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Memoirs of Three Civil War Generals, Complete by U. S. Grant, W. T. Sherman, P. H. Sheridan

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service, at times temporarily commanding the Cavalry Corps. He was
the only division commander I had whose experience had been almost
exclusively derived from the cavalry arm.

Wilson graduated in 1860 in the Topographical Engineers, and was
first assigned to duty in Oregon, where he remained till July, 1861.
In the fall of that year his active service in the war began, and he
rose from one position to another, in the East and West, till, while
on General Grant's staff, he was made a brigadier-general in the fall
of 1863 in reward for services performed during the Vicksburg
campaign and for engineer duty at Chattanooga preceding the battle of
Missionary Ridge. At my request he was selected to command the Third
Division. General Grant thought highly of him, and, expecting much
from his active mental and physical ability, readily assented to
assign him in place of General Kilpatrick. The only other general
officers in the corps were Brigadier-General Wesley Merritt,
Brigadier-General George A. Custer, and Brigadier-General Henry E.
Davies, each commanding a brigade.

In a few days after my arrival at Brandy Station I reviewed my new
command, which consisted of about twelve thousand officers and men,
with the same number of horses in passable trim. Many of the general
officers of the army were present at the review, among them Generals
Meade, Hancock, and Sedgwick. Sedgwick being an old dragoon, came to
renew his former associations with mounted troops, and to encourage
me, as he jestingly said, because of the traditional prejudices the
cavalrymen were supposed to hold against being commanded by an
infantry officer. The corps presented a fine appearance at the
review, and so far as the health and equipment of the men were
concerned the showing was good and satisfactory; but the horses were
thin and very much worn down by excessive and, it seemed to me,
unnecessary picket duty, for the cavalry picket-line almost
completely encircled the infantry and artillery camps of the army,
covering a distance, on a continuous line, of nearly sixty miles,
with hardly a mounted Confederate confronting it at any point. From
the very beginning of the war the enemy had shown more wisdom
respecting his cavalry than we. Instead of wasting its strength by a
policy of disintegration he, at an early day, had organized his
mounted force into compact masses, and plainly made it a favorite;
and, as usual, he was now husbanding the strength of his horses by
keeping them to the rear, so that in the spring he could bring them
out in good condition for the impending campaign.

Before and at the review I took in this situation, and determined to
remedy it if possible; so in due time I sought an interview with
General Meade and informed him that, as the effectiveness of my
command rested mainly on the strength of its horses, I thought the
duty it was then performing was both burdensome and wasteful. I also
gave him my idea as to what the cavalry should do, the main purport
of which was that it ought to be kept concentrated to fight the
enemy's cavalry. Heretofore, the commander of the Cavalry Corps had
been, virtually, but an adjunct at army headquarters--a sort of chief
of cavalry--and my proposition seemed to stagger General Meade not a
little. I knew that it would be difficult to overcome the recognized
custom of using the cavalry for the protection of trains and the
establishment of cordons around the infantry corps, and so far
subordinating its operations to the movements of the main army that
in name only was it a corps at all, but still I thought it my duty to

At first General Meade would hardly listen to my proposition, for he
was filled with the prejudices that, from the beginning of the war,
had pervaded the army regarding the importance and usefulness of
cavalry, General Scott then predicting that the contest would be
settled by artillery, and thereafter refusing the services of
regiment after regiment of mounted troops. General Meade deemed
cavalry fit for little more than guard and picket duty, and wanted to
know what would protect the transportation trains and artillery
reserve, cover the front of moving infantry columns, and secure his
flanks from intrusion, if my policy were pursued. I told him that if
he would let me use the cavalry as I contemplated, he need have
little solicitude in these respects, for, with a mass of ten thousand
mounted men, it was my belief that I could make it so lively for the
enemy's cavalry that, so far as attacks from it were concerned, the
flanks and rear of the Army of the Potomac would require little or no
defense, and claimed, further, that moving columns of infantry should
take care of their own fronts. I also told him that it was my object
to defeat the enemy's cavalry in a general combat, if possible, and
by such a result establish a feeling of confidence in my own troops
that would enable us after awhile to march where we pleased, for the
purpose of breaking General Lee's communications and destroying the
resources from which his army was supplied.

The idea as here outlined was contrary to Meade's convictions, for
though at different times since he commanded the Army of the Potomac
considerable bodies of the cavalry had been massed for some special
occasion, yet he had never agreed to the plan as a permanency, and
could not be bent to it now. He gave little encouragement,
therefore, to what I proposed, yet the conversation was immediately
beneficial in one way, for when I laid before him the true condition
of the cavalry, he promptly relieved it from much of the arduous and
harassing picket service it was performing, thus giving me about two
weeks in which to nurse the horses before the campaign opened.

The interview also disclosed the fact that the cavalry commander
should be, according to General Meade's views, at his headquarters
practically as one of his staff, through whom he would give detailed
directions as, in his judgment, occasion required. Meade's ideas and
mine being so widely divergent, disagreements arose between us later
during the battles of the Wilderness, which lack of concord ended in
some concessions on his part after the movement toward Spottsylvania
Court House began, and although I doubt that his convictions were
ever wholly changed, yet from that date on, in the organization of
the Army of the Potomac, the cavalry corps became more of a compact
body, with the same privileges and responsibilities that attached to
the other corps--conditions that never actually existed before.

On the 4th of May the Army of the Potomac moved against Lee, who was
occupying a defensive position on the south bank of the Rapidan.
After detailing the various detachments which I was obliged to supply
for escorts and other mounted duty, I crossed the river with an
effective force of about 10,000 troopers. In the interval succeeding
my assignment to the command of the cavalry, I had taken the pains to
study carefully the topography of the country in eastern Virginia,
and felt convinced that, under the policy Meade intended I should
follow, there would be little opportunity for mounted troops to
acquit themselves well in a region so thickly wooded, and traversed
by so many almost parallel streams; but conscious that he would be
compelled sooner or later either to change his mind or partially give
way to the pressure of events, I entered on the campaign with the
loyal determination to aid zealously in all its plans.

General Lee's army was located in its winter quarters behind
intrenchments that lay along the Rapidan for a distance of about
twenty miles; extending from Barnett's to Morton's ford. The fords
below Morton's were watched by a few small detachments of Confederate
cavalry, the main body of which, however, was encamped below
Hamilton's crossing, where it could draw supplies from the rich
country along the Rappahannock. Only a few brigades of Lee's
infantry guarded the works along the river, the bulk of it being so
situated that it could be thrown to either flank toward which the
Union troops approached.

General Grant adopted the plan of moving by his left flank, with the
purpose of compelling Lee to come out from behind his intrenchments
along Mine Run and fight on equal terms. Grant knew well the
character of country through which he would have to pass, but he was
confident that the difficulties of operation in the thickly wooded
region of the Wilderness would be counterbalanced by the facility
with which his position would enable him to secure a new base; and by
the fact that as he would thus cover Washington, there would be
little or no necessity for the authorities there to detach from his
force at some inopportune moment for the protection of that city.

In the move forward two divisions of my cavalry took the advance,
Gregg crossing the Rapidan at Ely's ford and Wilson at Germania ford.
Torbert's division remained in the rear to cover the trains and
reserve artillery, holding from Rapidan Station to Culpeper, and
thence through Stevensburg to the Rappahannock River. Gregg crossed
the Rapidan before daylight, in advance of the Second Corps, and when
the latter reached Ely's ford, he pushed on to Chancellorsville;
Wilson preceded the Fifth Corps to Germania ford, and when it reached
the river he made the crossing and moved rapidly by Wilderness
Tavern, as far as Parker's Store, from which point he sent a heavy
reconnoissance toward Mine Run, the rest of his division bivouacking
in a strong position. I myself proceeded to Chancellorsville and
fixed my headquarters at that place, whereon the 5th I was joined by
Torbert's division.

Meanwhile, General Meade had crossed the Rapidan and established his
headquarters not far from Germania ford. From that point he was in
direct communication with Wilson, whose original instructions from me
carried him only as far as Parker's Store, but it being found, during
the night of the 4th, that the enemy was apparently unacquainted with
the occurrences of the day, Meade directed Wilson to advance in the
direction of Craig's Meeting House; leaving one regiment to hold
Parker's Store. Wilson with the second brigade encountered Rosser's
brigade of cavalry just beyond the Meeting House, and drove it back
rapidly a distance of about two miles, holding it there till noon,
while his first brigade was halted on the north side of Robinson's
Run near the junction of the Catharpen and Parker's Store roads.

Up to this time Wilson had heard nothing of the approach of the Fifth
Corps, and the situation becoming threatening, he withdrew the second
brigade to the position occupied by the first, but scarcely had he
done so when he learned that at an early hour in the forenoon the
enemy's infantry had appeared in his rear at Parker's Store and cut
off his communication with General Meade. Surprised at this, he
determined to withdraw to Todd's Tavern, but before his resolution
could be put into execution the Confederates attacked him with a
heavy force, and at the same time began pushing troops down the
Catharpen road. Wilson was now in a perplexing situation, sandwiched
between the Confederates who had cut him off in the rear at Parker's
store and those occupying the Catharpen road, but he extricated his
command by passing it around the latter force, and reached Todd's
Tavern by crossing the Po River at Corbin's bridge. General Meade
discovering that the enemy had interposed at Parker's store between
Wilson and the Fifth Corps, sent me word to go to Wilson's relief,
and this was the first intimation I received that Wilson had been
pushed out so far, but, surmising that he would retire in the
direction of Todd's Tavern I immediately despatched Gregg's division
there to his relief. Just beyond Todd's Tavern Gregg met Wilson, who
was now being followed by the enemy's cavalry. The pursuing force
was soon checked, and then driven back to Shady Grove Church, while
Wilson's troops fell in behind Gregg's line, somewhat the worse for
their morning's adventure.

When the Army of the Potomac commenced crossing the Rapidan on the
4th, General J. E. B. Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry,
began concentrating his command on the right of Lee's infantry,
bringing it from Hamilton's crossing and other points where it had
been wintering. Stuart's force at this date was a little more than
eight thousand men, organized in two divisions, commanded by Generals
Wade Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee. Hampton's division was composed of
three brigades, commanded by Generals Cordon, Young, and Rosser;
Fitzhugh Lee's division comprised three brigades also, Generals W. H.
F. Lee, Lomax, and Wickham commanding them.

Information of this concentration, and of the additional fact that
the enemy's cavalry about Hamilton's crossing was all being drawn in,
reached me on the 5th, which obviated all necessity for my moving on
that point as I intended at the onset of the campaign. The
responsibility for the safety of our trains and of the left flank of
the army still continued, however, so I made such dispositions of my
troops as to secure these objects by holding the line of the Brock
road beyond the Furnaces, and thence around to Todd's Tavern and
Piney Branch Church. On the 6th, through some false information,
General Meade became alarmed about his left flank, and sent me the
following note:

"May 6, 1864.--1 o'clock P. M.
"Commanding Cavalry Corps

"Your despatch of 11.45 a.m., received. General Hancock has been
heavily pressed, and his left turned. The major-general commanding
thinks that you had better draw in your cavalry, so as to secure the
protection of the trains. The order requiring an escort for the
wagons to-night has been rescinded.

"Major-General, Chief-of-Staff."

On the morning of the 6th Custer's and Devin's brigades had been
severely engaged at the Furnaces before I received the above note.
They had been most successful in repulsing the enemy's attacks,
however, and I felt that the line taken up could be held; but the
despatch from General Humphreys was alarming, so I drew all the
cavalry close in toward Chancellorsville. It was found later that
Hancock's left had not been turned, and the points thus abandoned had
to be regained at a heavy cost in killed and wounded, to both the
cavalry and the infantry.

