State Highway Marker

State Highway Marker

Friday, February 28, 2014

Escape!- "If one-fourth the escaped prisoners get in it will surprise me"

Escape route- winter 1863-1864

                      FORT MAGRUDER, February 15, 1864.

Brigadier-General WISTAR,
The following are the names:

1. William B. McCreery, colonel Twenty-first Michigan Infantry.
2. H.C. Hobart, lieutenant-colonel Twenty-first Wisconsin Infantry.
3. T.S. West, lieutenant-colonel Twenty-fourth Wisconsin Infantry.
4. Alexander von Mitzel, major Seventy-fourth Pennsylvania Infantry.
5. Samuel Clark, captain, Seventy-ninth Illinois Infantry.
6. Gottlieb C. Rose, captain, Fourth Missouri Cavalry.
7. Albert Wallber, adjutant Twenty-sixth Wisconsin Infantry.
8. N.S. McKeen, first lieutenant, Twenty-first Illinois Infantry.
9. George M. Welles, second lieutenant, Eighth Michigan Cavalry.

                                            ROBT. M. WEST,
                                             Colonel, Commanding.

Major-General BUTLER:
The above are the 9 officers just arrived at Williamsburg.
                                    I.J. WISTAR,

                                   FEBRUARY 16, 1864.
Brigadier-General WISTAR,
Richmond papers of 12th, received, say 109 prisoners escaped, and that 26 were recaptured, none less than 20 miles from Richmond. All of them must have crossed the Chickahominy. Have you anything further in regard to them? Many of them must still be secreted in the woods.
                                    J. W. SHAFFER,
                                 Colonel and Chief of Staff.

                               YORKTOWN, February 16, 1864.

            Chief of Staff:
Probably none of these prisoners recaptured had crossed the Chickahominy. Robertson's cavalry and Holcombe's Legion cavalry are both the other side of Chickahominy for that purpose, besides the infantry. There is no enemy this side, except Hume's scouts, who keep off the main roads and know every path. My cavalry is out after the prisoners, and has been since the first came in. It must go by detachments, of course, having to come back for forage, of which the country supplies none. If one-fourth the escaped prisoners get in it will surprise me, in the face of the regularly organized and long-prepared plan to prevent it. Fifteen have already come.

                                         I.J. WISTAR,
                                           Brigadier- General.

-- The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 Volume 33


More to come on another officer named Rose.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Escape!- . . .and Tales of the Army

                                                   FEBRUARY 15, 1864.
Col. J. W. SHAFFER, Chief of Staff:
Colonel Streight is concealed in Richmond, but at large. His friends desire the papers to state his successful arrival here, for obvious reasons. Please arrange it immediately with the Associated Press agent.
                                       I.J. WISTAR,

- The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 Volume 33

Escape!- Tales from the Daily Dispatch . . .

--Eight more of the Yankee prisoners who escaped last Tuesday night from the Libby, were brought back yesterday. The following is a list of their names: Maj. J. Henry, 5th Ohio; Maj. J. N. Walker, 75th Indiana; Lieut. W. F. Clifford, 16th U. S. cavalry; Lieut. D. Garbett, 77th Penn.; Lieut. H. B. Freeman, 18th U. S. cavalry; Lieut. F. A. M. Kreps, 77th Penn; Lieut. J. W. Hare, 5th Ohio cavalry; Lieut. F. C.--, 11th Penn. This number, added to those already received at the Libby, makes thirty who have been captured out of the one hundred and nine that succeeded in effecting their escape. Various rumors were afloat yesterday that the notorious Col. A. D. Streight had been captured somewhere on the line of the James River and Kanawha Canal, and among others that, finding him well armed, a severe struggle ensued between himself and his captors, during which he was fired at and severely wounded. It is believed, however, that these reports were groundless, as no information of his re-arrest was known at the Libby prison up to late last evening, and we were unable to trace it to any authentic source.
Twelve of the seventeen Yankee prisoners who escaped from Castle Thunder on Monday night have been brought back and reimprisoned in that institution.

-The Daily Dispatch: February 13, 1864.

More captures.
--Twelve more of the escaped Yankee officers from the Libby prison have been captured and brought back since our last publication. Their names are--Col. Ely, 18th Conn.; Capts. E. L. Smith, 19th U. S. cavalry, and J. W. Macmack,--Ohio infantry; Lieuts. W. H. H. Wilcox, 10th N. Y. cavalry; Daniel Hansburg, 1st Michigan cavalry; Adam Hauff, 45th N. Y.; T. J. Ray, 49th Ohio; J. H. Gadsby, 19th U. S. infantry; M. M. Bassett, 53d Illinois; M. Bedell, 123d N. Y.; H. P. Crawford, 2d Illinois cavalry, and L. W. Sutherland, 126th Ohio. The last named individual was retaken at City Point.
There is no truth in the rumors which have been fife in the city for several days, that Col. A. D. Streight had been recaptured. On Saturday last Maj. Turner dispatched a courier in the direction which it was said he was found, but he failed to bring back any information which could substantiate the fact

-The Daily Dispatch: February 15, 1864.

The escaped Yankees.
--Two more Yankee Lieutenants, part of the one hundred and nine officers who escaped from the Libby prison on Tuesdaynight last, were captured and brought back yesterday. These, added to the number previously arrested, foots up fifty-two, leaving still at large fifty-seven, a little more than half of those who succeeded in escaping from the prison.

-The Daily Dispatch: February 16, 1864.

Search after Yankees
--A Game of Cards Interrupted.--In consequence of information received at the Libby prison to the effect that sundry of the Yankee officers who recently escaped from prison were concealed in the upper rooms of the building occupied by Mahoney &McGehee, on Main street, a military guard effected an entrance in the domicil yesterday evening, but did not succeed in finding any of the parties of whom they were in search. A large crowd was attracted to the spot by the report that Col. Streight was in the house. The only thing disturbed during the raid was a game of cards, the participants therein (among whom were one or two members of Congress) scattering on the approach of the military, some getting on the roof of the house, lending color for the time being to the report that Streight was about.

-The Daily Dispatch: February 17, 1864.

 Capture of escaped Yankees.
--Since our last publication four more of the Yankee officers who escaped from the Libby prison on Tuesday night of last week, have been captured and brought back. The following is a list of their names: Captain E. M. Driscoll, co. G, 3d Ohio; L. P. Lovett, 5th Ky.; R. H. Day, 56th Pa.; Lieut. H. C. Dunn, 10th Ky.
In another column will be found the announcement of the safe arrival of the notorious Col. A. D. Streight at Fortress Monroe, and it is therefore unnecessary to make any further allusion to the many reports which have been circulated in this city with regard to that individual.

-The Daily Dispatch: February 19, 1864.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Escape!- "His feelings at seeing the old flag are indescribable."

How the Prisoners Escaped from the Richmond Jail
 Incredible Underground Work
 Friendship of Virginia Negroes
We have already published an account of the manner in which the Rebel General Morgan and his companions escaped from their Northern prison in Ohio. We now give some very interesting statements relative to the manner of escape of several officers who succeeded in getting out of Libby Prison. About the beginning of the year 1864 the officers confined in Libby Prison conceived the idea of effecting their own exchange, and after the matter had been seriously discussed by some seven or eight of them, they undertook to dig for a distance toward a sewer running into a basin. This they proposed doing by commencing at a point in the cellar near to the chimney. This cellar was immediately under the hospital and was the receptacle for refuse straw thrown from the beds when they were changed and for other refuse matter Above the hospital was a room for officers and above that yet another room. The chimney ran through all these rooms and prisoners who were in the secret improvised a rope and night after night let working parties down who successfully prosecuted their excavating operations. The dirt was hid under the straw and other refuse matter in the cellar and it was I trampled down to prevent too great a bulk. When the working party had got to a considerable distance underground it was found difficult to haul the dirt back by hand and a spittoon which had been furnished the officers in one of the rooms was made to serve the purpose of a cart. A string was attached to it and it was run in the tunnel and as soon as filled was drawn out and deposited under the straw. But after hard work and digging with finger nails, knives, and chisels a number of feet the working party found themselves stopped by piles driven in the ground. These were at least a foot in diameter. But they were not discouraged. Pen knives or any other articles that would cut were called for and after chipping, chipping, chipping for a long time the piles were severed and the tunnelers commenced again after a time reaching the sewer. But here an unexpected obstacle met their further progress. The stench from the sewer and the flow of filthy water was so great that one of the party fainted and was dragged out more dead than alive and the project in that direction had to be abandoned. The failure was communicated to a few others besides those who had first thought of escape and then a party of seventeen, after viewing the premises and surroundings, concluded to tunnel under Carey street. On the opposite side of this street from the prison was a sort of carriage house or outhouse and the project was to dig under the street and emerge from under or near the house. There was a high fence around it and the guard was outside of this fence. The prisoners then commenced to dig at the other side of the chimney and after a few handfulls(sic) of dirt had been removed they found themselves stopped by a stone wall which proved afterwards to be three feet thick. The party were by no means undaunted and with pocket knives and penknives they commenced operations upon the stone and mortar. After nineteen days and nights at hard work they again struck the earth beyond the wall and pushed their work forward. Here too after they got some distance underground the friendly spittoon was brought into requisition and the dirt was hauled out in small quantities. After digging for some days the question arose whether they had not reached the point aimed at and in order if possible to test the matter Captain Gallagher of the Second Ohio Regiment pretended that he had a box in the carriage house over the way and desired to search it out. This carriage house it is proper to state was used as a receptacle for boxes and goods sent to the prisoners from the North and the recipients were often allowed to go under guard across the street to secure their property. Captain Gallagher was allowed permission to go there and as he walked across under guard he as well as he could paced off the distance and concluded that the street was about fifty feet wide. On the 6th or 7th of February the working party supposed they had gone a sufficient distance and commenced to dig upward. When near the surface they heard the rebel guards talking above them and discovered they were two or three feet yet outside the fence. The displacing of a stone made considerable noise and one of the sentinels called to his comrade and asked him what the noise meant. The guards after listening a few minutes concluded that nothing was wrong and returned to their beats. The hole was stopped up by inserting into the crevice a pair of old pantaloons filled with straw and holstering the whole up with boards which they secured from the floors, etc. of the prison. The tunnel was then continued some six or seven feet more and when the working party supposed they were about ready to emerge to daylight; others in the prison were informed that there was a way now open for escape. One hundred and nine of the prisoners decided to make the attempt to get away. Others refused fearing the consequences if they were recaptured. About half past eight o'clock on the evening of the 9th the prisoners started out. Colonel House of New York leading the van. Before starting the prisoners had divided themselves into squads of two, three and four, and each squad was to take a different route, and after they were out were to push for the Union lines as fast as possible. If was the understanding that the working party were to have an hour's start of the other prisoners and consequently the rope ladder in the cellar was drawn out. Before the expiration of the hour however the other prisoners became impatient and were let down through the chimney successfully into the cellar. The aperture was so narrow that but one man could get through at a time and each squad carried with them provisions in a haversack. At midnight a false alarm was created and the prisoners made considerable noise in their quarters. Providentially however the guard suspected nothing wrong and in a few moments the exodus was again commenced. Colonel Kendrick and his companions looked with some trepidation upon the movements of the fugitives as some of them exercising but little discretion moved boldly out of the enclosure into the glare of the gas light. Many of them were however in citizen's dress and as all the rebel guards wore the United States uniform, but little suspicion could be excited even if the fugitives had been accosted by a guard. Between 1 and 2 o'clock the lamps were extinguished in the streets and then the exit was more safely accomplished. There were many officers who desired to leave who were so weak and feeble that they were dragged through the tunnel by mere force and carried to places of security until such time as they would be able to move on their journey. At half past two o'clock Captain Joyce Colonel Kendrick and Lieutenant Bradford passed out in the order in which they are named and as Colonel Kendrick emerged from the hole he heard the guard within a few feet of him sing out "Post No 7, half past two in the morning and all is well." Lieutenant Bradford was intrusted with the provisions for this squad and in getting through was obliged to leave his haversack behind him as he could not get through with it upon him. Once out they proceeded up the street keeping in the shade of the buildings and passed eastwardly through the city. A description of the route pursued by this party and of the tribulations through which they passed will give some idea of the rough time they all had of it. Colonel Kendrick had before leaving the prison mapped out his course and I concluded that the best route to take was the one toward Norfolk or Fortress Monroe as there were fewer rebel pickets in that direction. They therefore kept the York River Railroad to the left and moved toward the Chickahomimy River. They passed through Boar Swamp* and crossed the road leading to Bottom Bridge. Sometimes they waded through mud and water almost up to their necks and kept the Bottom Bridge road to their left, although at times they could see and hear the cars traveling over the York River road.
While passing through the swamp near the Chickahominy, Colonel Kendrick sprained his ankle and fell. Fortunately too was that fall for him and his party, for while he was laying there one of them chanced to look up and saw in a direct line with them a swamp bridge and in the dim outline they could perceive that parties with muskets were passing over the bridge. They therefore moved some distance to the south and after passing through more of the swamp reached the Chickahominy about four miles below Bottom Bridge. Here now was a difficulty. The river was only twenty feet wide but it was very deep and the refugees were worn out and fatigued. Chancing however to look up Lieutenant Bradford saw that two trees had fallen on either side of the river and that their branches were interlocked. By crawling up one tree and down the other the fugitives reached the east bank of the Chickahominy.  They subsequently learned from a friendly negro that had they crossed the bridge they had seen they would assuredly have been recaptured for Captain Turner the keeper of Libby Prison had been out and posted guards there, and in fact had alarmed the whole country and got the people up as a vigilant committee to capture the escaped prisoners.
 After crossing over this natural bridge they laid down on the ground and slept until sunrise on the morning of the 11th when they continued on their way keeping eastwardly as near as they could. Up to this time they had had nothing to eat and were almost famished. About noon of the 11th they met several negroes who gave them information as to the whereabouts of the rebel pickets and furnished them with food. Acting under the advice of these friendly negroes they remained quietly in the woods until darkness had set in when they were furnished with a comfortable supper by the negroes and after dark proceeded on their way; the negroes who everywhere showed their friendship to the fugitives having first directed them how to avoid the rebel pickets. That night they passed a camp of rebels and could plainly see the smoke and camp fires. But their wearied feet gave out and they were compelled to stop and rest having only marched five miles that day.
 They started again at daylight on the 13th and after moving awhile through the woods they saw a negro woman working in a field and called her to them. From her they received directions and were told that the rebel pickets had been about there looking for the fugitives from Libby. Here they laid down again and reassumed(sic) their journey when darkness set in and marched five miles but halted till the morning of the 14th when the journey was resumed. At one point they met a negress in a field and she told them that her mistress was a Secesh woman and that she had a son in the rebel army. The party however were exceedingly hungry and they determined to secure some food This they did by boldly approaching the house and informing the mistress that they were fugitives from Norfolk who had been driven out by Butler and the Secesh sympathies of the woman were at once aroused and she gave them of her substance and started them on their way with directions how to avoid the Yankee soldiers who occasionally scouted in that vicinity. This information was exceedingly valuable to the refugees for by it they discovered the whereabouts of the Federal forces.
When about 1.5 miles from Williamsburg the party came upon the main road and found the tracks of a large body of cavalry. A piece of paper found by Captain Jones satisfied him that they were Union cavalry but his companions were suspicious and avoided the road and moved forward. At the Burnt Ordinary about 10 miles from Williamsburg awaited the return of the cavalry that had moved up the road and from behind a fence corner where they were secreted the fugitive saw the flag of the Union supported by a squadron of cavalry which proved to be a detachment of Colonel Spear's 11th Pennsylvania Regiment sent out for the purpose of picking up escaped prisoners. Colonel Kendrick says his feelings at seeing the old flag are indescribable. At all points along the route the fugitives describe their reception by the negroes as most enthusiastic and there was no lack of white people who sympathized with them and helped them on their way. In their escape the officers were aided by citizens of Richmond not foreigners or the poor class only, but by natives and persons of wealth. They know their friends there but very properly with hold any mention of their names. Of those got out of Libby Prison there were a number sick ones who were cured for by Union people and will eventually reach the Union lines their aid.

 -The Portrait Monthly, May 1864

The Boar Swamp/Bottom's Bridge area

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Escape!- Swimming the Chickahominy

                                     FEBRUARY 15, 1864.
Col. J. W. SHAFFER, Chief of Staff:
Cavalry returned to Williamsburg with 9 more escaped officers. A fresh detachment has gone out.
                                      I.J. WISTAR,

                                     FEBRUARY 15, 1864.
Col. J. W. SHAFFER, Chief of Staff:
I should have explained that refugees and escaped prisoners, knowing of the pickets at all the upper fords and bridges, almost invariably come down parallel with Charles City road, in hopes of finding boats on lower Chickahominy. After crossing it they are pretty safe, but boats are purposely removed by the enemy and only to be had at few points. The refugees and negroes generally cross by swimming. Seventeen leave here by boat to-morrow, including 6 field officers.

                                       I.J. WISTAR,

Monday, February 24, 2014

Escape!- "They report 109 more on the road"

                             FORT MONROE, VA., February 14, 1864.
                                                 (Received 3.40 p.m.)
     Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:

The following telegram has just been received from General Wistar:

                                       YORKTOWN, February 14, 1864.
       Chief of Staff:
 Two escaped Union officers have reached my pickets from Richmond. They report 109 more on the road. A general delivery of one prison-house was effected by digging a tunnel under the street, General DOW could not stand the fatigue of  the trip, and consequently did not come. My cavalry are in motion, scouring the Peninsula to cover the escape of the rest. Several colonels, among them Colonel Streight, are on the road, but the path is hard.

                                                   I.J. WISTAR,

                                                 J. W. SHAFFER,
                                            Colonel and Chief of Staff.

              FORT MONROE, VA., February 14, 1864.
                                             (Received 2.35 p.m., 16th.)

          Secretary of War:
Twenty-six of the escaped prisoners have arrived within our lines up to to-night. We have sent cavalry patrols up the Peninsula as far as the Chickahominy to pick up all we can. Have sent an army gun-boat up the James and Chickahominy Rivers for the same purpose.
                                         BENJ. F. BUTLER,
                                   Major-General, Commanding.

- The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 Volume 33

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Notes and Asides . . .

 . . . about the events that I have been describing over the last few weeks . . .

  1. One of the best secondary sources, probably the best, dealing with the Civil War on the Peninsula is Defend this Old town: Williamsburg During the Civil War by Carol Kettenburg Dubbs . . .

 . . . one of its chief sources is, The Vest Mansion, Its Historical and Romantic Associations as Confederate and Union Headquarters (1862-1865) in the American Civil War by . . .

2. David Edward Cronin. Cronin, an officer of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, has been mentioned before and was present at many of the operations in the winter of '63-'64 which I have described. However, besides being an participant, Cronin was also documenting events. Along with the The Vest Mansion book he also wrote The Evolution of a Life, Described in the Memoirs of Major Seth Eyland and mutiple volumes of papers now held by the New York Historical Society.

 The volumes detail the activities of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles during the Civil War, in Virginia along the York and James Rivers, and in North Carolina. This cavalry unit participated in the following campaigns: Deserted House (Jan. 1863), Longstreet's seige of Suffolk (May 1863), Bottom's Bridge (Feb. 1864), Drewry's Bluff or Fort Darlington (May 1864), and The Darbytown Road (Oct. 1864). Material also describes daily routines such as picket duty, orderly and courier duty, and scouting patrols on the Peninsula. Some skirmishes with Confederate bushwhackers and the looting activities of the Mounted Rifles are also described.

The pseudonym "Seth Eyland" is used for the book because, not only writing for posterity the multifaceted Cronin was also a writer/artist for Harpers Weekly. His articles appeared under that name, though his graphic work normally went uncredited.

New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin, 1941

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 1864- The Fate of Private Boyle

 "He carries ..with, him," says Major Cronin "not only the guilt of an atrocious murder, but the consciousness of having thwarted one of the boldest and best planned expeditions of the whole war."-New York Times.

Once Condemned to be Hanged.
From the New York Sun.
 John Boyle was sentenced to be hanged in Williamsburg, Va., in 1863 for killing an officer, and he escaped from confinement. He was met in New York by a former comrade in arms about fifteen years ago, where he was working in a boiler shop, and afterward fled the city, fearing, it is supposed, that he would be rearrested and executed. He had relatives living in New York and a brother of his is an employe of a railroad in Jersey City. He has been living under an assumed name in the west, and has written to his relatives here at regular intervals. They received a letter from him last week. He was then working as a miner at Crested Butte, Col., in the mine where the disastrous explosion occurred on Jan. 24. His relatives believe he was one of the fifty victims of that disaster.
. . .
How the rebels had learned of Wistar's expedition has never been made known with certainty. A rebel prisoner however, taken after the disappointment at Bottom's bridge declared that a man giving bis name as John Boyle had been captured nearly dead from exhaustion and exposure, in their lines on the night of February 2. He told them he was a deserter from Wistar, and gave them, so the rebel prisoner said, the intelligence that enabled them to throw a strong force in the way of Gen. Wistar, and thus thwart what might have been one of the most brilliant and important movements of the army during the war.

-The Worthington Advance(Worthington, Minn.)February 14, 1884

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 1864- The Fate of Abrahams

  . . . more from the history of Battery F, First Rhode Island Artillery about the events after the raid . . .

