JANUARY 19-24, 1864.Scouts from Williamsburg, Va.
Reports of Maj. Edgar A. Hamilton, First New York Mounted Rifles.
CAMP MOUNTED RIFLES,
Near Williamsburg, Va., January 20, 1864.
COLONEL: I report that agreeably to special orders from headquarters U. S. Forces at Williamsburg, Va., of January 19, transmitted to me for action, that I started from camp at 9 o’clock in the evening with a command of 140 men, moving cautiously forward on the Richmond turnpike road until we arrived nearly to the Twelve Mile Ordinary, where a dismounted party was sent forward to capture the enemy’s scout, secreted in the woods, a trust of unusual delicacy, as their known watchfulness and dexterity had eluded all former attempts at capture. However, succeeding in this, we alarmed the surrounding couriers and scouts. Moving quickly forward we discovered that the couriers had been previously notified, and it was impossible to get near them. Upon our arrival at New Kent Court House, and while forming the troops, the enemy’s picket fired an alarm from the woods. Captain Hill with his troops moved forward, followed the picket in the direction of Bottoms Bridge for nearly a mile, charging upon the picket station of a lieutenant and 8 men, who, however, had time to mount and run or take to the swamps. He was here met by a severe fire from the woods, and soon discovered a small bivouac with five wagons full of meats, fish, and vegetables. Being unable to transport it back, I ordered it burned with the wagons.
Owing to the small number of my command, the foreknowledge of our approach by the enemy, the liability of being cut off, I deemed it imprudent to go to the White House, having secured from an old gentleman who had just left Richmond what I considered reliable news, namely, that there is no movement of public effects, no evacuation or unusual change in the military of the city; that the number of troops was limited. This information was confirmed as far as possible by repeated and indirect inquiries to other citizens.
Upon my return I captured 2 privates of the First Virginia Battery and also a surgeon of the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry, together with 4 horses and a mule. The enemy’s scouts on my return were scattered for a distance of 15 miles upon our flanks in coverts and swamps, and kept up a continual fire. Dismounted skirmishers kept them at a distance from the flanks, and with the exception of 1 horse wounded there were no casualties.
From intelligence gleaned from the prisoners I discovered that our approach had been known in Richmond and to the enemy at least thirty-six hours previous. They had lain in ambush waiting our approach for nearly thirty hours previous. Lieutenant Hume, the commander of the scouts, had received his information in letter direct from Williamsburg, and as a general thing they gained intelligence of an expected scout previously. A great deal is due Captain Hill for his prompt and efficient aid, and also to the troops for the zeal shown in a very fatiguing and cold march of 65 miles, which they performed in nineteen hours.
I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
EDGAR A. HAMILTON,
Major Mounted Rifles.
Col. B. F. ONDERDONK,
Commanding U. S. Forces.