Sunday, August 23, 2009

General Custer at Sailors Creek - April 1865

From a Staff Officers Recollections:

"Early on the morning above mentioned our command was watering and mussing, when a staff officer from General Wesley Merritt, then commanding the cavalry corps, came with orders directing General Custer to move forward at once with his command and attack the enemy's wagon train at a certain point which he, the staff officer, would designate. General Custer, turning to his staff, selected me to convey the order to cease watering the command and direct the different brigade commanders to forward their commands at a trot.

When I reached the road again, after having delivered the order, I found General Custer at the head of his column, returning. I learned from him afterward that he had gone forward, as directed, but did not like the position designated as the attacking point, and seeing in the distance a position, in his opinion, more desirable, he rode forward just in time to meet the Confederates placing a battery of nine guns in position. He immediately charged the battery, capturing the nine guns before they could be placed in position, and with the guns he took 800 prisoners. Still charging, a mile beyond, he cut the enemy's wagon train, capturing and destroying nearly 1,000 wagons. Returning he took up his position in a sort of a ravine. Here he re-formed his command for the very active work that was to follow.

Just over the brow of the hill the enemy had thrown up earthworks behind which was stationed the Confederate General Kershaw, one of the best generals commanding the finest division of the Confederate army. All day, until dark, General Custer was charging these works, always retreating to and re-forming his command in the ravine first selected. He knew they must give way sooner or later, as the Sixth Corps were doing excellent execution just beyond and would soon have their flank turned. About five o'clock in the afternoon I rode out toward our battery, which had been in position all day shelling the enemy.

My attention was attracted to a large batch of prisoners off to the left of our position, and, my curiosity being somewhat excited, I rode out to the guard for the purpose of inquiring whether there were any distinguished officers among the captives. But a short distance from me, mounted on a thoroughbred mare, I saw what I at once knew to be a rebel officer of distinguished rank. In a moment his eye caught mine, and he beckoned me to come within the enclosure, as he desired to talk with me. I did so, and the following conversation ensued :—

" Are you not one of General Custer's staff ? "

" I am, sir ; a surgeon, however."

" Sir, I desire to surrender my sword to General Custer. A non-commissioned officer is continually demanding it, but I consider that I have the right to request the privilege of surrendering it to a commissioned officer."

" Whom have I the honor of addressing ? " I asked.

" My name," said he, "is Kershaw—General Kershaw, sir."

" General," I said, " I am glad to meet you. I assure you, sir, we always had great respect for you and your command when you confronted us in the valley."

" I look upon General Custer as one of the best cavalry officers that this or any other country ever produced. I shall, indeed, consider it an honor to surrender my sword to him." He continued, "Ever since the battle of Cedar Creek, when he and General Sheridan embraced each other after the battle, I have had a most perfect admiration for the m;in. I read a full account of it in the New York Herald some days after the engagement. All through to-day's battle I directed my men to concentrate their fire upon his headquarters flag, knowing he was there always at the front. While I should have deprecated the idea of killing a man so brave, good and efficient, yet I knew it was my only hope."

" General," I said, " you merely succeeded in killing his best horse. Now, if you will accompany me outside the guard, I will take you over to Woodruff's Battery, and leave yon in charge of its commanding officer, while I communicate your desires to General Ouster."

In company with two or three other rebel generals of minor importance, he followed me. As General Custer was then making another charge, I awaited the result. It was the last and proved to be the grandest success of the day, as the balance of the enemy's command surrendered.

The capture of the day was upward of 7,000 prisoners, thirty- seven battleflugs, and a large number of guns. The Third Cavalry division at no time during the day had more than 600 engaged against the enemy. As General Custer was returning from the charge with his prisoners, battleflags, etc., I rode forward and met him. After congratulating him, I communicated the desires of General Kershaw. The general seemed very much pleased, and rather accelerated his movement in direction of the battery. In presenting his sword General Kershaw was exceedingly complimentary in his remarks. After the surrender General Kershaw and friends, by invitation, spent the night with Custer and his staff, and in the morning they were sent to the rear with the rest of the prisoners."

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