-General Anderson, with Wise’s and Gracie’s brigades, who, leaving the position at Burgess’ Mills, had marched by a circuitous route to our relief. Had he advanced up the direct road it would have brought him on the flank and rear of the infantry forming the enemy’s right, which attacked our left at Five Forks, and probably changed the result of the unequal contest. Whilst Anderson was marching, the Fifth Corps was marching back, and was enabled to participate in the attack upon our lines the next day, whilst the services of the three infantry brigades which General Anderson re-enforced us by too late for use and the contending forces upon the next day for the possession of the lines circumvallating Petersburg.
On April 3 General Anderson, learning that the enemy had been successful in penetrating our lines, and that our army was withdrawing from the vicinity of Richmond and Petersburg, commenced moving back on the Namozine and Tabernacle road toward Amelia Court-House. I followed, protecting his rear and skirmishing with the enemy’s advance until Amelia Court-House was reached, on the 5th instant. At Deep Creek, en route, the command was placed in line of battle to take advantage of the defensive position offered and to give a check to the enemy’s rapid advance. Wise’s and Hunton’s brigades constituted a part of the rear guard at that time. The attack was not made upon us until after dark, and was principally sustained by Munford’s command, of my old division, with a steadiness reflecting high credit upon the valor and discipline of his men. Owing to the fact that General Heth’s troops were expected to arrive by the road by which the enemy advanced, they were permitted to approach very close to our lines, and it was not until Lieutenant-Colonel Strother, Fourth Virginia Cavalry, was sent to reconnoiter that it was ascertained who they were, he having walked into their line of skirmishers,
which were so near to ours that the questions asked him were distinctly hear by our troops. At another of the temporary halts upon this march to check the enemy in the vicinity of Namozine Church, that very excellent North Carolina brigade, of W. H. F. Lee’s division, suffered severely. The troops had been placed in motion again to resume the march. This brigade was the rear of the column, and I was obliged to retain it in position to prevent the enemy from attacking the remainder of the command. Whilst getting in motion their rapidly arriving forces soon augmented the troops it was so gallantly holding in check, and produced a concentration impossible for it to resist. Its commander, Brigadier-General Barringer, was captured whilst in the steady discharge of his duties, and his loss was keenly felt by the command. I also had the great misfortune to be deprived of the services of my most efficient and untiring adjutant-general, Major J. D. Ferguson, who was captured about the same time, and whose assistance, always important, was especially desirable at this time.
Reporting to the commanding general at Amelia Court-House on the 5th, I was ordered to move with my command on the Paineville road to protect the wagon train, a portion of which was reported to have been attacked by some of the enemy’s cavalry. W. H. F Lee was detached and sent in advance of Longstreet, who was moving from the Court-House toward Jetersville. I found the enemy had attacked and burned a portion of the cavalry train, including my own headquarters wagons, and had retreated again toward Jetersville. I started at once in pursuit,m and soon closed up on gary with his brigade, who had been previously dispatched in that direction,and was engaging their rear near Paineville. Re-enforcing him, tube enemy were rapidly driven within a mile of Jetersville, where their infantry were found in large force. (A dispatch captured that night showed General Grant to be there in person.) The pursuit was discontinued, and the command placed in camp at Amelia Springs.
In this encounter 30 of the enemy were killed, principally with the sabre, and 150 wounded and captured. The attack was made with Rosser’s division, mounted,supported by portion of my old division, dismounted. The gallantry of Brigadier-general Dearing in leading the charge of his command was here very conspicuous. Our loss was not very heavy, and I can only recall in this connection the mortally wounding of two of my bravest and best young officers, Captain Hugh McGuire, Eleventh Virginia Cavalry, and Captain James Rutherford, assistant adjutant-general, General Dearing ‘s staff.
The portion of the enemy’s cavalry engaged in this raid had preceded the column which had been marching on our left flank, and had reached Jetersville, on the Danville railroad, before Longstreet arrived in that vicinity. their cavalry crossed the railroad and swept around on the north of our right marching flank, and hence came upon the wagon train.