On the return of the command measures were at once taken to ascertain the cause of the defeat of the plans, or rather how the information reached the enemy in time to defend the crossings at the Chickahominy River. As a result of the investigation Private Thomas Abrahams, Company G, One Hundred and Thirty-ninth New York Volunteers, was arrested, tried by court-martial, convicted of some connection with the divulging of the plans, and sentenced to be "shot to death with musketry." The proceedings, findings, and sentence of the court were approved, and, on the seventh day of March, 1864, the sentence was carried into effect in the presence of all the troops stationed at Yorktown.
The execution took place on the plain south of Fort Yorktown. The troops were formed in line, on three sides of a parallelogram, the battery at one end, and the prisoner sitting on his coffin at the other. When all were in position the order condemning the prisoner to death was read to the troops by the adjutant of each organization ; the firing detail marched into the centre, near the prisoner; the detail was divided into two parties, one of eight men, who constituted the main firing party, and one of four men as a reserve, to be used in case the first fire was not effective; the prisoner was blindfolded and the work very quickly performed. In this case no call was made for the reserve firing party. The body remained as it fell across the coffin and the whole command was marched in review, as it were, before the dead man. As each company arrived opposite the body the command was given " Eyes right," that each and all might receive a lasting impression of the penalty of treason. This was the only execution witnessed by the whole battery, although others took place at Yorktown.
An account of the execution published in The Cavalier, newspaper printed at Yorktown, in its issue of March 7, 1864, reads as follows:
"Private Thomas Abrahams, of Company G, 139th New York Volunteers, found guilty by court-martial of giving intelligence to the enemy, in violation of the 57th Article of War, and advising and persuading another soldier to desert the service of the United States, in violation of the 23d Article of War, was shot, this morning, at this place.
Abrahams was the sentinel placed over William J. Boyle, of the 1st N. Y. Mounted Rifles, a prisoner under sentence of death at Fort Magruder, on the night of that prisoner's escape, and the testimony against him shows that he put Boyle in possession of valuable information in regard to an expedition against Richmond, and then wilfully and maliciously advised and assisted him to escape to the enemy's lines with such information.
He was ordered to be shot to death with musketry within forty-eight hours after hearing his sentence read. which took place at sunset on Saturday.
Abrahams was much affected upon hearing his sentence, and protested his innocence, weeping bitterly. The prisoner desired that a Catholic priest should be sent for to act as his spiritual adviser, and one arrived yesterday evening, from Norfolk, and entered upon his good work with zeal. We are unable to learn his name. He also expressed a strong desire to see his wife and children, who reside in Brooklyn, and requested that two of his comrades-in-arms might be sent for, but it was impossible for them to reach this place before the time appointed for his death.
The spot selected for the execution was outside the fort, near the southern gate, and every arrangement was made to render the melancholy spectacle what it should be, a solemn and impressive warning to all who witnessed it. At ten o'clock the 148th N. Y. Vols., 16th N. Y. Artillery, and Belger's and Hunt's Batteries, were upon the ground and formed three sides of a square, opening towards the river. Soon after Colonels West and Spear, with the officers of their staffs, the officers of General Wistar's staff. Surgeon Voorhees and others, made their appearance, and took their positions near the spot where the execution was to take place.
About eleven o'clock the prisoner was brought on the ground, seated upon his coffin in an open wagon, which was preceded by Captain Brooks, provost-marshal, and Captain Reynolds, assistant adjutant-general, a detachment of the provost guard bringing up the rear. His spiritual adviser was seated in the wagon beside him.
The prisoner was taken directly to the place of execution, where the cortege halted. He got out of the wagon unassisted, climbing over the side and jumping lightly from the wheel. He showed but little trepidation, and upon his coffin being placed upon the ground, took his position in front of it with remarkable firmness.
The twelve men from the provost guard who were detailed to shoot him then filed around to his front, and took their position in two ranks, fifteen paces from the coffin. Captain Reynolds, A. A. G., then read to the prisoner the charges and specifications against him, with the findings and sentence of the court-martial and the order for his execution. The prisoner then knelt with his spiritual adviser, who had remained at his side in front of his coffin, and, for a few moments, devoted himself to earnest prayer. Upon arising he took an affectionate leave of the priest, expressing an earnest hope of salvation. The priest then retired, and the prisoner seated himself upon his coffin without hesitation, seeming completely resigned to his fate.
The provost-marshal now approached him, when his handcuffs were taken off and he rapidly divested himself of his blouse, deposited it at the head of his coffin, and, seating himself for the last time, held up his wrists to be again secured, without any apparent nervousness. The provost-marshal then placed a white handkerchief over his eyes, and, shaking him by the hand, bid him farewell. The prisoner returned the last earthly adieu with warmth, and then, turning his thoughts heavenward, devoted his last moments to prayer. The earnestness of his last appeal for Divine mercy was visible in the raising of his clasped hands, the motion of his head, and the swaying of his body.
The sergeant of the squad now gave the command "Ready — Aim — Fire !"and, simultaneously with the last word, the men discharged their pieces and the unfortunate man fell dead across his coffin without the quivering of a muscle. One musket of the twelve contained a blank cartridge.
Surgeon Voorhees then approached the body, and, upon examination, it was found that eight balls had entered it — three in the chest (at least one of which entered the heart), one in the left eye, one in each arm, and two in the stomach. When the surgeon reached him he was quite dead, the shot in the eye having caused instantaneous death.
The troops who were drawn up to witness the execution were now marched past the corpse, and the guards that had been posted to keep back the crowd being removed, all who desired to do so were permitted to approach the body. To the credit of humanity be it said but few availed themselves of the opportunity, and the large concourse of people present soon dispersed to their homes or quarters.
The body was soon after placed in the coffin by a squad of negroes in attendance for the purpose, and consigned to mother earth.
Abrahams enlisted from the city of Brooklyn, where he has left a widow and several small children to deplore his unhappy fate. He was apparently about thirty years of age."

-Battery F. First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery, In the Civil War
Philip S. Chase,
Providence: Snow & Farnham, Printers, 1892

Apparently the order suspending executions was revoked.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 1864- The Disosway Murder II

The best account of the killing of Lieutenant Disosway I have yet found, is in his obituary as published in the New York Times.

In the death of Lieut. DISOSWAY, which has already been announced, the army loses a prompt and efficient officer, and society is deprived of a youth of high promise. In the first year of the war, Lieut. DISOSWAY entered the service as Corporal in the First New-York Volunteer cavalry, and served under MCCLELLAN in his Peninsular campaign. He was promoted to a Sergeantcy, and in the following year procured a commission as Second Lieutenant in the First New-York Mounted Rifles. Four months later, for an act of daring valor, in a skirmish on the Blackwater, he was promoted to a First Lieutenancy; and but a few weeks since, was honored by an appointment to the post of Provost-Marshal of Williamsburgh. The circumstances leading to this appointment are so indicative of his character as to deserve mention. From a mistaken idea of his duty, he failed to make the guard observe a slight mark of respect toward the commanding officer of the post, and was, in consequence, ordered under arrest for two days; but the persistency with which he adhered to what he thought at the time was the military rule in the case, and the frankness and readiness with which he acknowledged his mistake when it was made known to him, made so deep an impression upon Col. WEST, the officer in question, that almost immediately he received from him the appointment of Provost-Marshal. At this time he was only in his 20th year.
During the brief period allotted him for the discharge of his duties in this capacity, he won the universal esteem of the people of Williamsburgh; and a striking instance of this was shown in their touching testimonials of affection and sympathy at his decease. Pillows were sent for his dying head, and wreaths of flowers to perfume his coffin.
The circumstances of his death were most painful. On the afternoon of the 13th inst., Lieut. DISOSWAY was coming out of his quarters in Williamsburgh, when a man named BOYLE, one of the Provost Guard, but who had been relieved of provost duty for drunkenness the day previous, rushed into the yard; he had run the guard at Williamsburgh, and succeeded in regaining his arms. The Marshal's horse was standing in the yard, saddled; BOYLE mounted it, using infamous language, and discharged his revolver, the ball striking the ground at the feet of the Lieutenant. Several of the guard raised their pistols to kill him, but were deterred by the deceased, who, at the same time, ordered him under arrest; then, in the face of BOYLE's repeated threats to shoot him, he walked calmly up to the horse, in moderate language expostulating with the wretch. BOYLE dismounted, but the moment the Lieutenant laid his hand on the horse's bit, he fired; the fatal ball entered the half-opened mouth of the fearless youth and passed out at the back of his neck; he fell into the arms of his faithful body-servant, saying only, "IKE, I'm shot," and died within an hour.
Lieut. DISOSWAY's orderly rushed after the murderer, who had fled, snapped four caps at him, and finally, overtaking him, knocked him down with the butt of his pistol. At the time of the murder BOYLE was slightly intoxicated. He was taken to Fort Magruder, where he had been confined before for drawing his revolver upon an officer. Lieut. DISOSWAY's talents and virtues as an officer have been alluded to, as well as the promise he gave of future usefulness in life. To the sacred grief of the stricken ones at home, no reference may be made; those only who, like them, have laid in the dust an only son and brother, may know the extent and intensity of their loss; a loss irreparable, though softened by the memory of his bravery, forbearance and stainless honor. The deceased once said to his father, (CORNELIUS R. DISOSWAY, Esq.,) "he never would be wounded in the back," and this heroic resolution he sealed with his blood.
The following proceedings took place at a meeting held by his brother officers, and were forwarded to his father's family in this City:

