The Rebel cavalry has been very active all winter, as may be seen by the many raids which they have made, beginning as far back as December twenty-fifth, when their chief, J. E. B. Stuart, anxious to obtain something suitable with which to celebrate the holidays, crossed the Rappahannock, advanced on Dumfries, where it would seem that our boys, freezing dumb (Dumfries), suffered the raider to capture not less than twenty-five wagons, and at least two hundred prisoners. Moving boldly northward, he struck the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, burning the bridge across the Accotink Run, and from Burke's Station he swung around Fairfax Court House, and returned, by long, circuitous route, into their lines with their hard-earned spoils.
A lull of operations followed this bold holiday enterprise, until the sixteenth of February, when a party of General John D. Imboden's rangers, in the Shenandoah Valley, made a rapid raid to Romney, farther west, where they captured several men, horses, and wagons, having taken our forces entirely by surprise. The success which characterized these forays was not only disgraceful to ourselves, and very disheartening, but it gave the Rebels an audacious effrontery and malignant boldness, which led them into more frequent and reckless movements. But our men were a little more on the alert, and thus averted, to a great extent, the injury which was intended.
February 25.—To-day Fitz-Hugh Lee, almost in the very face of our pickets, crossed the Rappahannock near Falmouth, attacked by surprise a camp, where he captured one hundred and fifty prisoners, but was not able to return without some loss. The next day General W. E. Jones marched with a brigade into the Valley, attacked and routed two regiments of General Milroy's cavalry, and, with slight loss from his command, escaped with about two hundred prisoners. The most daring, however, of all these raids was made by Major White, with his band of Loudon County rangers, which differs not much from guerillas, into Maryland, where they captured a few prisoners, but spent most of their time and strength in plunder. Poolesville was the scene of their depredations.
It did seem as though nearly every Rebel cavalry officer had been touched with a magic wand which filled him with the most weird and romantic views of warfare, and led him into enterprises almost as wild as any of Dick Turpin's. Fauquier County was the theatre of several of these movements by Captain Randolph, of the Black Horse Cavalry. And in these days appeared another partisan, whose name for the first time flashes out in big capitals in the official as well as other bulletins, amid most startling manoeuvrings: it is John S. Mosby. To the Harris Light this gentleman was not wholly unknown, and we distinctly remember the time when he was a prisoner in our hands. It appears that he was then sent to Old Capitol Prison at Washington. Not long thereafter he was released; and, being bent on revenge, and naturally fitted for guerilla operations, he soon received permission from his chief, to operate on an independent plan.
This Mosby, as we have been informed by an acquaintance of his, a Rebel soldier who has known him from early life, has always been a sort of guerilla—deserting from his father's house in mere boyhood—fighting duels as a pastime—roving the country far and wide in search of pleasure or profit—a thorough student of human nature and of the country in which he operates—bold and daring to a fault and romantic in his make—and finding now his chief delight in the adventures of guerilla life.
His commission is a roving one, and his command seems to be limited neither to kind or number. Many of his men are citizens, who spend a portion of their time in their ordinary business, and who hold themselves in readiness for any movements indicated by their commander-in-chief. Occasionally he is accompanied and assisted in his forays by daring men from various commands, who are at home on leaves of absence or furloughs, while a few seem to be directly and continually under his control. The principal stimulus of the entire party (except the bad whiskey which they are said to use), is the plunder which they share. It is their custom at times to parole their prisoners and send them back to our lines, though often, when large numbers are taken, they are sent to Richmond; but all horses and equipments, which now command enormous prices in Dixie, are the property of the captors.
The region of the country they have chosen for their operations is certainly well adapted to facilitate their designs. Deep ravines traverse the country, skirted with dense, dark foliage, which affords them shelter, and through which they pass like so many wild turkeys or wild boars, knowing, as they do, all the roads and by-paths. Indeed, some of their parties are dwellers in these regions, and are acquainted with every nook and corner, where they can hide securely with their prey and elude their pursuers. When the immediate neighborhoods of their depredations do not offer a sufficient asylum, they fly to the fastnesses and caverns of the Bull Run Mountains.
Then, too, there is a certain degree of carelessness on the part of our own men, which merits censure and causes trouble. For instance, they frequently call at the homes of bitter Rebels for the purposes of pleasure, or to get articles of food, which they purchase or take, and while at these places they are too free to talk about the condition of our army, the position of our picket lines and posts, etc.—information which is grasped with wonderful avidity and as readily transmitted to Mosby and his men. Scarcely does any important event transpire among us, that is not fully understood immediately by the Rebel families within our lines, and is very easily borne to those outside the lines between two days. Thus movements even in contemplation have been heralded before the incipient steps had been taken, and consequently thwarted. Our only safety from this source of trouble would be to drive out of our lines all Rebel families, thus preventing the means of communicating the news to the outer world.
Another simple statement will explain the chances of the enemy and the causes of many of our casualties. Our picket-lines are too much extended, covering too wide a territory to make them as strong as they should be. Only a brigade is doing the work of a division, and consequently the picket-posts are not sufficiently near each other. Thus, in the night, it requires no very great dexterity to creep through the bushes between the pickets unobserved, and, once within our lines, any amount of mischief may be done by the miscreants. The method indicated here is usually the one employed by these active guerillas, and it forms the chief stratagem of all their movements upon us.
Their first important attack upon our pickets took place on or about the tenth of January. A small Federal picket was doing duty at Herndon Station, on the Loudon and Hampshire Railroad. Mosby determined to effect their capture. Led by a skilful guide, he dismounted his command some distance from the picket-lines. Then they all crept cautiously between the vedettes, until they reached the rear of the post, and from that direction advanced upon the unsuspecting boys, whose forms could be distinctly seen by the flaring light of their bivouac fire. While the pickets were thus a fine shot and mark for the enemy, the attacking force was concealed perfectly by the darkness of night and the shades of the thick pines. A pistol-shot from the guerillas was followed by a charge, when our boys were suddenly surrounded and captured.
This attack and capture was followed by another similar enterprise a few nights afterwards at Cub Run, near the Little River Turnpike. The picket relief was captured by a charge made in their rear, and only the two vedettes made their escape. Later in the same night a similar assault was made upon our post at Frying-Pan Church. Not far from this church resides a Miss Laura Ratcliffe, a very active and cunning Rebel, who is known to our men, and is at least suspected of assisting Mosby not a little in his movements. The cavalry brigade doing picket duty at this point is composed of the First Virginia (many of whose men were raised in these parts), the First Vermont, the Fifth New York, and the Eighteenth Pennsylvania. The latter of these regiments has but recently been mustered into the service, is poorly drilled and worse equipped, and is by no means fitted to picket against so wily a foe as Mosby. Though great caution is exercised by Colonel Percy Wyndham, who is in command of the brigade, to arrange and change the alternation of the pickets, so that the regiments to picket at a given point may not be known beforehand; yet by means of Miss Ratcliffe and her rebellions sisterhood, Mosby is generally informed of the regiment doing duty, and his attacks are usually directed against the unskilled and unsuspecting.
Having approached, under cover of the night above alluded to, within a few hundred yards of the pickets, whose position and strength he knew very well from information received by the neighbors, the horses were left in charge of one man, while the party skulked along through the thick underbrush, until they could approach the post from the direction of the Union camp. The picket relief was mostly quartered in an old house near by, with a single sentinel stationed at the door. Seeing the Mosby party approaching, he supposed that they were a patrol, and consequently allowed them to come within a few paces of the house before he challenged them. But it was now too late; and springing forward like panthers, the guerillas presented their pistols at his head, ordering a surrender. The house was immediately surrounded and the assailants began to fire through the thin weather-boarding upon the men shut up within. This fire, however, was vigorously returned for a time, but yielding at last to superior numbers, who had greatly the advantage, the whole party was compelled to surrender.
The success with which Mosby carried on his operations made him a sort of terror to our pickets, while it attracted to him from all quarters of Rebeldom a larger and more enthusiastic command. They became wonderfully skilled and bold, as may be seen by the following daring exploit. On the night of the eighth of March, during rain and intense darkness, Mosby led a squadron of his conglomerate command through the pines between the pickets near the Turnpike from Centreville to Fairfax Court House. Striking through the country, so as to avoid some infantry camps, he soon reached the road leading from Fairfax Station to the Court House. Moving now with perfect confidence, as no pickets along this route would suspect the character of such a cavalcade several miles inside our lines, about two o'clock in the morning he entered the village and began operations. The first thing was to capture the pickets stationed along the streets in a quiet manner, so as to arouse no one from their slumbers, and this was easily accomplished. The way was now fully open to the Confederate band. Divided into parties, each with its work assigned, they quickly accomplished the mischief they desired.