During the night, at Amelia Springs, Longstreet’s corps, deflected from its original line of march by the occupation of Jetersville and Burkeville by the enemy, passed by. The commanding general arrived also, and I received from him ordered to march as daylight after General Longstreet. The main body of the enemy’s cavalry had ceased to follow our rear after our approach to Amelia Court-house, and was moving on a parallel route upon our left marching flank.
The next morning (6th of April) I started the main portion of my command under Rosser (the senior officer present), and remained, in compliance with instructions, to explain in person to the first infantry
officer who came up the situation of things, and to urge the importance of his keeping sharp watch upon his left flank, as it was feared by the commanding general the enemy might tap the marching column coming down from the Amelia Springs and Jetersville road. I then road on the rejoin the greater part of my command en route toward Rice’s Station, but was stopped after crossing Sailor’s creek by the interposition of the enemy’s cavalry, who, coming from their position on the railroad in the vicinity of Jetersville, had seized the road upon which we were marching after the rear of Longstreet had passed long and previous to the arrival of the head of Ewell’s command. I was detained there some time, hoping an attack would be made to reopened the way. The infantry were formed in line of battle at right angles to the road and facing the direction in which they were marching. An attack commenced, but was stopped, though the enemy were being rapidly driven from our font. In the meantime the enemy made his appearance in the rear of Ewell’s column,necessitating the formation of another lien of battle on Sailor’s Creek, the direction from which they had marched. The line of battle thus originally formed faced in opposite directions,and remained quietly in position until the Federal infantry re-enforced their large force of cavalry, and with it had all most entirely surrender them. though portions of this force, particularly the command of General G. W. C. Lee, fought with a gallantry never surpassed, their defeat and surrender were reliable, after the dispositions of the enemy to effect it. I am clarely of the opinion (and I only express it because I was a witness of all that happened until just previous to the surrender) that had the troops been rapidly massed when their march was first interrupted, they could have cared the way and heed able to fall into line of battle on Longstreet’s left, who was taking position at Rice’s station, some few miles ahead; or had the heads of the column been returned obliquely off in a western direction, ore toward the road gorgon and the wagons were moving upon, an echelon formation add pate, the nature of the guard, wooded and much broken, would have kept the cavalry form harassing theme sufficiently to retard their progress until the arrival of their infantry. I rode out by that way with my staff and a fe w men just previous to Ewell’s surrender, and found it so feasible that I immediately sent a staff officer back to Generals’ Ewell and Anderson to retired to theme my convictions previously expressed, and nw so much strengthened by my own experience. The halt, allowing time for the accumulation of the enemy’s troops, proved fatal. General Rosser, in command of his own, and my old division, under Munford, proceeded to Rice’s Station, on the South ‘side road, where learning that a force had been detached from the Federal left, confronting Longstreet at that point, to open on his rear, moved at once to contract their purpose. The enemy were overtaken and attacked on the road toward and in the vicinity of High Bridge. After a sharp encounter they were defeated, our forces capturing some 780 prisoners, and killing and owning a large number, including amongst the killed their commander, Brigadier-General Read, chief of staff to General Ord, commanding Army of the James, whose body fell into our hands. The enemy’s force proved to be a picket body of infantry and a squadron of cavalry, which, placed under this staff officer, had for its object the destruction of the High Bridge over the Appomattox, in our rear. The success was indeed dearly bought, for the lives of Brigadier-General Dearing, of Rosser’s division, Colonel Boston, firth Virginia Cavalry, commanding Payne’s bridge, of my old division, and Major James W. Thomas, Stuart Horse
Artillery, and Rosser’s chief ion that arm, were lost in attaining it, The splendid gallantry of these three officers had been tsetses n may fields, and their conspicuous valor was universally known. The genial and dashing Thomas was killed leading cavalry, his guns not being present.
