Numbers 74. Report of Colonel Samuel A. Duncan, Fourth U. S. Colored Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, of operations May 18.
HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, THIRD DIV., 18TH ARMY CORPS,
City Point, Va., May 19, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that the enemy made a demonstration against our works at this point yesterday morning at 11 o'clock. Issuing suddenly and in force from the woods on the Petersburg road, he commenced a vigorous shelling of the reserve of our grand guard; at the same time throwing two squadrons of cavalry into line near his two pieces of artillery, and sending a few skirmishers down along the woods in our front, connecting with a body of 30 or 40 horsemen that appeared upon our left near the house of Mr. Livesay. Our picket-line was immediately disposed as skirmishers. A few well-directed shots from the battery of the enemy caused our right to fall back, which necessitated the retirement of the whole line. The fell back in excellent order, and firing deliberately, apparently with some effect. Had the picket-line maintained its position more obstinately, it is possible that the enemy, whose object was to reconnoiter our position, would have been unable to reach the crest nearest our works, and would have been obliged to retire, content with such view only as could be obtained from the woods nearly a mile in front. As it was, he followed up our retiring line, and planted his howitzers on the crest near Gatlin's house, opening on our works. As soon as our line of skirmishers was sufficiently retired, three of our guns replied. The gun-boats also came to our assistance promptly, and a brisk cannonading ensued for a half hour, at the expiration of which time the enemy retired. As his force was mainly cavalry, it was impracticable to pursue him.
Captain Dollard went out far enough to get data from the inhabitants by which to estimate the force. His estimate is the most reliable that I have. The enemy is believed to have had about 600 mounted men, a small force of infantry, one or two companies, and tow 12-pounder howitzers.
Most of our force was well directed. Three or four saddles were emptied by our skirmishers, and some of our shells exploded in the immediate vicinity of the enemy's battery, causing him to move off to the rear instantly. A shell from the gun-boats burst directly over the company of rebels near Livesay's, dispersing them at once.
At about 6 p. m. a small force was seen by our vedettes to return along the Petersburg road as far as Mills' house, and then turn off into the woods, bringing with them three ambulances and one howitzer. The inhabitants this morning stated that this was for the purpose of removing their wounded, whom they had concealed in the woods.
It is hardly possible, in fact, that the enemy escaped without considerable damage, subjected as he was to a cross-fire from the gun-boats, in addition to the direct fire from our works, at a range of 1,000 yards.
Two of our men only are wounded, one very slightly in the face, the other more seriously in the fore-arm, both by fragments of shells.