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Sheridan's Trevilian raid.

by Theo. F. Rodenbough, Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. A.1
While Torbert and Gregg had been engaged near Cold Harbor, Wilson had been operating on our right flank. He fought at Mechump's Creek on May 31st, 1864; Ashland, June 1st; and Hawes's Shop and Totopotomoy Creek, June 2d. The fight at Ashland was brought on by McIntosh, in a successful dash at the railroad bridges over the South Anna. The permanent injury of Lee's lines of supply was an important element in Grant's purposes. To this end, on the 26th of May, Hunter was directed to move down the Shenandoah Valley to Lynchburg, cut the canal, and return over the Lynchburg branch of the Virginia Central to Charlottesville, where it was expected he would meet Sheridan.

That officer was again to “cut loose” from the army, and, after tearing up the Virginia Central near Gordonsville, to cooperate with Hunter, if practicable. In obedience to instructions Sheridan, with the divisions of Torbert and Gregg, numbering, exclusive of non-combatants, about eight thousand men, started (June 7th) from New Castle on the Pamunkey, crossed that river on pontoons, moved rapidly via Aylett's, Polecat Station, Chiles-burg, New Market, Mt. Pleasant, Young's Bridge, crossed the South Anna at Becker's Store, and bivouacked on the evening of the 10th at Buck Childs's, three miles from Trevilian Station. On the march, whenever the column passed near the railroad it was cut in several places. The weather was hot, and the roads heavy with dust, causing the weaker horses to drop out; in all cases where this occurred the disabled animals were shot by the rear-guard. As on the Richmond raid, transportation and supplies had been reduced to a minimum, the entire train, including ammunition wagons and ambulances, not exceeding 125 vehicles. Two days short forage, carried on the saddle, three days rations, and one hundred rounds of ammunition were carried by each trooper. While moving along the north side of the river, Sheridan heard that the infantry of Breckinridge was en route to Gordonsville, and that the cavalry of Hampton and Fitz Lee were in pursuit of Sheridan's column, and straining every nerve to reach the objective point first.

Sheridan's intention was to cut the main line of the Virginia Central at Trevilian Station, and the Lynchburg branch at Charlottesville. At dawn of the 11th of June shots were interchanged by the pickets near Trevilian. Custer was sent with his brigade by a wood-road to the left to strike the Louisa Court House road, and move up to the first-named station from the east, while the remainder of Torbert's division approached that point from the north-east. The bulk of Sheridan's command, preceded by the Reserve Brigade (Merritt's), passed through our picket line, and as the leading regiment, 2d United States Cavalry, took the trot it encountered a patrol, or advance-guard, of the enemy. This was driven back, and several prisoners taken, who stated that they belonged to the brigade of General M. C. Butler, of Hampton's cavalry. The Reserve Brigade advanced a quarter of a mile farther, when it found the enemy in force, dismounted, in a piece of timber, which extended across the road for some distance. Our cavalry was partly dismounted, and the entire First Division became engaged. Merritt reported that the enemy was driven through a thick, tangled brushwood for over two miles to Trevilian Station; but not without serious loss to ourselves, though we inflicted heavy punishment on the adversary in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Among his wounded was General Rosser; a colonel commanding brigade was killed,--his body, together with most of the enemy's killed and wounded, falling into our hands. Few less than two hundred prisoners were taken by the brigade. The enemy's retreat finally became a rout; led horses, mounted men, and artillery all fled together in the wildest confusion. Williston, with his battery, did excellent practice with his guns, planting shells in the midst of the confused mass of the enemy. Trevilian Station was thus gained. In this retreat part of the enemy went toward Gordonsville, whilst fragments were driven off on the road to Louisa Court House. In their headlong career these latter came in contact with the First Brigade, which, being engaged toward its rear by the advance of Fitzhugh Lee's division, coming from Louisa Court House, was compelled to abandon some captures it had made from the led horses and trains of the force that was engaging the rest of the division.

General Custer's operations are described by Colonel A. C. M. Pennington, then commanding Horse Battery “M,” 2d United States Artillery:

We moved out about 6:30 A. M., the battery following the leading regiment. As the command struck the road we discovered the impedimenta of a column, pack-mules, ambulances, wagons, etc., all of which we captured and sent to our rear a short distance. The enemy, which turned out to be Hampton's division going toward Gordonsville ahead of us, halted and began to form. I was ordered to bring two guns forward to a position selected by General Custer; found Custer at a high board-fence, which separated him from the station (Trevilian). He told me to bring one gun on the road and bring the other to where he stood with his staff, mounted. I took up the gun and placed it in position, pointing at the board-fence, from which we were to knock the boards to enable us to enfilade a battery of the enemy. Number one at the gun had his axe uplifted in the act of striking, when we discovered a line of dismounted rebel cavalry getting over a rail-fence, about a hundred yards on our right. Custer ordered every one “ to get out of there,”--and we lost no time.

In the meanwhile part of Hampton's force attacked Custer, killing some of the men and horses of the battery before it could gallop into a more favorable position and open on the enemy. Colonel Alger, 5th Michigan Cavalry, got in between Hampton's dismounted men and their led horses, [234] capturing about 350 men and horses. Custer sent his captures to his rear,--that is, toward Louisa Court House,--where also were parked his wagons and the caissons of Pennington's battery. It was supposed that Hampton's entire force was then in front. It appears, however, that Fitz Lee, who should have been closed up on Hampton, was late in getting out that morning, and Custer, without knowing it, struck the road between them. When Lee attempted to close up he espied a wagon-train, caissons, etc. (Custer's), and obligingly took them under his protection. The spoil included all of Custer's captures (except two hundred prisoners), his headquarters wagon, and his colored cook, “Eliza,” who usually occupied an antique ruin of a family carriage on the march, and was called by the soldiers “the Queen of Sheba.” In one of the fluctuations of the fight that day “the Queen” escaped, and came into camp with her employer's valise, which she had managed to secure.

While moving upon the rear of the First Brigade, Fitz Lee's men also espied one of Pennington's guns in a tempting spot; they drove away its slight support and captured the piece, but the limber and most of the artillerymen escaped. Upon reporting this loss, Pennington said he thought the enemy intended to keep it. “I'll be d----d if they do,” responded his irate chief; and collecting some thirty men, Custer led them in person where the gun was being hauled off by hand. Failing in his first attempt, he dismounted every other man of a lot of horse-holders near, and, aided by several mounted staff-officers, charged and recovered the gun.

The First Brigade of Gregg's Division guarded the corps train and the rear; the Second Brigade (Irvin Gregg's) was put in on the left of Torbert, and by vigorously attacking Fitz Lee enabled Custer to retire in good order and rejoin the First Division.

Torbert tried to communicate with Custer several times, without success until after noon, when Captain Dana, assistant adjutant-general, managed to reach the isolated brigade, which he found in a tight place; it formed a hollow triangle pressed on all sides, but was banging away cheerfully. At one time Custer's color-bearer was killed, and to prevent the capture of the flag the brigade commander tore it from the staff and thrust it in his bosom. Finally about 5 P. M. the brigade was extricated and took position to Merritt's left rear. Fitz Lee now faced the Union left flank, his line being perpendicular to Merritt's. The two parts of the Union line formed a right angle; the Reserve Brigade occupying the right of the line to the vertex of the angle, the Second Brigade on its left occupying part of the other line with the Second Division, and the First (Custer's) Brigade formed en échelon to the left rear. On the night of the 11th the enemy retired toward Gordonsville.

The morning of the 12th was spent in a thorough destruction of the railroad for five miles, from Louisa Court House to a point one mile west of Trevilian. At 3 P. M. Torbert advanced toward Gordonsville to find the most direct route by which to return. He found the enemy strongly intrenched across his path. The Confederate line faced to the east, Fitz Lee being on the right, perpendicular to the railroad. Merritt says:

The Reserve Brigade was ordered to attack the enemy's left, and it was intended that the First Brigade should cooperate on our left, while the Second Brigade was held in reserve. The Reserve Brigade went in on an open field to its right and attacked the enemy's left flank vigorously. It was slow work, however, and as the enemy was not pressed on the left, he concentrated his force on the brigade, and by larger numbers and fresh troops gave the command as much as it could attend to. . . . In thus advancing, the right of the brigade was so swung around as to be exposed to the enemy's attack on its wing. This he was not slow to take advantage of, when a squadron of the 2d Cavalry, my only remaining mounted support to the battery, was thrown in to meet the attack. Coming up on the right of the 6th Pennsylvania, which up to that time had been the extreme right regiment in line, they charged gallantly, and, though few in numbers, by the impetuosity of their onslaught drove the enemy back and protected the right until relieved by two regiments of the Second Brigade. After these two regiments got in position this squadron (2d United States Cavalry) was withdrawn to again act as support to the battery, which was ordered to advance, a good position having been gained on the right. Right gallantly did the battery come up in the midst of a heavy musketry fire, we being at that time so close to the enemy that their shells all flew far over us. Planting three guns of the battery in this position, where it dealt the enemy heavy blows, Lieutenant Williston moved one of the brass 12-pounders on to the skirmish-line; in fact, the line was moved to the front to allow him to get an eligible position, where he remained with his gun in the face of the strengthened enemy (who advanced to its very muzzle) dealing death and destruction in their ranks with double loads of canister. It was now dark, and I was directed to retire the brigade, . . . the enemy not advancing.

The 10th New York, of Davies's brigade, also distinguished itself in the assault; the remainder of Gregg's division continued the destruction of the railroad. General Hampton says:

At 3:30 P. M. (12th) a heavy attack was made on my left, where Butler's brigade was posted. Being repulsed, the enemy made a succession of determined assaults, which were all handsomely repulsed. In the meantime General Lee had, by my direction, reenforced my left with Wickham's brigade, while he took Lomax's across to the Gordonsville road so as to strike the enemy on his right flank. This movement was successful, and the enemy, who had been heavily punished in front, when attacked on his flank fell back in confusion. I immediately gave orders to follow him up, but it was daylight before these orders could be carried out, the fight not having ended until 10 P. M.

Hampton reports a loss in his own division of 59 killed, 258 wounded, and 295 missing; aggregating 612. Fitzhugh Lee's losses are not given.

General Sheridan reported this day's fight as

by far the most brilliant one of the present campaign. The enemy's loss was very heavy. My loss in killed and wounded will be about 575. Of this number 490 were wounded. I brought off in my ambulances 377--all that could be transported. The remainder were, with a number of the rebel wounded that fell into my hands, left behind. Surgeons and attendants were detailed and remained in charge of them. I captured and have now with me 370 prisoners of war, including 20 commissioned officers. My loss in captured will not exceed 150.

From prisoners Sheridan learned that Hunter, instead of coming toward Charlottesville, was near Lexington, moving upon Lynchburg; that Ewell's corps was on its way to Lynchburg; and that [235]

Map of the battle of Trevilian Station. For Sheridan's route during the raid, see map, P. 190.

Breckinridge was at Gordonsville.2 He concluded, therefore, to return. During the night of the 12th the command moved back, recrossed the North Anna at Carpenter's Ford, unsaddled the horses and turned them out to graze; the poor animals had been without food for two days. The enemy came in sight but once during the entire march to West Point on the York River, from which place the wounded were sent by transport to Washington. Nothing could exceed the tender care bestowed upon the wounded, and the humane treatment of the prisoners by the commanding general and his staff. Every kind of conveyance was utilized to transport the disabled: ordinary army wagons, ancient family carriages, buggies, and gigs, in all stages of decrepitude, were appropriated for ambulance purposes. General Sheridan placed, his own headquarters spring-wagon at the disposal of the medical director, Surgeon Pease, who is gratefully remembered by hundreds who came under his treatment at this time. When it was suggested that the prisoners be paroled on the spot, Sheridan replied, “In that case it might be hard to convince people that we have captured any.” In order to keep them up with the column, a portion of the command was from time to time dismounted, and the prisoners permitted to ride, so that they came in as fresh as their captors. A large number of negro refugees attached themselves to the column and added to the difficulties of the subsistence department.

General Humphreys, an able and, in this case, impartial critic, says (after quoting the reports of Sheridan and Hampton):

It is apparent from these accounts that General Hampton was defeated and driven several miles from the position he had determined to hold against Sheridan's further advance. The conclusion of Sheridan, on the night of the 12th, was evidently sound; the movement of Hunter had rendered it impracticable to carry out his orders in the presence of Hampton.

On the 18th of June Sheridan learned that supplies awaited him at White House; which depot he was ordered to break up, transferring its contents to the new base. On the 19th the column crossed the Mattapony at Dunkirk, and on the 20th its commander learned that White House was threatened by the enemy. It was guarded by a small detachment, made up of invalids, dismounted cavalry, and colored infantry, commanded by General Getty, who was en route to join his permanent command. Sheridan moved leisurely to the spot, found the enemy on the bluffs overlooking the depot, and drove them away. Having made all preparations on the 24th, Sheridan took up the line of march for Petersburg, with his valuable charge of nine hundred wagons. The enemy, foiled at White House, were in an ugly mood. On this day Torbert was in front; Gregg was on the flank, where he was marching parallel with the train when he was attacked, at St. Mary's Church, by Hampton's entire corps. After the column had started Sheridan was compelled by circumstances to change the orders for the march. A courier was dispatched to Gregg but never reached him, and, largely outnumbered, Gregg was left to fight alone. He was severely handled, but lost no guns. Gregg states to the writer, “In this engagement the light batteries, commanded respectively by Randol and Dennison, did the most effective work, unsurpassed by that on any other field.” Sheridan reports, “This very creditable engagement saved the train, which should never have been left for the cavalry to escort.” [236]

At daylight on the 29th, having seen the train safely over the James at Wilcox Landing, the Cavalry Corps crossed and went into camp at Windmill Point. Here a little rest was anticipated, but hardly had they unsaddled when Sheridan was ordered to move to the relief of Wilson, who, returning from a raid on the enemy's railroads, south of the James, was confronted by an overwhelming force. At midnight the divisions of Torbert and Gregg reached Prince George Court House, to learn that Wilson had returned within our lines.

Wilson's small division had been engaged in the varied and thankless duties of an infantry auxiliary until June 20th, when his command was swelled to 5000 effective men by the addition of Kautz's division (of Butler's army) of four regiments.

On the 22d Wilson started under orders from Meade to cut the Weldon and Southside roads, and to continue the work of destruction “until driven from it by such attacks of the enemy as you can no longer resist.” This was carried out to the letter. He moved rapidly, preceded by Kautz's division, from Prince George Court House to the Weldon road, at Reams's Station; thence (via Dinwiddie Court House) to a point on the Southside road, fourteen miles from Petersburg. Here W. H. F. Lee failed to detain the leading division, but did interrupt the march of Wilson with his own division, under McIntosh. Pushing on, with the loss of seventy-five men, Wilson further destroyed the Southside road. At Burksville, on the 26th, Kautz inflicted great damage. Wilson found the bridge over the Staunton River in the enemy's possession and impassable. He then turned eastward, and moved on Stony Creek Station on the Weldon road. Here he had a sharp fight, and learned from prisoners that, in addition to a small infantry garrison, Hampton, just returned from Trevilian, was in his front. Wilson withdrew his train in the night, and headed for Reams's, where he had good reason to think he would find Meade's infantry. On the way he was severely handled. Upon reaching Reams's, Kautz, with Wilson's advance, found it in the possession of the enemy's infantry, and by the time Wilson came up he was virtually surrounded. Here he destroyed his wagons and caissons, and in an attempt to retire via Double Bridges on the Nottoway River was obliged to abandon all his artillery, and a general stampede ensued. Kautz returned with a fragment of the command by one route; Wilson, with the remnant that could be rallied, by another, and after meeting with many difficulties rejoined the Cavalry Corps at Lighthouse Point, July 2d. Wilson had been absent 10 days, had marched 300 miles, and had destroyed 60 miles of railroad and much valuable rolling-stock. He had lost nearly 1000 men and 16 guns. It is stated that General Grant declared, however, “the damage inflicted on the enemy more than compensated for any that had been received.”

