General Pegram on the night before his death.
The writer's object in the present paper is to chronicle the events of a day in the pine-woods of Dinwiddie
in 1865, and to mention a circumstance which impressed him forcibly at the time; nearly convincing him of the truth of “presentiments,” and warnings of approaching death.
It was early in February of the year 1865, and General Grant
had for some time been straining every nerve to force his way to the Southside railroad-when General Lee
would be cut off from his base of supplies, and compelled to retreat or surrender his army.
had exhibited a persistence which amounted to genius; and the Federal
lines had been pushed from the Jerusalem to the Weldon
road, from the Weldon
to the Vaughan
and Squirrel Level roads, and thence still westward beyond Hatcher's Run
, toward the White Oak
road, running through the now well-known locality of Five Forks
On the western bank of the run, near Burgess's Mill, General Lee
's extreme right confronted the enemy, barring his further advance.
The Confederate right was almost unprotected by cavalry.
This unfortunate circumstance arose from the fact that after the destruction of the Weldon Railroad as far south as Hicksford, fifty miles from Petersburg
, the cavalry was obliged to repair to that distant point for forage.
Never was anything more unfortunate; but it was one of those misfortunes which no generalship
By sheer force of numbers, General Grant
had effected the destruction of the road; the Southside
road could not supply forage; the cavalry horses must go to Hicksford or starve.
Such was the explanation of the fact that General Lee
's right was guarded only by a small regiment or two of horse, on picket.
Such was the “situation.”
Grant on the banks of Hatcher's Run
; the Rowanty almost unguarded; the path open for cavalry to the Southside
road; Five Forks
, and the retreat of the Confederate army, looming in the distance.
The passionate struggle which had for four years drawn to the great arena the eyes of all the world was about to be decided amid the sombre pines of Dinwiddie
A few scenes in these pine woods at the crisis referred to may interest the reader.
The narrative will probably convey a better idea of the “times as they were” than a more ambitious record — the familiar view being generally the best.
While the infantry lines were closing in the death-grapple in front of Petersburg
, the blue and gray horsemen were hunting each other in the Dinwiddie
forests, and the game was not unexciting.
The “events of a day” are here rapidly traced, just as they appeared to the writer.
No tremendous exploits will be narrated or “thrilling adventures” recorded; but perhaps some of the actual colouring of the great war-canvas will be caught in the hasty memoir.
Returning from a tour of inspection at Hicksford, night surprised me not far from Nottoway river
; and having crossed that turbulent stream at risk of drowning my horse, I spent the night at the hospitable mansion of Mr.
D— , not far from Halifax bridge, on the Rowanty.
The Federal forces were just beyond the stream, and no Confederate picket between; but the night passed undisturbed even by the prowling of a single Federal scout; and on the next morning the line of march was resumed for Petersburg
by way of Malone
Two hundred yards to the left of Halifax bridge there suddenly appeared a number of “scattered” cavalry-men-grayapproaching at full gallop, evidently stampeded.
“What is the matter?”
have crossed with two regiments at Malone
from the hurrying horseman.
“Did you see them?”
“Where is your regiment?”
“Back to Kirby
's, and everything is ordered to Dinwiddie Court-House!”
This report was soon confirmed by the rest, and “full particulars,” as the journals say, were given.
A strong force of Federal cavalry had suddenly attacked the small regiment on picket at Malone
's, and dispersed it, nearly capturing Gen. William H. F. Lee
, who chanced to be there inspecting his lines.
This force had steadily pressed on, the Confederates
retiring; was now at Kirby
's, and soon would be at Dinwiddie Court-House.
This was not eminently agreeable to myself personally.
's” was on the only road to Petersburg
, except by way of Malone
's — for the time rendered impracticable-and to reach my journey's end it seemed necessary to make the circuit by Dinwiddie Court-House.
To attempt the road by Kirby
's was certain capture; and in an undoubted bad humour the “solitary horseman,” as Mr. James
would say, turned to the left, crossed Stony Creek
, struck into the “Flat foot road,” and in due time drew near Roney
's bridge, on the upper waters of the stream, near Dinwiddie
Within a quarter of a mile of the stream a soldier made his appearance, coming to meet me, and this individual informed me with the politest possible salute that I had better “look out, as the Yankees
were at the bridge.”
“At the bridge!
's bridge, just in front, sir.”
This was the “unkindest cut of all.”
I had made a wearisome circuit, reached a supposed place of crossing-and here were my blue friends again like a lion in the path, rendering it necessary to strike still higher up the stream.
