Blake, Thomas Ballard. "Retreat from Richmond."
Reprint from Richmond Dispatch, 2 May 1897-
SHSP 25 (1897), pp. 139-145.
Page 139 Retreat from Richmond.
[From the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, May 2, 1897.]
RETREAT FROM RICHMOND.
Colonel Crutchfield and the "Artillery Brigade."* INTERESTING REMINISCENCES.
A Forced March 'Mid Cold and Rain. Fight at Sailor's Creek.
RICHMOND, VA., April 27, 1897.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
Being on a visit to Richmond from my home in St. Louis, I noticed in your paper of the
25th instant, a letter from Colonel R. T. W. Duke, giving some incidents of the retreat
from Richmond, and the fight at Sailor's Creek. This has put me in a reminiscent mood, and
I would like to give, for your Confederate column, some of my recollections of those
stirring times, more especially of the retreat from Richmond, and the participation of my
command in the battle of Sailor's Creek.
During the winter of 1864-65, my battalion the 10th Virginia Artillery, was stationed
immediately in front of Fort Harrison. The battalion had formerly been commanded by Major
William Allen, of "Claremont," but at that time by Major J. O. Hensley, of
Bedford county. It was composed of five companies - Companies A and C, from Richmond,
commanded respectively by Captains J. W. Barlow and Thomas P. Wilkinson; Company B, from
Bedford county, Captain Robert B. Clayton; Company D, from Prince George, Captain C.
Shirley Harrison, of Brandon; and Company E, from Henrico, Captain Thomas Ballard Blake.
Lieutenant Sam Wilson, was Adjutant.
The 10th Virginia and the 19th Virginia Battalion (also composed of five companies) were
under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John Wilder Atkinson, of Richmond, with Lieutenant
John L. Cowardin as adjutant.
The 18th and 20th Virginia Battalions, commanded by Lieutenant-
* See Ante, pp. 38-47. The report to General G. W. Custis Lee, of Major W. S. Basinger, on
the operations of "Crutchfield's Artillery Brigade."
Page 140 Southern Historical Society Papers.
Colonel James Howard, of Baltimore, and the 18th Georgia Battalion, also attached to our
command, formed what was known as the Artillery Brigade," which at that time was
under the command of Colonel Crutchfield.
If I have made any omissions I would be glad to have them supplied.
The adjutant-general of the brigade was Captain W. N. Worthington, of Richmond. Captain
Worthington had been a schoolmate of mine at Hanover Academy just before the war.
Major-General G. W. Custis Lee commanded the division and Lieutenant General Ewell the
We were thoroughly drilled in artillery practice, and manned the heavy guns on the line of
the Richmond defences. We were also well drilled in infantry tactics, and were armed with
rifles. I wish that it was possible to give all the names of the command, but space would
not permit it, even if I could recall them after all of these years. I would be glad to
see published a complete roster of all officers and men of the Artillery Brigade, at the
time of the evacuation, and of those who were at Sailor's Creek. On the afternoon of
Sunday, April 2d, 1865, rumors reached our lines of important movements pending. That
night we received marching orders, and were under way by midnight. As our supplies of
every description were exceedingly scant we were strictly in "light marching
over." Our daily rations for some time past had been one pound of cornmeal and a
quarter of a pound of bacon. The bacon was alternated with a pound of fresh beef. Both the
bacon an the beef were occasionally substituted by a gill of sorghum. So we started on the
march with empty haversacks. We moved towards James river, crossing on a pontoon bridge
above Drewry's Bluff. The explosions of the magazines at Chaffin's and Drewry's Bluff and
at Richmond could be plainly heard.
RICHMOND WAS BURNING.
Early Monday morning we learned that Richmond was burning. We were then moving in the
direction of Burkeville Junction. It was a forced march, halting only to rest on our arms.