A meeting was held by the officers of the First regiment Mounted Rifles N.Y.S.V., in camp near Williamsburgh, Va., Oct. 13, 1863, in consequence of the death of First Lieut. William W. Disosway. A Committee was appointed to further the proceedings of the assembly, and the following resolutions were submitted, and unanimously adopted:
Whereas, It has pleased an all wise Providence to remove suddenly from our midst Lieut. W.W. Disosway; that while we deeply deplore the loss of our young comrade in arms, we remember that he died like a soldier, in the performance of his duty, therefore.
Resolved, That in the death of Lieut. W.W. DISOSWAY, our regiment has sustained in almost irreparable loss, and our country has been deprived of a variable and accomplished officer.
Resolved, That the name of deceased will ever be associated in our minds with one of sterling character, manly aspirations, and of the most brilliant promise.
Resolved, That we tender our deepest sympathies to the afflicted ones at home, who will cherish in their grief the consolation that to the last he was a worthy son, a kind brother, and a true soldier.
Resolved, That we wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.
On behalf of the regiment.

Major First regiment Mounted Rifles.

Captain Co. C. First N.Y. Mounted Rifles;

Captain Co. C. First N.Y., Mounted Rifles;

Approved by vote of the officers.

Colonel Commanding Mounted Rifles;

His remains were brought to this City, and buried in Greenwood Cemetery. M.
During the brief period allotted him for the discharge of his duties in this capacity, he won the universal esteem of the people of Williamsburgh; and a striking instance of this was shown in their touching testimonials of affection and sympathy at his decease. Pillows were sent for his dying head, and wreaths of flowers to perfume his coffin.

-New York Times, October 29, 1863

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February 1864- The Disosway Murder I

 The Union traitor and the murder he committed have been mentioned a few times in relation to the events of February 1864, so I thought it was time to fill in the background  . . .

An Unwritten History.
The history of the world is full of wonderful accidents. The most common-place occurrences have not unfrequently(sic) decided the fates of Empires and influenced the whole world. We are told that the cackle of a goose once saved Rome; a summer shower of two hours' duration decided the fate of the first Napoleon and changed the map of Europe; an error of fifteen minutes in his watch once saved the life of Washington, and the merest accident spared the great Luther's life and gave to the world the Reformation.
Said an old English writer, by way of illustrating the subject, quoting from an old ballad:
For the want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For the want of the shoe the horse was lost;
For the want of the horse the rider was lost;
For the want of the rider the battle was lost;
By the loss of the battle the kingdom was lost —
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The war for the Union was replete with these little momentous incidents, now deciding a battle, now destroying a reputation, and then defeating the profoundest strategy. A single mishap was sufficient to neutralize the best matured plans of military genius, and by their intervention the grandest combinations became useless folly.
Did the reader ever hear how narrowly Richmond escaped capture in the early part of 1864, and how trifling its fate? It ranks among the most "curious chapters" of our whole history, and can hardly fail to prove very interesting.
The story opens with a murder.
On the 13th of October, 1863, the Provost Marshal of Williamsburg, Lieutenant W. W. Disosway, a handsome young officer of much promise, was shot dead by a soldier named James Boyle, whom he had ordered under arrest for disorderly conduct. The murderer was immediately seized, ironed, and, pending his trial, confined in Fort Magruder, an extensive earthwork about a mile below the town of Williamsburg.
Major Wheelan, an able and energetic officer, succeeded the murdered man as Provost Marshal, and the matter was soon forgotten.
At this time refugees, rebel deserters, and escaped Union prisoners were daily arriving from Richmond, sixty miles distant. Such persons were, immediately on their arrival, taken to the Provost Marshals headquarters, carefully examined, and their statements forwarded to Major-General Wistar, whose headquarters were at Yorktown. The substance of these reports was that the rebel capital was practically defenseless. The regular troops, it was said, had all been sent to the front, and only a few home guards kept watch over the city.
In January, 1864, an officer, who was introduced as Major Howard, arrived at headquarters, and for a day or two was in close conference with General Wistar.
On a dark, blustering night, near the close of the month. Major Howard and an old and daring scout named William Plunkett, belonging to the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, were passed outside of the Union lines and proceeded toward Richmond by the Jamestown road, with a view of confirming these statements, and report if a sudden descent upon the city was advisable.
Two weeks nearly passed, and one day a "refugee" was brought, who refused to communicate with the Provost Marshal, but demanded to be taken at once to the Commanding General, for whom he had important information. It proved to be a report from Major Howard and his companion, confirming all that had been said of the defenseless condition of the rebel city.
An attack was immediately determined on, and the scattered troops were drawn together for that purpose. A brigade of infantry, three batteries of artillery and four regiments of cavalry comprised the expedition. They were moved cautiously, and rendezvoused in the woods on the road leading from Yorktown to Williamsburg.
It soon became known that an important movement of some kind was on the tapis, but few believed at first that it was anything more than a grand scouting or foraging expedition. The suspense was not of long duration. On the 5th of February all was excitement and bustle. The infantry moved out and the cavalry received orders to follow the next morning. The field officers received their instructions. A stirring general order was read to the troops, giving the first information that their march was to be "on to Richmond." The order evoked the wildest, enthusiasm, and cheer after cheer ascended along the line. The bugles sounded " forward," and the far extending lines of cavalry and artillery moved gayly on their way.
There were the strongest reasons for believing that by being cautious, bold and expeditious the cavalry could enter Richmond, liberate the Union prisoners confined in Libby and Castle Thunder, capture the rebel President and the officers of his government, seize the treasury, destroy the vast depots of rebel supplies, bum the bridges across the James, and otherwise weaken the defenses of the city. Certain officers and squadrons were assigned to perform certain portions of the work of destruction, the Capital square designated as the general rendezvous, when the work should have been thoroughly accomplished.
On the 2d or 3d of February, the murderer Boyle, whose trial had been for some reason delayed, escaped in the night from his prison at Fort Magruder, through the connivance of one of his guards. Search was immediately made in all directions, and every possible effort made for his recapture. But all exertions were fruitless. He had been seen near our camps in the wood, but soon all trace was lost, and it was supposed he had crossed the James and fled in the direction of Suffolk.
In the meantime the expedition was pushing on to the point of its destination. The route lay though a dreary pine forest, along the sandy roads,and by deserted plantations. To divert the enemy's attention General Sedgwick's corps had been thrown across the Rapidan, and had engaged a large portion of General Lee's army, and the "raiders" were unmolested.
At daylight on the morning of the 7th of .February the infantry reached Baltimore Cross Roads, where they made a brief halt for rest. At the same time, however, the extreme cavalry advance had reached Bottom Bridge, within thirteen miles of the rebel capital. It was intensely dark when they reached there, and a careful reconnissance(sic) showing that the bridge had been stripped of its planking, it was resolved to wait until daylight. The strictest orders were issued against lighting fires or making unnecessary noise, and pickets were thrown out in all directions.
The condition of the bridge caused the more sagacious officers no little uneasiness. They saw in it an evidence that the expedition had been discovered, in which event surprise was impossible and success doubtful. The bulk of the command had no such forebodings. Once across the little stream they believed the way to Richmond was open and without obstacle, and the capture of the proud capital, which had already cost us so much blood and treasure, was looked upon as inevitable.
At about the same hour that Wistar's men were waiting patiently the break of day at Bottom Bridge, two Union "refugees" presented themselves before our lines at Williamsburg, and were speedily examined by the officer of the guard. They proved to be Union citizens from Richmond, who had left that city three days before, in company with Major Howard and Sergeant Plunkett¹, the two Federal officers who had been sent to investigate matters inside of the Confederate capital.
Their statement was that the party had proceeded with the utmost caution after leaving Richmond, until within twelve miles of Williamsburg, when, emboldened by the close proximity of our outposts, they took the open road, and were speedily captured by a small party of rebel scouts and hurried back toward Richmond. At Tunstall's Station the citizens escaped, leaving Howard and Plunkett prisoners. By following the course of the York River they had reached the Federal camp, but had not encountered the cavalry column under Wistar.
When informed of the expedition they were enthusiastic and predicted its easy success. They asserted positively (and the truth of their assertions was subsequently confirmed), that there were no military organizations in the city, and that the Union forces would be assisted by a secret league of loyal men who were prepared to bum the bridge across the North Anna, thus preventing the approach of reinforcements from Lee's army; else to spike the guns commanding the principal roads leading into the city, and a corps to act as guides for the Federalists as soon as they effected an entrance into the town.
But to return to the little army at Bottom Bridge. They rested on their arms as patiently as possible, waiting and watching for the first shimmering of dawn, full of confidence and hope. But, alas I by the dim light of the coming day the outer pickets discerned a long line of shadowy figures filing down the road on the opposite bank of the stream, and taking position to oppose the passage of the bridge. An old earthwork, which had been thrown up by McClellan during his Richmond campaign of the year previous, soon shielded them from view, and as no enemy could be seen through the mists which hung over the little valley, when the balance of the army came up the reported discovery of the pickets was not believed.
The brigade was speedily mounted and put in motion. But scarcely had the advance guard crossed the brow of the little hill and commenced the descent toward the ruined bridge, when a puff of white smoke was observed beyond the stream, instantly followed by the deafening boom of a gun and the wild shriek of a shell. The cannon shot destroyed in an instant all hope of surprising Richmond; and being too weak in numbers to hope for a successful assault, the expedition was reluctantly abandoned and the troops, weary, disheartened and disappointed, returned leisurely to Williamsburg.
For a long time it was a matter of profound wonder how the secret of the expedition was carried to the rebel capital Men of high rank were suspected, and more than one staff officer was dropped from the rolls because of a suspicion that he might have imparted information so valuable to the enemy and so disheartening to us.
At last, however, the facts came out; and herein is the really curious part of this chapter on the history of our late war. Boyle, the escaped murderer, had obtained his liberty just as the expedition was collecting. From the guard, who connived at his escape, he had learned the prevalent rumors of a contemplated dash on Richmond. In his flight, which was toward the threatened city, he gained more information, and reached Richmond soon enough to give timely alarm, and strong detachments from Lee's army were hurried forward to defeat the movement By such a singular circumstance was the rebel capital saved.
Boyle enlisted in the Southern service, but of his subsequent life nothing is known. It is possible that he yet lives, and may learn from this book the injury he inflicted upon the country he had betrayed.
Of the fate of Major Howard, who, with Sergeant Plunkett, had entered the rebel capital for information, nothing is known, though he probably died in prison; for, had he been executed as a spy, the fact could hardly have been concealed. Plunkett, believing death inevitable if he was brought to trial, determined to offer his services to the enemy, and was accepted as a recruit in Stuart's cavalry. A few months after he made his escape, and entered the Union lines. Here he was at once seized as a rebel spy, and confined in the Old Capitol Prison at Washington. He communicated the circumstances of his situation to General Butler, by whom he had been previously employed, and that officer soon obtained his release, discharge from the service and a handsome pecuniary recompense.
The faithless soldier who aided in Boyle's escape was subsequently tried, convicted and executed².
Rifle shots and bugle notes: or, the national military album of sketches of the principal battles ... connected with the late war

