by Horace Porter, Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. A.
It was 9 o'clock in the morning of the 29th of March, 1865. General Grant
and the officers of his staff had bidden good-bye to President Lincoln
and mounted the passenger car of the special train that was to carry them from City Point
to the front, and the signal was given to start; the train moved off, Grant
's last campaign had begun.
Since 3 o'clock that morning the columns had been in motion and the Union Army
and the Army of Northern Virginia were soon locked in a death-grapple.
The President remained at City Point
, where he could be promptly informed of the progress of the movement.
The military railroad connecting headquarters with the camps south of Petersburg
was about thirteen miles long, or would have been if it had been constructed on a horizontal plane, but as the portion built by the army was a surface road, up hill and down dale, if the rise and fall had been counted in, its length would have defied all ordinary means of measurement.
Its undulations were so striking that a train moving along it looked in the distance like a fly crawling over a corrugated washboard.
The general sat down near the end of the car, drew from his pocket the flint and slow-match that he always carried, which, unlike a match, never missed fire in a gale of wind, and was soon wreathed in the smoke of the inevitable cigar.
I took a seat near him with several other officers of the staff, and-he at once began to talk over his plans in detail.
They had been discussed in general terms before starting out from City Point
It was his custom, when commencing a movement in the field, to have his staff-officers understand fully the objects he wished to accomplish, and what each corps of the army was expected to do in different emergencies, so that these officers, when sent to distant points of the line, might have a full comprehension of the general's intentions, and so that, when communication with him was impossible or difficult, they might be able to instruct the subordinate commanders intelligently as to the intentions of the general-in-chief
For a month or more General Grant
's chief apprehension had been that the enemy might suddenly pull out from his intrenchments and fall back into the interior, where he might unite with General Joe Johnston
and force our army to follow Lee
to a great distance from its base.
had been sleeping with one eye open and one foot out of bed for many weeks, in the fear that Lee
would thus give him the slip.
He did not dare delay his movements against the enemy's right until the roads became dry enough to permit an army to move comfortably, for fear Lee
would himself take advantage of the good roads to start first.
Each army, in fact, was making preparations for either a fight or a foot-race — or both.
, with his cavalry command, had been ordered to move out in the direction of Dinwiddie Court House, and to be ready to strike the enemy's right and rear.
It was the intention, as soon as he could take up a good position for this purpose, to reenforee him with a corps of infantry, and cut off Lee
's retreat in the direction of Danville
, in case we should break through his intrenched lines in front of Petersburg
, and force him from his position there.
The weather had been fair for several days, and the roads were getting in good condition for the movement of troops; that is, as good as could be expected, through a section of country in which the dust in summer was generally so thick that the army could not see where to move, and the mud in winter was so deep that it could not move any-where.
The general, in speaking of what was expected of Sheridan
, said: “I had a private talk with Sheridan
after I gave him his written instructions at City Point
When he read that part of them which directed him, in certain contingencies, to proceed south along the Danville railroad and cooperate with Sherman
by operating in Joe Johnston
's rear, he looked so unhappy that I said to him, as I followed him out of the tent, that that part of the instructions was put in only as a blind, so that if he did not meet with entire success the people of the
North, who were then naturally restless and apt to become discouraged, might not look upon a temporary check as an entire defeat of a definite plan,--and that what I really expected was that he would remain with the armies operating against Lee
, and end matters right here.
This made him happy, and he has started out perfectly confident of the success of the present movement.”
Referring to Mr. Lincoln
, he said: “The President is one of the few visitors I have had who has not attempted to extract from me a knowledge of my plans.
Union artillery at Petersburg protected by Mantelets.
From a War-time sketch. |
only never asked them, but says it is better he should not know them, and then he can be certain to keep the secret.
He will be the most anxious man in the country to hear the news from us, his heart is so wrapped up in our success, but I think we can send him some good news in a day or two.”
I never knew the general to be more sanguine of victory than in starting out on this campaign.
When we reached the end of the railroad we mounted our horses, which had been carried on the same train, started down the Vaughan
road, and went into camp for the night in a field just south of that road, close to Gravelly Run
That night (March 29th) the army was disposed in the following order from right to left: Weitzel
in front of Richmond
, with a portion of the Army of the James, Parke
holding our works in front of Petersburg
extending to the intersection of Hatcher's Run
and the Vaughan
stretching beyond Dabney's Mill, Warren
on the extreme left reaching as far as the junction of the Vaughan
road and the Boydton
plank-road, and Sheridan
at Dinwiddie Court House.
The weather had become cloudy, and toward evening rain began to fall.
It fell in torrents during the night and continued with but little interruption all the next day. The country was densely wooded, and the ground swampy, and by evening of the 30th whole fields had become beds of quicksand in which horses sank to their bellies, wagons threatened to disappear altogether, and it seemed as if the bottom had fallen out of the roads.
The men began to feel that if any one in after years should ask them whether they had been through Virginia
, they could say, “Yes, in a number of places.”
The roads had become sheets of water; and it looked as if the saving of that army would require the services, not of a Grant, but of a Noah.
Soldiers would call out to officers as they rode along: “I say, when are the gun-boats coming up?”
The buoyancy of the day before was giving place to gloom, and some began to fear that the whole movement was premature.1
While standing in front of the general's tent on the morning of the 30th, discussing the situation with several others on the staff, I saw General Sheridan
turning in from the Vaughan
road with a staff-officer and an escort of about a dozen cavalry-men, and coming toward our headquarters camp.
He was riding his white pacer, a horse which had been captured from General Breckinridge
's adjutant-general at Missionary Ridge
But, instead of striking a pacing gait now, it was at every step driving its legs knee-deep into the quicksand with the regularity of a pile-driver.
As soon as Sheridan
dismounted, he was asked with much eagerness about the situation on the extreme left.
He took a decidedly cheerful view of matters, and entered upon a very animated discussion of the coming movements.
He said he could drive in the whole cavalry force of the enemy with ease, and if an infantry force were added to his command he would strike out for Lee
's right and either crush it or force him so to weaken his intrenched lines that the troops in front of them could breakthrough and march into Petersburg
He warmed up with the subject as he proceeded, threw the whole energy of his nature into the discussion, and his cheery voice, beaming countenance, and impassioned language showed the earnestness of his convictions.
“How do you propose to supply your command with forage if this weather lasts?”
he was asked by one of the group.
; “I'll get all the forage I want.
I'll haul it out if I have to set every man in the command to corduroying roads, and corduroy every mile of them from the railroad to Dinwiddie
I tell you I'm ready to strike out tomorrow and go to smashing things.”
And, pacing up and down, he chafed like a hound in the leash.
We told him this was the kind of talk we liked to listen to at headquarters, and while General Grant
fully coincided in these views it would still further confirm him in his judgment to hear such words as had just been spoken; we urged Sheridan
to go and talk in the same strain to the general-in-chief
, who was in his tent with General Rawlins
, however, objected to obtruding himself unbidden upon his commander.
