|Union Cavalry at Charles City Courthouse in June of 1864|
DECEMBER 12-14, 1863. Expedition from Williamsburg to Charles City Court-House, Va., and Skirmish.
Reports of Brig. Gen. Isaac J. Wistar, U. S. Army, and congratulatory letter from Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, U. S. Army.
December; 14, 1863.
I have the satisfaction to announce the complete success of the expedition sent out under command of Colonel West. All worked in successful combination. Our cavalry carried the enemy's camp at Charles City Court-House after sharp fighting, the enemy firing from their houses. We captured 8 officers and 82 enlisted men, being the whole command of three companies, and 55 horses and 3 mules, besides many shot, & c., and left on the ground. The enemy's camp, with equipments, arms, ammunition, and provisions, all thoroughly destroyed. Our loss is Captain Gregory, severely wounded, 1 sergeant and 1 corporal killed, and 4 men wounded. The New York Mounted Rifles in forty-four hours marched 76 miles. The One hundred and thirty-ninth New York Infantry in fifty-four hours marched 61 miles, mostly in a severe storm, moving day and night, and walking their shoes off, which should be made good by Government. All are entitled to high commendation for gallantry and unflinching endurance. Colonel West especially, for his precise execution of a difficult combination, by which alone could have accomplished my object.
I. J. WISTAR,
Major-General BUTLER. [Copy furnished Secretary of War by General Butler, who adds: General Wistar, with my approbation, sent out an expedition to Charles City Court-House, on the James River, to capture the enemy's force stationed there, and I have the pleasure to forward his report of its complete success. What adds to the brilliancy of the achievement is that it has been accomplished during a terrible storm.]
HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES FORCES,
Yorktown, Va., December 17, 1863.
MAJOR: Supplemental to my telegram of 14th instant, I have the honor to report in detail the operations of the force sent out under command of Col. R. M. West, on the on the 12th instant, to capture the enemy's cavalry at Charles City Court-House.
The distance from my lines at Williamsburg to the Forge, sometimes called Jones Bridge, over the Chickahominy, is 32 miles. Seven miles beyond is Charles City Court-House, which was held by Robertson's Forty-second battalion Virginia Cavalry, one company of which is kept on picket at Forge Bridge, and between that point and Williamsburg. Forge Bridge has been long destroyed, but there are two fords practicable at present in its vicinity. On Saturday, the 12th instant, Colonel Roberts, with a detachment 975 of 200 men of his regiment, the One hundred and thirty-ninth New York Infantry, marched from Williamsburg by a circuitous and longer route in rear of the rebel pickets and scouts, to the Forge Bridge, with instructions to reach that point at all hazards by 6 a. m. the following morning, and hold it.
At 7 p. m. on the 12th, Colonel West, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery, commanding United States forces at Williamsburg, with 275 men of the New York Mounted Rifles, under Col. B. F. Onderdonk, moved from Williamsburg by the direct road to Forge Bridge, where they were instructed to find and communicate with Colonel Roberts, and leaving him to hold that point, to make a dash upon and surprise the enemy at the court-house, who would have been .deprive d of communication with his pickets by the interposition of our infantry.
At 4 a. m. on the 13th, the Sixth U. S. Colored Infantry, Col. J. W. Ames, marched from Yorktown, with ambulances and a wagon loaded with rations with instructions to arrive at Twelve-Mile Ordinary, 24 miles distant, a sufficient time before dark, to select a good defensive position, and throw out pickets on both roads, which fork at that point.
These several movements were all effected with complete success, notwithstanding a severe storm of wind and rain which commenced suddenly during the process of their execution. Colonel Roberts, after a severe march, successfully evaded or captured all the enemy's pickets, and reached the Forge at the designated time. Colonel Onderdonk's cavalry, accompanied by Colonel West himself, after a toilsome night march, during which they were repeatedly lost in the woods, but extricated themselves by the use of candles, reached the same point less than two hours behind time, and found Colonel Roberts in position.
