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Doc. 110. Major-General Sheridan's report.

Headquarters military division of the South-West, New Orleans, Louisiana, July 16, 1865.
General — I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of my command in the campaign from Winchester, in the Shenandoah valley, to the armies in front of Petersburg, beginning February twenty-seventh, and ending March twenty-eighth.

The command consisted of the First and Third divisions of cavalry, of the Army of the Shenandoah, under the immediate command of Brevet Major-General Wesley Merritt, Brevet Major-General George A. Custer commanding the Third division, and Brigadier-General T. C. Devin, the first. The following was the effective force:

Effective Force First and Third Cavalry Divisions, Army of the Shenandoah, February Twenty-eighth, 1865--Major-General Wesley Merritt, Chief of Cavalry.

  commissioned officers. enlisted men.
First cavalry division, Brigadier-General T. C. Devin, commanding 260 4,787
One section (companies C and E) Fourth United States artillery 2 52
Third cavalry division, Brevet Major-General George A. Custer commanding 240 4,600
One section (Company M) Second United States artillery 1 45
Total 503 9,484

On the morning of February twenty-seventh, 1865, we marched from Winchester up the valley pike with five days rations in haversacks, and fifteen days rations of coffee, sugar and salt in wagons, thirty pounds of forage on each horse, one wagon for division headquarters, eight ambulances and our ammunition train. No other wagons, except a pontoon train of eight boats, were permitted to accompany the command.

My orders were to destroy the Virginia Central railroad, the James river canal, capture Lynchburg, if practicable, and then join Major-General Sherman wherever he might be found in North Carolina, or return to Winchester, but in joining General Sherman I must be governed by the position of affairs after the capture of Lynchburg.

The command was in fine condition, but the weather was very bad, as the spring thaw, with heavy rains, had already come on.

The valley and surrounding mountains were covered with snow which was fast disappearing, putting all the streams nearly past fording. On our first day's march we crossed Cedar creek, Tumbling river, and Tom's brook, and went into camp at Woodstock, having marched thirty miles. At six o'clock in the morning of the twenty-eighth instant the march was resumed through Edinburg and across the north fork of the Shenandoah river, and through Newmarket, going into camp at Lacey's spring, nine miles north of Harrisonburg; the crossing of the north fork of the Shenandoah was by a pontoon bridge. Small bands of guerrillas hovered on our flanks during the day, but no effort was made to drive them off, and no damage was done by them; distance marched, twenty-nine miles. The march was resumed at six o'clock on the morning of the twenty-ninth, through Harrisonburg and Mount Crawford, and camp pitched on Middle river at Kline's mills. Guerrillas hovered around us during the march, and at Mount Crawford General Rosser, with two or three hundred cavalry, attempted to burn the bridge over the middle fork of the Shenandoah, but did not succeed; two of Capehart's regiments swam the river above the bridge, charged Rosser and routed him, driving him rapidly to Kline's mills, the advance pushing almost to Staunton; but few of the enemy were killed, thirty taken prisoners, and twenty ambulances and wagons with their contents were captured and destroyed; our loss was five men wounded. Kline's mills are seven miles from Staunton, where the headquarters of General Early were said to be. Not knowing but that he would fight at Staunton, Colonel Stagg's brigade of General Devin's division was ordered to destroy the railroad bridge over Christian's creek, between Staunton and Waynesboro, to prevent his getting reinforcements by rail, or in case he would not stand, to prevent him carrying off supplies and ordnance stores; the bridge was burned, but General Early, learning of our approach, made hasty retreat to Waynesboro, leaving word in Staunton that he intended to fight at that place. The next morning we entered Staunton. The question then arose in my mind whether I should pursue my course on to Lynchburg, leaving General Early in my rear, or go out and fight him with my cavalry against his infantry and what cavalry he could collect, defeat him, and open a way through Rock Fish Gap, and have everything in my own hands for the accomplishment of that portion of my instructions which directed the destruction of the Central railroad and James river canal. I decided upon the latter course, and General Custer's division (Third), composed of Colonels Wells', Pennington's, and Capehart's brigades, was directed to take up the pursuit, followed closely by General Devin's division, composed of General Gibbs' and Colonels Fitzhugh's and Stagg's brigades. The rain had been pouring in torrents for two-days and the roads were bad [635] beyond description; nevertheless the men pushed boldly on, although horses and men could scarcely be recognized for the mud which covered them. General Custer found General Early, as he had promised, at Waynesboroa, in a well-chosen position, with two brigades of infantry and some cavalry under General Rosser, the infantry occupying breastworks. Custer, without waiting for the enemy to get up his courage over the delay of a careful reconnoissance, made his dispositions for attack at once, sending three regiments around the left flank of the enemy, which was somewhat exposed by being advanced from instead of resting upon the bank of the river in his immediate rear; he, with the other two brigades, partly mounted and partly dismounted, at a given signal, boldly attacked and impetuously carried the enemy's works,while the Eighth New York and the First Connecticut cavalry, who were formed in columns of fours, charged over the breast work and continued the charge through the little town of Waynesboroa, sabering a few men as they went along, and did not stop until they had crossed the south fork of the Shenandoah river, which was immediately in General Early's rear, where they formed as foragers, and with drawn sabres held the east bank of the stream. The enemy threw down their arms and surrendered with cheers at the suddenness with which they were captured. The general officers present at this engagement were Generals Early, Long, Wharton, Lilley, and Rosser, and it has always been a wonder to me how they escaped, unless they hid in obscure places in the houses of the town. Colonel Capehart, with his brigade, continued the pursuit of the enemy's train which was stretched for miles over the mountains, and the other two brigades pushed rapidly after him, with orders to encamp on the east side of the Blue Ridge. The substantial results of this brilliant fight were eleven pieces of artillery with horses and caissons complete, about two hundred wagons and teams, all loaded with subsistence, camp and garrison equipage, ammunition and officers' baggage, seventeen battle-flags, and sixteen hundred officers and enlisted men. The results in a military point of view were very great, as the crossing of the Blue Ridge, covered with snow as it was, at any other point would have been difficult. Before leaving Staunton for Waynesboroa, I obtained information of a large amount of rebel property at Swoop's depot, on the Lexington railroad, and sent a party to destroy it, which was done; a list of which property will be attached to this report. General Custer's division encamped at Brookfield, on the east side of the Blue Ridge, General Devin's division remaining at Waynesboroa. The next morning the prisoners were sent back to Winchester, under a guard of about fifteen hundred men, commanded by Colonel J. H. Thompson, First New Hampshire cavalry, who safely reached that point, notwithstanding he was harassed by General Rosser's command as far as the crossing of the north fork of the Shenandoah near Mount Jackson, at which point General Rosser made a fierce attack upon him and tried to rescue the prisoners, but he was handsomely repulsed by Colonel Thompson, who captured some of his men and finally arrived at his destination with all his own prisoners and some of Rosser's men besides. General Devin resumed his march at six A. M., leaving General Gibbs' brigade to destroy the iron bridge over the south fork of the Shenandoah, and to burn and destroy the captured wagons and their contents. General Custer moved on toward Charlottesville, destroying much government property and subsistence at Greenwood depot and Ivy station, also the railroad and the large bridge over Meacham's river, arriving at Charlottesville at four P. M., the mayor and several of the most prominent citizens meeting him in the suburbs of the city and delivering up the keys of the public buildings.

The roads from Waynesboroa to Charlottesville had, from the incessant rains and spring thaws, become so terribly cut up, and the mud was of such a depth, that it was impossible for our train to reach Charlottesville under two days. I therefore notified the command that we would remain two days at this point for the purpose of resting, refitting, and destroying the railroad; parties were sent well out toward Gordonsville to break the railroad, and also about fifteen miles toward Lynchburg for the same purpose, to prevent troops massing on me from either Richmond or Lynchburg. A thorough and systematic destruction of the railroads was then commenced, including the large iron bridges over the north and south forks of the Rivanna river, and the work was continued until the evening of the fifth instant, when General Gibbs reported with our trains; forage and subsistence was found in great abundance in the vicinity of Charlottesville. Commodore Hollins of the confederate navy was killed while trying to escape from a scouting party from General Custer's division. This necessary delay forced me to abandon the idea of capturing Lynchburg, but trusty scouts had been sent there to find out the state of affairs in that vicinity. When the time to start came I determined to separate into two columns, sending General Devin's division, under immediate command of General Merritt, to Scottsville, thence to march along the James river canal, destroying every lock as far as Newmarket, while with Custer's division I pushed on up the Lynchburg railroad through North and South Gardens, destroying it as far as Amherst Court-house, sixteen miles from Lynchburg, and then moved across the country and united with General Merritt's column at Newmarket.

General Merritt started on the morning of the sixth, first sending the First Michigan cavalry, Colonel Maxwell commanding, down the Rivanna river to Palmyra and toward Columbia, with directions to rejoin him at Scottsville. General Merritt thoroughly accomplished his orders, destroying all large flour-mills, woollen factories, [636] and manufacturing establishments, tearing up and demolishing all the locks on the James river canal from Scottsville to Newmarket. I had directed him to try and obtain possession of the bridge across the James river at Duiguidsville, intending to hold it and strike the South-side railroad at Appomattox depot, and follow up its destruction to Farmville, where the High bridge crosses the Appomattox. A bold dash was made to secure this bridge, but without avail, as the enemy had covered it with inflammable materials and set it on fire the instant their scouts signalled the approach of our forces; they also and by the same means burned the bridge across the James river at Hard wicksville, leaving me master of all the country north of the James river. My eight pontoons would not reach half way across the river, and my scouts from Lynchburg reported the enemy concentrating at that point from the west, together with a portion of General Pickett's division from Richmond and Fitz Lee's cavalry. It was here that I fully determined to join the armies of the Lieutenant-General in front of Petersburg, instead of going back to Winchester, and also make a more complete destruction of the James river canal and the Virginia Central and Fredericksburg railroads, connecting Richmond with Lynchburg and Gordonsville. I now had all the advantage, and by hurrying quickly down the canal and destroying it as near Richmond as Goochland or beyond, and then moving up to the railroad and destroying it as close up to the city as possible in the same manner I did toward Lynchburg, I felt convinced I was striking a hard blow by destroying the means of supply to the rebel capital, and, to a certain extent, the Army of Northern Virginia, besides leaving the troops now concentrating at Lynchburg without anything to oppose them, and forcing them to return to Richmond. This conception was at once decided upon and Colonel Fitzhugh's brigade was ordered to proceed to Goochland and beyond, immediately, destroying every lock upon the canal and cutting the banks wherever practicable. The next morning the entire command moved from Newmarket down the canal leisurely, and completely destroying the locks and banks about the aqueducts, and in some places cutting the banks; the rain and mud still impeded us, and the command, particularly the transportation, was much worn and fatigued; however, by replacing our worn-out mules with those captured from General Early's trains, and with the assistance of nearly two thousand negroes who attached themselves to the command, we managed to get along in very good shape, reaching Columbia on the evening of the tenth instant, at which place we were rejoined by Colonel Fitzhugh's brigade.

Colonel Fitzhugh had destroyed the canal about eight miles east of Goochland, thereby reducing it to a very small length. At Columbia we took one day's rest, and I here sent a communication to the Lieutenant-General commanding the armies, notifying him of our success, position, and condition, and requesting supplies to be sent to White House. My anxiety now was to be able to cross the Pamunkey. I felt confident that the enemy would march out a heavy force and try to destroy my command and prevent me from crossing the river. The railroad from Richmond to Gordonsville was still intact, and to go south of the Pamunkey river, and between it and Richmond, I regarded as too hazardous, and I was fearful that the enemy might use it to get on my flank and rear. General Custer was therefore directed to strike the railroad at Frederick's Hall and General Merritt at Louisa Court-house. General Custer was ordered to thoroughly destroy the track toward Richmond as far as Beaver Dam, while General Merritt did the same thing from Louisa. Court-house to Frederick's Hall. While at this latter place Major Young's scouts from Richmond notified me of preparations being made to prevent me from getting to the James river, and that Pickett's division of infantry was coming back from Lynchburg via the Southside railroad, as was also the cavalry, but that no advance from Richmond had yet taken place. I at once determined that there was no way to stop me unless General Longstreet marched directly for the White House, and that he would be unable to do so if I pushed boldly on toward Richmond, as he would be forced to come out and meet me near Ashland; then I could with-draw, cross South and North Anna and march to White House on north side of the Pamunkey. It proved true. But, to divert from the narrative; when General Custer struck Frederick's Hall Station he entered it so suddenly that he captured the telegraph office with all the despatches. Among them was one from Lieutenant-General Early to General Lee, stating that he had been informed that Sheridan's forces were approaching Goochland, and that be intended to move up with two hundred cavalry which he had, and attack them in the flank at daylight. General Custer immediately ordered a regiment of cavalry in pursuit of this bold party, which in about two hours it overtook, attacked, and captured or dispersed in every direction, Lieutenant-General Early escaping on a side road with five or six orderlies and two staff officers; he was, however, closely followed by a small detachment, and his staff officers captured, he barely escaping over the South Anna with a single orderly, and the next day he made his way to Richmond, after a campaign in the Shenandoah valley in which he lost nearly the whole of his army, together with his battle-flags, and nearly every piece of artillery which his troops opened upon us, and also a large part of his transportation. But to resume: General Custer in the morning of the fourteenth instant was directed to push down the Negro-foot road and cross the South Anna. He sent his scouting parties up to within eleven miles of Richmond, where they burned a hospital train. The object of this move was to divert the attention of the enemy from the North and South Anna [637] bridges and bridges over Little river, which Merritt was ordered to destroy with Devin's division; Custer's main column meanwhile being held at the Negro-foot crossing of the South Anna. General Merritt was ordered to follow the railroad to Hanover Junction, cross the Little river, and go into camp on the north bank of South Anna. In the attack upon the railroad bridge over the South Anna, the Fifth United States cavalry charged up to the bridge, dismounted, dashed across it, and drove away the company of artillery who tried to defend it, and turned their own guns--four twenty-pounder Parrotts — upon them. I here received a despatch from the Lieutenant-General that supplies were at the White House for me, and one brigade of infantry; and also captured the following despatch, which led me to doubt whether General Longstreet had yet determined in his own mind where I was going:

Hanover Junction, March 14--11:25.
[By telegraph from Richmond.]
Colonel Haskel--General Longstreet desires you to follow the enemy if he goes east, until he crosses the Rapidan or Blue Ridge. If he goes toward the Peninsula follow as far as you can.

By order of Lieutenant-General Ewell:

T. O. Chestney, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Next morning General Custer was ordered to move by the Negro-foot crossing of the South Anna, and thence to Ashland, and General Devin was ordered to proceed to the same point. This developed the situation. The prisoners captured in front of Ashland reported Longstreet, with Pickett's and Johnson's divisions and Fitz Lee's cavalry, on the Ashland road, in the direction of Richmond, and four miles from Ashland. My course was now clear and the feint successful. General Devin was quickly ordered to the north side of the South Anna and General Custer was ordered to follow, sending Colonel Pennington's brigade to amuse the enemy, cover his front, and gradually fall back. The whole command was, meanwhile, ordered to cross the North Anna and go into camp at Carmel church, and at daylight take up the line of march for White House, via Mangohick church. I then knew I could get to White House before the enemy, and that he could not operate upon the Chickahominy, as it would be too close to the lines of the Army of the James. The enemy, finding that he had made a mistake, moved rapidly during the night toward the Pamunkey, through Hanover Court-house, but forgot his pontoon trains and could not cross the river; it would have made no difference, however, as I then could have gotten to the White House without question.

At daylight on the morning of the sixteenth we leisurely resumed the march to White House, encamping at Mangohick church. On the seventeenth we marched to and encamped at Prince William Court-house. On the eighteenth we reached Indiantown, and on the nineteenth crossed the Pamunkey, at White House, on the railroad bridge, which had been repaired by Lieutenant-Colonel Babcock, of Lieutenant-General Grant's staff; we here found supplies in abundance.

The amount of private and public property collected for the use of the enemy, and destroyed, and the destruction of lines of communication and supplies was very great and beyond estimating.

Every bridge on the Central railroad between Richmond and Lynchburg, except the one over the Chickahominy and that over the James river at Lynchburg, and many of the culverts, were destroyed. The James river canal was disabled beyond any immediate repair. There perhaps, never was a march where nature offered such impediments and shrouded herself in such gloom as upon this. Incessant rain, deep and almost impassable streams, swamps and mud were overcome with a constant cheerfulness on the part of the troops that was truly admirable. Both officers and men appeared buoyed up by the thought that we had completed our work in the valley of the Shenandoah, and that we were on our way to help our brothers in arms in front of Petersburg in the final struggle.

Our loss in horses was considerable, almost entirely from hoof-rot. After refitting at White House until the twenty-fourth instant, we resumed our march, crossing the Chickahominy at Jones' bridge, and arriving at and crossing the James river on the evening of March twenty-fifth, and on the following day, by direction of the Lieutenant-General, went into camp at Hancock's station, on the railroad in front of Petersburg. The whole number of prisoners captured on the march was about sixteen hundred, but some of them we were obliged to parole, as they were unable to keep up with the column, though, after the first three days, our marches did not average over eighteen miles per day.

To General Merritt, Chief of Cavalry, Generals Custer and T. C. Devin, division commanders, Generals Gibbs and Wells and Colonels Fitzhugh, Capehart, Stagg, and Pennington, brigade commanders, my staff, and every officer and man of the First and Third cavalry divisions I return my sincere thanks for patriotic, unmurmuring, and soldierly conduct.

To Major H. H. Young, of my staff, Chief of Scouts, and the thirty or forty men of his command who took their lives in their hands, cheerfully going wherever ordered, to obtain that great essential of success — information — I tender my gratitude. Ten of these men were lost. Our entire loss during the march did not exceed one hundred men; and some of these we left by the wayside, unable to bear the fatigues of the march.

This report should be regarded as the preface of my report of operations in front of Petersburg and Richmond, as my command only rested one day before its commencement. [638]

I forward herewith list of prisoners captured, and property destroyed.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

P. H. Sheridan, Major-General. Brevet Major-General John A. Rawlins, Chief of Staff, Washington, D. C.

Official: E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General. Adjutant General's office, November 18, 1865.

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