June 11–21, 1864.—Expedition from Point Lookout, Md., to Pope’s Creek, Va.
Report of Col. Alonzo G. Draper, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops.
Headquarters District of Saint Mary’s,
Point Lookout, Md., June 22, 1864.
Sir: I have the honor to report that on the evening of the 11th instant I embarked on the steam transports Georgia, Charleston, Long Branch, and Favorite with 475 men of the Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops and 49 men of the Second and Fifth U. S. Cavalry, under command of First Lieut. J.C. Denney, Fifth U.S. Cavalry, and proceeded to Pope’s Creek, Va., on the Potomac River, for the purpose of procuring horses for the quartermaster’s department, and farming implements, transportation, &c., for the contraband settlement on the Patuxent River. We touched at Saint Mary’s River, Md., to communicate with the gun-boats which had been designated by the fleet captain, Eastman, to accompany the expedition. At Saint Mary’s the gun-boat Resolute ran into the transport steamer Long Branch, inflicting injuries which rendered it necessary to send her back for repairs. The troops on the Long Branch were therefore transferred to the Georgia.
On the morning of the 12th we landed at Pope’s Creek and divided into two detachments, 300 men, under Captain Hart, of the Thirty-Sixth, taking the road running by a northerly course to Smith’s Wharf, and thence along the Rappahannock to Warsaw, where all detachments were to unite on the evening of the 13th.
The remaining infantry, under my own command, accompanied by 100 sailors under Captain Street, of the gun-boat Fuchsia, took the road to Montross. From this column I detached seventy-five men to canvass the road to Currioman Bay and rejoin me at Montross. From both columns detachments were thrown off on all the cross-roads leading to Warsaw to collect horses and cattle and to drive all scattering parties of the enemy toward Wind-Mill Point, where we hoped to meet and destroy them. One company was sent forward to hold Durrettsville, at the forks of the road nine miles above Warsaw. Both columns reached Warsaw at the appointed time without any remarkable incidents except occasional guerilla firing, which did no damage.
On the evening of the 12th I rode with a cavalry escort to the Rappahannock, opposite the town of Tappahannock, where I communicated with the gun-boats Jacob Bell and Freeborn. The officers of these boats informed me that horses were abundant at the Occupacia Creek and Layton’s Wharf, on the south side of the Rappahannock. Finding horses scarce and poor on the Northern Neck, between the Potomac and Rappahannock, I resolved to transfer the field of operations to the south bank of the Rappahannock. Accordingly, after directing the troops to march the next day to Durrettsville, I rode the same night, the 13th, to Machodoc Creek, on the Potomac, and communicated my intention to Lieutenant Hooker, commanding, of the flotilla, with the request that he should convoy the transports to Union Wharf, on the Rappahannock. From Machodoc Creek two transports were dispatched to Point Lookout, loaded with, with orders to report at Union Wharf.
I returned on the morning of the 14th to Durrettsville, where I found the troops concentrated, except a company under Captain Hatlinger, who had mistaken the route, but who rejoined us in the evening.
We passed the night of the 14th at Durrettsville, and marched on the morning of the 15th to Union Wharf, where we were soon joined by the gun-boats and transports. About a day and a half was spent in rebuilding the wharf, which was burned by General Kilpatrick.
On the 16th Second Lieutenant O’Brien permitted three men of his company to leave the battalion and go to a house about a mile distant, notwithstanding my orders that no man should be allowed to leave the column. In all other respects Lieutenant O’Brien performed his duties in a very acceptable manner. Of these three men from O’Brien’s company one only returned, of the other two one was murdered by the rebel cavalry and the other wounded and probably killed, as he crawled into the woods and could not afterward be found.
