Today, the Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers Sailor’s Creek 151 years ago.
The last major battle of the War of Rebellion resulted in the capture of eight Confederate generals.
Let’s look back in time.
First, from the Writings of Abraham Lincoln:
On April 6, 1865, Major-General Sheridan sent the following telegram to Lieutenant-General Grant:
“I have the honor to report that the enemy made a stand at the intersection of the Burks Station road with the road upon which they were retreating. I attacked them with two divisions of the Sixth Army Corps and routed them handsomely, making a connection with the cavalry. I am still pressing on with both cavalry and infantry. Up to the present time we have captured Generals Ewell, Kershaw, Button, Corse, DeBare, and Custis Lee, several thousand prisoners, fourteen pieces of artillery with caissons and a large number of wagons. If the thing is pressed I think Lee will surrender. “
The next day, Lincoln, after receiving the contents of Sheridan’s message, sent the following telegram to Lieutenant-General Grant:
“Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed. A. LINCOLN.”
The United States Congressional Serial Set, Issue 3261, included reports of various military leaders regarding the Sailor’s Creek battle.
Three excerpts follow:
Report of Bvt. Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt, U. S. Army, commanding Cavalry, Army of the Shenandoah.
April 6, moved the command at 6 a. m. in the direction of Deatonsville. It was soon discovered that the enemy, with his trains, was pushing toward Farmville.
The cavalry pressed forward on the flanks of the enemy’s route, attacking the column and wagon train at different points, in conjunction with General Crook’s command.
An attack of the First Brigade, First Division, on the train, which was right gallantly made, having exhibited the enemy to be in great force on the road near Sailor’s Creek, Generals Custer and Devin were ordered to move parallel to the enemy’s line of march and attack the train and impede the march of the column wherever practicable.
This order was obeyed with alacrity by both divisions. General Crook’s command was in the meantime operating in the same manner.
The First Brigade (Stagg’s) of the First Division remained with Miller’s battery at the point where the train was first attacked.
The battery did excellent service in shelling the enemy’s train, practicing on it with wonderful accuracy.
Stagg’s brigade operated with the Sixth Corps at Sailor’s Creek, performing most important service, capturing over 300 prisoners.
General Custer succeeded in striking the enemy’s train at a point less strongly guarded than at others where it had been attacked and in surprising a park of three batteries of the enemy’s artillery.
The enemy, concentrating, attacked the Third Division in force, when the First moved rapidly to its assistance, both divisions holding the enemy in check.
This movement on the part of these two divisions, assisted on the left by Crook’s division of cavalry, cut off three divisions of the enemy’s infantry, the entire rear guard of his army, and finally, in conjunction with the movement of the Sixth Corps in the enemy’s rear, resulted in the capture of the entire force, including eight general officers and many stand of colors and arms.
To continue the operations of the day the First Division was again moved to the left and advanced rapidly in the direction of the firing of the Twenty-fourth (Gibbon’s) Army Corps.
It soon came up with the rear of the retreating rebel infantry, which made a front in the direction of the advance.
It soon became apparent that the Army of the James was not operating with vigor against the enemy, and as darkness came on the command was ordered into camp.
Report of Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Devin, U. S. Army, commanding First Division.
On the morning of April 6 the division marched in the direction of Deatonsville, following Third Division; soon after the enemy’s train was reported to be moving upon the road to Rice’s Station, on the South Side Railroad, and the division was ordered to cross the country and attack.
The country was broken, intersected with ravines and ditches, but in a very few minutes the division struck the flank of the train, only to find it covered by a heavy force of infantry and artillery in position; moving still farther to the left the same result was obtained.
Learning that the Third Division had pushed in on the left of the Second, I moved rapidly toward the left of the Third, hoping to strike the train at a vulnerable point.
As I was passing to the rear of Third Division I received an urgent message from General Custer, stating that he had struck and captured part of the train and was hard pressed.
On joining him I found it necessary to bring up the division on a gallop, and form on his right, in order to hold the ground across Sailor’s Creek and secure his captures.
The division succeeded in checking the enemy’s advance, and was soon after ordered to the extreme left.
The division had scarcely reached its new position when it was found necessary to return to the support of the Third Division, which had been forced back.
The enemy being checked, the division was again ordered to the extreme left, and succeeded in reaching the road within two miles of Rice’s Station.
It was now dark, but the command pushed on and soon struck the enemy’s rear guard.
They were pushed rapidly forward, until, at the crossing of (upper) Sailor’s Creek, we found Mahone’s division of infantry in position, with artillery covering the crossing.
On attempting to force a crossing the enemy opened a heavy fire of musketry, shell, and canister at short range, and, in accordance with instructions, the division was retired one mile, and encamped at 12 p. m.
I had omitted to state that on first moving to the left the First Brigade and section of battery had remained upon the extreme right and rendered efficient service.
Colonel Stagg, in a brilliant charge on the flank of Sixth Corps, captured 300 prisoners.
Miller, with Fuger’s section, made great havoc in the train by his splendid practice.
Report of Bvt. Maj. Gen. George A. Custer, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division.
Leaving Jetersville at 6 a. m. of the 6th we marched to Harper’s farm, on Sailor’s Creek, where we charged and routed the forces guarding the enemy’s wagon train, capturing over 300 wagons.
While engaged in securing and destroying this train two divisions of rebel infantry, commanded by Generals Kershaw and Custis Lee, the whole under command of Lieutenant-General Ewell, attacked my command with a view to recapturing their train.
After a severe engagement, during which my command was several times driven back, the enemy’s line of battle was broken by a charge of the Third Brigade, supported by a portion of the First.
The enemy was driven from his breast-works in great confusion. Thousands of his men were captured on the spot, others surrendered after a short pursuit.
Besides these advantages already gained we secured a strong position in rear of that of the enemy’s force engaging the Sixth Corps, which eventually compelled the surrender of the entire force of the enemy engaged on that part of the field.
Lieutenant-General Ewell and six other general officers were captured at this point by my command.
In addition, we captured 15 pieces of artillery and 31 battle-flags.
After the pursuit had ended my division encamped upon the battle-field.
The Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of General Custer ready for his 3rd charge at Sailor’s Creek, circa 1865.