First Battle of Deep Bottom – Part VI

by Dan O'Connell on October 2, 2013 · 0 comments

July 28th
On the morning of the 28th the situation remained unchanged. The Federal line extended along the Long Bridge Road with Hancock’s II Corps on the left and Sheridan’s cavalry on the right. The troopers had experienced only a short little skirmish with the 10th and 50th Georgia the previous day and were itching to move on. Grant had just the plan in mind to satisfy that desire. He ordered an attempt to sweep around the Confederate left. While Torbert’s division remained to secure the left, BG David Gregg’s 2nd Division would circle around the enemy left on a little used country road. On the other side of the line the Confederates, encouraged by Hancock’s hesitancy and the arrival of reinforcements planned an attack of their own on the Union right. Kershaw gathered four brigades and struck out through the trees in search of the Union line. The opposing moves sent the two attacking forces directly at each other. The resulting meeting engagement pitted Sheridan’s cavalry against four brigades of Confederate infantry.

In the lead, riders from the 10th New York Cavalry and 6th Ohio Cavalry made initial contact with the Confederate skirmishers and were thrown back in surprise. They were reinforced by dismounted members of the 1st Pennsylvania and 1st New Jersey. What started out as enemy skirmishers quickly turned into a battle line of four infantry brigades. The troopers fell back leaving a battery of artillery without support. The guns kept up the fire until the last moment before limbering the pieces. They had waited too long and “the wheel-horses of one gun were shot.” The gun was abandoned to be captured by the advancing Confederate line.
The rapid retreat of the 2nd Division caught the troopers of the 1st Division, who had not expected an active part in the operation, somewhat unprepared. The 6th New York Cavalry recorded:

“The men of the Sixth had not saddled their horses, some were giving them their accustomed morning’s grooming, others were taking them to water at a small stream nearby, some were cooking their morning’s rations , while others were lying in the long grass with their thoughts turned homeward; it was an ideal picture, but a storm was at hand.”

Although “Stand to Horse” was sounded the troopers were completely unprepared to fight mounted. The lack of preparation rapidly became an advantage. A stand by Merritt’s Regulars briefly stalled the advance and gained time for the others to quickly organize for a fight on foot. The terrain favored such a fight and allowed the troopers to take advantage of the fire superiority of their carbines. When the Confederate line came within “a few rods from us” they were met with a blizzard of fire. The Confederate line wavered and then broke. The infantry fled back “making cover of a piece of woods.” Across the line the Union troopers advanced on foot with the 9th New York gaining a flanking position. Realizing the danger of their situation the Confederates again attempted a retreat across an open field. Their ranks “were terribly thinned” by the rapid volleys. The survivors fell in behind a Virginia rail fence and opened on the advancing Federals. The blue line stalled momentarily but as the Confederate fire slackened the order “Forward” was issued down the line. The renewed surge was more than the Confederates could bear. The position at the fence collapsed and those that still could disappeared into the forest. Left behind were nearly 200 prisoners, many of whom had simply fallen to the ground to avoid the hail of gunfire coming from the Union line. Satisfied with their victory over the vaunted enemy infantry the troopers did not pursue. The last combat of the Deep Bottom expedition was over.

The First Battle of Deep Bottom (Campaign Series)

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