Mosby, with a small band, proceeded to General Stoughton's headquarters, in the house of a Dr. Gunnel. Dismounting, he soon stood knocking at the door. A voice from an open window above demanded their business at such an unseasonable hour. "Despatches for General Stoughton," responded Mosby. The door was quickly unlocked, and the guerilla chief stood by the bedside of the sleeping general, who had but a few moments before retired from a dancing and convivial party. Fancy now the reenactment of the scene in old Ticonderoga fort, when Ethan Allen, by stratagem, stood in the presence of His Majesty's sleeping commander.
Stoughton was soon apprised of the character of his nightly visitors, and quickly making his toilet, he was hurried away with a portion of his escort, and several other prisoners, including Captain Augustus Barker, of the Fifth New York Cavalry. Fifty-eight of the finest horses from the officers' stables were also captured; and Mosby retraced his sinuous route through our lines of pickets so rapidly, that he escaped all his pursuers.
The morning light of the ninth of March revealed the boldness and success of the raiders, and no little excitement prevailed. Several parties of cavalry were ordered out in pursuit of the flying partisans, but all returned at night unsuccessful. This was an occasion for great humiliation on the part of our troops, stationed about the Court House, while in Washington and throughout the nation not a little humor was drawn from the remark made by the President when some one told him of the loss we had sustained; "Yes," he characteristically replied, "that of the horses is bad; but I can make another general in five minutes."
Suspicious that Rebel citizens within our lines were more or less implicated in this and other raids, quite a number of arrests were made among them, which cleared the country of the most flagitious cases. However, it is very probable that some innocent ones were made to suffer, while the most guilty were allowed to escape.
March 23.—The pickets near Chantilly had been quiet for several days, but toward night a company of cavaliers, mostly dressed in blue uniforms, emerged from a piece of wood within a mile of the Chantilly mansion, and moved directly toward the picket post stationed near a small run on the Little River Turnpike. The picket, supposing them to be Union troops, watched their approach without suspicion; and when they had come within a few feet of him they introduced themselves by shooting him through the head. The alarm being thus given, the nearest reserve made a sudden descent upon the attacking party, which proved to be Mosby's, and the guerillas retreated for some distance up the turnpike, closely pursued. Having followed them about three miles, they came to a barricade of trees which had been fallen across the road. Back of this obstruction Mosby had formed a large part of his command, and our column was stopped by a heavy fire from carbines and pistols in their front and also by a flank-fire from the woods. At this inopportune moment Mosby made a charge which broke our column. The boys were driven back at a furious rate, and had not strength to rally. Some horses giving out, the hapless riders were captured.
But as Rebels and Yankees were uniformed much alike, it gave some of our boys an opportunity for stratagem. For instance, one of our fellows finding himself overtaken by the enemy, began to fire his pistol in the direction of his flying comrades (with care not to harm them), but with sufficient vim to be taken by the enemy, in their haste, as one of their number. In this way they passed him by, and he effected his escape.
This scrambling race continued for about three miles, back to the ground where the affair commenced, when our men were reenforced by the reserve from Frying-Pan Church. The Mosbyites were now compelled to halt, and a charge made upon them drove them back up the pike. They were pursued several miles, but night came on and our men were compelled to return. Three of our men were killed, and about thirty-five were taken prisoners, including one lieutenant. Several horses were also taken away. The enemy suffered no appreciable loss.
Mosby's plans were certainly made with great wisdom and forethought, and executed with a dash and will which were at times very astonishing. His men must have been warmly attached to him as their leader, while the gain they made by their plunder greatly increased their zeal. The command was truly unique in its leader, its composition, and its modus operandi, while its results, assisted as they were by the topography of the country, and the Rebel sympathizers within and just without our lines, attracted no little attention. The orders of General Stuart and even those of General Lee associated the name of Mosby with consummate daring and continual success, stimulating the band to greater deeds. We append one specimen of those orders, furnished us by one of their own number:
HEADQUARTERS, CAVALRY DIVISION, Army of Northern Virginia, March 27, 1863.
CAPTAIN—Your telegram, announcing your brilliant achievements near Chantilly, was duly received and forwarded to General Lee. He exclaimed upon reading it, "Hurrah for Mosby! I wish I had a hundred like him!"
Heartily wishing you continued success, I remain your obedient servant,
J. E. B. STUART, Major-General Commanding.
Captain J. S. MOSBY, commanding, etc., etc.
But it is not often permitted one man always to prosper in his enterprises, and even the wonderful Mosby was destined to meet equals, and to be worsted in engagements. Later in the season, while General Stahel's cavalry division was picketing the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, Mosby made a sudden descent one morning upon the First Virginia Cavalry at Warrenton Junction. Unfortunately, these Union Virginians, who were one of the best regiments in our service, were just then unprepared for any such manoeuvring. They had just been relieved from duty, and were taking their rest. Many of the men were lounging about under the shade of trees, or quartered for the time in a few block buildings situated in an angle formed by the two railroads. Their horses were mostly "unsaddled and unbridled, and hence not fit for a fight," while many of them were grazing loosely and quietly in the adjoining fields.
Mosby advanced upon them from the direction of Warrenton—was at first mistaken for a squadron of our own cavalry, which had been sent out on a scouting expedition. The error was soon corrected by a fierce charge made by the guerillas. Such of the men as were roaming about the premises, mostly unarmed, of course immediately surrendered; but about one hundred of them fled for refuge in one of the largest buildings, resolved to sell themselves (if it came to that) at the dearest price. And now commenced a fearful struggle. The Confederates would ride up near the windows and discharge their pieces at the men within, while the brave fellows inside, commanded and inspired by Major Steele, one of the bravest of the brave, defended themselves with a noble determination. All efforts of Mosby to make them surrender were in vain. Finding at last that he could not intimidate them with bullets, he ordered the torch to be applied to a pile of hay near by, and the house was set on fire. Just at this juncture of affairs a strong party of Mosby's gang, having dismounted from their horses, rushed against the door of the building with such force as to burst it open. Surrounded now by the flames, which were spreading rapidly, and attacked with desperation by the foe, the whole party was compelled to surrender.
Flushed with success, the guerillas were making preparations to retire from the field with their booty, when the Fifth New York Cavalry, which had been bivouacked in a grove not far from Cedar Run Bridge, arrived at the Junction, whither they had been attracted by the firing, and immediately fell upon the foe like an avalanche. Major Hammond commanded in person. Mosby was heard to exclaim, "My God! it is the Fifth New York!" A hand-to-hand encounter now took place, in which bravery was fired with desperation, and Yankee sabres were used with fearful effect. The Rebels soon broke and fled in every direction, demoralized and panic-stricken, leaving behind not only the captures they had made, but many of their own number. Some Rebel heads were fearfully gashed and mangled, one of them exhibiting his lower jaw-bone not only dislocated, but almost entirely severed with one determined blow from the strong hand of a cavalryman.
General Stahel, in his despatch to General Heintzelman, says: "The Rebels, who fled in the direction of Warrenton, were pursued by Major Hammond, Fifth New York Cavalry, who has returned, and reports our charge at Warrenton Junction as being so terrific as to have thoroughly routed and scattered them in every direction. I have sent in twenty-three prisoners of Mosby's command, all of whom are wounded—the greater part of them badly. Dick Moran (a notorious bushwhacker) is among the number. There are also three officers of Mosby's. The loss of the enemy was very heavy in killed, besides many wounded, who scattered and prevented capture. I have no hopes of the recovery of Major Steele, of the First Virginia. Our loss is one killed and fourteen wounded."
Templeman, one of Stonewall Jackson's best spies, was killed; and the partisans confessed themselves thoroughly whipped. They were wont to call this their first retreat, in which they did some tall running. The following complimentary order was issued:
HEADQUARTERS STAHEL'S CAVALRY DIVISION, Fairfax Court House, Va., ——, 1863.
SPECIAL ORDERS NO. 80.
