Sailor's Creek, VA
 

The Hillsman House served as a field hospital during the battle.

 

 

SAILOR'S CREEK, VA
APRIL 6TH, 1865

Sailor's Creek, Va., April 6, 1865. 2nd and 6th Army
Corps and Cavalry, Army of the Potomac. The battle of
Sailor's Creek was an incident of the pursuit of the
Confederate army under Gen. Lee, after it had evacuated the
trenches in front of Richmond and Petersburg. On the evening
of the 5th the greater part of the Army of the Potomac
encamped at Jetersville and early on the morning of the 6th
moved out in the direction of Amelia Court House, where it was
believed the Confederate forces were concentrating. After
proceeding about 3 miles Gen. Meade learned that Lee was
moving toward Farmville. The direction of his march was
therefore changed, the 6th corps, under Gen. Wright, was
thrown to the left of the army, the 2nd, under Gen. Humphreys,
was directed to move toward Deatonsville, and the 5th, under
Gen. Griffin, took the Pridesville road to the right of the
army. Between 5 and 6 o'clock that morning Gen. Sheridan had
ordered Crook's division to move to Deatonsville, Gen. Merritt
to follow. Both Crook and Merritt moved parallel to Lee's
column, attacking it and the wagon train whenever opportunity
presented itself. At the forks of the road near the Atkinson
farm, Crook tried to cut out the train, but found it too
strongly guarded, after which he moved to Merritt's left and
continued to harass the retreating Confederates. Near
Harper's farm, on Sailor's creek, Custer's division routed the
train guard and captured over 300 wagons. Custer was soon
afterward attacked by two divisions of infantry and a severe
fight ensued, in which Custer was several times driven back.
Devin's division was sent to Custer's assistance, arriving
just as Capehart's brigade, supported by Pennington's, made a
brilliant charge, capturing several hundred prisoners on the
spot and more in the pursuit which followed. In the running
fight the cavalry captured 15 pieces of artillery and 31
battleflags.

In the meantime Seymour's division of the 6th corps had
driven the enemy from Deatonsville and then, with Wheaton's
division on the left, advanced down the road for about 2 miles
to Sailor's creek, where Ewell's command was found strongly
posted on the opposite bank. Anderson's corps lay across the
road in the rear of Ewell, and Pickett occupied the road
leading to Rice's station. Wright ordered his artillery into
position and while it was coming up Seymour and Wheaton
readjusted their lines on the north side of the creek for an
assault. Getty's division was coming up at the double-quick,
but without waiting for its arrival the other two divisions
advanced under cover of a destructive artillery fire, the men
wading the marsh and creek, the water in places coming above
their waists. When the opposite bank was reached the line was
in some disorder, but without waiting to reform the men rushed
forward upon the enemy's slight intrenchments. In this
advance not a shot was fired by the Union troops until they
were within a few yards of the enemy's works. Then they
opened a withering fire that caused Ewell's advance to give
way, but he massed his troops and made a desperate charge upon
the center of Wright's line, which gave way and the head of
the Confederate column came pouring through the break. For a
moment it looked as though the gallant 6th corps, that had won
renown on so many victorious fields, was to be cut to pieces.
But only for a moment Wright concentrated his artillery fire
on the advancing column in the center, which with Getty's
division, now in front, checked Ewell's further advance in
that direction, while each wing, ignoring the disaster to the
center, drove back the enemy in its front, and then wheeling
on a pivot toward the center caught the enemy on both flanks.

When the sound of Wright's guns was heard at the
beginning of the action, Sheridan ordered the cavalry to
attack on the right and rear. Stagg's brigade of Devin's
division had been operating with the 6th corps and now struck
Ewell's right flank, capturing about 300 prisoners. Crook
dismounted the brigades of Gregg and Smith and ordered Davies
to charge the works. In his report Crook says: "Davies made
one of the finest charges of the war, riding over and
capturing their works and its defenders." As the lines were
closing around Ewell a countercharge was made by the marine
brigade, 2,000 strong under command of Commodore Tucker. The
Federals were already looking upon the entire Confederate
force as prisoners, when Tucker made such a terrific onset
that a large part of the 6th corps was driven back across the
creek. There was some desperate hand-to-hand fighting and
Tucker's men were overpowered, surrendering to Keifer's
brigade of Seymour's division. The losses at Sailor's Creek
are somewhat problematical. In the tabulated statement in the
official records of the war the Union losses from March 29, to
April 9, are included, no detailed reports of the various
engagements of the campaign being made. Gen. Humphreys
places the Confederate loss at Sailor's Creek at 6,000 in
killed, wounded and captured, and states the loss of the 6th
corps as 442. Ewell, Kershaw, Custis Lee, DuBose, Barton and
Corse, all generals, were among the prisoners, and only about
250 of Kershaw's division escaped.

About 9 a m. Humphreys discovered a column of the enemy's
infantry (Gordon's corps) moving westward near Flat creek.
Gen. Mott commanding the 3rd division, was directed to send a
brigade across the creek to develop the force, and Gen. Miles,
commanding the 1st division brought up some artillery and
opened fire. A little later the whole corps was put in
pursuit of Gordon, Mott on the left, Miles on the right, and
Barlow close in the latter's rear. For 14 miles a running
fight was kept up, a number of prisoners being taken from time
to time as the enemy attempted to make a stand. A little
while before sunset Gordon made his last stand at Sailor's
Creek, a short distance above its mouth, taking position on a
ridge that commanded the crossing of the stream. Miles
ordered Scott's brigade to charge the enemy's line, which was
admirably done, the Confederates being driven into and across
the creek. MacDougall's brigade moved forward on Scott's
right, crossed the creek routed the enemy from his position,
and took possession of the ridge. Darkness put an end to
further pursuit. During the day the corps took 1,700
prisoners, 13 flags, 4 pieces of artillery, 300 wagons and 70
ambulances, with a total loss of 55 killed, 256 wounded and 85
missing. The enemy's loss in killed and wounded was doubtless
equal to that of the 2nd corps, so that Gordon lost on this
day at least 2,000 men.

Source: The Union Army, vol. 6

Source Information:

Historical Data Systems, comp. American Civil War Battle Summaries [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: MyFamily.com, Inc., 1999. Original data: Data compiled by Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA from the following list of works.

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