Then we resorted to a bit of strategy.
One of us went into the general's tent and told him Sheridan
had just come in from the left and had been telling us some matters of much interest, and suggested that he be invited in and asked to state them.
This was assented to, and Sheridan
was told the general wanted to hear what he had to say. Sheridan
then went in and began to speak to General Grant
as he had been speaking to the staff.
Several persons soon after came into the tent, and General Sheridan
stepped out and accompanied General Ingalls
to the latter's tent.
A few minutes later General Grant
went to this tent, General Ingalls
came out, and Grant
fully discussed the situation.
In spite of the opposition which had arisen in some quarters to continuing offensive operations, owing to the state of the weather and the deplorable condition of the roads, General Grant
decided to press the movement against the enemy with all vigor.
After his twenty-minutes talk with Grant
mounted his horse, and, waving us a good-bye with his hand, rode off to Dinwiddie
The next morning, the 31st, he reported that the enemy had been hard at work intrenching at Five Forks
and to a point about a mile west of there.
had been as prompt as Grant
to recognize that Five Forks
was a strategic point of great importance, and, to protect his right, had sent Pickett
there with a large force of infantry and nearly all the cavalry.
The rain continued during the night of the 30th, and on the morning of the 31st the weather was cloudy and dismal.
had expected that Warren
would be attacked that morning, and had warned him to be on the alert.
advanced his corps to ascertain with what force the enemy held the White Oak
road and to try to drive him from it; but before he had gone far he met with a vigorous assault.
When news came of the attack General Grant
directed me to go to the spot and look to the situation of affairs there.
I found Ayres
's division had been driven in, and both he and Crawford
were falling back upon Griffin
Miles, of Humphreys
's corps, was sent to reenforce Warren
, and by noon the enemy was checked.
As soon as General Grant
was advised of the situation, he directed General Meade
to take the offensive vigorously.
Miles made a movement to the left and attacked in flank the troops in front of Warren
, and the enemy soon fell back.
had now ridden out to the front, and hearing that he was at Mrs. Butler
's house near the Boydton
plank-road, I joined him there.
It was then a little after 1 o'clock. He had in the meantime ordered the headquarters camp to be moved to Dabney's Mill, on a cross-road running from the Boydton
plank to the Vaughan
road, and about two miles from Meade
's headquarters, which were near the crossing of the Vaughan
road and Hatcher's Run
The general was becoming apprehensive lest the infantry force that had moved against Warren
might turn upon Sheridan
, who had only cavalry with which to resist, as the weather had rendered it impracticable thus far to send him a corps of infantry as intended, and the general-in-chief
was urgent that a strong forward movement should be made by the Fifth Corps for the purpose of deterring the enemy from detaching infantry from that portion of his line.
This advance was made later in the afternoon, and with decided success.
When this movement had been decided upon, General Grant
directed me to go to Sheridan
and explain what was taking place in Warren
's and in Humphreys
's front, and have a full understanding with him as to further operations in his vicinity.
I rode rapidly down the Boydton
plank-road, and soon came to Gravelly Run
Hearing heavy firing in the direction of the Five Forks road, I hurried on in that direction.
Crossing by the Brooks
road from the Boydton
plank to the Five Forks road, which runs north from Dinwiddie
, I saw a portion of our cavalry moving eastward, pressed by a heavy force of the enemy, and it was found that Devin
, after holding on tooth and nail for hours, had
been driven in by the force of superior numbers and were falling back toward the Boydton
The brigades of Gibbs
and J. I. Gregg
had rushed in on the right and rear of the enemy, and got in some very good work, but were soon after compelled to fall back toward Dinwiddie
I turned the corner of the Brooks
cross-road and the Five Forks road just as the rear of our cavalry was passing it, and encountered one of Sheridan
under a heavy fire, playing “Nellie Bly
” as cheerily as if it were furnishing music for a country picnic.
I found Sheridan
a little north of Dinwiddie Court House, and gave him an account of matters on the left of the Army of the Potomac.
He said he had had one of the liveliest days in his experience, fighting infantry and cavalry with cavalry only, but that he was concentrating his command on the high ground just north of Dinwiddie
, and would hold that position at all hazards.
He did not stop here, but becoming more and more animated in describing the situation and stating his views and intentions, he declared his belief that with the corps of infantry he expected to be put under his command he could take the initiative the next morning and cut off the whole of the force that Lee
He said: “This force is in more danger than I am — if I am cut off from the Army of the Potomac, it is cut off from Lee
's army, and not a man in it should ever be allowed to get back to Lee
. We at last have drawn the enemy's infantry out of its fortifications, and this is our chance to attack it.”
He begged me to go to General Grant
at once and again urge him to send him the Sixth Corps, because it had been under him in the battles in the Valley of Virginia
, and knew his way of fighting.
I told him, as had been stated to him before, that the Sixth Corps was next to our extreme right, and that the only one which could reach him by daylight was the Fifth.
I started soon after for General Grant
's headquarters at Dabney's Mill, a distance of about eight miles. I reached there at 7 o'clock P. M., and gave the general a full description of Sheridan
He at once telegraphed the substance of my report to Meade
, and preparations soon after began looking to the sending of the Fifth Corps to report to Sheridan
About 7:40 Captain M. V. Sheridan
, of Sheridan
's staff, brought still later news from Dinwiddie
, saying that the cavalry had had more fighting but was holding its position.
It was finally decided that Warren
should send Ayres
down the Boydton
plank and across by the Brooks
road, and Griffin
by the Crump
road, which runs from the White Oak
road south to J. Boisseau
's. [See map, p. 539.] Mackenzie
's small division of cavalry was ordered to march to Dinwiddie
and report to Sheridan
All haste was urged, in the hope that at daylight the enemy might be caught between Warren
's two divisions of infantry on one side and Ayres
's division and Sheridan
's cavalry on the other, and be badly beaten.
It was expected that the infantry would reach its destination in ample time to take the offensive at break of day, but now one delay after another was met with, and Grant
, and Sheridan
spent a painfully anxious night in hurrying forward the movement.
had to rebuild a bridge over Gravelly Run
, which took till 2 A. M. Warren
, with his other two divisions, did not get started from their position on the White Oak
road till 5 A. M., and the hope of crushing the enemy was hourly growing less.
This proved to be one of the busiest nights of the whole campaign.
were writing dispatches and telegraphing from dark till daylight.
Staff-officers were rushing from one headquarters to another, wading through swamps, penetrating forests, and galloping over corduroy roads, engaged in carrying instructions, getting information, and making extraordinary efforts to hurry up the movement of the troops.
The next morning, April 1st, General (rant said to me: “I wish you would spend the day with Sheridan
's command, and send me a bulletin every half-hour or so, advising me fully as to the progress of his movements.
You know my views, and I want you to give them to Sheridan
Tell him the contemplated movement is left entirely in his hands, and he must be responsible for its execution.
I have every confidence in his judgment and ability.
I hope there may now be an opportunity of fighting the enemy's infantry out-side of its fortifications.”
I set out with half a dozen mounted orderlies to act as couriers in transmitting field bulletins.
Captain Peter T. Hudson
, of our staff, went with me. After traveling again by way of the Brooks
road, I met Sheridan
, about 10 A. M., on the Five Forks road not far from J. Boisseau's house.
had his division on this road, having arrived about daylight, and Griffin
had reached J. Boisseau
's between 7 and 8 A. M. I had a full conference with Sheridan
He told me the force in front of him had fallen back early in the morning, that he had pursued with his cavalry and had had several brushes with the enemy, and was driving him steadily back; that he had his patience sorely tried by the delays that had occurred in getting the infantry to him, but he was going to make every effort to strike a heavy blow with all the infantry and cavalry, as soon as he could get them into position, provided the enemy should make a stand behind his intrenchments at Five Forks
, which seemed likely.
, who had accompanied Crawford
's division, arrived at 11 o'clock and reported in person to Sheridan
A few minutes before noon Colonel
(afterward General) Babcock
, of General Grant
's staff, came over from headquarters and said to Sheridan
: “General Grant
directs me to say to you, that if in your judgment the Fifth Corps would do better under one of the division commanders, you are authorized to relieve General Warren
, and order him to report to General Grant
, at headquarters.”
replied, in effect, that
Map of the battle of five Forks.
In his official report, General Fitzhugh Lee gives the following account of the battle of Five Forks from the Confederate point of view: |
“Our position in the vicinity of Dinwiddie Court House [March 31st] brought us to the rear of the left of the infantry confronting the right of our line of battle at Burgess's 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 lis right, one regiment of Munford's command on his left, uniting with the pickets of General Roberts's command, who filled the gap between our position and the right of our main army, then at Burgess's 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.
ie 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 long to withstand the attack of a Federal corps of infantry, and that 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 tlhe combined attack of this infantry corps and Sheridan's cavalry, making a total of over 26,000 men, to which he was opposed with 7000 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. . . . I remained in position on Hatcher's Run, near Five Forks, during the night, and was joined by tlhe cavalry which was driven back the previous afternoon, and by Lieutenant-General [R. H.] Anderson with Wise's and Gracie's brigades, who, leaving the position at Burgess's Mills, had marched by a circuitous route to our relief.
Had lie advanced up the direct road it would have brought hlim 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 tlhe 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 reenforced us by, too late for use) and the five with Pickett, by their absence, increased the disparity between the contending forces upon the next day for the possession of tlhe lines circumvallating Petersburg.”
he hoped such a step as that might not become necessary, and then went on to speak of his plan of battle.
We all rode on farther to the front; and soon met General Devin
, who was considerably elated by his successes of the morning, and was loudly demanding to be permitted to make a general charge on the enemy.
told him he didn't believe he had enough ammunition, to which Devin
replied: “I guess I've got enough to give ‘em one surge more.”
now left us to return to Headquarters.
About 1 o'clock it was reported by the cavalry that the enemy was retiring to his intrenched position at Five Forks
, which was just north of the White Oak
road, and parallel to it, his earth-works running from a point about three-quarters of a mile east of Five Forks
to a point a mile west, with an angle or crotchet about one hundred yards long thrown back at right angles to his left to protect that flank.
Orders were at once given to the Fifth Corps to move up the Gravelly Run Church road to the open ground near the church, and form in order of battle, with Ayres
on the left, Crawford
on his right, and Griffin
in rear as a reserve.
The corps was to wheel to the left, and make its attack upon the “angle,” and then, moving westward, sweep down in rear of the enemy's intrenched line.
The cavalry, principally dismounted, was to deploy in front of the enemy's line and engage his attention, and, as soon as it heard the firing of our infantry, to make a vigorous assault upon his works.
The Fifth Corps had borne the brunt of the fighting ever since the army had moved out on the 29th, and the gallant men who composed it, and had performed a conspicuous part in nearly every battle in which the Army of the Potomac had been engaged, seemed eager once more to cross bayonets
with their old antagonists.
But the movement was slow, the required formation seemed to drag, and Sheridan
, chafing with impatience and consumed with anxiety, became as restive as a racer when he nears the score and is struggling to make the start.
He made every possible appeal for promptness, he dismounted from his horse, paced up and down, struck the clinched fist of one hand into the palm of the other, and fretted like a caged tiger.
He said at one time: “This battle must be fought and won before the sun goes down.
All the conditions may be changed in the morning; we have but a few hours of daylight left us. My cavalry are rapidly exhausting their ammunition, and if the attack is delayed much longer they may have none left.”
And then another batch of staff-officers were sent out to gallop through the mud and hurry up the columns.
At 4 o'clock the formation was completed, the order for the assault was given, and the struggle for Pickett
's intrenched line began.
The Confederate infantry brigades were posted from right to left as follows: Terry
, and Wallace
General Fitzhugh Lee
, commanding the cavalry, had placed W. H. F. Lee
's two brigades on the right of the line, Munford
's division on the left, and Rosser
's in rear of Hatcher's Run
to guard the trains.
I rode to the front in company with Sheridan
, with the head of Ayres
's division, which was on the left.
When this division became engaged, Warren
took up a more central position with reference to his corps.
threw out a skirmish-line, and advanced across an open field, which sloped down gradually toward the dense woods, just north of the White Oak
He soon met with a fire from the edge of this woods, a number of men fell, and the skirmish-line halted and seemed to waver.
now began to exhibit those traits that always made him such a tower of strength in the presence of an enemy.
He put spurs to his horse and dashed along in front of the line of battle from left to right, shouting words of encouragement and having something cheery to say to every regiment.
“Come on, men,” he cried.
“Go at ‘em with a will.
Move on at a clean jump or you'll not catch one of them.
They're all getting ready to run now, and if you don't get on to them in five minutes, they'll every one get away from you!
Now go for them.”
Just then a man on the skirmish-line was struck in the neck; the blood spurted as if the jugular vein had been cut. “I'm killed!”
he cried, and dropped on the ground.
“You're not hurt a bit,” cried Sheridan
; “pick up your gun, man, and move right on to the front.”
Such was the electric effect of his words that the poor fellow snatched up his musket and rushed forward a dozen paces before he fell never to rise again.
The line of battle of weather-beaten veterans was now moving right along down the slope toward the woods with a steady swing that boded no good for Pickett
's command, earth-works or no earth-works.
was mounted on his favorite black horse “Rienzi
” that had carried him from Winchester
to Cedar Creek
, and which Buchanan Read made famous for all time by his poem of “Sheridan
The roads were muddy, the fields swampy, the undergrowth dense, and “Rienzi
,” as he plunged and curveted, dashed the foam from his mouth and the mud from his heels.
