The Virginia in the Civil War Message Board

Diary of Gen. James H. Wilson, May 5-June 20, 1864


May 5, 1864

Marched at 5 for Craig's Church. Arrived about 8 a.m. Met enemy's

cavalry opposite meeting house. Drove rebel brigade about 1 1/2 miles.

Fell back finally hard pressed behind 2nd Brigade and ascertained that we

were cut off from Parker's Store. 5th NY not reported.

Took blind road for the Brock Rd. Entered the Catharpin Road again.

Succeeded in getting entirely on before they reach us. Had hard fight on

the crossing??. 18th Pennsylvania cut off. Met 2nd Division Gen. Gregg

at Todd's Tavern. Extracted 18th Pennsylvania. Davies Brigade checked

them. Took position on Catharpin Road in rear of Gregg.

Heavy fight from Parker's Store towards the North.

May 6, 1864

Moved in near Chancellorsville 8 a.m. Battle raging with fearful

intensity. March out again to Piney Branch Church. Remained several

hours there and Aldrich's then moved down again to Chancellorsville.

Camped near Corps Hd. Qrs.

Passed an almost sleepless night on account of rumors of bad news from


Custer and Gregg had handsome fights near Brock Road and Todd.

We'll win tmorrow.

Ordered to be ready to move at a minute's warning.

May 7, 1864

Good news from all quarters.

10 a.m. ordered to send brigade to Greenwood Mines and patrol,

reconnoitre and cover right from Sutherland's to Germanna.

Found no enemy. Went to General Hd. Qrs. Saw Grant. Rawlins, Porter and

everybody. Good spirits and confidence. Movement southward ordered.

Went to Aldrich. Crossed Ny River. Drove in pickets towards

Spottsylvania. Camped at -Silvers? 2nd Brigade at Alrich's, 1st at

Tabernacle Church.

Ordered to move at 5 a.m. tomorrow on Spottsylvania and Snell's Bridge.

Sunday, May 8, 1864

Moved at the hour.

Got to Spottsylvania about 9 a.m. Handsome success -- dispersed

Wickham's brigade. Captured prisoners from two divisions of Longstreet's

corps. Ascertained that we were in enemy's rear. Compelled to pull out

by fear of getting cut off again. Captured about 45 prisoners &

recaptured a number of our own men from 2 Divisions of Longstreet.

Ordered back to Alsops and vicinity.

Preparations for cutting loose. Everything favorable.

Heard of Longstreet's wound. Cleared out Wickham's brigade, scattering

it in all directions. Withdrew when menaced by infantry on front and

right. Pity we had not been backed by a division of infantry.

Camped at Rusels and Alsops.

Monday, May 9, 1864

Began march via Tabernacle Road and Hamilton's Crossing. Camped on North

Anna. No difficulty all day. Rear guard slightly engaged.

Advanced captured Beaver Dam Station and recaptured several hundred

prisoners from the Wilderness.

Longstreet reported dead. Station destroyed and large quantity of stores

by unauthorized men before command could reapt the benefit of them.


Crossed on north side of North Anna.

Tuesday, May 10, 1864

Waked by enemy firing into camp with field guns.

Crossed crossing. Went to South Anna. Camped. Forage scarce. Pushed

on to Yellow Tavern. Fight Chapman's brigades. Two regiments deployed

as skirmishers and the other, 1st Vermont, with sabres assisted Custer's

Brigade on the Brook Turnpike. Dismounted men advanced and mounted men

charged with sabre, capturing two guns and driving the enemy in confusion

from the field.

Wednesday, May 11, 1864

Followed towards Richmond till advance arrived at Yellow Tavern.

Fighting in front and rear with cavalry.

In afternoon supported Custer in charge and capture of two of enemy's

guns. Drove Stuart from the field assisting with 2nd Brigade.

Started before midnight between Brooke, Chickahominy and Richmond towards

Fair Oaks. Capt. Whitaker and others acting as guides. (over)

Thursday, May 12, 1864

Progressed well. About 2 a.m. startled by explosion of torpedo. No


Reached Meadow Bridge Road early in morning where obtained a new guide.

Arrived at Mechanicsville Park about day break. While endeavoring to

ascertain practicability of further progress and halting for guide, with

advance within 300 yards of the enemy's works. Opened upon the 2nd

Brigade massed in the field with 8 cal. grape and canister. Confusion.

Officers soon collected men, horses, etc.

Command crossed to north side of Chickahominy. Reached Mechanicsville at

4 p.m.

