previous next


The attack on Fort Powhatan.

Headquarters of General Butler, May 25, 1864.
General Wilde is in command at Wilson's wharf, on the north side of the James. He has a garrison, all negroes, with artillery belonging to the colored battery raised by General Butler. Wilson's wharf implies more than the name suggests. The wharf is one thing; the adjacent country quite another. The bluff rises somewhat abruptly, and then there is level land. Hereon our line was established, about a mile and a half in length, and thanks to the never-tiring energy of colored soldiers, has been well fortified.

Yesterday about noon, Fitz Hugh Lee, now Major-General and commanding the cavalry of the Confederate army, vice Stuart, killed by Sheridan's men, appeared before the place with thousands of the Southern chivalry. With the courtesy of a Fitz Hugh, the characteristics of a gentlemen, and the arrogance of the southern planter, F. H. L., Major-General, sent into our lines and demanded a surrender, promising that in case his request or demand was complied with, the garrison should be sent to the authorities at Richmond as prisoners of war, but if refused he would not be answerable for the result. Chivalrous gentleman! shrewd financier of lives I Did you not know that the “authorities at Richmond” had by public manifesto refused to recognize negroes as prisoners of war? Was it not plain to your intelligent mind that under this refusal these negroes could be again placed in bondage by those authorities, provided they should, by a special interposition of divine Providence, escape butchery at the hands of your gentlemen comrades?

General Wilde replied, “We will try that.” And the fight commenced. At first it raged fiercely on the left. The woods were riddled with bullets. The dead and wounded of the rebels were taken away from this part of the field, but I am informed by one accustomed to judge, and who went over the field to-day, that from the pools of blood and other evidences the loss must have been severe. Finding that the left could not be broken, Fitz Hugh hurled his chivalry — dismounted, of course — upon the right. Steadily they came on, through obstructions, slashing through, past abattis, without wavering. Here one of the advantages of negro troops was made apparent. They obeyed orders, and bided their time. When well tangled in the abattis, the death-warrant “Fire” went forth. Southern chivalry quailed before Northern balls, though fired by negro hands. Volley after volley was rained upon the superior by the inferior race, and the chivalry broke and tried to run. The fight lasted till about five o'clock, when hostilities ceased. General Wilde directed the operations in person, and made preparations to renew the fight, but during the night the chivalry imitated the Orientals, as told in the song, and

Folded their tents like the Arabs,
And silently stole away.

General Wilde is an enthusiast on the subject of colored troops. He firmly believes that a white man, in course of time and by strict discipline, can be made as good a soldier. He has the most implicit confidence in his troops, and so have they in him. General Hinks, who commands the colored division, took it by preference. There are those who affect to despise negro troops, and say they cannot be trusted in positions of responsibility, or in an emergency. Talking with a Regular Army officer, who entertains many of these prejudices, he admitted that with good officers the negroes would make good soldiers. An old adage, and true of any men of any color.

On the right of the line, at Wilson's wharf, between twenty and thirty dead rebels were found, among them Major Brickenner, of the Second Virginia cavalry. Their total loss was one hundred and fifty; nineteen prisoners were taken. Our loss was one killed and twenty wounded.

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)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Wilde (4)
James H. Wilson (3)
Fitz Hugh (2)
Benjamin F. Butler (2)
T. Stuart (1)
Philip Sheridan (1)
Fitz Hugh Lee (1)
Hinks (1)
Brickenner (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 25th, 1864 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: