Doc. 74. fight on Port Walthal railroad.
Headquarters, General Butler, May 7, 1864.The skirmish of last night was quite serious. General Smith directed General Heckman to advance with his brigade to find out what force and position the enemy had in front of his lines on the left. General Heckman pushed forward, driving in their pickets, and skirmishing along the line, pushing the rebels back to the Port Walthal Railroad. Here the Secesh had taken advantage of the railroad embankment, and our forces were received with a volley. General Heckman was wounded in the little finger of his right hand by a Minie ball, which passed through his coat, trowsers, saddle flap, and killed his horse. General Heckman opened on them with two pieces of artillery. This the rebels thought unfair, as they had no cannon, and called out to our men, “Hold on Yanks, till to-morrow, and then we will get our guns up.” The object being simply a reconnoissance, and General Heckman being instructed on no account to bring on a general engagement, as the right of our line had not got into position, he withdrew his brigade. The rebs charged after him but were handsomely repulsed twice, and our men returned to camp having eight killed, and forty wounded. It was ascertained. that there was quite a force there — at least two brigades. During last night trains were heard running up, and this morning General Heckman again advanced down the same road, but did not succeed in penetrating so far. He met the rebels in still stronger force, but, obtaining a good position, sent back word that he thought he could hold it. The rest of the battery was sent out, and firing ceased soon after. The wounds of the men hurt the day before were caused by rifle balls; to-day wounds caused by shells were plentiful. General Beauregard was in command of the rebel forces, said to number about twenty thousand, with which he came up from Weldon. Prisoners belonging to South Carolina and Virginia regiments, and to the Washington battery, were captured. Meanwhile, General Brook, commanding First division, Eighteenth corps, with three brigades, marched down the road leading to the Petersburg and Richmond road. He soon encountered the enemy in force and a severe fight ensued, lasting with intervals up to six o'clock P. M. These movements were made to cover a third, which had for its object the cutting of the R. & P. R. R. For this purpose the brigade of the Tenth corps, under Colonel Burton, pushed rapidly across the country, and succeeded in reaching the railroad, and tearing up about a mile of it. Colonel Burton then fell back. At sunset, Generals Heckman and Brooks were holding the the position to which they had advanced. The position taken by General Butler is one of great natural strength, extending from the Appomattox, near Port Walthal, on the left, to an opposing point on the James, embracing the whole peninsula formed by the two rivers. In front of the left an impassable ravine runs down to the Appomattox, crossed only at one point by the road along that.river. In front of the hight is a dense forest. Beyond the whole a swamp stretches along opposite the centre. The position is an excellent one for defence, and the intrenching now being done renders it a dangerous place to attack. The gunboats on the James and Appomattox protect the flanks. The line is only two and a half miles in length. Across the Appomattox we hold City Point, by another short line across the Point. This position is also protected by the gunboats. Great confidence is felt by General Butler and his general officers as to their ability to hold the position against any force which can be brought to attack it. About noon to-day, while the gunboat Shoshonee was fishing for torpedoes, near Deep Bottom, a battery from Richmond appeared on the north bank, took position and opened upon the boat. A shot passed through the steam chest, blowing up the vessel. Those of the officers and crew who took to the north shore were taken prisoners. A few who reached the south bank were afterward picked up by the army gunboat, Charles Chamberlain. A deserter from Lee's army was captured, who stated that Lee had given Grant a very hard fight. Contrabands report Grant whipped, and falling back. It is life or death to us here as to which way the scales turn in reference to Grant's movement, and news from him is most anxiously awaited. Some distance back from the shore, nearly opposite headquarter's boat, and near a brick house, a rebel signal flag has been in constant use. This afternoon, Lieutenant Bladenheizer, commanding the army gunboat, Brewster, with one hundred and twenty men from the Sixty-seventh Ohio regiment, landed and succeeded in capturing the party with all their flags, telescopes, &c. Lieutenant Bladenheizer was yesterday promoted to a Captaincy for gallant conduct.