Tucker's Naval Brigade at Saylor's Creek

connecticut yankee

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The naval brigade from Drewry's Bluff, under Flag Officer Tucker, joined the rear guard of the Confederate Army, and was attached to General Custis Lee's division of General Ewell's corps, with which it marched until the battle of Saylor's Creek on the 16th of April, 1865. The naval brigade held the center of the line at that battle, and easily repulsed all the assaults made upon it.

During the battle, Tucker’s Brigade was the only Confederate unit that didn’t break under the first Federal charge. After repulsing the charge, the Brigade – numbering 300 to 400 men, was then surrounded by six Union divisions. Rather than surrender, Tucker counterattacked, smashing the 37th Massachusetts Infantry into fragments and tearing into the 2nd Rhode Island in hand to hand combat.

Withdrawing to a wooded pocket, the unit repulsed several more Federal attacks. A flag of truce was sent by the Federal General commanding at that point to inform Tucker that the Confederate troops on his right and left had surrendered, and that further resistance was useless and could only end in the destruction of the sailors. Tucker, believing that the battle had only commenced, refused to surrender, and held his position until reliable information, which he could not doubt, reached him of the surrender of General Ewell and his army corps. The performance of Tucker’s Brigade was so intense and the damage they inflicted so devastating, that the Federal generals estimated the "Marine Brigade" to number some 2,000 men.

Tucker was ultimately talked into surrendering towards the end of the day. Commodore Tucker, who fought stoutly in his first land battle, did not give up until the blue lines had overrun his band from every side. He was astonished: "I never before got into a fight like this. I thought everything was going on well."

According to Brig.General Truman Seymour, commanding the Federal 3rd Div, 6th Corps, "The Confederate Marine Battalion fought with peculiar obstinacy, and our lines, somewhat disordered by crossing the creek, were repulsed in the first onset." A member of Phillip's Georgia Legion, which stood in line of battle just behind Tucker's brigade, later recalled, "Those marines fought like tigers and against odds of at least ten to one."
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Tucker counterattacked, smashing the 37th Massachusetts Infantry into fragments and tearing into the 2nd Rhode Island in hand to hand combat.

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Elisha Hunt Rhodes was introduced to many by the PBS classic documentary “The Civil War” by Ken Burns. He advanced in rank from Corporal to Lieutenant-Colonel of the 2nd Rhode Island by war’s end. He wrote the following in his report of Sayler’s Creek, dated 4/15/1865.......

In the presence of the enemy nothing of particular interest occurred until
the afternoon of the 6th, when we met the enemy near Sailor's Creek.
My regiment was formed as a support to the brigade, but in the advance
were posted on the left of the Eighty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers in
prolongation of their line. Arriving at the creek we
became exposed to the enemy's fire, but pushed on through the swamp,
which in many places was so deep as to destroy the ammunition of my
men. As soon as we were clear of the swamp I reformed my line and
sent out skirmishers to develop the enemy's position. When the brigade
advanced my left flank became exposed. I partly protected myself by
refusing the left wing. We pressed the enemy back too the woods in our
front, and when within a distance of about thirty yards received a charge
of the enemy, both in front and on my left, which caused my men,
after a time, to retire in some confusion. Every effort was made to rally
them without crossing the swamp. My U. S. flag was captured, but
quickly retaken. Capt. Gleason and Lieut. Perry were here killed
while gallantly urging their men on. At this point my regiment was
somewhat scattered, but joined the brigade in the new assault which
resulted so gloriously. At night we bivouacked on the field with the brigade.

For the first time under fire, I expected great difficulty with my new
troops, but I cannot speak too highly of their conduct. My officers,
without one exception, behaved splendidly.


Captain Archabald Hopkins of the 37th Mass wrote the following.........

At the battle of Sailor's Creek the regiment, after severe
double-quicking, which greatly exhausted the men, was put in position
in column of wings, right in front, in rear of the Second Rhode Island.
When the order to advance was given I deployed the regiment into line
of battle and moved to left, so that my right joined the left of the Second
Rhode Island. Just before reaching the swamp which protected the
enemy's position I ordered the right company (C) to deploy so as to
cover our precision considering the nature of the ground, crossed the
warp, moved up the hill, and were soon exchanging shots with the
enemy. The line was halted and reformed after crossing the swamp
under cover of the hill, and were soon exchanging shots with the enemy.
The line was halted and reformed after crossing the swamp under cover
of the hill, the crest of which was held by the enemy. Were then moved
a short distance by the right flank, when the order "forward" was given.
The men reserved their fire with noteworthy coolness until we were
within a few rods of the enemy, who were formed in two lines of battle
on the crest of the hill. They then opened with rapid volleys, advancing
all the while with a yell. The enemy, unable to withstand our fire, gave
back slowly at first, and soon disappeared from our front, leaving
several prisoners and a caisson in our hands. I now found that we were
entirely unsupported on either flank, and was about to take measures
to connect with the Second Brigade, which had been on our left, when
I noticed what seemed to be a heavy column of the enemy moving by
the flank around our left. I hastened to that part of the line and caused
it to be thrown back, after which a few well directed volleys drove them
out of sight again. At this juncture of affairs it was discovered that the
enemy had moved a column through a ravine, which served to partly
conceal the movement, around our right and about half the length of the
regiment in our rear. We had barely time to face about when they
charged us, and a desperate
hand-to-hand fight with swords, pistols, and bayonets ensued. Several
men were wounded with the bayonet. We did not give them an inch of
ground and they were finally forced back into the ravine, where we
swept the whole length of their line with such a terrible raking fire that
they were unable to reply, and soon gave token of surrender. We
accordingly ceased firing, when they, opened fire on us, wounding
Adjutant Bradley and some others. We immediately opened again with
redoubled energy, and in a few moments they surrendered in earnest.
More than 390 were taken and sent to the rear.

Gen. Custis Lee, who commanded their line, surrendered and gave
up his sword to Private David D. White, of Company E; and Private
Charles A. Taggart, of Company B, captured their battle-flag. Corpl.
Richard Welch, of Company E, was overpowered by numbers and taken
prisoner in a desperate attempt to capture a battle-flag in
advance of our line. He was afterward retaken.

Instances of personal gallantry were too numerous to mention. Capt.
George H. Hyde and Capt. George B. Chandley were particularly
conspicuous in repelling the enemy's assault, and Adjutant Bradley and
Lieut. Morrill again distinguished themselves by their determined
bravery and coolness. First Sergt. E. P. Cowles, Company D, cheered
on the men while lying under a tree with a severe wound through the body.

Over eighty rebel dead were afterward counted in the ravine I have mentioned.




HDQRS. THIRTY-SEVENTH MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEERS,
March [April] 7, 1865.
SIR: I have the honor to state that there were 3 officers and 28 men
wounded and 8 men killed in the engagement of yesterday. The officers
were Capt. Walter B. Smith, First Lieut. and Adjt. John S.
Bradley, and Second Lieut. Harrie A. Cushman. There were 360
officers and men, and Gen. C. Lee, captured by my command.
Gen. Lee was captured by Private D. D. White, Company E, of this
regiment, and he formally surrendered his sword to Lieut. W. C.
Morrill, of this regiment, who now wears it. At least one battle-flag was
captured by the Thirty-seventh Regiment, and one other is claimed,
although the capture of it is claimed by another command.

Very respectfully,

A. HOPKINS,
Capt., Cmdg. Regt.
 

lelliott19

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Great job and thanks for posting @connecticut yankee Ive always been fascinated with the CS naval brigade and heavy artillerymen who were fighting as infantry that day at Sailors Creek.

Referring to the performance of Tucker's men that day, in Recollections of a Naval Officer, Captain William H Parker wrote:
"The sailors in the battery below Drury's Bluff, under Commodore Tucker, had also very scanty notice of the evacuation [the fall of Richmond], if any; but they got away together, and formed part of the rear guard of the army in General Custis Lee's division. They were in the Battle of Sailor's Creek and fought desperately. After the brigades on either side of them had surrendered, Tucker still continued to fight. The general in command could get no word to him to surrender; and the Federals not understanding why that particular body of men held out, were masking a large number of guns upon it, when a staff officer finally made his way to Tucker with the order to give up. The commodore told me afterwards he had never been in a land battle before and he supposed that 'everything was going on well.' The Federal troops cheered the sailors after the surrender."
I've got another really good account from Capt. Daniel Murray Lee, CS Navy, brother of and serving as Aide-de-camp to General Fitz Lee during the Sailor's Creek fight, but it's long so Ill post it separately. Stay tuned!
 
