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FIGHT ON PORT WALTHAL RAILROAD.
HEADQUARTERS, GENERAL BUTLER, May 7, 1864.
opposing point on the James, embracing the whole peninsula formed by the two rivers. In front of the left an impassable ravine runs down to the Appomattox, crossed only at one point by the road along that river. In front of the hight is a dense forest. Beyond the whole a swamp ad-stretches along opposite the centre. The position is an excellent one for defence, and the intrenching now being done renders it a dangerous place to attack. The gunboats on the James and Appomattox protect the flanks.
The skirmish of last night was quite serious. General Smith directed General Heckman to vance with his brigade to find out what force and position the enemy had in front of his lines on the left. General Heckman pushed forward, driving in their pickets, and skirmishing along the line, pushing the rebels back to the Port Walthal Railroad. Here the Secesh had taken advantage of the railroad embankment, and our forces were received with a volley. General Heckman was wounded in the little finger of his right hand by a Minie ball, which passed through his coat, trowsers, saddle flap, and killed his horse. General Heckman opened on them with two pieces of artillery. This the rebels thought unfair, as they had no cannon, and called out to our men, "Hold on Yanks, till to-morrow, and then we will get our guns up. The object being simply a reconnoissance, and General Heckman being instructed on no account to bring on a general engagement, as the right of our line had not got into position, he withdrew his brigade. The rebs charged after him but were handsomely repulsed twice, and our men returned to camp having eight killed, and forty wounded. It was ascertained that there was quite a force there at least two brigades. During last night trains were heard running up, and this morning General Heckman again advanced down the same road, but did not succeed in penetrating so far. He met the rebels in still stronger force, but, obtaining a good position, sent back word that he thought he could hold it. The rest of the battery was sent out, and firing ceased soon after.
The wounds of the men hurt the day before were caused by rifle balls; to-day wounds caused by shells were plentiful. General Beauregard was in command of the rebel forces, said to number about twenty thousand, with which he came up from Weldon. Prisoners belonging to South Carolina and Virginia regiments, and to the Washington battery, were captured. Meanwhile, General Brook, commanding First division, Eighteenth corps, with three brigades, marched down the road leading to the Petersburg and Richmond road. He soon encountered the enemy in force and a severe fight ensued, lasting with intervals up to six o'clock P. M. These movements were made to cover a third, which had for its object the cutting of the R. & P. R. R. For this purpose the brigade of the Tenth corps, under Colonel Burton, pushed rapidly across the country, and succeeded in reaching the railroad, and tearing up about a mile of it. Colonel Burton then fell back. At sunset, Generals Heckman and Brooks were holding the the position to which they had advanced.
The position taken by General Butler is one of great natural strength, extending from the Appomattox, near Port Walthal, on the left, to an
The line is only two and a half miles in length. Across the Appomattox we hold City Point, by another short line across the Point. This position is also protected by the gunboats. Great confidence is felt by General Butler and his general officers as to their ability to hold the position against any force which can be brought to attack it.
About noon to-day, while the gunboat Shoshonee was fishing for torpedoes, near Deep Bottom, a battery from Richmond appeared on the north bank, took position and opened upon the boat. A shot passed through the steam chest, blowing up the vessel. Those of the officers and crew who took to the north shore were taken prisoners. A few who reached the south bank were afterward picked up by the army gunboat, Charles Chamberlain. A deserter from Lee's army was captured, who stated that Lee had given Grant a very hard fight. Contrabands report Grant whipped, and falling back. It is life or death to us here as to which way the scales turn in reference to Grant's movement, and news from him is most anxiously awaited.
Some distance back from the shore, nearly opposite headquarter's boat, and near a brick house, a rebel signal flag has been in constant use. This afternoon, Lieutenant Bladenheizer, commanding the army gunboat, Brewster, with one hundred and twenty men from the Sixtyseventh Ohio regiment, landed and succeeded in capturing the party with all their flags, telescopes, &c. Lieutenant Bladenheizer was yesterday promoted to a Captaincy for gallant conduct.
OPERATIONS IN WEST VIRGINIA.
REPORT OF COLONEL STROTHER.
RICHMOND, August 10, 1865. GENERAL: In accordance with your request, I have the honor to submit the following statement in regard to the operations of the Army of West Virginia, while under your command, during the summer of 1864. I do so the more cheerfully as I have perceived that the motives and results of these operations have been less clearly understood and appreciated by the public than any other of the important campaigns of the war.
