Cavalry Raid (December 1, 1864)

GreggDavid McMurtrie Gregg was one of the Army of the Potomac’s best cavalry commanders. He was the cousin of Pennsylvania governor Andrew Gregg Curtin and had received his promotion of major general of volunteers in August. A couple of months after Theodore Lyman writes this letter, Gregg will abruptly resign from the army, for reasons that remain mysterious.

At daylight General Gregg made a start, with nearly his whole cavalry division, for Stony Creek station. For you must know that, since we have held the Weldon road, the enemy have been obliged to waggon much of their supplies from Stony Creek station, by cross roads to the Boydton plank and thus to Petersburg. Lately we have had reports that they were building a cross railroad from Stony Creek to the southside road. Gregg’s object therefore was to go to the station, which is over twenty miles by the road from our lines, find out if this railroad were really in progress or not, and do as much damage as possible. Instead of going straight down he, by advice of General Meade, bore a little to the east and then suddenly swung round, when he got a little below the station. The consequence was he came on them where they didn’t look for him. There were two redoubts, with regular ditch, etc., intended to keep off raiders; there was a thirty-pounder Parrott and a twelve-pounder field-piece mounted in them, and a few infantry as garrison. Their cavalry took to their heels, prudently. The infantry got in the redoubts and fired away with their cannon; but it got taken in a novel fashion. A regiment of cavalry charged to within 100 yards, then tumbled off their horses and made a rush at the parapet, and ran right over the occupants. This gave them possession of the station, and then there followed a scene of general smashing, which, according to witnesses, was highly amusing. The men, feeling like mischievous boys, went at everything tooth and nail. They took several hundred bales of hay and piled them against a stack of short forage, which contained between 3000 and 5000 bags. Then they set the whole on fire, and helped the blaze with a lot of new tents. Next they tied down the safety-valve of a locomotive, built a big fire under the boiler, and blew her up by this scientific process. After distributing the contents of a number of Rebel Thanksgiving boxes on the principle of spolia forti, they ended by a display of fireworks consisting of a shed full of ammunition, which was fired and allowed to go off at its convenience. Then they retreated, in great glee, taking with them 170 prisoners, who were not in such great glee. One was a scamp named Major Fitzhugh, who, when Captain Lazelle, of our cavalry, was made prisoner, put a pistol to his head and made him give him his boots. Captain Freikle told me he had a mind to make the scoundrel march the twenty miles barefooted, but couldn’t bring his mind to anything so mean. I would have made him do it.

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp. 285-7. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

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