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Frederick14Va

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Great thread... On a side note;... Sailors Creek State Battlefield Park over the last few years have been slowly transforming the park back to its 1865 appearance. Clearing trees and brush from areas that were then open... replanting trees in open areas that were not. An item of historical interest in all this, is that all of the land features of rises, hills, crests, depressions and ravines that we find mentioned in many period accounts are for the first time in many decades are now visible. New trails have been established that one can walk along and accurately stand in the same spots and get a much better idea of the terrain the soldiers saw before them in 1865. Also how concentrated and close the respective lines actually were to each other.

In this art print by Keith Rocco of "Victory or Death". Displaying the plight of the remains of the 18th Georgia Battalion of Heavy Artillery (Savannah Guards) at Sailors Creek. The roadway is just over the slight rise in the foreground. This is on the West side of the road. Little Sailors Creek is in the far distance behind the Federal line at the bottom of that hill. From this position Tuckers men were off to the CS Left and slightly behind this spot just behind a slight depression of that hill.
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bdtex

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Great thread... On a side note;... Sailors Creek State Battlefield Park over the last few years have been slowly transforming the park back to its 1865 appearance.
I agree. Great thread. Great side note too. Sailors Creek State Battlefield Park has been on my list for awhile. I am even more anxious to visit there after reading your post. I bought the Blue & Gray Magazine back issue on Sailors Creek just for that reason.
 

Frederick14Va

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I agree. Great thread. Great side note too. Sailors Creek State Battlefield Park has been on my list for awhile. I am even more anxious to visit there after reading your post. I bought the Blue & Gray Magazine back issue on Sailors Creek just for that reason.

Many folks that venture out and explore the Richmond/Petersburg to Appomattox path frequently will forget about Sailors Creek. It is still a very rural area and out in the boonies not close to much of anything off the beaten path. Which in many ways is also good because the battlefield and surrounding country side hasnt been paved over for strip malls as typically happens to other battlefields. There is a nice little visitors center there now and the nearby Hillsman House (also in the park), has been restored and refurnished to its likely wartime appearance as much as possible.

Ive done many programs there over the years and now reside just a short distance away. During the 150th Anniversary cycle I was the event coordinator and overall CS commander for the battle event. The first and only one that has taken place there on original ground in well over a decade.. Heres one image from that event showing part of the battalion portraying Crutchfields Heavy Artillerymen (now serving as Infantry) near the crest of the hill that Kershaw made his last stand., This is the East side of the road, we were not permitted to use both sides as originally took place so we had to concentrate everything on one side. The Hillsman House is visible on the distant hill (first time it was visible from this point in many decades after some trees and brush were removed) The creek is at the bottom of the hill which the Federals crossed and attacked from. Cant see it in this image but they had just emerged from the tree line. The backyard of the Hillsman House is were the Federal Artillery lined up and hammered this spot. Hillsman house after the battle was utilized as a Field Hospital.
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bdtex

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Many folks that venture out and explore the Richmond/Petersburg to Appomattox path frequently will forget about Sailors Creek. It is still a very rural area and out in the boonies not close to much of anything off the beaten path. Which in many ways is also good because the battlefield and surrounding country side hasnt been paved over for strip malls as typically happens to other battlefields. There is a nice little visitors center there now and the nearby Hillsman House (also in the park), has been restored and refurnished to its likely wartime appearance as much as possible.
"off the beaten path" is my kinda place.
 

lelliott19

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I've got another really good account from Capt. Daniel Murray Lee, CS Navy, brother of and serving as Aide-de-camp to General Fitz Lee during the Sailor's Creek fight, but it's long so Ill post it separately. Stay tuned!

I never posted Capt. Daniel Murray Lee's account, so today on the 156th Anniversary of the Battle of Sailor's Creek, seems like a fitting time to do so.
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