On the 7th of May, under directions from headquarters, Army of the
Potomac, the trains were put in motion to go into park at Piney
Branch Church, in anticipation of the movement that was about to be
made for the possession of Spottsylvania Court House. I felt
confident that the order to move the trains there had been given
without a full understanding of the situation, for Piney Branch
Church was now held by the enemy, a condition which had resulted from
the order withdrawing the cavalry on account of the supposed disaster
to Hancock's left the day before; but I thought the best way to
remedy matters was to hold the trains in the vicinity of Aldrich's
till the ground on which it was intended to park them should be

This led to the battle of Todd's Tavern, a spirited fight for the
possession of the crossroads at that point, participated in by the
enemy's cavalry and Gregg's division, and two brigades of Torbert's
division, the latter commanded by Merritt, as Torbert became very ill
on the 6th, and had to be sent to the rear. To gain the objective
point--the crossroads--I directed Gregg to assail the enemy on the
Catharpen road with Irvin Gregg's brigade and drive him over Corbin's
bridge, while Merritt attacked him with the Reserve brigade on the
Spottsylvania road in conjunction with Davies's brigade of Gregg's
division, which was to be put in on the Piney Branch Church road, and
unite with Merritt's left. Davies's and Irvin Gregg's brigades on my
right and left flanks met with some resistance, yet not enough to
deter them from, executing their orders. In front of Merritt the
enemy held on more stubbornly, however, and there ensued an
exceedingly severe and, at times, fluctuating fight. Finally the
Confederates gave way, and we pursued them almost to Spottsylvania
Court House; but deeming it prudent to recall the pursuers about
dark, I encamped Gregg's and Merritt's divisions in the open fields
to the east of Todd's Tavern.

During the preceding three days the infantry corps of the army had
been engaged in the various conflicts known as the battles of the
Wilderness. The success of the Union troops in those battles had not
been all that was desired, and General Grant now felt that it was
necessary to throw himself on Lee's communications if possible, while
preserving his own intact by prolonging the movement to the left.
Therefore, on the evening of the 7th he determined to shift his whole
army toward Spottsylvania Court House, and initiated the movement by
a night march of the infantry to Todd's Tavern. In view of what was
contemplated, I gave orders to Gregg and Merritt to move at daylight
on the morning of the 8th, for the purpose of gaining possession of
Snell's bridge over the Po River, the former by the crossing at
Corbin's bridge and the latter by the Block House. I also directed
Wilson, who was at Alsop's house, to take possession of Spottsylvania
as early as possible on the morning of the 8th, and then move into
position at Snell's bridge conjointly with the other two divisions.
Wilson's orders remained as I had issued them, so he moved
accordingly and got possession of Spottsylvania, driving the enemy's
cavalry a mile beyond, as will be seen by the following despatch sent
me at 9 A. M. of the 8th:


"Have run the enemy's cavalry a mile from Spottsylvania Court House;
have charged them, and drove them through the village; am fighting
now with a considerable force, supposed to be Lee's division.
Everything all right.

"Brigadier-General Commanding.

During the night of the 7th General Meade arrived at Todd's Tavern
and modified the orders I had given Gregg and Merritt, directing
Gregg simply to hold Corbin's bridge, and Merritt to move out in
front of the infantry column marching on the Spottsylvania road.
Merritt proceeded to obey, but in advancing, our cavalry and infantry
became intermingled in the darkness, and much confusion and delay was
the consequence. I had not been duly advised of these changes in
Gregg's and Merritt's orders, and for a time I had fears for the
safety of Wilson, but, while he was preparing to move on to form his
junction with Gregg and Merritt at Snell's bridge, the advance of
Anderson (who was now commanding Longstreet's corps) appeared on the
scene and drove him from Spottsylvania.

Had Gregg and Merritt been permitted to proceed as they were
originally instructed, it is doubtful whether the battles fought at
Spottsylvania would have occurred, for these two divisions would have
encountered the enemy at the Pa River, and so delayed his march as to
enable our infantry to reach Spottsylvania first, and thus force Lee
to take up a line behind the Po. I had directed Wilson to move from
the left by "the Gate" through Spottsylvania to Snell's bridge, while
Gregg and Merritt were to advance to the same point by Shady Grove
and the Block House. There was nothing to prevent at least a partial
success of these operations; that is to say, the concentration of the
three divisions in front of Snell's bridge, even if we could not
actually have gained it. But both that important point and the
bridge on the Block House road were utterly ignored, and Lee's
approach to Spottsylvania left entirely unobstructed, while three
divisions of cavalry remained practically ineffective by reason of
disjointed and irregular instructions.

On the morning of the 8th, when I found that such orders had been
given, I made some strong remonstrances against the course that had
been pursued, but it was then too late to carry out the combinations
I had projected the night before, so I proceeded to join Merritt on
the Spottsylvania road. On reaching Merritt I found General Warren
making complaint that the cavalry were obstructing his infantry
column, so I drew Merritt off the road, and the leading division of
the Fifth Corps pushed up to the front. It got into line about 11
o'clock, and advanced to take the village, but it did not go very far
before it struck Anderson's corps, and was hurled back with heavy
loss. This ended all endeavor to take Spottsylvania that day.

A little before noon General Meade sent for me, and when I reached
his headquarters I found that his peppery temper had got the better
of his good judgment, he showing a disposition to be unjust, laying
blame here and there for the blunders that had been committed. He
was particularly severe on the cavalry, saying, among other things,
that it had impeded the march of the Fifth Corps by occupying the
Spottsylvania road. I replied that if this were true, he himself had
ordered it there without my knowledge. I also told him that he had
broken up my combinations, exposed Wilson's division to disaster, and
kept Gregg unnecessarily idle, and further, repelled his insinuations
by saying that such disjointed operations as he had been requiring of
the cavalry for the last four days would render the corps inefficient
and useless before long. Meade was very much irritated, and I was
none the less so. One word brought on another, until, finally, I
told him that I could whip Stuart if he (Meade) would only let me,
but since he insisted on giving the cavalry directions without
consulting or even notifying me, he could henceforth command the
Cavalry Corps himself--that I would not give it another order.

The acrimonious interview ended with this remark, and after I left
him he went to General Grant's headquarters and repeated the
conversation to him, mentioning that I had said that I could whip
Stuart. At this General Grant remarked: "Did he say so? Then let him
go out and do it." This intimation was immediately acted upon by
General Meade, and a little later the following order came to me:

"May 8th, 1864 1 P. M.

"Commanding Cavalry Corps.

"The major-general commanding directs you to immediately concentrate
your available mounted force, and with your ammunition trains and
such supply trains as are filled (exclusive of ambulances) proceed
against the enemy's cavalry, and when your supplies are exhausted,
proceed via New Market and Green Bay to Haxall's Landing on the James
River, there communicating with General Butler, procuring supplies
and return to this army. Your dismounted men will be left with the
train here.

"Major-General, Chief-of-staff."

As soon as the above order was received I issued instructions for the
concentration of the three divisions of cavalry at Aldrich's to
prepare for the contemplated expedition. Three days' rations for the
men were distributed, and half rations of grain for one day were
doled out for the horses. I sent for Gregg, Merritt, and Wilson and
communicated the order to them, saying at the same time, "We are
going out to fight Stuart's cavalry in consequence of a suggestion
from me; we will give him a fair, square fight; we are strong, and I
know we can beat him, and in view of my recent representations to
General Meade I shall expect nothing but success." I also indicated
to my division commanders the line of march I should take--moving in
one column around the right flank of Lee's army to get in its rear
--and stated at the same time that it was my intention to fight Stuart
wherever he presented himself, and if possible go through to Haxall's
Landing; but that if Stuart should successfully interpose between us
and that point we would swing back to the Army of the Potomac by
passing around the enemy's left flank by way of Gordonsville. At
first the proposition seemed to surprise the division commanders
somewhat, for hitherto even the boldest, mounted expeditions had been
confined to a hurried ride through the enemy's country, without
purpose of fighting more than enough to escape in case of
molestation, and here and there to destroy a bridge. Our move would
be a challenge to Stuart for a cavalry duel behind Lee's lines, in
his own country, but the advantages which it was reasonable to
anticipate from the plan being quickly perceived, each division
commander entered into its support unhesitatingly, and at once set
about preparing for the march next day.



The expedition which resulted in the battle of Yellow Tavern and the
death of General Stuart started from the vicinity of Aldrich's toward
Fredericksburg early on the morning of May 9, 1864, marching on the
plank-road, Merritt's division leading. When the column reached
Tabernacle Church it headed almost due east to the telegraph road,
and thence down that highway to Thornburg, and from that point
through Childsburg to Anderson's crossing of the North Anna River, it
being my desire to put my command south of that stream if possible,
where it could procure forage before it should be compelled to fight.
The corps moved at a walk, three divisions on the same road, making a
column nearly thirteen miles in length, and marched around the right
flank of the enemy unsuspected until my rear guard had passed
Massaponax Church. Although the column was very long, I preferred to
move it all on one road rather than to attempt combinations for
carrying the divisions to any given point by different routes.
Unless the separate commands in an expedition of this nature are very
prompt in movement, and each fully equal to overcoming at once any
obstacle it may meet, combinations rarely work out as expected;
besides, an engagement was at all times imminent, hence it was
specially necessary to keep the whole force well together.

As soon as the Ny, Po, and Ta rivers were crossed, each of which
streams would have afforded an excellent defensive line to the enemy,
all anxiety as to our passing around Lee's army was removed, and our
ability to cross the North Anna placed beyond doubt. Meanwhile
General Stuart had discovered what we were about, and he set his
cavalry in motion, sending General Fitzhugh Lee to follow and attack
my rear on the Childsburg road, Stuart himself marching by way of
Davenport's bridge, on the North Anna, toward Beaver Dam Station,
near which place his whole command was directed to unite the next

My column having passed the Ta River, Stuart attacked its rear with
considerable vigor, in the hope that he could delay my whole force
long enough to permit him to get at least a part of his command in my
front; but this scheme was frustrated by Davies's brigade, which I
directed to fight as a rear-guard, holding on at one position and
then at another along the line of march just enough to deter the
enemy from a too rapid advance. Davies performed this responsible
and trying duty with tact and good judgment, following the main
column steadily as it progressed to the south, and never once
permitting Fitzhugh Lee's advance to encroach far enough to compel a
halt of my main body. About dark Merritt's division crossed the
North Anna at Anderson's ford, while Gregg and Wilson encamped on the
north side, having engaged the enemy, who still hung on my rear up to
a late hour at night.

After Merritt's division passed the river, Custer's brigade proceeded
on to Beaver Dam Station to cut the Virginia Central railroad.
Before reaching the station he met a small force of the enemy, but
this he speedily drove off, recapturing from it about four hundred
Union prisoners, who had been taken recently in the Wilderness and
were being conducted to Richmond. Custer also destroyed the station,
two locomotives, three trains of cars, ninety wagons, from eight to
ten miles of railroad and telegraph lines, some two hundred thousand
pounds of bacon and other supplies, amounting in all to about a
million and a half of rations, and nearly all they medical stores of
General Lee's army, which had been moved from Orange Court House
either because Lee wished to have them directly in his rear or
because he contemplated falling back to the North Anna.