Relieved Merritt's Brigade at Po Green Church and McIntosh camped at

Dogan's House, Chapman at Gaine's.

Friday, May 13, 1864

Moved to Bottom's Bridge early.

Sent couriers to communicate with Gen. Butler at Haxall's Landing.

Nothing of the enemy to day. No indication of favorable news from any


Out of rations and must get some and into a country where we can support

ourselves, probably by the south side of the James. We can there operate

on the rebel rail road system and in a country full of provisions. Thus

isolate Richmond and prevent its being successfully used as a base of

supplies northward. By these means Lee's army may be demoralized and

broken up.

Saturday May 14, 1864

Moved 8 a.m. to Malvern Hill. Communicated with Butler's forces.
Wrote to Mr. Dana and mother. Sent note to Baldy Smith [following line

is erased]

Saw New York papers of 13th and 12th. Gen. Sedgwick killed. Army

[illegible] progress at Spottsylvania Court House.

Grant says, "I propose to fight it out on this line of it takes all

summer." Seems to inspire North with greatest confidence.

Butler not doing much, apparently waiting for Grant on north side of


Saw notice of my confirmation as Brigadier General.

Sunday, May 15, 1864

Moved to Haxall's Landing. Camped on bank of river and made arrangements

for feeding men and horses.

Rather rainy and bad.

Newspaper reports. Lee has fallen back before Grant. Everybody in high


No evidence of any advance on Butler's part. Communicate with his force.

Seems to be waiting for Grant.

Monday, May 16, 1864

Went to Bermuda Hundred on south side of James. Saw Col. Fuller Morgan.

I did not go to front because reports of a battle and fearing a movement,

I did not wish to be absent.

Making arrangements to move tomorrow morning on the back tracks.

Wrote a long letter to Dana giving my views of the situation here,

particularly as influence by Butler and Gillmore. Also in regard to the

general campaigns.

We are 17,000 men yet in Department of South including 12 white


Jeb Stuart killed in our fight at Yellow Tavern.

Tuesday, May 17, 1864

Made arrangements to march of 11 a.m. March suspended. Went with Gen.

Sheridan to Bermuda Hundred to visit Genl. Butler and officers

[illegible]. Saw Shaffer, Ned Smith, Morgan, Baldy Smith, Bowen and

others. Gathered a few interesting and important facts which I should

transmit as soon as possible to Genl. Grant.

News from north good, though not yet indicative of decisive results in

the campaign of Virginia. Rebels fight with great obstinacy.

Am convinced changes ought to be made at Ft. Monroe and the duplex

arrangements there replaced.

Began march 9 p.m. for Jones' Bridge. Move all night. Very slow and


Wednesday, May 18, 1864

Camped for a while 3 miles from Jones' Bridge. Moved again and crossed

the Chickahominy. All day moving to Mt. Olivet Church only 5 miles!

Roads bad, but trains worse.

Making arrangements for a long and trying march. Shall [illegible]

damage the enemy greatly.

Conversation with Ulffers on geology, chemistry and natural history.

Camped near Mt. Olivet Church.

Thursday, May 19, 1864

Moved at 9 a.m. to Baltimore Store only 3 miles. Camped. Wrote a letter

to Genl. Rawlins on [illegible] paper. Sent by courier.

Gave my viess of the Butler administration on the James and the necessity

of a change.

Sheridan wrote same to Comstock.

Didn't approve of our policy.

Saw Richmond papers of 17th and 18th. Grant advancing towards Guinea and

Milford Station.

Reading Zimmerman's Solitude. Life of Jefferson by a Federalist 1809.

Camp at Harrison's house.

Friday, May 20, 1864

Moved 6 1/2 a.m. with 2nd Division to Cold Harbor. Weather very hot.

Water scarce. Road dusty. 1st Division marching by Pamunkey River

towards Hanover Court House with the object of destroying Railroad

Bridges across South Anna. No incidents in our march. Nothing of enemy.

Camped on small branch of Matadequin Creek near Mrs. Tyler's House.
Enjoyed strawberries and cream, ice water, &c.

Read Life of Suvarow, published 1800. Prevailing principle of his

character: "Unceasing activity and dashing bravery. Not so much

personally as in the use of troops. Never hesitating for a momentto

attack his enemy, en route or in position. Never waiting to receive an

onslaught. His plans were good and successful because of the vigor with

which he executed them rather than from accuracy of combinations.

Saturday, May 21, 1864

Still at Tyler's awaiting orders.

Finished reading Life of Suvarov.

