Siege of Suffolk Part 3

by Dan O'Connell on August 31, 2012 · 0 comments

Union Guns Strike Back

The day long duel between the Union boats and the Confederate gunners did not escape the attention of the Union army commander on the scene. Observing the fight from the east shore, BG George W. Getty decided to place some batteries of his own. He “immediately sent for guns and troops” to counter the Confederate action at the river. While an overnight storm raked the area two batteries were constructed and sharpshooters posted. Battery Morris was built at the mouth of Broer’s Creek about 900 yards from the enemy guns. It contained three 10lb Parrott rifles of the 2nd Wisconsin artillery. The second battery, named Kimball, was built at 1200 yards from the enemy position. It held two 20lb Parrott’s and one 3″ rifle from the 4th Wisconsin artillery. The 10th New Hampshire was also called up to strengthen the line. Both positions were well hidden by heavy vegetation and escaped detection.

On the morning of the 15th the concealing vegetation was cut away at Battery Morris and the guns there took the enemy pieces at Norfleet House under fire. Firing a mix of ammunition and timed fuses the guns began to pound the enemy batteries. The Confederate gunners responded to the challenge by returning fire “briskly.” The rapidly constructed Union position was pierced by several shells but inflicted no casualties on the Federal gunners. Once the full attention of the enemy was captured by the action at Battery Morris the guns at Battery Kimball were unleashed. After two hours of bombardment the Confederate fire became “very feeble.” The “well directed fire” coupled with the efforts of the sharpshooters placed on “an island in the marsh” overwhelmed the Confederates. The enemy guns were removed during the night of the 15th. The only casualties on the Union side were three drivers of Battery A, 5th US Artillery and one 20lb Parrott at battery Kimball that “threw off its muzzle” after firing twelve rounds. The action highlighted the otherwise drab routine of constructing field works and roads. The Confederate guns at Norfleet House managed to restrict river traffic for a couple of days. Otherwise the effort there was ineffectual.

Edenton Road and other Reconnaissance

While the Union batteries were pounding the Confederate position at the Norfleet House another operation was being conducted to ascertain the strength of the enemy position on the Edenton Road. Major Alexander Patton with two companies of cavalry (Co’s E and M of the 1st new York Mounted Rifles) and one 6lb howitzer set out at 0300 on the 15th on the ordered reconnaissance. They were joined along the line of march by three companies of infantry (one company each from the 170th, 155th, and 164th New York) and traveled 2 1/2 miles out to the Confederate picket lines. At the sound of a signal round from the lone gun one company of cavalry (Co E) charged down the road. They discovered that the road had been “barricaded no less than eight times”, but the unguarded obstacles barely slowed their approach. The sentry guarding the camp of the 17th Virginia Infantry was seized. The aggressive charge was brought to a halt when they found the main body of the Confederates “drawn up in line of battle” in the nearby tree line. The commander, Captain Gregory, wisely held up and waited for his support to come up.

Another charge was made “upon the right of the enemy “when the remainder of the cavalry arrived on the scene. This attempt was also blasted back by a “galling fire” and the Union troopers again retreated. The prolonged presence of the New York troopers in front of the Confederate position allowed the infantry to arrive “cheering.” Supported by the lone gun they attacked the Confederate left and “forced them back to fall back through their camp.” Having discerned that the enemy was indeed in the area in considerable strength the reconnaissance party satisfied itself by destroying “the camp of the enemy.” The affair cost the Union troopers 2 wounded (left on the field to be captured), another two wounded and recovered, and eighteen horse killed or wounded.

A similar effort by one company of the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry supported by four companies of infantry (2 each from the 165th and 166th Pennsylvania) and two guns from the 7th Massachusetts Battery went out on the Somerton Road. This attempt was also turned back and BG Corcoran was forced to concede that operation “was not as successful as was anticipated it would be.”

The Confederate commanders also wanted to learn about the strength and disposition of the enemy. MG Pickett opted for a different manner to get the desired information. He requested the services of scouts to enter the Union lines for the “accomplishment of this very desirable object.” Four men, Sergeant J. P. Jordan and John Mills of Company H, 17th Virginia and S. C. Madison and William Gravatt of Company F, 30th Virginia, stepped forward to accept this dangerous assignment. Using the swamp to conceal their movements the four men crept undetected into the midst of the Union lines. Having gained the information they sought the four men concocted a interesting plan to regain the safety of their lines. They “sprang upon” a group of Union pickets and ordered their surrender. The astonished Federals threw down their arms and gave in to their surprise guests without a shot. Sergeant Jordan then explained to his captives that they must run for their lives. A mad dash for the Confederate lines was made by the four captives. The four scouts intermingled with the fleeing Union troops and gained safety. Not a shot was fired during the entire operation and four prisoners were gained. Inspired by the quick witted Jordan and his compatriots Pickett issued Special Order No. 48 commending the four men’s bravery. The order was read before every unit in the division.

Siege of Suffolk (Campaign Series)

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