On the morning of the 10th Gregg and Wilson, while crossing the North
Anna, were again attacked, but were covered by the division on the
south side of the stream; the passage was effected without much loss,
notwithstanding the approach of Stuart on the south bank from the
direction of Davenport's bridge. The possession of Beaver Dam gave
us an important point, as it opened a way toward Richmond by the
Negro-foot road. It also enabled us to obtain forage for our
well-nigh famished animals, and to prepare for fighting the enemy,
who, I felt sure, would endeavor to interpose between my column and

Stuart had hardly united his troops near Beaver Dam when he realized
that concentrating there was a mistake, so he began making
dispositions for remedying his error, and while we leisurely took the
Negro-foot toad toward Richmond, he changed his tactics and hauled
off from my rear, urging his horses to the death in order to get in
between Richmond and my column. This he effected about 10 o'clock on
the morning of the 11th, concentrating at Yellow Tavern, six miles
from the city, on the Brook turnpike. His change of tactics left my
march on the 10th practically unmolested, and we quietly encamped
that night on the south bank of the South Anna, near Ground Squirrel
Bridge. Here we procured an abundance of forage, and as the distance
traveled that day had been only fifteen to eighteen miles, men and
horses were able to obtain a good rest during the night.

At 2 o'clock in the morning, May 11, Davies's brigade of Gregg's
division marched for Ashland to cut the Fredericksburg railroad.
Arriving there before the head of the enemy's column, which had to
pass through this same place to reach Yellow Tavern, Davies drove out
a small force occupying the town, burnt a train of cars and a
locomotive, destroyed the railroad for some distance, and rejoined
the main column at Allen's Station on the Fredericksburg and Richmond
railroad. From Allen's Station the whole command moved on Yellow
Tavern, Merritt in the lead, Wilson following, and Gregg in the rear.

The appearance of Davies's brigade at Ashland in the morning had had
the effect of further mystifying the enemy as to my intentions; and
while he held it incumbent to place himself between me and Richmond,
yet he was still so uncertain of my movements that he committed the
same fault that he did the first day, when he divided his force and
sent a part to follow me on the Childsburg road. He now divided his
command again, sending a portion to hang upon my rear, while he
proceeded with the rest to Yellow Tavern. This separation not only
materially weakened the force which might have been thrown across my
line of march, but it also enabled me to attack with almost my entire
corps, while occupying the pursuers with a small rearguard.

By forced marches General Stuart succeeded in reaching Yellow Tavern
ahead of me on May 11; and the presence of, his troops, on the
Ashland and Richmond road becoming known to Merritt as he was
approaching the Brook turnpike, this general pressed forward at once
to the attack. Pushing his division to the front, he soon got
possession of the turnpike and drove the enemy back several hundred
yards to the east of it. This success had the effect of throwing the
head of my column to the east of the pike, and I quickly brought up
Wilson and one of Gregg's brigades to take advantage of the situation
by forming a line of battle on that side or the road. Meanwhile the
enemy, desperate but still confident, poured in a heavy fire from his
line and from a battery which enfiladed the Brook road, and made
Yellow Tavern an uncomfortably hot place. Gibbs's and Devin's
brigades, however, held fast there, while Custer, supported by
Chapman's brigade, attacked the enemy's left and battery in a mounted

Custer's charge, with Chapman on his flank and the rest of Wilson's
division sustaining him, was brilliantly executed. Beginning at a
walk, he increased his gait to a trot, and then at full speed rushed
at the enemy. At the same moment the dismounted troops along my
whole front moved forward, and as Custer went through the battery,
capturing two of the guns with their cannoneers and breaking up the
enemy's left, Gibbs and Devin drove his centre and right from the
field. Gregg meanwhile, with equal success, charged the force in his
rear-Gordon's brigadeand the engagement ended by giving us complete
control of the road to Richmond. We captured a number of prisoners,
and the casualties on both sides were quite severe, General Stuart
himself falling mortally wounded, and General James B. Gordon, one of
his brigade commanders, being killed.

After Custer's charge, the Confederate cavalry was badly broken up,
the main portion of it being driven in a rout toward Ashland and a
small part in the direction of Richmond, which latter force finally
rejoined Fitzhugh Lee near Mechanicsville. A reconnoitring party
being now sent up the Brook turnpike toward the city, dashed across
the South Fork of the Chickahominy, drove a small force from the
enemy's exterior intrenchments and went within them. I followed this
party, and after a little exploration found between the two lines of
works a country road that led across to the pike which runs from
Mechanicsville to Richmond. I thought we could go around within the
outer line of works by this country road across to the Mechanicsville
pike on the south side of the Chickahominy, and encamp the next night
at Fair Oaks; so I determined to make the movement after dark, being
influenced in this to some extent by reports received during the
afternoon from colored people, to the effect that General B. F.
Butler's army had reached a small stream on the south side of the
James, about four miles south of Richmond. If I could succeed in
getting through by this road, not only would I have a shorter line of
march to Haxall's landing, but there was also a possibility that I
could help Butler somewhat by joining him so near Richmond.
Therefore, after making the wounded as comfortable as possible, we
commenced the march about 11 o'clock on the night of the 1lth, and
massed the command on the plateau south of the Meadow bridge near
daylight on the 12th.

The enemy, anticipating that I would march by this route, had planted
torpedoes along it, and many of these exploded as the column passed
over them, killing several horses and wounding a few men, but beyond
this we met with no molestation. The torpedoes were loaded shells
planted on each side of the road, and so connected by wires attached
to friction-tubes in the shells, that when a horse's hoof struck a
wire the shell was exploded by the jerk on the improvised lanyard.
After the loss of several horses and the wounding of some of the men
by these torpedoes, I gave directions to have them removed, if
practicable, so about twenty-five of the prisoners were brought up
and made to get down on their knees, feel for the wires in the
darkness, follow them up and unearth the shells. The prisoners
reported the owner of one of the neighboring houses to be the
principal person who had engaged in planting these shells, and I
therefore directed that some of them be carried and placed in the
cellar of his house, arranged to explode if the enemy's column came
that way, while he and his family were brought off as prisoners and
held till after daylight.

Meanwhile the most intense excitement prevailed in Richmond. The
Confederates, supposing that their capital was my objective point,
were straining every effort to put it in a state of defense, and had
collected between four and five thousand irregular troops, under
General Bragg, besides bringing up three brigades of infantry from
the force confronting General Butler south of the James River, the
alarm being intensified by the retreat, after the defeat at Yellow
Tavern, of Stuart's cavalry, now under General Fitzhugh Lee, by way
of Ashland to Mechanicsville, on the north side of the Chickahominy,
for falling back in that direction, left me between them and

Our march during the night of the 11th was very tedious, on account
of the extreme darkness and frequent showers of rain; but at daylight
on the 12th the head of my column, under Wilson, reached the
Mechanicsville pike. Here Wilson, encountering the enemy's works and
batteries manned by General Bragg's troops, endeavored to pass. In
this he failed, and as soon as I was notified that it was
impracticable to reach Fair Oaks by passing between the works and the
Chickahominy, Custer's brigade was directed to make the crossing to
the north side of the Chickahominy, at the Meadow bridge. Custer
moved rapidly for the bridge, but found it destroyed, and that the
enemy's cavalry was posted on the north side, in front of
Mechanicsville. When this information came back, I ordered Merritt
to take his whole division and repair the bridge, instructing him
that the crossing must be made at all hazards; for, in view of an
impending attack by the enemy's infantry in Richmond, it was
necessary that I should have the bridge as a means of egress in case
of serious disaster.

All the time that Merritt was occupied in this important duty, the
enemy gave great annoyance to the working party by sweeping the
bridge with a section of artillery and a fire from the supporting
troops, so a small force was thrown across to drive them away.
When Merritt had passed two regiments over, they attacked, but
were repulsed. The work on the, bridge continued, however,
not-withstanding this discomfiture; and when it was finished, Merritt
crossed nearly all his division, dismounted, and again attacked the
enemy, this time carrying the line, of temporary breastworks, built
with logs and rails, and pursuing his broken troops toward Gaines's

While Merritt was engaged in this affair, the Confederates advanced
from behind their works at Richmond, and attacked Wilson and Gregg.
Wilson's troops were driven back in some confusion at first; but
Gregg, in anticipation of attack, had hidden a heavy line of
dismounted men in a bushy ravine on his front, and when the enemy
marched upon it, with much display and under the eye of the President
of the Confederacy, this concealed line opened a destructive fire
with repeating carbines; and at the same time the batteries of
horse-artillery, under Captain Robinson, joining in the contest,
belched forth shot and shell with fatal effect. The galling fire
caused the enemy to falter, and while still wavering Wilson rallied
his men, and turning some of them against the right flank of the
Confederates, broke their line, and compelled them to withdraw for
security behind the heavy works thrown up for the defense of the city
in 1862.

By destroying the Meadow bridge and impeding my column on the
Mechanicsville, pike, the enemy thought to corner us completely, for
he still maintained the force in Gregg's rear that had pressed it the
day before; but the repulse of his infantry ended all his hopes of
doing us any serious damage on the limited ground between the
defenses of Richmond and the Chickahominy. He felt certain that on
account of the recent heavy rains we could not cross the Chickahominy
except by the Meadow bridge, and it also seemed clear to him that we
could not pass between the river and his intrenchments; therefore he
hoped to ruin us, or at least compel us to return by the same route
we had taken in coming, in which case we would run into Gordon's
brigade, but the signal repulse of Bragg's infantry dispelled these

Even had it not been our good fortune to defeat him, we could have
crossed the Chickahominy if necessary at several points that were
discovered by scouting parties which, while the engagement was going
on, I had sent out to look up fords. This means of getting out from
the circumscribed plateau I did not wish to use, however, unless
there was no alternative, for I wished to demonstrate to the Cavalry
Corps the impossibility of the enemy's destroying or capturing so
large a body of mounted troops.

The chances of seriously injuring, us were more favorable to the
enemy this time than ever they were afterward, for with the troops
from Richmond, comprising three brigades of veterans and about five
thousand irregulars on my front and right flank, with Gordon's
cavalry in the rear, and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry on my left flank,
holding the Chickahominy and Meadow bridge, I was apparently hemmed
in on every side, but relying on the celerity with which mounted
troops could be moved, I felt perfectly confident that the seemingly
perilous situation could be relieved under circumstances even worse
than those then surrounding us. Therefore, instead of endeavoring to
get away without a fight, I concluded that there would be little
difficulty in withdrawing, even should I be beaten, and none whatever
if I defeated the enemy.

In accordance with this view I accepted battle; and the complete
repulse of the enemy's infantry, which assailed us from his
intrenchments, and of Gordon's cavalry, which pressed Gregg on the
Brook road, ended the contest in our favor. The rest of the day we
remained on the battle-field undisturbed, and our time was spent in
collecting the wounded, burying the dead, grazing the horses, and
reading the Richmond journals, two small newsboys with commendable
enterprise having come within our lines from the Confederate capital
to sell their papers. They were sharp youngsters, and having come
well supplied, they did a thrifty business. When their stock in
trade was all disposed of they wished to return, but they were so
intelligent and observant that I thought their mission involved other
purposes than the mere sale of newspapers, so they were held till we
crossed the Chickahominy and then turned loose.

After Merritt had crossed the Chickahominy and reached
Mechanicsville, I sent him orders to push on to Gaines's Mills. Near
the latter place he fell in with the enemy's cavalry again, and
sending me word, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon I crossed the
Chickahominy with Wilson and Gregg, but when we overtook Merritt he
had already brushed the Confederates away, and my whole command went
into camp between Walnut Grove and Gaines's Mills.

The main purposes of the expedition had now been executed. They were
"to break up General Lee's railroad communications, destroy such
depots of supplies as could be found in his rear, and to defeat
General Stuart's cavalry." Many miles of the Virginia Central and of
the, Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads were broken up, and
several of the bridges on each burnt. At Beaver Dam, Ashland, and
other places, about two millions of rations had been captured and
destroyed. The most important of all, however, was the defeat of
Stuart. Since the beginning of the war this general had
distinguished himself by his management of the Confederate mounted
force. Under him the cavalry of Lee's army had been nurtured, and
had acquired such prestige that it thought itself well-nigh
invincible; indeed, in the early years of the war it had proved to be
so. This was now dispelled by the successful march we had made in
Lee's rear; and the discomfiture of Stuart at Yellow Tavern had
inflicted a blow from which entire recovery was impossible.

In its effect on the Confederate cause the defeat of Stuart was most
disheartening, but his death was even a greater calamity, as is
evidenced by the words of a Confederate writer (Cooke), who says:
"Stuart could be ill spared at this critical moment, and General Lee
was plunged into the deepest melancholy at the intelligence of his
death. When it reached him he retired from those around him, and
remained for some time communing with his own heart and memory. When
one of his staff entered and spoke of Stuart, General Lee said: 'I
can scarcely think of him without weeping.'"

From the camp near Gaines's Mills I resumed the march to Haxall's
Landing, the point on the James River contemplated in my instructions
where I was to obtain supplies from General Butler. We got to the
James on the 14th with all our wounded and a large number of
prisoners, and camped between Haxall's and Shirley. The prisoners,
as well as the captured guns, were turned over to General Butler's
provost-marshal, and our wounded were quickly and kindly cared for by
his surgeons. Ample supplies, also, in the way of forage and
rations, were furnished us by General Butler, and the work of
refitting for our return to the Army of the Potomac was vigorously
pushed. By the 17th all was ready, and having learned by scouting
parties sent in the direction of Richmond and as far as Newmarket
that the enemy's cavalry was returning to Lee's army I started that
evening on my return march, crossing the Chickahominy at Jones's
bridge, and bivouacking on the 19th near Baltimore crossroads.

My uncertainty of what had happened to the Army of the Potomac in our
absence, and as to where I should find it, made our getting back a
problem somewhat difficult of solution, particularly as I knew that
reinforcements for Lee had come up from the south to Richmond, and
that most likely some of these troops were being held at different
points on the route to intercept my column. Therefore I determined
to pass the Pamunkey River at the White House, and sent to Fort
Monroe for a pontoon-bridge on which to make the crossing. While
waiting for the pontoons I ordered Custer to proceed with his brigade
to Hanover Station, to destroy the railroad bridge over the South
Anna, a little beyond that place; at the same time I sent Gregg and
Wilson to Cold Harbor, to demonstrate in the direction of Richmond as
far as Mechanicsville, so as to cover Custer's movements. Merritt,
with the remaining brigades of his division, holding fast at
Baltimore crossroads to await events.

After Gregg and Custer had gone, it was discovered that the railroad
bridge over the Pamunkey, near the White House, had been destroyed
but partially--the cross-ties and stringers being burned in places
only--and that it was practicable to repair it sufficiently to carry
us over. In view of this information General Merritt's two brigades
were at once put on the duty of reconstructing the bridge. By
sending mounted parties through the surrounding country, each man of
which would bring in a board or a plank, Merritt soon accumulated
enough lumber for the flooring, and in one day the bridge was made
practicable. On the 22d Gregg, Wilson, and Custer returned. The
latter had gone on his expedition as far as Hanover Station,
destroyed some commissary stores there, and burned two trestle
bridges over Hanover Creek. This done, he deemed it prudent to
retire to Hanovertown. The next morning he again marched to Hanover
Station, and there ascertained that a strong force of the enemy,
consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, was posted at the
South Anna bridges. These troops had gone there from Richmond en
route to reinforce Lee. In the face of this impediment Custer's
mission could not be executed fully, so he returned to Baltimore

The whole command was drawn in by noon of the 22d, and that day it
crossed the Pamunkey by Merritt's reconstructed bridge, marching to
Ayletts, on the Mattapony River, the same night. Here I learned from
citizens, and from prisoners taken during the day by scouting parties
sent toward Hanover Court House, that Lee had been, forced from his
position near Spottsylvania Court House and compelled to retire to
the line of the North Anna. I then determined to rejoin the Army of
the Potomac at the earliest moment, which I did by making for
Chesterfield Station, where I reported to General Meade on the 24th
of May.

Our return to Chesterfield ended the first independent expedition the
Cavalry Corps had undertaken since coming under my command, and our
success was commended highly by Generals Grant and Meade, both
realizing that our operations in the rear of Lee had disconcerted and
alarmed that general so much as to aid materially in forcing his
retrograde march, and both acknowledged that, by drawing off the
enemy's cavalry during the past fortnight, we had enabled them to
move the Army of the Potomac and its enormous trains without
molestation in the manoeuvres that had carried it to the North Anna.
Then, too, great quantities of provisions and munitions of war had
been destroyed--stores that the enemy had accumulated at sub-depots
from strained resources and by difficult means; the railroads that
connected Lee with Richmond broken, the most successful cavalry
leader of the South killed, and in addition to all this there had
been inflicted on the Confederate mounted troops the most thorough
defeat that had yet befallen them in Virginia.

When the expedition set out the Confederate authorities in Richmond
were impressed, and indeed convinced, that my designs contemplated
the capture of that city, and notwithstanding the loss they sustained
in the defeat and death of Stuart, and their repulse the succeeding
day, they drew much comfort from the fact that I had not entered
their capital. Some Confederate writers have continued to hold this
theory and conviction since the war. In this view they were and are
in error. When Stuart was defeated the main purpose of my
instructions had been carried out, and my thoughts then turned to
joining General Butler to get supplies. I believed that I could do
this by cutting across to the Mechanicsville pike and Fair Oaks on
the south side of the Chickahominy, but the failure of Wilson's
column to get possession of the outwork which commanded the pike
necessitated my crossing at Meadow bridge, and then moving by
Mechanicsville and Gaines's Mills instead of by the shorter route.
Moreover, my information regarding General Butler's position was
incorrect, so that even had I been successful in getting to Fair Oaks
by the direct road I should still have gained nothing thereby, for I
should still have been obliged to continue down the James River to



When I rejoined the Army of the Potomac, near Chesterfield Station,
the heavy battles around Spottsylvania had been fought, and the
complicated manoeuvres by which the whole Union force was swung
across the North Anna were in process of execution. In conjunction
with these manoeuvres Wilson's division was sent to the right flank
of the army, where he made a reconnoissance south of the North Anna
as far as Little River, crossing the former stream near Jericho
Mills. Wilson was to operate from day to day on that flank as it
swung to the south, covering to New Castle ferry each advance of the
infantry and the fords left behind on the march. From the 26th to
the 30th these duties kept Wilson constantly occupied, and also
necessitated a considerable dispersion of his force, but by the 31st
he was enabled to get all his division together again, and crossing
to the south side of the Pamunkey at New Castle ferry, he advanced
toward Hanover Court House. Near Dr Pride's house he encountered a
division of the enemy's cavalry under General W. H. F. Lee, and drove
it back across Mechamp's Creek, thus opening communication with the
right of our infantry resting near Phillips's Mills. Just as this
had been done, a little before dark, Wilson received an order from
General Meade directing him to push on toward Richmond until he
encountered the Confederates in such strength that he could no longer
successfully contend against them, and in compliance with this order
occupied Hanover Court House that same day. Resuming his march at
daylight on June 1, he went ahead on the Ashland road while sending
Chapman's brigade up the south bank of the South Anna to destroy the
bridges on that stream. Chapman having succeeded in this work,
Wilson re-united his whole command and endeavored to hold Ashland,
but finding the Confederate cavalry and infantry there in strong
force, he was obliged to withdraw to Dr. Price's house. Here he
learned that the army had gone to the left toward Cold Harbor, so on
the 2d of June he moved to Hawe's Shop.

While Wilson was operating thus on the right, I had to cover with
Gregg's and Torbert's divisions the crossing of the army over the
Pamunkey River at and near Hanovertown. Torbert having recovered
from the illness which overtook him in the Wilderness, had now
returned to duty. The march to turn the enemy's right began on the
26th. Torbert and Gregg in advance, to secure the crossings of the
Pamunkey and demonstrate in such manner as to deceive the enemy as
much as possible in the movement, the two cavalry divisions being
supported by General D. A. Russell's division of the Sixth Corps.

To attain this end in the presence of an ever-watchful foe who had
just recently been reinforced in considerable numbers from Richmond
and further south--almost enough to make up the losses he had
sustained in the Wilderness and at Spottsylvania--required the most
vigorous and zealous work on the part of those to whom had been
allotted the task of carrying out the initial manoeuvres. Torbert
started for Taylor's ford on the Pamunkey with directions to
demonstrate heavily at that point till after dark, as if the crossing
was to be made there, and having thus impressed the enemy, he was to
leave a small guard, withdraw quietly, and march to Hanovertown ford,
where the real crossing was to be effected. Meanwhile Gregg marched
to Littlepage's crossing of the Pamunkey, with instructions to make
feints in the same manner as Torbert until after dark, when he was to
retire discreetly, leaving a small force to keep up the
demonstration, and then march rapidly to Hanovertown crossing, taking
with him the pontoon-bridge.

At the proper hour Russell took up the march and followed the
cavalry. The troops were in motion all night, undergoing the usual
delays incident to night marches, and, early on the morning of the
27th the crossing was made, Custer's brigade of Torbert's division
driving from the ford about one hundred of the enemy's cavalry, and
capturing between thirty and forty prisoners. The remainder of
Torbert's division followed this brigade and advanced to Hanovertown,
where General Gordon's brigade of Confederate cavalry was met.
Torbert attacked this force with Devin's brigade, while he sent
Custer to Hawe's Shop, from which point a road leading to the right
was taken that brought him in rear of the enemy's cavalry; when the
Confederates discovered this manoeuvre, they retired in the direction
of Hanover Court House. Pursuit continued as far as a little stream
called Crump's Creek, and here Torbert was halted, Gregg moving up on
his line meanwhile, and Russell encamping near the crossing of the
river. This completed our task of gaining a foothold south of the
Pamunkey, and on the 28th the main army crossed unharassed and took
up a position behind my line, extending south from the river, with
the Sixth Corps on the right across the Hanover Court House road at
Crump's Creek, the Second Corps on the left of the Sixth, and the
Fifth Corps about two miles in front of Hanovertown, its left
extending to the Tolopotomy.

There was now much uncertainty in General Grant's mind as to the
enemy's whereabouts, and there were received daily the most
conflicting statements as to the nature of Lee's movements. It
became necessary, therefore, to find out by an actual demonstration
what Lee was doing, and I was required to reconnoitre in the
direction of Mechanicsville. For this purpose I moved Gregg's
division out toward this town by way of Hawe's Shop, and when it had
gone about three-fourths of a mile beyond the Shop the enemy's
cavalry was discovered dismounted and disposed behind a temporary
breastwork of rails and logs.

This was the first occasion on which, since the battle of Yellow
Tavern, the Confederate troopers had confronted us in large numbers,
their mounted operations, like ours, having been dependent more or
less on the conditions that grew out of the movements in which Lee's
infantry had been engaged since the 14th of May.

On that date General Lee had foreshadowed his intention of using his
cavalry in connection with the manoeuvres of his infantry by issuing
an order himself, now that Stuart was dead, directing that the "three
divisions of cavalry serving with the army [Lee's] will constitute
separate commands, and will report directly to and receive orders
from the headquarters of the army." The order indicates that since
Stuart's death the Confederate cavalry had been re-organized into
three divisions, that were commanded respectively by General Wade
Hampton, General Fitzhugh Lee, and General W. H. F. Lee, the
additional division organization undoubtedly growing out of the fact,
that General M. C. Butler's brigade of about four thousand men had
joined recently from South Carolina.