To add to other discomforts, a cold rain set in. Footsore, almost starved, and well-nigh
exhausted, we continued the march. There being no commissary stores from which to draw, no
rations had been issued since leaving the lines, and, as before stated, we started with
Page 141 Retreat from Richmond.
sacks. The resources of the country through which we were passing had been almost
exhausted, and we had to gather up and eat the grains of corn left on the ground where the
horses had fed, whenever we could find any. We were, moreover, constantly annoyed by the
enemy's cavalry, which hung on our rear. Thus the retreat continued until the afternoon of
Thursday, April 6th. More than half of our men had straggled or fallen by the wayside from
sheer exhaustion, but those whose endurance and grit had brought them thus far were ready
to face any foe. Between 2 and 3 o'clock in the afternoon of the 6th we arrived at
Sailor's Creek. The stream had been swollen by the rains of the past few days and the
waters overflowed the banks. We waded across this stream and took position on the rising
ground about 100 yards beyond. The ground was covered with a growth of boom straw and a
few small bushes, mostly pine. Our line of battle was long drawn out - exceedingly thin.
Very soon after taking our position, the enemy opened a brisk fire on us from a battery
posted on the opposite ridge, about 300 yards away. We had no artillery to return the
fire. This fire did but little damage to my immediate command, but our brigade suffered
severely further to the right. Their infantry then appeared in solid line. They moved
steadily forward, reached the creek which we had so recently crossed, waded through, as we
had done, dressed up their line, and continued their advance towards the rising ground
where our men lay. When they had advanced to within thirty or forty paces of our line, the
order was given to charge. In a moment we were on our feet, yelling like demons and
rushing upon their line. It has always been a mystery to me why they did not then and
there wipe our little band from the face of the earth. It may be that the very audacity of
our charge bewildered and demoralized them. At any rate they broke and fled just before we
reached them, but a portion of the line engaged in a hand-to-hand fight. We followed them
to the edge of the stream, into which they plunged, our men keeping up a deadly fire on
stem as they crossed. It was during this charge that my company suffered most severely.
One-third were either killed or wounded, more or less seriously.
GALLANT CRUTCHFIELD KILLED.
Colonel Crutchfield was killed, and Adjutant Wilson shot through the leg, which had to be
amputated. I received a slight wound in the shoulder, which, however, did not incapacitate
me. After the enemy had retreated across the creek, we gathered up our handful of
Page 142 Southern Historical Society Papers.
men and fell back to our original position. While Captain Barlow, of Company A, was
endeavoring to reform his men on my company, which was the color company, he was shot
through the head and instantly killed. I regret that I cannot give a full list of those
who fell. We had hardly regained our former position, when Sheridan's cavalry came down on
us from the rear. A young cavalry officer, riding in among us, begged us to surrender,
telling us that we were entirely surrounded, and that further resistance was useless. It
was so gallant an act no one attempted to molest him.
In the mean while the infantry, which had been driven across the creek, had reformed and
were advancing in force. Our men then threw down their arms, and we wee prisoners of war.
I remember that in the hot blood of youth, I broke my sword over a sapling, rather than
surrender it. When the infantry which we had so recently repulsed, came up to us again, it
was with smiling faces. They commenced opening their haversacks, offering to share their
"hard tack" with us, which in our famished condition we most eagerly and
gratefully accepted. They, moreover, complimented us on the gallant fight we had made. In
this connection, I will add that we were always treated with every consideration by the
veterans at the front. It was only when we fell into the hands of the provost guard that
any harshness was shown. About dusk that evening we were taken back across Sailor's Creek,
and camped that night in an old field. The next morning (7th), we started on our long
march to Petersburg and City Point, en route to northern prisons.
TO POINT LOOKOUT.
The non-commissioned officers and men were mostly taken to Point Lookout, while almost all
of the officers were eventually taken to Johnston's Island, in Lake Erie. We took a boat
at City Point, and when we touched at Fortress Monroe, on the morning of April 15th,
learned that President Lincoln had been assassinated the night before. We were taken to
Baltimore and from there to Washington. The city was draped in mourning. The excitement
was intense and we had to be marched through the city to the old Capitol prison under a
double guard, to protect us from a threaten mob. After remaining in the old Capitol about
two weeks we were taken to Johnston's Island, where I remained until June 18, 1865, when I
was released, our cause being then a "Lost Cause." Arrived in Richmond June
Several years ago a friend of mine in St. Louis gave me a copy of
Page 143 Retreat from Richmond.
the New York Herald, in which was a dispatch from one of its war correspondents, dated
Farmville, Va., April 9, 1865. He spoke of the fight at Sailor's Creek as follows:
"Immense Slaughter of the Enemy. - The slaughter of the enemy in the fight of the 6th
instant exceeded anything I ever saw. The ground over which they fought was literally
strewn with their killed. The fighting was desperate, in many cases hand-to-hand. There
were a number of bayonet wounds reported at the hospitals."
He says nothing about the slaughter of his own men. We had an idea that we were doing some
However, this dispatch goes to prove that the fight was no child's play. He then gives
"a list of some of the rebel officers captured on the 6th instant," as follows:
Navy. - Admiral Hunter, Commodore Tucker, Captain Simms, Midshipman J. H. Hamilton,
Lieutenant H. H. Marmaduke, Master W. R. Mays, Midshipman C. F. Sevier, Midshipman T. M.
Bowen, Lieutenant C. L. Stanton, Lieutenant J. P. Claybrook, John R. Chisman,
Master's-mate, Lieutenant M. G. Porter, Lieutenant R. J. Bowen, Lieutenant W. W. Roberts,
Lieutenant J. W. Matterson, Midshipman W. F. Nelson, Lieutenant M. M. Benton,
Master's-mate S. G. Turner, Lieutenant W. F. Shum, Lieutenant T. C. Pinkney, Captain T. B.
Ball, Lieutenant H. Ward, Midshipman B. S. Johnson, Midshipman F. L. Place, Lieutenant D.
Trigg, Midshipman T. Berein, Midshipmen C. Myers, J. M. Gardner.
Marine Corps. - Captain George Holmes, Captain T. S. Wilson, Lieutenant F. McKee,
Lieutenant A. S. Berry, Lieutenant T. P. Gwinn.
Army Officers. - Lieutenant-General Ewell, General Corse, General Barton, General Hunton,
General J. P. Semmes, General Du Bose, General Custis Lee, General Kershaw and staff,
Colonel C. C. Sanders, 24th Georgia; Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Timberlake, 53d Virginia;
Lieutenant N. S. Hutchins, 3rd Georgia; Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton Phil, Georgia Legion;
Major J. M. Goggin, Major E. L. Caston, Captain J. M. Davis, Captain Carwall, Captain J.
W. Walker, A. A. G.; Captain C. S. Dwight, Captain McRae Cane, 16th Georgia; Colonel
Armstrong, 18th Georgia; Captain L. Bass, 25th Virginia Battery; Lieutenant Colonel E. P.
False, 22d Virginia Battery; Major F. C. Smith, 24th Georgia; Captain J. F. Tompkins, 22d
Virginia; Lieutenant H. C. Tompkins, 22d Virginia; Captain
Page 144 Southern Historical Society Papers.
W. C. Winn, 22d Virginia; Adjutant S. D. Davies, 47th Virginia; H. W. O. Gatewood, 37th
Virginia; Adjutant Williams, 3d Georgia Sharpshooters; Lieutenant J. L. Buford, Captain J.
L. Jarrett, 69th Virginia; Lieutenant J. T. Ferneyhough, 20th Virginia Battalion; Captain
J. A. Hanes, 55th Virginia; Captain A. Reynolds, 55th Virginia; Captain J. H. Fleet, 55
Virginia; Captain V. H. Fauntleroy, 55th Virginia; Lieutenant W. C. Robinson, 55th
Virginia; Lieutenant Thomas Fauntleroy, 55th Virginia; Captain R. T. Bland, 55th Virginia;
Adjutant R. L. Williams, 55th Virginia; Lieutenant J. R. P. Humphries, 55th Virginia;
Lieutenant E. J. Ragland, 53d Virginia; Lieutenant A. B. Willingham, 53d Virginia;
Lieutenant-Colonel T. G. Barbour, 24th Virginia; Captain W. F. Harrison, 24th Virginia;
Lieutenant-Colonel James Howard, 18th and 20th Virginia Battalions; Captain A. Austin
Smith, ordnance officer; Captain McHenry Howard, General Custis Lee's staff; Lieut. J. F.
Porteous, ordnance officer; Maj. J. E. Robertson, 20th Va. Battalion; Captain S. H.
Overton, 20th Virginia Battalion; Captain R. K. Hargo, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant
C. W. Hunter, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant J. H. Lewis, 20th Virginia Battalion;
Lieutenant A. G. Williams, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant B. Scruggs, 20th Virginia
Battalion; Lieutenant J. N. Snelson, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant E. Coffin, 20th
Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant Ferneyhough, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant P. F.
