Sunday, August 16, 2020

Enslaved Refugees from Wilson-Kautz Raid Recaptured and Advertised

One of the great things about the research process is finding unexpected information. For example, this evening, while browsing through period newspapers for articles about prisoners captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I happened upon an advertisement enumerating enslaved individuals, their owners, and the counties they came from. The ad ran in the July 29, 1864 issue of the Petersburg Daily Express.

For a little context, the named enslaved people on this list fled farms and plantation across Southside Virginia following the Federal cavalry during the week-long Wilson-Kautz Raid. Part of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Second Offensive, the raid began on June 22, 1864, from just southeast of Petersburg. The primary goal of the raid was to disrupt travel on the region's railroads and thus cut Confederate communications utilizing the remaining railroads coming into Petersburg and Richmond supplying Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The 5,500 cavalrymen under Brig. Gen James H. Wilson and Brig. Gen. August Kautz rode along the Weldon Railroad, and at Ream's Station broke west to Dinwiddie Courthouse. They then made north to Ford's Station on the Southside Railroad and followed it west. They were at Blacks and Whites (present day Blackstone) by the following day. Tearing up track here and there along the route, at Burksville Station the riders switched their attention to the southeast route of the Richmond and Danville Railroad. They engaged Confederate forces at the Staunton River Bridge at the Charlotte/Halifax County line. Checked by the Southerners, the raiders turned back east.

Along the route the raiders collected an assortment of horses, mules, and wagons piled full of foodstuffs, personal loot, and enslaved men, women, and children. By June 28, the raiders were at Stony Creek Station on the Weldon Railroad. A wild ride north was stopped on June 29 at Ream's Station by Confederate infantry under Brig. Gen. William Mahone and cavalry under Brig. Gens. Fitzhugh Lee and Wade Hampton. The exhausted raiders were not able to put up much of a fight and were routed, resulting in hundreds of Wilson's cavalry becoming prisoners. Gobbled up with the raiders were scores of the enslaved; ever so briefly free, now recaptured. Kautz and some of his Union cavalry were able to make a better getaway to the southeast, but still lost soldiers and refugees.

These listed recaptured enslaved people were probably taken from the Kautz group. They first were sent to Hicksford (present day Emporia) and then to Weldon, North Carolina, by the Confederate authorities  where they were held for their owners to come claim them. 


The raid encompassed some 350 miles along their circular route. As shown in the advertisments the enslaved came from counties such as Dinwiddie, Nottoway, Prince Edward, Brunswick, Charlotte, Lunenburg, and Mecklinburg. The raid was viewed by the Confederates as a failure due to its disastrous end, but the Federals believed that the temporary disruption to the railroad traffic was worth the loss of captured Union soldiers. The raid was certainly not decisive for either side. For the captured refugees, those who returned to slavery were forced to endure several more months of bondage before freedom came with Union victory and Lee's surrender at Appomattox. 

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