Joseph A. Joel, Lewis R. Stegman, Grand Army Gazette, 1883

-Rifle Shots and Bugle Notes; or, The National Military Album Sketches of The Principal Battles, Marches, Picket Duty, Camp Fires, Love Adventures, and Poems Connected with the Late War.
by Joseph A. Joel, Late of the Twenty-Third Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry,
and Lewis R. Stegman, late of the One Hundred and Second New York Volunteers, and the First United States Veteran Volunteers.
Grand Army Gazette Publishing Co., 82 and 84 Nassau Street, 1884  

¹ Plunkett, Laurence J . —Age, 30 years. Enlisted, August 28, 1862, at Southfield; mustered in as private, Co. M, August 29, 1862, to serve three years; transferred to Co. A , October 11, 1862; discharged, June 12, 1864; also borne as Lorence J.

² Private Thomas Abrahams, Company G, One Hundred and Thirty-ninth New York Volunteers

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 1864- " I send it to you that you may see how your clemency has been misplaced"

                                   FORT MONROE, February 8, 1864-10.65 p.m.
                                                                          (Received 11 p. m.)
I have sent the following telegram to the President, and I duplicate to you in order that you may urge my request upon him:
President of the United States:
After much preparation I made a raid on Richmond to release our prisoners there. Everything worked precisely as I expected. The troops reached Bottoms Bridge, 10 miles from Richmond, at 2.30 o'clock on Sunday morning, but we found a force of the enemy posted there to meet us, evidently informed of our intention, none having been there before for two months. They had destroyed the bridge and fallen trees across the road to prevent the passing of the cavalry. Finding the enemy were informed and prepared, we were obliged to retire. The flag-of-truce boat came down from Richmond to-day, bringing a copy of the Examiner, in which it is said that they were prepared for us from information received from a Yankee deserter. Who that deserter was that gave the information you will see by a dispatch just received by me from General Wistar. I send it to you that you may see how your clemency has been misplaced. I desire that you will revoke your order suspending executions in this department. Please answer by telegraph.

Dispatch received from General Wistar:
                                       FORT MAGRUDER, February 5, 1864.

Major-General BUTLER:
Private William Boyle, New York Mounted Rifles, under sentence of death for murder of Lieutenant Disosway, was allowed to escape by Private Abraham, of One hundred and thirty-ninth New York, the sentinel over him, four days previous to my movement. It is said he also told him that large numbers of cavalry and infantry were concentrated here to take Richmond. During my absence the commander here has learned that Boyle reached Richmond, and was arrested and placed in Castle Thunder. Boyle would have been hung long ago but for the Presidents order suspending till further orders the execution of capital sentences. Abrams is in close custody. Charges against him went forward a week ago.
                                                                                    I. J. WISTAR,

                                                                            BENJ. F. BUTLER
                                                                       Major- General, Commanding.


 - The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 Volume 33

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 1864- "In the morning found ourselves under a covering of snow"

The 11th Pa. Cav.

