Federal Artillery Limber Chest Found in a Heavily Wooded Area in 1978 in the Vicinity of the Union 6th Corps Camp near the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield



Federal Artillery Limber Chest Found in a Heavily Wooded Area in 1978 in the Vicinity of the Union 6th Corps Camp near the Sailor’s Creek Battlefield – This extremely rare and unusual relic was discovered, almost hidden beneath some underbrush, by a local, Prince Edward County, Virginia farmer, in 1978, in a heavily wooded area, just south of the main battlefield of Sailor’s Creek (April 6, 1865). The area where the chest was discovered, after sitting there for 87 years, was the site of the post-Sailor’s Creek campsite of the Union 6th Corps, a highly engaged combat unit during the battle. The 6th Corps camp, post battle, was located in a now wooded area, just south of the battlefield, along the road to Rice, Virginia and just west of the site of an intense cavalry skirmish, at Marshall’s Crossroads, on April 6, 1865.

The chest, with the understanding that it sat, untouched for virtually 87 years, remains in overall strong, highly displayable condition. The farmer, apparently realizing the significance and rarity of his discovery, reinforced some of the chest’s weaker wood areas, as well as painting, in black, the iron hardware and cleaning the original, sheet copper top. The wood, either walnut or oak, remains in relatively strong shape, as do the iron elements of the chest; the copper top is in excellent condition. The large, interior separating divider remains in place, as do the various, interior wall mounts for the projectile dividers. Two original, interior, copper, bolt head covers remain. Missing are the following: the wood bottom of the chest (rotted off after sitting on the ground for almost 100 years), one of the iron carrying handles, the heavy iron lock hasp and cast brass turn latch, two interior, copper, bolt head covers and the two iron end plates. Of significant note – there appears in the left side of the chest, a hole that was apparently created by a shotgun style blast, many, many years ago; there are numerous pellet indentations (none containing lead); the splintered wood surrounding the hole exhibits considerable age. Inside the box, directly opposite that exterior hole, appears a second, smaller hole, apparently created by the same shotgun blast. These two holes could have been created during the war period, as the splintered wood, as mentioned, is extremely weathered. It certainly is conceivable that the chest was shot through either by Confederate or Union troops, to prevent further use. Regardless, this is one of the most unique war artifacts or relics we have encountered.

Amelia County, Prince Edward County, and Nottoway County, VA –   Apr 6, 1865

Five days after Robert E. Lee’s men retreated from the trenches of Petersburg, cavalry under Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan effectively cut off three separate corps of Lee’s army near Sailor’s Creek, a tributary of the Appomattox River, while the Union Second and Sixth Corps approached from the east. On April 6th, two brigades of Andrew H. Humphrey’s Second Corps overwhelmed two brigades of Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon’s division as the Confederates struggled to move their supply and artillery trains across the creek. Gordon’s men were forced to make a stand at the Lockett family farm on the west bank. In a separate action, Lieut. Gen. Richard Anderson’s Confederate infantry were attacked by Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. George Crook at Marshall’s Crossroad, where the Yankee troopers blocked Anderson’s route to join with the other Confederate units.  The Union cavalry captured many of Anderson’s artillery pieces near the creek, and most of Anderson’s men fled the battlefield. In a third fight, two divisions of Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright’s Sixth Corps took up positions on the Hillsman farm north of Sailor’s Creek opposite Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s corps.  Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt’s cavalry division engaged Ewell on Wright’s left, cutting Ewell off from retreating west to Farmville and forcing the Confederate commander to surrender. In all three actions, the Federals overwhelmed the defending Confederates, capturing 7,700 men and depriving Lee of roughly one-fourth of his army.  Among the prisoners were six Confederate generals including Ewell, Joseph Kershaw, and Custis Lee, the commanding general’s son.  To President Jefferson Davis, Lee wrote, “a few more Sailor’s Creeks and it will all be over.” Lee surrendered three days later.

Wright v. Ewell: Battle of Hillsman’s House – Battle of Sailor’s Creek – April 6, 1865

Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry had discovered the Union cavalry force blocking Anderson’s corps and advised Lieutenant General Richard Ewell of the obstruction on the road ahead. Ewell directed that the trailing wagon train head north on the Jamestown Road at Holt’s Corner avoid the Union force on the Deatonville-Rice’s Station Road. Ewell’s corps then closed about a 1 mile (1.6 km) gap with Anderson’s corps and helped Anderson with the repulse of Crook’s second attack on Anderson.

After Anderson crossed Little Sailor’s Creek and passed over the crest of the hill, Ewell moved his force to higher ground on the other side of the creek, leaving men from Colonel William H. Fitzgerald’s brigade and the 24th Virginia Cavalry Regiment as a rear guard at the Hillsman farm. Ewell and Anderson met to confer about whether to attack the cavalry force in their front or head through the woods toward Farmville.[  Before they could finish their discussion, Major General Horatio G. Wright’s VI Corps appeared in Ewell’s rear, forcing Anderson’s corps to face the Union cavalry moving up from the south at Marshall’s Crossroads, while Ewell’s corps had to confront the Union infantry at Hillsman’s House. The two corps fought almost back-to-back against the encircling Union forces.

As the VI Corps closed up on Ewell’s corps, Ewell deployed Major General Joseph B. Kershaw’s Division on the right, Custis Lee’s division on the left and the naval battalion under Commander John R. Tucker in the middle.  Wright’s corps came up at about 4:30 p.m. and saw Ewell’s force forming a line of battle on the north side of Sailor’s Creek. Brigades from the VI Corps divisions of Brigadier General Truman Seymour and Brigadier General (Brevet Major General) Frank Wheaton formed up against them. Major General Sheridan was on the scene and a soldier nearby said it was evident that Sheridan’s object was to surround Ewell’s Confederates.

The VI Corps attacked Ewell’s line at about 6:00 p.m. after an artillery bombardment during which Ewell’s men hastily built modest fortifications. Many Union soldiers were shot down crossing Sailor’s Creek which was more like a swamp as much as 100 yards (91 m) wide in some places. Wheaton’s men reorganized under the crest of a hill and resumed their movement up the hill. The rapidly moving middle of the line was driven back under intense fire and a Confederate counterattack.[  Since the Confederate line was shorter than the Union line, however, this led the Confederate attackers into a double envelopment. The twenty guns of Union artillery under Brevet Major Andrew Cowan deployed at the Hillsman Farm played a key role in their repulse. Fierce hand-to-hand combat took place before the Confederates finally saw that they were surrounded and gave up. The naval battalion under Commander Tucker was among the last of the surrounded Confederates to surrender Prematurely, Lieutenant Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) J. Warren Keifer rode forward to accepte the naval battalion’s surrender only to have several sailors aim their muskets at him. Only through the intervention of Commander Tucker was Colonel Keifer spared and able to accept the actual surrender a short time later.

General Humphreys wrote that Ewell’s entire command was killed, wounded or captured except about 250 men of Kershaw’s division who escaped.