Friday, April 22, 2016

Battle of Petersburg, 1781 and Battersea 2016





A Virginia Militiaman-a Continental Veteran attempting to unhorse
one of Tarleton's Loyalist Troopers. (Petersburg Progress-Index, Alex Trihias).


Recently returned from Virginia and an unsuccessful attempt to thwart a British advance up the Appomattox River.  I dare say that not many would have expected us to stop General Phillips.  Virginia had been relatively quiet since we chased Lord Dunmore out of the Chesapeake after Great Bridge and Kemp's Landing in 1775.  I was with the First Virginia then and the next summer we marched to New York to join the Continental Army.  When my enlistment expired I came home and registered with the militia in my county.  I came home in 1780 after the raids along the Chesapeake in 1779.  The rest of the regiment went on south, but here in Virginia, Gen Von Steuben is training and equipping Virginia battalions for the march south to reinforce Gates.  I was in the army camp in Chesterfield when the traitor Arnold and General Phillips came up the James burning and looting with a passal of Tories.  It was said that the Queen's Rangers and the British Legion were among them.
Virginia Militia encampment at Chesterfield

On the 20th of April my battalion, under General Muhlenburg, our old Brigade commanded from our time in the Jersies marched for Petersburg.  General Von Steuben had figured that Petersburg was Phillips' aim on account of the military stores and warehouses there.  We had been screening the British gunboats along the river when the order came.
Muhlenberg's battalions were set into a defensive line along Poor's Creek and Lieutenant Run to deny
Gen Phillips' line of march to the warehouses in Petersburg.

General Von Steuben had Muhlenburg to deploy us in a line of defense along Poor's Creek, just east of the village of Blandford.  Von Steuben then placed a second line along Lieutenant's Run just on the outskirts of Petersburg, with Col Goode's 5th Virginia Battalion across the river with a battery in reserve by Pocahontas Bridge.  I guess I can at least thank the old German for thinking to cover our line of retreat.  By the morning of the 25th of April, the Redcoats and Tories marched west down the Puddledock Rd. all the while covered by the gunboats. 


Militia in the first line at Poor's Creek, in the village of Blandford.


We had a good position in the creek bed and while only about one in ten of us were Continental veterans, we were prepared to give more than the "two volleys and light a shuck" that we had in the past.  Phillips advanced with two battalions of regulars, but we drove him back.  It was then that the Royal Artillery battery got into action and started playing havoc on our lines.


Phillips' artillery is brought into action against the first line at Poor's Creek.





We didn't know it at the time, but we were being turned.  Phillips sent the Queen's American Rangers and a battalion of light infantry to the south in a wide arc.  On the order from General Von Steuben, we retired in good order to the second line in Petersburg.



While Muhlenberg's four militia battalions held off Phillips' assault in Peterburg, Light Infantry
and the Queen's Rangers under LtCol John Graves Simcoe performed a turning movement to the south.


As the redcoats made their way through Blandford, our artillery came into action to cover our retirement from the heights on the north side of the Appomattox about a mile away.  They kept up the fire as we joined ranks with the two other battalions in Von Steuben's second line.


Virginia Artillery awaiting orders on the heights above Petersburg.


From there we held them for an hour and a half, repelling several attacks.  All the while, we knew nothing of LtCol Simcoe's turning our flank as he swept west towards the upper reaches of Lieutenant's Run.


Von Steuben ordered a withdrawal as the Tories were discovered to the west of the town.  The Virginians withdraw in good order across Pocahontas Bridge, but as British artillery ranged their retreating columns, order disintegrated.



At this point, we were hard pressed to the east and our scouts brought word that there were Tories in our rear.  We had given them a good showing and were ordered to withdraw across Pocahontas Bridge to the north side of the Appomattox, which, I am happy to say, we did in good order while under pressure from Tories and Redcoats. 


Civilian scouts often moved with the armies.  With a lack of accurate mapping,
local guides who new the roads and fords were essential well into the 20th c.
We covered each battalion as they marched across the bridge.  All was order until the British batteries ranged our line of retreat.  Then all was pandemonium.  We didn't get back into organized ranks for about two days, as it was every man for himself.  You might think this a shame, but it was the first time I saw militia stand for almost three hours against a foe twice in number, so you will have to excuse me if I choose to overlook our conduct on the north side of the river.  We also managed to get off the greater share of the military stores in the town.  All Phillips got for his effort was a warehouse of tobacco and that he burned, although on the march back, we hear he set the torch to many of the Virginia State Navy's vessels at Osborne's Landing on the James. 




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The recreation of the Battle of Petersburg was held for the 25th year at Battersea House, a palladian mansion that overlooks the Appomattox.  I have to say it was a little smaller of a turnout from years past, but I did manage to unhorse a dragoon again, spend the evenings in song, working on projects in camp and generally have a good time, riding my friends' horses around the property.








Working on a petticoat for my daughter in the militia camp.



Al Underwood and Gary O'Brien conduct a cavalry demonstration
for the visitors at Battersea.









I'll be back next year...but as a Queen's American Ranger.


For more detail on the Battersea House and the Battle of Petersburg go to: 


http://batterseafound.org/


http://www.vssr.org/speeches_articles/battle_of_peterburg.pdf


https://books.google.com/books/about/Simcoe_s_military_journal.html?id=uXgsAAAAMAAJ

2 comments:

  1. Great posting! The narrative was excellent - - - as were the photos.
    I can't wait for the season to begin here in Michigan (June for us in RevWar).

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! Its already getting warmer here, although we were mighty cold at Moore's Creek (20 deg). I'm sure that's spring-like to a Michigander!

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