Monday, June 9, 2014

150 Years Ago: The Petersburg Campaign Begins

It's a good day to share some nuggets about the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys.  On June 9, 1864, Union forces under Benjamin Butler, including more than a 1,000 cavalrymen led by August Kautz, tested the lines surrounding a lightly-defended Petersburg in the first combat of what would become the months-long Richmond-Petersburg Campaign.  In the city's defense, a small band of militia and citizens rushed to the parapets along the Dimmock Line and repelled the Union attack.

August V. Kautz (LOC)
August V. Kautz: "many blunders"

In the 1890's, William Carr, a former instructor at the Petersburg Female College and a participant in the June 9th engagement, published a letter about that day in the Petersburg Daily Index-Appeal.  In preparing his account, Carr contacted August V. Kautz seeking information about a specific movement during the fight.  Kautz, an aging veteran residing in Annapolis by that time, had suffered his share of failure in 1864.  In response to Carr, Kautz wrote in part:

"I have no recollection of the movement you mention and it was perhaps some stupid movement of which there were others on that occasion . . . There were many blunders perpetrated in that eventful year in and around Petersburg . . . ."  - August V. Kautz, March 14th, 1898  (Both Carr and Kautz's letters appear in Civil War Talks)

Raleigh E. Colston: "no mention . . . of my name"

Raleigh E. Colston (LOC)
Petersburg's defense was orchestrated, in part, by Brigadier General Raleigh E. Colston, who was in the city at the time waiting for a new assignment.  Colston organized the defense and led the soldiers and civilians, the "old men and young boys," in their successful stand against Kautz's probe at the Jerusalem Plank Road.  June 9th became a day of remembrance for many of Petersburg's citizens.  After the war, Colston wrote a long account of the fight, which appeared in the fourth volume of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War and is reproduced at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  However, in a private letter to George S. Bernard in 1895, an ailing Colston wrote:

 "I confess that I have felt hurt that in the commemoration of the fight of June 9, 1864, which have taken place in Petersburgh [sic] year after year, no mention whatever has been made of my name in the City papers or the addresses delivered, so that it might be imagined that I was not there at all." - Raleigh E. Colston, October 7, 1895 in Civil War Talks