Brigadier-Generals Ames, Terry, and Turner commanded in person the troops drawn from their respective divisions. A portion of the Eighteenth Corps, under Major-General Smith, occupied the railroad on my left. A little before noon the whole command except a portion of Terry's division left on the pike to guard the approaches from Richmond, moved to the left, and during the afternoon took up a position facing Swift Creek, which we found occupied by the enemy in considerable force. We found this creek impassable for any kind of troops. The bridges were all guarded by artillery and infantry the latter occupying both banks of the stream. In the evening I met General Smith for the first time darning the day. Upon conferring together we took the liberty to make the following suggestion to the major-general commanding:
SWIFT CREEK, May 9, 1864-7 p. m.
Major General B. F. BUTLER,
Commanding Department of Virginia and North Carolina:
GENERAL: We have conferred together upon the problem before us, and respectfully suggest, for your consideration, whether it would not be better, and secure to us greater advantages, to withdraw to our lines to-night, destroying all that part of the road this side of Chester Station which we left to-day, and them cross the Appomattox on a pontoon bridge that can be thrown across below General Smith's headquarters, and cut all the roads which come into Petersburg on the roads which come into Petersburg on that side. Such a bridge can readily be constructed in one night, and all the work of cutting the road and perhaps capturing the city can be accomplished in one day, without involving us in heavy losses. If we would remain here and be successful to-morrow, the roads, coming Petersburg on that side still remain intact, with the Appomattox between us and them, and we may even then be forced to adopt the plan we now suggest.
Very respectfully, your obedient servants,
Q. A. GILLMORE,
Major-General, Commanding Tenth Army Corps.
W. F. SMITH,
Major-General, Commanding Eighteenth Army Corps.
The following reply was received about midnight:
HEADQUARTERS EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
DEPARTMENT OF VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA,
Bermuda Hundred, May 9, 1864.
Major Gens. W. F. SMITH and Q. A. GILLMORE,
Commanding Eighteenth and Tenth Army Corps:
GENERALS: While I regret an infantry of purpose which did not permit you to state to me, when I was personally present, the suggestion which you make in your written note, but left me to go to my headquarters under the impression that another and far different purpose was advised by you, I shall [not] yield to the written suggestions which imply a change of plan made within thirty minutes after I left you. Military affairs cannot be carried on, in my judgment with this sort of vacillation. The information I have received from the Army of the Potomac convinces me that our demonstrations should be toward Richmond, and I shall in no way order a crossing of the Appomattox for the purpose suggested in your note. If, as I believe, General Kautz has been successful, the communications of the enemy have been cut so far below Petersburg as to render the Lynchburg and Petersburg Railroad useless as a means of communication with the south, and if the Danville railroad is to be cut at all, it better be cut near Richmond on the south side in conformity with the plan agreed upon between the lieutenant- general and myself. Therefore, as early as possible consistently with safety, you will withdraw your forces from Swift Creek, attempting in the first place to destroy the railroad bridge and them complete a thorough destruction of the railroad as we return to our position, with the intention of making a subsequent early demonstration up the James from the right of our position.
I have written you this note jointly, because you have agreed in a joint note to me.
I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
BENJ. F. BUTLER,