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Friday, December 18, 2015

Reconnaissance of the Chickahominy, June 1862- Part Two

Report of Capt. Wilhelm Heine, Volunteer Topographical Engineer.
  FORT MONROE, VA., August 21, 1862.
GENERAL: Respectfully I submit the following report:
According to instructions received on Saturday, June 28, at 5.20 I embarked on board the steam-tug C. P. Smith. with the usual escort of 40 men, commanded by Captain Lee, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, and proceeded up James River. At 11:10 o'clock I reached the gunboat flotilla, and at 11:25 o'clock I handed the dispatch addressed to the senior naval officer to Commander McKinstry, U. S. Navy, on board the United States sloop of war Dacotah. He could not supply me with a pilot; therefore I had to anchor for the night at the mouth of the Chickahominy.
On Sunday, the 29th, at daylight, Captain Lee went ashore in the cutter and brought on board a negro well acquainted with the locality, who piloted us in and up the Chickahominy River. At 11 o'clock we got aground, but got off again after a short delay, and reached the place called the Windsor Shades, where, as directed, I anchored at 12 p.m. A short distance below this the United States gunboat Delaware was aground, and after having communicated to the commanding officer the object of my mission, and requested him to render to Captain Lee such assistance as the emergency of the case might require, I went, as directed, ashore with the prescribed escort of 6 men and a non-commissioned officer. The Windsor Shades are situated on the north-east shore of the Chickahominy, at the end of a narrow neck of land flanked on both sides by an impenetrable swamp. The southwest shore for miles above and below is also a dense swamp, rendering the position favorable for defense. Two roads lead at about right angles from it one toward New Kent Court-House, the other toward Long Bridge; at that time, as I had reason to believe, in possession of our troops. I took the latter. The bridge marked on the map Forge Bridge was burned; the ford near an old mill impassable on account of the high water. Some negroes on a plantation warned me that the enemy's cavalry was on the other side of the Chickahominy in the lower White Oak Swamp and on the road toward Charles City Court-House. Anxious to reach General McClellan's headquarters, I pushed on without delay and near sunset got up to Long Bridge. This was also burned; the river unfordable, and so I pushed on toward Bottoms Bridge. About this time firing of cannon and musketry could be heard in that direction, receding toward Richmond. With my nearly exhausted men I hastened on, and reached Bottoms Bridge at about 11 p. m. Here all was darkness and silence. The firing had ceased; a drizzling rain made the night still darker. No trace of living beings could be discovered, and exhausted we laid down in the road close to the destroyed bridge to wait until daylight.
Daylight of Monday, the 30th, came, but no traces of either friend or foe could be discovered. Finding the river unfordable, we went as far as the railroad bridge. This, as well as an ammunition train on it, was on fire. We crossed the swamp on fragments of railroad cars,. boxes, & c., and marched up the railroad, where firing of skirmishers was heard. One sick soldier of the Sixty-third New York was lying on the track. His mind was wandering and he gave a confused account of the fight of the previous day. A short distance farther a rebel sentinel stood on the edge of the wood. Corporal Young, of the Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, and two privates went and captured him. He belonged to the Fourth Georgia Regiment. From him I learned that Toomb's brigade and some cavalry had moved down Charles City road through the lower White Oak Swamp and joined Jackson in his attack on Sumner's Corps. The sick and wounded, of whom many hundred filled the station house and the adjoining farms, confirmed the report, and I stated that the last of our troops had left about sundown, pursued by the enemy.
The firing in front had ceased and a large body of the enemy's infantry was now seen approaching on the railroad. Accordingly I assembled 8 or 10 stragglers and convalescents, formed them, and retreated across the Chickahominy, covering front and rear with skirmishers. I hoped to reach the boat and Charles City by way of James River. Striking the same road by which I had come the previous evening, and which was then free from the enemy, I marched about 5 miles until at a cross-road I met a squad of the enemy's cavalry. With Privates Joseph Cathcart and Owen Dougherty, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, and one of the convalescents, whose name I am sorry not to know, I went forward to attack them and drove them back, while Corporal Young and the other 4 men of my escort prevented the stragglers and convalescents, who declined to fight, from running away. We succeeded in gaining the woods and marched 2 miles farther, when, just as we were emerging in an open space, two companies of cavalry fell upon us from all sides, riding us down. I had previously directed the men of the Ninety-ninth, in case of an attack by overwhelming numbers, to disperse and to make each separately his way to Captain Lee, to advise him of what had happened. Five men succeeded. Corporal Young and Private Casey were taken with me prisoners. In the flutter that succeeded the attack, I managed, as directed, to destroy the papers by eating them up unobserved.
I was sorry to learn afterward that of the 5 who succeeded in escaping 4 were taken the next day. The fifth, Joseph Cathcart, refused to surrender, killed the captain of the enemy's cavalry, and was shot dead. I recommend respectfully that this mans family, which is poor, may have the benefit of such a pension as the law allows.
I was taken to Richmond and confined, with about 130 of our officers, in the Tobacco Warehouse until August 15, when we were all sent to Aiken's Landing, and returned to this place in a flag of truce.
With great regret I learn that Corporal Young and Private J. Casey, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, are still prisoners of war in Richmond. Their fate concerns me greatly, and I feel sure that you will effect their release if it is in your power to do so.
Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
                WM. HEINE,
    Captain, Volunteer Topographical Engineer.
Major-General DIX, Commanding Corps d'Armée.

-The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 -Volume 11 (Part II) 

*USS Dacotah had had a busy life so far. Built in Norfolk, only commissioned on May 1, 1860 she sailed in June to join the East India Squadron, arriving at Hong Kong  January 1861. Notified of the outbreak of hostilities she was ordered to return in August 1861 and returned via the Cape of Good Hope. She arrived in the Virgin Islands in November where she started blockade operations. She started operations in the Hampton Roads area after a winter refit.

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