James P Snell.

History of Sussex and Warren counties, New Jersey : online

. (page 24 of 190)
Online LibraryJames P SnellHistory of Sussex and Warren counties, New Jersey : → online text (page 24 of 190)
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caped with his entire command. This affair was
facetiously called in the army " The Buckland Races,"
but it was one of the most successful retreats ever
made from a perilous environment.

Not long after this brilliant exploit the Army of
the Potomac passed to the south of the Rappahan-
nock, and after many skirmishes along the line of
the Rapidan the Third Division settled down into
winter camp at Stephensburg, from whence the ex-
pedition started which recovered the body of Capt.

On Sunday, the 28th of February, 1864, four thou-
sand of the best cavalry of the corps reported to Kil-
patrick for the great Richmond raid. A selected
party of five hundred — really about five hundred and
fifty — under Col. Ulric Dahlgren and Lieut.-Col. Ed-
win F. Cooke, moved upon an independent line, and
with the special purpose of reaching the south side of
the James River; and, while Kilpatrick's four thou-
sand thundered at the front of Richmond, this com-
mand at daylight of Tuesday, the 1st of March,
was to make a sudden dash through Manchester into
the rebel capital and release the thousands of our
brave soldiers who were languishing in Libby Prison
and on Belle Isle. The plan had been considered by



President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, was ap-
proved by them, and the necessary authority issued
direct from the War Department, placing the troops
under Kilpatrick'a orders fur the purposes of the raid.
Gen. Custer had been sent to the extreme

flank of the enemy to make a demonstration towards
Madison Court-house to draw the enemy's cavalry in
thai direction.

It was dark when, on that Sunday night, a party of
scouts swam tin' Kapidan. and, coininir down upon

ii,. rebel outpost, captured tin- picket witl t firing

a shot and cleared tin- ford, by which Dahlgren's
command silently crossed to the hostile side and

moved to Spottsylvania Court-house. Karly Monday

morning, the 29th of February, the expedition i rep

around the right of Lee's army, and at noon was at

Frederick Hall in full siflht ol the camp c I Lei re-
serve artillery, near which n general court-martial was
in session at a farmhouse, which was aurrounded by

our men and the officers, witnesses, and attendants
taken prisoners and carried along with the column.

The South Anna was crossed al dusk, and the ex-
pedition reached G -bland Court-house soon alter

midnight. In the rain and darkness many of the

court-martial prisoners escaped. Dahlgren halted at

(ioochlnnd and allowed the tired men to cook coffee

and rest for a couple of hours, when the march wa-
re- id, Dahlgren's guide a negro sent to him

from Ccn. Meade's headquarters on Sunday uight —
had volunteered i" lead him ton ferry on the James
River, ami through his assurances Dahlgren had cal-
culated to he al the crossing by or before midnight,

instead of which he was no farther at that time than
Goochland Court-house. The negro, however, de-
clared he would lead liu:i to a f: rrv within live

mile-. l'[»ni his assurances the march was again re-
sit 1. and continued lor five hours without finding a

crossing to the river. Dahlgren's suspicions of the
Negro's treachery had been growing very strong, and

he threatened to hang him. The negro pleaded pit-

eou-l . for another hour, promising to find a crossing
by that time. Dahlgren gave the respite, hut the
negro Tailed to find a crossing. Moreover, Dahlgren's
scout- reported nothing hut a Bcow-ferry, ami thai
many miles from when- Dahlgren had supposed him-
self to be. Dahlgren, i vinced that the negro had

designedly misled him, sternly gave orders to hang

bim to a tree by the roadside. Protesting his i

cence to the last, the poor negro was strung up to a
tree by a halter from one of the horses, and was left

dangling in the air. to tie- horr ir of the passing col-
umn. The Harris Light Cavalry detachment, which

had been moving down the canal, destroying mill-,

locks, and bridges, came into the road near by while
his bod] wa- yel warm and cut him down at onco,

but life was extinct The mystery of hi- conduct lias

never been cleared away, hut from the hour of his

execution the men declared " that no good would
Bi me of it."

