RETREAT OF THE REBELS FROM GETTYSBURG.
1863.—National Rejoicing.—The Enemy Retreating.—Feebly Pursued. —Reconnoissances.—Kilpatrick Gives the Enemy a Fourth of July Entertainment at Monterey Pass.—Storm and Terror.—Immense Train Destroyed, and Hosts of Prisoners Taken.—Pitiable Condition of Stuart's Cavalry.—Battle of Hagerstown.—Captains Penfield and Dahlgren Wounded.—Wonderful Exploits of a Union Scout.—Kilpatrick and Buford at Williamsport.—Cavalry Fight at Boonsboro'.—Stuart Defeated.—Hagerstown Retaken.—Orders to Advance, One Day Too Late. —Kilpatrick Chases the Flying Foe.—Fight at Falling Waters, Last Act in the Drama.—Great Bravery of Union Troops.—Last Vestige of the Invaders Wiped Out.—Bivouac and Rest.
The victory at Gettysburg, though purchased at so dear a price, when announced to the people, produced a deep and widespread joy, which contributed to make the Fourth of July doubly memorable. The gallant behavior of our men furnished a theme for general exultation, and the removal of the threatened disaster foreshadowed in the pompous and successful invasion, made every true American breathe more freely.
But the work of the soldier was not yet done. The feet of the invaders were still upon free soil; and though his ranks had been thinned by desertions, and by unprecedented casualties in battle, and he had been thwarted in all the important minutiae of his plan, he was still formidable, and compelled to fight with desperation, if attacked, to prevent utter destruction.
Some apprehension that the enemy was at least contemplating a speedy retreat was entertained during the night that followed the third bloody day. General Pleasonton, chief of cavalry, urged General Meade to advance in force upon the beaten foe, alleging that they were not only greatly weakened by their losses, but undoubtedly demoralized, in consequence of repulse and probable scarcity of ammunition. To ascertain positively what could be of these probabilities, Pleasonton was directed to make a reconnoissance toward the Rebel rear. Accordingly, several detachments of cavalry were thrust out on different roads, where they rode all night. General Gregg, on our right, went about twenty-two miles on the road to Chambersburg, and returning early on the morning of the fourth, reported that the road was strewn with wounded and stragglers, ambulances and caissons, and general debris, which indicated that the enemy was retreating as rapidly as possible, and was passing through a terrible season of demoralization. The testimony of the mute witnesses of disaster was corroborated by that of the many prisoners which easily fell into Gregg's hands. Other expeditions, returning later in the day, had similar reports to render of what they had seen and heard. And now came the time for energetic cavalry movements. While our infantry was resting, or engaged in burying our own and the Rebel dead within our lines, the cavalry was despatched to do all the damage it could upon the retreating Rebel columns.
KILPATRICK ON THEIR TRAIL.
Kilpatrick, having assembled his immortalized division on the plain at the foot of Round Top, on the morning of the fourth, discoursed to them eloquently for a few moments on the interests of the times. He assured his men that their noble deeds were not passing by unnoticed, nor would be unrequited, and that they were already a part of a grand history. He trusted that their future conduct would be a fair copy of the past. But his pathetic and patriotic accents had scarcely died upon the ear of his brave command, when the shrill bugle-blast brought eager men and grazing horses in line of march. Orders had been received by Kilpatrick to repair as swiftly as possible to the passes in the Catoctin Mountains, to intercept the enemy now known to be flying southward at a rapid rate.
The command had gone but a short distance when rain began to fall in torrents, as is usually the case after great battles, especially when much artillery is used. But through mud, in places to the horses' bodies; through brooks swollen enormously, and through the falling floods, the troopers pressed forward to the accomplishment of their task. About five o'clock P. M. Kilpatrick reached Emmitsburg, where he was joined by portions of General Gregg's command, including the Harris Light, which had been kept mostly in reserve during the conflicts of the past few days. Thus reenforced, this intrepid leader marched directly toward the Monterey Pass, arriving at the foot of this rocky defile in the mountains in the midst of pitchy darkness.
As was anticipated, a heavy Rebel train was then trying to make its escape through the gorge, guarded by Stuart's Cavalry, with light artillery. This artillery was planted in a position to rake the narrow road upon which Kilpatrick was advancing. But the darkness was so intense that the guns could be of little use, except to make the night terribly hideous with their bellowings, the echoes of which reverberated in the mountain gorges in a most frightful manner. To add to the horrors of the scene and position, the rain fell in floods, accompanied with groaning thunders, while lightnings flashed from cloud to cloud over our heads, and cleft the darkness only to leave friend and foe enveloped in greater darkness in the intervals of light. By these flashes, however, we gained a momentary glimpse of each other's position, and as we dashed forward in the gloom, we were further directed by the fire of the artillery and the desultory fire of the cavalry.
Surgeon Moore gives the following account of this affair: "We do not hesitate in saying, and have good reason to know, that had any want of firmness on the part of the leader, or any indecision or vacillation appeared, and a mischance occurred, this splendid command would then and there have been lost.
"But with unflinching and steady purpose, bold bearing, and a mind equal to the emergency, the general rode to the head of the column, reassured his frightened people, and, notwithstanding the intense darkness that hid friend from foe, made such skilful dispositions, and then attacked the hidden foe with such impetuosity that he fled in wild dismay, leaving his guns, a battle-flag, and four hundred prisoners in the victor's hands.
"The pass was gained, and Pennington's and Elder's guns were soon echoing and reechoing through the mountain defiles. The artillery opened thus on the flying columns of the routed foe, who, with wagons, ambulances, caissons, and the debris of a shattered army, were rushing in chaotic confusion down the narrow mountain road, and scattering through the fields and woods on the plains below."
All night long Kilpatrick and his successful followers were gathering the spoils of their evening work. Wagon after wagon was overtaken, captured, and destroyed, while hundreds of prisoners were easily captured. This daring exploit placed Kilpatrick in advance of the Rebel army, giving him a fine opportunity to obstruct their pathway of retreat, and to destroy whatever could be of any use to them. Had he not been cumbered with so many prisoners, it is not in the power of any one to estimate the damage he would have done. In his official report he says: "On this day I captured eighteen hundred and sixty prisoners, including many officers of rank, and destroyed the Rebel General Ewell's immense wagon-train, nine miles long."
It should be stated that these wagons were mostly laden with the ripened and gathered crops of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and with the plunder of private and public stores, including dry goods and groceries of every variety and quality. None who saw it will ever forget the appearance of that mountain road the day following this night's foray.
Stuart, who was ingloriously defeated at Monterey, retired towards Emmitsburg with about fifty prisoners that he had captured during and after the fight. He then moved southward until he struck an unfrequented road which leads over the mountain via Wolfe's Tavern. By this turn he avoided immediate contact with our cavalry. But about five o'clock P. M., as he was about to debouch into the valley, Kilpatrick, who was watching for him as a cat does a mouse, attacked him with artillery and fought him till dark. This fight occurred near Smithburg, whence the prisoners in Kilpatrick's hands were sent to South Mountain, guarded by the Harris Light.
Darkness having put an end to the contest, Kilpatrick marched through Cavetown to Boonsboro', where he bivouacked for the night. Stuart, it was ascertained, marched till about midnight to the small town of Leitersburgh, where he rested his worn and wearied command. His condition was really pitiable. A large number of his men were mounted on shoeless horses, whose leanness showed that they had made many a long march through and from Virginia. Or, as was the case with a large proportion of them, they had fat horses, which were stolen from the fields and stalls of the invaded States, but, being entirely unused to such hard and cruel treatment as they were now receiving, were well-nigh unserviceable. Lameness and demoralization were prominent characteristics among animals and men.
July 6.—This morning, at an early hour, Kilpatrick's crowd of prisoners were turned over into the hands of General French, and then his command marched to Hagerstown, taking possession of the place in advance of Stuart, whose approach about eleven o'clock was met with determined resistance, and, at first, with great success. A heavy battle was fought, in which Kilpatrick's men showed their usual prowess and strength. Had not Rebel infantry come to the aid of his cavalry, Stuart would have suffered a stunning blow. For several hours the contest was wholly between cavalry and light artillery. Charges of great daring and skill were made. One reporter says: "Elder gave them grape and canister, and the Fifth New York sabres, while the First Vermont used their carbines."
In one of those charges, made in the face of a very superior force, Captain James A. Penfield, of the Fifth New York, at the head of his company, had his horse killed under him, and, while struggling to extricate himself from the animal, which lay upon him in part, he was struck a fearful blow of a sabre on the head, which came near severing it in twain. Thus wounded, with blood streaming down upon his long beard and clothes, he was made a prisoner. In a similar charge the gallant Captain Ulric Dahlgren lost a leg, though not his valuable life.
It appeared as though the Rebels were afforded an opportunity to avenge themselves in part for the shameful losses which they had sustained in this very place by the strategic operations of a Union scout, by the name of C. A. Phelps, during the incipient step of the invasion. We will let the scout relate his own story, which is corroborated by a signal-officer, who, from one of the lofty peaks of the mountains, witnessed the exciting denouement. The scout proceeds to say:
"I was very anxious to learn all about General Stuart's force and contemplated movements, and resolved to see the general himself or some of his staff-officers, soon after he entered Hagerstown.
"Accordingly I procured of a Union man a suit of raglings, knocked off one boot-heel to make one leg appear shorter than the other, and put a gimblet, a tow-string, and an old broken jack-knife in my pockets. My jewelry corresponded with my clothes. I adopted the name of George Fry, a harvest-hand of Dr. Farney, from Wolfetown, on the north side of the mountain, and I was a cripple from rheumatism. Having completed arrangements with Dr. Farney, Mr. Landers, and other Union men, that they might be of service to me in case the Rebels should be suspicious of my character, I hobbled away on my perilous journey, and entered the city by leaping the high stone wall which guards it on the north side near the depot. This occurred just as the town-clock struck one.
"It was a clear, starlight night, and the glistening sabres of the sentries could be seen as they walked their lonely beat. Scarcely had I gained the sidewalk leading to the centre of the town when the sentry nearest me cried, 'Halt! who goes there?' 'A friend,' I replied.
"'A friend to North or South?'
"'To the South, of course, and all right.'
"'Advance, then,' was the response. On reaching him, he asked me what could be my business at this hour of the night. I told him I had come in to see our brave boys, who could whip the Yankees so handsomely, as they had done especially at Bull Run and Chancellorsville. We fell at once to the discussion of the war-questions of the day. In the midst of our colloquy up came the officer of the guard on his 'grand rounds,' who, after probing me thoroughly, as he thought, with many questions, finally said, 'Had you not better go with me to see General Stuart?'
"'I should reelly like ter git a sight of the gin'ral,' I quickly replied, 'for I never seen a reel gin'ral in all my life.'
"I was soon in the presence of the general, who received me very cordially. I found him to be a man a little above the medium height, and fine looking. His features are very distinct in outline, his nose long and sharp, his eye keen and restless. His complexion is florid and his manners affable. I told him who I was and where I lived when at home. 'Wolfetown!' exclaimed the general, 'have not the Yankees a large wagon-train there?' I told him they had; and then, turning to one of his staff-officers, he said, 'I must have it; it would be a fine prize.'
"I noted his words and determined, if I possessed any Yankee wit, to make use of it on this occasion.
"'Gin'ral,' said I, 'you all don't think of capterin' them are Yankee wagons, do you?'
"'Why not? I have here five thousand cavalry and sixteen pieces of artillery, and I understand the train is lightly guarded.'
"I saw that he had been properly informed, and I told him they came there last evening with twelve big brass cannon and three regiments of foot-soldiers, and if he was to try to go through the gap of the mountain they would shoot all the cannon off right in the gap, and kill all his horses and men. The general smiled at my naive answer, and said I had a strange idea of war if I thought so many men would be killed at once, and added that I would not be a very brave soldier. I replied that many times I had felt like going into the Confederate army, but my rheumatism kept me out.
"After a while the general concluded not to try the train, and I was heartily glad, for he would have taken at least two hundred wagons easily, as they were guarded by not more than three hundred men.
"He then gave orders to have the main body of his cavalry move towards Green Castle; and I distinctly heard him give orders to the Major to remain in town with fifty men as rearguard, and to send on the army mail, which was expected there about six the next evening. I made up my mind that it would be a small mail he would get, as I proposed to myself to be postmaster for once.
"After seeing the general and his cavalry move out of town, I went directly for my horse, which I had concealed in a safe place some distance from the city, meanwhile surveying the ground to see which way I could best come in to capture the mail, and determined to charge the place on the pike from Boonsboro', and made my arrangements to that effect. I got a Union man, by the name of Thornburgh, to go into the town and notify the Union people that, when the town-clock struck six P. M., I would charge in and capture the Rebel mail, at the risk of losing my own life and every man with me. I had now but eight men, two having been sent to General Stahel with despatches.
"I then returned to Boonsboro', and found my men waiting for me. I told them my intentions, and offered to send back to his regiment any man who feared to go with me. But every one bravely said he would not leave me, nor surrender without my order. I then ordered them to bring out their horses, and we were soon on the road. It was a moment of thrilling interest to us all, as we approached Hagerstown, and lingered to hear the signal-strokes of that monitor in the old church-tower. At the appointed time (we had already entered into the edge of the town), with a wild shout we dashed into the streets, and the Major and his fifty braves fled without firing a shot. We captured sixteen prisoners, twenty-six horses, several small-arms, and a heavy army mail, which contained three important despatches from Jeff. Davis, and two from the Rebel Secretary of War to General Lee. All this substantial booty we safely carried within our own lines, without the loss of a man or a horse.
"Many thanks are due to Dr. C. R. Doran and Mr. Robert Thornburgh, for their kind and timely assistance, and also to Misses Susie Carson and Addie Brenner, who did so much for the comfort of our brave men. I still have in my possession some choice flowers, preserved from a bouquet presented to me by Miss Carson the evening we captured the Rebel mail; and though the flowers have faded, the good deeds done by the giver will ever grow bright through coming time. All honor to the brave Union ladies."
In these same streets, where Captain Briggs with his telescope witnessed the successful charge of the scouting party, raged the battle hotly on the sixth of July. But, as the Rebel infantry was advancing with heavy artillery to the aid of Stuart's cavalry, Kilpatrick was sorely pressed, and, at length, compelled to retire. His ears were now saluted with the sound of artillery in the direction of Williamsport, and a messenger arrived with the intelligence that General John Buford, who had advanced through the South Mountain Pass, was now attempting to destroy Lee's immense supply train, which was packed near Williamsport, and not very heavily guarded.
Kilpatrick desired no better work than to assist his brave comrade, and he at once hastened down the main road, and soon joined Buford in the work of destruction. These combined commands were making fearful havoc in the Rebel commissary and quartermaster stores. Many wagons were burned, and the whole train would have shared the same fate had not the united infantry and cavalry of the enemy come down upon us in overwhelming force. But we were not to be driven away very suddenly nor cheaply. Long and desperately we contended with the accumulating forces, until darkness came on, when we found ourselves completely enveloped by the foe. Nothing but splendid generalship and true bravery on the part of our officers and men saved us from capture and destruction. Some of our number were made prisoners, but our losses were very small considering the amount of depredations we had committed, and the great danger to which we were exposed. As it was, the commands were successfully withdrawn from their hazardous position, and through the darkness of the night we crossed Antietam Creek, and bivouacked in safety on the opposite bank. Several prisoners were captured from the Rebels during the fights of the day. They were mostly from Alabama and Louisiana regiments; and they state that their army is all together, and well on its way to the river. They speak doubtfully of Lee's recrossing the Potomac.
July 7.—Our cavalry is in the vicinity of Boonsboro', and is acting mostly on the defensive. The enemy in force is in our front, and an attack is momentarily expected. At six P. M. "to horse" was sounded throughout our camps; and, after waiting two hours in rain, ready for a move, orders were received to return to our quarters. Rain is now falling in torrents, accompanied with fearful thunderings and lightnings. Unpleasant as it is, we welcome its peltings, hoping that the storm will raise the Potomac above the fording mark, and thus give Meade an opportunity to attack Lee before he has time to recross the river into Virginia. We know that his pontoons at Falling Waters have been totally destroyed by our cavalry and by the high water, and that the only ford available is at Williamsport, and hence we welcome the falling floods. Many of us have to lie down in water, which, however, is not very cold. But the night is very tedious.
July 8.—The sun came out bright and warm this morning, enabling us in a few moments to dry our drenched blankets and garments. The roads, however, abound in mud, and the streams are enormously swollen. Early in the day our pickets were driven in along the Antietam, and the enemy advanced with such force that by noon the plains around Boonsboro' were the scene of a furious cavalry engagement.
CAVALRY BATTLE AT BOONSBORO'.
Dr. Moore, from whose excellent reports we have before quoted, gives the following graphic description of this cavalry duel: "Buford had the right and Kilpatrick the left. The movements of the cavalry lines in this battle were among the finest sights the author remembers ever to have seen. It was here he first saw the young general (Kilpatrick), and little thought that one day the deeds he saw him perform he would transmit to paper and to posterity. Here, all day long, the Rebel and the Union cavalry-chiefs fought, mounted and dismounted, and striving in every manner possible to defeat and rout the other. The din and roar of battle that, from ten A. M. until long after dark, had rolled over the plains and back through the mountains, told to the most anxious generals of them all, Meade and Lee, how desperate was the struggle—Stuart and his men fighting for the safety of the Rebel army, Buford and Kilpatrick for South Mountain's narrow Pass.
"Just as the setting sun sent his last rays over that muddy battle-field, Buford and Kilpatrick were seen rapidly approaching each other from opposite directions. They met; a few hasty words were exchanged, and away dashed Buford far off to the right, and Kilpatrick straight to the centre; and in less than twenty minutes, from right to centre, and from centre to left, the clear notes of the bugles rang out the welcome charging, and with one long, wild shout, those glorious squadrons of Buford and Kilpatrick, from right to left, as far as the eye could see, in one unbroken line, charged upon the foe. The shock was irresistible; the Rebel line was broken—the routed enemy confessed the superiority of our men as they fled from the well-fought field, leaving their dead and dying behind them; and our heroic chiefs led back their victorious squadrons, and, while resting on their laurels, gave their brave, wearied troops a momentary repose."
Thus far our cavalry had done much to obstruct the retreat of the Rebel army, and had inflicted incalculable losses of men and materials. But the pursuit of our main army was not correspondingly vigorous. Two pretty good reasons may be assigned for this seeming incompetency or want of energy. The first reason is found in the fact that scarcely more than a brigade of infantry had been kept in reserve during the great and destructive battle of Gettysburg, while the three days of struggle had well-nigh exhausted our entire strength. Rest was therefore greatly needed, and a general engagement was to be guarded against. It should also be remembered that nearly one fourth of our entire army was hors de combat. The second reason may be found in the heavy rains which fell, "impeding pursuers," as one writer says, "more than pursued, though they need not." But the retreating army has this advantage; it usually chooses its own route, which it can generally cover or hide by means of stratagem, so that it requires time as well as study to effectually pursue. Perhaps a third reason for our tardiness of pursuit should be presented. Does it not appear to be an overruling act of Providence? Had General Meade advanced, as it seems he might have done with the resources at his command, against the demoralized, decimated, and flying army, with its ammunition quite exhausted, and a swollen river, unfordable and bridgeless, between it and safety, Lee could not have escaped annihilation. But the public sentiment of the country, though forming and improving rapidly, was not yet prepared for such a victory. We needed to spend more treasure, spill more blood, sacrifice more precious lives, to lift us up to those heights of public and political virtue, where we could be safely entrusted with so dear a boon. We were not then prepared for peace, that sovereign balm for a nation's woes.
The tardiness with which our movements were made enabled the enemy to reach a good position near Hagerstown, which he began to fortify in such a manner as to cover his crossing. Meantime we understood that successful efforts were made to rebuild the bridge at Falling Waters.
General Meade, in his official report, gives the following account of his pursuit: "The fifth and sixth of July were employed in succoring the wounded and burying the dead. Major-General Sedgwick, commanding the Sixth Corps, having pushed the pursuit of the enemy as far as the Fairfield Pass and the mountains, and reporting that the pass was very strong—one in which a small force of the enemy could hold in check and delay for a considerable time any pursuing force—I determined to follow the enemy by a flank movement, and, accordingly, leaving McIntosh's brigade of cavalry and Neil's brigade of infantry to continue harassing the enemy, I put the army in motion for Middletown, and orders were immediately sent to Major-General French, at Frederick, to reoccupy Harper's Ferry, and send a force to occupy Turner's Pass, in South Mountains. I subsequently ascertained that Major-General French had not only anticipated these orders in part, but had pushed a cavalry force to Williamsport and Falling Waters, where they destroyed the enemy's pontoon bridge, and captured its guard. Buford was at the same time sent to Williamsport and Hagerstown. The duty above assigned to the cavalry was most successfully accomplished, the enemy being greatly harassed, his trains destroyed, and many captures of guns and prisoners made."
July 10.—This morning, at five o'clock, the cavalry advanced from Boonsboro', passed through Keedysville, and crossed the Antietam about ten o'clock. At twelve o'clock we engaged the enemy at Jones' Cross Roads. The Harris Light led the advance, dismounted. The Rebels were driven three consecutive times from as many positions which they had chosen. Their resistance was by no means strong nor determined. Before night Buford moved his command to Sharpsburg, on the extreme left of our lines, and Kilpatrick advanced to a position on the extreme right, in the vicinity of Hagerstown, where he covered the road to Gettysburg. On the eleventh only picket skirmishes occupied the time. But on the twelfth Kilpatrick, supported by a brigade of infantry under the command of Brigadier-General Ames, of Howard's Corps, advanced upon the enemy near Hagerstown, drove them from their works, and then out of the streets of the city, and took permanent possession. This successful movement greatly contracted our lines, and brought our forces into a better position. At the close of this enterprise, as we are informed, General Meade called a council of war, at which was discussed earnestly and long the propriety of attacking the enemy. Notwithstanding the anxiety of the chief commander to advance and reap fully the fruit of Gettysburg, five of his corps commanders, out of eight, argued against the measure, and as Meade did not desire to assume the grave responsibility of a movement against such protests, no move was immediately attempted.
This statement may modify the condemnatory judgments which were formed against General Meade, and may prepare our minds rightly to interpret General A. P. Howe's report of the general pursuit. In narrating its spirit and progress, he says: "On the fourth of July it seemed evident enough that the enemy were retreating. How far they were gone we could not see from the front. We could see but a comparatively small force from the position where I was. On Sunday the Fifth and Sixth Corps moved in pursuit. As we moved, a small rearguard of the enemy retreated. We followed them, with this small rearguard of the enemy before us, up to Fairfield, in a gorge of the mountains. There we again waited for them to go on. There seemed to be no disposition to push this rearguard when we got up to Fairfield. A lieutenant from the enemy came into our lines and gave himself up. He was a Northern Union man, in service in one of the Georgia regiments; and, without being asked, he unhesitatingly told me, when I met him as he was being brought in, that he belonged to the artillery of the rearguard of the enemy, and that they had but two rounds of ammunition with the rearguard. But we waited there without receiving any orders to attack. It was a place where, as I informed General Sedgwick, we could easily attack the enemy with advantage. But no movement was made by us until the enemy went away. Then one brigade of my division, with some cavalry, was sent to follow after them, while the remainder of the Sixth Corps moved to the left. We moved on through Boonsboro', and passed up on the pike-road leading to Hagerstown.
"After passing Boonsboro' it became my turn to lead the Sixth Corps. That day, just before we started, General Sedgwick ordered me to move on and take up the best position I could over a little stream on the Frederick side of Funkstown. As I moved on, it was suggested to me by him to move carefully. 'Don't come into contact with the enemy; we don't want to bring on a general engagement.' It seemed to be the current impression that it was not desired to bring on a general engagement. I moved on until we came near Funkstown. General Buford was along that way with his cavalry. I had passed over the stream referred to, and found a strong position, which I concluded to take, and wait for the Sixth Corps to come up. In the meantime General Buford, who was in front, came back to me, and said, 'I am pretty hardly engaged here; I have used a great deal of my ammunition; it is a strong place in front; it is an excellent position.' It was a little farther out than I was—near Funkstown. He said, 'I have used a great deal of my ammunition, and I ought to go to the right; suppose you move up there, or send up a brigade, or even a part of one, and hold that position.' Said I, 'I will do so at once, if I can just communicate with General Sedgwick; I am ordered to take up a position over here, and hold it, and the intimation conveyed to me was, that they did not want to get into a general engagement; I will send for General Sedgwick, and ask permission to hold that position, and relieve you.' I accordingly sent a staff-officer to General Sedgwick with a request that I might go up at once and assist General Buford, stating that he had a strong position, but his ammunition was giving out. General Buford remained with me until I should get an answer. The answer was, 'No; we do not want to bring on a general engagement.' 'Well,' said I, 'Buford, what can I do?' He said, 'They expect me to go farther to the right; my ammunition is pretty much out. That position is a strong one, and we ought not to let it go.' I sent down again to General Sedgwick, stating the condition of General Buford, and that he would have to leave unless he could get some assistance; that his position was not far in front, and that it seemed to me that we should hold it, and I should like to send some force up to picket it at least. After a time I got a reply that, if General Buford left, I might occupy the position. General Buford was still with me, and I said to him, 'If you go away from there I will have to hold it.' 'That's all right,' said he, 'I will go away.' He did so, and I moved right up. It was a pretty good position when you cover your troops. Soon after relieving Buford, we saw some Rebel infantry advancing. I do not know whether they brought them from Hagerstown, or from some other place. They made three dashes, not in heavy force, upon our line to drive us back. The troops that happened to be there on our line were what we considered, in the Army of the Potomac, unusually good ones. They quietly repulsed the Rebels twice, and the third time they came up they sent them flying into Funkstown.
"Yet there was no permission to move on and follow up the enemy. We remained there some time, until we had orders to move on and take a position a mile or more nearer Hagerstown. As we moved up we saw that the Rebels had some light field-works—hurriedly thrown up, apparently—to cover themselves while they recrossed the river. I think we remained there three days; and the third night, I think, after we got up into that position, it was said the Rebels recrossed the river."
Sunday, July 12.—I had the misfortune to be kicked off my pins last night, just before we were relieved at the front. Approaching my sorrel pony from the rear, in a careless manner, for he could not see me until I got within short range, when he raised his heels very suddenly, and, without ceremony, planted them in my breast, laying me, not in the most gentle manner, flat upon the ground. Medical aid is considered necessary to-day, as I am suffering not a little. But, as the conflict was purely caused by my own folly, I endure my pains with becoming patience.
To-day I found the following despatches in some Northern paper, and I record them to show what contradictory reports will often find their way into the public press concerning men and measures:
"Mountain-House, near Boonsboro', July 9.—There has been no fighting this morning. The fight of yesterday, near Boonsboro', was between Generals Buford and Kilpatrick's cavalry and Rebel infantry, principally on the bushwhacking style. Our troops fell back early in the day, but subsequently reoccupied the ground. Artillery was used on both sides.
"There is no truth in the reported death of General Kilpatrick."
"Boonsboro', July 9, 8 P. M.—There have been no active operations on our front to-day. After the cavalry fight of yesterday the enemy drew in their forces towards Hagerstown, and formed a line on elevated ground from Funkstown on the right to the bend of the river below Williamsport on the left, thus uncovering the Shepherdstown crossing. Scouts and reconnoitring parties report that Lee is entrenching his front and drawing from his train on the Virginia side, and making general preparations for another battle. It is contradicted, to-night, that we have a force on General Lee's line of retreat in Virginia."
July 13.—All has been quiet along our lines to-day. The army, being pretty well rested by this time, is waiting impatiently for the command to advance. Our position is also a good one, though not better than that of the enemy. We have every reason to believe that the Rebel army is still on the north bank of the Potomac. The recent rains have raised the river above the fording mark. However, Lee will undoubtedly fall back into Virginia if he finds a good opportunity. During the latter part of the day General Meade finally decided to assault the position of the invaders. Very much to the delight of the rank and file of the army, orders were promulgated to the effect that a strong and simultaneous advance must be made early on the morning of the fourteenth. Preparations were immediately begun.
Kilpatrick and his cavalry were sent out on picket, and advanced as near the enemy's lines as it was prudent. Not many hours of the night had passed away when Kilpatrick discovered certain movements which indicated that the enemy was leaving his front. Prepared as he was to attack them by the morning light, he was ready to follow up any movement which they might make. Hence, at three o'clock in the morning of the fourteenth, his advance-guard moved forward upon the retiring enemy. While information of this unexpected movement of the enemy was despatched to General Meade, Kilpatrick advanced towards Williamsport with his usual rapidity and power, driving and capturing every thing before him. Informed by citizens that the rearguard of the retreating army had but a few moments before started from the river, he followed closely in their tracks, and struck them at Falling Waters, where, after a brilliant and sharp conflict, he bagged a large number of prisoners. Many a poor fellow never reached the long-looked-for Virginia shore.
General Meade then sent the following despatch to Washington:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, July 14, 3 P. M.
H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief:
My cavalry now occupy Falling Waters, having overtaken and captured a brigade of infantry, fifteen hundred strong, two guns, two caissons, two battle-flags, and a large number of small-arms. The enemy are all across the Potomac.
GEORGE G. MEADE, Major-General.
Later in the day he sent the following:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, July 14, 3.30 P. M.
Major-General Halleck, General-in-Chief:
My cavalry have captured five hundred prisoners, in addition to those previously reported. General Pettigrew, of the Confederate army, was killed this morning in the attack on the enemy's rearguard. His body is in our hands.
G. G. MEADE, Major-General.
These despatches were afterward denied by General Lee in a letter to his authorities, as follows:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, July ——, 1863.
General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General C. S. A.:
GENERAL: I have seen in the Northern papers what purports to be an official despatch from General Meade, stating that he had captured a brigade of infantry, two pieces of artillery, two caissons, and a large number of small-arms, as this army retired to the south bank of the Potomac on the thirteenth and fourteenth instant. This despatch has been copied into the Richmond papers; and, as its official character may cause it to be believed, I desire to state that it is incorrect. The enemy did not capture any organized body of men on that occasion, but only stragglers, and such as were left asleep on the road, exhausted by the fatigue and exposure of one of the most inclement nights I have ever known at this season of the year. It rained without cessation, rendering the road by which, our troops marched toward the bridge at Falling Waters very difficult to pass, and causing so much delay that the last of the troops did not cross the river at the until one A. M. on the morning of the fourteenth.
While the column was thus detained on the road a number of men, worn down with fatigue, laid down in barns and by the roadside, and though officers were sent back to arouse them as the troops moved on, the darkness and rain prevented them from finding all, and many were in this way left behind. Two guns were left on the road; the horses that drew them became exhausted, and the officers went back to procure others. When they returned, the rear of the column had passed the guns so far that it was deemed unsafe to send back for them, and they were thus lost. No arms, cannon, or prisoners were taken by the enemy in battle, but only such as were left behind, as I have described, under the circumstances. The number of stragglers thus lost I am unable to state with accuracy, but it is greatly exaggerated in the despatch referred to.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE, General.
This was evidently an attempt, on the part of the Rebel leader, to disparage our victories and to wipe out of his record, with a sort of legerdemain, the disgraceful and disastrous denouement of his invasion. In the following important statement General Meade confirms his position by incontestable facts, and shows how the matter stood:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Aug. ——, 1863.
Major-General Halleck, General-in-Chief:
My attention has been called to what purports to be an official despatch of General R. E. Lee, commanding the Rebel army, to General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General, denying the accuracy of my telegram to you, of July fourteenth, announcing the result of the cavalry affair at Falling Waters.
I have delayed taking any notice of Lee's report until the return of Brigadier-General Kilpatrick, absent on leave, who commanded the cavalry on the occasion referred to, and on whose report from the field my telegram was based. I now enclose the official report of Brigadier-General Kilpatrick, made after his attention had been called to Lee's report. You will see that he reiterates and confirms all that my despatch averred, and proves most conclusively that General Lee has been deceived by his subordinates, or he would never, in the face of the facts now alleged, have made the assertion his report claims.
It appears that I was in error in stating that the body of General Pettigrew was left in our hands, although I did not communicate that fact until an officer from the field reported to me he had seen the body. It is now ascertained, from the Richmond papers, that General Pettigrew, though mortally wounded in the affair, was taken to Winchester, where he subsequently died. The three battle-flags captured on this occasion, and sent to Washington, belonged to the Fortieth, Forty-seventh, and Fifty-fifth Virginia regiments of infantry.
General Lee will surely acknowledge these were not left in the hands of stragglers asleep in barns.
GEORGE G. MEADE, Major-General Commanding.
Kilpatrick, in his letter of explanation, referred to in the above despatch, gives the following graphic account of this last scene in the great drama of the invasion:
HEADQUARTERS THIRD DIVISION CAVALRY CORPS, Warrenton Junction, Va., Aug. ——.
To Colonel A. J. Alexander, Chief of Staff of Cavalry Corps:
COLONEL: In compliance with a letter just received from the headquarters of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, directing me to give the facts connected with the fight at Falling Waters, I have the honor to state that, at three A. M. of the fourteenth ultimo, I learned that the enemy's pickets were retiring in my front. Having been previously ordered to attack at seven A. M., I was ready to move at once.
At daylight I had reached the crest of hills occupied by the enemy an hour before, and, a few minutes before six, General Custer drove the rearguard of the enemy into the river at Williamsport. Learning from citizens that a portion of the enemy had retreated in the direction of Falling Waters, I at once moved rapidly for that point, and came up with this rearguard of the enemy at seven-thirty A. M., at a point two miles distant from Falling Waters. We pressed on, driving them before us, capturing many prisoners and one gun. When within a mile and a half of Falling Waters, the enemy was found in large force, drawn up in line of battle on the crest of a hill, commanding the road on which I was advancing. His left was protected by earthworks, and his right extended to the woods on our left.
The enemy was, when first seen, in two lines of battle, with arms stacked within less than one thousand yards of the large force. A second piece of artillery, with its support, consisting of infantry, was captured while attempting to get into position. The gun was taken to the rear. A portion of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry, seeing only that portion of the enemy behind the earthworks, charged. This charge was led by Major Webber, and was the most gallant ever made. At a trot he passed up the hill, received the fire from the whole line, and the next moment rode through and over the earthworks, and passed to the right, sabring the Rebels along the entire line, and returned with a loss of thirty killed, wounded, and missing, including the gallant Major Webber, killed.
I directed General Custer to send forward one regiment as skirmishers. They were repulsed before support could be sent them, and driven back, closely followed by the Rebels, until checked by the First Michigan and a squadron of the Eighth New York. The Second brigade having come up, it was quickly thrown into position, and, after a fight of two hours and thirty minutes, routed the enemy at all points and drove him toward the river.
When within a short distance of the bridge, General Buford's command came up and took the advance. We lost twenty-nine killed, thirty-six wounded, and forty missing. We found upon the field one hundred and twenty-five dead Rebels, and brought away upward of fifty wounded. A large number of the enemy's wounded were left upon the field in charge of their own surgeons. We captured two guns, three battle-flags, and upward of fifteen hundred prisoners.
To General Custer and his brigade, Lieutenant Pennington and his battery, and one squadron of the Eighth New York Cavalry, of General Buford's command, all praise is due.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. KILPATRICK, Brigadier-General.
In his official report of operations from the twenty-eighth of June, when he assumed command of the Third division, Kilpatrick says: "In this campaign my command has captured forty-five hundred prisoners, nine guns, and eleven battle-flags." Never before, in the history of warfare, has it been permitted to any man commanding a division to include, in a report of about forty-five days' operations, such magnificent results.
As the last foot of the invaders disappeared from the soil where they had never been successful, our gallant boys built their bivouac fires and rested themselves and their weary animals near the scene of their recent victory.
