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Operations from the 6th to the 11th of May, 1864—Report of General B. R. Johnson.

headquarters Johnson's brigade, Drewry's Bluff, May 31, 1864.
Captain T. O. Chestney, A. A. G.
Sir,—I submit the following report of the operations of the troops under my command on the southside of James river from the 6th to the 11th May, 1864, inclusive:

At 3 A. M. on the 6th instant I arrived at Drewry's Bluff from Chaffin's farm with my brigade, numbering in the aggregate 1,168 officers and men present, and occupied Fort Stevens. About 5 A. M. a part of the Twenty-first South Carolina regiment of Hagood's brigade under Lieutenant-Colonel Dargan, arrived, and was placed in position. While making a personal examination of the adjacent country a dispatch from Major-General Ransom, commanding department, was received by my Assistant Adjutant-General, ordering Hagood's brigade to proceed immediately to Port Walthall junction, by rail, if there was a train to carry it. There being no train at the station, some three or four dispatches were exchanged in my absence by my Assistant Adjutant-General; during which correspondence the detachment of the Twenty-first South Carolina regiment marched for Port Walthall junction.

About 11 A. M. the following dispatch was handed to me in person:

I am astonished Hagood's brigade is not now at Port Walthall junction. March it, and if necessary to stop the enemy, your own, too, as quickly as possible to that point. The railroad must not fall into the enemy's hands. Rapidity is necessary. Act at once. If the enemy be at Port Walthall dislodge him.


R. Ransom, Major-General.

This was the first intimation I had that the enemy was threatening the railroad. I immediately put my brigade in motion, and had advanced to within about two miles of the junction when I received the [275] following dispatch from Major F. A. Smith, commanding at Drewry's Bluff:

General,—Our scouts report the enemy at Ware Bottom church, six miles hence. I have already sent couriers to you with this intelligence. Had you not best return, as the Yankees have burnt houses on the river and the fleet is advancing?


F. A. Smith, Major Commanding.

As everything was quiet in the direction of Port Walthall junction, I halted my command, sent a staff officer to comniunicate with Lieutenant-Colonel Dargan, now at the junction, and endeavored to obtain further information of the movements of the enemy.

About 5 P. M. I heard firing at Walthall junction, and immediately put my brigade in motion for that place. On reaching the junction I learned that Colonel R. F. Graham had arrived at that place from Petersburg at about 4 1/2 P. M. with the remaining companies of the Twenty-first and three companies of the Twenty-fifth South Carolina regiments, and with this command of about 600 men that he had encountered a brigade or more of the enemy with two pieces of artillery, and drove them gallantly from the field. Their skirmishers at dark were still on the skirt of the woods southeast of the junction. The report of Colonel R. F. Graham is forwarded herewith. I immediately occupied the railroad excavation just southwest of the junction with my brigade, placing skirmishers in front, Colonel Graham's command occupying a position on my left and front. During the night the remainder of the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-seventh South Carolina regiments, with their brigade commander (Brigadier-General Hagood), arrived. Major-General D. H. Hill, of General Beauregard's staff, reached the junction in the morning, and by his skill, counsel, and active supervision throughout the period of those operations, contributed in an eminent degree to the success attained.

At daylight on the 7th instant it was ascertained that the enemy had entirely retired from our immediate front. Through scouts we learned that their forces were in the vicinity of Ware Bottom Church and at Cobb's farm. For the most reliable information I was indebted to Roger A. Pryor; who was active, tireless and daring in reconnoissance. At about 10 o'clock it was resolved to advance towards the church, with a view to feel the strength and position of the [276] enemy. General Hagood was ordered to move in front, with Johnson's brigade in support. The head of the column had not advanced more than a mile, when General Hill, who had gone to the front to make a personal examination, returned and reported the enemy's cavalry advancing immediately upon us, at about 300 yards' distance from our column. General Hagood was directed to bring his leading regiment into line and advance its skirmishers. Subsequently another regiment was advanced and formed on a line with the first. These regiments were for nearly an hour engaged in a sharp skirmish with the enemy.

The movements of the enemy's infantry seeming to indicate a purpose to flank these regiments on their left, they were retired to our line of battle on the railroad.

In the meantime the enemy had shown in considerable force in two lines—four regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery—in front of our right, near the house of Mrs. Dunn. Skirmishers from Colonel Graham's regiment were advanced to attract the attention of this force, and a section of Hankins's battery, supported by two regiments of Johnson's brigade, was advanced under cover of the woods on the right of Port Walthall railroad to fire on the enemy's infantry. A few rounds from the artillery drove the infantry under cover of adjacent grounds. The fire of the artillery appearing no longer effective, and the movement of the enemy indicating a purpose to make a general attack, I thought it best to procure a compact line; consequently our artillery and infantry were withdrawn to the line of the railroad. The enemy soon appeared in two lines on the open grounds and skirting the woods on the high grounds east of the junction and of Ashton Creek, fronting Hagood's brigade, stationed on my left. At the same time they also reappeared in their original force in the vicinity of Mrs. Dunn's house, threatening Johnson's brigade, on my right. Aided by General Hill, I placed two pieces of artillery on the left of Craig House to open on the enemy in the vicinity of Mrs. Dunn's, and four pieces behind the railroad, or west of it, near the water-tank, to play upon the enemy's infantry east of Ashton Creek. Subsequently one of these latter pieces was removed to a piece of high ground further north, on the south side of the railroad, affording a more direct fire on the enemy. Two other guns which came to the junction were manned with uninstructed convalescents and men on furlough picked up in Petersburg, who deserted their pieces before they fired a shot. These I caused to be manned by men from the Tennessee brigade and placed [277] on the hill on the turnpike west of the railroad. The forces in front of Johnson's brigade contented themselves with threatening our right and firing artillery at the batteries and infantry in vicinity of Craig's house. Those on the east of Ashton Creek opened about 2 P. M. with artillery and infantry fire, to which we replied very successfully, so that they for a time seemed about to withdraw, and the firing ceased.

General Hagood was instructed to cover the turnpike with his left regiment. After some delay this was accomplished by the foresight and interposition of General Hill, just in time to meet the second line of the enemy, which had been moved under cover of the woods by the right flank, and now appeared bearing down on and flanking Hagood's left. General Hagood now changed the front of his left regiment so as to meet the enemy on his left. In this movement this regiment was exposed to a heavy cross fire. At this juncture occurred the sharpest and most critical part of the conflict.

The two pieces of artillery stationed in the pike, on the west of the railroad, was, at call of General Hagood, sent to the left; and the second regiment from the left was drawn out to support the left regiment, the regiment on the right closing in to fill the interval. General Hagood's left now advanced, drove the enemy back with heavy loss, and regained the railroad to the left of his former position. The enemy again advanced on Hagood's front, his brigade being under cover of the railroad, and were driven back with heavy loss. During both conflicts the artillery on the left of Craig's House played handsomely upon the enemy's line which had advanced on the east side of Ashton Creek and attacked Hagood's front. The pieces nearest Craig's House had several horses killed and one of the carriages damaged. The artillery sent to the left was badly served, and gave but little assistance. Lieutenant-Colonel Estleman brought up in the evening a battery of the Washington artillery, which was sent to the support of Hagood's brigade, but it was then too late to afford any assistance. The infantry ceased firing, save a few sharp-shooters, about 4 o'clock P. M. The artillery continued fire until about 6 o'clock, when the enemy retired from the field. The enemy's loss is supposed to be about 1,000 men. Prisoners have estimated it much higher. The Provost Marshal of Johnson's brigade reports twenty-one prisoners captured. I distinguished four brigades of Federals in the field. Their forces are reported to have consisted of five brigades, commanded by Brigadier-General W. T. H. Brooks. Our aggregate [278] was 2,668, of which 1,500 were of Hagood's brigade and 1,168 of Johnson's brigade.

The conflict was maintained on our side entirely by Hagood's brigade and the artillery. My right flank—Johnson's brigade,—after making the demonstration as stated on the enemy's left, had only to watch the threatening columns of some two brigades in its front. Seven men of that brigade were wounded, one mortally, while Hagood's brigade lost 177, viz: 22 killed, 142 wounded, and 13 missing. Brigadier-General Hagood handled his men with marked ability, coolness, courage and watchful care. His report, herewith enclosed, will furnish more particular details in regard to the meritorious services of officers and men. The steady valor of his command was worthy of its State and the great cause for which it is fighting.

After dark another regiment and a battalion of Hagood's brigade arrived, giving us an aggregate of about 3,500. It was evident that the enemy's force was much superior to our own, and no doubt was entertained in regard to their receiving new accessions.

During the evening I received the following communication:

headquarters, Department North Carolina, Petersburg, Va., May 7th, 1864, 5 o'clock P. M.
General.—If you cannot hold your present position you had better come back to Swift Creek.

The enemy are advancing on this side of the river; have sent you every man that has arrived. For safety I must stop the next detachment here. Even should they come on, which is problematical.

Very respectfully, [Signed]

G. G. Pickett, Major-General. General B. Johnson, Commanding Port Walthall Junction.

headquarters Department North Carolina, Petersburg, May 7th, 7 P. M.
General.—If you cannot hold your present position, you must fall back to the line of the Swift Creek. Send one regiment to reinforce Clingman at once. We are compelled to protect our right flank. Make your dispositions at once. I will continue to send on whatever troops which may arrive, although I cannot learn at what time the next detachment may come on. [279]

Please make a report to me. Let me know exactly what you are doing. I am, General,

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


G. G. Pickett, Major General. Brigadier-General Bushrod Johnson, Commanding, &c.

headquarters Department North Carolina, Petersburg, Va., Saturday, 1864.
General.—I have sent you two dispatches this evening, and have received no reply. I have received no re-enforcements except what you have now with you. You will fall back, therefore, to Swift Creek, bringing off your artillery which has been disabled first. Place one regiment and a battery in position on the crossing of the road from Chesterfield Courthouse to this point. Leave a line of pickets to withdraw at daylight. Intrenching tools will be sent you at Swift Creek.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, [Signed]

G. G. Pickett, Major-General.

This was received by me about 10 P. M. on the 7th of May, 1864.

Between to and 11 P. M. the artillery was put in motion. At 12 P. M. the infantry moved, and by 3 A. M. on the morning of the 8th of May our forces had crossed to the south bank of Swift Creek. During the day and night of the 8th I sent out several parties to the junction to collect property, arms and accoutrements. The field of battle was occupied by our troops until about 10 A. M. on Monday, the 9th inst., when the enemy advanced upon our position at Swift Creek. In this advance they passed to the north of the junction. From reports of cavalry and from the observations of Major-General Hill, who returned from the junction about 10 A. M., the enemy must have come into the turnpike, south of Timsberry (?) Creek. From subsequent information it appears that a portion of their forces went as far north as Chester. During the 8th and the morning of the 9th our troops were engaged in constructing a good line of rifle pits with batteries under the supervision of Col. Harris. Hagood's brigade was posted on the left, covering the turnpike bridge, and extending well out on either side. A detachment from this brigade and a section of artillery occupied Brander's bridge on the extreme left. McKathen's Fifty-first North Carolina regiment covered the railroad bridge, and Tilman's brigade was posted on the right, covering Level Ford and [280] adjacent grounds. Some eighteen pieces of artillery, consisting of Hankin's, Payne's, Owen's and Martin's batteries, were distributed along our lines mainly at the fords and bridges.

From the Forty-fourth Tennessee regiment, Johnson's brigade, twenty-two men and three sergeants, under Lieutenant F. M. Kelso, were detached to man the heavy artillery in Fort Clifton, where Captain S. J. Martin commanded.

At 9 o'clock A. M. on the 9th of May, a small boat appeared in the Appomattox below Fort Clifton, which was fired on and driven off. At about 11 A. M. five gun boats advanced and engaged the battery at Fort Clifton. The firing was continued from the first until after 2 o'clock, P. M., when four gun boats retired and the fifth was found to be crippled. A party was organized to board the boat, but the enemy set fire to it, abandoned and burned it.

For their services and gallant conduct at Fort Clifton, in the fight with the gun boats on the 9th of May, the officers and men have received the special commendation of the General commanding the department.

By 12th May the enemy were in strong force on the north side of Swift Creek, and slight skirmishing was commenced with artillery and infantry. About 11 A. M. I received a note from Major-General Pickett informing me that reinforcements were on their way from Weldon, and advising me not to bring on a general engagement if possible to avoid it. At 2 P. M. I received the following dispatch from Major-General Pickett:

headquarters Petersburg, May 9th, 1864, 1 P. M.
General,—The Major-General commanding directs that you move forward at once and see what the enemy are doing. Further instructions will be sent in course of half an hour. I inclose a copy of dispatch just received from General Bragg.

I am, General, yours, &c.,


C. Pickett, A. A. G. To Brigadier-General B. R. Johnson, Commanding, &c.

I immediately ordered General Hagood to move forward by the turnpike and take the eminence beyond the creek, believing from the dispatch of General Bragg that it was my duty to press upon the enemy with nearly my whole force. I now dispatched to Major-General Pickett that I had received the order to advance, and had given the order to commence the movements. The skirmishers of [281] Hagood's brigade had not engaged the enemy when I received the following communication:

headquarters Petersburg, May 9th, 1864.
General,—The Major General commanding directs me to say to you that you had better hold the line of Swift Creek till reinforcements arrive, and we can then make the advance.

Try and find out whether the present demonstration is a feint or a real movement. I am, General, with much respect,

Your obedient servant, [Signed]

C. Pickett, A. A. G. To Brigadier-General B. R. Johnson, Commanding, & c.

My dispatch announcing to General Pickett that I had given orders to commence the movement, was returned with the following endorsement:

headquarters Petersburg, May 9th, 1864.
General.—Since the order was given for you to advance, General Pickett has sent another countermanding it, and telling you to hold the line of Swift Creek if the enemy, as reported, were advancing in force on you.


C. Pickett, A. A. G. General Johnson, Commandiniz, &c.

As a consequence of these communications, the movement ordered became a reconnoissance with a part of Hagood's brigade. The enemy were found in heavy force in vicinity of the turnpike, on the north side of Swift Creek. After a very sharp skirmish General Hagood withdrew his forces from the north side of the creek, having lost, in a brief period, nine officers and 128 men, killed, wounded and missing. It was evident that the whole of the enemy's forces were in our front. Communications were received during the night from Major-General Ransom and Brigadier-General Barton, at Drewry's Bluff, inquiring for the enemy, and stating that there had been but little demonstration in their front during the day. The enemy's sharp shooters were now pressed forward, especially in the vicinity of the railroad bridge. They reached a fence in the open field, within some five or six hundred yards of the Dunlop House, and very much annoyed our main line. With the first design of making a determined attack upon [282] the enemy, the Fifty-first South Carolina regiment had been replaced at this point by a part of the Sixty-third Tennessee regiment. Captain J. W. Robertson, of the latter regiment, was now directed to take two companies and drive the enemy's skirmishers back. This was handsomely done by a charge. Somewhat later, in the darkness of the night the enemy's reserve—about a regiment—made a demonstration, fired a volley on our skirmishers, raised a shout and made an effort to charge them, but Captain Robertson's command held its position until a late hour at night, when it was relieved by two companies of the Fifty-First North Carolina regiment. A heavy line of skirmishers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Akin, of the Sixty-third Tennessee, held Level Ford during the night of the 9th. The enemy, however, attempted to cross some men above the ford, and brought up a piece of artillery to the stream, but they were promptly driven back by a detachment under Capt. Millord, of the Sixty-third Tennessee regiment.

In the skirmishing at Swift Creek, Johnson's brigade had five men wounded, one mortally, making the total number of casualties at that point 142. The loss of the enemy was, perhaps about an equal number.

During the morning of the 10th, parts of Wise's, Ransom's and Hoke's brigades arrived. About half-past 1 P. M. the prevailing quietude along the line induced me to order the artillery near the railroad bridge to open. It drew no response from the enemy, who had previously made very free use of a battery of artillery just opposite. I then ordered forward our skirmishers, and found the enemy had withdrawn without any manifest case.

Major-General Hoke arrived this evening and assumed command on the morning of the 11th of May.

I forward herewith Col. R. F. Graham's report of the affair at Port Walthall junction on the evening of the 6th of May; also Brigadier-General Hagood's report of the actions and casualties at Port Walthall junction on the 7th and at Swift Creek on the 9th of May, 1864. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


B. R. Johnson, Major-General.

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