Burning with hi- purpose to win imperishable fame
as the deliverer of the Union prisoners, Dahlgren
determined to attack Richmond at dark that night

from the north side if the .lames River. A captured

picket of two troopers belonging to a city battalion

ha. I disclosed the fact that only city militia, made up

Chiefly of clerks in the government department-,
guarded that approach to the rebel capital. The

colon,! therefore hoped that by throwing these troops

into a panic he might penetrate the city, no matter
at what hazard to his own command or to himself.
He therefore moved onward until within six miles
of the city, when he encountered a regiment of in-
fantry, which he literally rode over, leaving the won-
der-stricken young city militiamen behind him ; they
obediently threw down their arm- at the command of
tie- Yankee troopers, ami started for the real
out of the way. In three miles Dahlgren's men
charged ami captured perhaps more than three times
their own number of these city troops, who threw
down their arms and marched back in charge of a
mere handful of guards. Indeed, those captured
toward- i he last were left unguarded.

Within three miles of the city the raider- W( re met
by a deadly lire which covered their entire trout ami
extended far beyond their Hanks, revealing a heavy

line far too strong ior so -mall a force to contend with.
Then Dahlgren, who had been previously urged by
Lieut.-Col. Cooke to abandon the enterprise, con-
sented to withdraw. In doing so his command be-
came divided, and he marched off in the da
with only a portion of his column. Turning into a
by-road, he moved towards Hungary Station, which

was t'> have been Kilpatrick'a halting-place before

attacking Richmond from the east. Col. Cooke first

discovered the absence of a part ol' the command,
and desired to go back after it: but Dahlgren objected.

ami pushed on to Hungary, thinking, no doubt, the
broken column would (dose up. Unfortunately, the

rear portion of the column passed the by-road in the

darkness without turning into it, and thus lost Dahl-
gren's trail. At Hungary Station, finding no trai e of
Kilpatrick. Dahlgren destroyed his two ambulances

and moved on to the I'amunkey. which he cr -1

without waiting for news of his broken column.

When near King and Queen Court-house the fol-
lowing night, Wednesday, the 2d of March, he wa-

surrounded by the rapidly-augmenting hand- of cav-
alry which hail harassed him all day. Fighting to

the la-t. he was killed at the head ol' hi- men, nearly
all of whom fell into the hands ol' the enemy. Cooke

escaped on foot in the darkness, bin wa- hunted
down by blood-hounds and captured the following Fri-
day, lie was taken to Richmond, refused the priv-
ilege- of a prisoner of war, oast into a dark cell with

negro prisoners, poorly fed. ami deprived of the ne-
cessaries of lite. Hi- health gave way under his
cruel treatment, but his glorious spirit enabled him
bravely to endure his unnatural privations.



The other part of this column was more fortunate.
Failing to find Dahlgren, Capt. John F. B. Mitchell,
of the Harris Light Cavalry, assumed command and
moved back on the main road until, running into a
line of rebel troops, who opened a strong fire, they
were forced to countermarch. Marching back again
towards Richmond, the road being full of the strag-
gling militia that had surrendered to them in the
previous action, the party found the broad road run-
ning to Hungary Station. Pursuing this road for
some miles, Mitchell discovered that a body of rebel
cavalry was following his detachment. He therefore
turned into a lane, marched across a field, and turned
into a swamp. The pursuers passed on, and not far
off turned into bivouac, built fires, and settled down
for the night. A volunteer scout named Campbell
(of the Harris Light) ventured to penetrate the
strange camp, and in due time returned and reported
that the strangers were the Fourth Virginia Cavalry,
of Wade Hampton's division. Meantime, it was
learned there were no traces of the Union cavalry
about Hungary.

A negro was procured, who carefully led Mitchell's
column around the rebel camp and through lanes and
by-paths around to the south of Hungary Station, at
which it was reported Wade Hampton's cavalry were
arriving in strong force. Daylight found the party
upon the Brooke Pike, going towards Richmond, but
another body of the enemy soon opened fire in the
face of the wanderers and compelled them to turn
about. Ladies appeared on the portico of a large
white mansion and besought the party not to fight
before their eyes. They were in a high state of ex-
citement, and told the Yankee invaders that Wade
Hampton's cavalry were upon that road and would
surely confront them in a few moments. They further
gave them the information that Kilpatrick had at-
tacked Richmond the previous night (Tuesday), but
had been beaten and driven off down the James
River. This made the party doubly anxious to find a
line of escape southward, and by a pure piece of good
luck, after passing a narrow lane, Lieut. Mattison
rode back to a little house near by and learned that it
led to a ford on the Chickahominy. Mitchell quickly
turned the head of his column back to the lane,
which, sure enough, led to an obscure ford, across
which the weary party passed to the Peninsula, ever
famous as the scene of McClellan's movements upon

Coming upon a party of laborers clearing away the
smoking debris of a burnt train of cars, Mitchell
learned that Kilpatrick had destroyed the train the
previous day, marching towards Richmond, that he
had thrown everybody into a panic, had nearly en-
tered the city, but had finally been repulsed by
Pickett's division, which had arrived from North
Carolina in the evening, and had been rushed to the
fortifications barely in time to confront him. Kil-
patrick, they stated, had retreated towards the James.

Mitchell and his officers decided to strike for Wil-
liamsburg. Avoiding several bodies of the enemy,
which opened fire on the fugitives, but which were
not large enough to compel them to fight, they finally
reached the broad highway leading from Williams-
burg to Richmond. A rebel outpost held the cross-
roads, but a smart little attack cleared the way-, when
the broad trail of a large cavalry column coming
from towards the James River and turning into the
Williamsburg road was discovered. A lady soon told
Capt. Mitchell that Kilpatrick had passed down in
the forenoon on his retreat, and that the Confederate
soldiers had followed him and had brought back a
large number of his men prisoners, who had but just
gone up to Richmond.

Waiting for no further information, Mitchell and
his men forced their worn-out horses to a faster walk
and hurried on. Burning fences on each side were
taken to be Kilpatrick's signals to Dahlgren to fol-
low. Fearing a pursuing column, every effort was
made to close up the long distance yet intervening
between Mitchell and Kilpatrick. Well on in the
afternoon, when all inquiries of the citizens were an-
swered with the cheering news that the Yankee cav-
alry had passed only a very short time ago, Mitchell's
column suddenly encountered a strong fire from a
piece of woods lying across the road. Recoiling from
this unexpected attack from an enemy whose pres-
ence the wily citizens had concealed, the poor tired
fellows summoned their energies for a last grand
effort. Fortunately, the road towards the enemy was
descending, so that as the jaded horses proceeded
under the spurs and the wild shouts of men who were
determined to go through or die in the attempt their
speed increased. Each man grasped his Colt's re-
volver as he neared the woods, and with deadly pur-
pose the command dashed against the foe so furiously
that they broke and fled through the woods in all di-
rections, leaving the road to the Yankees.

The opposing force proved to be Bradley T. John-
son's Legion, which had been harassing Kilpatrick's
rear. Recovering from their panic, they rallied and
fell upon the rear of the charging column as it thun-
dered on through the timber, but the Yankees emp-
tied their revolvers into their ranks and held them
off. Confederate papers claimed that Johnson's Le-
gion inflicted a loss of twenty-one upon the charging
party. Their own estimate was about fifteen, and
those mostly from falling horses too weak to keep up
the burst of speed.

An hour later the party reached Kilpatrick's divi-
sion, having marched about two hundred and twenty-
live miles since the preceding Sunday night, — scarcely
three days. A count showed that two hundred and
thirty-six men were brought in from the Dahlgren
column, which left the Army of the Potomac with
about five hundred and fifty men.

Kilpatrick, with the main column, reached the
front of Richmond on Tuesday morning. Waiting in



vain to hear Dahlgreo in the city, he opened fire with
hi- I kiii cry, which threw BheU into the city limits and
cn-iiti'il the wildest consternation among the people.
Troops were coming t" the rescue of the rebel capi-
tal, and alter an ineffectual attack in the evening
Kilpatrick drew off across the Chickahominy, but

delayed his retreat a- lone; a- pos-ildc in tic lio] I

saving Dahlgren's column, i pon the arrival of Mit-
chell's detach menl the fate of the others became of
still mure concern t" the commanding general, who
encamped his division near the While House and re-
mained there from Wednesday afternoon until Thurs-
day morning, trying to get news of the missing party.
Nothing definite could he learned, however, save thai

such a parly had crossed the I'ainlinkey farther up

the river, and Kilpatrick was obliged to result


On Thursday a relieving brigade of colored troops

ii Butler's department reached Kilpatrick, and

were greeted by the cavalrymen with hearty cheers.
The i tbined Union force proceeded down the Penin-
sula, and arrived at Yorktown via Williamsburg.
Meantime, a refugee sergeant from Dahlgren'a party
found his way t<> Kilpatrick with the news of the col-
onel's death and the dispersion of his men.

Straightway upon reaching iforktown the general

two thousand of his strongest horses, crossed

the York River, and moved up into Kin"; ami Quei n

County, where he learned the fate of the Dahlgren

party, and for the cruelties practiced towards them by

the hard-hearti I captoi Kilpatrick laid waste the
country which had been the scene of their torture.

