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Operations South of the James River.

I. First attempts to capture Petersburg. By August V. Kautz, Brevet Major-General, U. S. A.

The Cavalry Division of the Army. of the James was organized in the last days of April, 1864. Through the personal application of Lieutenant-General Grant I was selected and promoted to be Brigadier-General of Volunteers to organize and command it. I found the troops of which it was to be made up encamped in rear of Portsmouth, Va., picketing the line of the Blackwater River, on the 20th of April.1 As first organized it was arranged as follows: First Brigade, 3d New York, and 1st District of Columbia Cavalry, Colonel S. H. Mix commanding. Second Brigade, 11th and 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Colonel S. P. Spear commanding. A section of 3-inch rifles of the 4th Wisconsin Battery was temporarily assigned. The division numbered less than 2800 men, all told.

When I reported to General Butler he informed me what he expected the division to do after it should be organized. Its task was to cut the Weldon Railroad, and this was to be done by crossing the Blackwater at Franklin, and proceeding direct to Hicksford and destroying the large bridge across the Meherrin River at that point; the object being to delay reenforcements from the south while the Army of the James was making a lodgment at Bermuda Hundred and City Point. While organizing the division I studied up the situation, and at the end of a week I reported to General Butler that I [534] did not consider the task laid out a feasible one with the means at my command. The reasons I advanced were considered good, and the duty then assigned to us was to destroy the bridges across Stony Creek and the Nottoway River, which I thought we could do by rapid marching, and by heading the Blackwater.

The command moved on the 5th of May, and on the afternoon of the 7th reached Stony Creek Station and captured the guard, of about fifty men

Major-General M. C. Butler, C. S. A. From a photograph.

of the Holcombe Legion, under Major M. G. Zeigler, and the same evening destroyed the bridge, station, water-tank, railroad buildings and cars, and a large amount of railroad material, as well as a good portion of the track. On the 8th the bridge across the Nottoway was burned, and also Jarrett's Station and water-tank, and the track was torn up between Jarrett's and the bridge. The bridge was fortified and had a strong guard, under Colonel W. B. Tabb of the 59th Virginia, which might have prevented us from burning the bridge. The division reached City Point on the 10th, with about 130 prisoners, having seriously impeded the movement of the Confederate reenforcements moving north under General Beauregard.

On the 11th the division crossed to Bermuda Hundred, and on the 12th moved out under cover of the advance of the Army of the James on Drewry's Bluff, and the same night reached Coalfield and destroyed the station and railroad property and tore up the track, thus cutting the Danville road ten miles from Richmond. On the 12th we moved to Powhatan Station, and burnt it and a train loaded with bacon and forage. Mattoax bridge, across the Appomattox, we found fortified and too strongly guarded to justify an attempt to capture it, and the march was continued to Chula Station. During the night of the 13th we destroyed it and tore up a portion of the track. On the 14th we crossed over to the Petersburg and Lynchburg Railroad, and destroyed the stations of Wilson's, Blacks and Whites, and Wellville, and tore up more or less of the track. On the 15th and 16th we marched upon Hicksford and threatened that point, but found it too strongly fortified and guarded; but the concentration at that point enabled us to pass without molestation at Jarrett's, where we found a new water-tank, replacing the one destroyed a week before, and which, in turn, we destroyed. The division reached City Point again on the 17th, with about fifty prisoners, all very much worn and fatigued. We had marched from forty to fifty miles daily for about two weeks, and heavy rains during the last week had greatly embarrassed the command. The loss of the division during this time was, as officially reported, 14 killed, 60 wounded, and 27 missing. The moral effect on the enemy of having all the railroads from the south into Richmond interrupted at one time, was, perhaps, the principal justification for the extraordinary exertion and expense incurred.

On the night of the 8th of June, General Butler having perfected a plan for the capture of Petersburg, the cavalry moved in conjunction with a brigade of white troops under Colonel J. R. Hawley and a part of Hinks's colored division; the whole commanded by General Gillmore. [See p. 148.] The infantry was expected to threaten Petersburg from the City Point road, while the cavalry made a detour to the Jerusalem plank-road, where the enemy's line was believed to be weak. It was agreed that if the cavalry carried this line, General Gillmore was to assault the line in his front. The distance the cavalry had to march took up more time than was anticipated, and the line was not carried until just before noon of the 9th, and General Gillmore, having exhausted his patience, was far on his way back to City Point at that time.2 The line, where the Jerusalem road entered it, was held by about two hundred Second Class militia, and was easily carried, and had the infantry been at hand to support the cavalry Petersburg could have been taken and held at this time. The Cavalry Division, however, had only about thirteen hundred serviceable men on this occasion, and could not hold the advantage gained without sufficient infantry support. The advance penetrated to the water-works, where it was confronted by a battery in position, and the rear of the cavalry was threatened by the enemy holding the line on the City Point front, and was therefore compelled to retire with the captured prisoners, and returned to Bermuda Hundred, where we arrived after dark. Shortly after this affair General Gillmore was relieved from the command of the Tenth Corps. [535]