I am the better prepared to make this statement, as I served throughout the campaign as
your Chief of Staff, and, in that capacity, kept an
about fifteen miles south of Winchester. On
I will commence by a brief explanation of the military position in the Department of West Virginia when you took command.
General Sigel having been assigned to the command of the reserves stationed on the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, made his
It was determined to resume the movement on Staunton immediately, and, with a view to further operations from that point, orders were sent to Generals Crook and Averell, then supposed to be in the vicinity of Meadow Bluff, to join us at Stauntou, by forced marches, moving lightly, and depending on the country for subsistence as much as possible.
The column in the Shenandoah valley having been reinforced to the extent of supplying the losses in the New Market campaign, with baggage and transportation reduced to the minimum allowance, cut loose from its communications, and began its advance up the valley on the twenty.sixth of May. The force was about eight thousand five hundred men of all arms, with twenty-one guns. The plan of action proposed was, to fight and overthrow any enemy that stood in the way, to seize upon Staunton, unite with Crook and Averell, and with the combined force occupy Charlottesville, from whence we might easily operate with our cavalry against the James River canal, and by crossing the river.cut off the Southside railroad, thus cutting off the enemy from its chief source of supplies. The more extended plan, of moving on Lynchburg by the valley route from Staunton, or through the Piedmont coun
Early in the spring of 1864, the forces hereto fore scattered over this extensive department were concentrated at different points, prepared to co-operate in the grand combined movement which had been arranged against the national enemy. Simultaneously with the advance of General Grant on Richmond, and that of General Sherman on Atlanta, the co-operating columns of the Army of West Virginia commenced their movements, charged with the accomplishment of the most arduous and important secondary purposes of the campaign. Their orders were to move upon the enemy's communications, destroy railroads, military depots, stores, supplies, and manufactories, crippling his resources in every way practicable; to distract his attention from the vital centres of operation, and to force him, if possible, to detach troops for the defence of distant points. As the field of operations embraced in these orders was of immense extent, interrupted by chains of rugged and lofty mountains covered to a great extent with impenetrable forests, traversed by deep and rapid rivers, its topography and even its gen-ties of Nelson and Amherst, directly from Chareral geography but little understood outside, the General commanding the department was allowed full discretion in arranging the plans for their accomplishment.
lottesville, was discussed, but left for consideration after the first part of the programme should be accomplished.
The occupation of Harrisonburg, the flank The movement commenced under the orders movement on Port Republic, the brilliant and of Major-General Sigel, as follows: Brigadier-decisive victory at Piedmont, and the junction General Crook with his division moved from with the forces under Crook and Averell, at Kanawha, striking the Virginia and Tennessee Staunton, have all been described in a former railroad at New river, and destroying it for report. some distance. He defeated the enemy's forces that opposed him, capturing many prisoners and valuable stores.
Brigadier-General Averell at the same time moved southward from Beverly, with his division, menacing the salt works near Abingdon, and co-operating with Crook in the destruction of the railroad. These forces then fell back to Lewisburg and Meadow Bluff in Greenbrier county, awaiting further developments.
At the same time General Sigel, in person, took command of the forces collected at Martinsburg, about eight thousand five hundred men of all armis, and advancing southward, was met at New Market, on the Staunton turnpike, and defeated by the rebel forces under Breckinridge. On the following day, May sixteenth, he retired to a position behind Cedar creek,
The result of the battle at Piedmont was the virtual annihilation of the enemy's military power in West Virginia and the valley of the Shenandoah. All the country west of the Blue Ridge was at our mercy. As this country was the source from which the enemy drew its principal supplies of meat, grain, forage, salt, lead, and iron, we were well aware that its possession was essential to the maintenance of his army, and that he would make the most desperate efforts to regain it. He could not hope to do so without detaching a considerable_force from Lee's army, and to induce General Lee thus to weaken his army was one of our principal objects in the movement. The following letter found on the body of General William E. Jones, killed at Piedmont, indicates the views and expectations of the enemy:
HEADQUARTERS, VALLEY DISTRICT, June 1, 1864. GENERAL: This will be handed to you by General Means, of Shenandoah, who goes to meet you at my request, and will state to you fully the condition of affairs in the valley. I am holding out every inducement I can to Hunter to follow me up as far as Mount Crawford. If he does, and we can get him on "a run," we can ruin him. He is playing devilish cautious, however, and may not take the bait.
