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[285]

Retreat from Richmond. [from the Richmond, Va.,, Dispatch, June. 3, 1897–Jan. 18, 1898.]


The artillery Brigade. Its heroic conduct at Sailor's Creek—Additional details. (see ante, pp. 38, 134, 139.)

Richmond, Va., May 31, 1897.
To the Editor of the Dispatch.
Since writing my reminiscences of the retreat from Richmond, Sailor's Creek, etc., which appeared in your Confederate column on 2d of May, I have visited my old comrade, Captain Shirley Harrison, at ‘Brandon.’ While there, he spoke in the highest terms of the gallantry of his first lieutenant, J. M. Green (Company D, 10th Virginia Battalion of Artillery), and especially of the nerve and coolness displayed by him in a memorable night attack, while we were on the retreat. He explained how Lieutenant Green had been separated from his command, which accounted for his absence at Sailor's Creek, I noticed in your issue of yesterday a note from Lieutenant Green (now of New York), calling attention to the omission of his name and explaining his absence. I am glad of this opportunity of doing justice to a gallant comrade, who did not shirk his duty at the critical moment.

I did not undertake to give a complete roster of the officers of my battalion, in fact, could not do so; but merely published the list of officers captured at Sailor's Creek, as it appeared in the New York Herald.

There are, doubtless, others whose absence can be satisfactorily accounted for, and I am glad, in justice to his memory, to be able to explain the absence of my first lieutenant, Robert Elias Binford, as I am now reminded that this accomplished young officer was sick at Chimborazo Hospital, in Richmond. He was convalescing at the time of the evacuation, and left the city with the ambulance train; was captured on the retreat, but made his escape on a captured horse, and being unable to join his own command, was assigned to Dance's battery, and surrendered with the army at Appomattox. [286]

After the war he devoted his life to teaching the youth of the South, and died in Amherst county, Va., in June, 1896.

Yours very truly,

Thomas Ballard Blake, late Captain, etc.

St. Louis, December 29, 1897.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
While on a visit to Richmond last spring I gave some reminiscences of the evacuation, retreat, Sailor's creek, &c., which appeared in your issue of May 22d.

I had to rely entirely on memory, and was, therefore, very careful in my statements. I have recently been looking over the ‘Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,’ published by the government, and in Series 1, Volume XLVI, Part 1, found the official reports of commanding officers of both armies, which confirm, in a striking degree, my recollections. These reports make special mention of the conspicuous part borne by the ‘Artillery Brigade’ at Sailor's creek. I quote as follows: Major-General G. W. C. Lee, commanding the divisions, composed of Barton's and of Crutchfield's Artillery Brigade, says:

Before my troops got into position across the creek the enemy opened a heavy fire of artillery upon our line, which was continued up to the time of our capture. After shelling our lines and skirmishing for some time—an hour or more—the enemy's infantry advanced and were repulsed, and that portion which attacked the Artillery Brigade was charged by it and driven back across Sailor's creek.

This brigade was then brought back to its orginal position, under a heavy fire of artillery. Finding that Kershaw's, which was on my right, had been obliged to retire, in consequence of the enemy having turned his right flank, and that my command was entirely surrounded, to prevent useless sacrifice of life, the firing was stopped by some of my officers, aided by some of the enemy's, and the officers and men taken as prisoners of war. I cannot too highly praise the conduct of my command, and hope to have the opportunity of doing it full justice when reports are received from the brigade commanders. Among a number of brave men killed or wounded, I regret to have to announce the name of Colonel Crutchfield, who commanded the Artillery Brigade. He was killed after gallantly leading a successful charge against the enemy.

[287]

Lieutenant-General Ewell, commanding the corps (Kershaw's and G. W. C. Lee's divisions), says that the Artillery Brigade of Lee's Division ‘displayed a coolness and gallantry that earned the praise of the veterans who fought alongside of it, and even of the enemy.’

Our dashing cavalry leader, General Fitzhugh Lee, says: ‘Though portions of the force, particularly the command of General G. W. C. Lee, fought with gallantry never surpassed, their defeat and surrender were inevitable.’

I will now quote from the report of the Federal commander, Major-General H. G. Wright, commanding the Sixth Corps, Army of the Potomac. After describing the disposition of his troops and our position on the opposite side of Sailor's creek, General Wright says:

The 1st and 3rd divisions charged the enemy's position, carrying it handsomely, except at a point on our right of the road crossing the creek, where a column, said to be composed exclusively of the Marine (artillery) brigade and other troops, which had held the lines of Richmond previous to the evacuation, made a counter charge upon that part of our line in their front. I was never more astonished.

These troops were surrounded. The 1st and 3rd divisions of this corps were on either flank; my artillery and a fresh division in their front, and some three divisions of Major-General Sheridan's cavalry in their rear. Looking upon them as already our prisoners, I ordered the artillery to cease firing, as a dictate of humanity.

My surprise was, therefore, extreme when this force charged upon our front; but the fire of our infantry, which had already gained their flanks, the capture of their superior officers, already in our hands, the concentrated and murderous fire of six batteries of our artillery within effective range, brought them promptly to a surrender.

It is needless for me to add a word to the proud record of the ‘Artillery Brigade’ at Sailor's creek. That record is now a part of the history of this great country, but by giving this a place in your Confederate column, it will doubtless reach the eyes of many to whom the voluminous government records may not be accessible.

Thomas Ballard Blake, Late Captain Co. E, 10th Virginia Battalion, Artillery Brigade.

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