The telegraph lines, which had so often been burdened with news of disaster, now sang with joyful intelligence from all departments of our vast armies. Gettysburg was soon followed by Vicksburg, then Port Hudson, the names being emblazoned upon many a glowing transparency, to the honor of the heroes who had planned, and the braves who had fought, so successfully and well. The news was welcomed with salutes of artillery and bonfires in most of the Northern cities and villages, while the whole mass of our people was jubilant and rejoicing.
On the fifteenth the President issued a proclamation of Thanksgiving, in which he recognized the hand of God in our victories, and called upon the people to "render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things He has done in the nation's behalf, and to invoke the influence of His Holy Spirit to subdue the anger which has produced, and so long sustained, a needless and cruel rebellion." In the midst of these rejoicings we end our chapter.
KILPATRICK'S GUNBOAT EXPEDITION.
1863.—Escape of Lee into Virginia.—Reasons.—Cavalry Advance into the Valley via Harper's Ferry, and Fight.—Riot in New York and other Northern Cities.—Again Across the Potomac on "Sacred Soil." —Blackberries and Discipline.—Mails.—Battle of Manassas Gap.— Mosby Again, and His Bands.—Author's Birthday.—Kilpatrick's Gunboat Expedition on the Rappahannock.—Cavalry Captures Navy.—Complimented by Superiors.—General Advance of the Army.—Third Cavalry Battle at Brandy Station.—Stuart's Cavalry Worsted at Culpepper Court House. —Sharp Artillery Practice at Raccoon Ford, on the Rapidan.—Special Duties and Special Dangers.—Good Living Along the Hazel and Robertson Rivers.—Important Reconnoissance and Raid.—Hard Fighting and Narrow Escape.—Needed Rest Received.—The Paymaster.—Rebel Plan of Attack Foiled by a Citizen Informer.—Suspicious Activity on Our Front.
This sudden and masterly movement of the Rebels was a cutting surprise to General Meade, and a source of mortification and chagrin to all. Gloriously successful as we had been, it was evident that hesitation and indecision had greatly detracted from our laurels. We had won a world-renowned victory, but we had failed to reap all the legitimate fruits which our situation placed within our reach.
General Lee had been terribly punished, but his escape was quite marvellous. One writer says: "When his shattered columns commenced their retreat from Gettysburg, few of his officers can have imagined that they would ever reach Virginia with their artillery and most of their trains." And though their trains were severely handled and greatly injured, yet the old Rebel army of Northern Virginia, with nearly all its artillery, made its exit from soil too sacred to freedom for a Rebel victory. Their losses, however, had been immense, and they were only too glad to escape in a manner very unlike the audacious way in which they had advanced but a few weeks previous into the Northern States.
It now became the policy of our leader to follow the fugitives as closely as the changed circumstances of affairs would permit, and to give the Rebels no rest, while he endeavored to press them determinedly, and watched them by means of scouts and signal-stations with a jealous eye. "There is, however, a limit to the endurance which men and horses are capable of, and, beyond this, the overtaxed powers give way, and exhausted nature claims her rights. Few there are, except those who have had experience, who know how much privation the brave soldier and his general suffer in the toils of the field, on the rapid march, the hasty bivouac, the broken slumbers, the wakeful watchings, and the scanty fare." It must be remembered, also, that our army had made many forced marches, describing in its route a line somewhat resembling the circumference of a great circle, as a careful survey of the map of movements will show; while the route of the enemy, who had several days the start of us, was more like the diameter of that circle. Our cavalry had not only fought and defeated the Rebel cavalry on many sanguinary fields, but it had met the serried lines of their infantry also, as at Gettysburg, where the brave Farnsworth fell. Owing to this fatigue of our forces, our pursuit of the enemy was not as vigorous, it would seem in a cursory glance, as it should have been.
As soon as it was ascertained that the Rebel army was in full retreat, a force of our cavalry was sent across the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, bivouacking, the night of the fourteenth of July, on Bolivar Heights. Early the next morning we advanced on the Winchester Turnpike as far as Halltown, where we deflected to the right on the road to Shepherdstown. We had not proceeded far before we encountered the enemy's cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee, with which we were soon involved in a spirited contest. At first our troopers were worsted and driven back a short distance. But, having found a good position, we rallied, and repulsed several desperate charges, inflicting heavy losses, until the Rebels were glad to give up the game, and consequently retired. Colonel Drake (First Virginia) and Colonel Gregg were among the Rebel slain, while on our side the highest officer killed was Captain Fisher, of the Sixteenth Pennsylvania. The fighting was done principally on foot.
While these things were transpiring, Kilpatrick moved his division from Falling Waters to Boonsboro' by way of Williamsport and Hagerstown. Sad evidences of the recent battles and marches, in dead animals and general debris, were seen all along the way. Having reached our bivouac near Boonsboro', our men and horses came to their rations and rest with a wonderful relish.
During the day we have been reading of the murderous riots made in Northern cities, especially in New York, where men in mobs have ostensibly leagued against the authority of the Government. The bloody accounts are stirring the rank and file of our army terribly. A feeling of intense indignation exists against traitorous demagogues, who are undoubtedly at the bottom of all this anarchy. Detachments from many of the old regiments are now being sent North to look after Northern traitors. This depletion of our ranks we cannot well afford, for every available man is needed in the field. Many of our regiments are much reduced. The Harris Light now musters but one hundred men fit for duty, scarcely one tenth the number with which we entered upon the campaign. Our horses are also much used up. Hundreds of them have been killed and wounded in battle, and not a few have "played out," so that they are utterly unserviceable. The author of these records has worn out completely two horses since he had a second horse shot under him in the cavalry fight near Upperville.
July 16.—"Boots and Saddles" sounded at four o'clock, and before daylight we were on our way toward Harper's Ferry. We revisited Rhorersville, crossed Crampton's Gap, and at last reached the Potomac at Berlin, where the division was separated, a portion of it moving to Harper's Ferry, where they bivouacked at night in the yard of the destroyed United States arsenal. Pontoons at Harper's Ferry and Berlin were used for crossing the army into Virginia. The crossing was being effected as rapidly as possible, yet for so vast an army it is always slow and tedious.
Our troops are daily crossing and advancing, but all is otherwise quiet. We are now receiving an issue of clothing, which we greatly need. Our ranks are putting on a new-revived appearance. The first sergeants of the Harris Light have received orders to finish their pay-rolls. General Lee is reported to be falling back to the Rappahannock.
Sunday, July 19.—Our cavalry left Harper's Ferry at two o'clock P. M., crossed the river on pontoons at Sandy Hook, and advanced into Virginia. Monthly returns for June were made before our march commenced. The weather is very warm and sultry. On the twentieth we resumed our march at ten A. M., and advanced to Leesburg, where we fed our horses and rested. In the decline of the day we marched to Goose Creek, on whose grassy banks we bivouacked for the night.
The whole cavalry force is moving towards the Rappahannock. On the twenty-first we advanced via Gum Spring and Centreville to Manassas Junction. The boys have had some gay times to-day after blackberries, which we found in great abundance all along our line of march. General Gregg was compelled to dismount several men in the forenoon, and ordered them to march on foot, for the offence of leaving the ranks for berries, without permission. A command would soon be totally demoralized, if such tendencies to unsoldierly conduct were not checked. And though at times discipline seems severe, yet, especially with us, it is absolutely necessary.
July 22.—To-day we marched to the vicinity of Gainesville. We fell in with Scott's Nine Hundred as we were marching across the old field of Bull Run, among whom we found several old acquaintances. We spent a few very interesting moments together.
July 23.—Our command was cheered to-day by the arrival of a large mail, which brought a message to nearly every man. During active campaigning, as in the invasion of Pennsylvania and Maryland, it is difficult to keep up postal connections with the civil world, and, with the very best efforts which can be made, our mails are greatly delayed, sometimes even for weeks together. But when they do come, they are hailed with a delight which is almost frantic. The post-boys are cheered as far as they can be seen, as they wend their way from camp to camp, with their horses loaded down with the enormously swollen mail-bags. Several bushels of letters are sometimes brought by one carrier, as was the case to-day.
FIGHTING AT MANASSAS GAP.
During the day we have heard very heavy cannonading in the direction of White Plains. It appears that General Meade, misled by the information brought by some of his scouts, expected to engage the Rebel army in Manassas Gap, or west of that, where General Buford found the enemy in force. Our army was accordingly concentrated upon this point. The Third Corps, under General French, which occupied Ashby's Gap, was sent forward rapidly to Buford's support, where its First Division, commanded by General Hobart Ward, pushed through the Gap, driving the enemy before it, but with mutual loss. Here the New York Excelsior Brigade, General F. B. Spinola commanding, greatly distinguished itself, by making three heroic charges up the frowning steeps, where the Rebels were strongly posted. Their general was twice wounded. But the effort was a success.
On the morning of the twenty-fourth our soldiers pushed forward as far as Front Royal, but found no enemy. They then learned that they had been fighting only a portion of Lee's rearguard, which in the night had slipped away in the trail of their main army southward. By this move General Meade's army lost about two days' march; and when again we reached the bank of the Rappahannock, the old foe was facing us in threatening attitude from the opposite shore.
This afternoon the Harris Light was sent on a scout to Thoroughfare Gap. From the heights beyond the Gap we saw the wagon-train of the Eleventh Corps moving toward Warrenton. This was a portion of the force which had expected a fight at Manassas Gap.
July 25.—Our cavalry force reached the vicinity of Warrenton Junction, when we went into bivouac. The second squadron of our regiment, under Captain O. J. Downing, moved to Thoroughfare Gap and returned to Gainesville, where it joined the regiment, and then marched with us to the Junction via Bristoe and Catlett's. Before night we were sent out on picket in the vicinity of Catlett's Station, where we relieved the First Virginia Cavalry. We continued on picket through the twenty-sixth, but all was quiet along the lines.
An inspection of horses was made this morning, when a large number were condemned as utterly unserviceable; and they were started off toward Washington, to be exchanged for better ones.
July 27.—I have the responsibility and honor of being in command of a company. This afternoon a detachment of our forces was sent out on a sort of bushwhacking expedition. A portion of Company F was captured by the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, while patrolling the road near Bristersburg.
We are not doing much these days, except picketing, scouting, recruiting, resting. On the twenty-ninth our entire brigade was marched to within three miles of Warrenton, and then countermarched to the old camp; and on the last day of the month we advanced to Warrenton in heavy force, where General Meade has had his headquarters for several days.
August 1.—To-day General Meade moved his headquarters to Rappahannock Station. The heat is excessive. Two men of the Harris Light were sunstruck during the day. We left Warrenton at seven o'clock A. M., and moved very slowly. At night we bivouacked not far from New Baltimore. On the following day we were sent out on picket, which here is neither difficult nor dangerous.
Our Colonel, Otto Harhaus, is ill, and is awaiting his documents for a leave of absence from the regiment.
August 3.—The colonel received his papers to-day, and started forthwith for New York. Captain L. H. Southard, the senior officer, is in command. The regiment was sent to Thoroughfare Gap, where we encamped in an apple-orchard.
Our infantry lines now extend down the Rappahannock as far as Fredericksburg, which we hold. The cavalry is picketing and patrolling all this territory. However, as there are so many regiments to engage in this work, the duty is comparatively light. "Many hands make light work."
Sunday, August 9.—We still continue near Thoroughfare Gap. Occasionally, as our turn comes, we picket along the Manassas Gap Railroad. Major E. F. Cooke, who has been absent for some time, returned to us to-day and took command. My old company, E, shows the following report: Present, thirty-two; fit for duty, twenty-two.
On Monday the regiment left camp at nine A. M., and, separating into several detachments, moved upon White Plains and Middleburg from different directions. These places have been occupied for some time past by Mosby's guerilla bands. We did not succeed, however, in bringing them into an engagement, as they were sharply on the lookout, and studiously kept beyond the reach of our carbines. Occasionally our pickets are attacked by them, and some lively times are experienced.
August 13.—I was detailed by the adjutant this morning to act as sergeant-major in place of Sergeant Temple, who is assigned to the command of a company. Very few commissioned officers are with the regiment at present. This leaves the command of several companies to enlisted men. Some of our officers are out on detached service, while not a few, during the lull of army operations, have asked and received leaves of absence, and are visiting their friends in the North. It might indeed be said that we are all rusticating; and, were it not for the guerilla bands that infest the country, attacking our outposts, and frequently disturbing our lines of communication with our bases of supply as well as the outer world, our condition would be one of pleasing rest.
On the fourteenth a little excitement was afforded us, to relieve us from the monotonous life which we are spending. A detachment of the regiment, commanded by Captain Griggs, made a bold dash upon an ill-starred portion of Mosby's band, near Aldie, where we captured three men and twenty horses and equipments, most of which had formerly belonged to our service, having been taken by these wily guerillas. Nearly every horse had the familiar "U. S." upon his shoulder; and the saddles, with very few exceptions, were of Northern manufacture.
August 15.—The Harris Light moved from Thoroughfare Gap at ten A. M. We reached Hartwood Church at eight in the evening, via New Baltimore and Greenwich. A considerable halt was made at Warrenton Junction, where we drew rations and forage.
Henry E. Davies, Jr., just promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment, joined us at the Junction, and took command. He is immensely popular with the men, especially with those who admire bravery and heroism, and who covet to be thoroughly drilled and disciplined.
August 17.—We continue at Hartwood Church, with our camp located very near General Kilpatrick's headquarters. During the day Colonel Davies appointed me second lieutenant, and assigned me to the command of Company M, as both the captain and first lieutenant of the company are absent on detached service.
Late in the evening I received orders to report, with my company, at an early hour next day, to Captain Meade, division quartermaster. At five o'clock on the morning of the eighteenth we made our bow to the captain, who despatched us as an escort or guard to a train from Hartwood to Warrenton Junction.
During the march we made an exciting dash upon a band of guerillas, who were watching for us, expecting to make some captures. But they were disappointed, for we were not only prepared to resist them, but would have captured them but for the superior fleetness of their horses. After accomplishing the work we were sent out to do, and resting one night, we returned to the regiment.
August 22.—This is my natal day. I find myself twenty-two years of age. I am not surrounded on this anniversary, as in former years, by the friends of my childhood. But memories of the past come trooping up in such vivid lines, as to make the day one of deep interest.
August 28.—My company, which forms a part of Captain Mitchell's battalion, is doing picket-duty at present with the battalion on the Rappahannock between Banks and United States Fords. My company is at the captain's headquarters, and acts as grand guard.
Sunday, August 30.—To-day I accompanied the division and brigade officers of the day in their visit to and inspection of the pickets along the Rappahannock. Our ride was very pleasant. Captain Barker, of the Fifth New York Cavalry, dined with Captain Mitchell and myself. He is a lively companion; was in the hands of Mosby last Spring; and has a fund of amusing and interesting incidents of army-life with which to enliven his conversation.
On the last day of August, Captain Mitchell was ordered to report to the regiment at Hartwood Church, with his reserves. The pickets are to remain on the river until attacked by the enemy or recalled by orders from division headquarters.
CAVALRY GUNBOAT EXPEDITION.
September 4.—To break the monotony of picketing and to subserve the cause of freedom, a most novel scheme was lately undertaken, known as Kilpatrick's Gunboat Expedition. The object was to destroy a portion of the Rebel navy anchored in the Rappahannock, near Port Conway, opposite Port Royal. This peculiar kind of warfare, which required genius and dash, was waged by the troopers with complete success, and they returned to their bivouac fires to enliven the weary hours with stories of their long march down the river, and their destructive charge upon the gunboats of the enemy. The expedition set out about two o'clock on the morning of September first.
Doctor Lucius P. Woods, Surgeon-in-Chief of the First Brigade, Third Division, gives the following interesting description of the above raid in a letter to Mrs. Woods:
"I returned yesterday after a three days' expedition after gunboats! We all laughed at the order sending cavalry after such craft, but I am happy to say that the object of the expedition was accomplished. We left camp at two o'clock A. M., marched all day and all the following night, till three o'clock next morning, when we made a furious charge upon Rebel infantry. They ran so fast as to disarrange the general's plan of attack. The morning was so dark that we could not see one rod in advance.
"We captured twelve or fifteen prisoners, and General Kilpatrick gave orders in their hearing to have the whole command fall back, stating that the gunboats would be alarmed and the expedition be a failure. The general took particular pains to allow half the prisoners to escape and to get across the Rappahannock. After falling back two miles, we were countermarched toward the river, near which we were formed in line of battle. We sat there on our horses waiting for daylight. Then the flying artillery of ten guns, supported by the old Fifth New York and First Michigan, dashed at a full run down to the river-bank, wheeled into position, and gave the Rebels a small cargo of hissing cast-iron, which waked them up more effectually than their ordinary morning-call. They soon came to their senses, and for half an hour sent over to us what I should think to be, by the noise they made, tea-kettles, cooking-stoves, large cast-iron hats, etc. But our smaller and more active guns soon silenced theirs, and drove the gunners away, when we turned our attention to the boring of holes in their boats with conical pieces of iron, vulgarly called solid shot. I am sure I can recommend them as first-class augers, for they sank the boats in time for all hands to sit down to breakfast at half-past nine o'clock. The repast consisted of muddy water, rusty salt-pork, and half a hard cracker, termed by us "an iron-clad breakfast." We were absent from camp three days, and had only nine hours' sleep."
Further interesting particulars were given in a New York daily, as follows:
"The expedition under General Kilpatrick, sent out a few days since to recapture, in conjunction with the navy, the gunboats Satellite and Reliance, which recently fell into the hands of the Rebels, was, so far as the cavalry is concerned, successful.
"On Tuesday evening General Kilpatrick arrived on this side the river, at Port Conway, and brilliantly dashed upon the enemy's pickets under Colonel Low. The Rebels did not even make a show of resistance, but rushed into a number of flat-boats in the wildest confusion, and landed safely on the opposite bank. If they had made a show of fight, they would have most likely been captured.
"After the escape of the enemy, General Kilpatrick waited two hours for the cooeperation of the navy, which is understood to have been agreed upon. The vessels did not arrive, and General Kilpatrick ordered a battery to open fire upon the gunboats Reliance and Satellite. This was done at the distance of six hundred and fifty yards. The enemy immediately abandoned the gunboats—very fortunately for themselves, for only a few moments elapsed before the Satellite was in a sinking condition, and the Reliance rendered useless. Both boats were completely riddled by shot and shell. The force under Kilpatrick consisted of cavalry and two batteries of artillery. The Satellite is sunk, and the Reliance so completely disabled as to be beyond hope of being repaired by the Rebels."
On our return from Port Conway we passed through Falmouth, where we halted a short time. It was pleasant to survey the scenes of former labors and conflicts. Much alarm appears to have been created among the Rebels by our gunboat disturbance. A large force of Rebel cavalry can be distinctly seen approaching Fredericksburg on the Telegraph Road, and more or less commotion prevails across the river. From Falmouth we marched directly to Hartwood Church. On arriving here, Captain Mitchell's battalion was ordered back to its old position on picket, to relieve the infantry which took our places before the expedition to Port Conway.
September 5.—We continue on picket near United States Ford. This morning the regiment was mustered in for pay by Major McIrvin, who is temporarily in command, Colonel Davies having been placed in command of a brigade.
At ten o'clock A. M. I received my commission of second lieutenant. It was brought from the headquarters of the regiment by the bugler of Company H. It dates back to the cavalry fight at Aldie, which occurred on the seventeenth of June.
On this line of pickets we have continued uninterruptedly for a week. On the seventh, Colonel Davies, with his assistant adjutant-general, visited our post. It was very gratifying to Captain Mitchell and myself to receive the colonel's compliments for promptness and vigilance in our work, especially as he has the reputation of never bestowing praise where it is not deserved.
I rode down to Lieutenant Temple's picket-reserve, at Richard's Ferry, on the eighth. I found the lieutenant in excellent humor, but decidedly opposed to picketing as a permanent occupation. We were, however, consoled with the hope of relief ere long.
In the afternoon the brigade officer of the day called at the bivouac of the "grand guard," and expressed himself as being highly pleased with the disposition and management of the pickets. The enemy's pickets confront ours at all the fords of the river, and appear in heavy force.
For some time past we have understood that General Lee's headquarters are at Orange Court House, while his infantry occupies the south banks and bluffs of the Rapidan. Stuart occupies Culpepper Court House, and pickets and patrols the territory between the Rapidan and the Rappahannock, a region shaped much like an old-fashioned harrow.
September 13.—An advance of the Union army was ordered yesterday by its Chief, in which the cavalry was to take a prominent part. Orders were issued accordingly last evening, and every needed preparation made for our work. At an early hour this morning the entire cavalry corps was on the march. In order that the enemy might not be prematurely warned of our design, the several commands were ordered to make as little noise as possible. Consequently the bugle-calls were dispensed with, and commanders made use of their voices, and in some instances the orders were conveyed from rank to rank in a whisper. The three great divisions of the corps were to cross the river as follows: Gregg's, at Sulphur Springs; Buford's, at Rappahannock Bridge; and Kilpatrick's, at Kelly's Ford.
BRANDY STATION NO. 3.
At six o'clock the Harris Light plunged into the river at Kelly's Ford, leading the advance. A strong detachment of Stuart's cavalry, consisting of pickets and reserves, opposed our crossing with dogged pertinacity, but finally, yielding to our superior numbers and to the deadly accuracy of our carbines, gave way. He then advanced in the direction of Brandy Station. The farther we advanced the stronger grew the ever-accumulating force of the enemy, who disputed every inch of ground with great stubbornness. On arriving near the Station we found the enemy in strong force, with artillery posted on the surrounding hills. We saw clearly that a third cavalry fight was destined to be fought on this historic field, and we began to make preparations for the onset. It was my fortune to lead the advance company in the first charge. Three men and four horses were killed and wounded in this company by the first discharge of the enemy's artillery, whose fire was terribly accurate.
But we had not been fighting long before the other divisions joined us. At their approach great enthusiasm among our boys prevailed. Before our combined force the enemy was swept from those plains like chaff before the whirlwind. They fled in the direction of Culpepper, a naturally strong and now fortified position, where we knew we must soon encounter the Rebel chivalry en masse upon their chosen field.
FIGHT AT CULPEPPER COURT HOUSE.
From Brandy Station General Pleasonton directed Kilpatrick to make a detour via Stevensburg, in order to operate as a flanking column upon the enemy at the proper time. With the First and Second divisions Pleasonton pushed straight on to Culpepper, driving the enemy before him without much resistance until within about a mile of the town. Here our advance was effectually checked. A fearful duel now took place with varying fortunes. For some time the enemy baffled all our efforts to dislodge him from his strong position, and our men began to look wishfully for the flankers, when lo! Kilpatrick's flags were seen advancing from the direction of Stevensburg, and his artillery was soon thundering in the enemy's flank and rear. Under this unexpected and well-directed fire, that portion of the enemy which had kept our main column at bay fell back in confusion into the town; and, before they had time to re-form their broken lines, the Harris Light, Fifth New York, First Vermont, and First Michigan, led by General Custer, dashed upon the "Johnnies" in the streets, throwing the boast of the chivalry into a perfect rout. Many prisoners were captured, more or less material of war, and three Blakely guns. The Rebels retreated hastily in the direction of Pony Mountain and Rapidan Bridge, whither they were closely pursued by our victorious squadrons. The day following this brilliant advance Pleasonton occupied all the fords of the Rapidan, extending his pickets on our right as far forward as the Robertson and Hazel Rivers.
The way having been thus prepared by his heroic avant-couriers, General Meade advanced the Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock, and took his temporary residence in Culpepper.
September 15.—Kilpatrick's division advanced from Culpepper to Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan. Colonel Davies' brigade supported a battery of artillery a short distance from the ford from one till four P. M. The shelling from the enemy's batteries was terrific. Their position was admirable on the high bluff south of the ford, and the range was just right for execution. Their artillery was of a heavy calibre, and supported by infantry. They were finely screened by earthworks, while our forces were almost entirely exposed, and protected only here and there by a little knoll. In the unequal duel which took place, two of our guns were dismounted and disabled, while several artillerymen and horses were killed. It was not at all pacticable for us to attempt a crossing.
Before night we retired from the ford, and the divisions took up their headquarters, Gregg's, at Rappahannock Bridge; Buford's, at Stevensburg; and Kilpatrick's, on the extreme right, at James City.
September 16.—To-day we are picketing the fords of the Robertson River, a branch of the Rapidan. At five o'clock P. M. the Fifth New York pickets were attacked and driven to within a few rods of their reserve; but being reenforced by ourselves, who were ordered to relieve them, the enemy was compelled to retire hastily, and we reoccupied the line which was taken up by the Fifth in the morning.
At ten o'clock in the night I received orders to take four men and communicate with Major McIrvin at Newman's Ford, two miles above our post on the Robertson. This was by no means an easy task, as the wilderness country was almost wholly unknown to us, and the Rebel pickets in this quarter had not been sounded. Through the darkness, however, I advanced with my men as cautiously as possible, and yet at several points along our line of march we drew the fire of the Rebel pickets. At length we espied a force of cavalry approaching us, which proved to be a detachment under Major McIrvin on their way to the ford. We challenged one another simultaneously, each supposing the other to be an enemy. The major was on the point of ordering his command to fire upon me, when I recognized his voice and quickly gave him my name. The discovery was timely, and mutually enjoyable.
September 17.—The enemy advanced his picket lines this morning across the river, pushed ours back with considerable precipitancy, when a general skirmish occurred along the lines for a distance of about two miles. Captain Hasty was chief in command of our skirmishers. I assisted him, riding my sorrel pony, the only horse on the skirmish line, as all the men fought dismounted. At nine o'clock Colonel Davies arrived with his brigade and took command. The Rebels were not able to withstand our accumulated power, and rapidly retreated across the river, enabling us to reestablish our lines where they were before the onset.
Picket-firing is very common. "Give and take" is the game we play, and sometimes the blows are as severe as they are unexpected. The cavalry is almost constantly on duty, scouting, patrolling, and very often fighting. Thus we are kept ever in motion.
The only relief for our excessive labors is our good living. Seldom are soldiers permitted to live in a country of which it may be said as emphatically as of this, that it "flows with milk and honey." The numerous flocks of sheep and herds of cattle in the neighborhood are made to contribute the basis of our rations, while the poultry-yards, larders, and orchards are made to yield the delicacies of the season. The country abounds with sorghum, apple-butter, milk, honey, sweet potatoes, peaches, apples, etc.; so that kings are not much better fed than are the cavaliers of this command.
September 19.—The weather is becoming cold and wet. Yesterday this brigade retired from the Robertson to the vicinity of Stevensburg, where we bivouacked in the pine woods.
Henry E. Davies, Jr., formerly Colonel of the Harris Light, and for some time past in command of the First brigade of Kilpatrick's division, was congratulated to-day by his friends upon his promotion to brigadier-general. No promotion was ever more fitly made, and the "star" never graced a more perfect gentleman or more gallant soldier. The general feeling in the command is, long may he live in the service of his country and for the honor of her flag.
Sunday, September 20.—This morning very appropriate and solemn funeral services were held, conducted by Chaplain Edward P. Roe, in honor of the officers and soldiers of the Harris Light, who were killed in our recent advance to, and skirmishes along, the Rapidan and Robertson Rivers.
