HDQRS. DEPT. OF VIRG1NIA AND NORTH CAROLINA,
Pursuant to the verbal directions and written instructions of the lieutenant-general commanding, the Army of the James is about to make a movement on the north side of the James River.
IS to surprise the Confederate forces in our front here, and, passing them, to get possession of the city of Richmond. Failing that, to make such serious and determined demonstration to that end as shall draw re-enforcements from the right of the enemy's line in sufficient numbers so as to enable the Army of the Potomac to move upon the enemy's communication near Petersburg. The forces appropriated to this purpose are so much of the Army of the James as can be spared from the lines at Bermuda Hundred and the garrisoned posts on the river, the strength of which forces you know.
MANNER IN WHICH THE MOVEMENT IS TO BE MADE.
The acting chief of engineers will have caused, by 12 o'clock midnight of the 28th instant, a sufficient pontoon bridge, well covered to prevent noise, to be laid from the road on the south side of the James to a point near Varina or Aiken's Landing. The Eighteenth Army Corps, with the exception of the colored division at Deep Bottom, will move across that bridge and make an attack upon the enemy's line in the manner hereinafter to be detailed. At the same time the Tenth Corps will cross the pontoon bridge at Deep Bottom and make in like manner and at the same time demonstration in connection with the Third Division of the Eighteenth Corps from that point.
THE POSITION AND NUMBERS OF THE ENEMY.
As near as can be ascertained, the enemy hold a line of earth-works starting at a point at or near Cox's Ferry, at a station called by them Signal Hill, running thence easterly in the rear of Cox's overseer's house; from thence to a point in the rear of J. Aiken's house to the hill in rear of the point marked "New Market" on the map, across the Varina road, partially along the Kingsland road, which line, it is believed, terminates substantially as a continuous intrenched line at that point. Most of the line has abatis but no ditch. The troops holding that line, from all the information gathered, are Bushrod Johnson's (Tennessee) brigade, about 450 men for duty, With its pickets advanced beyond Cox's overseer's house toward Dutch Gap, holding the line nearly three-quarters of a mile beyond that point to a point near the Varina road, at a point about 300 yards to the west of which the line of breast-works terminates, to be resumed on the other side of road. The Twenty-fifth Virginia (City Battalion), numbering not to exceed 200 men for duty, are extended along the line toward Ruffin's house, in front of our position at Deep Bottom. They are there joined by Benning's old (Georgia) brigade, commanded by Colonel Du Bose, numbering about 400 men, who are extended along the line past Ruffin's house, the picket-line being near the house of J. Aiken. They are there joined by Gregg's (Texas) brigade, numbering about 400 men for duty, who extend along the line to a place called New Market, where the enemy have a pretty strong work on a height commanding the New Market road. These are all the infantry forces, except a battalion of militia reserves, numbering about 175 men for duty, who are in camp some distance to the rear, who form a connecting line between Johnson's brigade and the City Battalion. These reserves are composed of soldiers below the age of eighteen and above the age of forty-five; but they, with the City Battalion, have never been under fire. At the place marked on the map "Drill-Room" is stationed a regiment believed to be shout 400 men, the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry. At the place marked "Sweeney's Pottery" Wade Hampton's Legion, numbering about 400 men, are stationed on the easterly side of Four-Mile Creek and Bailey's Run, apparently to guard the road by which General Hancock advanced over Strawberry Plains from below Four-Mile Creek, and picketing toward Malvern Hill. In the rear, at the intersection of the roads near the point marked "W. Throgmorton" is a regiment, the Twenty-fourth Virginia Cavalry, numbering about 400 men. On Chaffin's farm there is no garrison, except about 100 heavy artillerists, holding that place as an intrenched camp. It is also a camp for the sick and convalescents of the Virginia battalion. There are then no other troops between the troops herein enumerated and Richmond, except an artillery company in each of the detached works of that class numbered 23 on the map, and the one at "Toll-Gate" and the "Race-Course." The continuous line of works shown on the map is wholly unoccupied. It will be seen, therefore, that these bodies of which we have knowledge, if the information is correct, should be 2,875 men, and it may be safely predicated that there are not 3,000 effective men outside of the limits of the city of Richmond on the north side of the river. It is upon this information, which is fully credited, that the movement is largely based.
