Introduction | The
Powhatan Troop | Billy Sledd |
Philip St. George Cocke,
Walking in General Longstreet's Shoes | Confederate Wagon Train | General Lee Visits Powhatan
The Other Lee in Powhatan | John Singleton Mosby | Huguenot Springs Hospital
Confederate Wagon Train
Telegram to: General Richard S. Ewell
I wish you to make all preparation quietly and rapidly to abandon your position tonight if necessary. Send back on the line of Danville Railroad all supplies, ammunition, & c., that is possible. Have your field transportation ready and your troops prepared for battle or marching orders, as circumstances may require. Endeavor to avoid all alarm or notice of your preparation from getting to enemy. Save all public property. If your artillery or transportation requires horses you must take them in the city.
--R. E. Lee
This dispatch and order set in motion General Ewell’s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia on its final journey of the Civil War. It had been four long years and much sacrifice to all involved including the people of Powhatan. Death, sickness, shortages, poverty, and starvation are just a few of the hardships that Powhatan’s population had to endure.
Unknown to anyone in Powhatan was the fact that, 48 hours from the time General Robert E. Lee dispatched this order to General Ewell, a major wing of the Army of Northern Virginia would enter its peaceful terrain. Although Powhatan never witnessed the army in its prime, it was to witness its shattered remains. By the time the army of Northern Virginia entered Powhatan County on Genito Road near Dorset, it was only a shadow of its former self.
Lee’s army was heading west to escape the siege General U. S. Grant had pursued over the previous nine months at Petersburg. Much of the army crossed the Appomattox River into Amelia at the Goode’s Bridge crossing (on Route 360). The remainder was to cross at Genito Bridge at the Appomattox Crossing in Powhatan and join together at Amelia Courthouse.
The Genito Bridge, having been swept away by a raging and badly swollen Appomattox River, forced Ewell’s corps to separate and pursue two different paths. The infantry was to cross at the Mattoax Railroad Bridge crossing two and a half miles downstream, while the wagon train was to travel further upstream and cross at the Clementown Bridge.
The Mattoax Railroad bridge presented a major problem. The engineers of Ewell’s corp had to lay planking over the rails for the troops, including both men and horses, to cross over the bridge. The stability of the planking was so uncertain that the men crossed the structure with arms locked together, walking side-step to cross. Horses and artillery presented their own set of problems. By 3 a.m. on April 4, 1865, the corps, with the exception of the massive wagon train, was in Amelia County.
The Genito house just above the Genito Bridge crossing was probably a scene of mass confusion. General Ewell, seeing for himself the wasted-away bridge location, immediately dispatched a message to General Lee that he was having planks placed across the Mattoax Bridge rails. General Ewell was most likely at the Genito house at the intersection of Genito and Rocky Ford Roads. (This home has recently been acquired by Luther and Celie Carroll of Chesterfield.)
The wagon train and the exact route it took has always been a topic of confusion and speculation. There has been some thought that it traveled up present-day Dorset Road to Flat Rock, from there to the courthouse, then continuing on Route 13 to Tobaccoville and crossing the Appomattox at Clementown.
Another theory is that it turned on Rocky Ford Road from the Genito Road intersection, continuing to Powhatan, then on to Tobaccoville by Route 13 and crossing at Clementown.
The most likely route was across a road that only partially exists today. This course would have taken the wagon train from Genito Road up Rocky Ford Road, to a road which ran parallel to the Appomattox River to Giles Bridge Road or present-day Route 609. The only remnants of this road today is Route 619, running west of Rocky Ford Road, as the entering point of the wagon train’s route. The exit point is the Giles Bridge Road intersection with present-day Route 623. This perhaps explains the continuing question concerning Giles Bridge not being crossed. Most likely it was washed away also. If the 1880 J. E. LaPrade map is closely studied, the road will be seen as a major road bed the equivalent of Genito Road and even Buckingham Road (present day Route 60). This route would be the most direct and obvious route to be taken placing the wagon train on Route 13 at Macon, then to Tobaccoville and crossing the Appomattox at Clementown.
The size of the wagon train was immense. Stretching for miles, the hundreds of wagons must have seemed unending to Powhatan residents witnessing the scene.
A portion of the wagon train was destroyed by Union calvary just after leaving Powhatan. A witness riding by said he passed two miles of burning wagons, numbering no less than 400. Many of the wagons destroyed carried precious supplies that would never reach Lee’s infantry.
Among the troops assigned to guard the wagon train were black Confederate soldiers who had earned the admiration of their white comrades-in-arms for their bravery and effectiveness.
The importance of the wagon train and its partial destruction cannot be overstated. It contained not only supplies, artillery, and critical documents but also a significant amount of rations for Lee’s army. Lee had instructed several hundred thousand rations to be scheduled for delivery at various stops on the retreat route. The coordination of the supplies’ arrival did not materialize.
The wagon train was continuously besieged by Federal cavalry throughout its tenure in Amelia County thus creating historical importance to small communities such as Painesville and Deatonsville. It finally became embroiled in the fighting around Sayler’s Creek and only a portion of the supply train escaped.
The Powhatan residents were most likely alarmed that the war was about to disrupt its peaceful landscape. It was for many, perhaps, a first sighting of their army.
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