Read and looked over many copies of Living Age particularly critiques on

Napoleon, Wellington.

No news of any kind.

Distant and heavy firing heard towards Fredericksburg 28 miles in direct

line to Milford Station. 9 more to Guinea.

Orders late at night to move to White House at 3 a.m. tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 1864

Marched 3:30 a.m. Arrived at White House about 11. Found supplies of

forage and rations. No word from North except of Sherman's victory out

West. Latest dates seemed to indicate for purpose of getting up


Cannondading heard all day northward and towards Richmond.

Custer's move against bridges unsuccessful and preparations for crossing

Pamunkey and march up the River.

I wrote note to Martin, Mother, [illiegible] Beadeau, long letter to Mr.

Dana explaining the situation on the James and suggesting remedy and

urging necessity of applying it promptly.

These letters to go by steamer from here.

Monday, May 23, 1864

March for King William Court House. Crossed Pamunkey on railroad bridge

at White House. 270 yards long. Delayed till 1:15 p.m.

Marched from court house to Dunkirk. Camped near Aylett's in woods.

Heavy and continuous sound of artillery as if an engagement were on in

the direction of Hanover Junction 20 miles distant. The roar is as long

and continuous as any I have heard.

Enjoyed the pleasure of camp with a zest beyond anything a civilian can


Tuesday, May 24, 1864

Marched towards Chesterfield Station on Fredericksburg Railroad, having

heard beyond doubt that our army has reached that point. Since the

battle of Saturday. The rebel papers of 23rd say Lee has "fallen back"

to get a position more sustainable of defense than the one he held on Po.

Camped on Reedy Swamp Creek.

Wednesday, May 25, 1864

Marched for Chesterfield Station. Camped at Coleman's Mill about 8 miles

from Milford's Station. Army on south side of North Anna.

Found letters from Ella Wilson, Mrs. Moore, Delie Bursted, Henry, Martin

and others.

Wrote to Col. Bowers, Babcock and Mrs. Delie & Ella Wilson.

Thursday, May 26, 1864

Received 6 a.m. an order to make a demonstration on the enemy's left.

Went to Gen. Hd. Qr. Gens. Ord, Grant & Rawlins and all old friends.

Greetings warm and condial. Mr. Dana and Babcock came to see me. Very


Told me that Col. Kingsbury has been circulating false reports concerning

my division. Wrote protest and sent forward to Genl. Sheridan, urging

dismissal of Col. Kingsbury.

Camped at Jericho Mills 2:30 p.m. Saw B.F. Smitha nd Geln. Wright.

Examined country and roads for means of crossing Little River. Very much

swollen. Demonstrations at Owen's and Cooke's ford. Camped North Anna

at Britton's Bridge 11:30 p.m. Camped at Canfield's House.

Friday May 27, 1864

Moved 5 a.m. toward Mount Carmel Church. Found the infantry not yet

gone. Waited till noon before they got off. Last left 1:40 p.m.

Chapman's Brigade covering roads and fords over North Anna.

Encamped at Chesterfield Station and Mr. Chesterfield's. Picketing the

roads to Mount Carmel Church and the fords. No sign of the enemy, his

troops having almost entirely disappeared.

Saturday, May 28, 1864

Marched 4:30 a.m. Came up with stragglers from IX Corps at crossroads

beyond Chesterfield Station. Corps moving on Bowling Green and New

Castle Ferry Road.

Rebel picket at Littlepage's Bridge. Rebel deserter says Lee's forces

began moving to Ashland Station south of South Anna on Thursday night.

Made application for Andrews to be detailed for duty with me.

Sunday, May 29, 1864

Moved from Mongohick 5 a.m. Found infantry on the road and immense

number of trains at Dabney's en route from Dunkirk to Hanovertown.

Camped about noon at Prince's Swamp.

Received communication from Corps Headquarters to camp. This followed by

one [illegible] communication from Gen. Humphreys to cover the rear of

the army and drive in stragglers. Sent one regiment to vicinity of

Mangohick, one to Dabney, one to junction of road to Chesterfield with

the one to Aylett's. Ordered to move tomorrow at an early hour to join

corps headquarters. Order countermanded 2 a.m. Letter from Mr. Dana and

Badeau. No thing found of the enemy.

Monday, May 30, 1864

Sent two regiments out to take place of those withdrawn last night.

Visited camp. Reiteration of orders to remain on this side until all

trains have passed. Ordered to move one brigade at once to south side of

river and occupy the line of Crump's Creek and to move the whole division

as trains were all in or regarded safe.

Sent 2nd Brigade across and at 5 went over myself. Skirmish 3rd Indiana

toward Hanover Court House.

Tuesday, May 31, 1864

1st Brigade reported 5 a.m. Moved out 5 a.m. toward Hanover Court House.

Met the enemy near Dr. Price's. Sharp skirmish till evening.

Received orders to destroy railroad bridges and to start at once,

continue this into the night and work at it until relieved. Move 7 p.m.

Drove the enemy out of Hanover Court House. McIntosh's Brigade

principally engaged. A very handsome affair. Whipped rebels easily.

2nd Ohio, 18th Pennsylvania, 1st Connecticut principally engaged in it.

Dark terminated the affair. Headquarters at Dr. Price's, two miles from

Hanover Court House.

Wednesday, June 1, 1864

Moved 4 a.m. McIntosh on Ashland Station Road, Chapman in reserve. 2nd

New York to destroy bridges under Capt. Whitaker. 2nd NY, 18th

Pennsylvania moved on the Hanover Court House and Telegraph Road Bridge.

Fighting enemy all the way. Move into Ashland. McIntosh attacked in

rear by overwhelming force. Communications severed with -- and Hanover

Court House. Chapman relieves 2nd New York and 18th Pennsylvania with

and 3rd Indiana and 1st Vermont. Burns two railroad bridges and goes to

McIntosh's assistance with 1st Vermont leading battery under escort of

3rd Indiana to rear.

Command all extricated after much hard fighting. Got back to old

position 11 p.m. Sent dispatches to Sheridan and General Humphreys.

Thursday, June 2, 1864

Occupy position of last night. Holding Hanover Court House with a

picket. Col. Cesnola's command coming in in that direction -- to open

communications with army. No news -- find pickets any longer at ---


Capt. Goddard says corps headquarters were ignorant of my move.

Indications of a movement to the left. No orders but shall go anyhow as

far as the Crump's Creek -- 5:15 p.m. ordered received to move. Assumed

command of Col. Cesnola's troops.

7 p.m. marched for Totpotomoy ====.

Friday, June 3, 1864

1:30 a.m. reached Lurray's house on Tappahannock Richmond Road. Command

not all in till 10 a.m. Put Cesnola's infantry in position on Burnside's

right, cavalry in reserve. 10 a.m. received order to attack enemy's left

and rear. Noon marched with my division for Salem Church or Hawe's Shop.

Chapman's Brigade drove rebel cavalry from several lines of rebel pits.

Loss: Colonel Preston killed, Capt. Cushman, 1st Vermont and Col.

Benjamin wounded. Gordon's old Brigade made but poor fight. 6 p.m. 2nd

New York and 3rd Indiana under Col. Hawkins and Chapman crossed

Totopotomoy on road from Hawe's to Via's. Carried rifle pits, causing

considerable confusion in the enemy's left and rear. Failed to open

communications with Burnside. Withdrew at 7 p.m. Camped on the road to

Hanover Town and Hawe's Shop, picketing both places.

Saturday, June 4, 1864

1 a.m. Received congratulatory order of Gen. Meade for our attack


6 a.m. learned that enemy had appeared on the left at Via's. Leters from

little sister and Martin.

Wrote to above. Also Wilson M.

Enemy apparently falling back to his old lines.

Saw Mr. Dana who dined with me on hardtack, coffee, toasted wheat and


Heavy firing began late in evening as though enemy were attacking center.

Very uneasy. McIntosh instructed to keep extra watch on front and left.

Very anxious during night. Sheridan was here.

Sunday, June 5, 1864

A communication received from Warren through McIntosh saying his flank

was uncovered, our pickets two miles apart. Don't understand it or

meaning of last night's operations.

Marched but little today. Torbert's Division came over and took the left

of our line today without any fight. Everything quiet.

Monday, June 6, 1864

Received order to move at 3 a.m. to guard left and right of our line.

One brigade from right to Pamunkey, the other to James Bridge on


Some difficulty in establishing my picket line on right.

Tuesday June 7, 1864

Remaining in same position. Advanced skirmish or picket line and opened

communication with right of the army by Gibson's and Bosher's from

Linney's place. Beaumont and Andrews joined me.

Saw Generals Meade, Grant and Humphreys.

Conversation with Rawlins. My views of the campaign fully sustained by

his conversation.

Comstock a faulty advisor.

Cavalry Corps at New Castle.

Wednesday June 8, 1864

I went down to the Chickahomny to see 2nd Brigade. Bowman with us.
I wrote home. Everything quiet.

Cavalry corps moved leaving me to guard flanks.

Gen. Rawlins, Mr. D, Warren visited me.

Wrote to Mrs. Judd and sister Nelly Andrews.

Thursday, June 9, 1864

Remaained in camp. Wrote to Henry, Mrs. Dana, Delay and Miss Sire.

Visit from Genls. Meade and Warren.

News from Saunton highly favorable.

1st N.H. Cavalry reported.

Long and interesting letter from Genl. W.F. Smith

Visit from Badeau.

Friday, June 10, 1864

Nothing new. Everything quiet.

Lt. Smith's letter to Mr. Dana.

Had visit from Mr. D and Babcock. Conversation with the former in regard

to campaign, Comstock's influences over the general tightens? Enough in

the mere question of fight our but lacks discrimination in policy.

General R so W.D. says is kind enough to believe that there is no one who

could take my old place on the staff.

Gen. Smith. Alarm on affairs on picket line.

Wrote to Lucy, Henry and Martin, Jack Wilson.

11 p.m. Order received for reconnaissance in force having already

received it.

Saturday, June 11, 1864

Reconnaissance in force under directions of McIntosh with brigade of

cavalry and one of negroes.

Sunday, June 12, 1864

10 a.m. received order of march. 2 p.m. moved to Long Bridge having left

orders for McIntosh to cover rear and sent orders to Chapman to clear the

way to White Oak Swamp.

Reached bridge about 9 p.m. Found command making dispositions to cross.

Pushed matters. Crossed about 10 p.m.

Whole command not over till 2 a.m. Infantry close after.

Intolerance of Warren.

Sharp skirmish. 3 casualties.

Monday June 13, 1864

Advance continued on Long Bridge Rd. towards White Oak.

Reached it about 7. Gordon's Brigade of cavalry confronting us. One

battery of artillery in position on north side of White Oak.

8 a.m. relieved from White Oak by Crawford. Moved toward Charles City

Road. Reached Riddle's. Heavy skirmishing all day. Defeat of enemy.

Kill several.

Between 2 and 4 enemy discovered moving infantry and artillery up White

Oak to Bracketts.

6:30 p.m. was attacked by cavalry and infantry. Crawford's infantry left

us. Fell back half a mile. Ordered by Warren to cover rear &c.

Bivouacked at Smith's near St. Mary's Church 3 a.m.

Tuesday, June 14, 1864

Marched from Smith's to Philips and Westover.

Replenished ammunition and provisions of Chapman's brigade. Directed him

and McIntosh to move out and cover the approaches from Richmond between

Malvern Hill and White Oak Swamp to Philips and Westover. Skirmishing

with enemy till they communicated with each other.

Moved Hd. Qrs. to Charles City Court House.

Saw Genl. Grant, Meade, Rawlins and others.

Letters from Bla and Ed Rearden

Wednesday, June 15, 1864

Genl. Hd. Qrs. moved to river. Our Hd. Qrs. still at Charles City Court

House. McIntosh has sharp fight with the enemy at Nancy's Saw Mill.

Lost 54 men killed, wounded and missing. Chapman reached Malvern Hill.

Enemy moving toward Richmond, Drewry's and Chapin's Bluff. Former

encamped at St. Mary's Church, latter at Philips.

Thursday, June 16, 1864

Ordered to withdraw 3 p.m. and cross river.

Camped at -- on the James.

----- one regiment at Charles City Court House to picket and patrol

roads. No evidence of enemy on right.

Friday, June 17, 1864

Began crossing the James about 4:30 a.m. All over by 10. Rested and

issued supplies till 2. Took the road for Petersburg. Camped 9 p.m.

three miles from that place. Reported by staff officer. Ordered to camp

near Black Water and rest.

Issued order for command to begin crossing 3 a.m. 1st Brigade at 4 a.m.,

2nd at 5 a.m. Late.

Saw Capt. Beaumont U.S.A.

Monday, June 19, 1864

Command resting. Wrote to Baldy Smith. Letter in return. Very


Had a visit from Rawlins and Mr. Dana. Conversation on situation. Agree

on general view of policy and necessities of case. Kind note from Mr. D

and that of Rawlins regretting on his past and that of Rawlins that there

was no one to take my place on Grant's staff to drive things.

Tuesday, June 20, 1864

Marched to Mt. Sinai Church. Camped. I went to army Hd. Qrs. The

assaults on Petersburg not working well. Sent 700 men to report to


Wrote home and to Mrs. Thom.

diary is available from Hall of Records in Dover, Delaware