Hearing the firing on the afternoon of the 16th, I rode out with about forty of the cavalry to ascertain the cause. Emerging from the woods about a mile from Union Wharf, we perceived a body of rebel cavalry about a mile ahead, at a point of woods where the road forks. Sending forward three men as an advance guard, we advanced upon them. The advance guard reported 200 cavalry in the rebel column; but subsequent information showed their force to be much smaller. At a suitable distance I ordered a charge, directly after which the enemy opened fire upon us. After riding to within sixty yards of the rebel position, I found myself almost alone, only my assistant adjutant-general and a few faithful orderlies remaining by me. I turned and ordered the cavalry to close up; whereupon the rebels set up their customary, and my escort turned their horses’ heads to the rear and ran for their lives, seeing which the rebels immediately charged upon us. I tried in vain to rally my men, calling upon them a dozen times to halt and face the enemy. In this attempt I was seconded by Captain Gibbs, of the Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers, my acting assistant adjutant-general, and by a few men among the cavalry who repeated my orders to halt. I remained on the ground until my orderly and one other man had been captured by my side, and another dismounted man had had time to run to the rear, get over the fence, and escape. Finally, finding myself enveloped in the dust of the rebel pursuit and entirely alone, I followed the crowd. The rebels after pursuing 200 or 300 yards turned back, evidently astonished at their success. On this occasion Lieutenant Denney was absent, being afflicted with a disease which prevented his riding. When I left the wharf, I had ordered a detachment of about 150 men, under Captain Hatlinger, to follow the cavalry as a support, leaving the remainder of the battalion to complete the wharf. Captain Hatlinger, who is an inefficient officer, was very slow to execute this order; but when he did arrive, I posted one-half of his men on the edge of the woods, and dismounting, took seventy-five men and made a detour through the skirt of the wood, hoping to get in rear of the rebels and cancel the account. The annexed diagram will show the position. From my base of operations at the point where the road from Union Wharf emerges from the woods, I could see, as I thought, a complete circuit of woods, by which I could keep constantly under cover while marching to the enemy’s rear. I found upon trial that the open plain made numerous bays into the woods, increasing the circuit to about seven miles of close thorny underbrush. By dark we were within 600 or 700 yards of the rebels, who had lighted their camp-fires and prepared to bivouac. At this juncture the accidental explosion of a percussion cap gave the notice of our approach, whereupon they immediately removed to safer quarters. We soon emerged in rear of their camp-fires, which we found deserted. After marching about a mile in pursuit, we returned to Union Wharf.
On the morning of the 17th of June, the anniversary of Bunker Hill, I thought it proper to make one more attempt to wipe out the disgrace which the cavalry had brought upon the expedition. Leaving about 300 men to load the transports, I marched with 200 men of the Thirty-sixth, and 36 of the cavalry, under Sergeant Cain, to the point where the road bends (marked B on the diagram), which point is about 1,000 yards from the rebel position (at D), where we again found them, this time in force, numbering, according to the best information, 150 men of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, and 450 infantry, who were mostly home guards; the whole under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. I posted the cavalry at the bend (B), with fifty of the infantry concealed in the woods behind them, in such a position as to rake the roads in case our cavalry should again be repulsed. I gave Sergeant Cain instructions to charge whenever my bugler should sound the order. I then moved the remainder of the colored infantry, 150 in number, through the edge of the woods to the point marked C, within 500 yards of the rebel position (D), and formed line of battle in the edge of the woods, with a ditch directly in front, posting twenty men in rear as a reserve. During this time the rebels worked like ants, completing a barricade across the road on which their cavalry stood, facing ours. The enemy reserved his fire, evidently expecting a combined charge from our infantry and cavalry, and intending to open upon us at short range. I ordered my men to fix their sights for 500 yards, and directed the company commanders to pass along the line and see that every sight was properly raised. I then cautioned them to aim steadily, and fire at the bottom of the fence. Riding out of the woods by the right flank of the battalion, where I could observe the effect of our fire, I ordered the firing to commence by rank; desiring to reserve a portion of my fire until I could determine the strength and purposes of the enemy, and ascertain whether he had any flanking force in the woods where we lay. Our first volley had a marked effect, evidently taking the enemy by surprise, as he expected a charge. At the first fire several of the enemy were seen to fall, and heard to scream. They immediately returned our fire, apparently every man for himself. We poured in our volleys in rapid succession, and soon threw the rebels into great confusion; at every discharge crowds of them took to the woods in their rear, and their officers could be distinctly heard shouting frantically for them to “come out of the woods,” and cursing them for their cowardice. Perceiving that the end was near, I sent a mounted officer to show the cavalry where they could pass through the fence, and thus avoid the enemy’s stockade in their charge. Sergeant Cain had the assurance to ask if in the charge they were to have infantry support on the flank. At about the fifth volley the rebels disappeared. I immediately fired another volley and sounded the charge for the cavalry, at the same time moving the infantry forward into the open field and forming an assaulting and supporting line. The cavalry advanced at a slow trot, and afterward at a walk, the infantry being obliged to halt for them to come up. We then moved upon the rebel position, which was entirely abandoned. I sent forward a portion of the cavalry to reconnoiter, but no enemy could be found for miles. At the fork of the road several pools marked the spot where the rebels fell, but all their wounded and dead—if they had any—were carried off into the woods.