On the 15th of June, the Eighteenth Corps under Genera: W. F. Smith having rejoined Butler, after its detachment to Cold Harbor, another effort was made to take Petersburg, with this difference in the plan, that while the cavalry should distract the enemy as much as possible in the direction of the Jerusalem plank-road, the Eighteenth Corps was to carry the line on the City Point side. The cavalry, having driven in the enemy's pickets on the City Point road, moved to the left and was engaged the entire day exposed mainly to artillery fire, without any apparent action on the part of the Eighteenth Corps. We believed ourselves again deserted, and at seven in the evening the cavalry was withdrawn, and the column was just fairly on the return when the noise of the assault so long expected broke upon us about four miles to our right. It was all over in a few moments, and, as we subsequently learned, General Smith had carried the entire line in his front. The Army of the Potomac began to arrive on the night of the 15th, and was on hand to support the Eighteenth Corps in the position it had captured.

On the 20th I received orders to report to General James H. Wilson for the purpose of cooperating in his raid against the Danville Railroad. At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 22d the Cavalry Division of the Army of the James took the advance, with orders to proceed, via Reams's Station on the Weldon Railroad, to Sutherland's Station on the South-side Railroad. Reams's Station was captured at 7 in the morning, but General W. H. F. Lee with the Confederate cavalry was found to be encamped on our route to Sutherland's, and that route involved a battle that might have been fatal to the object of the expedition even if Lee had been beaten. The head of the column was therefore directed south, as if the Weldon road were the object of the expedition. We marched eight miles south, and then turned west to Dinwiddie Court House, and then north through Five Forks, and evening found us on the South-side road between Sutherland's and Ford's stations with the enemy's cavalry in front. This was the initial success of the raid, for it enabled us to get inside of the enemy's line and to accomplish the object of the expedition. A battle might, and probably would, have caused our immediate return. The Cavalry Division of the Army of the James remained on the advance, down the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which was destroyed for a distance of thirty miles. When the command started on the return, the division brought up the rear until the advance was confronted by the enemy's forces at Stony Creek, when it took the advance to Reams's Station, where, also, it was confronted by the enemy on the morning of the 29th. By noon it was becoming evident that we were being surrounded, and General Wilson decided to retreat the way we came, and I was directed by him to bring up the rear with my division. Before my command could get on the road Wilson's lines were broken by two brigades of Hampton's cavalry under General M. C. Butler, and I decided to retreat on a different line with my command. Keeping in the timbered region to the south-east, we were soon out of the enemy's range, and then changed direction to the north-east, and by 9 P. M. went into camp within the lines of the Army of the Potomac. General Wilson retreated by Jarrett's Station and came in at Cabin Point on the James, several days after. The successful destruction of the Danville road was quite equaled by our retreat after being almost completely surrounded. The loss of the division in this remarkable raid was about five hundred in killed, wounded, and missing, quite one-fourth of the command. The official table prepared in the War Department shows the loss of the division from June 15th to 30th, inclusive, to have been 48 killed, 153 wounded, and 429 captured or missing = 630.3

Ii. Repelling the first assault on Petersburg. By R. E. Colston, Brigadier-General, C. S. A.

at the end of April, 1864, I was transferred from the Department of Georgia to that of Virginia and was assigned by General H. A. Wise to the provisional command of the post of Petersburg, which I had already held from January to March, 1863. General Wise returned to Petersburg about June 1st, and I remained there while waiting for another assignment.

At that time the lines covering Petersburg on the south side of the Appomattox formed a semicircle of about eight miles development, resting upon the river at each extremity. With the exception of a few lunettes and redoubts at the most commanding positions, they were barely marked out, and a horseman could ride over them without the least difficulty almost everywhere, as I myself had done day after day for weeks just before the fight. They differed in toto from the shortened and formidable works constructed later by General Lee's army.