When soldiers perform brave deeds, a proper acknowledgment of their services is justly their due. The commanding general, therefore, desires to express his gratification at the conduct of the officers and men of Colonel De Forest's command, who were engaged in the fight at Warrenton Junction, on Sunday, ——, 1863. By your promptness and gallantry the gang of guerillas who have so long infested the vicinity has been badly beaten and broken up. The heavy loss of the enemy in killed, wounded, and prisoners, proves the determination of your resistance and the vigor of your attack. Deeds like this are worthy of emulation, and give strength and confidence to the command.
By command of MAJOR-GENERAL STAHEL.
Thoroughly as Mosby had been whipped on this occasion, and diminished as was his command, it was not long before he was again heard from. It must be confessed that he possessed remarkable recuperative powers. His qualities of heart and mind seemed to attach his men to him peculiarly, while his mode of warfare was calling many young and daring Virginians to his standard. By this means his numbers were soon recruited, and he was again on the rampage.
At this time the government was sending supplies to the army on the Rappahannock via the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Each train was in charge of a guard, and all the principal bridges and exposed places on the route were under pickets. Besides this, frequent patrols were sent from one picket post to the other, so that the entire road was under a close surveillance. One morning, between seven and eight o'clock, the cavalry pickets and reserves about Catlett's Station were startled by artillery firing just below them on the railroad. A train laden with rations and forage had just passed on its way to the Rappahannock. It was soon ascertained that during the night the guerillas had carefully unfastened one of the rails in the woods, and by means of a wire attached to it and extended to some distance from the road, in a manner to be unobserved by the patrols, a man concealed behind a tree had drawn the rail out of place just as the engine was approaching it, throwing it off the track. A mountain howitzer, which had been placed in position, immediately plunged a shell through the engine, and at the same time a charge was made upon the guard. This consisted mostly of men whose term of service expired that very day, and their resistance amounted to nothing. They soon fled in shameful confusion, leaving the ground to the Rebels, who, after taking such plunder as they could carry, fired the train, and then started on the road to Haymarket.
But the cavalry had been aroused, and detachments of the First Vermont and Fifth New York, each in separate routes, commenced a vigorous pursuit. Mosby, who commanded in person, evidently had not reckoned on so sudden and sharp an encounter. He had not proceeded two miles before he espied the boys in blue eagerly flying after him. His howitzer was quickly brought into position, and a shell was accurately thrown among his pursuers, suddenly dismounting one of the officers, whose horse was killed. But the detention of the column was only temporary, the boys being determined once more to cross sabres with the chivalry. The nature of the ground was unfavorable for a cavalry charge, and the enemy showed no disposition to fight, but fled as rapidly as possible, firing an occasional shell, but without inflicting any injury. Eagerly the boys spurred on their chargers, and were soon joined by the Vermonters, who added fresh excitement to the chase.
Mosby, finding himself too closely followed for his comfort, and knowing that something desperate must be done, determined to sell his howitzer as dearly as possible. Having reached the head of a narrow lane, near the house of a Mr. Warren Fitzhugh, he wheeled the piece into position and commenced a rapid fire. There was no way for our boys to reach the howitzer except through the lane, the whole length of which was raked by every discharge. "That gun must be captured," exclaimed Lieutenant Elmer J. Barker, of the Fifth New York, "and who will volunteer to charge it with me?" About thirty brave fellows responded promptly, and suiting the action to the words, "charge, boys!" he rushed furiously forward at their head, while the fields rang with their maddening yell. But the brave lieutenant fell severely wounded before a murderous discharge of grape and canister, which killed three of his men and wounded several. The lieutenant's faithful horse was also mortally wounded. But before the piece could be reloaded with its only one remaining shell, the surviving comrades were crossing sabres with the gunners over the gun. The conflict here was desperate, but of short duration. Mosby's lieutenant, Chapman, fought with the rammer of the gun, but fell wounded and was captured. At length those who could not escape surrendered, and the howitzer was ours. It bore an inscription which showed that it had been captured by the Rebels from the lamented Colonel Baker, at Ball's Bluff.
Among the enemy's wounded and captured was a Captain Hoskins, formerly of the British army, who had run the blockade and espoused the Rebel cause. He received his death-wound as follows: having wounded a private soldier in a hand-to-hand encounter, he roughly cried out, "Surrender, you d——d Yankee!" "I'll see you d——d first," was the characteristic reply, while the Yankee boy lodged a pistol ball in the captain's neck, from which he did not long survive. An interesting diary was found in Captain Hoskins' possession, describing mainly his private life since entering Mosby's command.
Mosby himself barely escaped being captured on this occasion, and he carried the mark of a sabre-cut on his arm. The fight had been desperate on both sides, but the guerillas were badly worsted, and driven away as far as the jaded condition of our horses would permit us to pursue them. In their flight the spoils, which had been taken from the captured train, were left behind, strewn in every direction. This fight occurred near the little village of Greenwich, and gave Mosby a blow quite as severe as any he had ever received.
CHANCELLORSVILLE AND STONEMAN'S RAID.
1863.—Review of the Army by the President.—Deserters Punished.—Sports and Pastimes.—Stoneman's First Move.—Storm.—Reconnoissance to Warrenton. —Another Move.—Other Storms.—Catching "Rabbits."— Stoneman's Great Raid on Lee's Communications.—On the Virginia Central Railroad.—Kilpatrick at Louisa Court House.—He Marches upon Richmond.—Bold Advance near the City. —Important Captures.—Retreat over Meadow Bridge.—Destructions.—Bushwhackers.—Happy Rencounter. —Safe Arrival at Gloucester Point.—Public Prints.—Battle of Chancellorsville.—Heroism and Defeat.—Stonewall Jackson Falls. —Hooker Injured.—Retreat.—Orders.
April 1.—April-fool day always brings its trains of fun and broods of annoyances, the boys being determined to make the most of it. The usual plan is to induce a comrade to believe that either the colonel, his captain, or lieutenant, wants to see him. This scheme is generally successful; for the victim dare not refuse to report whenever called for, and as he is unable to learn whether he is really wanted or otherwise, he finds it necessary to call upon his superior to ask his pleasure. Receiving the assurance that nothing is wanted of him, he sees that he has been "sold," and returns to his comrades in the midst of their hilarity at his expense. But he is generally determined to have revenge, and to get the "laugh" on them before the day is spent. Sometimes these jokes are carried rather too far for sport, and recoil upon their perpetrators with unpleasant force.
But, then, this soldier-life of ours is so grave and solemn that our buoyant natures seek relief in all such means as the above. The bow, always bent to its utmost tension, would soon break or become useless; it must be straightened to send the arrow. So our natures would break were they not elastic, and were there no opportunities for reaction as well as action. Then, too, there is a kind of monotony to our life in winter-quarters, to which it is difficult to accustom ourselves. And he who can suggest any thing laughable is a great benefactor to his comrades; for then the monotony is broken, and we enjoy a little sprinkling of variety, which is truly said to be "the spice of life." A good joke, that runs through the command like a bubbling brook along the flowering meadows, is worth more to us than a corps of nurses with cart-loads of medicine.
On the second of April, from nine to eleven o'clock in the morning, we had a mounted brigade-drill. Colonel Kilpatrick was in command. He appeared well pleased, at the close, with the proficiency of his men, and they are all enthusiastic over him. There seems to be a wonderful unanimity of feeling in the brigade, all regarding Kilpatrick as the right man in the right place.
April 6.—To-day the Cavalry Corps, consisting of twenty-five regiments, well filled and drilled, was reviewed by President Lincoln and Generals Hooker and Stoneman. A salute of twenty-one guns was fired upon the arrival of the Presidential party. The review took place on Falmouth Heights, in full view of the Rebel encampment in rear of Fredericksburg. The scene we presented to our enemies must have been grand, for we appeared in our best uniforms and with flying colors. It was an occasion not to be forgotten, the sight being one of the most magnificent many of us ever saw. The column was between three and four hours passing in review. It seemed to do us all good to get a glimpse of the solemn, earnest face of the President, who reviewed us with apparent satisfaction.
April 7.—Picket details returned from the river to-day. In the afternoon several horse-races came off near our camp, between the First Pennsylvania, the First New Jersey, and Harris Light. One of Kilpatrick's favorite horses was badly beaten, much to his mortification, owing, as was alleged, to the stupidity of the rider, who was sent off the ground in disgrace. We are frequently training our horses for swift motions, and teaching them to jump ditches and fences. These are occasions of excitement and amusement. Men are frequently thrown from their horses while endeavoring to jump them beyond their ability, though seldom is any one hurt. Much practice is necessary to make perfect in this exercise.