When this force developed in Gregg's front, he attacked the moment
his troops could be dismounted; and the contest became one of
exceeding stubborness, for he found confronting him Hampton's and
Fitzhugh Lee's divisions, supported by what we then supposed to be a
brigade of infantry, but which, it has since been ascertained, was
Butler's brigade of mounted troops; part of them armed with
long-range rifles. The contest between the opposing forces was of
the severest character and continued till late in the evening. The
varying phases of the fight prompted me to reinforce Gregg as much as
possible, so I directed Custer's brigade to report to him, sending,
meanwhile, for the other two brigades of Torbert, but these were not
available at the time--on account of delays which occurred in
relieving them from the line at Crump's Creek--and did not get up
till the fight was over. As soon as Custer joined him, Gregg
vigorously assaulted the Confederate position along his whole front;
and notwithstanding the long-range rifles of the South Carolinians,
who were engaging in their first severe combat it appears, and fought
most desperately, he penetrated their barricades at several points.

The most determined and obstinate efforts for success were now made
on both sides, as the position at Hawe's Shop had become of very
great importance on account of the designs of both Lee and Grant.
Lee wished to hold this ground while he manoeuvred his army to the
line of the Tolopotomy, where he could cover the roads to Richmond,
while Grant, though first sending me out merely to discover by a
strong reconnoissance the movements of the enemy, saw the value of
the place to cover his new base at the White House, and also to give
us possession of a direct road to Cold Harbor. Hawe's Shop remained
in our possession finally, for late in the evening Custer's brigade
was dismounted and formed in close column in rear of Gregg, and while
it assaulted through an opening near the centre of his line, the
other two brigades advanced and carried the temporary works. The
enemy's dead and many of his wounded fell into our hands; also a
considerable number of prisoners, from whom we learned that
Longstreet's and Ewell's corps were but four miles to the rear.

The battle was a decidedly severe one, the loss on each side being
heavy in proportion to the number of troops engaged. This fight took
place almost immediately in front of our infantry, which, during the
latter part of the contest, was busily occupied in throwing up
intrenchments. Late in the afternoon I reported to General Meade the
presence of the enemy's infantry, and likewise that Hampton's and
Fitzhugh Lee's divisions were in my front also, and asked, at the
same time; that some of our infantry, which was near at hand, be sent
to my assistance. I could not convince Meade that anything but the
enemy's horse was fighting us, however, and he declined to push out
the foot-troops, who were much wearied by night marches. It has been
ascertained since that Meade's conclusions were correct in so far as
they related to the enemy's infantry; but the five cavalry brigades
far outnumbered my three, and it is to be regretted that so much was
risked in holding a point that commanded the roads to Cold Harbor and
Meadow bridge, when there was at hand a preponderating number of
Union troops which might have been put into action. However, Gregg's
division and Custer's brigade were equal to the situation, all
unaided as they were till dark, when Torbert and Merritt came on the
ground. The contest not only gave us the crossroads, but also
removed our uncertainty regarding Lee's movements, clearly
demonstrating that his army was retiring by its right flank, so that
it might continue to interpose between Grant and the James River; as
well as cover the direct route to Richmond.

General Lee reported this battle to his Government as a Confederate
victory, but his despatch was sent early in the day, long before the
fight ended, and evidently he could not have known the final result
when he made the announcement, for the fight lasted until dark.
After dark, our own and the Confederate dead having been buried, I
withdrew, and moving to the rear of our infantry, marched all night
and till I reached the vicinity of Old Church, where I had been
instructed to keep a vigilant watch on the enemy with Gregg's and
Torbert's divisions. As soon as I had taken position at Old Church
my pickets were pushed out in the direction of Cold Harbor, and the
fact that the enemy was holding that point in some force was clearly
ascertained. But our occupation of Cold Harbor was of the utmost
importance; indeed, it was absolutely necessary that we should
possess it, to secure our communications with the White House, as
well as to cover the extension of our line to the left toward the
James River. Roads from Bethesda Church, Old Church, and the White
House centred at Cold Harbor, and from there many roads diverged also
toward different crossings of the Chickahominy, which were
indispensable to us.

The enemy too realized the importance of the place, for as soon as he
found himself compelled to take up the line of the Tolopotomy he
threw a body of troops into Cold Harbor by forced marches, and
followed it up by pushing a part of this force out on the Old Church
road as far as Matadequin Creek, where he established a line of
battle, arranging the front of it parallel to the road along the
south bank of the Pamunkey; this for the purpose of endangering our
trains as they moved back and forth between the army and the White

Meanwhile I had occupied Old Church and pushed pickets down toward
Cold Harbor. The outposts struck each other just north of Matadequin
Creek, and a spirited fight immediately took place. At first our
pickets were sorely pressed, but Torbert, who was already preparing
to make a reconnoissance, lost no time in reinforcing them on the
north side of the creek with Devin's brigade. The fight then became
general, both sides, dismounted, stubbornly contesting the ground.
Of the Confederates, General Butler's South Carolinians bore the
brunt of the fight, and, strongly posted as they were on the south
bank of the creek, held their ground with the same obstinacy they had
previously shown at Hawe's Shop. Finally, however, Torbert threw
Merritt's and Custer's brigades into the action, and the enemy
retired, we pursuing to within a mile and a half of Cold Harbor and
capturing a number of prisoners. Gregg's division took no part in
the actual fighting, but remained near Old Church observing the roads
on Torberts flanks, one leading toward Bethesda Church on his right,
the other to his left in the direction of the White House. This
latter road Gregg was particularly instructed to keep open, so as to
communicate with General W. F. Smith, who was then debarking his
corps at the White House, and on the morning of the 3ist this
general's advance was covered by a brigade which Gregg had sent him
for the purpose.

Torbert having pursued toward Cold Harbor the troops he fought at
Matadequin Creek, had taken up a position about a mile and a half
from that place, on the Old Church road. The morning of the 31st I
visited him to arrange for his further advance, intending thus to
anticipate an expected attack from Fitzhugh Lee, who was being
reinforced by infantry. I met Torbert at Custer's headquarters, and
found that the two had already been talking over a scheme to capture
Cold Harbor, and when their plan was laid before me it appeared so
plainly feasible that I fully endorsed it, at once giving directions
for its immediate execution, and ordering Gregg to come forward to
Torbert's support with such troops as he could spare from the duty
with which he had been charged.

Torbert moved out promptly, Merritt's brigade first, followed by
Custer's, on the direct road to Cold Harbor, while Devin's brigade
was detached, and marched by a left-hand road that would bring him in
on the right and rear of the enemy's line, which was posted in front
of the crossroads. Devin was unable to carry his part of the
programme farther than to reach the front of the Confederate right,
and as Merritt came into position to the right of the Old Church road
Torbert was obliged to place a part of Custer's brigade on Merritt's
left so as to connect with Devin. The whole division was now in
line, confronted by Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, supported by Clingman's
brigade from Hoke's division of infantry; and from the Confederate
breastworks, hastily constructed out of logs, rails, and earth, a
heavy fire was already being poured upon us that it seemed impossible
to withstand. None of Gregg's division had yet arrived, and so
stubborn was the enemy's resistance that I began to doubt our ability
to carry the place before reinforcements came up, but just then
Merritt reported that he could turn the enemy's left, and being
directed to execute his proposition, he carried it to a most
successful issue with the First and Second regular cavalry. Just as
these two regiments passed around the enemy's left and attacked his
rear, the remainder of the division assailed him in front. This
manoeuvre of Merritt's stampeded the Confederates, and the defenses
falling into our hands easily, we pushed ahead on the Bottom's bridge
road three-fourths of a mile beyond Cold Harbor.

Cold Harbor was now mine, but I was about nine miles away from our
nearest infantry, and had been able to bring up only Davies's brigade
of cavalry, which arrived after the fight. My isolated position
therefore made me a little uneasy. I felt convinced that the enemy
would attempt to regain the place, for it was of as much importance
to him as to us, and the presence of his infantry disclosed that he
fully appreciated this. My uneasiness increased as the day grew
late, for I had learned from prisoners that the balance of Hoke's
division was en route to Cold Harbor, and Kershaw near at hand,
interposing between the Union left near Bethesda Church and my
position. In view of this state of affairs, I notified General Meade
that I had taken Cold Harbor, but could not with safety to my command
hold it, and forthwith gave directions to withdraw during the night.
The last of my troops had scarcely pulled out, however, when I
received a despatch from Meade directing me to hold Cold Harbor at
every hazard. General Grant had expected that a severe battle would
have to be fought before we could obtain possession of the place; and
its capture by our cavalry not being anticipated, no preparation had
been made for its permanent occupancy. No time was to be lost,
therefore, if the advantages which possession of Cold Harbor gave us
were to be improved, so at the same hour that Meade ordered me to
hold the place at all hazards the Sixth Corps was started on a forced
march, by Grant's directions, to aid in that object, and on arrival
to relieve my cavalry.

The moment Meade's order was received, I directed a reoccupation of
Cold Harbor, and although a large portion of Torbert's command was
already well on its way back to the line we held on the morning of
the 31st, this force speedily retraced its steps, and re-entered the
place before daylight; both our departure and return having been
effected without the enemy being aware of our movements. We now
found that the temporary breastworks of rails and logs which the
Confederates had built were of incalculable benefit to us in
furnishing material with which to establish a line of defense, they
being made available by simply reversing them at some points, or at
others wholly reconstructing them to suit the circumstances of the
ground: The troops, without reserves, were then placed behind our
cover dismounted, boxes of ammunition distributed along the line, and
the order passed along that the place must be held. All this was
done in the darkness, and while we were working away at our cover the
enemy could be distinctly heard from our skirmish-line giving
commands and making preparations to attack.

Just after daylight on the 1st of June the Confederate infantry under
General Kershaw endeavored to drive us out, advancing against my
right from the Bethesda Church road. In his assault he was permitted
to come close up to our works, and when within short range such afire
was opened on him from our horse-artillery and repeating carbines
that he recoiled in confusion after the first onset; still, he seemed
determined to get the place, and after reorganizing, again attacked;
but the lesson of the first repulse was not without effect, and his
feeble effort proved wholly fruitless. After his second failure we
were left undisturbed, and at 9 A.M. I sent the following despatch to
army headquarters:

"Cold Harbor, Va., June 1, 1864--9 A.M.


"GENERAL: In obedience to your instructions I am holding Cold Harbor.
I have captured this morning more prisoners; they belong to three
different infantry brigades. The enemy assaulted the right of my
lines this morning, but were handsomely repulsed. I have been very
apprehensive, but General Wright is now coming up. I built slight
works for my men; the enemy came up to them, and were driven back.
General Wright has just arrived.

"Major-General Commanding."

About 10 o'clock in the morning the Sixth Corps relieved Torbert and
Davies, having marched all night, and these two generals moving out
toward the Chickahominy covered the left of the infantry line till
Hancock's corps took their place in the afternoon. By this time
Gregg had joined me with his two brigades, and both Torbert and Gregg
were now marched to Prospect Church, from which point I moved them to
a position on the north side of the Chickahominy at Bottom's bridge.
Here the enemy's cavalry confronted us, occupying the south bank of
the stream, with artillery in position at the fords prepared to
dispute our passage; but it was not intended that we should cross; so
Gregg and Torbert lay quiet in camp at Bottom's bridge and at Old
Church without noteworthy event until the 6th of June.