At this rate it seemed probable that I would be forced to return to Petersburg
by way of Lynchburg
's-Kirby's-Dinwiddie — the enemy were everywhere.
A good military rule, however, is to “believe nothing you hear, and only half you see.”
The report that Federal cavalry was at the bridge in front was probable, but not certain.
They might be Confederates; and taking the soldier with me, I proceeded to reconnoitre.
As we reached the vicinity, the woods were seen to be full of dismounted cavalry, but whether these were Federal or Confederate, it was impossible to say. Drawing nearer, the men seemed to be the latter; nearer still, and the surmise was confirmed.
had long disappearedour cavalry were nondescript in costume-but the sharpshooters in front were not
One came out to meet me, carbine ready — a quite useless precaution it seemed-and the following dialogue ensued:
“Where are the Yankees
“Just over the bridge.”
Then the road by Dinwiddie Court-House was blockaded!
Meditating with melancholy resignation on this fact, I unconsciously turned my horse's head from the bridge, when my friend with the carbine made a quick step toward me, and catching his eye, I found the expression of that member doubtful, puzzled, but not friendly.
In fact the carbineer had his weapon cocked, and was evidently ready to bestow its contents on me if I moved a step.
Then, for the first time, the truth flashed on me. I was wearing a blue “Yankee overcoat” concealing my Confederate uniform; my hat was nondescript; there was absolutely nothing to show that I was not some adventurous Federal officer who had crossed the stream below, come up the Flat Foot road in rear of the Confederates
to reconnoitre, and was about to return with the information acquired.
To prevent this, my friend with the carbine evidently intended to send a bullet after me as soon as I moved.
This comic situation was a safety valve for all ill-humour, and one of the men having run for his Lieutenant
, I gave that officer my name and rank — which announcement was greeted,
however, with a similar glance of doubt.
A few words dissipated this.
“Where is General Lee
“Just over the hill.”
“I will go there.”
And accompanied by the young officer, I found General W. H. F. Lee
, who had been compelled with his one or two hundred men — the whole force of the regiment — to retire behind the stream.
His sharpshooters were now posted to rake the bridge if the enemy appeared, and a mounted party had been sent toward Dinwiddie Court-House.
After a few moments' conversation with General Lee
-that brave and courteous gentleman, whom I am glad to call my friend — I found that the reports of the cavalry-men were correct.
The enemy's horse, in strong force, had driven him back to Dinwiddie
, and were then at the Court-House
. General Lee
informed me, laughing, that in the charge he had been very nearly stampeded for the first time in his life, his horse, “Fitz Lee
,” an unruly animal of great power, having whirled round at the first volley from the enemy, and nearly carried his rider off the field!
In great disgust at this unmilitary conduct, the General
had mounted a more manageable courser.
Whilst the General
was narrating these particulars, two young officers of his staff, Captains Lee
, came in, after a hot chase.
The former had been entirely surrounded, but kept the woods, taking advantage of every opening; and finally perceiving an interval between the rear of one Federal cavalry regiment and the head of column of another, he had put spurs to his horse, charged the opening, and jumped through.
The latter officer was also “cut off,” and manoeuvred in a similar manner, when, as he turned a bend in the bridle-path which he was following, he came suddenly upon a body of foot-soldiers clad in dark blue
, with burnished guns at the right shoulder shift, steadily advancing southward
. This was enormously puzzling!
Why should a Federal infantry battalion be going south
at that moment?
And then there was something singular in the uniform and equipments of the men-very unlike Federals.
coats were of navy
blue, of unfamiliar cut; and they had cutlasses apparently in their belts.
had gazed at this party with astonishment for some moments, when all at once he was perceived, and an officer, apparently, beckoned to him. To go or not to go-that was the question; but he finally decided to approach, and did so. Then the mystery was quickly solved.
The men in blue were a battalion of Confederate marines, and they were proceeding toward the Nottoway river
to make a circuit, approach James river
far below City Point
, board and seize upon a Federal “ram,” and then steam up the James
, and destroy Grant
's fleet of transports at City Point
This excellent scheme was thoroughly arranged; the torpedoes to be used were hidden in the woods of Nottoway
ready for the party, when a deserter went over and informed the enemy, in consequence of which the expedition was abandoned.
We have seen how, by a singular chance, the battalion set out on its march, armed and prepared, the very day that the enemy's cavalry crossed the Rowanty.
More singular still, they passed along in rear
of the Federal
cavalry without discovering them or being discovered.
This, all things considered, was one of the most curious events of the war; as the scheme proposed for the destruction of the Federal
transports was one of the boldest.
General W. H. F. Lee
waited at Roney
's bridge for some time, expecting an advance of the enemy's cavalry; but none coming, he sounded to horse, placed himself at the head of his small column of about eighty or a hundred men, and pushed out toward Dinwiddie Court-House to attack the raiders.
Before he had advanced far, intelligence came that the enemy had evacuated the Court-House
, and were falling back toward Cattail Creek
, in the vicinity of which their infantry was stationed.
immediately followed, came up with their rear at Cattail
, and here a brief skirmish took place, just as night descended.
The lines of Federal infantry which had advanced that day were discovered; and no further advance in that direction was attempted, the cavalry returning toward Dinwiddie
An odd incident marked this rapid ride after the retiring
In the middle of the road we found two Confederate cavalry-men with a prisoner whom they had caught, and the worthy in question attracted our attention.
He was clad in semi-military costume; a blue-gray overcoat of fine cloth, with a long cavalry cape to it, decorated with a dazzling row of buttons; an excellent new hat; and rode a superb horse, which would have brought five or six thousand dollars in Confederate money.
As we came up-Captains Robert Lee
, Philip Dandridge
, and myself-this gentleman complained in animated terms of the immorality involved in capturing “a non-combatant;” he was not a soldier, only the “correspondent of the New York Herald
,” and he hoped that he would immediately be released.
This train of reasoning, impressed upon his listeners in a most voluble and eloquent voice, accompanied by animated gestures, did not seem to convince anybody; and the men were directed to take the prisoner back to Dinwiddie Court-House, and as he was evidently a man of decision and resources, “shoot him if he tried to escape, making no attempt to recapture him.”
He was accordingly started back, under convoy of the two cavalry-men, and had proceeded about three or four hundred yards, when our attention was attracted to him again by an outcry in that direction.
Turning round, we saw that something curious was going on, and hastily spurred to the scene.
Lo! as we approached, there was the prisoner scudding across the field, his cape floating in the wind, his horse at a full run, pursued by carbine-balls!
None struck him, however; and in a moment he had disappeared in the belt of woods near at hand, in which lay perdus
the line of Federal infantry.
A few words from the chop-fallen cavalry-men and an old negro, at a small house near by, explained everything.
Three or four Federal cavalry-men had been left behind by their comrades on the retreat, and had stopped at the house to ask the way to their lines.
While thus employed, the prisoner and his escort came by; the Federal
cavalry-men rushed forth to the rescue “put their pistols” on the unsuspecting escort, and now both rescuers and rescued were safe within their own lines!
The whole affair was truly laughable, and the gallant “correspondent” deserved his good fortune, since he made a true John Gilpin
run for liberty.
I did not grudge him the enjoyment thereof at all, but must confess to a keen feeling of regret at the loss of his horse.
He appeared to be an excellentanimal; and to “covet your neighbour's horse,” if he chanced to be desirable, was in those days the besetting sin of every true cavalry-man!
At nightfall General Lee
retired from Cattail Creek
toward Dinwiddie Court-House, the enemy having returned within their lines; and I determined to continue my way to Petersburg
, where duty called me.
There was reason to doubt, however, the practicability of this journey-at least over the regular “Boydton road.”
Simultaneous with the advance of the Federal
cavalry, their infantry had moved toward the Southside
road; a severe engagement had taken place on the Quaker
road; and the Federal infantry was known to have remained in its position, its left probably across, or resting upon the Boydton
Now, as above intimated, it was necessary to follow this Boydton
road to reach Petersburg
I determined to try, and so informed General Lee
, who thereupon requested me to carry a dispatch which he had just written, to General Gordon
, commanding the right of the army near Burgess
', with an oral message, information, etc., in reference to the cavalry movement.
A small detachment of cavalry, belonging to Colonel Phillips
' command, then on the right of the army, was placed at my orders; and setting out about night, we soon debouched upon the Boydton
road, where at every step traces of the Federal
forces were met with — the raiders having harried the whole regionand some prisoners captured.
The vicinity of the bridge over Gravelly Run
was thus reached, and beyond the bridge glimmered the fires of a picket.
The question of greatest interest was whether the picket was Federal or Confederate.
The enemy's left was certainly near this
point, but so was our right.
The plain method of deciding was to try, and this was done — the cavalry detachment halting a hundred yards off. Riding on the bridge, I found the planking torn up, and in the centre a “yawning gulf;” at the same moment a voice came from beyond, ordering “halt!”
The following dialogue then took place:
Well, I have halted.
“Who are you?”
“Impossible — the bridge is torn up.”
“What command do you belong to?”
“What do you
“I ask who you are!”
“Do you belong to Colonel Phillips
This reply was discouraging.
held the extreme right; this should be his picket; as it was not
, the probabilities appeared to be in favour of the Federal
Under the circumstances, the next course seemed to be a rapid “about face,” the use of the spur, and a quick retreat, taking the chances of a bullet.
The sudden click of a trigger interrupted these reflections, and my friend in the dark said briefly:
I asked what command you belonged to!
Something in the tone of the voice struck me as Southern, and I replied:
Well, I don't believe you are a Yankee; I belong to General Lee's army.
“All right; so do we,” was the answer.
“You can come over at the ford yonder.”
“What brigade is yours?”
This reply ended all doubt.
Pegram I knew was on Gordon
's extreme right.
Not finding General Gordon
, I had been requested by General Lee
to communicate with Pegram
His headquarters were near the junction of the Boydton
and Quaker roads; and having turned over the cavalry detachment
to Colonel Phillips
, I entered the old wooden building and found General John Pegram
This gallant young officer had been my school-fellow and intimate friend in boyhood; and I had seen him every day almost until his departure for West Point
After graduating there he had entered the cavalry, served on the prairies, and in 1861 returned to offer his sword to Virginia
, where he was received in a manner highly flattering, and placed in command of the forces near Rich Mountain
The unfortunate result of that campaign is known, and the proud and sensitive spirit of the young soldier was deeply wounded.
In spite of the assurances of brave and skilful soldiers that the issue there was unavoidable, considering the great force brought against him, he persisted in brooding over it. “It would always be known as ‘Pegram
's surrender,’ ” he said.
It was soon forgotten, however; greater events and greater disasters threw it in the background, and the young soldier fought his way to high repute in the Southern
On the night when I met him, in February, 1865, he was commanding the advance brigade of General Lee
's right wing, and had held his ground all day against the severest assaults of the enemy.
The cordial greeting of two friends, after long separation, over, General Pegram
mounted his horse to ride with me to General Gordon
's, beyond Burgess' mill, and on the way we dropped military affairs entirely, to revert to scenes which had taken place twenty years before, and speak of the “old familiar faces” and things long previous to the war. If it were necessary I could recall the entire conversation — the very words uttered by my companion — for the sad event of the next day engraved the whole upon my memory.
In the voice of the speaker there was a peculiar sadness, a species of melancholy depression, which it was impossible not to observe.
Something seemed to weigh upon his mind, and the handsome features of the young soldier (he was only about thirty), with the clear dark eye, the gallant moustache, and the broad, fine brow, were overshadowed by a heavy cloud.
This obvious depression, however, did not render him cold or distrait-rather
He spoke of old friends
and comrades with the greatest affection and kindness; referred with something very like womanly tenderness to a dear younger brother of his listener, dead many years before; and the pleasure which he derived from this return to the careless past was unmistakable.
But throughout all was that undertone of sadness which I remembered afterwards, and could not forbear regarding as the evidence of some mysterious presentiment.
This did not change at all when, after a ride of two or three miles we reached General Gordon
's, and were shown to the General
General G.‘s cheery voice, as he smoked his cigar and discussed the events of the day, did not make my companion smile.
“Do you expect a renewal of the attack to-morrow, General?”
“Not on this side of the run, but I think it probable they will make a heavy attack on General Pegram
in the morning.”
The person thus alluded to was carefully examining a topographical map at the moment; and his countenance and attitude exhibited unmistakable depression and languor.
When we rose to go, the expression had not changed.
As we shook hands, he addressed me by the name which he had used when we were school-fellows together, and said: “Come and see me whenever you can.”
And that pressure of the kind, brave hand, that utterance of the good friendly voice, was the last for me. On the next day the attack anticipated by General Gordon
took place, and General Pegram
was killed while gallantly leading his men.
Such was the soldierly ending of this brave young Virginian.
He had been married only a few weeks to a young lady of rare beauty, and life seemed to open for him all flowers and sunshine; but the thunderbolt had struck him; his brave blood went to swell that great torrent poured out by the gallantest souls of the South
This hasty sketch-beginning with jests, and ending in something
like tears — has aimed, in part, to record that presentiment which the young soldier seemed to have of his approaching fate.
Wholly incredulous as the writer is of such warnings, it is impossible for him to banish from his mind the fancy that something conveyed to the young soldier a premonition of the coming event.
But he did his duty all the same, dying in harness like a good soldier of the South