previous next

[354] began to turn our attention to the number and extent of the enemy's camp fires. They seemed to stretch for miles on the south side of the Run, and we could distinctly hear them chopping, moving wagons, and talking.

In addition to this, the enemy held the point on the road Bartlett was on, where it joins the White Oak Road, as had been ascertained by Major Gentry of my staff, while endeavoring to communicate with General Bartlett. The Major lost his orderly by capture, while he narrowly escaped himself.

It was now one hour and a-half since my order had been sent withdrawing the divisions to the Plank-road, so that I supposed they were all moving back toward the Plank-road, along the forest road, with its single bridge across the branch of Gravelly Run, and in the order of Ayres, Crawford, Griffin, with General Bartlett's brigade nearly rejoined to the latter. To prevent the confusion and delay that would occur by bringing General Griffin to the Plank-road and sending back General Ayres, one of which would have to leave the road for the other to pass, and to save the time that would be lost by each division in changing their relative places, I determined to send General Ayres' division to Dinwiddie C. H., instead of General Griffin's, as it greatly simplified and expedited the operation, and saved the men's strength so sorely tried. It had, besides, the effect to prevent the separation of brigades from their proper divisions, and keep each intact — a matter of importance. As quickly as I could write it, I at eleven P. M. issued the following order:

1st. General Ayres, instead of halting his command, as directed in his last order (see mine on p. 352), will proceed down the Plank-road to Dinwiddie C. H., and report to General Sheridan. He will send a staff officer to report here when the head of the column arrives.

2d. General Crawford and General Grimn will mass their divisions at the point where the order reaches them, and report their position by the officer that brings it. A change of plan makes this change of order necessary.

I note here, a little out of the order of time, that I did not learn the position of General Crawford and General Griffin till one A. M., and so difficult had it been to get the troops in motion on this intensely dark and stormy night, that, although this order from me was sent one hour and a-half after the one for them to fall back to the Plank-read, yet it found them still in the same position. It must be remembered that our troops, so near the enemy, could not be roused by drums and bugles or loud commands, but each order had to be communicated from each commander to his subordinate, from the General till it reached the non-commissioned officers, which latter only could arouse each man by a shaking.

The obstacles to overcome in carrying out so many orders in the darkness of a stormy, starless night, when the moon had set, deserves a statement of them in detail

The roads and paths the staff officers and messengers would have to take, were often filled with troops, and were as bad as clayey soil at the breaking up of winter could make them. These routes were mostly shut in by the ever-green forests through which they passed, rendering the night's darkness as profound as that of the deepest caverns. The horse, exhausted for want of food and wearied with life and-death exertions, carried his rider slowly through the mud, and staggered and stumbled over the obstructions. The messenger disappeared on his mission the instant he moved, and once out of call of the voice could not be stopped, or found till he had made the tour his instructions required, and returned to the place of departure. On arriving at his destination, the messenger, though, perhaps, familiar with it in the daylight just closed, could scarce recognize it in the light of the camp-fires, which burned around him on every side, showing everything in disproportioned and unreal forms. By these fires, the exhausted soldiers slept heavily, almost deaf to the questions addressed to ascertain the locality, or answered half in their sleep. The commanding officers, to escape the noise of drivers urging their struggling teams along the muddy roads, and the straggling of men over them as they slept, were compelled, in seeking repose, to establish their headquarters a little way from the main routes; and this alone many times caused vexatious delays in getting orders to them. Added to these were the vicissitudes of battle, which always left the commands and detachments scattered, more or less, as the day closed, and much increased the difficulties of getting the orders for a general movement in the night, sometimes causing such detachments to be left entirely without orders, when all the rest of their commands had moved away.

Knowing all these things, every precaution was used to provide for them, but yet they always existed.

In order to comply with General Meade's first order, I had first to send an officer to each division. Then Major Cope was the only person capable of taking an order to General Bartlett's brigade, and he was sent. I had sent Major Gentry to ascertain General Bartlett's location; but he taking the White Oak Road, found the enemy holding the junction of it with the one General Bartlett was on, and failed, as before stated, to find a way to him. I had to send another officer for the pioneers, and go with them at once to the crossing of Gravelly Run, to make the bridge. I had to send another to the bridge itself, to report the condition of the crossing. I had, with my full complement of staff officers, but the following available, all the others being engaged in their appropriate departments: Colonel Bankhead, Major Gentry, Major Cope, Captain Benyaurd, Captain Wads-worth, and Captain Winslow.

Having, under these circumstances, made my dispositions to execute one order for a general movement promptly, it is easy to see what strait

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: