History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 14
Under the Enemy's Breastworks in Charles City County—Engaged Near Petersburg—Charging the First District of Columbia Cavalry at Malone's Crossing—Mounting Breastworks at Reams' Station—A Large Haul of Prisoners—On the Expedition to Cabin Point to Capture Beeves—In Contact With the First District of Columbia Cavalry Again–Charging Infantry—Heavy Captures—Thomas Waller Made Colonel—Fighting on the Plank Road—On Warren's Raid—At Hatcher's Run—At Dinwiddie Courthouse—At Five Forks—Retreating to Appomattox—Dispersing for Home.
At the death of General Chambliss, Colonel J. Lucius Davis assumed command of our brigade. On the night following we took the picket line, delighted to find ourselves near free, flowing water. We remained two days on this post, and on the evening of the last day our pickets in front were driven in, and a demonstration was made by us. We passed over a narrow causeway with an impassable marshy bog above and below, and formed a line on the farther side at the foot of a wooded hill. Our skirmish-line became engaged quickly with the enemy posted behind a line of breastworks on the brow of the hill. We made no attack, but were withdrawn, having had Sergeant Edwards, of Company K, killed, and Sergeant Lewis, of Company C, wounded.
On the following day we marched to the James river and crossed on a pontoon bridge, and proceeded to the south of Petersburg. We returned the day after to Swift Run, and halted for the night; and then moved to the immediate vicinity of Petersburg. On the 21st instant we were on the left flank of our infantry in a bloody assault made on the enemy near the line of the Weldon railroad. We were under the fire of sharpshooters for an hour or two, but escaped injury.
Our next camp was south of the Rowanty at Tabernacle meeting-house. From this point we moved on the 24th of August and again crossed at Malone's Bridge. We were ordered to engage the enemy at Malone's Crossing, on the Petersburg and Weldon railroad. We were dismounted, and, advancing, reached a small stream and swamp, where two Union cavalrymen belonging to a picket post were found busily engaged in skinning a cow. They were denied opportunity to complete the operation. The picket was driven in. We advanced against the enemy, occupying a cut of the railroad on the right, and an old brick kiln on the left. The enemy's line extended beyond ours on the right, and our men were ordered to lie down, and a message was sent for the Tenth Regiment to come forward so as to extend our line.
On the left, however, our line extended beyond the brickkiln, and our men in that quarter got well past the enemy's flank. When Major Clemens came up with the Tenth he was directed to move along the base of the hill and form on our right. Our men in the field, catching a glimpse of this reinforcement, raised a yell and began charging, and carried the enemy's line before the Tenth could get into the line. Flying in dismay and receiving an enfilading fire on the left as they ran, the enemy in considerable numbers threw down their fine rifles and ammunition in the road. They proved to be a regiment from Washington—the First District of Columbia Cavalry—who had been armed by our Yankee sisters. They acted ignobly in running, suffering an inferior force in numbers to drive them from a position which a few brave men could have held for hours.
Our loss in this engagement was about fifteen. Following up the road towards Reams' Station, a large body of cavalry and led-horses was seen occupying a field half a mile in front. The opportunity for a charge was the rarest we had seen, and Ball's squadron, which was kept always mounted, and which carried only pistols and sabres, was up and ready for the fray. We waited under Hampton's order for one of Butler's regiments. Meanwhile the enemy disappeared in the wooded country, and the chance was gone.
A body of infantry now came into sight moving at a double quick, and halted about four hundred yards from us, and from a barricade of fence-rails opened a harmless fire. Another column was soon seen deploying into line on our left flank. Finally, artillery opened on us, and the line on our left advanced. We were now ordered back to Malone's Crossing. Soon the roar of cannon and the rattle of small arms reached us from up the road in the direction of the enemy, and as the evening wore on the enemy vanished from our front. We were presently ordered forward. As our little brigade advanced on foot across the field we were preceded by Colonel Roberts and the Second North Carolina Cavalry, escorted by Ball's squadron.
About a mile above our position Roberts encountered a line of low barricade occupied by the enemy. This Ball charged, leaping it with his horses, and capturing about one hundred prisoners before the dismounted men of the regiment could get up. The men in advance here waited until those behind reached this line.
Our line was now reformed and very heavy shelling commenced. After some delay we were put in motion, and soon entered the woods, where an occasional shot was fired by a retiring vidette. We then reached a number of rifle-pits, from which, with little or no firing, about fifty men surrendered. The few men of the Thirteenth Regiment on our extreme left were put in charge of the prisoners and sent back. We now came into woods where the bushes had been chopped off, and the trees felled, and where marching was very difficult. But we pressed on, and got through it. A gentle slope was seen to lead up from the edge of the wood to a heavy line of breastworks extending from the railroad for a quarter of a mile along the crest of the hill. The woods to our right receded from these formidable works, and a tremendous volley issued from the enemy occupying them against that part of our line, now on open ground and fully exposed. Nothing could stand against such a fire. The men were ordered to lie down. The fire had in a measure ceased in the breastworks in front of the left of our line, and Pratt's squadron was ordered to scale the rampart. This was magnificently done. A double line of bluecoats occupied the line of fortifications beyond a transverse on the crest of a knoll. These were intently engaged firing at our men who threatened them in front. From the transverse Pratt's men gave them a galling volley in flank and rear, and instantly hundreds of hands were raised down the line.
The author, unable to leap the fortification, rode down to the railroad and passed through a roadway at the corner, and then, galloping forward to join the men in the works, met Captain Robinson with one or two of his men leading out a body of two hundred or more prisoners. The firing had commenced again. Discovering how few of our men were in the works, many of the Yankees who were about surrendering, ran into a growth of sugar-cane, or sorghum, back of the line, and fired. Several heavy volleys came also from a body of woods near by. As the enemy ran back from the breastwork he right and centre of our line, which were rapidly advancing, directed a steady fire upon them. The enemy had several guns in position on the edge of the woods opposite the railroad, and these were actively engaged for several minutes with a battery on our side. Pratt's men, pushing down the line, were joined by those who had charged in front across the open field, as darkness covered the scene.
The brigade was credited with over seven hundred prisoners. Pratt's squadron took three regimental flags. Our loss was not heavy. With one hour more of daylight we would have entailed much heavier losses upon General Hancock's fine corps, perhaps the flower of the Army of the Potomac. Our infantry under General A. P. Hill assaulted the works here on the opposite side in the morning, and the battle lasted till past noon. Two sides of the entrenchments had been carried in this attack. The field beyond the railroad was well dotted with groups of artillery horses that had fallen, four in a place, where they had stood harnessed. This morning encounter, doubtless, materially influenced the success of the handful of cavalry in the evening. The behavior of the regiment to-day elicited high praise from General Wade Hampton in orders.
We remained on picket for a few days at Reams' Station, and some of us witnessed the burial of the enemy's dead under flag of truce. It was done hurriedly, and a few remained for us to bury. The enemy's loss in killed must have been at least five hundred. We learned afterwards that Colonel Baker's District of Columbia Regiment, which we met first in the morning, and which made so feeble a resistance at Malone's was sent well to the rear of Grant's army on James river to recruit and act as a guard to beef cattle.
Our next camp was at Malone's, from which, after a few days we moved to Cat Tail Creek. Whilst here, about the 15th of September, the regiment was ordered out under command of Major Waller, to take part in an expedition in quest of several thousand beeves, which were reported to be penned down near Cabin Point, on James river. The brigades of Rosser, Barringer, and Chambliss were put in motion for this enterprise. The left of Grant's army was passed and our march continued nearly all day along the rear of his lines. In the evening the command was halted, and the men were allowed to unsaddle their horses and take several hours of quiet rest. At a late hour in the night we mounted and the march was resumed towards the cattle pound. Our division was ordered to occupy and hold the roads between the Federal army and the beeves, while Rosser captured and drove them off. Our march was cautious and silent. Just before light the sharp reports of Rosser's guns were heard. They were a signal for us to charge. A squadron or two of the enemy were guarding the road on which we charged. Most of them were cozily sleeping in their tents, and quite unprepared for so early a visit. Some were made prisoners, and many, hastily rushing from their tents, and casting aside their blankets, with white flags fluttering in their rear, sought the protecting cover of the woods. We found them to be the remnant of the First District of Columbia Cavalry, upon whose ranks we had previously made so heavy an inroad at Malone's Crossing. The herd of portly beeves, numbering over two thousand four hundred, were secured and driven within our lines. About three hundred horses and equipments were secured, and eleven wagons containing supplies. Rosser had a few men killed and wounded. Our division met with no loss.
Our next camping-ground was at Chappell's farm, where we remained quietly until the 27th of September. On that day we marched towards Petersburg. On the 30th we were dismounted and posted on the right of our infantry line.
We were ordered to advance in the afternoon to support a piece of our artillery. The gunners were running, and a force of Yankee infantry on the opposite side of the field were about to charge the gun. Changing from column into line as rapidly as possible, we charged across the field, firing only a few shots. The enemy broke before we came up, and were retreating from the field. If we had been mounted the probability is we might have overtaken and captured several thousand. As it was, we took one colonel (commanding the Twenty-fourth New York Cavalry), many company officers, and over five hundred privates. On the following day we had a skirmish on the Squirrel Level and Vaughan roads. The brigade lost about fifty prisoners. The Captain of company A and several privates were wounded. After a day or two passed in bivouac near Petersburg, we returned to Chappell's, on Goose creek.
On the 17th of October Colonel Davis, having left us, the author was assigned to the command of the brigade, and turned the regiment over to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Waller, who was made colonel. Samuel Swann became lieutenant-colonel, and R. H. Pratt major.
In the fight of the 27th of October, dismounted on each side of the Plank road below Petersburg, the regiment acted a conspicuous part, and drove the enemy from several positions. Lieutenant Lal. Washington, of Company C, was severely wounded. Privates B. B. Beale and J. N. Brown, of the same company, were killed, and several others were badly wounded.
In the pursuit of Warren's corps along the Weldon railroad down to Belfield Station in midwinter they were several times under fire and suffered for want of rations and exposure to ice and sleet. Much of the winter of 1864 and 1865 was spent in comfortable winter quarters near Belfield Station, each of the squadrons taking its turn of picket service, on a line about thirty miles from camp. They were on the right of our infantry at Hatcher's run in the month of February, 1865, and in an engagement on the 5th of that month suffered considerably.
In the last days of March at Five Forks and Dinwiddie Courthouse, and in all the privations and dangers of the memorable days from Sunday the 2d to Sunday the 9th of April they bore themselves in the same daring, dashing manner which they had shown for four years, exhibiting on the morning of the ill-fated 9th the same steady courage, the same intrepid bearing which marked them in the beginning. Supporting and participating in part in the last charge which was made upon the artillery by any arm of the Army of Northern Virginia, they cheered their comrades of the Fourteenth Regiment, led by the gallant Captain E. E. Bouldin, of the Charlotte Troop, returning with two twelve-pound brass guns, wrested from General Sheridan while the terms of surrender were being signed. One company alone gave way under the crucial test of the last few days, the majority of them, with their captain, having left on the 5th of April.
Leaving the field of Appomattox, they dispersed, some in companies, some in squads, and some alone, to march to their homes, there to weep with their loved ones over a fate which no sacrifice could avert and no bravery postpone. Reared in the school of Washington and Madison, of Jefferson, Marshall, and Calhoun, they had fought in obedience to the mandates of an honest conviction of duty; and that high-toned Honor which bade them tread the toilsome path waited upon its every step, and no act forbidden by the rules of modern civilized warfare could be truthfully laid to their charge; and when Lee bowed his great soul to the will of God, whatever the victor might have imposed, that self-respect which is ever handmaid to conscious rectitude was a jewel of which they could not be deprived.
- In this last charge the brave young color-bearer, James Wilson, and Samuel Walker, of Company H, Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry, both from Rockbridge county, laid down their lives, the last men to fall in battle in the Army of Northern Virginia.—G. W. B.