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Doc. 87. General Wilson's raid.

headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Petersburg, Saturday, July 2, 1864.
The force composing the expedition consisted of General Wilson's own division, and that of General Kautz, from Butler's department, the whole under the command of the former, and numbering from five to six thousand men. There were also with the expedition three batteries of four guns each, half rifled ordnance, and half light twelve-pounders, and one battery of small mounted howitzers. With this force General Wilson set out at one A. M., on the twenty-second of June, starting from the vicinity of Prince George Court-house. He crossed the Petersburg and Weldon railroad at Reams' station, at which point Colonel Chapman, with the Second brigade of Wilson's own division had a skirmish with a small force of the enemy, which, however, was easily driven.

The expedition moved by way of Dinwiddie Court-house toward Petersburg and Lynchburg, on the south side of the railroad, which they struck at Ford's mills, near Sutherland's station. They then moved down the road, General Kautz in advance, as far as Ford's station, destroying the road as they moved. At Ford's station they captured two trains, comprising sixteen cars, with the locomotives, laden with refugees leaving Petersburg. After destroying the depot and captured trains, the command bivouacked at Ford's station for the night.

Early on the morning of the twenty-third they resumed their march, General Kautz still in advance. Near Nottoway Court-house, a force of rebel cavalry, comprising two brigades, appeared on the right flank of the column, while moving some distance south of the railroad. Colonel Chapman, of the second brigade, formed in line and engaged the enemy.

This was about three P. M., and the rencontre continued till nearly night, when the enemy was forced back. General Kautz, who had passed before the enemy appeared, proceeded the same [522] evening to Burksville, the junction of the Petersburg with the Richmond and Danville railroad. Here he destroyed all the depots, railroad switches and appurtenances, and tore up the road as far as possible in every direction from the junction, after which he rested for the night.

General Wilson, who, with the remainder of his force, had bivouacked at Nottoway Courthouse, on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth advanced across the country to Neberris station, on the Danville railroad, to meet General Kautz, who was to meet him at that place, destroying the road as he advanced. After forming a junction at that station the entire force advanced to Keysville and there bivouacked. The work of destruction was resumed early on the twenty-fifth and by three P. M. we had reached the vicinity of Staunton bridge, on the Staunton river, having completely destroyed every foot of railroad to that point. The distance from Burksville, measured on the map, is about thirty-five miles, and adding to this portions of Southside road which were destroyed the aggregate would not be less than fifty miles and probably more than that distance.

The Danville road was constructed in a fashion known to some extent in the extreme West, but now little used; instead of ordinary T rail, solid beams of wood, technically called stringers, are placed upon the ties, and along their inner edges are firmly fastened long strips of iron, known as strap rails. The stringers were of yellow pine, and being perfectly dry, it was only necessary here and there to place a few rails from an adjoining fence, ignite them, and set the entire structure in a blaze. Miles of railroad might have been seen at a time in flames, and at night the whole canopy of the heavens was one glare of light. By day the conflagration, adding to the already suffocating temperature of the atmosphere, rendered the heat almost intolerable, and many people living in the vicinity of the railroad were obliged to leave their houses and settle in cooler localities.

The rear of our column moving past the fires kindled by the advance was often compelled to leave the road and move at a respectable distance on the right or left, until after a little experience the plan was adopted of leaving depots and other buildings to be fired by those in the rear. The mode in which this work of destruction was accomplished was to dismount a portion of the command, and march them parallel with the railroad; face a regiment at a time toward the road, have them advance and ignite a section of the road in their front, and then resume the march. It was but the work of a few minutes for a regiment to perform its part, and the whole was accomplished nearly as fast as the column could move.

It is only necessary to remind the public of what is already known, viz.: The fact that this railroad is now the only one upon which Lee could depend for communication with the south, south-east and south-west, and the only route by which he could bring up troops or supplies to Richmond or Petersburg; and this being remembered, it is easy to appreciate the vast importance of the destruction of so large a portion of it. Even with the best facilities for repairing, it would require several weeks to place it in running order; weeks of exceedingly precious time to the enemy, and, considering the difficulties which embarrass them, including the army's interruption, it is doubtful whether they will succeed in reconstructing this railroad before the present campaign is decided.

The Weldon road, although but a small portion of it is torn up, is equally unavailable, and practically the rebel army under Lee, and the rebel Government are isolated by an interval of many miles from all railroad communication with the interior of rebeldom.

To return to the narrative of the raid. The force arrived in the vicinity of Staunton bridge, on the afternoon of the twenty-fifth. It was, of course, desirable to destroy the bridge, which was a very important one, and an effort was made to effect this object, General Kautz, who was still in the advance, being assigned to make the attempt. It was found that the enemy were fully prepared to defend it. Our approach had been heralded in advance, and the militia called hastily together from eight adjoining counties, had been concentrated at this point.

From this point the raiders moved in a northeasterly direction, toward Weylesburg, which they reached after a night's march, near daylight on the morning of the twenty-sixth, halting there for about one hour. The twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and the earlier part of the twenty-eighth of June were marked by few events of any importance, except that on the twenty-ninth, Brigadier-General W. F. H. Lee appeared on our left flank, which occasioned some little skirmishing, lasting but a very short time, and attended with few, if any, casualties.

On the twenty-eighth we reached the Nottoway river at Double bridge. The Second Ohio cavalry of McIntosh's brigade, having advanced, drove the rebel pickets before them some miles, before we reached the bridge. There was, however, no force there large enough to give us any trouble, and we crossed without difficulty early in the afternoon. Thence we moved on toward Stony creek, intending to cross the Petersburg and Weldon railroad at Stony creek station. It had been designed to cross some miles further south, at Jarrett's station, but it was ascertained that the road at that point was guarded by a heavy force, made up partly of militia and partly of troops sent up from Weldon, and the design of crossing there was, in consequence, abandoned.

The rebel pickets were met at the bridge, and no sooner had our vanguard, comprising a squadron or two of the Third Indiana and all of the Second Ohio, gone over, than the enemy began to show spirited resistance. They were, however, driven back along the direct road to the station, far enough to enable our entire [523] force to get across. Less than a mile from the crossing the enemy were found in heavier force, and McIntosh's brigade, which was in the advance, having formed in line of battle, soon became fiercely engaged.

Under the fire of the enemy our men continued to form a slight breastwork of rails, logs, stones, and whatever came to hand, and lying down behind it, held their ground with great determination against several desperate charges of the enemy. It was about an hour before sunset when the fight commenced. About eleven P. M. the impossibility of forcing a passage at this point having been clearly demonstrated, General Wilson despatched General Kautz up a left-hand road toward Reams' station.

General Kautz's division was followed by the wagon and ambulance trains of the whole force, and General Wilson, having constructed a line of rifle-pits in the rear of the front line of battle during the night, left in them the First Vermont and the Eighth and Twenty-second New York, withdrawing the rest of his force a short time before daylight, and following Kautz to Reams' station.

The men left with the led horses of the regiment, which remained to cover the rear, came in afterward, and reported that the enemy turning the right flank of the men in the breast-works, had captured the whole party.

General Kautz, on reaching Reams' station, soon found that the enemy were strongly posted at that point also, and was sharply engaged before daylight. Wilson, with the troops he had brought up from Stony creek, passed by Kautz's rear, and was about to take position on his left, but had hardly formed in line of battle when he was attacked by a heavy force of infantry, a column of cavalry in the meantime, accounts say, passing round to the rear.

The accounts of this affair are rather confused, but it appears that General Wilson, perceiving that his command was in danger of being surrounded, determined to try to save a portion of it, by moving out by the right flank, in a direction nearly due south, General Kautz in the meantime retaining his position, as also the Second Ohio, and parts of the Fifth New York, Second New Jersey, and several other regiments belonging to McIntosh's and Chapman's brigades.

It is reported that Fitz Hugh Lee was killed in one of the engagements. The first information brought to headquarters of Wilson's position was by Captain Whittaker, of the First Connecticut, and Aid-de-camp to General Wilson. He left Ream's station at eight A. M., of the twenty-ninth, with forty men of the Third New York cavalry, and by cutting his way through a portion of a column on the move, he reached headquarters exactly at 10:20 A. M.

Dashing at full speed through woods and swamps, over ditches and fences, and, in some cases, cutting their way with the sabre through the rebel troops, the greater part of General Kautz's division, consisting of the Fifth and Eleventh Pennsylvania, First District of Columbia, and Third New York, with the numbers already stated of the Second and Fifth Ohio, and a few other regiments, made their way with great difficulty into our lines, the enemy pursuing and firing upon them until they got within our picket-lines on the Jerusalem plank-road.

It is said by some other men coming in that the rebels shot and bayoneted many after they had surrendered. One reports that while lying in a swamp he heard another, near him, cry out, “I surrender.” “Surrender, you----Yankee,” was the reply; “take that,” accompanying the exclamation with a volley. The Richmond Enquirer, of the twenty-seventh, urged that no quarter should be given to any of the raiders, alleging that the death of every one of them would not be an equivalent to the rebel Government for the damage done.

This, if true, is the most conclusive testimony that could be asked as to the complete effectiveness of the raid. Prisoners captured near Reams' station states that General Lee had sworn that not a single raider should get back. He has evidently made stupendous efforts to make his oath good, for not a single crossing on the Weldon road was left unguarded.

The enemy had scouts out for miles to the westward on every road by which our troops could possibly approach, and carried information of the direction in time to meet us with a superior force at any point. It is difficult to ascertain exactly which troops were encountered at Stony creek and Reams' station, but it is certain that there was infantry at both points, besides probably the greater portion of their cavalry.

The Sixth corps was immediately ordered out to the assistance of the cavalry, but by the time they arrived, which was near evening, the affair was over. They took a position and remained there until the afternoon of the thirtieth, employing themselves meanwhile in destroying the railroad, which was done most thoroughly for three or four miles.

headquarters Army of the Potomac, Saturday, July 2, 10 A. M.
General Wilson has come into our lines with the Third cavalry division. There is considerable rejoicing over his return. The old Third division still lives, and will yet trouble the rebels.

General Lee, in his violent rage, swore that not one should escape. The guns and wagons we can well afford to lose, in consideration of the irreparable damage done their roads.

The cavalry of the Third division, with whom I have conversed, present a sorry picture. They are dusty and almost worn out by twelve days incessant marching and vigils, during which they have marched over three hundred and fifty miles. Finding it impossible to cut through the rebel lines at Reams' station, and [524] no help coming from the vicinity of Petersburg, General Wilson ordered his command to retreat, under cover of night, toward Suffolk.

Having crossed Nottoway river about thirty miles below Petersburg, they struck for the railroad and crossed at Jarrett's station, and bearing southward, crossed the Blackwater at the county road bridge, and came into our lines at Cabin Point, five miles south-east of Fort Powhatan.

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Joseph K. Wilson (13)
A. V. Kautz (13)
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