Colonel Jackson telegraphed me last night that the enemy in Greenbrier was moving, he believed in the direction of Staunton. If so, I can, with North river in my front, hold Hunter till you thrash Crook and Averell, and then we can pay our respects jointly to Mr. Hunter. Yours, respectfully,
J. D. IMBODEN, Brigadier-General.
Brigadier-General WM. E. JONES,
Commanding and en route, Lynchburg, Va.
Another paper contained an appeal from the officer in command at Lynchburg, setting forth the value of that place as a centre of communications and a depot of supplies, and asking for more troops to defend it against a sudden raid of the Yankees. This paper had been referred to General Jones by the Richmond authorities, indicating thereby that the defence of Lynchburg devolved upon him.
Another suggestive paper was a telegram from Jefferson Davis to Jones, urging him to guard especially against raids into the western portion of North Carolina, intimating that they were to be dreaded for political as well as military reasons.
These proofs of the fears and weakness of the enemy, together with the encouraging reports received from the North of General Grant's progress, induced us to hope that the plan of an extensive and damaging campaign, discussed at the outset, might now be successfully carried out. It was determined, therefore, to move on Lynchburg by way of Lexington and Buchanan, crossing the Blue Ridge at the Peaks of Otter. From Lynchburg we could operate against the Southside and Danville railroads with our cavalry, cutting off the enemy's only means of supply, liberating the Union prisoners confined at Danville, and rendering necessary the speedy evacuation of the rebel capital.
If General Lee was forced to detach a considerable force to oppose us, and prevent the execution of these designs, an equally desirable and important object would be accomplished; the main army of the rebellion would be weakened; General Grant would be relieved to that extent, while we had always safe lines of retreat open to the westward, through the passes of the mountains.
In addition to these considerations, the country, we found, afforded abundant supplies for our troops, while the inhabitants were quiet and, in many instances, even favorable to us. We had also assurances that in south-western
Virginia and North Carolina we might hope for Our active assistance from the inhabitants.
progress, too, revealed a much larger amount of material of war than we had expected, and the provisions and manufactories for producing destruction of this kind of property was im
Having sent back a convoy of prisoners, train and a strong escort of men whose terms negroes, and refugees, with an empty wagon Virginia started southward from Staunton on of service had nearly expired, the Army of West the 10th of June, moving up the valley by four parallel roads. On the 11th we occupied Lexington, and there were overtaken by a supply train sent from Martinsburg, containing commissary stores, clothing, and ammunition-this latter being most essential, as our supply was short. Although these supplies were most acceptable,this train,two hundred additional wagons, embarrassed our movements considerably.
While it was important that we should have moved from Lexington without delay, we were detained, awaiting the arrival of General Duffie's column of cavalry, which marched on the road next to the Blue Ridge, and who did not report until the thirteenth, in the afternoon. He had crossed the bridge at Tye river Gap, struck the Charlottesville and Lynchburg railroad near Amherst Court-house, destroyed it to some extent, making considerable captures of men, horses, and material. He was confused and detained by the difficult and intricate character of the country.
Upon examining these prisoners I was informed that Grant had received a severe repulse; that Sheridan, who was moving to coöperate with us at the head of the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac, had been repulsed at Louisa Court-house and turned back; that Breckinridge had reinforced Vaughn at Rockfish Gap with four or five thousand men, and that Ewell's whole corps was advancing by the way of Charlottesville.
On the other hand we had news, from sources equally entitled to credit, that Lynchburg was undefended, and that its inhabitants were fleeing in panic from Sheridan's advance. Cut off from all reliable sources of information, the country filled with exaggerated and contradictory rumors, it was determined to solve the problem by a bold and decisive advance on Lychburg.
The details of this movement through Buchanan, Peaks of Otter, and Liberty, the action at Quaker Church, and the handsome repulse of of the enemy's attack in front of Lynchburg, have already been described in your official report. In the last-named action, which took place about the middle of the day on the eighteenth of June, we took several prisoners belonging to Ewell's corps. The statement of these men convinced us beyond a doubt that the Army of the Potomac had suffered a temporary check before Petersburg; that Sheridan had been foiled in his attempt to open communication with us; and that General Lee had
been enabled to detach a large force of veteran troops, under Lieutenant-General Early, to operate against us; that a portion of this force was engaged in the battle then going on, and the remaining divisions were coming in rapidly, by rail, from Charlottesville.