THE MEANS OF RE-ENFORCEMENT BY THE ENEMY.
There are between the Appomattox and the James less than 3,500 men holding a line nearly ten miles in extent, and the nearest considerable body of Confederate troops are massed some seven miles still farther off below Petersburg. Most of the force between the Appomattox and the James is directly in the front of our lines and cannot be much depleted. Their means of crossing the river are by the pontoon bridge, one between the fortifications of Drewry's Bluff on the west and Chaffin's farm on the east of the James. These fortifications are about a mile apart, and have two or three barbette guns bearing on the bridge-heads. There is no other tete-de-pont. This is a pontoon bridge and is above fortifications at Chaffin's on the one side and below Drewry's on the other. These fortifications are about a mile apart. Next a trestle-work bridge, with schooners for a draw, at a point opposite the place of William Throgmorton at the mouth of Falling Creek Landing on the westerly side of the river at the southerly side of the mouth of the creek; again, a trestle bridge at a point opposite Colonel Knight's house, another trestle bridge nearly opposite the battery marked 23 on plan. These last three have no têtes-de-pont on the north side.
THE MANNER OF ATTACK.
A large element of the complete success of this movement depends upon its celerity and the co-operation in point of time of the several commands in the attack. It is proposed that Major-General Ord shall dispose one of the divisions of his corps in such positions as to mass them near Varina on the north bank during the night, silently, so as not to be observed by the enemy, and from thence just before daybreak, which is assumed to be 4.30 a.m., and that will govern in point of time, to make a sudden, sharp attack in column upon the enemy's lines nearly opposite his position upon the Varina road. At the same time General Birney, having massed such divisions as he chooses, or using the Third Division of the Eighteenth Corps, at Deep Bottom, for that purpose, for which it will temporarily report to him, will make a like attack, substantially at the point where he attacked before in the late essay across the James, and endeavor to carry the New Market road and the heights adjacent, if he cannot turn them to the left without too great loss. If successful, and as soon as the way can be opened, General Kautz's cavalry, having been massed near the pontoon bridge at Deep Bottom, and crossing while the attack is going on, will immediately push out, attempt to cross the New Market road, turning the enemy's forces and left flank, if possible, avoiding a fight as a preference, and attempt to reach the Central, or, as it is called in the country there, the Darbytown road. If successful in striking that road General Kautz is to make the utmost diligence and celerity of marching up that road toward Richmond, or if he finds himself opposed in such manner as to render it advisable he will still farther flank to the right and strike the Charles City road, as both roads lead into the city within a mile of each other.
If General Ord is successful in passing the enemy's line in his front he is to move right on up the Varina road and endeavor to reach the intrenched camp at Chaffin's farm, and, if possible, to take it, and secure and destroy the pontoon crossing just above. Perhaps General Ord will find the better way to take the works at Chaffin's farm is to pass them by the Varina road, or turn them near the house of J. Aiken, and pass to the rear, as the demoralization of their defenders, if any get there from Johnson's command, will be greater when they find themselves cut off from Richmond. General Ord will observe that the Varina road runs within two miles of the river, and he may be annoyed by the enemy's gun-boats, but they would seem to amount to an annoyance only at that distance; yet an attempt to take the work would seem to be the most feasible from the northwest side of the salient extending in that direction, as there he will be entirely protected by the high bluff from the fire of the enemy's gun-boats. But much of this detail, of course, must be left to his discretion on the ground, which he is enjoined to use largely as to modes and places of attack. General Ord is expressly cautioned, however, to lose no time in attempting to envelop Chaffin's farm, but rather, if he can take the line of works extending across his path, to place what in his judgment may be a sufficient force, with orders to intrench, so as to hold the bridge, and with the rest of his forces to push up toward the New Market road, at the junction of which with the Varina road he will probably be met with some force, that being near the station of the cavalry. If Chaffin's farm can be taken a force should be detached to hold it, although it becomes of minor importance, except as a possible bridge-head for a new pontoon bridge to be thrown, brought from the Appomattox; but that is a question of time. Leaving sufficient force to protect his rear from the enemy, crossing after striking the New Market junction, at which point it is hoped he will be joined by General Birney, who will have proceeded up the New Market road, General Ord will move to the left and attempt to strike the Richmond and Osborne old turnpike, and also to detach a force and destroy or hold the bridge next above, and proceed onward up that road until its junction with the New Market road, at which point the only other force of the enemy is supposed to be found in the garrisons of the detached works. Again, an attempt should be made to destroy the bridges opposite Battery 23. If these bridges can be destroyed with reasonable celerity, there can be but little doubt of the complete success of the movement.