On the night of the 6th the position at Rice’s Station was abandoned, and I moved in ear or Longstreet, crossing the Appomattox little above Farmville. Fighting took place between my rear and enemy’s advance in the vicinity and in the streets of Farmville, it being found necessary to retard their progress to give time for the passage of the river by our troops.
On the 7th a portion of the enemy’s cavalry, having crossed the river aging, made an attack on the wagon train moving upon our line of march. They were met by Munford in front, whilst Rosser attached the flank, and were driven back with considerable loss, including amongst the captured their commanding general, J. Irvin, Gregg,. Our position was held near this point of attack until 12 p. m., when the march was resumed toward Appomattox Court-House. The cavalry followed in the rear of Longstreet’s corps, send maintained that order of march thought the 8th, followed by a portion of the federal infantry. Their cavalry and the remainder of their infantry pursued the line of railroad from Farmville to Appomattox station .
During the evening of the 8th I received orders to move the cavalry corps to the front, and to report in person to the commanding general. Upon arriving at his headquarter I find General Longstreet there, and we were soon after joined by General Gordon. The condition of our situation was explained by the commanding general to us as the commanders of his three corps, and the correspondence between General Grant and himself, as far as it had then progressed, was laid before us. It was decided the I should attack the enemy’s cavalry at daylight, then reported as obstruction our farther march; Gordon was to support me, and in case nothing but cavalry were discovered we were to clear it form our our yet and open a way for our remaining troops; but in case they were supported by heavy bodies of infantry the commanding general should be at once notified, in order that a flag of truce should be sent to accede to the only alternative left us. The enemy were enabled to take position across our line of march by moving up form Appomattox Station, which they reached earlier than our main advance, in consequence of our march being retarded by our wagons trains.
At daybreak on the 9th Gordon’s command, numbering about 1,600 muskets, was formed in line of battle half a mile west of Appomattox Court-house, on the Lynchburg road. The cavalry corps was domed on his right, W. H. F. Lee’s division being nearest the infantry, Rosser’s in the center, and Munford’s on the extreme right, making amounted force of about 2,400 men. Our attack was made about sunrise, and the enemy’s cavalry quickly driven out of the way, with a loss of two guns and a number of prisoners. The arrival at this time of two corps of their infantry necessitated the retiring of our lines, during which, and knowing what would be the result, I withdrew the cavalry, W. H. F. Lee retiring toward our rear, and Rosier and Munford out toward Lynchburg, having cleared that road to the enemy. Upon hearing that the Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered, the men were generally dispersed and rode off to their homes, subject to reassembling for a continuation of the struggle. I rode out tin person with portion of W. H. F. Lee’s division, the nearest to me tat that time, and previous to
the negotiations between the commanders of the two armies. It will be recalled that my action was in accordance with the views I had expressed in the council the night before-that it a surrender a compelled the next day, I would try to extricate the cavalry,. provided it could be done without compromising the caution of the commanding general, but that I would not avail myself of a cessation of hostilities pending the existence of a flag of truce. I had an understanding with General Gordan that he should communicate to you the information of the presence of the enemy’s infantry upon the road in our front. Apart from the found, though forlorn, hope that future operations were still in store for the cavalry, I was desirous that they should not be included in the capitulations, because the ownership of their horses was vested in themselves, and I deemed it doubtful that terms would be offered allowing such owner ship to continue. A few days convinced me to the impracticability of longer entertaining such hopes, and I rode into the Federal lines and accepted for myself the terms offered the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia. My cavalry are being paroled at the nearest places for such purposes in their counties.