Captain Street, of the navy, who again landed at Union Wharf on the 20th, was informed by Captain Braxton’s overseer that thewas only 2 wounded, but a colored woman reported that she saw 4 corpses, besides 1 covered up in a cart, and that the “chief captain” was wounded.
In this affair at Pierson’s farm not one of my men received a scratch, the rebels firing too high, their balls in most cases passing directly over the head of the mounted officers. The gallantry of the colored troops on this occasion could not be excelled. They were as steady under fire and as accurate in their movements as if they were on drill.
After giving nine rousing cheers on the rebel ground we recalled the cavalry and marched to Union Wharf, where we assisted in embarking the captured property. A little after dusk a long cloud of dust announced the enemy on a road skirting the edge of the wood three-quarters of a mile from the wharf. I immediately recalled a portion of the troops who had commenced embarking, and made preparations for defense. The rebels for a long time remained stationary, and for a time disappeared. I, therefore, resumed the embarkation and notified Lieutenant-Commander Hooker of the direction in which the enemy had been seen, whereupon he opened upon them with his 100-pounder Parrott and his 9-inch Dahlgren guns. We completed the embarkation without molestation, taking in all 4 prisoners of war from the Northern Neck.
From Union Wharf we sent two more steamer loads of captured property to Point Lookout, with orders to return to the Rappahannock. We then steamed to Layton’s Wharf, opposite Leedstown, where we were informed that two rebel regiments—the Fifty-ninth Virginia Infantry, numbering 680, and the Seventh Virginia Cavalry, numbering 440—had the night before crossed the Rappahannock three miles above Layton’s, for the purpose of helping to chastise our party.
We landed on the 18th and marched to Loyd’s, seven or eight miles, besides sending the cavalry out three miles on the Layton road. Four miles from Layton’s we found a large grist-mill, belonging to Robert M. T. Hunter, which had been turning out flour for the rebel army ever since the beginning of the war. This we burned to the ground. In this section we found an abundance of fine horses, mules, and beef-cattle. At Loyd’s we received information from so many different sources that we were forced to believe it reliable, that General Sheridan, after passing up the country on a raid with 8,000 men, had the night before passed through Newtown and crossed the Mattapony at Dunkirk bridge, and that Hampton’s cavalry division was in full pursuit. Our informant stated that Hampton’s pickets were within five miles of Loyd’s.
Throughout the day small parties of rebel cavalry were watching our movements. I, therefore, deemed it prudent to return to Layton’s Wharf, where we arrived in the evening. Spent the night in embarking horses, mules, and cattle, and sailed on the morning of the 19th for Tappahannock, where we landed and resumed our labor. Here we heard that the rebels were assembling and moving up the country in the expectation of meeting us above at Tappahannock; the infantry were posted in line, and the cavalry sent out six miles on each road to collect horses and give notice of the approach of any considerable force of the enemy. Late in the afternoon our scouts were driven in and sharp picket-firing was heard, at the same time a cloud of dust was seen coming down the road. The colored troops immediately took arms and sang “John Brown” for ten minutes in expectation of an attack. It soon appeared that the dust was raised by our own cavalry, who had made a detour, and, after a brief skirmish with the enemy, were coming into camp.
We spent another night in loading the two transports and the gun-boats, and re-embarked on the morning of the 20th. Passing down the river we sent boats ashore at Union Wharf, Urbanna, and Carter’s Creek for information, but failed to learn anything of importance. At the mouth of the river we met the two returning transports, which relieved the gun-boats of their load, when the expedition returned to Point Lookout, arriving early in the morning of the 21st instant. We brought in 375 head of cattle, 160 horses and mules, about 600 contrabands, including between 60 and 70 recruits for the army and navy, and a large number of plows, harrows, cultivators, wheat drills, corn-shellers, harness, carts, and carriages, &c., for the use of the contraband settlement on the Patuxent.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Alonzo G. Draper,
Colonel Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, Comdg. Dist.
Maj. R. S. Davis,
Asst. Adjt Gen., Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina.