Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Effects of the Wilson-Kautz Raid through Newspaper Advertisements (Part 2)

Read Part 1

Evidence of the amount of disorder the Union horsemen wreaked on the region’s citizens appears in numerous newspaper advertisements placed by individuals seeking to reclaim their property. As mentioned at the beginning, much of that property came in human form. An accounting of some of the enslaved people comes from an advertisement published in the Petersburg Daily Express newspaper in July by James H. Pearce, who served as assistant adjutant general for Brig. Gen. Henry Wise. The printed enumeration gives the names, owners, and counties of origin of 48 people recaptured by the Confederates. On July 11, 1864, M. M. Rodgers, provost marshal for Wickham’s Cavalry Brigade, advertised in the Express the arrest on July 3, near Reams’ Station, of an enslaved man named Owens, who Rodgers “supposed to have been with Wilson’s raiders and been separated from them in this neighborhood.”  

In the hectic scramble to get back to Union lines, while along the Stage Road near Reams’ Station, some children, who briefly got a taste of freedom while with the raiders, found themselves left behind and recaptured. James Hargrave advertised in the July 18 issue of the Petersburg Express that he “picked up . . . three negro children.” Willie, Minnie, and “a little boy, name unknown” who were ages 5, 4, and 3 respectively. Dr. D. J. Claiborne, Sr. of Brunswick County sought to reclaim three of his enslaved people, as he believed, “taken from me by the last Yankee raid. . . .” Claiborne offered a liberal compensation for 19 year old Lucy, 15 year old Irmma, and nine year old Charles; all siblings. From the same Brunswick County neighborhood as Dr. Claiborne, Peter Stainback advertised on July 22 that “The Wilson raiders visited my plantation . . . and carried off the following negroes:” Henry, George, Jim Martin, and another Jim. Children seemed to have the hardest time escaping recapture. John Dodson advertised on July 28 in the Express that he had on his place a girl named Amy who was about six years old. Dodson also provided the names of the girl’s mother and father, but Amy was “unable to give any other account of herself or owner.” Abram W. Marshall of Lunenburg County wanted “Harod, but was generally known by the name Peter . . . Armistead . . . and Kenner,” “who were taken . . . by the Wilson’s raiders.” Dr. Thomas Blandry offered a $200 reward for Sarah Ann and her two children Minna and Garland who fled with the raiders at Blacks and Whites Station on the Southside Railroad.

The day after the raid ended, Maj. W. H. Kerr at Petersburg posted a notice in the Express warning “not to purchase or trade in any way for property captured from the enemy.” Kerr listed commonly confiscated items including: “horses, mules, carts, wagons, buggies &c. . . .”  Nelson Griffin of Dinwiddie County advertised that “a body of retreating Yankee soldiers,” took away two mules, a mare and a horse. Griffin also claimed that the raiders or “vandals” as he referred to them, took “every pound of bacon, all the corn, butter, and everything else of value. . . .” R. R. Collier took out a classified ad that claimed that Wilson’s men “robbed my negro man, Bob, a faithful slave, of two and a half dollars in silver.” Collier offered a $20 reward for anyone who would deliver the thief to him in Petersburg. For items “Stolen by Wilson’s Yankee Raiders,” T. A. Proctor offered a $1000 reward. He explained in the July 11 issue of the Express that the raiders took silverware including spoons, knives, and forks. Also missing were “one Pitcher and Waiter, two Goblets, Cake Knife, Pickle Knife and Forks, two Salt stands, on Butter Stand,” among other items that were “prized beyond their pecuniary value . . . .”

Lunenburg County resident Sterling Neblett lost horses and mules that he sought back by advertising the July 13 Express. John Puryear of Brunswick also wanted his six horses back from “The Wilson Raiders who visited my plantation and stole” them. Ed. T. Jeffress of Nottoway County wanted his “large family carriage” that was “taken from my residence . . . by Wilson’s raiders.” Jefferess offered a “liberal reward” in his ad placed in the July 19 Express. Robert Jackson lost five horses and mules and advertised for their return in the August 8 issue of the Express.

In the grand scheme of the Petersburg Campaign, the tangible military advantages gained by Federal forces through the Wilson-Kautz Raid were probably quite minimal. A good number of the enslaved people who followed the raiders seeking freedom, and materials and animals confiscated along its course, fell back into Confederate hands at the end of the raid. But, some in Federal high command believed the effort was well worth its costs in casualties. Certainly, the raiders created enough damage to Confederate rail and communications infrastructure that it took time, as well as valuable manpower and resources away from the Confederates—who had little to spare—to repair them.

However, the raid’s greatest effect was likely the many disturbances it had on white Southern civilians, and as expressed in their advertisements attempting to reclaim their possessions. The raiders’ ability to range as far as they did and seemingly take what they wanted all while helping enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, continued to erode the confidence that white Southern civilians placed in their military and government officials to protect them. While raids like that conducted by Wilson’s and Kautz’s cavalrymen across Southside Virginia certainly embittered some Southerners, in others it started to dent their resolve and caused them to wonder when they again might experience “the hard hand of war.”  


A. Wilson Greene, A Campaign of Giants: The Battles for Petersburg, Volume 1: From the Crossing of the James to the Crater, University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Greg Eanes, ‘Destroy the Junction’: The Wilson-Kautz Raid & the Battle for the Staunton River Bridge, June 21 to July 1, 1864, H. E. Howard and Company, 1999.

Map of Virginia: Showing the distribution of its slave population from the Census of 1860 accessed via Library of Congress

Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch

August 6, 1864

August 26, 1864

Petersburg, Virginia Daily Express

July 1, 1864

July 7, 1864

July 11, 1864

July 13, 1864

July 18, 1864

July 19, 1864

July 22, 1864

July 28, 1864

August 5, 1864

August 6, 1864

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Effects of the Wilson-Kautz Raid through Newspaper Advertisements (Part 1)


Slave trader E. H. Stokes placed an advertisement in the August 6, 1864, edition of the Richmond Daily Dispatch, offering a $4,500 reward for nine individuals who “left my farm, Lunenburg [County Virginia] about the last of June, with the Wilson raiding party.” Stokes was not alone in seeking to reclaim lost property. Numerous other citizens placed notices in Petersburg and Richmond newspapers mentioning and describing their possessions—in the form of human beings, animals, and objects—fleeing with or taken by the Federal cavalrymen of Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson and Brig. Gen. August V. Kautz during a week-long raid across several Southside Virginia counties in the summer of 1864.

The objective of the Wilson-Kautz Raid, which was part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Second Offensive at Petersburg, was to wreak havoc on Confederate communication routes previously unaffected by Federal forces. Of particular interest were the Southside Railroad, which ran west from Petersburg to Lynchburg, and the Richmond and Danville Railroad that connected those two important cities. The cavalry raid supplemented Grant’s main effort, which he hoped would result in the capture the Petersburg Railroad (also known as the Weldon Railroad) by the Army of the Potomac’s II and VI Corps.

Grant did not allow his foe much rest between the final First Offensive attacks on Petersburg, which wrapped up on June 18, 1864, and the start of the Second Offensive that began on June 22. The Wilson-Kautz Raid portion of the Second Offensive started from their camps early on the morning of June 22 with about 5,500 cavalrymen and supported by three batteries of artillery. From their location southeast of Petersburg, the raiders first stuck for the Weldon Railroad at Reams’ Station, just a few miles to the southwest. They inflicted damage by burning the depot and some rolling stock parked there. However, they soon moved off to the west toward Dinwiddie Courthouse, where they arrived about mid-day. After a brief rest, the riders pushed on north toward the Southside Railroad. At Ford’s Depot they inflicted more damage and started ripping up rails as they worked their way west.

Many of the counties that the raid coursed through contained large numbers of enslaved people. The 1860 census figures show that just under half of Dinwiddie County’s population were enslaved, numbering 12,774 people. Nottoway County, adjacent to the west, held 6,478 individuals in bondage. Ranked as the state’s highest, Nottoway enslaved 74% of its inhabitants. Along the way and at each stop African Americans seeking freedom followed the raiders however best they could.  

While Kautz’s command rode on further west to Burkesville Station, Wilson’s men worked destroying material found at Blacks and Whites Station (modern day Blackstone). After burning a rail car, a water tower, and a supply of cotton, they continuing on. Wilson’s force soon encountered some of Gen. W. H. F. “Rooney” Lee’s Confederate cavalry and fought a skirmish near Nottoway Courthouse.

At Burkeville Station, where the Richmond and Danville and Southside Railroads intersected, Katutz’s raiders tore up track on both lines. They then headed southwest along the Richmond and Danville line. Wherever they encountered telegraph lines, rolling stock, water towers, bridges, pull-off sidings, warehouses, lumber piles, and anything else that the Confederates might use to their advantage, the Federals destroyed or disabled it in the most complete and efficient way possible. In addition, some of the cavalrymen used the raid to appropriate non-military personal possessions from the area’s citizens.

Three days into the raid the Federal’s horses began to show wear. That day, June 25, the recombined force encountered the Staunton River Bridge on the Richmond and Danville Railroad on the Charlotte County and Halifax County border. Charlotte, like the other counties the raiders traversed included large numbers of enslaved individuals. Charlotte County included over 9,236 enslaved people who made up 65% of its population. At the Staunton River covered bridge a cobbled together Confederate force under Capt. Benjamin Farinholt set up a soild defense.

Farinholt’s Rebels were able to protect the covered bridge after several assaults by the Union cavalrymen. The Southerners’ efforts saved a good deal of their railroad track and rolling stock, in addition to the bridge. Unable to budge the defenders or burn the bridge, and with their horses flagging, Wilson decided to return to Union lines. To do so required heading back east through Mecklenburg (64% enslaved), Lunenburg (62% enslaved) and Brunswick counties (64% enslaved). However, the return trip proved difficult. Confederate opposition, excessively hot days, jaded horses, worn riders, and an ever-growing contingent of African American refugees who followed the riders, all made the second half of the raid particularly challenging.

Receiving valuable intelligence, Fitzhugh Lee, Wade Hampton, and two brigades of Gen. William Mahone’s Confederate infantry from Petersburg worked to get into position at points along the Petersburg (Weldon) Railroad in attempt to trap the raiders before they returned to the safety of Union lines. A fight at Sappony Church with Hampton’s horsemen on June 28 and into June 29, encouraged the raiders to divert north to Reams’ Station where they hoped to find Union infantry from the II and IV Corps in control of the Petersburg Railroad. However, as the raiders arrived at Reams’ Station on the morning of June 29, they met Mahone’s infantry and Lee’s cavalry, with Hampton closing on their rear.

A sharp battle developed where the raid kicked off a week before. During the fight, the Confederates broke Wilson’s line and split the Union force. Kautz and his men not captured escaped south then back east. Wilson’s men scattered and fled south taking a much longer route to make their way back to Union lines three days later. At Reams’ Station the Confederates inflicted numerous casualties on the Federals—most being prisoners. Also lost were all of the artillery, most of the wagons and carts filled with provisions and goods obtained along the way, and many of the refugee men, women, and children who were following the raiders. Wilson suffered additional casualties and lost additional captured items crossing a section of Stony Creek due to a bottleneck at the bridge over that stream. Here many of the refugees following Wilson’s force were recaptured or killed by the furious Confederates. Wilson’s remnant made it back into Union lines on July 2.

The Wilson-Kautz Raid covered over 350 miles, and certainly inflicted significant damage on the Confederate rail infrastructure. It took weeks to complete some of the repairs. But perhaps the greatest achievement of the raid was the disruptions that the raiders inflicted upon the Southern civilians’ farms and plantations that they encountered along their route.

(Originally published on the Emerging Civil War blog)