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1864 June 4: The Battle of Proctor’s Creek

June 8, 2014

From the June 4, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The Battle of Proctor’s Creek took place on May 12-16, 1864, in Chesterfield County, Virginia, with the operations against Fort Darling on May 12-16 and the battle at Drewry’s Bluff on May 14-16.  It was part of Union General Benjamin F. Butler’s Bermuda Hundred Campaign.

R E B E L   A T T A C K   O N   B U T L E R.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF VIRGINIA, }
WALHALLA LANDING, May 17, 1864. }

After three days skirmishing along the Richmond and Petersburg pike, the rebels continually falling back, we at last succeeded in obtaining a position under the very guns of the forts which occupy Drury’s Bluff [sic: Drewry’s] and vicinity.  The 18th Corps, under Gen. Smith [William F. Smith], occupied the right of our position, and the 10th, under Gen. Gilmore [sic: Quincy A. Gillmore], the left.  The outer line of defences, very formidable and stretching away for miles, had all been carried and we were ready for the final assault which should give us the possession of the stronghold which barred the way to our further advance toward the rebel Capital.  Yesterday morning the assault was to have been made.  But who can tell what a day may bring forth! and how little are the events of to-day or to-morrow under our control!  All that human skill and foresight could do had been done, and we seemed on the very eve of a most brilliant and important achievement.

Day broke with a thick and impenetrable fog enshrouding us.  Hardly had the morning dawned, ere a terrific assault was made upon our right wing, composed of the brigades of Hickman [sic]¹ and Burnham.²  The enemy, four lines deep, advanced through the dense fog unperceived, to within a few hundred yards of our line, and then with a terrific discharge of musketry and artillery, and the most frightful yells, threw their whole force with crushing weight and effect upon the doomed brigades.  They could not abide the awful storm which had burst so suddenly and crushingly upon them.  Torn, mangled and bleeding, their brave columns, veterans all, were swept from their position by the battle-blast—brave Gen. Hickman [sic] made prisoner—the whole right completely broken up, and the fragments tossed upon the billows of that terrible onset.  And yet they had time, brief as it was, to hurl destruction into the ranks of the swiftly advancing foe.  Their dead and wounded were piled in gory heaps upon the field.

The right wing broken and crushed, and in danger of being lost, Col. Sanders,³ in command of the centre, was ordered to take the 188th Pennsylvania of his brigade and post it on the pike as a support to Ashby’s battery, then in extreme peril.  Very soon after the regiment had taken its position, a fire from a flanking party of the rebels killed every horse in the battery but one, and despite the exertions of the 188th, which are represented as truly heroic, the battery was finally captured.

In the meantime the balance of Col. Sanders’ Brigade was called upon to contend with the fierce tide of battle which set in upon it.  Moving from its original position, it had formed anew beyond a strip of woods a half or three quarters of a mile in the rear, its right resting on the pike and near the Halfway House.  This it did with the thunder of the conflict crashing and the iron and leaden hail falling in a deluge all around them.  It went to its new position cooly and with unbroken ranks ;  formed its line under fire and then withstood the onset of the enemy.  This brigade with Burnham’s, which was partially rallied, stayed the progress of the rebel assault on the right, and unquestionably saved us from very great loss.

The battle-storm did not fully cease until after 2 o’clock P. M. , but continued to rage fearfully at times along the entire line.  Gilmore’s [sic: Quincy A. Gillmore] Corps met and endured the shock a little later—the first and heaviest assault having been made made [sic] upon our right, along which the rebels during the night had massed four times our number of men.  Prisoners taken unite in saying that large reinforcements had been brought in for the purpose of dislodging us from our position, and driving us from too close proximity to the rebel capital.

We have been driven back but not defeated.  The heavy fog and heavy masses of rebels were too much for us.  In a single word, the fog beat us.  Friend could not be distinguished from foe thirty paces distant.—This only made the strife more deadly when the grapple came, and fearfully has the enemy paid for all he has gained.  Our men are in excellent spirits to-day, and ready to meet the foe again to-morrow.

The losses in yesterday’s fight in killed, wounded and missing will probably foot up nearly one thousand.  Some of the regiments lost heavily, especially those composing Hcckman’s [sic] brigade.  We lost many valuable officers .  Gen. Butler had a shoulder-strap shot away.  Col. Sanders lost the tassel of his hat-cord in the same manner.  Narrow escapes were numerous as I can testify from my own experience.  The 19th Wisconsin lost 36 men—4 killed and 32 wounded; the 188th Pennsylvania, 6 killed and 81 wounded.  The entire loss of the brigade will not vary from 200.  Lt. Col. Strong4 was made prisoner at the opening of the fight by four rebels, and afterward rescued by his own men and the capturers made prisoners.

I have not time to write more minutely.—My notebook contains many interesting incidents, and as early as may be I will put them in shape for your readers.  Let all be of good cheer, the end is not far off.  We have the means for accomplishing all we desire.

 RADIX.

1.  Charles Adam Heckman (1822-1896) served in the Mexican War and was a railroad conductor before the Civil War. He enlisted in the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry and was elected a captain early in the Civil War. Before seeing any action he was appointed major of the 9th New Jersey Infantry and in October 1861 became the regiment’s lieutenant colonel. Heckman fought at the Battle of Roanoke Island and two days later was promoted to colonel. He was wounded at the Battle of New Berne and at Young’s Crossroads and in November 1861 was promoted to brigadier general of Volunteers. Heckman led a brigade in the battles of Kinston, White Hall, and Goldsboro in North Carolina. By the end of 1863 he was sent to Virginia to command the Union garrison at Newport News, Virginia. He temporarily commanded George W. Getty’s division at the beginning of 1864. In April 1864, he was assigned to command the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, XVIII Corps in the Army of the James and was wounded at the battle of Port Walthall Junction and was taken prisoner at the battle of Proctor’s Creek. In September 1864 he was exchanged and, when he returned to duty, was assigned to command the 2nd Division in the XVIII Corps and led his division at the battle of Chaffin’s Farm.
2.  Hiram Burnham (1814-1864) formed and was captain of a militia company in the Aroostook War of 1839. Early in the Civil War Burnham became lieutenant colonel of the 6th Maine Infantry and was promoted to colonel in December of 1861. He served with the Army of the Potomac in the Peninsula Campaign. He led a “Light Division” at the 2nd Battle of Fredericksburg, where he was wounded. The Light Division was dissolved after the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Burnham’s regiment joined the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, VI Corps. During the Overland Campaign he led a brigade in the 1st Division, XVIII Corps during the Siege of Petersburg. Burnham was killed at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on September 29, 1864.
3.  Horace T. Sanders (1820-1865) was a lawyer and district attorney in Racine, Wisconsin, before the Civil War. He served in the second Wisconsin Constitutional Convention of 1847 and in the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1853. During the Civil War, Sanders served as colonel of the 19th Wisconsin Infantry and commanded a brigade in the Army of the James between March 28 and May 17, 1864. He mustered out on April 29, 1865. His health suffered as a result of his army service and he died in Washington, D.C. on October 6, 1865.
4.  Rollin M. Strong was lieutenant colonel of the 19th Wisconsin Infantry.

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