The Time That It Did Not Go into Richmond

Editor National Tribune:

...Some of the Cambria County boys used to say if they ever enlisted they would either join the 11th or 12th Pa Cav., as the rebels always ran from the 11th and the 12th always ran from the rebels, so a fellow was pretty safe in either regiment. We always gave a good account ourselves wherever we were, and I think were second to none of the cavalry regiments in the service. I do not intend writing a history of the regiment, but want to give a few sketches of some of its many scouts and battles, and just at present I want to tell the comrades how we didn't take Richmond in February, 1864. General Butler, then in command of the Army of the James, thought that while Lee and his veterans were busy with Army of the Potomac over about Culpeper a cavalry raid might be made into Richmond, capture the officials of the Confederate Government., and release our poor comrades who were suffering in the rebel prisons of Libby, Castle Thunder, Belle Isle, etc. Butler started General Wistar, with about 4,000 infantry, two light brigades of artillery and a brigade of cavalry under Col. Spear, which consisted of the 1st N.Y. M't'd Rifles, 3d N.Y. Cav., 5th and 11th Pa. Cav. and First District of Columbia M't'd Riflemen.* The Calvary was to charge the Chickahominy at Bottom Bridge, dash into Richmond, release the prisoners, tear up things generally. A great many of the boys had provided themselves with plenty of matches, but they only needed them to build fires where we bivouacked, for while we were hot enough in the morning when we tried to cross Bottom Bridge, it was infernally cold that night, and the matches came into good play. The cavalry command left Williamsburg about noon on Feb. 6, marched all night, and, oh, but it was dark. Several times during the night rockets were sent up by Johnnies stationed along the route. We arrived at the top of the hill above Bottom Bridge about 8 o'clock on the morning of the 7th. The supposition was, from what had been learned from the contrabands, that there was no artillery on the rebel side of the bridge. Scouts were sent down to see how things were about the bridge. They found the plank removed, and could hear the Johnnies on the other side getting their artillery into shape and laughing over the surprise they were going to give Yankee. But it became light enough to see we moved down toward bridge. The rebels opened fire on us with their artillery, and as there was no bridge to cross all we could do was to march back up the hill again. At the top of the hill, in an old field, we dismounted, made some coffee and waited for Maj. Wetherell to return, who been sent up the creek with his battalion to see if there was a ford at which we could cross. When they reached Grapevine Ford they found it blocked with fallen trees on both sides of creek, making it impossible to cross the river there. While we were waiting for Maj. Wetherell we could see the Johnnies, a great plenty of them, coming down the hill from the direction of Richmond--infantry and artillery. They planted some light artillery and fired several rounds of shells at us, but as we could not cross the river to get at them and they would not come over to us it was a drawn game all through. We marched back to New Kent Court House, where we spent in the night, and in the morning found ourselves under a covering of snow. This is where the boys' matches came into play On the 8th we returned to Williamsburg and so ended our raid for the release of our prisoners at Richmond. I have often thought since it was a good thing for us that the Rebels did not let us across the bridge, as doubtless there would have been more rather than less prisoners in Richmond after the raid. The boys in camp have lots of fun with those who were on the raid. "How's Jeff Davis this morning? How many of our boys did you bring back from Richmond? What's the price of matches this morning?" etc., etc., could be heard could be heard through the camps.
Long live the National Tribune, and may it always put the saber to those who begrudge the old soldier his little pension. We left home in the '60s while in the prime of life, risking life, many which many lost, to perpetuate our most glorious Union.

J.B. Stalb, Co. G, 11th Pa. Cav., Hasting, Pa.

-National Tribune, Aug. 9, 1906

I am not sure about the First District of Columbia being on this expedition, though they would soon be in the area.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

February 1864- Battery F

Another take on the events . . .

It was understood among the troops that the cavalry of the command had received especial instructions to be followed on arriving at Richmond, assigning to each company or squadron some particular duty to perform, such as the capture of Jeff Davis, liberate prisoners at Libby, destroy certain public property, etc.
As previously stated, the column passed through Williamsburg at about half-past ten o'clock Saturday morning, February 6th. The battery continued the march until three o'clock on the morning of the 7th, when it had reached "New Kent Court-House." The infantry and artillery were here halted, and a rest until six o'clock a. m. taken. The night of the 6th was very dark, and, as the battery moved on the road through the woods it was necessary to keep a man with a lantern to the front to enable the drivers to keep in the road. It was impossible to see objects a few feet away, therefore drivers found it wise to keep well closed up. Nothing occurred during the night to vary the monotony of the march of the battery except as the column was passing through "Richardson's Mills" a rocket suddenly shot into the air and a bright light was seen at a distance through an opening in the woods, which were probably signals announcing to the enemy the approach of the force, as, upon the arrival of the cavalry at Bottom Bridge, Chickahominy River, at about daylight on the 7th (the cavalry did not halt with the command at New Kent Court-House), it was found to be impassable, and attempts to cross at the fords were met by a force of the enemy with artillery.
At six o'clock A. M. on the 7th, after three hours' rest, the battery moved with the command towards Bottom Bridge, and, about noon, met the cavalry returning.
The enemy was apparently informed of the move and the possibility of striking a blow "suddenly, silently, irresistibly," was at an end, therefore the command retraced its steps. The battery formed a part of the rearguard on the return march. A small force of the enemy's cavalry followed and was some-what annoying until a gun from the battery was put into action, firing four shells into their midst, which put an end to further demonstrations on their part. The battery reached its quarters at Yorktown at about four o'clock in the afternoon of the 9th of February, and the expedition ended minus the "glorious results " predicted in the general order of Brigadier-General Wistar before mentioned.

- Battery F. First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery In the Civil War
by Philip S. Chase,
Providence: Snow & Farnham, Printers, 1892.

Area of operations- The Peninsula 1864

 Map from the David Rumsey Map Collection

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February 1864- "By the corruption and faithlessness of a sentinel"

Dispatch received from General Wistar:
                                                                              FORT MAGRUDER, February 5, 1864.
Major-General BUTLER: Private William Boyle, New York Mounted Rifles, under sentence of death for murder of Lieutenant Disosway, was allowed to escape by Private Abraham, of One hundred and thirty-ninth New York, the sentinel over him, four days previous to my movement. It is said he also told him that large numbers of cavalry and infantry were concentrated here to take Richmond. During my absence the commander here has learned that Boyle reached Richmond, and was arrested and placed in Castle Thunder. Boyle would have been hung long ago but for the President's order suspending till further orders the execution of capital sentences. Abrams is in close custody. Charges against him went forward a week ago.
                                                                                              I. J. WISTAR,
                                                                               BENJ. F. BUTLER,
                                                                  Major- General, Commanding.

                                                                           Fort Monroe, February 12, 1864.
GENERAL: I have the honor to forward to you with commendation the report of Brigadier-General Wistar of his brilliantly and  ably executed movement upon Richmond, which failed only from one of those fortuitous circumstances against which no foresight can provide and no execution can overcome.
By the corruption and faithlessness of a sentinel, who is now being tried for the offense, a man condemned to death, but reprieved by the President, was allowed to escape within the enemy's lines, and there gave them such information as enabled them to meet our advance. This fact is acknowledged in two of the Richmond papers, the Examiner and the Sentinel, published the day after the attack, and is fully confirmed by the testimony before the court-martial, before which is being tried the man who permitted the escape. I beg leave to call your attention to the suggestion of General Wistar in his report, that the effect of the raid will be to hereafter keep as many troops around Richmond for its defense from any future movement of the Army of the Potomac as we have in this neighborhood.
    I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
                                                                       BENJ. F. BUTLER,
                                                           Major-General, Commanding.

Major-General HALLECK,
    Commanding the Army

- The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 Volume 33

Much more to follow on the case of Disosway and Boyle . . . 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February 1864- "a disposition of forces was made to anticipate the supposed designs of the enemy"

Reports of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, U. S. Army, commanding Department of Virginia and North Carolina.