On the 9th of June the lines were entirely stripped of regular troops, with the exception of Wise's brigade on our extreme left, and of Sturdivant's battery of four guns. Every other regiment had been ordered across the James to aid General Lee on the north side. A few skeleton companies of home guards (less than 150 men) occupied the redoubts half a mile from the river on the left, which were armed with heavy artillery. Then came a gap of a mile and a half to lunette 16, occupied by 30 home guards with 4 pieces of stationary artillery. One mile farther to the [536] right were two howitzers of Sturdivant's battery; one mile farther still were lunettes 26, 27, and 28, at the intersection of the lines with the Jerusalem road; but neither there nor for four miles more to the river on our right was there a man or gun.

During the night of June 8th-9th General Kautz and Colonel Spear, with four regiments of cavalry and 4 pieces of artillery, crossed the Appomattox on a pontoon-bridge, about 7 miles below Petersburg, and on the morning of the 9th they made their appearance in front of the left of our lines, while the Federal gun-boats opened a heavy fire upon Fort Clifton and other positions on the river. The alarm-bell was rung in the city about 9 o'clock, and every man able to shoulder a musket hurried out to the lines. Colonel F. H. Archer, a veteran of the Mexican war, who had commanded a Confederate battalion in my brigade in 1862, but now commanding the Home Guards, hastened to take position at lunettes Nos. 27 and 28 on the Jerusalem road with 125 men. This force was composed of Second Class Reserves, men exempted from active service on account of age or infirmities, and boys under conscription age, who had had no military training. Very few of them wore a uniform, and they were armed with inferior muskets and rifles, for all the best arms had to be reserved for troops in the field.

At the first sound of alarm I mounted my horse, hastened to report to General Wise and to offer my services. He thanked me warmly, saying that he was just going across the river to bring back his brigade as promptly as possible, together with other reenforcements, and directed me to take command of all the forces in the lines and use them according to my judgment, with only one specific order, viz., that lunette No. 16 must be held at any hazard. He added as he turned his horse's head: “For God's sake, General, hold out till I come back, or all is lost!”

At lunette No. 16 I found the men at their guns, but the enemy were not yet in sight. They had reconnoitered from a distance the positions on our left; seeing heavy guns on the works, and not aware of the very small number of the defenders, they had continued their reconnoissance toward the right, nearly hidden from our view by the wooded and undulating character of the ground. We had no scouts or mounted men to send out for information. I had been at lunette 16 about an hour, and it was nearly 11 o'clock, when a courier arrived from Petersburg with a note from General Wise, saying that the enemy were advancing by the Jerusalem road upon Colonel Archer's position, and that reinforcements were on the way. I left my aide, Lieutenant J. T. Tosh, in command at lunette 16, with orders not to leave that position until relieved. I galloped on alone toward the Jerusalem road, and when half-way there I heard the rattle of musketry from that point. Being just then at the position of Sturdivant's section, I ordered the sergeant to bring on one of his howitzers to lunette 28, and hastened toward it, catching glimpses of Federal cavalry still moving to our right, parallel to our intrenchments.--Arrived at lunettes 27 and 28 I found that Colonel Archer had disposed his small force very judiciously in the low trenches A wagon had been overturned across the road and, together with a hastily built rail-fence, formed a pretty good barricade. A detachment of Federal cavalry had just made a spirited charge and been checked by this obstruction and by the scattering fire of the militia. Several dead horses, some sabers and carbines, and a couple of prisoners were the tokens of the repulse, and the men were in high spirits at their success in this their first fight. It was evident, however, that the enemy had only been feeling the position and were preparing for a more serious attack. Their line was visible on the edge of the woods back of the Gregory house, and our slender ranks were extended to the right and left to present an equal front. In a few minutes the howitzer that I had ordered up came in sight and was welcomed with cheers by our men. I placed it in lunette 28, and took my position in the trenches, which did not cover us more than waist-high.

Very soon an advance was made by the enemy's dismounted skirmishers, while a mounted line in close order appeared behind the Gregory house. I impressed upon the men the necessity of holding their fire until the enemy were at close range, and this direction was well observed. But the howitzer opened fire and the Federal skirmishers fell back under cover and commenced a continuous fire of small-arms. A number of their men had taken position in the Gregory house and were shooting, some from the windows and others from the garret, and firing through openings made by knocking off the shingles. I directed the artillery sergeant to send a few shells at the house to dislodge them, but the distance was so short that the shells passed through the building before exploding, and failed to set it on fire as I had hoped. Meanwhile the mounted line, some three hundred yards back, presented a tempting mark and I told the sergeant to give them canister. To my intense vexation he replied that he had not a single charge of canister with his piece. I then directed him to shell the mounted line, but several shells passed over the line and burst harmlessly beyond it. I now ordered him to cut the fuse at the closest notch, and, pointing the piece myself very low, I had the satisfaction of seeing the shell explode just in front of the line of cavalry and make a great gap in its ranks, causing its immediate retreat.

