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[637] bridges and bridges over Little river, which Merritt was ordered to destroy with Devin's division; Custer's main column meanwhile being held at the Negro-foot crossing of the South Anna. General Merritt was ordered to follow the railroad to Hanover Junction, cross the Little river, and go into camp on the north bank of South Anna. In the attack upon the railroad bridge over the South Anna, the Fifth United States cavalry charged up to the bridge, dismounted, dashed across it, and drove away the company of artillery who tried to defend it, and turned their own guns--four twenty-pounder Parrotts — upon them. I here received a despatch from the Lieutenant-General that supplies were at the White House for me, and one brigade of infantry; and also captured the following despatch, which led me to doubt whether General Longstreet had yet determined in his own mind where I was going:

Hanover Junction, March 14--11:25.
[By telegraph from Richmond.]
Colonel Haskel--General Longstreet desires you to follow the enemy if he goes east, until he crosses the Rapidan or Blue Ridge. If he goes toward the Peninsula follow as far as you can.

By order of Lieutenant-General Ewell:

T. O. Chestney, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Next morning General Custer was ordered to move by the Negro-foot crossing of the South Anna, and thence to Ashland, and General Devin was ordered to proceed to the same point. This developed the situation. The prisoners captured in front of Ashland reported Longstreet, with Pickett's and Johnson's divisions and Fitz Lee's cavalry, on the Ashland road, in the direction of Richmond, and four miles from Ashland. My course was now clear and the feint successful. General Devin was quickly ordered to the north side of the South Anna and General Custer was ordered to follow, sending Colonel Pennington's brigade to amuse the enemy, cover his front, and gradually fall back. The whole command was, meanwhile, ordered to cross the North Anna and go into camp at Carmel church, and at daylight take up the line of march for White House, via Mangohick church. I then knew I could get to White House before the enemy, and that he could not operate upon the Chickahominy, as it would be too close to the lines of the Army of the James. The enemy, finding that he had made a mistake, moved rapidly during the night toward the Pamunkey, through Hanover Court-house, but forgot his pontoon trains and could not cross the river; it would have made no difference, however, as I then could have gotten to the White House without question.

At daylight on the morning of the sixteenth we leisurely resumed the march to White House, encamping at Mangohick church. On the seventeenth we marched to and encamped at Prince William Court-house. On the eighteenth we reached Indiantown, and on the nineteenth crossed the Pamunkey, at White House, on the railroad bridge, which had been repaired by Lieutenant-Colonel Babcock, of Lieutenant-General Grant's staff; we here found supplies in abundance.

The amount of private and public property collected for the use of the enemy, and destroyed, and the destruction of lines of communication and supplies was very great and beyond estimating.

Every bridge on the Central railroad between Richmond and Lynchburg, except the one over the Chickahominy and that over the James river at Lynchburg, and many of the culverts, were destroyed. The James river canal was disabled beyond any immediate repair. There perhaps, never was a march where nature offered such impediments and shrouded herself in such gloom as upon this. Incessant rain, deep and almost impassable streams, swamps and mud were overcome with a constant cheerfulness on the part of the troops that was truly admirable. Both officers and men appeared buoyed up by the thought that we had completed our work in the valley of the Shenandoah, and that we were on our way to help our brothers in arms in front of Petersburg in the final struggle.

Our loss in horses was considerable, almost entirely from hoof-rot. After refitting at White House until the twenty-fourth instant, we resumed our march, crossing the Chickahominy at Jones' bridge, and arriving at and crossing the James river on the evening of March twenty-fifth, and on the following day, by direction of the Lieutenant-General, went into camp at Hancock's station, on the railroad in front of Petersburg. The whole number of prisoners captured on the march was about sixteen hundred, but some of them we were obliged to parole, as they were unable to keep up with the column, though, after the first three days, our marches did not average over eighteen miles per day.

To General Merritt, Chief of Cavalry, Generals Custer and T. C. Devin, division commanders, Generals Gibbs and Wells and Colonels Fitzhugh, Capehart, Stagg, and Pennington, brigade commanders, my staff, and every officer and man of the First and Third cavalry divisions I return my sincere thanks for patriotic, unmurmuring, and soldierly conduct.

To Major H. H. Young, of my staff, Chief of Scouts, and the thirty or forty men of his command who took their lives in their hands, cheerfully going wherever ordered, to obtain that great essential of success — information — I tender my gratitude. Ten of these men were lost. Our entire loss during the march did not exceed one hundred men; and some of these we left by the wayside, unable to bear the fatigues of the march.

This report should be regarded as the preface of my report of operations in front of Petersburg and Richmond, as my command only rested one day before its commencement.

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