As before related, Wilson's division struck the enemy's infantry as
well as W. H. F. Lee's cavalry near Ashland on the 1st of June, and
although Chapman destroyed the bridges over the South Anna, which was
his part of the programme, Wilson found it necessary to return to
Price's Store. From this point he continued to cover the right of
the Army of the Potomac, on the 2d of June driving the rear-guard of
the enemy from Hawe's Shop, the scene of the battle of May 28. The
same day he crossed Tolopotomy Creek, and passed around the enemy's
left flank so far that Lee thought his left was turned by a strong
force, and under cover of darkness withdrew from a menacing position
which he was holding in front of the Ninth Corps. This successful
manoeuvre completed, Wilson returned to Hawe's Shop, and on the 4th
went into camp at New Castle ferry, in anticipation of certain
operations of the Cavalry Corps, which were to take place while the
Army of the Potomac was crossing to the south side of the James.



By the 6th of June General Grant again determined to continue the
movement of the army by its left flank to the south bank of the James
River, his unsuccessful attack on the enemy's works near Cold Harbor
having demonstrated that Lee's position north of the Chickahominy
could not be carried by assault with results that would compensate
for the enormous loss of life which must follow; therefore a further
attempt to fight a decisive battle north of Richmond was abandoned.
In carrying the army to the James River the hazardous manoeuvres
would be hampered by many obstacles, such as the thick timber,
underbrush, and troublesome swamps to be met in crossing the
Chickahominy. Besides, Lee held an interior line, from which all the
direct roads to Richmond could be covered with his infantry, leaving
his cavalry free to confront our advance on the south bank of the
Chickahominy as far down as Jones's bridge, and thence around to
Charles City Court House. In view of these difficulties it became
necessary to draw off the bulk of the enemy's cavalry while the
movement to the James was in process of execution, and General Meade
determined to do this by requiring me to proceed with two divisions
as far as Charlottesville to destroy the railroad bridge over the
Rivanna River near that town, the railroad itself from the Rivanna to
Gordonsville, and, if practicable, from Gordonsville back toward
Hanover Junction also.

"June 5, 1864. 3.30 P. M.

"MAJOR-GENERAL SHERIDAN, Commanding Cavalry Corps.

"I am directed by the major-general commanding to furnish the
following instructions for your guidance in the execution of the duty
referred to in the order for movements and changes of position
to-night, a copy of which order accompanies this communication.

"With two divisions of your corps you will move on the morning of the
7th instant to Charlottesville and destroy the railroad bridge over
the Rivanna near that town; you will then thoroughly destroy the
railroad from that point to Gordonsville, and from Gordonsville
toward Hanover Junction, and to the latter point, if practicable.
The chief engineer, Major Duane, will furnish you a canvas
pontoon-train of eight boats. The chief quartermaster will supply you
with such tools, implements, and materials as you may require for the
destruction of the road. Upon the completion of this duty you will
rejoin this army.

"Major-General, Chief-of-Staff."

After Meade's instructions reached me they were somewhat modified by
General Grant, who on the same evening had received information that
General Hunter, commanding the troops in West Virginia, had reached
Staunton and engaged with advantage the Confederate commander,
General Jones, near that place. General Grant informed me orally
that he had directed Hunter to advance as far as Charlottesville,
that he expected me to unite with him there, and that the two
commands, after destroying the James River canal and the Virginia
Central road, were to join the Army of the Potomac in the manner
contemplated in my instructions from General Meade; and that in view
of what was anticipated, it would be well to break up as much of the
railroad as possible on my way westward. A copy of his letter to
Hunter comprised my written instructions. A junction with this
general was not contemplated when the expedition was first conceived,
but became an important though not the paramount object after the
reception of the later information. The diversion of the enemy's
cavalry from the south side of the Chickahominy was its main purpose,
for in the presence of such a force as Lee's contracted lines would
now permit him to concentrate behind the Chickahominy, the
difficulties of crossing that stream would be largely increased if he
also had at hand a strong body of horse, to gain the time necessary
for him to oppose the movement at the different crossings with masses
of his infantry.

The order calling for two divisions for the expedition, I decided to
take Gregg's and Torbert's, leaving Wilson's behind to continue with
the infantry in its march to the James and to receive instructions
directly from, the headquarters of the army. All my dismounted men
had been sent to the White House some days before, and they were
directed to report to Wilson as they could be provided with mounts.

"COLD HARBOR, VA., June 6, 1964.

"MAJOR-GENERAL D. HUNTER, Commanding Dept West Virginia.

"General Sheridan leaves here to-morrow morning with instructions to
proceed to Charlottesville, Va., and to commence there the
destruction of the Virginia Central railroad, destroying this way as
much as possible. The complete destruction of this road and of the
canal on James River is of great importance to us. According to the
instructions I sent to General Halleck for your guidance, you will
proceed to Lynchburg and commence there. It would be of great value
to us to get possession of Lynchburg for a single day. But that
point is of so much importance to the enemy, that in attempting to
get it such resistance may be met as to defeat your getting into the
road or canal at all. I see, in looking over the letter to General
Halleck on the subject of your instructions, that it rather indicates
that your route should be from Staunton via Charlottesville. If you
have so understood it, you will be doing just what I want. The
direction I would now give is, that if this letter reaches you in the
valley between Staunton and Lynchburg, you immediately turn east by
the most practicable road until you strike the Lynchburg branch of
the Virginia Central road. From there move eastward along the line
of the road, destroying it completely and thoroughly, until you join
General Sheridan. After the work laid out for General Sheridan and
yourself is thoroughly done, proceed to join the Army of the Potomac
by the route laid out in General Sheridan's instructions. If any
portion of your force, especially your cavalry, is needed back in
your department, you are authorized to send it back. If on receipt
of this you should be near to Lynchburg and deem it practicable to
reach that point, you will exercise your judgment about going there.
If you should be on the railroad between Charlottesville and
Lynchburg, it may be practicable to detach a cavalry force to destroy
the canal. Lose no opportunity to destroy the canal.

"U. S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General."

Owing to the hard service of the preceding month we had lost many
horses, so the number of dismounted men was large; and my strength
had also been much reduced by killed and wounded during the same
period of activity. The effective mounted force of my two divisions
was therefore much diminished, they mustering only about six thousand
officers and men when concentrated on June 6 at New Castle ferry.
Here they were provided with three days' rations, intended to last
five days, and with two days' grain for the horses. The rations and
forty rounds of ammunition per man were to be carried on the persons
of the troopers, the grain on the pommel of the saddle, and the
reserve ammunition in wagons. One medical wagon and eight ambulances
were also furnished, and one wagon was authorized for each division
and brigade headquarters; enough canvas-covered boats for a small
pontoon-bridge were also provided.

My instructions permitting latitude in the route I should take, I
decided to march along the north bank of the North Anna River, cross
that stream at Carpenter's ford, strike the Virginia Central railroad
at Trevillian Station, destroy it toward Louisa Court House, march
past Gordonsville, strike the railroad again at Cobham's Station, and
destroy it thence to Charlottesville as we proceeded west. The
success of the last part of this programme would of course depend on
the location of General Hunter when I should arrive in the region
where it would be practicable for us to communicate with each other.

From my camp at New Castle ferry we crossed the Pamunkey, marched
between Aylett's and Dunkirk on the Mattapony River, and on the 8th
of June encamped at Polecat Station. The next day we resumed the
march along the North Anna--our advance guard skirmishing with a few
mounted men of the enemy, who proved to be irregulars--and bivouacked
on Northeast Creek, near Young's Mills. This day I learned from some
of these irregulars whom we made prisoners that Breckenridge's
division of infantry, en route to the Shenandoah Valley by way of
Gordonsville, was passing slowly up the railroad parallel to me, and
that the enemy's cavalry had left its position on the south side of
the Chickahominy, and was marching on the old Richmond and
Gordonsville road toward Gordonsville, under command of General Wade
Hampton, the information being confirmed by a scouting party sent out
to cut the telegraph wires along the railroad in the night.
Breckenridge had been ordered back to the valley by General Lee as
soon as he heard of Hunter's victory near Staunton, but now that my
expedition had been discovered, the movement of Breckenridge's troops
on the railroad was being timed to correspond with the marches of my
command till Hampton could get more nearly parallel with me.

On the 10th we resumed the march, passing by Twyman's store, crossing
the North Anna at Carpenter's ford and encamping on the road leading
along the south fork of the North Anna to Trevillian Station. During
the evening and night of the Loth the boldness of the enemy's
scouting parties, with which we had been coming into collision more
or less every day, perceptibly increased, thus indicating the
presence of a large force, and evidencing that his shorter line of
march had enabled him to bring to my front a strong body of cavalry,
although it started from Lee's army nearly two days later than I did
from Grant's. The arrival of this body also permitted Breckenridge
to pass on to Gordonsville, and from there to interpose between
General Hunter and me at either Charlottesville or Waynesboro' as
circumstances might determine.

On the night of the Loth General Hampton's division camped about
three miles northwest of Trevillian, at a place called Green Spring
Valley and Fitzhugh Lee's division not far from Louisa Court House,
some six miles east of Trevillian. Learning that I was at
Carpenter's ford, Hampton marched his division by way of Trevillian
Station toward Clayton's store, on the road from Trevillian to
Carpenter's ford, intending to attack me at Clayton's. Fitzhugh
Lee's division was to join Hampton at Clayton's store from Louisa
Court House; but on the morning of the 11th the two generals were
separated by several miles.

At daylight of the 11th my march, to Trevillian Station was resumed
on the direct road to that point, and engaging the enemy's pickets
and advanced parties soon after setting out, we began to drive them
in. Torbert had the lead with Merritt's and Devin's brigades, and as
he pressed back the pickets he came upon the enemy posted behind a
line of barricades in dense timber about three miles from Trevillian.
Meanwhile Custer's brigade had been sent from where we bivouacked, by
a wood road found on our left, to destroy Trevillian Station. In
following this road Custer got to the rear of Hampton's division,
having passed between its right flank and Fitzhugh Lee's division,
which was at the time marching on the road leading from Louisa Court
House to Clayton's store to unite with Hampton.

Custer, the moment he found himself in Hampton's rear, charged the
led horses, wagons, and caissons found there, getting hold of a vast
number of each, and also of the station itself. The stampede and
havoc wrought by Custer in Hampton's rear compelled him to turn
Rosser's brigade in that direction, and while it attacked Custer on
one side, Fitzhugh Lee's division, which had followed Custer toward
Trevillian, attacked him on the other. There then ensued a desperate
struggle for the possession of the captured property, resulting
finally in its being retaken by the enemy. Indeed, the great number
of horses and vehicles could not be kept on the limited space within
Custer's line, which now formed almost a complete circle; and while
he was endeavoring to remove them to a secure place they, together
with Custer's headquarters wagon and four of his caissons, fell into
the hands of their original owners.

As soon as the firing told that Custer had struck the enemy's rear, I
directed Torbert to press the line in front of Merritt and Devin,
aided by one brigade of Gregg's division on their left, Gregg's other
brigade in the meantime attacking Fitzhugh Lee on the Louisa Court
House road. The effect of this was to force Hampton back, and his
division was so hard pushed that a portion of it was driven pell-mell
into Custer's lines, leaving there about five hundred prisoners. The
rest of Hampton's men did not rally till they got some distance west
of Trevillian, while, in the meantime, Gregg had driven Fitzhugh Lee
toward Louisa Court House so far that many miles now intervened
between the two Confederate divisions, precluding their union until
about noon the next day, when Fitzhugh Lee effected the junction
after a circuitous march in the night. The defeat of Hampton at the
point where he had determined to resist my further advance, and his
retreat westward, gave me undisturbed possession of the station; and
after destroying the railroad to some extent toward Gordonsville, I
went into camp.