It was now evident that the Army of West Virginia was in a critical position. Two hundred and fifty miles from its base, with ammunition nearly exhausted and commissariat entirely so, with little more than sixteen thousand effective men, it was now actually engaged with a largely superior force-a force which in the course of the afternoon would be swelled to over thirty thousand men. The greatest apprehension was felt lest the enemy would renew his attack in the course of the afternoon, as our ammunition was so nearly spent that such an attack must have proved fatal. He had been so roughly handled, however, that he determined to wait until the following morning, when, with his whole force rested and refreshed, he could fall upon us more effectively.
That night our army, with its trains and material, was quietly withdrawn, retiring by the Bedford turnpike, through Liberty and Buford's Gap to Salem, on the Virginia and Tennessee railroad. This retrogade from our hazardous position was accomplished without loss and with but little annoyance from the enemy. From Liberty to Salem, our route lay along the line of the railroad, which we destroyed as we moved, arriving at Salem about sunrise on the morning of the twenty-first of June. After a short halt, we took the road across the mountains to the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, via New Castle and Sweet Springs, arriving at the White Sulphur on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth.
This move into the mountains was necessary to disembarrass ourselves of the enemy's cavalry, which had overtaken and followed us from Liberty, hanging upon our rear and harassing our flanks; without doing us much actual damage, however. After we entered the mountains, they disappeared entirely, and we found ourselves at the White Sulphur with no enemy to contend with, except the natural difficulties of the country and the scarcity of provisions.
The result of the campaign, thus far, had been eminently satisfactory; and everything that had been ordered or expected had been thoroughly accomplished, with but comparatively little loss.
About fifty miles of the Virginia Central railroad had been effectually destroyed; the Virginia and Tennessee road had been destroyed to some extent for the same distance; an incredible amount of public property had been burned, including canal-boats and railroad trains loaded with ordnance and commissary stores, numerous extensive iron-works, manufactories of saltpetre, musket-stocks, shoes, saddles, and artilleryharness, woollen cloths and grain mills; about three thousand muskets and twenty pieces of cannon, with quantities of shells and gun
powder, fell into our hands, while immense quantities of provisions, cattle and horses were captured and used by the army. We had beaten the enemy in every engagement, killing and wounding about two thousand of his men, including officers of high rank, and capturing over two thousand prisoners. We had, by a movement of unparalleled audacity, menaced the vitals of the rebellion and forced the leaders at Richmond to detach a formidable corps for their defence and security.
The vast importance of this diversion, as proved by subsequent events, will be satisfactorily established presently.
These great results had been accomplished with but little loss of men or material on our part. About fifteen hundred men killed, wounded and missing, and eight guns disabled by a stealthy attack, while they were on the march, and inadvertently left unguarded.
Considering its orders successfully carried out, the question now was to return the Army of West Virginia to its base by the speediest route and in the best condition for further active operations. At the council held at the White Sulphur on the morning of June twentyfifth three routes were proposed: one by the Warm Springs valley, by a road running parallel with the valley of the Shenandoah. It was foreseen that Early would, in all probability, make a counter raid against the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, overthrow General Sigel's force and do much mischief. It was urged that by marching down the parallel valley, via Warm Springs, Franklin and Moorfield, we might arrive in time to form a junction with Sigel, and prevent the anticipated raid. By way of objec tion to this route, it was argued that the distance to be marched was two hundred and fifty miles, by bad roads, and through a region sparsely populated and much wasted by war; the enemy having the advantage of shorter lines, better roads, and a considerable use of railroads, could throw his force ahead of us, block up our route by felled timber, attack us in flank through the gaps in the mountains, and thus drive us still deeper into the rugged and inhospitable regions of the Alleghanies. The army, already fatigued with long marches and suffering from irregular and limited supplies, must necessarily become more disorganized at every move, while the deficiency of ammunition made it essential that we should avoid every possibility of a serious collision with the enemy. These arguments were accepted as conclusive against the proposed route. The acknowledged impossibility of obtaining supplies and the long march were equally conclusive against the Beverley route. The route by Kanawha offered an open and safe road; a million of rations within three days' march; a shorter march to Charleston, from whence, by steamboats and railways, the troops could be transported to any point on our line where they might be needed. It was shown that these advantages, the time required to reach
the desired point would be less, and that the troops would arrive well fed and rested, instead of being worn out and exhausted, as they must be at the end of a long march through an impoverished country.