At an inspection of Wilson's command, soon after its return, the Corps Inspector was struck by the variety of costume worn. Some of the men were literally in rags from too intimate acquaintance with bush and brier. But they were in good spirits. One fine-looking specimen of the American volunteer, whose arms and brasses were very bright, paraded in a pair of trousers barely covering his knees and barefooted. “Have you no shoes or stockings?” demanded the astonished inspecting officer. “No, sir!” replied the man, with a grin; “not this side of Ohio.”

The corps remained at Lighthouse Point for the next twenty days, recuperating after more than sixty days of continuous marching and fighting.

The final operations of the cavalry, prior to Sheridan's transfer to the Shenandoah, were not the least of its brilliant services.

In connection with the firing of the Burnside Mine, upon which so much depended, Grant arranged a cooperative demonstration by a force under Hancock, to consist of the Second Corps and two divisions of the Cavalry Corps. This force crossed the Appomattox at Point of Rocks on the night of July 26th; the bridge being covered with hay to muffle the sound. Before morning the James had been crossed at Deep Bottom, and some infantry at the bridge driven away. The cavalry moved toward New Market and Charles City; Torbert's division, headed by the 2d United States Cavalry, driving in the enemy's pickets on the New Market road. The Second Corps reconnoitered the enemy's works in the direction of Chaffin's Bluff. This combined advance developed a large force of the enemy's infantry in Sheridan's front, which extended. from New Market to Malvern HillGregg being on the right of the line with Kautz's brigade in his rear. The cavalry line had hardly been formed when the enemy advanced to the attack and pressed our skirmish-line back over the crest of the ridge, along which the dismounted men lay. Lieutenant W. H. Harrison, of the Reserve Brigade, says in “Everglade to Cañon with the Second Dragoons” :

The enemy's first volley passes over our heads. So closely are we pressed that we fear, unless reenforced speedily, we shall lose our led horses. With a cheer that makes our hearts bound, the 1st New York, 1st United States, and 6th Pennsylvania, on the run, discounted, form themselves on our shattered line. A few volleys from our carbines make the line of rebel infantry waver, and in an instant the cry is heard along our entire line, “Charge!” “Charge!” We rush forward, firing as we advance, the enemy's colors fall, and tile North Carolina brigade breaks in complete rout, leaving three stand of colors, all their killed and wounded, and many prisoners in our hands.

Two hundred and fifty prisoners were taken at this time. This counter-attack was made by the First and Second divisions simultaneously. The affair is called the battle of Darbytown.

The enemy, deceived by the extended front of Hancock's force, at once sent a large part of the Petersburg garrison to succor Richmond. The illusion was kept up until the next day, when preparations were made for withdrawal. On the 30th this was effected. On August 1st Sheridan was ordered with two divisions to the Shenandoah.

From May 5th to August 1st, 1864, the casualties in the Cavalry Corps are estimated at 5500 men, and the expenditure in horses, from all causes, about 1500. Our captures exceeded 2000 men and 500 horses, besides many guns and colors.

1 See “Sheridan's Richmond raid,” p. 188, of which this article is a continuation, for a map giving Sheridan's route in the Trevilian raid.--editors.

2 This information was false. It is now known that Breckinridge had moved on Lynchburg.--T. F. R.

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