From prisoners taken during the day, I gathered that General Hunter,
instead of coming toward Charlottesville, as I had reason to expect,
both from the instructions given me and the directions sent him by
General Grant, was in the neighborhood of Lexington--apparently
moving on Lynchburg--and that Breckenridge was at Gordonsville and
Charlottesville. I also heard, from the same source, that Ewell's
corps was on its way to Lynchburg, but this intelligence proved
afterward to be incorrect, for these troops, commanded by General
Early, did not leave Richmond till two days later.

There was no doubt as to the information about Hunter's general
location, however. He was marching toward Lynchburg, away from
instead of toward me, thus making the junction of our commands beyond
all reasonable probability. So in view of this, I made up my mind to
abandon that part of the scheme, and to return by leisurely marches,
which would keep Hampton's cavalry away from Lee while Grant was
crossing the James River. I was still further influenced to this
course by the burden which was thrown on me in the large number of
wounded--there being about five hundred cases of my own--and the five
hundred prisoners that I would probably be forced to abandon, should
I proceed farther. Besides, the recent battle had reduced my supply
of ammunition to a very small amount--not more than enough for one
more respectable engagement; and as the chances were that I would
have to fight a great deal before I could reach Hunter, now that the
enemy's cavalry and Breckenridge's infantry were between us, the
risks of the undertaking seemed too great to warrant it.

The morning of June 12 Gregg's division commenced destroying the
railroad to Louisa Court House, and continued the work during the
day, breaking it pretty effectually. While Gregg was thus occupied,
I directed Torbert to make a reconnoissance up the Gordonsville road,
to secure a by-road leading over Mallory's ford, on the North Anna,
to the Catharpen road, as I purposed following that route to
Spottsylvania Court House on my return, and thence via Bowling Green
and Dunkirk to the White House. About a mile beyond Trevillian the
Gordonsville road fork--the left fork leading to Charlottesville--and
about a mile beyond the fork Hampton had taken up and strongly
intrenched a line across both roads, being reinforced by Fitzhugh
Lee, who, as before related, had joined him about noon by a
roundabout march. Torbert soon hotly engaged this line, and by the
impetuosity of his first attack, gained some advantage; but the
appearance of Fitzhugh Lee's troops on the right, and Hampton's
strong resistance in front, rendered futile all efforts to carry the
position; and, although I brought up one of Gregg's brigades to
Torbert's assistance, yet the by-road I coveted was still held by the
enemy when night closed in.

This engagement, like that off the day before around Trevillian, was
mostly fought dismounted by both sides, as had also been the earlier
fights of the cavalry during the summer in the Wilderness, at Todd's
Tavern, Hawe's Shop, and Matadequin Creek. Indeed, they could hardly
have been fought otherwise than on foot, as there was little chance
for mounted fighting in eastern Virginia, the dense woods, the
armament of both parties, and the practice of barricading making it
impracticable to use the sabre with anything like a large force; and
so with the exception of Yellow Tavern the dismounted method
prevailed in almost every engagement.

The losses at Mallory's Crossroads were very heavy on both sides.
The character of the fighting, together with the day's results,
demonstrated that it was impossible to make the passage of the North
Anna at Mallory's ford without venturing another battle the next day.
This would consume the little ammunition left, and though we might
gain the road, yet the possibility of having no ammunition whatever
to get back with was too great a hazard, so I gave orders to withdraw
during the night of the 12th. We retired along the same road by
which we had come, taking with us the prisoners, and all of our
wounded who could be moved. Those who could not be transported, some
ninety in number, and all the Confederate wounded in my hands, were
left at Trevillian in hospitals, under charge of one of our surgeons,
with plenty of medical and other stores.

We recrossed the North Anna at Carpenter's ford the following
morning, and halting there, unsaddled and turned the horses out to
graze, for they were nearly famished, having had neither food nor
water during the preceding forty-eight hours. Late in the afternoon
we saddled up and proceeded to Twyman's Store, while General
Hampton's main body moved down the south bank of the North Anna, with
the purpose of intervening between me and the Army of the Potomac, in
the hope of preventing my return to it; but his movements took no
definite shape beyond watching me, however, till several days later,
near St. Mary's Church, when I was crossing the peninsula to the
James River.

On the 14th the march was continued, and we reached the Catharpen
road, upon which it was originally intended to move if we had been
able to cross at Mallory's ford, and this conducted me to Shady Grove
Church. The next day we passed over the battle-field of
Spottsylvania Court House. The marks of the recent conflicts about
there were visible on every hand, and in the neighboring houses were
found many Union and Confederate wounded, who had been too severely
hurt to be removed from the field-hospitals at the time of the
battles. Such of our wounded as were able to travel were brought

On the 16th I marched from Edge Hill on the Ta River through Bowling
Green to Dr. Butler's, on the north side of the Mattapony. When I
arrived here I was unable to ascertain the position of the Army of
the Potomac, and was uncertain whether or not the base at the White
House had been discontinued. I had heard nothing from the army for
nine days except rumors through Southern sources, and under these
circumstances did not like to venture between the Mattapony and
Pamunkey rivers, embarrassed as I was with some four hundred wounded,
five hundred prisoners, and about two thousand negroes that had
joined my column in the hope of obtaining their freedom. I therefore
determined to push down the north bank of the Mattapony far enough to
enable me to send these impediments directly to West Point, where I
anticipated finding some of our gunboats and transports, that could
carry all to the North. Following this plan, we proceeded through
Walkerton to King and Queen Court House, and bivouacked in its
vicinity the night of the 18th. Next day I learned that the depot at
the White House had not yet been broken up entirely, and that
supplies were in store for me there; so after sending the wounded,
prisoners, and negroes to West Point under an escort of two
regiments, I turned back to Dunkirk, on the Mattapony, and crossed to
the south side at a place where the stream was narrow enough to
bridge with my pontoon-boats.

In returning from Trevillian, as the most of our wounded were hauled
in old buggies, carts, and such other vehicles as could be made
available in the absence of a sufficient number of ambulances, the
suffering was intense, the heat of the season and dusty roads adding
much to the discomfort. Each day we halted many times to dress the
wounds of the injured and to refresh them as much as possible, but
our means for mitigating their distress were limited. The fortitude
and cheerfulness of the poor fellows under such conditions were
remarkable, for no word of complaint was heard. The Confederate
prisoners and colored people being on foot, our marches were
necessarily made short, and with frequent halts also, but they too
suffered considerably from the heat and dust, though at times the
prisoners were relieved by being mounted on the horses of some of our
regiments, the owners meantime marching on foot. Where all the
colored people came from and what started them was inexplicable, but
they began joining us just before we reached Trevillian--men, women,
and children with bundles of all sorts containing their few worldly
goods, and the number increased from day to day until they arrived at
West Point. Probably not one of the poor things had the remotest
idea, when he set out, as to where he would finally land, but to a
man they followed the Yankees in full faith that they would lead to
freedom, no matter what road they took.

On the morning of the 20th, at an early hour, we resumed our march,
and as the column proceeded sounds of artillery were heard in the
direction of the White House, which fact caused us to quicken the
pace. We had not gone far when despatches from General Abercrombie,
commanding some fragmentary organizations at the White House,
notified me that the place was about to be attacked. I had
previously sent an advance party with orders to move swiftly toward
the cannonading and report to me by couriers the actual condition of
affairs. From this party I soon learned that there was no occasion
to push our jaded animals, since the crisis, if there had been one,
was over and the enemy repulsed, so the increased gait was reduced to
a leisurely march that took us late in the afternoon to the north
bank of the Pamunkey, opposite Abercrombie's camp. When I got to the
river the enemy was holding the bluffs surrounding the White House
farm, having made no effort to penetrate General Abercrombie's line
or do him other hurt than to throw a few shells among the teamsters
there congregated.

Next day Gregg's division crossed the Pamunkey dismounted, and
Torbert's crossed mounted. As soon as the troops were over, Gregg,
supported by Merritt's brigade, moved out on the road to Tunstall's
Station to attack Hampton, posted an the west side of Black Creek,
Custer's brigade meanwhile moving, mounted, on the road to
Cumberland, and Devin's in like manner on the one to Baltimore
crossroads. This offer of battle was not accepted, however, and
Hampton withdrew from my front, retiring behind the Chickahominy,
where his communications with Lee would be more secure.

While at the White House I received orders to break up that depot
wholly, and also instructions to move the trains which the Army of
the Potomac had left there across the peninsula to the pontoon-bridge
at Deep Bottom on the James River. These trains amounted to hundreds
of wagons and other vehicles, and knowing full well the dangers which
would attend the difficult problem of getting them over to
Petersburg, I decided to start them with as little delay as
circumstances would permit, and the morning of the 22d sent Torbert's
division ahead to secure Jones's bridge on the Chickahominy, so that
the wagons could be crossed at that point. The trains followed
Torbert, while Gregg's division marched by a road parallel to the one
on which the wagons were moving, and on their right flank, as they
needed to be covered and protected in that direction only.

The enemy made no effort to attack us while we were moving the trains
that day, and the wagons were all safely parked for the night on the
south side of the Chickahominy, guarded by General Getty, who had
relieved Abercrombie from command of the infantry fragments before we
started off from the White House.

To secure the crossing at Jones's bridge, Torbert had pushed Devin's
brigade out on the Long Bridge road, on the side of the Chickahominy
where, on the morning of the 23d, he was attacked by Chambliss's
brigade of W. H. F. Lee's division. Devin was driven in some little
distance, but being reinforced by Getty with six companies of colored
troops, he quickly turned the tables on Chambliss and re-established
his picket-posts. From this affair I learned that Chambliss's brigade
was the advance of the Confederate cavalry corps, while Hampton
discovered from it that we were already in possession of the Jones's
bridge crossing of the Chickahominy; and as he was too late to
challenge our passage of the stream at this point he contented
himself with taking up a position that night so as to cover the roads
leading from Long Bridge to Westover, with the purpose of preventing
the trains from following the river road to the pontoon-bridge at
Deep Bottom.

My instructions required me to cross the trains over the James River
on this pontoon-bridge if practicable, and to reach it I should be
obliged to march through Charles City Court House, and then by
Harrison's Landing and Malvern Hill, the latter point being held by
the enemy. In fact, he held all the ground between Long Bridge on
the Chickahominy and the pontoon-bridge except the Tete de pont at
the crossing. Notwithstanding this I concluded to make the attempt,
for all the delays of ferrying the command and trains would be
avoided if we got through to the bridge; and with this object in view
I moved Torbert's division out on the Charles City road to conduct
the wagons. Just beyond Charles City Court House Torbert encountered
Lomax's brigade, which he drove across Herring Creek on the road to
Westover Church; and reporting the affair to me, I surmised, from the
presence of this force in my front, that Hampton would endeavor to
penetrate to the long column of wagons, so I ordered them to go into
park near Wilcox's landing, and instructed Gregg, whose division had
been marching in the morning along the road leading from Jones's
bridge to St. Mary's Church for the purpose of covering the exposed
flank of the train, to hold fast near the church without fail till
all the transportation had passed Charles City Court House.

Meanwhile, General Hampton, who had conjectured that I would try to
get the train across the James by the pontoon-bridge at Deep Bottom,
began concentrating all his troops except Lomax's brigade, which was
to confront the head of my column on the river road, in the vicinity
of Nance's Shop. This was discovered by Gregg at an early hour, and
divining this purpose he had prepared to meet it by constructing
hasty cover for his men before receiving my instructions. About 4
o'clock in the afternoon Hampton got his force in hand, and with
Fitzhugh Lee's division assailed the whole front of Gregg's line, and
his left flank with Chambliss's and Geary's brigades. For two hours
he continued to attack, but made little impression on Gregg--gain at
one point being counterbalanced by failure at another. Because of
the evident strength of Hampton, Gregg had placed all his troops in
line of battle from the first, and on discovery of the enemy's
superior numbers sent message after message to me concerning the
situation, but the messengers never arrived, being either killed or
captured, and I remained in total ignorance till dark of the strait
his division was in.

Toward night it became clear to Gregg that he could maintain the
unequal contest no longer, and he then decided to retreat, but not
until convinced that the time won had enabled all the trains to pass
Charles City Court House in safety. When he had got all his led
horses fairly on the way, and such of the wounded as could be
transported, he retired by his right flank-in some confusion, it is
true, but stubbornly resisting to Hopewell Church, where Hampton
ceased to press him.

Gregg's losses were heavy, and he was forced to abandon his dead and
most seriously wounded, but the creditable stand made ensured the
safety of the train, the last wagon of which was now parked at
Wilcox's Landing. His steady, unflinching determination to gain time
for the wagons to get beyond the point of danger was characteristic
of the man, and this was the third occasion on which he had exhibited
a high order of capacity and sound judgment since coming under my
command. The firmness and coolness with which he always met the
responsibilities of a dangerous place were particularly strong points
in Gregg's make-up, and he possessed so much professional though
unpretentious ability, that it is to be regretted he felt obliged a
few months later to quit the service before the close of the war.

Gregg's fight fully satisfied me that we could not get the trains up
to the pontoon-bridge, for of course Hampton would now throw all his
cavalry in my front, on the river road, where it could be backed up
by Lee's infantry. Meanwhile, General Meade had become assured of
the same thing, and as he was now growing anxious about the fate of
Wilson's division--which, during my absence, had been sent out to
break the enemy's communications south of Petersburg, by destroying
the Southside and Danville railroads--he sent ferryboats to cross me
over the James. During the night of the 24th, and next morning, the
immense train--which ought never to have been left for the cavalry to
escort, after a fatiguing expedition of three weeks--was moved back
through Charles City Court House to Douthard's landing, and there
ferried over the river, followed by my troops in like manner. When
General Hampton discovered this, he moved to Drury's Bluff, and
there, on the morning of the 27th, crossed the James by the
Confederate pontoon-bridge.



While I was absent on the expedition to Trevillian, the movement of
the Army of the Potomac across the James River was effected, and
Wilson, whom I had left behind for the purpose, was engaged in the
duty of covering its front and rear. Late on the night of June 12
he, with Chapman's brigade, crossed the Chickahominy at Long Bridge,
in advance of the Fifth Corps, and by 7 o'clock next morning had
driven the enemy's pickets up to White Oak bridge, where he waited
for our infantry. When that came up, he pushed on as far as Riddle's
Shop, but late that evening the Confederate infantry forced him to
withdraw to St. Mary's Church; for early in the morning General Lee
had discovered the movement of our army, and promptly threw this
column of infantry south of the Chickahominy to White Oak Swamp, with
the design of covering Richmond. From St. Mary's Church Wilson
guarded all the roads toward White Oak Swamp and Riddle's Shop,
McIntosh's brigade joining him on the 14th, by way of Long Bridge, as
the rear of the Army of the Potomac passed the Chickahominy. In the
performance of this duty Wilson did not have to fight any engagement
of magnitude, for the bulk of the enemy's cavalry had followed me to
Trevillian. During the 15th and 16th Wilson drew his troops in
toward the James River, and next day crossed it on the pontoon-bridge
and camped on the Blackwater, near Mt. Sinai Church. Here he
remained till the 22d of June--the same day I reached the White House
with Gregg and Torbert--when, under orders from General Meade, he set
out to cut the enemy's communications to the south and southwest of

His instructions implied that the breaking up of the Petersburg and
Lynchburg, and Richmond and Danville railroads at Burkeville was the
most important part of his mission, and that when the work of
destruction began, it should be continued till he was driven off by
the enemy. Wilson's force consisted of about 5,500 men, General A.
V. Kautz, with the cavalry of the Army of the James, having joined
him for the expedition. In moving out Wilson crossed the Weldon road
near Ream's Station, first destroying it effectually at that point.
About fourteen miles west of Petersburg he struck the Southside
railroad, and broke it up clear to Burkeville, a distance of thirty
miles. Having destroyed everything at Burkeville Junction, he moved
along the Danville road to Staunton River, completely wrecking about
thirty miles of that line also. At Staunton River he found the
railroad bridge strongly guarded, and seeing that he could not burn
it, he began his return march that night, and reached Nottoway River,
some thirty miles south of Petersburg, at noon of the next day--the

In this expedition Wilson was closely followed from the start by
Barringer's brigade of W. H. F. Lee's cavalry, but the operations
were not interfered with materially, his success being signal till he
reached the vicinity of Stony Creek depot on his return. At this
point General Hampton, with his own and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry, got
between Wilson and the Army of the Potomac, there being behind them
at Ream's Station, at the same time, two brigades of infantry under
General Mahone. A severe battle ensued, resulting in Wilson's
defeat, with the loss of twelve guns and all his wagons. In
consequence of this discomfiture he was obliged to fall back across
the Nottoway River with his own division, and rejoined the army by
way of Peter's bridge on that stream, while Kautz's division, unable
to unite with Wilson after the two commands had become separated in
the fight, made a circuit of the enemy's left, and reached the lines
of our army in the night of the 28th.

Neither the presence of Hampton's cavalry at Stony Creek depot, nor
the possession of Ream's Station by the Confederate infantry, seems
to have been anticipated by Wilson, for in the report of the
expedition he states:

"Foreseeing the probability of having to return northward, I wrote to
General Meade the evening before starting that I anticipated no
serious difficulty in executing his orders; but unless General
Sheridan was required to keep Hampton's cavalry engaged, and our
infantry to prevent Lee from making detachments, we should probably
experience great difficulty in rejoining the army. In reply to this
note, General Humphreys, chief-of-staff, informed me it was intended
the Army of the Potomac should cover the Weldon road the next day,
the Southside road the day after, and that Hampton having followed
Sheridan toward Gordonsville, I need not fear any trouble from him."

I doubt that General Meade's letter of instructions and Wilson's note
of the same evening, warrant what General Wilson here says. It is
true that the Weldon railroad near Ream's Station was not covered by
our infantry, as General Humphreys informed him it would be, but
Wilson is in error when he intimates that he was assured that I would
look after Hampton. I do not think General Meade's instructions are
susceptible of this interpretation. I received no orders requiring
me to detain Hampton. On the contrary, when I arrived at the White
House my instructions required me to break up the depot there, and
then bring the train across the Peninsula as soon as practicable, nor
were these instructions ever modified. I began the duty imposed on
me on the morning of the 23d, totally in the dark as to what was
expected of Wilson, though it seems, from some correspondence between
Generals Grant and Meade, which I never saw till after the war, that
Grant thought Wilson could rely on Hampton's absence from his field
of operations throughout the expedition.

"June 21, 1864. 9:20 A. M.

"Commanding Third Division Cavalry Corps.

"The major-general commanding directs that you move your command at
2 A. M. to-morrow, the 22d instant, in execution of the duty assigned
you of destroying certain railroads. Despatches received from the
White House state that Hampton's cavalry was before that place
yesterday evening, and that General Sheridan had also reached there,
hence it is desirable that you should march at the earliest moment.
In passing Petersburg you will endeavor to avoid the observation of
the enemy, and then move by the shortest routes to the intersection
of the Petersburg and Lynchburg, and the Richmond and Danville
railroads, and destroy both these roads to the greatest extent
possible, continuing their destruction until driven from it by such
attacks of the enemy as you can no longer resist. The destruction of
those roads to such an extent that they cannot be used by the enemy
in connection with Richmond during the remainder of the campaign is
an important part of the plan of campaign. The latest information
from Major-General Hunter represents him to be a few miles west of
Lynchburg. He may endeavor to form a junction with this army; you
will communicate with him if practicable, and have delivered to him
verbally the contents of the following copy of a communication from
Lieutenant-General Grant to the major-general commanding this army.
Lieutenant Brooks, who will accompany your expedition part of the
way, should be informed where General Hunter will probably be found.

"The success of your expedition will depend upon the secrecy with
which it is commenced, and the celerity with which its movements are
conducted; your command will, therefore, have with it the lightest
supplies and smallest number of wheels consistent with the thorough
execution of the duty, the supplies of the section of country you
will operate in being taken into account. Upon the completion of the
work assigned you, you will rejoin this army.

"The chief quartermaster was directed yesterday to supply you with
the implements and material for the destruction of railroads obtained
for General Sheridan.

"[Signed] "A. A. HUMPHREYS,
"Major-General, Chief-of-Staff."

Mount Sinai Church, June 21, 1864--6 P.M.

"The instructions of the major-general commanding, of this date, are
received. I shall march in obedience thereto at 2 A. M. to-morrow.
Before starting I would like to know if our infantry forces cover the
Weldon road.

"I propose striking the Southside road first at Sutherland Station,
or some point in that vicinity, tearing up the track sufficiently to
delay railroad communication ten or twelve hours. At this place I
shall detach a force to strike the Richmond and Danville road, by a
rapid march, at the nearest point, tearing up the track at every
practicable point between there and Burkeville.

"From Sutherlands I shall move the main body of my command by the
Great road (breaking the railroad at every convenient point) directly
to Burkeville, which, if we succeed in capturing, will afford us the
opportunity of prosecuting our work with great advantage. As soon as
I have made dispositions for communicating with Hunter and done all
the damage possible, I shall move with all possible rapidity for
Danville and Grenboro'.

"Circumstances must, however, is a great degree control our movements
after leaving Burkeville.

"If Sheridan will look after Hampton, I apprehend no difficulty, and
hope to be able to do the enemy great damage. The ammunition issued
to my command is very defective. The implements for destroying roads
have not yet arrived, but I learn from General Ingalls that they will
certainly be here early to-morrow.

"[Signed] J. H. WILSON,
"Brigadier-General Commanding."

The moment I received orders from General Meade to go to the relief
of Wilson, I hastened with Torbert and Gregg by way of Prince George
Court House and Lee's Mills to Ream's Station. Here I found the
Sixth Corps, which Meade had pushed out on his left flank immediately
on hearing of Wilson's mishap, but I was too late to render any
material assistance, Wilson having already disappeared, followed by
the enemy. However, I at once sent out parties to gather
information, and soon learned that Wilson had got safe across the
Nottoway at Peter's bridge and was making for the army by way of
Blunt's bridge, on the Blackwater.

The benefits derived from this expedition, in the destruction of the
Southside and Danville railroads, were considered by General Grant as
equivalent for the losses sustained in Wilson's defeat, for the
wrecking of the railroads and cars was most complete, occasioning at
this, time serious embarrassment to the Confederate Government; but I
doubt if all this compensated for the artillery and prisoners that
fell into the hands of the enemy in the swamps of Hatcher's Run and
Rowanty Creek. Wilson's retreat from the perilous situation at
Ream's station was a most creditable performance--in the face of two
brigades of infantry and three divisions of cavalry--and in the
conduct of the whole expedition the only criticism that can hold
against him is that he placed too much reliance on meeting our
infantry at Ream's station, seeing that uncontrollable circumstances
might, and did, prevent its being there. He ought to have marched on
the 28th by Jarrett's Station to Peter's bridge, on the Nottoway, and
Blunts bridge on the Blackwater, to the rear of the Army of the

When the safety of Wilson's command was assured, I was ordered back
to Light House Point, where I had gone into camp after crossing the
James River to rest and recruit my command, now very much reduced in
numbers by reason of casualties to both horses and men. It had been
marching and fighting for fifty consecutive days, and the fatiguing
service had told so fearfully on my animals that the number of
dismounted men in the corps was very large. With the exception of

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