Had the Winchester pike
been in a similar condition, he would not have made his famous twenty miles without breaking his own neck and Sheridan
had been ordered up the Crump
road with directions to turn east on the White Oak
road and whip everything he met on that route.
He met only a small cavalry command, and having whipped it according to orders, now came galloping back to join in the general scrimmage.
He reported to Sheridan
in person, and was ordered to strike out toward Hatcher's Run
, then move west and get possession of the Ford
road in the enemy's rear.
's men met with a heavy fire on their left flank and had to change direction by facing more toward the west.
As the troops entered the woods and moved forward over the boggy ground and struggled through the dense undergrowth, they were staggered by a heavy fire from the angle and fell back in some confusion.
now rushed into the midst of the broken lines, and cried out: “Where is my battle-flag?”
As the sergeant who carried it rode up, Sheridan
seized the crimson and white standard, waved it above his head, cheered on the men, and made heroic efforts to close up the ranks.
Bullets were humming like a swarm of bees.
One pierced the battle-flag, another killed the sergeant who had carried it, another wounded Captain A. J. McGonnigle
in the side, others struck two or three of the staff-officers' horses.
All this time Sheridan
was dashing from one point of the line to another, waving his flag, shaking his fist, encouraging, threatening, praying, swearing, the very incarnation of battle.
It would be a sorry soldier who could help following such a leader.
and his officers were equally exposing themselves at all points in rallying the men, and soon the line was steadied, for such material could suffer but a momentary check.
, with drawn saber, rushed forward once more with his veterans, who now behaved as if they had fallen back to get a “good-ready,” and with fixed bayonets and a rousing cheer dashed over the earth-works, sweeping everything before them, and killing or capturing every man in their immediate front whose legs had not saved him.
” up to the angle, and with a bound the horse carried his rider over the earth-works, and landed in the midst of a line of prisoners who had thrown down their arms and were crouching close under their breastworks.
Some of them called out, “Whar do you want us-all to go to?”
's rage turned to humor, and he had a running talk with the “Johnnies” as they filed past.
“Go right over there,” he said to them, pointing to the rear.
“Get right along, now. Drop your guns; you'll never need them any more.
You'll all be safe over there.
Are there any more of you?
We want every one of you fellows.”
Nearly 1500 were captured at the angle.
An orderly here came up to Sheridan
and said: “Colonel Forsyth
of your staff is killed, sir.”
View on the Confederate lines covering Petersburg.
From a photograph. |
no such thing,” cried Sheridan
“I don't believe a word of it. You'll find Forsyth
's all right.”
Ten minutes after, Forsyth
rode up. It was the gallant General Frederick Winthrop
who had fallen in the assault and had been mistaken for him. Sheridan
did not even seem surprised when he saw Forsyth
, and only said: “There!
I told you so.”
I mention this as an instance of a peculiar trait of Sheridan
's character, which never allowed him to be discouraged by camp rumors, however disastrous.
The dismounted cavalry had assaulted as soon as they heard the infantry fire open.
The natty cavalrymen, with tight-fitting uniforms, short jackets, and small carbines, swarmed through the pine thickets and dense undergrowth, looking as if they had been especially equipped for crawling through knot-holes.
Those who had magazine guns created a racket in those pine woods that sounded as if a couple of army corps had opened fire.
The cavalry commanded by the gallant Merritt
made a final dash, went over the earth-works with a hurrah, captured a battery of artillery, and scattered everything in front of them.
, and the other cavalry leaders were in their element, and vied with each other in deeds of valor.
's division had advanced in a northerly direction, marching away from Ayres
and leaving a gap between the two divisions.
sent nearly all of his staff-officers to correct this movement, and to find General Warren
, whom he was anxious to see.
After the capture of the angle I started off toward the right to see how matters were going there.
I went in the direction of Crawford
's division, passed around the left of the enemy's works, then rode due west to a point beyond the Ford
Here I met Sheridan
again, just a little before dark.
He was laboring with all the energy of his nature to complete the destruction of the enemy's forces, and to make preparation to protect his own detached command from an attack by Lee
in the morning.
He said he had relieved Warren
, directed him to report in person to General Grant
, and placed Griffin
in command of the Fifth Corps.
I had sent frequent bulletins during the day to the general-in-chief
, and now dispatched a courier announcing the change of corps commanders and giving the general result of the round-up.
had that day fought one of the most interesting technical battles of the war, almost perfect in conception, brilliant in execution, strikingly dramatic in its incidents, and productive of immensely important results.
About half-past 7 o'clock I started for general headquarters.
The roads in places were corduroyed with captured muskets.
Ammunition trains and ambulances were still struggling forward for miles; teamsters, prisoners, stragglers, and wounded were choking the roadway.
The coffee-boilers had kindled their fires.
Cheers were resounding on all sides, and everybody was riotous over the victory.
A horseman had to pick his way through this jubilant condition of things as best he could, as he did not have the right of way by any means.
I traveled again by way of the Brooks
As I galloped past a group of men on the Boydton
plank, my orderly called out to them the news of the victory.
The only response he got
was from one of them who raised his open hand to his face, put his thumb to his nose, and yelled: “No, you don't — April fool!”
I then realized that it was the 1st of April.
I had ridden so rapidly that I reached headquarters at Dabney's Mill before the arrival of the last courier I had dispatched.
was sitting with most of the staff about him before a blazing camp-fire.
Fort Sedgwick, known as “Fort hell,” opposite the Confederate Fort Mahone.
From Photographs. |
wore his blue cavalry overcoat, and the ever-present cigar was in his mouth.
I began shouting the good news as soon as I got in sight, and in a moment all but the imperturbable general-in-chief were on their feet giving vent to wild demonstrations of joy. For some minutes there was a bewildering state of excitement, grasping of hands, tossing up of hats, and slapping of each other on the back.
It meant the beginning of the end — the reaching of the “last ditch.”
It pointed to peace and home.
Dignity was thrown to the winds.
The general, as was expected, asked his usual question: “How many prisoners have been taken?”
This was always his first inquiry when an engagement was reported.
No man ever had such a fondness for taking prisoners.
I think the gratification arose from the kindness of his heart, a feeling that it was much better to win in this way than by the destruction of human life.
I was happy to report that the prisoners this time were estimated at over five thousand, and this was the only part of my recital that seemed to call forth a responsive expression from his usually impassive features.
After having listened to the description of Sheridan
's day's work, the general, with scarcely a word, walked into his tent, and by the light of a flickering candle took up his “manifold writer,” a small book which retained a copy of the matter written, and after finishing several dispatches handed them to an orderly to be sent over the field wires, came out and joined our group at the campfire, and said as coolly as if remarking upon the state of the weather: “I have ordered an immediate assault along the lines.”