All this time the bullets were flying uncomfortably thick and close, but I saw no signal of another advance. Meanwhile our men, closely hugging the low breastworks. and holding back their fire, were suffering no harm. In about half an hour a cannon shot was fired at us, then another, followed by others in quick succession. The enemy had paused while waiting for the arrival of their battery. So far from being dismayed, the brave civilians around me, with Colonel Archer at their head, offered to charge the battery, but I knew that the moment they left the cover of the trenches to cross the open ground they would be destroyed by the breechloading carbines of the dismounted men supporting the battery and far overlapping our front. Our only hope was in delay. I called for a volunteer [537]

Reservoir Hill, where Kautz's advance was stopped, June 9, 1864. from a photograph made in 1886. The spires of Petersburg are seen to the left of the reservoir. In front of the reservoir is the ravine of Lieutenant's Creek that encircles the eastern outskirts of the city and afforded the Confederates a concealed and convenient way by which either wing of their lines could be reinforced by troops from the other.

to mount my horse, find General Wise, and let him know that we could hold out but a very short time longer. A lieutenant of the Junior Reserves, Wales Hurt, a youth of eighteen, promptly offered to go, and I watched him galloping away until hidden from view by the bend of the road, while the bullets were knocking up the dust all around him and under his horse's feet.

By this time our ability to retain the position was a question of minutes only, but on these few minutes hung the rescue or the capture of the city. I knew that if we were driven in before a sufficient Confederate force recrossed the Appomattox the enemy would at once ride into the town and burn the bridges, after which they would have no difficulty in holding the place until their infantry came up, and then all of General Lee's army would be unable to force a recrossing. With the town would be lost the main lines of railway upon which our army depended almost entirely for its supplies.

But the end was very near. The enemy, sheltered by the Gregory house and the defective construction of our works, which allowed approach under cover to within fifty yards, redoubled the fire of their skirmishers and artillery; while a line in open order, overlapping both our flanks, advanced, firing rapidly. The brave militia discharged their pieces at close range. Numbers of them fell killed or wounded, and before the survivors could reload the enemy turned our left flank and more of our men fell by bullets that struck us in the rear from lunette No. 26, which we had not had men enough to occupy. Yet those heroic citizens held their ground. In the heat of the fight I picked up and discharged at the enemy two or three of the muskets dropped by our fallen men. We were now hemmed in on three sides, and only a narrow path leading through an abrupt ravine offered a way of escape. The howitzer, which continued its fire to the last, was captured while limbering up, the horses being shot in their traces, and two artillerymen killed. Some of the militia were killed or wounded with the bayonet or carbine butts, and many were captured. Our shattered remnants made their way down and across the ravine and re-formed at my command on Reservoir Hill, in order, if needed; to support Graham's battery, which had just arrived and unlimbered on the top of the hill.4

After driving us from the trenches the enemy paused awhile to call in their dismounted men and to send to their rear our wounded and prisoners. They then formed in column, with a few files thrown forward in open order. They advanced upon the main road, evidently expecting to enter the city without further opposition.5

The moments gained at such fearful cost barely gave time for Graham's battery to cross the bridge. They came up Sycamore street at full gallop and unlimbered on the summit of Reservoir Hill just as the head of the Federal column was coming down the opposite slope into the hollow. The battery opened fire, and with rapidity and precision hurled a storm of shell and canister upon the approaching cavalry. The enemy, who thought themselves already in possession of the city, halted in surprise. But just at this moment, while they were yet hesitating, Dearing's cavalry, which had followed after Graham's battery, charged upon Kautz's and Spear's column with irresistible impetuosity. The latter wheeled about, but re-formed on the top of the next hill and gallantly endeavored to make a stand there, being joined by another column advancing upon the Blandford road. But this also was checked by a section of Sturdivant's battery, which came on their flank from another road. Under the fire of artillery and the charge of Dearing's cavalry the enemy retreated. In Jackson's field, about a mile beyond Blandford church, our cavalry captured a howitzer, complete, with its team, and in the subsequent pursuit killed or captured a number of the enemy. [538]

Map 1: siege of Petersburg, Va.


Map 2: siege of Petersburg, Va.

