As soon as the head of the wagon train appeared at Sailor's creek, the principal portion of Lee
's command pushed on towards the Southside
, here known as the Lynchburg, railroad.
was found in force at Rice
's station, entrenched, and effectually preventing any advance southward; while the gallant little band of Read and Washburne
obstructed the flight nearer the Appomattox
The whole rebel column was halted, and before the opposition in front could be overcome, Sheridan
discovered the wagon train on the Deatonsville road, escorted by heavy masses of infantry and cavalry.
He at once ordered Crook
to attack the flank of the train.
But if Crook
should find the defence too strong, Merritt
was to pass to the left, and while Crook
held fast and pressed the enemy, Merritt
would attack at a point further on. Then Crook
was to follow Merritt
's example, and so on, alternately, until one or the other should strike a weak point in the enemy's line.
Meanwhile, the Second corps had engaged the rebel rear nearer Deatonsville, and from a hill-top overlooking the country the enemy's skirmishers could be seen in the distance, falling back before Humphreys
, halting occasionally to fire, and then retreating doggedly again.
's left, Crook
were executing the manoeuvre he had directed, while in his front the rebel trains were in full view, not a thousand yards away, on high ground in the edge of a wood, with an open valley intervening.
In the fields below the woods long lines of flanking troops were passing, with small parties of cavalry patrolling their front, to give warning of approaching danger.1
It was important to detain this force