The burning by the enemy of all my retained reports, records, and date of every kind near Painville, in Amelia Country, which were in one of the wagons destroyed, and my inability to get reports from my officers, is my apology for the rendition of a report incomplete in many, though It think minor, details. I particularly regret not being able to do justice in this the only way I can to the many acts of gallantry performed by officers and men upon the memorable retreats: but such conduct is ostial derived from the reports of subordinate officers, the absence of which will explain it. I testify, however, to the general conduct of my officers and men as highly creditable to themselves upon every occasion which called forth its display. They fought everyday for the 29th of March to the 9th of April, boat inclusive, with a valor as steady as of yore, and whose brightness was not dimmed by the increasing clouds of adversity. I desire to call attention to the marked and excellent behavior of Generals W. H. F. Lee, Roseser, and Munford, commanding divisions. the former was detached from the main command, being the senior division commander, whenever it became necessary for a force to operate separately, and I hope has made a report direct to the commanding general. He surrendered with the army at Appomattox Court-House. he surrendered with the army at Appomattox Court-House. The other two succeed in getting out, and immediately made arrangements to continued the struggle, until the capitulation of General Johnston’s army bought the convincing proof the a farther resistance was useless. The notice of the commanding general is also directed to Brigadier Gens. Henry A. Wise and Eppa Hunton, commanding infantry brigades, and who were more or less under my command until ‘Amelia Court-house was rear head. The disheartening surrounding influences had no effect upon them; they kept their duty plainly in view, and they full performed it. The past services of General Henry A. Wise, his antecedents in civil life, and his age, caused his bearing upon this most trying retreat to shine conspicuously forth. His unconquerable spirit was filled with as much earnestness and zeal in April, 1865, as when he first took up arms four yards ago, and the freedom with which he exposed a long life laden with honors proved he was willing to sacrifice it if it would conduce toward attaining the liberty of his county. Brigadier-General Munford, commanding my division, mentions most favorably Colonel W. A. Morgan, First Virginia Cavalry; Colonel W. b. Wooldridge, Fourth Virginia, Lieutenant Colonel Carry Breckinridge, Second Virginia (a brother of the gallant Captain James
Breckinridge, of the same regiment, who was killed at five Forks, as was not previously mentioned); Lieutenant-Colonels Old, Fourth Virginia, and Irving, First Virginia-all of Munford’s old brigade; capt. Henry Lee, assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenant Abram Warswik, aide-de-camp; Lieutenant Mortimer Rogers, ordnance officer; and sergt. Major L. Griffin, Second Virginia Cavalry.
I cannot close this my last official report without commending for their valuable services the following officers of my staff not previously mentioned, and who at the last moment were found doing their duty on the fated field of Appomattox; Majors Masion and Treanor, assistant adjutant and inspector generals; Major W. B. Warwick, chief commissary; Dr. A. C. Randolph, chief surgeon; Major Brethed, chief of artillery; Major G. M. Ryals, formerly of
General Stuart’s staff, and Captain Lewellyn Saunderson, who, having just arrived from his native country, Lieutenant joined me previous to the fall of Petersburg,and remained with me to the last. The proverbial intrepidity of the dashing Mason and reckless Breathed upon every battle-field of the war that the Army of Northern Virginia contended for is too well known for me to do more than refer to. Major Warwick, apart from his onerous duties, rendered services on many fields, his cold courage casings him often to the employed in duties not immediately pertaining to his officer. I deeply regret being obliged to mention the dangerous wounding of my aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Charles Minnegerode, jr. One of the last minieballs the which staled on its cruel errand over the field of Appomattox passed entirely through the popper part of his body. He fell at side, where for three long years he had discharged his duties with an affectionate fidelity never exceeded, a courage never surpassed. Wonderfully passing unharmed though the many battles fought by the two principal armies in this State (for an impetuous spirit often carried him where the fire was hottest), he was left at lat, writing in his great pain, to the mercy of the victors upon the field of our last struggle. The rapidly advancing line of the enemy prevented his removal, and as we turned away the west eyes and sorrowing hearts silenty told that one was no longer in our midst. Lieutenant Minnegerode combined the qualities of an aide-de-camp to a general officer in a remarkable degree. His personal services to me will forever be prized and remembered, whilst his intelligence, amiability, and brightness of disposition rendered him an object of endearment to all.
Most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Commanding Cavalry.
General R. E. LEE.
- 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. 1298-1305 ↩