Meanwhile, General Birney will have moved by the New Market road up to the point of intersection, where it may be necessary to turn the works by a flank movement to the left in the direction marked on the map, "Cox," but that, like the other method of attack, must be left largely to the discretion of General Birney. As soon as possible after the advance has been made from Deep Bottom, whether the attack is made by the Third Division of the Eighteenth Corps or a division of the Tenth Corps, the Third Division, under General Paine, will have position upon the left of General Birney's column of march, so that when the junction is formed with General Ord that division may report to him, relieved from its temporary assignment to duty with the Tenth Corps.
The commanding general of the army will endeavor to keep himself in communication with the corps commanders, so as to afford any direction, advice, or assistance that may be in his power, and by being kept advised of the movements of the one and the other of the corps commanders, as well as the command of General Kautz, he may be thus enabled to secure more perfect co-operation than would otherwise be possible. If the movement is made with celerity; if the march is held uninterruptedly as much as possible, and if in the first attack the element of unity of time is observed, which has been greatly neglected in some of the movements of the army, we shall gain over the enemy, so far as any considerable re-enforcements are concerned, some eight to twelve hours, and perhaps more of valuable time, which ought not to be lost, and which should bring us far on our journey in the twelve miles which we are to go.
As the force of the enemy is so small, there will need be none of those delays for deployments which generally take so much time in movements on the enemy. If we are not mistaken in the force opposed to us, and if we are not we shall learn it very early, that force nor any other that may be got on that side of the river for six hours need give us no alarm or trouble; nor, indeed, when the two corps have joined, need we fear any force which the enemy, by possibility can detach from his army without abandoning his position on the right altogether, in which case we shall be likely to get re-enforcements nearly as early as he will. Upon approaching the detached works at Richmond, if we are fortunate enough to succeed so far, as they will be found to be some three-quarters of a mile apart, and not connected with rifle-pits, and as they are all open in the rear, a quick movement of a small column of troops between them will put them into the hands of the attacking party. Of course, receiving the fire of the heavy guns in positions, which are manned by inexperienced artillerists, and are therefore far less destructive than light guns in the same position, getting between two of their works, so as to get into the rear, would open the gates of Richmond.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE IN RICHMOND.
Whatever division or other body of troops shall get into Richmond it will be their duty immediately, without waiting for parley or doing anything else, to proceed at once to the bridges across the James River, seizing upon inhabitants to guide them for that purpose, if necessary, and destroy them. Fire is the readiest way of destroying bridges such as these are--of wooden spans. As soon as that destruction has been accomplished, then, unless both columns and the cavalry column have reached the city, as large a body as can possibly be spared will be sent to open the way upon the road by which such tardy column is supposed to be advancing, by a sharp attack upon any enemy opposing in the rear. No large body of troops, it is believed, will be needed for this purpose, as the enemy, under such circumstances, would make no stand. In case a portion of the troops reach Richmond, and the troops holding either bridge-head below Richmond are attacked, they are to hold the ground as long as possible, having, the moment that they strike the point which they intend to hold, strengthened themselves by intrenchment as much as possible, for which reason the battalion of engineers has been ordered to report to Major-General Ord and will be well at the front, furnished with their intrenching tools. In case the troops guarding the bridges are forced back they will retire upon the position held by our army, not allowing the enemy to get between them and the main body. In case any portion of the troops have reached Richmond, and those outside are attacked by a force of the enemy, which they are unable to resist, they will retire toward Richmond and not from it, it being intended, if the town is once reached, to hold it at all risks and at all hazards, and all commanders of divisions and others in advance are especially cautioned not to recognize or regard flags of truce, if any are sent, but, immediately receiving the bearer, to press on. It will be time enough to deal with flags of truce after the object of the expedition is accomplished.
DETAILS OF THE MARCH AND OF THE EQUIPMENT OF THE TROOPS.
As so much depends upon the celerity of movement, and the distance over which we are to move is so short, the troops will leave everything except a single blanket rolled over their shoulders and haversack with three days' cooked rations and sixty rounds of cartridges in their car-tridge-boxes and on their persons. All tents, camping equipage, and cooking utensils are to be left behind. No wagon will be allowed to cross the river without orders from these headquarters. The wagon trains, however, will be supplied with six days' rations and half-forage for the same time and forty rounds of extra ammunition per man, ready to start as soon as ordered. As this movement will necessarily be a failure if it degenerates into an artillery duel, there is no necessity for any artillery to cross until after the attempt to carry the first line of works, and then only such batteries as have been designated in the conversation between the commanding general and his corps commanders.
The two batteries of horse artillery reporting to General Kautz will cross and travel with him. Ambulances will be parked near the southern head of each pontoon bridge ready to be used when occasion requires. Hospital boats will be at Deep Bottom for the purpose of receiving any wounded. General Kautz will take with him three days' cooked rations per man and what forage he can conveniently carry. Assuming that he is better mounted than the enemy's cavalry, and fresh, he will have no difficulty in case it should be necessary to cut loose from the infantry column and circle the city as far as may be necessary, remembering always that celerity of movement in cavalry, in a far greater degree than infantry, is the principal means of success.
The commanding general cannot refrain in closing these instructions from pressing one or two points upon the attention of corps commanders: First, the necessity of being ready to move and moving at the moment designated; second, the fact that the commanding general is under no substantial mistake in regard to the force to be at first encountered, and therefore there is no necessity of time spent in reconnoitering or taking special care of the flanks of the moving columns. The commanding general would also recommend to the corps commanders, as soon as it may be done with safety from discovering the movement, to impress upon each of the division commanders, with directions for them to transmit the information through their subordinates even to the privates, of the number and kind of troops we are required to meet, so there may be no panic from supposed flanking movements of the enemy or attacks in the rear, always a source of demoralization when the troops do not understand the force of the enemy. Let us assure and instruct our men that we are able to fight anything we will find either in front or flank or rear, wherever they may happen to be.
Lastly, the commanding general will recommend for promotion to the next higher grade the brigadier-general commanding division, colonel commanding brigade, and so down to all officers and soldiers of the leading division, brigade, or regiment which first enters Richmond, and he doubts not that his recommendation will be approved by the lieutenant-general, and acted upon by the President, and if Richmond is taken he will pledge to the division, brigade, or regiment first entering the city, to each officer and man six months' extra pay. While making this offer so general to officers and men, the commanding general desires to say that he has not included the major-generals commanding corps because he knows of no incentive which could cause them to do their duty with more promptness and efficiency than they will do it.
BENJ. F. BUTLER,
(Copies to Major-General Birney, commanding Tenth Corps, and Brigadier-General Kautz, commanding division of cavalry.)
From The War of the Rebellion : A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington : Government Printing Office, 1880 - 1901. Serial # 88, Vol. 42, part 2, pages 1083 - 1088.
Last updated: February 26, 2015