The Kanawha route was adopted, and troops moved, arriving at Charleston from the thirtieth of June to the fourth of July. On the afternoon of the fourth the Commanding General and staff arrived at Parkersburg, on the Ohio river, and there were met with the information that Early had driven Sigel out of Martinsburg, and occupied the line of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad in strong force. This intelligence was forwarded with an urgent request from the Secretary of War to hurry the troops forward.
General Hunter. He concluded by a very pressing and flattering request that he should retain his position. This request was accepted by General Hunter as a command,
Colonel Hays was ordered to move his brigade from Halltown by a road on the west side of the Shenandoah and strike the enemy on flank.
Instead of retiring by way of Gordonsville, as was expected, Early moved westward, and crossing the Blue Ridge at Snicker's Gap, took position on the turnpike road leading from Snicker's ferry to Winchester, his main body lying around Berryville. General Wright followed him as far as the gap. On the eighteenth General Crook, then commanding the West Virginia troops, pushed across the Shenandoah, and after a sharp action with the rebel Gordon's division, was driven back with a loss of four hundred men-the enemy losing six hunAll the necessary steps had been already dred. While the sound of cannon indicated an taken to expedite their movement from Charles-engagement in the vicinity of Snicker's ferry, ton, and whatever failure there may have been on the score of promptness was owing to the low stage of water in the river. The continuance of this unprecedented drought produced results against which human foresight could not have provided, and to overcome which human exertion was powerless. The lightest draught boats used on the river and calculated to run at all seasons continually grounded, and the troops were obliged to land and march round the bars. This unfortunate circumstance so impeded the movements that, in the aggregate, four or five days were lost. All the resources of the railroad were used to forward the troops arriving by the boats, and trains were running day and night. On the evening of July fourteen the General and staff arrived at Harper's Ferry.
Early meanwhile had crossed into Maryland, fought the battle of Monocacy, and while menacing Baltimore and Washington with his light cavalry, had retired into Virginia by way of Conrad's and Edwards' ferries. Our advanced infantry, a weak division under Sullivan, and some cavalry under Duffie, had already been sent to harass the enemy's flank, as he moved across Loudon county. Generals Crook and Averell, with a portion of their commands, were in Martinsburg General Wright with the Sixth corps, and General Emory with the Nineteenth corps, were understood to be following the enemy, and moving in the direction of Leesburg.
Averell was ordered to move from Martinsburg upon Winchester, On the twentieth Colonel Hays reported that his advance had been disputed by a strong body of the enemy, and that, after a prolonged skirmish, he had fallen back to Keys' ferry, being short of ammunition.
General Averell with his cavalry, and Duvall's infantry, in all twenty-three hundred strong, attacked and routed a greatly superior force of the enemy near Winchester, putting five hundred men hors de combat and capturing four guns. About this time Early retired from Berryville toward Front Royal and Strasburg, and General Wright, with the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, returned to Washington. In the military movements since his arrival at Harper's Ferry, General Hunter had no control or responsibility, except in ordering the minor cooperative moves under Hays and Averell.
Our information in regard to Early was, that he was strong and confident, apparently ready for battle when we might seek it, but coolly awaiting his opportunity. His position in the valley of the Shenandoah was maintained for the purpose of protecting the harvest in the fertile region which he covered, and for the still more important object of preventing another advance on Lynchburg. His presence was also a continual menace to Maryland, PennOn the fifteenth, by telegram from Major-sylvania, and the federal capital, and was thus General Halleck, the troops of the West Virginia army were place under the command of Major-General Wright, then at Poolesville. By this order General Hunter, although still in command of the department, was left without troops. Under this impression he wrote to President Lincoln, asking, respectfully but peremptorily, to be relieved of command. The President replied, explaining that the order transferring the West Virginia troops to the command of Major-General Wright was only intended to be temporary in its effect, and to apply while those troops were necessarily serving outside the department commanded by
calculated to create a diversion in favor of Lee at Richmond. That the enemy would fail to use his advantageous position to the utmost could hardly be supposed; the withdrawal of General Wright's forces without a decisive action was therefore regretted as premature.
General Crook reported that the enemy's retreat from Berryville was apparently in compliance with orders from rebel headquarters, and evidently not from weakness or the desire to avoid battle. A rumor of the fall of Atlanta seemed to give color to the former idea. On the twenty-third of July a telegram from the President was received, asking if, "since the