1864 December 24: The Bellfield Raid, a Successful Expedition in Virginia
The following report on the Bellfield—also spelled Bellefield—which took place in early December 1864, is from The Prescott Journal of December 24, 1864.
Successful Expedition in Virginia.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY POTOMAC, Dec. 11.
The movements in this District, which have been in course of execution the past few days, have finally been developed, and now the objects intended to be accomplished may be given to the public as well as the results attained.
It was known that the enemy were procuring large supplies for their troops by way of the Weldon railroad to Stony creek, whence they were waggoned to Petersburg. The cavalry force sent there some 10 days ago not being able to effectually stop the rebel operation, the 5th corps, with Gregg’s cavalry and the 3d division of the 2d corps, were detailed to effectually put a stop to it by destroying the railroad as far south as Hicksford, and if possible that station also. [David M. Gregg]
At daylight Wednesday the column started thither on the Jerusalem road, the cavalry taking the advance. On arriving at a point 19 miles from Petersburg, they diverged from the road about a mile to the right, where they reached the Nottaway river, and the command at once commenced crossing. They bivouacked on this side for the night. At half past 7 a. m. Thursday the pontoons were taken up and the column started, leaving a cavalry detachment to pick up stragglers and return with them.
On reaching a place two miles beyond Sussex C. H. [Court House], some cavalry were encountered and driven back to where the Weldon railroad crosses the Nottoway. About noon a small force of the enemy made a dash in between our cavalry and the advance of the infantry, but were soon routed with a slight loss on both sides. Here a cavalry man was found who had evidently been wounded and stripped of even his boots.
The advance then commenced the destruction of the railroad by burning the bridge across the Nottoway, and continued on to Jarrett’s Station, bivouacking at that place on Thursday night. On Friday morning an early start was made, and in the P. M. the advance reached a point near Hicksford, where the enemy were found to be in force, and having a battery in position with strong works on both sides of the Meherrin river. After the position had been examined, and attack was deemed impracticable, on account of the strength of the works and the difficulty of approaching them, particularly with artillery. It was determined to carry the line of works on this side and destroy the depot, which was successfully done. During this charge, Col. Sargent,¹ of the 1st Mass., is said to have been killed. The troops were seen moving into position at this point as though they had just arrived, and the fire from the rebel batteries soon after showed they had been reinforced.
It now got dark and began raining, snowing and freezing. The troops camped in the vicinity for the night, and in the morning started on their return, reaching Sussex C. H. and halting there. The rebel cavalry and a small body of their infantry followed and endeavored to annoy our rear guard, but each time they were driven back with loss.
This afternoon the Nottaway river was reached, and the entire command crossed in safety, where they found a part of the 9th corps who had started to their aid in case of engagement. To-morrow they will all be back in their old position in front of Petersburg.
1. Horace Binney Sargent (1821-1908) had been colonel of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, but a serious wound in the spring of 1864 ended his military career. The Col. Sargent referred to here was Lucius Manlius Sargent, Jr. (1826-1864), who had started his Civil War service on May 28, 1861, as surgeon of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, then in October of 1861 became captain of Company H of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, was commissioned major of that regiment on January 2, 1864, and lieutenant colonel on September 30, 1864. He was mortally wounded near Bellfield Plantation in the engagement on the Meherrin River on December 13, 1864.
A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers, by Benjamin W. Crowninshield (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891), on page 246, says:
The station on the railroad was Bellfield, on the north side. The object was to destroy the bridge across the river. On the south side were three forts. To carry the works on the north side a dismounted charge was made by part of the brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Sargent was ordered to support them with a mounted charge across an open field, beyond which was a river and the nine guns. The charge was made in skirmishing order, and the regiment found itself under the guns, but unable to get in to them, on account of the water. The enemy could not depress his guns enough to hit the men, who were directly under them. To get out, Colonel Sargent ordered the men to disperse and retreat across the field in very open order. His plan was eminently successful for the rest, but in going across the field he was hit by a piece of shell in the shoulder, which ranged down through his chest, a very severe wound, of which he died in a few minutes. Himself a surgeon, he was aware of the nature of his wound, and he said to the man who picked him up, ‘This is the last of me.’ He recognized Captain Teague also. Of all the officers connected with the regiment, very few were with it in the field so long as Lieutenant-Colonel Sargent. He was the last one to be killed or wounded. He was a most accomplished man, and a very versatile one. A surgeon of distinguished accomplishment, fond of athletic sports, he excelled in all ; a remarkable draughtsman, his surgical drawings are still admired at the Massachusetts General Hospital. [available digitally on the Internet Archive]