1 Previous operations in south-eastern Virginia have been referred to by General Longstreet in Vol. III., p. 244, and in the foot-note, p. 265. General John J. Peck, whose division of the Fourth Army Corps (Keyes's) remained on the Peninsula when the Army of the Potomac was withdrawn (see p. 438, Vol. II.), and who took command at Suffolk soon after, gives the following account of events on the Nansemond and the Black-water, between September, 1862, and May, 1863 [see map, p. 494]:

On the 22d September, 1862, I was ordered to Suffolk, with about 9000 men, to repel the advance of Generals Pettigrew and French from the Black water with 15,000 [5000] men. . . . Situated at the head of the Nansemond River, with the railway to Petersburg and Weldon, Suffolk is the key to all the approaches to the mouth of the James River on the north of the Dismal Swamp. Regarding the James as second only in importance to the Mississippi for the Confederates, . . . I prepared a system, and on the 25th commenced Fort Dix. . . . My labors alarmed the authorities at Richmond, who believed I was preparing a base for a grand movement upon the rebel capital, and the whole of the Blackwater was fortified, as well as Cypress Swamp and Birchen and Chipoak rivers. This line rests upon the James, near Fort Powhatan. About the 26th of February Lieutenant-General Longstreet was detached from Lee's army, and placed in command of the Department of Virginia [and North Carolina], with headquarters at Petersburg; of his corps 15,000 [12,000] were on the Blackwater, and 15,000 [12,000] between Petersburg and the river, near the railway. This distribution enabled him to concentrate in twenty-four hours within a few miles of Suffolk. . . . Early in April deserters reported troops moving to the Blackwater; that many bridges were being constructed; and that a pontoon-train had arrived from Petersburg.

On the 17th of April, 1863, Longstreet wrote to the Secretary of War regarding his operations on the Blackwater as follows:

I am very well convinced that we could reduce it [Suffolk] in two or three days, but doubt if we can afford to expend the powder and ball. To take it by assault would cost us three thousand men. . . The principal object of the expedition was to draw out supplies for our army. I shall confine myself to this unless I find a fair opportunity for something more.

On the 30th of April Longstreet was ordered to rejoin Lee with his command, and on the 4th of May he withdrew his whole force across the Blackwater. There is no report by General Longstreet on file. General John A Dix, commanding the Department of Virginia, which included General Peck's command, reported to General Halleck on the 23d of May:

On April 11th the enemy suddenly advanced with a large force commanded by Lieutenant-General Longstreet, which lad been quietly assembled on the Blackwater, intending to take Suffolk by assault; but finding the place well prepared for defense, after repeated unsuccessful attempts on our lines, in all of which he was signally repulsed, he sat down before it and commenced an investment according to the most improved principles of military science.

The chief engagements during the siege were an attack, April 14th, by the Confederate land batteries on the gunboats in the Nansemond, and the capture, April 19th, of Battery Huger, at the mouth of the West Branch, by a combined force from the Union army and navy, under General George W. Getty and Lieutenant B. H. Lamson, commanding the flotilla in the upper Nansemond. The force under General Longstreet at the time of the closest investment numbered 20,000. March 31st, General Peek had 15,000, and April 30th nearly 25,000.--editors.

2 General A. A. Humphreys, in “The Virginia campaign of 1864 and 1865,” page 197, says that General Kautz attacked the intrenchments at half-past 11 and that at half-past 1 General Gillmore, “receiving no communication from General Kautz during the day,” withdrew from the front of the intrenchments and began his return march to City Point at 3 o'clock.--editors.

3 In his official report of the operations of June 28th and 29th General Wade Hampton says:

“The pursuit of the enemy, which ended near Peters's bridge, closed the active operations which began on June 8th, when the movement against Sheridan [see p. 233] commenced. During that time, a period of twenty-two days, the command had no rest, was badly supplied with rations and forage, marched upward of four hundred miles, fought the greater portion of six days and one entire night, captured upward of 2000 prisoners, many guns, small-arms, wagons, horses, and other materials of war, and was completely successful in defeating two of the most formidable and well-organized expeditions of the enemy. This was accomplished at a cost in my division of 719 killed, wounded, and missing. . . .” editors.

4 The loss of the militia in this conflict was 12 killed (not counting the 2 artillerymen), 20 wounded, and 30 prisoners,--62 out of 125.--R. E. C.

5 Lieutenant Hurt had delivered his message and was returning at this time by the sameroad. Coming suddenly upon the leading Federal files he was shot dead.--R. E. C.

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