In his battle report on South Mills, General Huger described the Confederate preparations to meet the Federals that were landing below the Camden Court House at Chantilly:
On Friday, the 18th, Colonel Wright occupied South Mills with three companies of his regiment (160 strong) and the drafted North Carolina Militia, two companies at the intrenchments at Richardson’s Mills (125 effectives) and five companies (about 300 men) and McComas’ battery of artillery at Elizabeth City.
On Friday evening, anticipating the enemy’s advance and in compliance with my instructions to concentrate his forces at or near South Mills, he ordered the companies at Elizabeth City to retire 9 miles to Richardson’s Mills From some cause not yet explained these companies did not leave Elizabeth City until after daylight on Saturday morning.
The cavalry company from Camden Court House reported at 8:30 o’clock.
On the 19th, the enemy approaching, having then passed the Court House, Colonel Wright moved forward with his three companies, and at 9:30 o’clock was met by Colonel McComas with his battery. After advancing three miles from South Mills the road emerged from the woods, and the field on the right and left extended 100 to 180 yards to thick woods and swamp. On the edge of the woods, on both sides of the road and perpendicular to it, was a small ditch, the earth from which was thrown up on the south side in a ridge, upon which was a heavy rail fence. From this point the road led through a narrow lane for 1 mile, with cleared land on both sides of it. Here he determined to make his stand.
About 300 yards from the woods ran a deep, wide ditch parallel with the one first mentioned and extending to the woods on either side of the road, and a short distance beyond it were dwellings and outhouses which could give cover for the enemy. Colonel Wright therefore ordered them burned. The large ditch in his front he filled with fence rails and set them on fire, his object being to have this ditch so hot by the time the enemy came up they could not occupy it.
Two pieces of artillery (the road was too narrow for more) were placed in the road just where it emerged from the woods, which commanded the road – the range of the guns. He also threw down the fences for 300 yards on each side of the road for 300 yards in front of the guns, and tossed the rails into the road to destroy the effect of the enemy’s ricochet firing and to deprive him of the cover of the fences. The fences on the sides of the woods were taken down and laid in heaps on the embankment in front of his men.
All these arraignments were made, and it was 11 o’clock before he was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Reid and the seven companies from below. Two of these, under Major Lee, were placed at River Bridge, with one piece of McComas’ artillery, with directions to destroy it and stop the enemy there if he should attempt to get into our rear by coming up the west side of the river. Lieutenant-Colonel Reid and three companies of the Third Georgia (and by Colonel Ferebee’s report the North Carolina Militia) were placed about a mile in the rear at the meeting of an old road, to protect the passage and serve as a reserve. The remaining five companies were deployed in open order across the road on the right and left of the artillery, protected by the ditch and fence rails on the banks.
A third cannon from the McComas battery was placed in Sawyer’s Lane, to the right of the two stationed in the county road leading to the Camden Court House. It stood approximately 50 yards west of the other two.
The entrenchments mentioned at Richardson’s Mill were dug in February 1862 to protect the main route to Norfolk, a response to the defeat of Flag Officer Lynch’s North Carolina Squadron at the Battle of Elizabeth City by Rowan’s Union flotilla on 10 February 1862.
The Southampton Cavalry performed vidette duty prior to the battle, keeping Colonel Wright informed as to the progress of the advancing Federal forces. During the battle they were posted on the left flank as a screen near an old road that ran parallel to the county road, east of the battlefield.