Hancock’s Cavalry (August 21, 1864)

In his letter of August 21, Theodore Lyman mentions an incident during the fighting along the Weldon Railroad in which Confederate General Johnson Hagood shot Colonel D.B. Daily when Daily was demanding his surrender. It was considered a treacherous act by those on the Union side but merely an incident of war for the Confederates. In his Memoirs of the War of Secession (published in 1910) Hagood recounted his version of the encounter (in the third person). He spells Daily differently. Dailey survived his wound. Hagood wrote that after the war Dailey published an account in the New York Herald clearing the former Confederate of murder. Furthermore, Hagood said, Daly contacted him in 1879 and asked for an affidavit about the action to support his pension request. Here’s Hagood’s account:

“General Hagood was with Major Wilds, commanding the Twenty-first, who was cheering on his men to renewed assault (success being now their only hope of safety), when looking to the right he saw a mounted Federal officer among the men on the left portion of the brigade to the right, with a regimental color in his hands, and a confusion and parleying immediately around him that betokened approaching surrender. The fight was still raging to Hagood’s right and left; there was no cessation on our part except in the squad just around this officer, and none whatever that was perceptible on the part of the enemy. They had pushed out from the right and left a line behind us to cut off our retreat, and this officer (Captain Daly of General Cutler’s staffs had galloped out of a sally port, seized a color from the hands of its bearer, and demanded a surrender. Some officers and men surrendered, but were not carried in; others refused, but just around him ceased fighting. General Hagood called to the men to shoot him and fall back in retreat. They either did not hear him or bewildered by the surrender of part of their number, failed to obey. It was a critical moment and demanded instant and decided action. In a few minutes the disposition to surrender would have spread and the whole brigade have been lost. Making his way across the intervening space as speedily as he could, exposed to a regular fire by file from the enemy’s line, scarce thirty yards off, and calling to his men to fall back—which they did not do—General Hagood approached the officer and demanded the colors, and that he should go back within his own lines, telling him he was free to do so. He commenced arguing the hopelessness of further struggle, and pointed out the lines in our rear. Hagood cut him short, and demanded a categorical reply—yes, or no. Daly was a man of fine presence and sat with loosened rein upon a noble-looking bay that stood with head and tail erect and flashing eye and distended nostrils, quivering in every limb with excitement, but not moving in his tracks. In reply to his abrupt demand, the rider raised his head proudly and decisively answered, ‘No!’ Upon the word General Hagood shot him through the body, and, as he reeled from the saddle upon one side, sprang into it from the other, Orderly Stoney seizing the flag from Daly’s falling hands.”

Last night, Hancock, with his two remaining divisions, marched from Deep Bottom and took position on our left, ready to support Warren. The long, rapid marches of this Corps have given it the name of “Hancock’s cavalry.” When a halt was ordered, one soldier said to the next: “O Jim, what er we a-stoppin’ for?” “The Staff is getting fresh hosses!” replied James. At 9.30 in the morning we again heard Warren’s artillery opening very heavily. I felt anxious on account of the nature of the last attack. This, however, turned out a very different thing. You saw my diagram of his position in my last letter. In addition he now had made a short exterior flank line. The enemy formed in the woods, out of sight, so as to envelop his flank defence, and coming partly in rear; the troops were those of Beauregard and A. P. Hill, many of which had been concentrated from Deep Bottom. They first opened a heavy artillery fire from behind the woods, throwing most of the projectiles into the angle of the line. Then their infantry advanced, in three lines of battle, and attempted to charge, but were received by such a discharge of all sorts of things that they broke and ran back before getting anywhere near. A South Carolina brigade coming out of the woods, saw that they were on the prolongation of our front flank line, and, thinking they had us foul, immediately charged, and caught an awful musketry fire on their flank, from our rear flank line, which they had not noticed. Immediately they began throwing down their arms and shouting, and an officer and some men from our front ran out to accept their surrender. The officer approached General Hagood and either demanded or seized the flag he held in his hand, when Hagood shot him mortally with a pistol, and shouted to his men to run. Some did so, others (about 300) gave themselves up, and others were shot down as they ran. The conduct of Hagood is denounced as treacherous, but this all depends on the details of the affair, which remain to be proved. The next time I think we shall go on shooting till some official announcement of surrender is made! Hagood’s flag we got, a new one, with fifty-seven bullet holes through it! Also three or four other flags, and some 400 prisoners in all. The total loss of the enemy in the day’s work must have been from 1500 to 2000.

We left at about one o’clock, and rode down, first to the stalwart Hancock, who was just then at the Jones house, and then kept on and saw Warren; for we expected another heavy fight, and General Meade wished to be present and see all the troops worked to proper advantage. Warren proposed to attack in his turn, but I am glad he did not, for there was no advantage to be gained that I could see, and we had all we could desire, the possession of the railroad. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 221-3. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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