This was about 9 o'clock.
was anxious to have the different commands move against the enemy's lines at once, to prevent Lee
from withdrawing troops and sending them against Sheridan
was all activity and so alive to the situation, and so anxious to carry out the orders of the general-in-chief
, that he sent word that he was going to have the troops make a dash at the works without waiting to form assaulting columns.
, at 9:30 P. M., sent a message saying he did not mean to have the corps attack without assaulting columns, but to let the batteries open at once and to feel out with skirmishers; and if the enemy was
Interior view on the Confederate works covering Petersburg.
From a War-time photograph. |
found to be leaving, to let the troops attack in their own way. The corps commanders reported that it would be impracticable to make a successful assault till morning, but sent back replies full of enthusiasm.
The hour for the general assault was now fixed at 4 the next morning.
Miles was ordered to march with his division at midnight to reinforce Sheridan
and enable him to make a stand against Lee
, in case he should move westward in the night.
The general had not been unmindful of Mr. Lincoln
Soon after my arrival he telegraphed him: “I have just heard from Sheridan
He has carried everything before him. He has captured three brigades of infantry and a train of wagons, and is now pushing up his success.”
He had this news also communicated to the several corps commanders, in accordance with his invariable custom to let the different commands feel that they were being kept informed of the general movements, and to encourage them and excite their emulation by notifying them of the success of other commanders.
A little after midnight the general tucked himself into his campbed, and was soon sleeping as peacefully as if the next day were to be devoted to a picnic instead of a decisive battle.
About 3 A. M. Colonel F. C. Newhall
, of Sheridan
's staff, rode up bespattered with more than the usual amount of Virginia
He had the latest report from Sheridan
, and as the general-in-chief
would, no doubt, want to take this opportunity of sending further instructions as to the morning's operations on the extreme left, he was wakened, and listened to the report from Newhall
, who stood by the bedside to deliver it. The general told him of the preparations being made by the Army of the Potomac, and the necessity of Sheridan
's looking out for a push in his direction by Lee
, and then began his sleep again where he had left off. Newhall
then started to take another fifteen-mile ride back to Sheridan
Every one at headquarters had caught as many cat-naps as he could, so as to be able to keep both eyes open the next day, in the hope of getting a sight of Petersburg
, and possibly of Richmond
And now 4 o'clock came, but no assault.
It was found that to remove abatis, climb over chevaux-de-frise, jump rifle-pits, and scale parapets, a little daylight would be of material assistance.
At 4: 45 there was a streak of gray in the heavens which soon revealed another streak of gray formed by Confederate uniforms in the works opposite, and the charge was ordered.
The thunder of hundreds of guns shook the ground like an earthquake, and soon the troops were engaged all along the lines.
The general awaited the result of the assault at headquarters, where he could be easily communicated with, and from which he could give general directions.
At a quarter past five a message came from Wright
that he had carried the enemy's line and was pushing in. Next came news from Parke
, that he had captured the outer works in his front, with 12 pieces of artillery and 800 prisoners. At 6:40 the general wrote a telegram with his own hand to Mr. Lincoln
, as follows: “Both Wright
got through the enemy's line.
The battle now rages furiously.
with his cavalry, the Fifth Corps, and Miles
's division of the Second Corps I sent to him since 1 this morning, is sweeping down from the west.
All now looks highly favorable.
is engaged, but I have not yet heard the result on his part.”
A cheering dispatch was also sent to Sheridan
, winding up with the words: “I think nothing is now wanting but the approach of your force from the west to finish up the job on this side.”
was heard from, having broken through the intrenchments.
, too, had been doing gallant work; at half-past 7 the line in his front was captured, and half an hour later
's division of his corps had carried an important earth-work, with three guns and most of the garrison.
At 8:25 A. M. the general sat down to write another telegram to the President
, summing up the progress made.
Before he had finished it a dispatch was brought in from Ord
saying some of his troops had just captured the enemy's works south of Hatcher's Run
, and this news was added to the tidings which the general was sending to Mr. Lincoln
The general and staff now rode out to the front, as it was necessary to give immediate direction to the actual movements of the troops, and prevent confusion from the overlapping and intermingling of the several corps as they pushed forward.
He urged his horse over the works that Wright
's corps had captured, and suddenly came upon a body of three thousand prisoners marching to the rear.
His whole attention was for some time riveted upon them, and we knew he was enjoying his usual satisfaction in seeing them.
Some of the guards told the prisoners who the general was, and they became wild with curiosity to get a good look at him. Next he came up with a division of the Sixth Corps flushed with success, and rushing forward with a dash that was inspiriting beyond description.
When they caught sight of the leader, whom they had patiently followed from the Rapidan
to the Appomattox
, their cheers broke forth with a will and their enthusiasm knew no bounds.
The general galloped along toward the right, and soon met Meade
, with whom he had been in constant communication, and who had been pushing forward the Army of the Potomac with all vigor.
Congratulations were quickly exchanged, and both went to pushing forward the work.
, after taking in the situation, directed both Meade
to face their commands toward the east, and close up toward the inner lines which covered Petersburg
had been pushed so vigorously that he seemed for a time to be making but little effort to recover any of his lost ground, but now he made a determined fight against Parke
's corps, which was threatening his inner line on his extreme left and the bridge across the Appomattox
Repeated assaults were made, but Parke
resisted them all successfully, and could not be moved from his position.
had ordered Longstreet
from the north side of the James
, and with these troops reenforced his extreme right.
dismounted near a farm-house which stood on a knoll within a, mile of the enemy's extreme line, and from which he could get a good view of the field of operations.
He seated himself at the foot of a tree, and was soon busy receiving dispatches and writing orders to officers conducting the advance.
The position was under fire, and as soon as the group of staff-officers was seen the enemy's guns began paying their respects.
This lasted for nearly a quarter of an hour, and as the fire became hotter and hotter several of the officers, apprehensive of the general's safety, urged him to move to some less conspicuous position, but he kept on writing and talking without the least interruption from the shots falling around him, and apparently not noticing what a target the place was becoming.
After he had finished his dispatches, he got up, took a view of the situation, and as he started toward the other side of the farm-house said, with a quizzical look at the group around him: “Well, they do seem to have the range on us.”
The staff was now sent to various points of the advancing lines, and all was activity in pressing forward the good work.
noon, nearly all the outer line of works was in our possession, except two strong redoubts which occupied a commanding position, named respectively Fort Gregg and Fort Whitworth.
The general decided that these should be stormed, and about 1 o'clock three of Ord
's brigades swept down upon Fort Gregg.
The garrison of 300 [under Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Duncan
] with two rifled cannon made a desperate defense, and a most gallant contest took place.
For half an hour after our men had gained the parapet a bloody hand-to-hand struggle continued, but nothing could stand against the onslaught of Ord
's troops, flushed with their morning's victory.
By half-past 2 57 of the brave garrison lay dead, and about 250 had surrendered.
Fort Whitworth was at once abandoned, but the guns of Fort Gregg were opened upon the garrison as they marched out, and the commander [Colonel Joseph M. Jayne
] and sixty men were surrendered.
About this time Miles had struck a force of the enemy at Sutherland's Station on Lee
's extreme right, and had captured two pieces of artillery and nearly a thousand prisoners. At 4: 40 the general, who had been keeping Mr. Lincoln
fully advised of the history that was so rapidly being made that day, sent him a telegram inviting him to come out the next day and pay him a visit.
prompt reply came back from the President
, saying: “Allow me to tender you and all with you the nation's grateful thanks for the additional and magnificent success.
At your kind suggestion, I think I will meet you to-morrow.”
Prominent officers now urged the general to make an assault on the inner lines and capture Petersburg
that afternoon, but he was firm in his resolve not to sacrifice the lives necessary to accomplish such a result.
He said the city would undoubtedly be evacuated during the night, and he would dispose the troops for a parallel march west-ward, and try to head off the escaping army.
And thus ended the eventful Sunday
The general was up at daylight the next morning, and the first report brought in was that Parke
had gone through the lines at 4 A. M., capturing a few skirmishers, and that the city had surrendered at 4:28 to Colonel Ralph Ely
A second communication surrendering the place was sent in to Wright
The evacuation had begun about 10 the night before, and was completed before 3 on the morning of the 3d.
Between 5 and 6 A. M. the general had a conference with Meade
, and orders were given to push westward with all haste.
About 9 A. M. the general rode into Petersburg
Many of the citizens, panic-stricken, had escaped with the army.
Most of the whites who remained staid indoors, a few groups of negroes gave cheers, but the scene generally was one of complete desertion.
rode along quietly with his staff until he came to a comfortable-looking brick house, with a yard in front, situated on one of the principal streets, and here he and the officers accompanying him dismounted and took seats on the piazza.
A number of the citizens soon gathered on the sidewalk and gazed with eager curiosity upon the commander of the Yankee
Soon an officer came with a dispatch from Sheridan
, who had been reenforced and ordered to strike out along the Danville railroad, saying he was already nine miles beyond Namozine Creek
and pressing the enemy's trains.
The general was anxious to move westward at once with the leading infantry columns, but Mr. Lincoln
had telegraphed that he was on his way, and the general, though he had replied that he could not wait for his arrival, decided to prolong his stay until the President
came up. Mr. Lincoln
, accompanied by his little son “Tad,” dismounted in the street and came in through the front gate with long and rapid strides, his face beaming with delight.
He seized General Grant
's hand as the general stepped forward to greet him, and stood shaking it for some time and pouring out his thanks and congratulations with all the fervor of a heart that seemed overflowing with its fullness of joy. I doubt whether Mr. Lincoln
ever experienced a happier moment in his life.
The scene was singularly affecting and one never to be forgotten.
He then said:
Do you know, General, I have had a sort of sneaking idea for some days that you intended to do something like this, though I thought some time ago that you would so manoeuvre as to have Sherman come up and be near enough to cooperate with you.
“Yes,” replied the general, “I thought at one time that Sherman
's army might advance so far as to be in supporting distance of the Eastern
armies when the spring campaign against Lee
opened, but I have had a feeling that it is better to let Lee
's old antagonists give his army the final blow and finish up the job. If the Western
armies were even to put in an appearance against Lee
's army, it might give some of our politicians a chance to stir up sectional feeling in claiming everything for the troops from their own section of country.
The Western armies have been very successful in their campaigns, and it is due to the Eastern
armies to let them vanquish their old enemy single-handed.”
“I see, I see,” said Mr. Lincoln
, “but I never thought of it in that light.
In fact, my anxiety has been so great that I didn't care where the help came from so the work was perfectly done.”
“Oh,” General Grant
continued, “I do not suppose it would have given rise to much of the bickering I mentioned, and perhaps the idea would not have occurred to any one else.
I feel sure there would have been no such feeling among the soldiers, but there might have been among our politicians.
While I would not have risked the result of the campaign on account of any mere sentiment of this kind, I felt that our troops here are amply able to handle Lee
then began to talk about the civil complications that would follow the destruction of the Confederate armies in the field, and showed plainly the anxiety he felt regarding the great problems in statecraft that would soon be thrust upon him. He intimated very plainly, however, in a rambling talk of nearly half an hour, that thoughts of mercy and magnanimity were uppermost in his heart.
At 12:30 the general wrote a telegram to Weitzel
, asking news from him, and showed it to the President
before sending it. The general hoped that he would hear before he parted with the President
was in our possession, but after the interview had lasted about an hour and a half, the general said he must ride on to the front and join Ord
's column, and took leave of the President
, who shook his hand cordially, and with great warmth of feeling wished him God-speed and every success.
The general and staff had ridden as far as Sutherland's Station, about nine miles, when a dispatch from Weitzel
overtook him, which had come by a roundabout way. It read: “We took Richmond
at 8:15 this morning.
I captured many guns.
Enemy left in great haste.
The city is on fire in two places.
Am making every effort to put it out.”
Although the news was expected, there were wild shouts of rejoicing from the group who heard it read.
The general, who never manifested the slightest sign of emotion either in victories or defeats, merely said: “I am sorry I did not get this before we left the President
However, I suppose he has heard the news by this time,” and then added: “Let the news be circulated among the troops as rapidly as possible.”
both went into camp at Sutherland's Station that evening, the 3d.
The Army of
Capture of guns and the destruction of a Confederate wagon-train at Paineville, April 5, by Davies's cavalry Brigade of Crook's division.
From a sketch made at the time.
The wagon-train was escorted by Gary's cavalry with five guns.
General Humphreys, in “The Virginia campaign,” says it is believed that “the papers of General.
Robert E. Lee's headquarters, containing many valuable reports, copies of but few of which are now to be found, were destroyed by the burning of these wagons.” |
caught a few hours' sleep, and at 3 o'clock the next morning was again on the march.
The pursuit had now become unflagging, relentless.
put a spur to the heel of every dispatch he sent.
“the inevitable,” as the enemy had learned to call him, was in advance thundering along with his cavalry, followed by Griffin
and the rest of the Army of the Potomac, while Ord
was swinging along toward Burkeville
to head off Lee
, to which point it was naturally supposed he was pushing in order to unite with Joe Johnston
The 4th was another active day; the troops found that this campaign was to be won by legs, that the great walking-match had begun, and success would attend the army that should make the best distance record.
marched this day with Ord
was sick, and had to take at times to an ambulance, but his loyal spirit never flagged, and his orders breathed the true spirit of the soldier.
That night General Grant
camped at Wilson's Station, on the South Side railroad, twenty-seven miles west of Petersburg
The next morning he sent a dispatch to Sherman
in North Carolina
, giving him an account of the situation and instructions as to his future movements, and winding up with the famous words, “Rebel armies are now the only strategic points to strike at.”
On the 5th he marched again with Ord
's column, and at noon reached Nottoway Court House, about ten miles east of Burkeville
, where he halted for a couple of hours.
A. young staff-officer here rode up to General Ord
, in a state of considerable excitement, and said to him: “Is that a way-station?”
This grim old soldier, who was always jocular, replied with great deliberation: “This is Nott-o-way Station.”
The staff collected around General Grant
on the front porch of the old town tavern, and while we were examining maps and discussing movements, a dispatch came from Sheridan
, saying he had captured six guns and some wagons, and had intercepted Lee
's advance toward Burkeville
, that Lee
was in person at Amelia Court House
, etc. This news was given to the passing troops, and lusty cheers went up from every throat.
They had marched about fifteen miles already that day, and now struck out as if they were good for fifteen more, and swore they were going to beat the record of the cavalry.
We continued to move along the road which runs parallel to the South Side railroad till nearly dark, and had reached a point about half-way between Nottoway
The road was skirted by a dense woods on the north side, the side toward the enemy.
There was a sudden commotion among the headquarters escort, and on looking around I saw some of our men dashing up to a horseman in full rebel uniform, who had suddenly appeared in the road, and they were in the act of seizing him as a prisoner.
I recognized him at once as one of Sheridan
's scouts, who had before brought us important dispatches; said to him: “How do you do, Campbell
and told our men he was all right and was one of our own people.
He told us he had
had a hard ride from Sheridan
's camp, and had brought a dispatch for General Grant
By this time the general had recognized him, and had stopped in the road to see what he had brought.
then took from his mouth a wad of tobacco, broke it open, and pulled out a little ball of tin-foil.
Rolled up in this was a sheet of tissue paper on which was written the famous dispatch so widely published at the time, in which Sheridan
described the situation at Jetersville
, and added: “I wish you were here yourself.”
The general said he would go at once to Sheridan
, and dismounted from his black pony “Jeff Davis
,” which he had been riding, and called for his big bay horse “Cincinnati
He stood in the road and wrote a dispatch.
using the pony's back for a desk, and then, mounting the fresh horse, told Campbell
to lead the way. It was found we would have to skirt the enemy's lines, and it was thought prudent to take some cavalry with us, but there was none near at hand, and the general said he would risk it with our mounted escort of fourteen men. Calling upon me and two or three other officers to accompany him, he started off. It was now after dark, but there was enough moon-light to enable us to see the way without difficulty.
After riding nearly twenty miles, following cross-roads through a wooded country, we struck Sheridan
's pickets about half-past 10 o'clock, and soon after reached his headquarters.
was awaiting us, thinking the general would come after getting his dispatch.
A good supper of coffee and cold chicken was spread out, and it was soon demonstrated that the night ride had not impaired any one's appetite.
When the general-in-chief
had learned fully the situation in Sheridan
's front, he first sent a message to Ord
to watch the roads running south from Burkeville
, and then rode over to Meade
's camp near by. Meade
was still suffering from illness.
His views differed somewhat from General Grant
's regarding the movements of the Army of the Potomac for the next day, and the latter changed the dispositions that were being made so as to have the army unite with Sheridan
's troops in swinging round toward the south, and heading off Lee
in that direction.
The next day, the 6th, proved a decided field-day in the pursuit.
It was found in the morning that Lee
had retreated during the night from Amelia Court House
, and from the direction he had taken, and the information received that he had ordered rations to meet him at Farmville
, it was seen that he had abandoned all hope of reaching Burkeville
and was probably heading for Lynchburg
was to try to burn the High Bridge
and push on to Farmville
's cavalry was to work around on Lee
's left flank, and the Army of the Potomac was to make another forced march and strike the enemy wherever it could reach him.
I spent a portion of the day with Humphreys
's corps, which attacked the enemy near Deatonville
and gave his rear-guard no rest.
I joined General Grant
later and with him rode to Burkeville
, getting there some time after dark.
had pushed out to Rice's Station, and Sheridan
had gone in against the enemy and had fought the battle of Sailor's Creek
, capturing six general officers
and about seven thousand men, and “smashing things” generally.
had sent Colonel Francis Washburn
, of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, with two infantry regiments to destroy High Bridge
and return to Burkeville Station, but becoming apprehensive for their safety, owing to the movements of the enemy, he sent Colonel Theodore Read
of his staff with eighty cavalrymen to recall the command.
Read advanced as far as Farmville
, and on his return found Washburn
's troops confronting Lee
The enemy were now between Ord
and this little command of less than six hundred infantry and cavalry.
Finding himself thus cut off, the gallant Read resolved to sacrifice the command in a heroic effort to delay Lee
's march, and repeatedly charged the advancing columns.
He was soon mortally wounded and not long after Washburn
Most of the men were killed or wounded, and the rest finally surrendered.
Their heroic act had delayed Lee
's advance long enough to be of material service in aiding his pursuers to capture a large part of his wagon trains.
The next day, the 7th, Lee
crossed the Appomattox
at High Bridge
and fired the bridge after his passage, but Humphreys
arrived in time to extinguish the fire before it had made much progress, and followed Lee
to the north side of the river.
started from Burkeville
early tile next morning, the 7th, and took the direct road to Farmville
The columns were crowding the roads, and the men, aroused to still greater efforts by the inspiring news of the day before, were sweeping along, despite the rain that fell, like trained
The capture of Ewell's Corps, April 6, 1865.
from a sketch made at the time.
In his official report General Ewell gives the following account of the battle of Sailor's Creek and the capture of his corps: |
On crossing a little stream known as Sailor's Creek, I met General Fitzhugh Lee, who informed me that a large force of cavalry held the road just in front of General [R. H.] Anderson, and was so strongly posted that he had halted a short distance ahead.
The trains were turned into the road nearer the river, while I hurried to General Anderson's aid. General [John B.] Gordon's corps turned off after the trains.
General Anderson informed me that at least two divisions of cavalry were in his front, and suggested two modes of escape — either to unite our forces and break through, or to move to the right through the woods and try to strike a road which ran toward Farmville.
I recommended the latter alternative, but as lie knew tile ground and I did not, and had no one who did, I left the dispositions to him. Before any were made the enemy appeared in rear of my column in large force preparing to attack.
General Anderson informed me that he would make the attack in front, if I would hold in check those in the rear, which I did until his troops were broken and dispersed.
I had no artillery, all being with the train.
My line ran across a little ravine which leads nearly at right angles toward Sailor's Creek. General G. W. C. Lee was on the left with the Naval Battalion, under Commodore [John R.] Tucker, behind his right.
Kershaw's division was on the right.
All of Lee's and part of Kershaw's divisions were posted behind a rising ground that afforded some shelter from artillery.
The creek was perhaps 300 yards in their front, with brush pines between and a cleared field beyond it. In this the enemy's artillery took a commanding position, and, finding we lad none to reply, soon approached within 800 yards and opened a terrible fire.
After nearly half an hour of this their infantry advanced, crossing the creek above and below us at the same time.
Just as it attacked, General Anderson made his assault, which was repulsed in five minutes. I had ridden up near his lines with him to see the result, when a staff-officer, who had followed his troops in their charge, brought him word of its failure.
General Anderson rode rapidly toward his command.
I returned to mine to see if it were yet too late to try the other plan of escape.
On riding past my left I came suddenly upon a strong line of the enemy's skirmishers advancing upon my left rear.
This closed the only avenue of escape; as shells and even bullets were crossing each other from front and rear over my troops, and my right was completely enveloped, I surrendered myself and staff to a cavalry officer who came in by the same road General Anderson had gone out on. At my request he sent a messenger to General G. W. C. Lee, who was nearest, with a note from me telling him he was surrounded, General Anderson's attack had failed, I had surrendered, and lie had better do so, too, to prevent useless loss of life, though I gave no orders, being a prisoner.
Before the messenger reached him General [G. W. C.] Lee had been captured, as had General Kershaw, and the whole of my command.
My two divisions numbered about 3000 each at tile time of the evacuation; 2800 were taken prisoners, about 150 killed and wounded. The difference of over 3000 was caused mainly by the fatigue of four days and nights' almost constant marching, the last two days with nothing to eat. Before our capture I saw men eating raw fresh meat as they marched in the ranks.
I was informed at General Wright's headquarters, whither I was carried after my capture, that 30,000 men were engaged with us when we surrendered, namely, two infantry corps and Custer's and Merritt's divisions of cavalry.
General J. Warren Keifer, in a pamphlet on the battle of Sailor's Creek, says:
General A. P. Hill, a corps commander in General Lee's army, was killed at Petersburg, April 2d, 1865, and this, or some other important reason, caused General Lee, while at Amelia Court House, to consolidate his army into two corps or wings, one commanded by Lieutenant-General Longstreet and the other by Lieutenant-General Ewell.
The main body of the Confederate army had passed by toward Sailor's Creek.
Pursuit with such troops as were up was promptly ordered by General Sheridan and conducted by General Horatio G. Wright, who commanded the Sixth Corps.
The enemy's rear-guard fought stubbornly and fell back toward the stream.
The Second Division of his corps, under General Frank Wheaton, arrived and joined the Third Division in the attack and pursuit.
The main body of the cavalry, under General Merritt, was dispatched to intercept the Confederate retreat.
General Merritt passed east and south of the enemy across Sailor's Creek, and again attacked him on the right rear.
By about 5 P. M. the Confederate army was forced across the valley of Sailor's Creek, where it took up an unusually strong position on the heights immediately on the west bank of the stream.
These heights, save on their face, were mainly covered with forests.
There was a level bottom, wholly on the east bank of the creek, over which the Union forces would have to pass before reaching the stream, then swollen beyond its banks by recent rains, and which washed the foot of the heights on which General Ewell had rested the divisions of his army, ready for an attack if made, and with the hope that under cover of night the whole Confederate army might escape in safety to Danville.
The pursuing troops were halted on tile face of the hills skirting the valley, within the range of the enemy's guns, and lines were adjusted for an assault.
Artillery was put in position on these hills, and a heavy fire was immediately opened.
An effort was made to get up General G. W. Getty's division of the Sixth Corps, and a portion of the Second Brigade of the Third Division, which had been dispatched to attack a battery on the right, but the day was too far spent to await their arrival.
After a few moments' delay, General Wright, as directed by General Sheridan, ordered an immediate assault to be made, by the infantry, under tlhe cover of the artillery fire.
Colonel Stagg's brigade of cavalry was, at the same time, ordered by General Sheridan to attack and, if possible, flank the extreme right of the enemy's position.
General Merritt's cavalry divisions (First and Third) simultaneously attacked the Confederate army on its right and rear.
Without waiting for reserves to arrive in sight, the two divisions of the Sixth Corps descended into the valley, and in single line of battle (First Division on the left and the Third on the right) moved steadily across the plain in the face of a destructive fire of the enemy, and, with shouldered guns and ammunition-boxes also, in most cases, over the shoulder, waded through the flooded stream.
Though the water was from two to four feet deep, the stream was crossed without a halt or waver in the line.
Many fell on the plain and in the water, and those who reached the west bank were in more or less disorder.. The order to storm the heights was promptly given by the officers accompanying the troops, and it was at once obeyed.
The infantry of the Sixth Corps began firing for the first time while ascending the heights, and when within only a few yards of the enemy.
His advance line gave way, and an easy victory seemed about to be achieved by the Union forces.
But before the crest of the heights was reached General E well's massed troops, in heavy column, made an impetuous charge upon and through the center of the assaulting line.
The Union center was completely broken, and a disastrous defeat for the Union army was imminent.
This large body of the Confederate infantry became, by reason of this success, exposed to the now renewed fire from General Wright's artillery remaining in position on the hills east of the stream.
The right and left wings of the charging Union line met with better success, and each drove back all in its front, and, wholly disregarding the defeat of the center, persisted in advancing, each wheeling as upon a pivot, in the center of the line — then held by the Confederate masses.
These masses were soon subjected to a terrible infantry fire upon both flanks as well as by the artillery in front.
The swollen stream forbade a Confederate advance to attack the unguarded artillery.
General Merritt and Colonel Stagg's cavalry, in a simultaneous attack, overthrew all before them on the right and rear.
The Confederate officers gallantly struggled to avert disaster, and bravely tried to form lines to the right and left to repel the flank attacks.
This latter proved impossible.
The troops on the flanks were pushed up to within a few feet of tile massed Confederates, which rendered any re-formation.
or change of direction by them out of the question, and speedily brought hopeless disorder.
A few were bayoneted on each side.
Flight was impossible, and nothing remained to put an end to the bloody slaughter but for them to throw down their arms and become captives.
As the gloom of approaching night settled over the field,.covered with dead and dying, the fire of artillery and musketry ceased, and General Ewell, together with eleven of his general officers [including Kershaw, G. W. C. Lee, Barton, Du Bose, Hunton, and Corse], and about all his gallant army that survived, were prisoners.
Commodore Tucker and his Marine Brigade, numbering about 2000, surrendered to me a little later.
They were under cover of a dense forest, and had been passed by in the first onset of the assault.
Of the particular operations of the cavalry the writer of this, of his personal knowledge, knows little; but no less praise is due it than to tile infantry.
In this battle more men were captured in actual conflict without negotiation than on any other field in America.
pedestrians on a walking-track.
As the general rode among them he was greeted with shouts and hurrahs, on all sides, and a string of sly remarks, which showed how familiar swords and bayonets become when victory furnishes the topic of their talk.
[For the continuation of this narrative see page 729.]
Confederates destroying the Railroad from Appomattox toward Lynchburg, and artillerymen destroying gun-carriages, at nightfall, Saturday, April 8.
from a sketch made at the time. |