Part two in a series.
Col. Gilbert J. “Gib” Wright, who commanded Hampton’s old brigade, was determined to try to capture Kilpatrick. He ordered Capt. Samuel D. Bostick of the Phillips Legion Cavalry to head straight for the Monroe farmhouse to capture the Union cavalry leader while the rest of the dawn attack launched.
Joe Wheeler wanted to attack dismounted, as a thick swamp lay between his corps and Kilpatrick’s campsites. Hampton ordered the attack to be made mounted, and Wheeler rode off to prepare for the attack. At dawn, Wright’s men thundered into the sleeping Union campsite, catching many of Spencer’s men still in their bedrolls. Bostick and his company headed straight for the farmhouse. Kilpatrick, awakened by the commotion, came out onto the front porch of the house clad in only his nightshirt to see what was going on. Fortunately, he was a quick thinker—when one of Bostick’s men asked him where was General Kilpatrick, he pointed at a man riding away on a horse and told the Confederate soldier that the man was the general. The Confederates spurred off after the man, and Kilpatrick, now fully awake and aware of the grave threat, retreated to the swamp barefoot, without weapons, and dressed only in his nightshirt. In the meantime, the Southern horsemen surged through the camps, headed toward the Monroe house, freeing some prisoners of war that had been traveling with Kilpatrick’s command.
In the meantime, two factors came into play to stymie the Confederate battle plan. First, a significant portion of Wheeler’s command got bogged down trying to push through the nearly impenetrable swamp. Those who got through lost all sense of discipline when faced with the veritable bounty of Kilpatrick’s campsites. Famished men stopped to feast on the ample Union rations or to loot the camps instead of pushing on. The combination of these two factors allowed sufficient time for those elements of Kilpatrick’s command that had not been gobbled up by the initial Confederate assaults to escape into the swamp, where Kilpatrick began to rally them.
In the meantime, Wheeler himself drew his saber and pitched into the melee, and so did Hampton. The big South Carolinian—6’4” and about 240 pounds—carried a heavy broadsword and not a saber, and he ended up killing a couple of Kilpatrick’s troopers during the day’s fighting, the 12th and 13th men that he had killed in personal combat during the Civil War. The scene in the Federal camps was utter chaos. Hampton’s plan for a surprise attack had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, but with the complete breakdown of discipline, and the nature of the terrain, which naturally funneled the action toward the swamp, the Confederate tidal wave was rapidly running out of steam.
In the meantime, Judson Kilpatrick was rallying his routed command and getting it organized to launch a counterattack. After his humiliating flight into the safety of the swamp, the Union commander was determined to regain his camps.