The papers bring us good news of a "Great Union Victory in Connecticut." Such victories, though bloodless, have a powerful influence upon the rank and file of the army. Every ballot cast to sustain the administration is equal to a well-directed bullet against the foe.
April 8.—The brigade was called out this morning on the old drill-ground to witness a somewhat sad and novel scene, namely, the branding and drumming out of service of two deserters from Company K. The command was formed into a hollow square, facing inward. Upon the arrival of the blacksmith's forge, the deserters were partially stripped of their clothing, irons were heated, and the letter "D" was burnt upon their left hip. Their heads were then shaved, after which they were marched about the square under guard, accompanied by a corps of buglers playing "the rogue's march." It was a humiliating and painful sight, and undoubtedly it left its salutary impression, as it was designed, upon all who witnessed it. A deserter should be regarded as only next to a traitor, and when the military law against such offenders is enforced with becoming rigor, we will probably have fewer infractions. This part of our army discipline has thus far been evidently too loosely administered, giving occasion for demoralization.
In the afternoon we enjoyed a very pleasing change of programme, when true merit was rewarded. A beautiful sabre was presented by the officers of the brigade to Kilpatrick. Affairs of this kind are much enjoyed by the major part of the command; and when night came on we all felt that to-day, at least, we have learned that "the way of the transgressor is hard," and also that
"Good actions crown themselves with lasting days; Who deserves well needs not another's praise."
April 9.—To increase the variety of our experience, and to give it a pleasing tone, Kilpatrick's brigade-band made its first appearance in front of headquarters this evening. They discoursed national airs in a manner that thrilled and elated us, making the welkin ring with their excellent music. As the last echoes of a plaintive air died over the distant woods, and I crept into my lowly quarters for my rest, the poet's verse seemed full of hallowed potency:
"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief, Expels diseases, softens every pain, Subdues the rage of poison and of plague."
April 11.—An exciting game of "base-ball" was played to-day near our camp, between boys of the Fourteenth Brooklyn and the Harris Light. The contest resulted in a drawn game, so that neither could claim the victory. Our time, of late, is slipping rapidly along. The weather is warm and beautiful, the mud is disappearing, and flowers and birds remind us that winter is over and gone.
For several weeks preparations have been evidently made for the opening of the Spring campaign. Each branch of the service has been thoroughly recruited and drilled, and the entire force is computed to be at least one hundred and twenty-five thousand strong. All seem to be anxious for a good opportunity to advance upon the enemy.
April 13.—On the evening of the twelfth, at regimental inspection, orders were received to be ready for march at daylight the next day. Consequently, early this morning our winter-quarters were abandoned, and General Stoneman, at the head of about thirteen thousand cavalry, took up a line of march in the direction of the upper fords of the Rappahannock, in the neighborhood of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
General Hooker's order to his cavalry-chief had the ring of bright metal in it, and contained the following terse sentences:
"Let your watchword be fight, and let all your orders be fight! FIGHT! FIGHT! bearing in mind that time is as valuable to the Federal as the Rebel authorities.
"It devolves upon you, General, to take the initiative in the forward movement of this grand army; and on you and your noble command must depend, in a great measure, the extent and brilliancy of our success. Bear in mind that celerity, audacity, and resolution are every thing in war; and especially is it the case with the command you have, and the enterprise on which you are about to embark."
We moved at a sufficient distance from the Rappahannock to screen our columns from the enemy's posts of observation. We marched to the vicinity of Elkton, where we bivouacked for the night. The next morning we resumed our march, and soon struck the railroad at Bealeton, where we met and drove a detachment of Rebel cavalry. After a sharp skirmish they fell back to Beverly Ford, where their crossing was covered by artillery and sharpshooters. A neat little fight enabled us to advance carbineers down to the ford, which we held, though subjected to the fire of rifled cannon on the opposite bank.
At another of the numerous fords of the river (Sulphur Springs), which was not guarded, an entire division was forded across before night. But during the night a heavy rain-storm set in a la Virginie, which so suddenly raised the stream, that the order for crossing more troops was not only countermanded, but the forces already across were ordered to return. This was not very easily done. Meanwhile the separated division, by rapid movement and some fighting through the rain, had swung down the river to Beverly Ford, where they commenced recrossing, without pontoons, and with the ford unfordable. The enemy, taking advantage of this unhappy predicament, attacked the rearguard with furious determination, killing and capturing quite a number. As our artillery could not be brought into position, the only help we could afford to our unfortunate comrades was to play on the Rebels with our carbines, which kept them somewhat at bay. In the haste and difficulty of crossing, where horses were compelled to swim a considerable distance through the strong current, several animals and men were drowned and borne down the stream. It was certainly a very sad experience—a disheartening commencement of operations.
April 16.—The Harris Light was relieved from picket, and moved to Bealeton, leaving Beverly Ford at four o'clock A. M. The roads are almost impassable. The rain has continued almost uninterruptedly for forty-eight hours, making our sojourn in these parts very disagreeable. But, notwithstanding the mud, on the seventeenth a squadron of the Harris Light, composed of Companies E and F, in command of Captain Charles Hasty, left our bivouac at Bealeton, early in the morning, with instructions to proceed to Warrenton, and, if possible, to occupy the place until four o'clock P. M. When we had approached to within three miles of the place the Captain learned that the famous Black Horse Cavalry, under Captain Randolph, was in possession of the village, and would undoubtedly give us a splendid entertainment.
The boys were unanimously pleased at the prospect of an opportunity to cross sabres with those heroes of Bull Run, and, concluding from their worldwide reputation that nothing short of a desperate fight would ensue, we made preparations accordingly. The squadron was formed in column of platoons, and two detachments, consisting each of a sergeant and eight men, were instructed to advance upon the town from two parallel streets, thus giving our small force the appearance of being only the vanguard of a very large army.
It was my privilege to command one of these detachments; and, on entering the village, we found the foe formed into line of battle on Main street, with the apparent intention of giving us a warm reception. They had been notified of our approach by a sentinel posted in a prominent church-steeple, and were, therefore, ready for us. We immediately drew sabres and bore down upon them with the usual yell; and, strange as it may seem to those who laud the daring of the Southern Black Horse, they advanced to receive us, fired a few shots, unsheathed their bloodless sabres, but wheeled about suddenly and dashed away to the rear at a breakneck pace, without even halting to pay us the compliment of an affectionate farewell. Actually it seemed as though they did not so much as look behind them until fairly out of the range of our best carbines. It was quite evident to us that they agreed perfectly with that most ungallant poet, who sings:
"He who fights and runs away, Will live to fight another day."
The beautiful and aristocratic village was now in our possession. Being informed that the proprietor of the Warrenton House was a conspicuous Rebel, Captain Hasty decided to try his hospitality and sound his commissary department. Accordingly he accosted the chivalrous gentleman, and ordered a dinner for the entire squadron. When all had partaken freely of the good things provided, our Rebel landlord showed signs of uneasiness in his desire to ascertain who would foot the bill. After a while the Captain politely directed him to charge it to Uncle Sam. This ended all controversy on the subject. We left Warrenton in accordance with instructions, at four o'clock, and, well satisfied with our excursion, rejoined the regiment during the following night.
April 18.—The enemy "opened the ball" this morning by shelling the cavalry pickets in the woods near Rappahannock Station. Under this fire we advanced some distance toward the river, and then retired slowly with a view of drawing the Rebels across to our side. But they were too wily to be caught in such a trap, and our attempt failed. A stream is a great barrier, between two contending forces, and no careful leader will place his men with a stream behind them, unless he is quite certain of victory. We had a sad lesson of this in the battle of Ball's Bluff.
On the day following this useless cannonade, each regiment of the corps had dress-parade at six o'clock P. M. Orders from General Stoneman were read by the adjutants of their respective regiments, informing them that the entire cavalry force would move at an early hour next day. A portion of the evening was spent in preparation. However, when in the bivouac, as we have been for some time, it takes but a few moments to prepare for a move. All surplus baggage, which naturally accumulates during winter-quarters, has been disposed of, either by sending it home, or to some quartermaster depot, established for the purpose, as at Alexandria, or by destruction; and each man carries only what little articles he can stow away in his saddle-bags and roll up in his blanket. His inventory might run as follows: A shirt, a pair of socks (and often he has only those he wears), a housewife or needle-book, paper and envelopes, a tin cup, and bag which contains his coffee and sugar mixed together. Some men carry a towel and soap. The great effort is to learn to get along with the very least possible.