Colonel West immediately divided his into two small columns, under Colonel Onderdonk and Major
Wheelan respectively, and moved rapidly through the river and against the enemy, hastening the pace to a charge when within a mile or two. The enemy were encamped in two camps not far removed. Major Wheelan's column surprised the enemy, who immediately surrendered, after firing two volleys from their houses, the only result of which was the death of Major Wheelan's horse, and a severe fall for that gallant officer. Colonel Onderdonk's column led by Colonel West himself, gallantly charged the second camp. One moment of alarm enabled the enemy to fly to arms and retreat into their houses, whence they maintained for a brief period a galling fire, but soon surrendered to the irresistible onset of Onderdonk's men. All our loss occurred at this point. It consisted of Captain Gregory, severely wounded, Sergt. Arnold Wood and Corpl. Thomas Smith, killed, and Sergt. William E. Hendrickson, Sergt. Robert Z. Johnson, Private John H. Shipplebearer, and F. R. Wilson, a guide, wounded.
Eight commissioned officers and 82 enlisted men of the enemy were captured, brought in, and turned over, with a descriptive roll. Fifty-five horses and 3 mules were taken and brought in, 20 or 30 more unserviceable were shot, and about 100 carbines, 100 sabers, 100 sets of horse equipments, and 20 new tents, besides ammunition and provisions, were burned. Colonel West then returned with his prisoners and captured horses to Forge Bridge, where he again joined Colonel Roberts infantry, and all returned together to Twelve-Mile Ordinary, which point was reached about 1 a. m. on the 14th. Here Colonel Ames, with his regiment, was found in position, with ambulances and rations, both much required. The prisoners were turned over to his fatigued but comparatively fresh men, and on the following day all reached Williamsburg in safety, except 1 man of Sixth U. S. Colored Troops, who was captured by the enemy. Colonel West is deserving of great credit for this brilliant stroke inflicted 40 miles in rear of the enemy's pickets. Also Colonel Onderdonk, Colonel Roberts, and Colonel Ames, who originally moved in detached columns, and the precise success of each of whom was of great moment to the others.
The cavalry marched 76 miles in forty-four hours. Roberts infantry marched 67 miles in fifty-four hours, both moving by night and day, over deep and muddy roads, and much of the time under a pelting, pitiless storm. Colonel Ames colored infantry did what was required of them, which would be considered very severe duty (weather and roads considered), except in connection with the more arduous services of the other troops. Their position at Twelve-Mile Ordinary, in readiness to receive and guard prisoners and horses, issue rations, attend to wounded, and do picket duty, on the return of the other exhausted troops, was found of extreme advantage.
Colonel West in his report mentions with especial commendation the several officers before named, and also Captain Gregory (wounded), Major Wheelan, Lieutenant-Colonel Patton, Captain Allis, and Lieutenant Blanchard, all of the Rifles, and Lieutenant P. H. O'Bierne, quartermaster of the One hundred and thirty-ninth New York Infantry. Also F. R. Wilson and Donnell, formerly of the rebel service, who acted as guides, faithfully and efficiently. The former was severely wounded and may lose his arm. Receiving no pay or remuneration, and exposing themselves to special dangers, these men should be rewarded.
In conclusion, I beg to call the attention of the major-general commanding to the gallantry in action, and patient, unflinching endurance on a stormy and difficult night march, of each and all the officers and men engaged. Although the detachment of the One hundred and thirty-ninth New York Infantry was not in action, yet their services were fully as arduous as any and equally required the very highest qualities of the soldier.
I have the honor to be, major, with great respect, your obedient servant,
I. J. WISTAR,
Maj. R.S. Davis,
December 14, 1863.
Your telegram announcing the complete success of the expedition to Charles City Court-House received. Give your troops the best thanks of the commanding general for their endurance under fatigue, their promptness of action, and their bravery in the charge. Thank Colonel West personally for me. His action brings him up to the standard of his reputation.
I will announce my approbation in a general order. Your telegram has been forwarded to Washington. You shall have the boat you desire by 11 to-morrow. Will not you and Mrs. Wistar come down?
BENJ. F. BUTLER,
-The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 - Volume 29 (Part I) Reports