Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Samaria Church in Charles City, Virginia. The battle is more commonly know on the Federal side as St. Mary's Church from a misunderstanding of the church name that dates back to when armies first passed through the area in 1862
On the morning of the 13th, our brigade moved in pursuit of Sheridan's retreating forces, taking along the route many prisoners, whose horses had become too feeble and jaded to keep pace with Sheridan's rapid march. The enemy finally found shelter under the gunboats at the White House, and Hampton moved near Charles City Courthouse, and took up position to await Sheridan's further movements.
On the 24th, our pickets were driven in at St. Mary's Church, and the enemy advanced to Nance's Shop. Here the fight began and soon became general, our forces attacking in front and fiank. The Twelfth Regiment was with our column in front. After driving the enemy slowly a considerable distance, the Phillips and Jeff. Davis legions (mounted), with the Twelfth, were ordered to charge, which was according done with much vigor, driving the enemy in confusion several miles, capturing many prisoners and horses. In this charge Colonel Massie, of our regiment, was wounded, and a spent ball struck me in the breast, imbedding itself in my flesh. I was wearing at the time in my shirt bosom a badge of the Union Philosophical Society of Dickinson College of which I was a member for three years prior to the war, and which was formed of a Maltese cross, surmounted with a shield. The force of the bullet tore off the shield, leaving the cross in a distorted shape. Imagination often plays havoc with the truth. I thought my time had come, and felt day-light passing through me, the blood trickling down internally, and I gasping for breath. John Terrill, who was near me, seeing my pallor and eccentric actions, presumed I was wounded mortally, led my horse back over a little declivity, out of danger of flying missiles, and, pulling open my jacket and shirt, exultantly exclaimed, " Lieutenant, you are not much hurt, the ball hasn't gone in," and, taking hold of it with his fingers, he pulled it out and held it up to view. My spirits revived immediately, blood ceased to trickle, internal daylight disappeared, I breathed freely, vigor and strength returned, and, gathering up my reins, I was soon back in the fight. The enemy was routed and pressed back to within a short distance of Charles City Courthouse, when night put an end to our pursuit. We captured 157 prisoners, including one colonel and 12 other commissioned officers. The enemy's dead and wounded in considerable number fell into our hands.
General Hampton, in his official report, says:
"The next morning, June 24th, he drove in my picket at St. Mary's Church, and advanced beyond Nance's Shop. I determined to attack him, and, to this end I ordered Brigadier-General Gary, who joined me that morning, to move from Salem Church around to Smith's Store, and to attack on the flank as soon as the attack in front commenced. General Lee left Lomax to hold the River road and brought Wickham to join in the attack. The necessary arrangements having been made. General Gary advanced from Smith's Store, and took position near Nance's Shop. The enemy had in the mean time thrown up strong works along his whole line, and his position was a strong one. As soon as Gary had engaged the enemy, Chambliss was thrown forward, and by a movement handsomely executed connected with him, and the two brigades were thrown on the flank of the enemy. At the same moment, the whole line, under the immediate command of Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, charged the works of the enemy, who. after fighting stubbornly for a short time, gave way, leaving his dead and wounded on the field. This advance of our troops was made in the face of a very heavy fire of artillery and musketry, and it was most handsomely accomplished. As soon as the enemy gave way I brought up the Phillips and Jeff. Davis legions (mounted), ordering them to charge. This they did most gallantly, driving the enemy for three miles in confusion. Robins's Battalion and the Twelfth Virginia Cavalry were mounted and participated in a part of this charge, in which Lieutenant-Colonel Massie, commanding the latter, was wounded while gallantly leading his men over the works of the enemy. The enemy was completely routed, and was pursued to within two and one-half miles of Charles City Courthouse, the pursuit lasting till 10 o'clock at night. My loss was six killed and 59 wounded in my own division."
General Sheridan, in his report, says:
"At St. Mary's church, Gregg was attacked by the entire cavalry corps of the enemy, and after a stubborn fight, which lasted until after dark, was forced to retire in some confusion, but without any loss in material. This very creditable engagement saved the train, which should never have been left for the cavalry to escort."
"On the 23d the division, acting as escort to a large wagon-train belonging to the corps and other troops, crossed the Chickahominy at Jones Bridge. On the 24th, in compliance with orders of the Major-General commanding- the corps, the Second Division moved from its camp to St. Mary's Church, and there took position. When within a mile of the church the advance of the Second Brigade found a small mounted force of the enemy. This was driven away and the lines of the division established. The batteries of the division were placed in commanding positions. During the morning and until after 3 P. M. there was irregular skirmishing at different points of our line. A large force of the enemy was known to have passed St. Mary's Church, moving in the direction of Haxall's, on the evening before. Having received information from the Major-General commanding that circumstances compelled an alteration of the dispositions previously ordered of the troops under his command, this alteration placing the Second Division beyond any immediate support, every disposition was made to resist an attack of the enemy should it be made. Between 3 and 4 P. M. the enemy made an attack in great force on the Second Brigade, occupying the right of our line. The attack there begun extended along the front of the First Brigade on the left. It was very soon evident that the force of the enemy was largely superior to ours, and that they were supported by infantry, but, nothing daunted by the display of strong lines of an over-confident enemy, our men fell upon them and held them in check. The strife was earnest now; there were no disengaged men on our side.
Randal's and Dennison's Batteries pitched load after load of canister into the staggering lines of the enemy. After about two hours, in which this contest was so heroically maintained by our men, it became evident that the contest was too unequal to maintain longer. The led horses, the wounded, for whom there was transportation, and caissons, were started on the road leading to Charles City Courthouse, eight miles distant. These fairly under way, the division began to retire by the right. Our men continued fighting on foot, but were mounted from time to time. The movement toward Charles City Courthouse was made in the best possible order, and without confusion or disorder. The enemy pressed hard on the rear of the command, but without advantage. A final stand made my mounted regiments at Hopewell church on open ground determined the enemy to make no further advance. For want of sufficient ambulances, some of our wounded fell into the hands of the enemy. The division reached Charles City Courthouse about 8 P. M., and there encamped near the First Division. The aggregate loss of the
division in this engagement was 357 commissioned officers and enlisted men, killed, wounded, and missing."
General Meade, in his report of this affair, says:
"Hampton fell on Gregg, handling him severely, but he was finally driven off, and the command reached the James."
This engagement reflects much credit on General Gregg and but little on our commanders. Our forces largely outnumbered the enemy, and with proper management ought to have taken the enemy's artillery, routed his force and attacked his wagon-train, before any reinforcement could have reached him. I have always regarded this the best fight made by Gregg's Division, of which I had any personal experience and observation, during the war.-Bull Run To Bull Run; or, FOUR YEARS IN Army Of Northern Virginia.
Containing A Detailed Account Of The Career and Adventures Of The Baylor Light Horse,
Company B, Twelfth Virginia Cavalry, C. S. A., With Leaves From My Scrap-Book.
By George Baylor.