Lieut. -Col. Cooke remained a pris :r at Richmond

for many months, when he was transferred to North
Carolina. Making hi* escape, he was in the moun-
tains fed and concealed bj negroes for some two weeks,
I'M was r i aptured by tin-aid of bloodhounds, and was
then b ni in i lharleston, S. < '., to be placed under the
fire of Gilmore's batteries, along with many Union
officers, t ' deter the Federal general from -h.il

: itv. I ': i>ed In mi captivity alter a year ol : nil: r-

Hgbrai ly endured, he arrived iv. NewJers just in

ii to witness the death of his young-wife, for whom

he had so hopefully borne up under <<■ .

which his proud -pirii had been subjected. Broken

in health, he ace panied Gen. Kilpatrick to Chili,

alter the war, a- SCI I ii ion, and died there

from disease contracted in Libby Prison. II- was
hrevetied brigadier-general before leaving the United


I i ih return of the expedition in the Army of

the Potomac, Qen. Kilpatrick was transferred to Gen.

Sherman's army in the Southwest, where he earned

increased distinction as a cavalry-leader. On the
" March to the Sea" he was of the greatest assistance

I, Sherman, and won the lasting regard of that

officer for his ability and untiring energy.
Gen. .lame- ll. Wilson succeeded Kilpatrick in the
i id ■■!' the Third < lavaln Dh ision. i ten. Henry

E. Davies was transferred to a brigade in i •
(Second) division. Gen. Custer and the Michigan
brigade went to the First Division, exchanging places
with Chapman's brigade, which became the Second
Brigade of the Third Division. Col. John B. Mcin-
tosh, a Jereeyman, became the commander of the
First Brigade.

The Third Division participated in the hattles of

the Wilderm <s and Spottsylvania, and then went on

raid of Geu. Sheridan to break the Confeder-

i icetions with Richmond. It was in resisting

this expedition that the gallant < len. J. E. It. Stuart,

chief of the rebel cavalry, was killed. It is honorable

to him to say that in Sheridan's cavalry corps be had

many admirers for his ability, courage, and personal

kindness to captured prisoners. Had bis idea- of the

treatment of prisoners of war prevailed among the

teruls, less bitterness would have been left by

the war.

In (Irani'- l 1 ai-ut- from Spottsylvania

to the Peninsula the Third Cavalry Division per-
formed arduous and con-taut duty. After crossing
the Pamunkey River the division took the right of the
army, aud drovi tin pi incipal p trl of thi n b I cav-
alry corps back to I lanover i lourt-house alter a stub-
istance. When Wilson had well cleared his
front. Mcintosh, with three regiments and a battery,
proceeded to Ashland Station, where his cot
was surround* I iel c ivalry force that

had opposed Wilson at Hanover. This dauntless

Jersey man formed his three regiments around the
battery, and fought the rebels all the afternoon with-
out assistance, drawing off after dark, without moles-
by the river-road, upon which < len. Wilson had
sent a regiment to open a line of retreat. The Wilson
raid was perhaps the most remarkable service which
marked the history of the Harris Light < 'a vain in the
summer of 1864. About the 20th of June, Gi a. Wilson
started out via Ream's station, having with him the
Third Division and a smaller division belonging to

Butler's Army of the .lames, command. .1 by i len. A.

V. Kautz. Desultory fighting commenced, s i after

the destruction of Ream's Station, between the Harris
i lavalry, forming the rear-guard of the expedi-
tion, and Gen. W. II. I. Lee's cavalry. While the
rear-guard held the pursuing force in check, the main
command was busily engaged in tearing up and de-
stroying the railroad. Finally, Wilson decided to
bring on an action with the rebel cavalry, and while
the Third Division i teriocked with the enemy in a
hard ami stubborn battle Gen. Kaut* moved around
-vide Junction and destroyed the immense

I army BUpplies collected there for Lee's army.

r with the railroad work- and property of in-
calculable value to the Confederacy.
When the work of destruction was complete and

Kant/ had moved away southward. Wil-on drew out

ision from the fight and proceeded down
the Dam ille Railroad, tearing up the track and burn-



ing bridges in the most thorough manner. When he
reached the Staunton River it was estimated that not
less than fifty miles of railroad had been torn up, the
iron heated and twisted b} r the fires from the ties
gathered in piles at short intervals.

The expedition met with its first reverse at the
Roanoke bridge across the Staunton River. All
efforts to dislodge the enemy failed, and, with W. H.
F. Lee's division still harassing his rear, Wilson's po-
sition became critical. He therefore turned down the
river and commenced his retrograde movement in the
dark. Unforeseen difficulties so delayed the column
that it had only reached Lawrenceville at daylight,
from whence it took the Petersburg plank road, and
moved more rapidly throughout that and the follow-
ing day. Meanwhile, Wade Hampton's division had
joined the pursuit, and was reported to be marching
in parallel column but a mile or two to the right of
the Third Division. W. H. F. Lee's division renewed
its attacks with increased energy, and fully occupied
Kautz' division, compelling the column to stretch
out along the road for ten miles or more.

Gen. Wilson sent off scouts at various times to make
their way to Gen. Grant and inform him of his home-
ward march and its environments. In the afternoon
of the second day's retreat the advance-guard of Mc-
intosh's brigade reached Stony Creek, on the Weldon
Railroad, and was met by a determined musketry-fire.
One after another of the regiments was dismounted
ami sent into the fight, but the enemy received con-
stant reinforcements by train from Petersburg (the
track having been repaired at Ream's Station), and
was too strong for all the troops Wilson could bring
into action. By night the whole of the Third Divi-
sion was under fire, and Kautz was fighting the pur-
suing cavalry, endeavoring to hold it back. All night
a lively rattle of musketry was kept up, and at dawn
of day Wilson attempted to draw out towards Beam's
Station, the Nottoway River southward being guarded
by the rebel cavalry. At the moment the rebel infan-
try discovered Wilson's desperate effort to move by
his left flank they sprang upon Chapman's brigade
with a wild yell, and succeeded in cutting them off
from their horses. But the rebels were not prepared
for the awful burst of courage with which the Second
Brigade turned upon them and, regardless of death,
cut their way back to their beloved horses and retook

It was well on in the forenoon before Wilson could
extricate his command and close up on Ream's Sta-
tion. Everything was placed on the line of battle.
Even the ambulance- and ammunition-wagons were
but poorly protected in a hollow near the fighting
troops. The ambulances were already full of wounded,
and large numbers had been left behind, with sur-
geons and medicines. After a fruitless encounter, in
which the enemy was found to be too strongly posted
to admit of a hope of breaking through, Wilson, des-
pairing, ordered his wagons destroyed and the troops

divested of everything that would impede a hasty
movement. The enemy discovered his purpose at
once, and as the first flame arose from his burning
wagons they dashed into his ranks from all sides, both
cavalry and infantry. The retreat, which had already
begun, at once became a wild rout. In the confusion
Kautz charged across the railroad and escaped with a
part of his command to the Army of the Potomac,
but the masses rushed southward towards the ground
of the previous night's battle. Providentially, the
main timbers of the Nottoway bridge had not been
destroyed, and a few planks made a passage suffi-
cient for a single file of horsemen to cross. Thou-
sands, however, swam the river, including the swarms
of negro slaves that had persisted in joining the col-
umn from every plantation by which the expedition
had passed. These poor refugees received the princi-
pal attention of the rebel cavalry, which cut them
down mercilessly with their sabres when nobler and
manlier fighting against armed men was within a few
yards of them !

All of Wilson's artillery — twelve pieces — had to be
abandoned, and the last piece was left in the road
near the river. This the rebels at once turned upon
the bridge, and speedily cleared it of its refugees.
Across the river the pursuit slackened somewhat, but
the retreat was kept up all night and all the next day,
until, far down the Blackwater, the refugees found
safety, and then moved more orderly towards the
James, eventually reaching the Army of the Potomac
with the loss of twelve hundred men and all their
artillery, ambulances, and wagon-train.

Resting and recuperating for some weeks, the Third
Division, following the First, was loaded on transports
at City Point and transferred to Washington, where
it was thoroughly refitted, and then marched to Win-
chester, arriving at that city just as Gen. Sheridan
was retreating from it back towards Harper's Ferry.
Gen. Wilson at once advanced to the relief of Sheri-
dan's rear-guard, the First New Jersey Brigade, and
became engaged in a considerable fight, of which the
Third New Jersey Cavalry bore the brunt, and lost

Another fight occurred at Summit Point the 21st
of August, and still another the day following, at
Charlestown, all in protecting the retreating army
while falling back to Harper's Ferry.; and in all of
these the Harris Light Cavalry behaved nobly,

Online LibraryJames P SnellHistory of Sussex and Warren counties, New Jersey : → online text (page 24 of 190)