IMPORTANT RECONNOISSANCE AND RAID.
On the morning of the twenty-first, at day-break, an important movement was commenced by Generals Kilpatrick and Buford, while General Gregg remained on the picket lines. The object of the advance was mainly to reconnoitre the position and strength of the enemy, and at the same time to do all the mischief we could. We made a forced march directly upon Madison Court House, meeting but little opposition. The tired troopers rested themselves and their animals at night, preparatory to another early advance.
September 22.—We were early in the saddle, with our steps turned southward in the direction of Orange Court House. The two divisions advanced upon different but nearly parallel roads. We had not proceeded far before messengers from General Buford informed us that, by a rapid movement across the country between the two roads, Kilpatrick might intercept a brigade of the enemy's cavalry, which Buford was engaging and pursuing. The Harris Light had the advance of the division, and we soon came in contact with the retreating Rebel force in a dense oak forest, through which we were compelled to approach the pike by a wood road, which was so narrow as to necessitate our moving in columns of twos. Upon gaining the main road we found the entire force of the enemy advancing with skirmishers deployed, and a battery of light artillery in position, which instantaneously opened upon us with grape and canister. The situation of our regiment was extremely critical and embarrassing.
ENGAGEMENT AT LIBERTY MILLS.
Generals Kilpatrick and Davies were at the head of the column, and by them we were ordered and encouraged to present a bold front and make a desperate resistance, in order to give the division time to file out of the forest and to get into a fighting position along the road. At this juncture I was in command of the first company of the first squadron, and consequently was ordered to cross the pike, and to check the advance of the enemy in that quarter, while the balance of the regiment was to hold the pike and a small opening to the left. We had barely time to deploy as skirmishers, when the Rebel commander, seeing that his only hope of escape from the trap we were laying for him lay in a quick and decisive charge, came down upon us like an avalanche, crushing through the force that was on the road, and sweeping a clean path for his escape. The resistance of the regiment, however, was so desperate that the killed and wounded from both sides strewed the hotly-contested ground in every direction. Not more than twenty minutes elapsed from the time we first saw the enemy before the contest was decided; and yet, in this brief period of time, the Harris Light lost several of its most gallant officers and many of its bravest men. Our loss was principally in wounded and prisoners, while that of the enemy was in killed and wounded.
By this sudden and unexpected charge of the enemy upon the force on the pike, myself and company were completely cut off from our main column. For one whole hour we were entirely enclosed within the lines of the Rebel cavalry. It is true that they had about all they could do to take care of themselves, and yet they might have bagged and gobbled our small force. But by swift and careful movements we succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the Rebels, and finally we made our exit from their lines unhurt, and with much valuable information which we had obtained. As soon as possible I reported to General Kilpatrick, who was much surprised at seeing me, having come to the conclusion that myself and men were already on our way to "Richmond!"
The forces of Stuart were ultimately routed and fell back from Liberty Ford, near which the fight occurred, upon their infantry reserves at Gordonsville.
My escape from the toils of the enemy was regarded as almost miraculous. General Davies sent an aid to me with his compliments, inviting me to his headquarters, where he expressed his surprise at my safe return, and complimented me for the dexterity, wisdom, and success of my movements.
The day following this engagement and adventure our forces returned to the vicinity of Culpepper, where we spent a few days in comparative rest—rest which we all needed and greatly enjoyed.
September 25.—I received an order this afternoon from Major McIrvin, commanding the regiment, directing me to take command of Company H, which is without a commander.
On the twenty-sixth the paymaster made his appearance among us, much to the satisfaction of the command. Owing to the continuous movements of the Cavalry Corps, and its generally exposed condition, no opportunity has been afforded the Government to pay us for the last six months. Very little money was in the regiment, even officers as well as men being pretty well reduced. The paymaster's "stamps" were more than usually acceptable.
September 28.—Four companies, namely, B, F, H, and M, commanded by Captain Grinton, were ordered on picket to-day along the Hazel River. One half of this force occupies the picket line, the other half patrols the country. The captain commands the post, and I have the special charge of the pickets. We do not want, at present, for fresh meat and vegetables. We live almost entirely from the country, and we live well. Our bill of fare is varied and rich. Forage for our horses is also abundant in all the neighboring plantations. Picketing under these circumstances is more like a picnic than any thing else which we can remember.
October 8.—We are still in statu quo, picketing on the Hazel River. However, yesterday Captain Mitchell relieved Captain Grinton in command of the post. The reserve companies fell in line to hear the orders of the War Department, concerning veteran volunteers. They produced quite an excitement among us. The three years' enlistment of a large portion of the army is nearly expired, and the Government, in its anxiety to avail itself of the experience of the veteran troops to the end of the conflict, is now offering extra inducements, in the way of furloughs and bounties, to secure the reenlistment of these men to the end of the war. The orders propounded to us meet with universal favor, and the cry runs like wild-fire from rank to rank, "let us go in, boys!" This will be an element of great power.
A citizen-youth, of manly bearing, who professes loyalty to our cause, came to our pickets to-day, and from thence to headquarters, bringing information of a Rebel plan to surprise our picket lines to-night. We will give them a warm reception if they undertake the execution of their scheme. A regiment of infantry, and one squadron of cavalry arrived before dark, and are in readiness for the night's entertainment. The pickets are doubly strong, and are under special orders to be vigilant.
October 9.—The enemy did not venture an attack last night, but doubtless contented themselves with the maxim that "discretion is the better part of valor." Possibly they were informed of our preparation for them. Spies and informants are numerous and active on both sides.
Lieutenant Houston and privates Donahue and Pugh were captured this morning while scouting just beyond the pickets. Much activity is manifested on our front. Indeed, it is quite generally understood among us that General Lee is taking the initiatory steps of a flank movement upon us. Our scouts so report, and the suspicious movements of the pickets and forces before us corroborate the information.
CAPTURE OF THE AUTHOR.
1863.—Fight at James City.—Music of Retreat.—Fourth Cavalry Fight at Brandy Station.—Critical Situation.—Kilpatrick Undaunted.—Davies and Custer.—The Grand Charge.—The Escape.—The Scene.—Subsequent Charges and Counter-charges.—The Cavalry Routed.—The Rappahannock Recrossed in Safety.—Infantry Reconnoissance to Brandy Station.— Comical Affair at Bealeton Station.—Thrilling Adventure of Stuart. —His Escape.—Battle of Bristoe.—Casualties.—Retreat Continued. —Destruction of Railroad by the Rebels.—Kilpatrick at Buckland Mills.—Unpleasant Surroundings.—Sagacity and Daring.—The Author's Capture.—Fall, Insensibility, Change of Scene.—The End.—Introduced to Prison Life.
Early in the morning of October tenth the enemy, in heavy force, came down upon our pickets along the Robertson River, driving us back in haste and occupying the fords. The flank movement of General Lee was fully understood. He had crossed the Rapidan, advanced to Madison Court House, and was lapping around our right wing, threatening it with destruction. Quick work on our part was now necessary. Swift messengers from officers high in command brought orders to retire with promptness, but in good order, if possible. Our boys, in many instances, were compelled to leave uneaten and even untasted their palatable preparations for breakfast of roast lamb, sweet potatoes, fine wheat bread, milk and honey, &c., to attend to the stern and always unpleasant duties of a retreat, with the enemy pressing very closely upon us.
Sharp skirmishing took place at the river, and the successive crack of carbines afforded the music of our march to James City, where the conflict deepened into a battle, which raged with fury and slaughter. The enemy, conscious of having outgeneraled us in this instance, and having at least a temporary advantage, was bold and defiant. He was met, however, with corresponding vigor. Those contesting legions, which had so often measured sabres in the fearful charge, and hand-to-hand encounter, again appealed to the God of battle, and wrested with Herculean strength for the mastery. Night came on at length to hush the strife, and the weary men and horses sought repose from the bloody fray.
October 11.—With the first pencilings of the morning light we took up our line of march toward the Rappahannock. Skirmishing continued nearly every step of the way. On the Sperryville pike to Culpepper we were closely pursued and heavily pressed. At Culpepper the corps separated. Gregg, who had come by way of Cedar Mountain, passed out on the road to Sulphur Springs. Buford moved in the direction of Stevensburg, leaving Kilpatrick alone on the main thoroughfare along the railroad line.
Kilpatrick, accompanied by Pleasonton, had scarcely left Culpepper, when Hampton's Legions made a furious attack upon his rearguard, with the hope of breaking through upon the main column to scatter it, or of so retarding its progress that a flanking column might fall upon him ere he could reach the safe shore of the Rappahannock. Our infantry, which yesterday occupied this ground, had retired, leaving the cavalry to struggle out of the toils of the enemy as best it could.
Gallantly repelling every attack of the enemy, our command moved on, without expending much of its time and material, until opposite the residence of Hon. John Minor Botts, where a few regiments suddenly wheeled about, and, facing the pursuing foe, charged upon them with pistols and sabres, giving them a severe check and an unexpected repulse. On arriving at Brandy Station Kilpatrick found himself in a most critical situation, with an accumulation of formidable difficulties on every hand, which threatened his annihilation.