Vaden, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant-Colonel A. D. Bruce, 47th Virginia; Captain E.
L. Wharton, 47th Virginia; Lieutenant J. S. Hutt, 47th Virginia; Lieutenant C. Molty, 47th
Virginia; Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Atkinson, 10th and 19th Virginia Battalions; Lieutenant
J. L. Cowardin, Adjutant 10th and 19th Virginia Battalions; Captain T. B. Wilkinson, 10th
Virginia Battalion; Captain T. B. Blake, 10th Virginia Battalion; Captain R. B. Claytor,
10th Virginia Battalion; Captain C. S. Harrison, 10th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant J. W.
Turner, 10th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant B. G. Andrews, 10th Virginia Battalion;
Lieutenant T. C. Talbott, 10th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant A. P. Bohannon, Adjutant
Wilson, 10th Virginia Battalion, wounded; Captain J. H. Norton, 18th Virginia Battalion;
Lieutenant W. Stevenson, 18th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant Joseph Russell, 18th Virginia
Battalion; Lieutenant S. Doridian, 18th Virginia Battalion; Captain D. L. Smoot, 18th
Virginia Battalion; Colonel J. J. Phillips, 9th Virginia; Adjutant C. C. Phillips, 9th
Virginia; Lieutenant W. Roane Ruffin, Chamberlayne's Battery; Captain E. B. Coltrane, 24th
Virginia; Captain J. W. Barr,
Page 145 Retreat from Richmond.
Barr's Battery; Lieutenant W. F. Campbell, Barr's Battery; Captain H. Nelson, 28th
Virginia; Lieutenant C. K. Nelson, 28th Virginia; Lieutenant J. B. Leftwich, 28th
Virginia; Lieutenant J. N. Kent, 22d Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant H. C. Shepherd, 22d
Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant J. E. Glossen, 47th Virginia; Lieutenant R. P. Welling,
12th Mississippi; Chaplain E. A. Garrison, 48th Mississippi; Lieutenant Robert T. Knox,
30th Virginia; Lieutenant J. H. Marshall, 30th Virginia; Captain J. S. Knox, 30th
Virginia; Lieutenant St. George Fitzhugh, Pegram Artillery; Lieutenant T. L. Roberts, 34th
Virginia; Lieutenant J. S. Watts, 46th Virginia; Lieutenant J. T. Fowler, 46th Virginia;
Major M. B. Hardin, 18th Virginia Battalion; Adjutant W. H. Laughter, 18th Virginia
Battalion; Captain W. S. Griffin, 18th Virginia Battalion; Captain L. B. Madison, 58th
Virginia; Lieutenant Judson Hundron, Lieutenant J. Foyler, 58th Virginia; Lieutenant John
Addison, 17th Virginia; Lieutenant-Colonel G. Tyler, 17th Virginia; Lieutenant J. B. Hill,
53d Virginia; Sergeant-Major J. S. Miller, 20th Virginia Battalion; Lieutenant M. H.
Daughty, 11th Florida; Captain Winder, Young's Battery; Lieutenant J. C. Murray, Young's
Battery; Captain W. S. Randall, General Custis Lee's staff; Colonel J. T. Crawford, 51st
Georgia; Colonel James Dickey, 51st Georgia; Captain W. R. McClain, 51st Georgia; Captain
J. H. Faulkner, 51st Georgia; Captain R. N. Askew, 51st Georgia; Captain V. B. Baglow,
51st Georgia; Lieutenant J. A. Brown, 51st Georgia; Lieutenant C. W. S. Swanson, Captain
H. J. Otis, 2d North Carolina, Evans' Brigade; Lieutenant P. A. Green, 3d Georgia; Captain
W. G. Baird, 24th North Carolina; Colonel P. McLaughlin, 50th Georgia; Captain W. A.
Smith, 50th Georgia; Captain G. E. Fahn, 50th Georgia; Lieutenant Thompson, 35th North
Carolina; Lieutenant J. B. Purcell, 56th Virginia.
The above list will doubtless be on interest to old soldiers who many chance to see it.
THOMAS BALLARD BLAKE,
Late Captain Company E, 10th Va. Battalion Artillery.