At first the soldier thinks he must have this article of luxury and the other, until he finds that they are positive burdens to himself and horse, and gradually he throws off this weight and that incumbrance, until his entire outfit is reduced to nearly "the little end of nothing, whittled to a point!" Possessed of a coffee-bag and cup and a hard-tack or biscuit, the most essential things, he seldom now borrows much trouble about the rest of men and things.
April 20.—We commenced march at four o'clock this morning on the road to Sulphur Springs. Scarcely had we gone out of our bivouacs before a drenching rain-storm set in, and continued incessantly until we were forced to halt, the mud being really oceanic. The day being quite warm, we experienced but little discomfort from the wet until night. The weather then became cold, and every thing being so wet, it was difficult to make fires; consequently we had a very tedious night. A fellow considered himself fortunate, if, after toiling long through the cold and dark, he could succeed to cook a little coffee. But the soldier will have his coffee, if it be possible, and then he is quite contented with his lot.
On the twenty-first, all we could do was to change our position, to get out of the very deep mud, which one night's treading of the horses' feet produced. On the following day in the afternoon the Cavalry Corps moved from Waterloo Bridge to Warrenton Junction. The day was pleasant, though the roads are still in a fearful condition. Our infantry is engaged in repairing the railroad to Rappahannock Station. We are evidently on the eve of some important movements.
Before night, many of the boys were made glad by the reception of a large mail from the North, which is the first we have received since we left our winter-quarters on the thirteenth instant. Nearly every man had a letter, and there was general contentment all around. The mail-bag is always a welcome visitor, especially in times like this, and it is not the least of the instrumentalities which mould our character and give tone to our morale.
April 23.—Another drenching rain set in this morning and continued without cessation throughout the day. We were all drowned out of our little shelter-tents, and many preferred to take the chastisement face to face with the merciless elements. We were a sorry looking company of men, drenched with the rain, bespattered with mud, and chilled with the cold. Our fires, well-nigh quenched by the falling floods, were of very little use to us. Men and horses all suffered together. Thus far the month has been very wet, and this April is certainly entitled to be classed among the Weeping Sisters.
We spent the dreary night hoping for a better morrow. But the twenty-fourth followed the example of its predecessor, and rain poured upon us in torrents.
The yielding clay of this region of country is soon trodden into a soft mud, under so many hoofs, until it seems quite impossible to find a dry spot large enough to lie down upon at night. This makes our bivouacs very dreary and uncomfortable. And yet under these melancholy circumstances we are not totally bereft of pleasant entertainment. The woods and fields in this vicinity abound with quails and rabbits, whose presence has been the cause of some excitement and not a little fun.
Ever and anon a sportive cavalier starts up a nimble rabbit and chases the frightened little creature through the camp, crying at the top of his voice, "stop him! stop him! catch that rabbit," etc. Poor pussy comes flying down the road, pursued by a throng, of men, while the shouts are caught up and repeated along the entire line of escape, men jumping up at every bound of the animal, and joining in the sport. Occasionally the rabbit is so perfectly surrounded as to be compelled at last to surrender, when the trembling prisoner is caught, but carefully treated. At this time of the year they are so very small and lean as to be scarcely eatable, and yet now and then they are shot, as well as quails, to increase our commissary supplies, and the cooks display considerable skill in dressing and preparing them a la Delmonico.
April 27.—Colonel Davies, after quite a lengthy absence from us, rejoined the regiment at ten o'clock A. M. He reported having a narrow escape from guerillas near Elkton, where he was fired at and pursued for some distance, while on his way from Falmouth. Details were ordered out immediately to those infested regions, with instructions to capture every thing in the shape of a bushwhacker. Captain Coon, of the Connecticut squadron, was put in command of the reconnoitring party. We had a rich and delightful ride, but did not succeed in overhauling the offenders.
On the twenty-eighth the first battalion of the Harris Light, commanded by Captain Samuel McIrvin, was ordered to reconnoitre as far as Brentsville. We went via Elkton and Bristersburg, at which places we captured several guerillas, who were not looking for us. The first part of the day was very pleasant, but from eleven o'clock till night we had a continually drizzling rain, which made our march exceedingly disagreeable.
We had but just halted for the night, when an order was received from a messenger, to rejoin the regiment without delay. Through the rain, mud, and darkness we hastened back to Catlett's Station, where we found every thing in motion, preparing for some grand movement.
With the gray light of the morning of the twenty-ninth, after marching most of the night, we reached the banks of the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford. In addition to the Cavalry Corps we found here the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Twelfth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, making preparation to cross the river. The Engineer Corps soon laid the pontoons, and the grand columns effected a passage without material resistance or difficulty.
We are credibly informed that other columns of our army are crossing the river at other points, and that a great battle is imminent. There has been occasional skirmishing, on the front, during the day. The Rebels, however, seem to have been taken wholly by surprise and are not making the demonstrations we had good reason to anticipate; but we shall be greatly disappointed if they do not soon awake, and come to their work.
The going is far from pleasant, though to-day the weather is favorable. The streams are dreadfully swollen and nearly all bridgeless, compelling us to ford them. This process, through the cold, high water, is attended with more or less difficulty and suffering.
Soon after crossing the river the Cavalry Corps broke away from the infantry, in the direction of Stevensburg; and it is rumored among us that a grand raid upon the enemy's communications is contemplated, while the two armies engage in deadly combat, it is thought not far from the river.
April 30.—This afternoon our column reached the Rapidan at Raccoon Ford, and began to cross over. The water being much above the fording mark and very rapid, we had an exciting time. Several horses and men were swept down the stream by the swift current and were drowned; and none of us escaped the unpleasant operation of getting wet.
After reaching the high plateau on the south bank of the river, the entire corps were formed in line of battle, in which hostile position we were ordered to spend the night. For more thorough protection, pickets had been sent out in every direction, and posted with much care. It was a season of considerable anxiety to all, and of great fatigue especially to those of us who had been in the saddle several consecutive days and nights. Standing to horse as we were compelled to do, very little rest could be obtained, though many were so exhausted, that, dropping to the earth, with bridle and halter in hand, they fell asleep, while their comrades wished for the morning, which came at last.
After our frugal breakfast, which consisted mostly of hard-tack and coffee, a thorough inspection of the command was made, and all men reported to have unserviceable or unsafe horses, were sent to the rear. The weather is perfectly charming to-day, although quite too warm, in the midday heat, to be comfortable marching.
May 2.—Early in the morning our column reached the railroad, in the rear of General Lee's army, and, with slight opposition from scattered pickets, the work of destruction began. Culverts and bridges, telegraph lines and posts, disappeared like the smoke of their burning.
KILPATRICK AT LOUISA COURT HOUSE.
While this work was going on, Kilpatrick was ordered to lead the Harris Light into Louisa Court House, which he did in a gallant manner. The inhabitants, taken by surprise, were greatly terrified at our approach and entry into the place, but finding themselves in the hands of men, and not fiends, as they had been wont to regard us, and receiving from us neither disrespect nor insult, soon dispelled their needless fears. We remained in town until two o'clock P. M., tearing railroad track and destroying railroad property, as well as commissary and quartermaster stores found in public buildings.
At the hour above named we were ordered out to support the First Maine Cavalry in a spirited skirmish with Rebel cavalry. In this engagement our Troy company had one sergeant wounded, and one corporal and four men taken prisoners.
By eleven o'clock at night General Stoneman's forces had reached the neighborhood of Thompson's Cross Roads, where the command was broken up into several independent expeditions to scour the country in every direction, and to destroy as completely as possible all the enemy's means of supply. Colonel Percy Wyndham, with the First New Jersey and First Maine, was sent south to Columbia on the James River, to destroy the great canal which feeds Richmond from the west. Lieutenant Colonel Davis, with the Twelfth Illinois, was despatched to the South Anna River, in the neighborhood of Ashland Station, on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad, to destroy the important bridges in that vicinity. General Buford was to march westward and do all the mischief he could. But it was reserved to Kilpatrick to advance upon Richmond, enter the Rebel capital, if possible, and lay waste the public property and communications there.
Sunday, May 3.—We marched steadily after leaving General Stoneman, long into the night, halting only long enough for a little refreshment and rest. At two o'clock this afternoon the command, which consists only of about three hundred men, well mounted, was marched into a pine thicket, where we were ordered to destroy or throw away all our extra clothing and blankets, with every thing which we could possibly spare, to lighten the burdens of our horses. This halt in the shade of the pines was very refreshing both to men and beasts. The sun is very warm and shelter is very agreeable.
Leaving the fragrant shade, we moved on until night. We are now within fifteen miles of Richmond, where vigilance is the price, not only of liberty, but of life. Sergeant Northrup, while on a scout to the front, was fired upon by a guerilla undoubtedly, and wounded. Colonel Kilpatrick and Major Henry E. Davies, Jr., slept on their arms in the road with the men. Very little sleep was had through the night, but what we did get was precious.
At two o'clock on the morning of the fourth we resumed our hazardous journey toward the rebellious city. Had it not been for the intrepidity of our leader, and the utmost confidence of the men in his ability to accomplish whatever he undertook, it would have been impossible to proceed. Fearing as we did the desolation and sorrows of "Libby Prison," ignorant of the forces we might soon encounter, and the ambuscades that might be laid for us, we nevertheless pushed bravely on, because we were bound to follow our chief, be the consequences what they might.
Soon after day-break we came down upon Hungary Station, on the Fredericksburg and Richmond Railroad. Here we destroyed the telegraph lines, tore up the track, and burned the depot. Near the station we ran into the enemy's pickets, the first we have encountered since leaving our main column. Only two of them were discovered, and they fled so rapidly that it was useless for us to try to overtake them with our jaded horses. They kept generally about three hundred yards ahead of us, and as we had orders to fire on no one unless positively necessary, they proceeded unmolested, in the direction of Richmond.
Having arrived within five miles of the city, we advanced more cautiously. There was good reason for this, for our condition was critical. There we were, only a remnant of a regiment, many miles away from any support, with no way to retreat, as we had burned all the bridges and ferries in our rear, nearer to the Confederate capital than ever any Union troops were before, and ignorant of the forces that garrisoned it. Still on we moved, looking only to our leader, who seemed especially inspired for the work assigned him.
We soon arrived in sight of the outer line of fortifications, and moved steadily upon them. To our surprise, we found them unmanned, and we safely passed in towards the second line of defence. We had scarcely entered these consecrated grounds, when General Winder's assistant adjutant-general pompously rode up to the head of our column, and inquired, "What regiment?" Astonishment and blight accompanied the answer of Kilpatrick, who said, "The Second New York Cavalry," adding, "and you, sir, are my prisoner." Ceremonies were short, and Kilpatrick very quickly appropriated Winder's favorite charger, upon which the captured adjutant was mounted when he made his fatal challenge.
We continued still to advance, until the smoke from workshops, and the church steeples were plainly visible, and we began to think that we were about to enter Richmond without opposition. We were now within two miles of the city, and yet we halted not until we had reached the top of a hillock just before us. Here was an interesting scene. There stood a handful of cavalrymen, far within the fortifications of a hostile city, almost knocking at the door of her rebellious heart. On every hand were frowning earthworks, and just ahead of us the coveted prize.
But just at the foot of the hill on which we stood, we discovered a battery of artillery, drawn up in the road, supported by infantry, ready to receive us. It became evident that we had advanced as far as prudence would permit us. We had also reached and secured the road to the Meadow Bridge across the Chickahominy, over which we were expected to escape, and which it was very desirable to destroy. These facts or circumstances decided the direction of our march. We moved leisurely on our way, the cavalry refusing to give us even the semblance of a pursuit.
Having crossed Meadow Bridge, it was set on fire. Following the railroad a little distance, a train of cars was met and captured, much to the astonishment of the bewildered conductor, who was in charge of government stores en route for Richmond. After firing the cars, the engine was set in motion under a full head of steam, and the blazing and crackling freight went rushing on until it reached the burning bridge, when the whole thing well-nigh disappeared in the deep mud and water of the sluggish stream.
No particular line of escape seemed to have been agreed upon. Our main object was to do all the mischief in our power to the Rebel cause. The men were much exhausted for want of rations and rest, but you could not hear a word of complaint from one of them. They were all inspired with the greatness of the deeds which they were required to perform, feeling much as Napoleon's legions must have felt, when he said to them: "The eyes of all Europe are upon you." Sustained by such considerations, and cheered by the voice and still more potent example of their leader, they pressed onward, resolved to do all within their power, and then, if the worst came, they could go to "Libby" or "Belle Isle," with the pleasing consciousness that they had done their duty.
All night we marched with only an occasional and brief rest. On the morning of the fifth we arrived at the Pamunkey River. Here we captured a Rebel train laden with commissary stores, just the prize we coveted. After appropriating a generous supply for the day, the remnant was reduced to ashes. All the serviceable animals captured were added to our cavalcade, and the prisoners paroled and sent on their way rejoicing. The river was crossed on a one-horse platform ferry-boat, whose capacity was only twenty horses and their riders. Considerable precious time was consumed in this tedious operation. When the last man had reached the desired shore, the ferry-boat was destroyed, and the column resumed its line of march.
About four o'clock in the afternoon a cold rain-storm set in, borne on the flapping wings of a chilly wind. Cold, hungry, and fatigued, we still pressed onward, suffering not a little. Fearful of encountering heavy forces of the enemy on the main thoroughfares, we filed along the by-ways and neglected paths, where we were frequently immersed in almost impenetrable bushes dripping with rain.
May 6.—To-day we crossed the Mattapony, at Aylett's, burning the ferry behind us. We then took the road to Tappahannock, a small village on the Rappahannock. We had not proceeded far in this direction before we met and captured another wagon-train, laden with ham and eggs and other luxuries, which had been smuggled across the Rappahannock. This, of course, was thoroughly confiscated, appropriated, and destroyed. A consultation of officers was here instituted, and it was decided to try to reach Gloucester Point, opposite Yorktown, which we knew was in possession of Union forces.
Not far from King and Queen Court House we captured and burned a depot of ordnance and several wagons. We have been much annoyed by bushwhackers on the way to-day. Their plan is to hide in the thick bushes, and fire upon the rear of our column as we pass, in places where it is not possible to pursue them without much loss of time, which is too precious to be wasted thus. Several men and horses have been wounded by these skulkers during the day. As night was settling down upon us, we discovered a body of cavalry in our front, and quickly made preparations to meet them. Kilpatrick deployed skirmishers and advanced in column of squadrons. Our supposed enemies were also prepared for fight, and a spirited conflict was anticipated. Several shots were exchanged, when the contending parties discovered their mutual mistake. Our opponents proved to be the Twelfth Illinois, which, after leaving the main column at Thompson's Cross Roads, had swept down through the enemy's communications about Ashland Station, destroyed several important bridges and some stores, and was now, like ourselves, endeavoring to reach Gloucester Point.
This rencounter was very pleasing. Our column was greatly increased and encouraged. We needed this stimulus exceedingly, for we had been marching all day through a cold drizzling rain, which had dampened our ardor somewhat, and chilled our blood. Many of our horses had given out by the way, and were killed to prevent their falling into the enemy's hands. A few days of rest and care will so recruit such horses that they become again serviceable. Their places were filled by those horses and mules which were brought to us by the contrabands, which all along our journey flocked to our standards, and by such other animals as were captured by our flankers and advance guards. Exhausted as most of us were, no bivouac fires were kindled until we reached our lines of pickets from Gloucester Point, where we were received by our Union comrades in the midst of demonstrations of admiration and joy. Here we had a splendid rest.
May 7.—This morning, after a more sumptuous breakfast than we had had for many days, we crossed the York River to Yorktown, where we encamped. We are now, as it may well be supposed, the "lions of the day." Nothing is too good for us. We have the freedom of the town, and the subject of our raid is the theme of private and public speculation.
In our travels we have captured and paroled over three hundred prisoners, burned five or six railroad bridges, destroyed all the ferries on our route, captured and demolished two wagon-trains, burned five or six depots of stores, destroyed one railroad train, besides stations and telegraph offices, and have torn several miles of track. We have taken over one hundred and fifty horses, some of them the finest in the country.
The following extract from the Yorktown Gazette will more fully explain the importance of our expedition:
"We have heard startling accounts of the prodigies of valor performed by Stuart's Cavalry in Virginia, and the bands of Morgan in the West. That they showed true valor, nice discretion, and great powers of endurance, we will not for a moment question. But the exploits of our cavalry, in the late expedition in the rear of Lee's army, surpasses any thing ever achieved on this continent. Especially are the adventures of the Second New York (Harris Light Cavalry) and the Twelfth Illinois almost incredible. But they bear with them trophies that fully confirm the record of their daring.
"They penetrated within the outer lines of fortification at Richmond, to within less than two miles of the city, and captured prisoners and trophies there. They cut all the communications between that city and Lee's army, travelled two hundred miles, and lost only thirty men. Many of them have changed horses a number of times on the route. Whenever theirs got tired, they laid hold of any thing that came in their way that suited them better. The contrabands flocked to them from every quarter. They would take their masters' teams from the plough and their best horses from the stables. Some of them were almost frantic with delight on the appearance of the Yankees. Over three hundred found their way to this place. Their services are all needed at this present time."
The following report of Brigadier-General King will be read with interest:
YORKTOWN, Virginia, May 7, 1863.
To Major-General Halleck:
Colonel Kilpatrick, with his regiment (the Harris Light Cavalry) and the rest of the Twelfth Illinois, have just arrived at Gloucester Point, opposite this post.
They burned the bridges over the Chickahominy, destroyed three large trains of provisions in the rear of Lee's army, drove in the Rebel pickets to within two miles of Richmond, and have lost only one lieutenant and thirty men, having captured and paroled upwards of three hundred prisoners.
Among the prisoners was an aid of General Winder, who was captured with his escort far within the entrenchments outside of Richmond.
The cavalry have marched nearly two hundred miles since the third of May. They were inside of the fortifications of Richmond on the fourth; burnt all the stores at Aylett's Station, on the Mattapony, on the fifth; destroyed all the ferries over the Pamunkey and Mattapony, and a large depot of commissary stores near and above the Rappahannock, and came here in good condition.
They deserve great credit for what they have done. It is one of the finest feats of the war.
RUFUS KING, Brigadier-General Commanding Post.
Another print contained the following remarks:
Two regiments of Stoneman's Cavalry, the Second New York (Harris Light Cavalry) and the Twelfth Illinois, after accomplishing the duty assigned them of cutting the railroads near Richmond, made their way through the country to this place. The boldness and success of their movements surpass any thing of the kind ever performed in this country.
Various opinions are entertained with regard to General Stoneman's expedition as a whole, some believing it to have been a grand success, and others a conspicuous failure. The former look only at what was actually accomplished, the latter only at what they think might have been done. While all admit that the destruction of property and the severance of communications were a serious blow to the enemy, most persons agree that the General made a mistake in dividing his command. Had he kept his forces together he was amply sufficient to have broken all railroad and telegraphic connection between Lee and Richmond at least for a whole week, and he could have routed any cavalry force which could have been brought against him. As it was, by dividing his strength, he made each party too weak to effect very great damage, and exposed them to great danger of capture.
The following is a summary, in tabular form, as clipped from the New York Herald, of the work accomplished by General Stoneman's expedition:
Bridges destroyed 23 Culverts destroyed 7 Ferries destroyed 5 Railroads broken, places 7 Supply-trains burned 4 Wagons destroyed 122 Horses captured 200 Mules captured 104 Canals broken 3 Canal-boats burned 5 Trains of cars destroyed 8 Storehouses burned 2 Telegraph-stations burned 4 Wires cut, places 5 Depots burned 3 Towns visited 25 Contrabands liberated 400
Besides the destruction of large quantities of pork, bacon, flour, wheat, corn, clothing, and other articles of great value to the Rebel army.
BATTLE OF CHANCELLORSVILLE.
But it must be borne in mind that General Stoneman's grand raid and ride were only the background of a bloody tableau in the wilderness country around Chancellorsville. The last days of April witnessed the stratagem and skill of General Hooker, in his advance upon the enemy's position. A feint of crossing his entire army to the south side of the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg completely deceived the enemy, who at once withdrew his forces from the upper fords of the river. This was Hooker's desire and expectation.
Three corps, commanded respectively by Generals Howard, Slocum, and Meade, had been sent up the river, but marched at a sufficient distance from the hostile southern bank to avoid all observation. Arriving at Kelly's Ford, they began to cross, though it was in the night, and the men were compelled to wade in water up to their armpits. The moon, which shone brightly, assisted them most of the night, but went down before the entire force had crossed, when crossing had to be suspended until morning. Pontoons were brought up and laid, and so the remainder of the infantry and the cavalry corps crossed pleasantly.
The column advanced towards the Rapidan, and Generals Howard and Slocum's commands crossed this stream at Germania Mills, and General Meade's at Ely Ford, below, and then all marched on roads which converge to the Chancellorsville House, a large brick edifice, which was used as a mansion and tavern, situated in a small clearing of a few acres, and which, with its few appendages of outbuildings, constituted the village known by that name. Other forces, including General Pleasonton, with nearly a brigade of cavalry, who guarded the flanks of the advancing columns, had crossed the river, and taken their position near Chancellorsville.
By this wily movement General Lee's position on the Rappahannock had been entirely flanked; and, flushed with incipient success, General Hooker followed his great captains, and in the evening of the thirtieth of April he established his headquarters in the historic brick mansion above described. So completely absorbed was our general with the brilliancy of his advance that, in the moment of exultation, he forgot the dangers of his situation, and issued the following congratulatory order:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Camp near Falmouth, Virginia, April 30, 1863.
It is with heartfelt satisfaction that the commanding general announces to the army that the operations of the last three days have determined that our enemy must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his defences and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him. The operations of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps have been a succession of splendid achievements.
By command of MAJOR-GENERAL HOOKER.
S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General.
It would seem as if the general had overlooked the fact that his army had but eight days' supplies at hand; that a treacherous river flowed between him and his depots; that he was surrounded by a labyrinth of forests, traversed in every direction by narrow roads and paths, all well known to the enemy, but unknown even to most of his guides; and that many of his guns of heaviest calibre, and most needed in a deadly strife, were on the other side the river.
General Lee had undoubtedly been outgeneraled by Hooker in this movement, but he appeared not to have been disconcerted. Leaving the Heights of Fredericksburg with a small force, he advanced towards Chancellorsville.
May 1.—The first collision between the contending forces took place to-day. General Sykes, with a division of regulars, was despatched at nine o'clock in the morning on the Old Pike to Fredericksburg. He was followed by a part of the Second Corps. Sykes had not proceeded far before he encountered Lee advancing, and a sharp contest ensued, with heavy losses on both sides. The Rebels having the best ground, and being superior in numbers, compelled our men to fall back, which they did in tolerable order, bringing away every thing but their dead and badly wounded. But the enemy followed our retreating column, though cautiously, and filled the woods with sharpshooters. They also planted their heavy batteries on hills which partially commanded the clearing around the Chancellorsville House. This gave them great advantage. They were also greatly elated with the success which had crowned the first onset. This was Hooker's first misfortune or mistake. The first blow in such an engagement is quite as important as the last. This first movement ought to have been more powerful, and ought to have given to our men a foretaste of victory. But we had lost prestige and position which undoubtedly weakened us not a little. The night following passed quietly away, except that the leaders were laying their plans for future operations.
About eight o'clock on the morning of the second, it was reported that a heavy column of the enemy was passing rapidly toward our right, whither the Eleventh Corps had been stationed. This movement was hidden by the forests, though the road over which the column passed was not far from our front. A rifled battery was opened upon this moving column, which, though out of sight, was thrown into disorder, at which time General Birney made a charge upon them with such force as to capture and bring away five hundred prisoners. By successive and successful advances, by sunset our men had broken this column and held the road upon which they had been marching to some scene of mischief. But the evil was not cured, as other roads more distant and better screened were followed by the wily foe.
Just before dark Stonewall Jackson, with about twenty-five thousand veterans, fell like a whirlwind upon the Eleventh Corps, which he had flanked so cautiously and yet so rapidly that our German comrades were taken by surprise while preparing their suppers, with arms stacked, and no time to recover. It is not at all wonderful that men surprised under these circumstances should be panic-stricken and flee. Let the censure rest not upon the rout, but upon the carelessness that led to the surprise.
Whole divisions were now overwhelmed by the Rebel hordes, that swept forward amid blazing musketry and battle-shouts which made the wilderness resound; and a frantic stampede commenced which not all the courage and effort of commanding generals, or the intrepidity of some regiments could check, and which threatened to rout the entire army. This unforeseen disaster changed the whole programme of the battle and greatly disheartened our men.
However, the ground was not to be abandoned so ingloriously, and though our lines were broken, and the enemy had gained a great advantage, heroism was yet to manifest its grand spirit, and to achieve undying laurels. The sun had gone down, refusing to look upon this Union defeat and slaughter, but the pale-faced moon gazed with her weird light upon the bloody scene, while the carnage still continued.
With the disaster of the Eleventh Corps General Sickles, who was stationed in the front and centre of our lines and had been preparing to deal a heavy blow upon the enemy, was left in a critical position. His expectation of assistance from General Howard was not only cut off, but he was left with only two divisions and his artillery to meet the shock of the advancing hosts. General Pleasonton, with his small force of cavalry, being under Sickles' command, was ordered to charge the proud columns of the enemy, with the hope of checking them until our batteries could be suitably planted.
Pleasonton, addressing Major Keenan of the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry, said, "You must charge into those woods with your regiment, and hold the Rebels until I can get some of these guns into position. You must do it at whatever cost."
"I will," was the noble response of the true soldier, who, with only about five hundred men, was to encounter columns at least twenty-five thousand strong, led by Stonewall Jackson! The forlorn charge was made, but the martyr-leader, with the majority of his dauntless troopers, soon baptized the earth upon which he fell, with his life blood. But the precious sacrifice was not in vain. The Rebel advance was greatly checked, as when a trembling lamb is thrown into the jaws of a pursuing pack of ravenous wolves.
The two determined generals improved these dear-bought moments in planting their own batteries, and getting in readiness also several guns which had been abandoned by the Eleventh Corps in its flight. All these guns were double-shotted, and all due preparation was made for the expected stroke. It was a moment of trembling suspense. Our heroes waited not long, when the woods just in front of them began to swarm with the advancing legions, who opened a fearful musketry, and charged toward our guns. Darkness was falling; but the field where the batteries were planted was so level that the gunners could do wonderful execution. And this they did. The Rebel charge had just commenced when our guns simultaneously opened with a withering fire, which cut down whole ranks of living flesh like grass. As one line of embattled hosts melted away, another rushed forward in its place to meet the same fate. Three successive and desperate charges were made, one of them to within a few yards of the guns, but each was repulsed with terrible slaughter. In many places the dead were literally in heaps. Our resistance proved successful.
A little later in the night, and right in front of these batteries, fell Stonewall Jackson, mortally wounded by our scathing fire, as was at first supposed, but more likely by the fire of his own infantry, as one of their writers alleges. Speaking of Jackson, he says, "Such was his ardor, at this critical moment, and his anxiety to penetrate the movements of the enemy, doubly screened as they were by the dense forest and gathering darkness, that he rode ahead of his skirmishers, and exposed himself to a close and dangerous fire from the enemy's sharpshooters, posted in the timber.
"So great was the danger which he thus ran, that one of his staff said: 'General, don't you think this is the wrong place for you?' He replied quickly: 'The danger is all over; the enemy is routed. Go back, and tell A. P. Hill to press right on.' Soon after giving this order General Jackson turned, and, accompanied by his staff and escort, rode back at a trot, on his well-known 'Old Sorrel,' toward his own men. Unhappily, in the darkness—it was now nine or ten o'clock at night—the little body of horsemen was mistaken for Federal cavalry charging, and the regiments on the right and left of the road fired a sudden volley into them with the most lamentable results. Captain Boswell, of General Jackson's staff, chief of artillery, was wounded; and two couriers were killed. General Jackson received one ball in his left arm, two inches below the shoulder joint, shattering the bone and severing the chief artery; a second passed through the same arm, between the elbow and wrist, making its exit through the palm of the hand; a third ball entered the palm of his right hand, about the middle, and, passing through, broke two of the bones.
"He fell from his horse, and was caught by Captain Wormly, to whom he said, 'All my wounds are by my own men.'"
The loss of this heroic chieftain, this swift flanker and intrepid leader, was undoubtedly the greatest yet felt by either army in the fall of a single man. Some report that, on hearing of the sad fall of his chief Captain, General Lee exclaimed, "I would rather have lost twenty thousand men!"
Admitting that the Rebels gained in this battle a great victory, its advantages were dearly purchased by the loss of Thomas Jonathan Jackson. About midnight a fierce charge was made by General Sickles' forces, which proved successful, enabling our boys to recover much of the ground formerly occupied by the unfortunate Eleventh Corps, and they brought back with them some abandoned guns and other valuable articles from the debris, which the Rebels had not time or disposition to disturb.
General Hooker then ordered this exposed position to be abandoned, and by daylight our lines were falling back in good order towards Chancellorsville, but were closely pursued by the enemy, who filled the woods. Several determined charges were made upon our retreating columns, which, however, were repelled mostly by the fire of our artillery, which mowed down hundreds as they rushed recklessly almost to the cannon's mouth. But these batteries had been played and worked so incessantly for the last twelve hours, that ammunition began to fail, and General Sickles sent a message to Hooker that assistance must be granted him, or he would be compelled to yield his ground. The officer who brought the despatch, found General Hooker in a senseless state, surrounded by his hopeless attendants, while general confusion had possession of the headquarters. A few minutes previous to this a cannon-ball had struck the wall of the mansion upon which the General was incidentally leaning, the concussion felling him to the floor. For some time he was supposed to be dead, but soon giving signs of returning consciousness, General Couch, who was next in rank, refused to assume command, and hence about one hour of precious time was lost. This was a fatal hour. Had General Hooker been able to receive Sickles' message, and ordered a heavy force to his assistance, it is thought that a great disaster could have been prevented, and probably a victory might have been gained.
But the golden opportunity, which is seldom duplicated in a given crisis or a life-time, was lost; and the enemy, though somewhat disorganized and badly disheartened by our well-managed batteries, had time, during this lull, to recover strength. They then advanced again with such power as to compel our men to retire from Chancellorsville toward the Rappahannock, leaving the brick mansion a mass of ruins, made such by the fire of the enemy.
By noon General Hooker had recovered his consciousness sufficiently to order the movements of his troops. The fighting on his front was now nearly over, but his position was critical. General Sedgwick, who had been directed to cross the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg, with orders to advance thence against all obstacles until he could fall upon General Lee's rear, while the grand army engaged him in front, found it impossible to proceed as rapidly as was expected of him, and was finally repulsed with such slaughter and pursued with such vigor as to be compelled to recross the river, leaving at least five thousand of his men killed, wounded, and captured in the hands of the enemy.
No alternative seemed now left to the Army of the Potomac but to beat a retreat and recross the river. On the evening of the fifth, General Hooker held a council of war with his commanders, at which, however, nothing was decided upon; but in the night he took the responsibility of ordering all his forces to recross the Rappahannock, which they did in good order and without molestation; and thus ended the disastrous battle of Chancellorsville, with a loss of about eighteen thousand men on each side, and our remaining troops returned to bivouac on their old camping-ground on the north bank of the river near Falmouth.
This retrograde movement was undoubtedly considered to be necessary in consequence of the impending storm, which set in about four o'clock of the afternoon of the fifth, and rendered the march and night exceedingly disagreeable. The river was swollen so rapidly as to set adrift several of our pontoons, and the act of recrossing, though orderly, was by no means pleasant. The storm was cold and violent, and the roads soon became so bad as to remind the boys of Burnside's unfortunate advance in January. It is supposed by some that the rain explains satisfactorily the conduct of the enemy, who seemed to make no attempt whatever to follow our returning troops.
While yet the rain was drenching our weary boys, on the sixth, General Hooker issued a congratulatory order to them and the country, in which are to be found the following characteristic passages:
"The Major-General commanding tenders to this army his congratulations on its achievements of the last seven days. If it has not accomplished all that was expected, the reasons are well known to the army. It is sufficient to say they were of a character not to be foreseen nor prevented by human sagacity or resources.
"In withdrawing from the south bank of the Rappahannock before delivering a general battle to our adversaries, the army has given renewed evidence of its confidence in itself and its fidelity to the principles it represents. In fighting at a disadvantage, we would have been recreant to our trust, to ourselves, our cause, and our country. Profoundly loyal, and conscious of its strength, the Army of the Potomac will give or decline battle whenever its interest or honor may demand. It will also be the guardian of its own history and its own honor.