In March 1862 Crispin Dickenson was elected First Lieutenant of the Ringgold Battery, a Confederate artillery unit formed from men from Danville, Virginia, and the surrounding area. Captain Timothy Stamps commanded the unit, initially outfitted with two smoothbore iron 6-pounder cannons, a 3-inch rifled gun, and one brass 12-pounder Napoleon cannon. Following Stamps’ June 1863 resignation Dickenson was promoted to captain and took charge of the battery which saw action in several battles in western Virginia around the New River Valley.
The following spring the Ringgold Battery took part in The Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, about which Dickenson’s 1st Lieutenant William P. Robinson later wrote: “In the battle of Cloyd’s Farm, May 9th, 1864, when the Federals were coming down the mountain Capt. Dickenson with his long-range rifle gun prevented the enemy’s artillery from getting into position to fire on us, and Capt. Glassie of the Federal battery said, ‘The fire of the enemy’s guns was so accurate and rapid, I was obliged to retire, having six men wounded, one timber pole broken by a shell, five horses killed and wounded, and my guns’ carriages were considerably cut up.’ This incident occurred during that battle and was relayed to me by Sergeant S. H. Mattox, the gunner at Capt. Dickenson’s rifle gun. He says that when nearly surrounded, and the infantry support all gone, he said to Capt. Dickenson that he ought to retreat. Dickenson replied, ‘We have no orders to leave.’ Sergeant Mattox said, ‘All have left but us, and you are the only one who can give orders.’ Capt. Dickenson then left with his gun, being the last to leave that part of the field.”
By summer 1864 the Ringgold Battery had made its way to the front at Petersburg where the Union and Confederate forces were dug in opposite each other in a long and growing snake of trenches and earthen-works just south and east of Richmond protecting the Confederate capital. Here he and his men took part in the infamous Battle of the Crater. For weeks in July 1864, a Union regiment of Pennsylvania coal miners worked secretly, tunneling under Confederate lines to plant tons of dynamite. In the early hours of July 30 with Union troops staged for the attack, the Yankees detonated the explosives waking the rebels in a surprise attack. Despite being caught unaware the Confederates were able to repulse the attack. 1st Lieutenant Robinson wrote about the battle, “Capt. Dickenson commanded the battery at the battle of the “Crater” at Petersburg where the battery was distinguished for its part in that one of the greatest and most successful battles of the war.”
By late March 1865, the Federals had gained the upper hand. The winter had taken a large toll on Lee’s army. With supplies dwindling and reinforcements not forthcoming, Lee made the tough decision to hastily break camp and head west in hopes of making it to Danville to join General Joseph E. Johnston to continue the fight. On April 3 Lee sent orders to evacuate Richmond while his army made its way westward.
By April 8 Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had made their way to Appomattox where Dickenson and the Ringgold Battery took part in the Battle of Appomattox Station, one of the last of the war. During the battle, General George Custer and his cavalry unit captured 25 cannons, 200 wagons, and 1,000 prisoners, including Capt. Dickenson. In The Otey, Ringgold and Davidson Virginia Artillery of the Virginia Regimental Series, Michael A. Cavanaugh relates: “On the April 8, the Confederates reached the Southside Railroad at Appomattox Station, two miles beyond the Court House. The remains of Captains Walker’s and Dickenson’s Batteries were in camp with General Walker’s artillery command. The artillerymen were partially armed with muskets. Private George Savage of Otey’s Battery stated that only half the men had arms and that they alternated guard duty. The camp was suddenly attacked by General George A. Custer’s cavalry, but the Confederates were able to hold off the enemy until their wagon train could be withdrawn. Lieutenant William P. Robinson of the Ringgold Battery, described how a mishap cost that battery, several men. While they were engaged with the enemy, the Confederate reserve artillery also opened up on the Federals, but Walker’s and Dickenson’s men were caught between them in a crossfire. Captain Dickenson and Private Ragsdale ran back to stop the firing and were not seen again. They had been taken, prisoner….”
Dickenson was captured by General George Custer, spent one day as a prisoner of war, and was paroled by Grant with Lee and other Confederates at Appomattox. In the appendix of his book, Cavanaugh notes that prisoner of war Captain Dickenson was paroled on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House with a mule. From here he made his way home to Pittsylvania County where he resumed his medical practice as a physician. Crispin Dickenson died in 1888 and was buried in the Old Tombstone Cemetery in Hollins, Virginia.
Years after Dickenson’s death his former 1st Lieutenant William P. Robinson wrote a final tribute to the man. Concluding his letter to Dickenson’s granddaughter Robinson wrote, “I certify that Capt. Dickenson was a truly brave and loyal Confederate Officer and one of the best men I have ever met, and I believe a true Christian.”
References: “Virginia Regimental History Series: The Otey, Ringgold and Davidson Virginia Artillery” by Michael A. Cavanaugh Battle of Appomattox Station Historical Marker, family documents
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