Major General George E. Pickett, commander of the Military Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, was the senior military officer present in Petersburg when Union General Benjamin Butler began the invasion of Bermuda Hundred during May 1864. The Confederate Signal Corps had warned Pickett at some point in November 1863 to expect a serious Union attack and, by April of 1864, they were able to give General Pickett specifics. An army of 36,000 men was about to invade the south bank of the James River between City Point and Bermuda Hundred.
On April 23, General Pickett received orders to join his newly rebuilt Division and the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia. General P. G. T. Beauregard was to report to Petersburg to take over the Military Department of North Carolina. Beauregard, still in Weldon, North Carolina, knew of the intelligence reports about the Union invasion, and he sent word for Pickett to retain command until he arrived.
On the evening of May 5, 1864, 36,000 Union soldiers began to disembark at City Point. General Pickett sent numerous telegrams to Richmond and to Beauregard, still in North Carolina, requesting an immediate increase of Confederate troops. Between May 5 and May 10th when General Beauregard arrived in Petersburg, General Pickett retained responsibility for defense of the area. During those five days, Pickett was either on horseback or at this headquarters in the Custom House.
At noon on May 5th, General Pickett mustered the Petersburg City Battalion, which consisted of about 400 men, in front of the Custom House and ordered them to City Point. That afternoon Pickett mustered an additional 100-200 men and boys from the second class militia (boys younger than 17 and men older than 50) and sent them to the Ordnance House for arms. Altogether, there were no more than 600 armed Confederates to meet the enemy on May 5th.
The following was taken from the Minute Books, page 571, of the Petersburg Common Council: "May 1864. City of Petersburg Common Council. Resolved that our people have entire and implicit confidence in our able and gallant commander (of this department) Major General George E. Pickett and in behalf of that people, we hereby tender to that General the thanks of this body for the distinguished ability and gallantry displayed in the administration of its affairs, both military and civic."
VIEW photographs from the Bermuda Hundred seminar
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