FORT MONROE, VA., February 8, 1864.
(Received 8 p.m.)
Our expedition, organized as stated in my dispatch, left Williamsburg at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Arrived at Bottoms Bridge, within 12 miles of Richmond, at the time indicated, 2.30 a. m. Sunday, but found the enemy there posted in strong force, and continually receiving accessions from Richmond by railroad. Waited till daylight, then found they had three regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and four batteries of artillery; the bridge taken up, and the fords effectually obstructed. An attempt was made gallantly to charge over one of them by a detachment of First New York Mounted Rifles, under Major Wheelan, with a loss of 9 killed and wounded. At 12 noon the infantry supports arrived within 7 miles, having made a march of 40 miles in twenty-seven hours. General Wistar says that with the infantry he could have forced the position; but as the enemy had received some intimation of the approach of the expedition the delay had defeated the main object, which was a dash at Richmond. Our forces then returned to New Kent Court-House; were followed by the enemy, who made an attack, but were handsomely repulsed, with loss on their side, by the Third New York Cavalry, under Colonel Lewis, assisted by one piece of Belger's battery. Our forces are returning at their leisure, unmolested. The cavalry have arrived at Williamsburg today about 3 p. in. Thus it will be seen that the cavalry in less than fifty hours have marched more than 100 miles.
Flag-of-truce boat is just in from Richmond, bringing the Examiner of Monday morning, which contains this sentence:
Some days since a report was obtained by the authorities here from a Yankee deserter that the enemy was contemplating a raid in considerable force on Richmond. The report obtained consistency from a number of circumstances, and impressed the authorities to such a degree that a disposition of forces was made to anticipate the supposed designs of the enemy.
I will telegraph further after examination of the papers. It will be seen that conveyance of intelligence has been the cause of want of success. Everything else succeeded as well as desired.
B. F. BUTLER, Major- General, Commanding.

Secretary of War.

Monday, February 10, 2014

February 1864- "At Baltimore Store the enemy overtook and attacked my rear guard. "

Reports of Brig. Gen. Isaac J. Wistar, U. S. Army, commanding expedition.

                                         FORT MAGRUDER, February 8, 1864.
Have just arrived after a 15-mile gallop with staff only from Burnt Ordinary, where I left the infantry and artillery strongly posted, with orders to march here at 6 a.m. The cavalry arrived here some time before me, having been sent forward for the want of forage. I regret your disappointment. It is no greater, I assure you, than mine. More might have been done for eclat by attacking the bridge; but under the circumstances, distance from base, no available troops in department to re-enforce me, evident preparation by enemy, and, above all, the entire defeat of the real objectin any event it would not have been wise in my judgment. Was I right? Have you any orders for the cavalry before it all leaves I would like to use a little of it in Gloucester

                                                                       I.J. WISTAR,

Major-General BUTLER.

                                               HEADQUARTERS U. S. FORCES,
                                                             Yorktown, February 9, 1864.
MAJOR: I have the honor to report the following operations of the forces under my command, undertaken with a view to the surprise and capture of Richmond, and incidental results:
All the infantry and cavalry placed at my disposal by the general commanding, being about 4,000 of the former and 2,200 of the latter, was suddenly concentrated behind my lines at Williamsburg after dark on the evening of the 5th instant, together with Hunts¹ and Belger's² light batteries.
The infantry, consisting of three white regiments, brigaded under Col. R. M. West, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery. and three colored regiments under Colonel Duncan, Fourth U. S. Colored Troops, moved thence at 9 a. m. on the 6th, carrying on the person six days rations in the knapsack and 70 rounds of cartridges 40 in the boxes and 30 in the knapsack.
The cavalry, being detachments of five regiments under Col. S. P. Spear, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, moved two hours later. Colonel Spear was directed to arrive at Bottoms Bridge, 12 miles this side of Richmond, by 3 a.m. of the 7th, surprise it, and move on rapidly to Richmond. A picked company under Captain Hill, First New York Mounted Rifles, with selected horses, was placed in advance to ride down the three pickets at New Kent, Baltimore Cross-Roads, and at the bridge. Arrangements had been previously  made to have the telegraph wire between Meadow Station and Richmond cut between dark and midnight of the 6th. By these means it was hoped to surprise the enemy's Battery No. 2, on the Bottoms Bridge road near Richmond, and occupy Capitol Square in that city for at least two or three hours; detachments previously detailed and carefully instructed breaking successively from the main column, on entering, for various specific purposes. Of course the success of the enterprise was based upon the sudden and noiseless surprise of the strong picket at Bottoms Bridge, without which it would be impossible for cavalry alone to pass Battery No. 2. Colonel Spear failed to capture the pickets at Baltimore Cross-Roads, owing to the excessive darkness of the night, which unfortunately proved to be cloudy and rainy. He reached Bottoms Bridge, a distance of 51 miles, ten minutes before the time designated, but found the enemy there in strong force, with infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They had received notice some sixteen hours previously, as appeared from the testimony of various persons in the vicinity, including women, children, and negroes, separately examined, of the arrival near Williamsburg of accessions to our usual force, and had during that time been vigorously making preparations. The bridge planks had been taken up, the fords both above and below effectually obstructed, extensive earth-works and rifle-pits constructed, and a strong force of troops brought down by the York River Railroad, by which large accessions were still arriving.
The darkness prevented an attack till morning, when a detachment of the New York Mounted Rifles, under Major Wheelan, made a gallant but unsuccessful charge on the bridge by the only approach long causeway flanked on either hand by an impassable marsh. The enemy opened with canister, first checking and then repulsing the charge, with a loss to us of 9 killed and wounded and 10 horses killed. All our men were subsequently brought off, as well as the saddles and equipments. The river was reconnoitered both above and below for some miles, but at every possible crossing the enemy was found in force with newly placed obstructions. Three regiments of infantry were plainly seen, besides other infantry, which fired from the woods, where their numbers could not be ascertained. Four batteries of field artillery were counted, and at least one heavy gun was in position, its shot reaching the bluff on this side and falling far in our rear.
Our infantry had marched on the 6th 33 miles, arriving at New Kent Court-House at 2 a. m. on the 7th. After a halt of three hours I moved on with them rapidly as possible toward the firing at the bridge, which was plainly audible. At ii a. in., knowing from the continued firing ahead that Colonel Spear had not succeeded in effecting a passage, and that even if now effected our object of surprising the city must necessarily be defeated, I sent him orders to retire, but kept pushing on to his support lest his condition might be worse than I supposed. The infantry had arrived within 7 miles of the bridge when it met the head of his returning column, and after hearing from him the full state of the case, I reluctantly felt obliged to retire my whole force, not feeling authorized to incur the loss necessary to force the position without any longer an ulterior object to justify it. The cavalry was suffered to pass ahead, except about 300 men of the Third New York Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, retained for rear guard. At Baltimore Store the enemy overtook and attacked my rear guard with vigor, but were quickly and handsomely repulsed by it, with the aid of a section of Belger's battery, the two pieces being alternately fired and retired to new positions. The enemy in this affair lost at least one officer and some few men, whom they abandoned till we had passed on.
The command bivouacked at New Kent unmolested, and on the 8th, the cavalry being out of forage, which the country did not afford, were sent ahead, arriving at Williamsburg the same evening. The infantry bivouacked in order of battle at Burnt Ordinary, and to-day returned to their former camp, having marched during the four days of their absence 33, 28, 18, and 25 miles, respectively, with alacrity and cheerfulness, and almost without straggling, the colored troops being in this respect, as usual, remarkable. With the exception of a little looseness of discipline in one or two of the cavalry regiments in returning, the conduct of officers and men, both in action and on the march, was everything that could be desired.
The whole result of the expedition, in addition to one or two prisoners captured and a few refugees, escaped Union prisoners, and negroes picked up and brought in, is the obvious fact that a small force in this vicinity, actively handled, can and should hold a much superior force of the enemy in the immediate vicinity of Richmond inactive except for its defense.
I have the honor to be, major, with great respect, your obedient servant,
                                                       ISAAC J. WISTAR,
                                              Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Maj. R. S. DAVIS,
Assistant Adjutant-General.


                                                          Fort Monroe, February 12, 1864.
Report approved.
The operation was skillfully and brilliantly done. It gives the commanding general renewed confidence in General Wistar as a commander of a division.

                                                       BENJ. F. BUTLER,
                                              Major- General, Commanding. 

 - The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 Volume 33

¹ Hunt's battery= Battery D, Fourth United States Artillery.

² Belger's battery= Battery F, First R.I. Artillery.