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1864 May 14: General Butler and the Bermuda Hundred Campaign

May 18, 2014

In May of 1864, General Benjamin F. Butler commanded a force given the name Army of the James, which consisted of the X Corps under General W. F. Smith, the XVIII Corps under General Quincy A. Gillmore, and 3,000 cavalry under General August V. Kautz.¹ General Ulysses S. Grant ordered him to attack from Yorktown across the peninsula toward Richmond, Virginia.  Grant wanted him to destroy the railroad links that supplied the Confederate capital and to also distract Confederate General Robert E. Lee while Grant attacked from the north.  But Butler and his army got bogged down east of Richmond in the area called the Bermuda Hundred.  His force was immobilized by Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard’s numerically inferior force.

Butler’s army of 33,000 disembarked at Bermuda Hundred on May 5 (a Tuesday), threatening the Richmond-Petersburg Railroad. On May 6 (Wednesday), the Confederates were initially successful in stopping the Union force. But on May 7 (Thursday), a Union division drove the Confederates from the depot at Port Walthall Junction and cut the railroad.  On May 9 (Saturday), Butler moved toward Petersburg but was met by the Confederates at Swift Creek.  After skirmishing, Butler tore up the railroad tracks but did not press the defenders.

The following dispatch appeared in the May 14, 1864, issue of both The Polk County Press and The Prescott Journal:



To Maj. General Dix, N. Y.:

The following dispatch was received from Gen. Butler.  It tells the story.

(Signed.)               E. M. STANTON.

LANDING, May 9th, 1864. }

Our operations may be summed up in a few words.  With 1,700 cavalry we have advanced up the Peninsula, forded the Chickahominy, and safely brought them to our present position.  These were colored cavalry, and are now holding position as our advance toward Richmond.

Gen. Kautz, with 3,000 cavalry from Suffolk on the same day with our movements up James River, forded the Blackwater, and burned the railroad bridge over Stony Creek, below Petersburg, cutting in two Beauregard’s force at that point.

We have landed here, entrenched ourselves, and destroyed many miles of railroad, and got a position which, with proper supplies, we can hold against the whole of Lee’s army.

I have ordered up the supplies.

Beauregard, with a large portion of his command, was left south of the cutting of the railroad by General Kautz.

That portion which reached Petersburg under Hill [A. P. Hill] I have whipped to-day, killing and wounding many and taking many prisoners, after a severe and well contested fight.

Lieut. Gen. Grant will not be troubled with any further reinforcements from Beauregard’s forces to Lee.

(Signed,)                B. F. BUTLER,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Major General Commanding.

The rest of the dispatches appeared in The Polk County Press only, as part of the “Great Battles” article.

With the movement of the Army of the Potomac, commenced another forward move on the Peninsula under command of Major Gens. SMITH and BUTLER.  On the 6th inst., BUTLER’s army occupied City Point within 15 miles of Richmond.  A large fleet of monitors and gun-boats accompany BUTLER’s command.  His cavalry are out in every direction and have cut the Petersburg and Richmond railroad, thereby preventing LEE’s reinforcements from coming up to his aid.

The following Associated Press dispatches relate to operations on the Peninsula:

                   BALTIMORE, May 10.

A Norfolk paper says Butler had a brisk encounter with Beauregard near Petersburg Saturday, and on Sunday assailed him with considerable force and drove him.  It adds :  Butler has the key of Richmond in his hands.  Rebel prisoners report that Less was wounded Friday.

NEW YORK, May 10.

The “Herald” says Butler commenced his march on Richmond from the south side early yesterday morning.  One day’s uninterrupted march will bring him to the James river opposite Richmond.

Important news may be expected to-day.

NEW YORK, May 10

The “World” has unconfirmed advice that Fort Darling has been captured by Butler.  The “Times” correspondent says Butler’s position at Bermuda is considered impregnable.

It was gained by sharp fighting, and will be held.

The “Tribune” correspondent says Butler’s future movements will depend on those of Grant.

Accounts agree that Beauregard is confronting Butler with 20,000 troops.

1.  August Valentine Kautz (1828-1895) was born in Germany and immigrated to Ohio as a child in 1832. He served in the Mexican War and then entered West Point, graduating in 1852. During the Civil War, Kautz became a captain with the 6th U.S. Cavalry during the Peninsula Campaign (April to July 1862). He then transferred to the Western Theater and assisted in operations against Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s highly successful raid behind Union lines in Indiana and Ohio (June–July 1863). Kautz participated in the Battle of Knoxville (September-December 1863) and was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in April 1864. He led cavalry operations of the XXIII Corps Grant’s campaigns against Richmond and Petersburg (April to June 1864). Later in 1864 he was promoted to major general of volunteers. In early April 1865, Kautz marched into Richmond in command of a division of colored troops and he was active during the Union pursuit of Robert E. Lee in April 1865, until Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. After the war, Kautz served on the trial board investigating the conspirators involved in the assassination of President Lincoln (May-June 1865), and mustered out in January 1866.


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