History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 1

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Enlistment of a Company in 1861—Their un-Military Appearance—Capturing a Merchantman—Under the Fire of Gunboats—Marching to Manassas—Picketing the Potomac—Formation of a Regiment—Evacuation of Fredericksburg.

In the month of May, 1861, by an order obtained through a special application made in person by the author of the following narrative to General R. E. Lee, commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces, Major Carr, at Fredericksburg, was directed to muster into service a cavalry company from the county of Westmoreland, to which the officers had given the name of Lee's Light Horse, in memory of "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, of the Revolution. This order was executed by Major R. M. Mayo, at Montross, on the 23d of May, 1861. The company numbered on that day sixty-one, and whilst composed chiefly of young men, contained several who were forty-five years of age. Thomas S. Garnett was captain; R. L. T. Beale, first lieutenant; B. Walker, second lieutenant; and A. G. Dade, third lieutenant.

There was nothing very martial in the appearance of the company. The officers and men were clad in their citizens' dress, and their horses caparisoned with saddles and bridles of every description used in the country. Their only arms were sabres and double-barrelled shotguns collected from the homes of the people. The company thus equipped, after two brief encampments at Nomini Ferry and Oak Grove, marched early in June under Lieutenant Beale to Mathias Point, in King George county, where it was quartered in Hooe's Chapel, and was employed in picket duty on the Potomac.

Its first military essay was an attack upon the "Christiana Keen," a four-hundred-ton merchantman grounded on the bar off Upper Mochodoc Creek, made in two flat-boats by a detachment under Lieutenant Beale, and which resulted in the destruction of the vessel and the capture of its sails, ropes, and sundry valuable nautical instruments. This was followed by some skirmishes with marines from the steamer "Freeborn," in which the enemy used his artillery very freely.

On the 6th day of July, dismounted and in line with an infantry company from Caroline county, armed with rifles and called "The Sparta Grays," and led by Major R. M. Mayo, they attacked a body of marines which had been landed, and were throwing up breastworks on the shore, and drove them, with considerable loss, back to the steamer, which was forced to slip her cables and retire with the loss of Captain Ward, United States navy, her commander. Though daily exposed to the fire of cannon from gunboats in the river, and often to that of the rifles of the marines, the company escaped without the loss of a man.

About the middle of July we were ordered to Brooke's Station, in Stafford county, on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad, and on the morning of the 20th of that month assigned to duty with the Thirtieth Virginia Infantry, commanded by Colonel R. Milton Cary, of Richmond city. As the advance guard of this regiment, we moved in the evening to the old village of Acquia, and bivouacked for the night.

The march was resumed early on the morning of the 21st. The roar of artillery in the direction of Manassas told of a great battle, and our patience was sorely tried by the tedium of an infantry march. The enthusiasm of Virginia was at this time intense. Relying upon our perfect familiarity with firearms from boyhood and our horsemanship, we feared not the disparity of numbers, and though without an officer who had ever seen service, or studied tactics, we felt confident of our ability to cope successfully with thrice our numbers. To many it seemed apparent that this was to be the only big fight, and, missing this, no other chance of flashing a maiden sabre would ever occur.

The infantry marched rapidly, making thirty-one miles by nine o'clock that night, and reaching Manassas Junction.

The battle was won! We remained under arms on the 22d, and on the 23d moved near the headquarters of Brigadier-General T. H. Holmes, en route for Brooke's Station.

We remained at the latter point drilling and marching in detachments to various places until the latter part of November; then moved to Shaw's Mount, in Westmoreland, and near the close of the year went into winter quarters near the Hague.

Various changes had occurred among the officers of the company. Our captain, Thomas S. Garnett, had been made lieutenant-colonel in July, and assigned to the Forty-eighth Virginia Infantry. Captain Beale, who succeeded him, had been made major by Governor John Letcher in October. Lieutenant Walker had resigned in May, and the company in January, 1862, was commanded by Captain John Murphy and Lieutenants John W. Hungerford, A. G. Dade, and William Murphy.

During the winter we were employed in picketing the lower Potomac under orders of Major Beale, provost-marshal, and thus far had acted as an independent company.

Breaking our camp in March we moved to St. Paul's church, in King George; then to Office Hall; then to King George Courthouse, at which point, about the 1st of April, we joined Colonel Johnson, assigned to the command of the Ninth Regiment of Virginia Cavalry, with W. H. F. Lee as lieutenant-colonel, and R. L. T. Beale as major.

The regiment was composed of ten companies, viz: Company "A," of Stafford, E. M. Henry, captain; Company "B," of Caroline, Samuel A. Swann, captain; Company "C," of Westmoreland, John N. Murphy, captain; Company "D," of Lancaster, Meriwether Lewis, captain; Company "E," of Spottsylvania, Corbin Crutchfield, captain; Company "F," of Essex, R. S. Cauthorn, captain; Company "G," of Lunenburg, William H. Hatchett, captain; Company "H," of King William, Beverly B. Douglas, captain; Company "I," of King George, John Tayloe, captain; and Company "K," of Richmond county, Joseph R. Jeffries, captain. The letters designating the several companies above continued to distinguish them until the close of the war.

A part of the regiment, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lee was stationed near Berea Meeting-House, above Falmouth, and the companies under Johnson, after a few days' stay, marched from the Courthouse to a place called Boscobel, near the old stage-road connecting Fredericksburg and Potomac creek. The weather was very inclement, rain and snow falling freely. For several days we remained without tent or shelter of any kind. This exposure told upon our ranks, and the hospitals in Fredericksburg were crowded. Company C contributed its share, and Privates Robert L. Tallent and Richard Beale, both good soldiers, returned to us no more.

On the evening of the 16th of April, hastily striking our tents, we moved towards Fredericksburg. The baggage-wagons crossed Coalter's bridge, and the troops having prepared for action, moved up the river to Falmouth, and, descending the hill to the right, took position near the road leading to Potomac creek. Here, dismounting and sleeping upon the ground with our bridles held under our arms, we waited until roused to wakeful attention by a volley of musketry, followed by loud cheers. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, driven out of his camp near nightfall at Berea, had fallen back to the heights above Falmouth, and had been reinforced by a portion of the Fortieth Virginia Infantry under Major Taliaferro. In that position they were charged by the enemy's cavalry. The infantry allowed them to come close up, then pouring upon them a deadly fire, repulsed them with considerable loss. A second charge brought the enemy a no more favorable result.

We remained in suspense until after daybreak, when, reversing our march, we moved through Falmouth, and, with heavy hearts evacuated the Northern Neck. The bridges were fired after we passed, and soon the invading army under General Archer descended from the heights and came pressing down upon the burning bridge. We were ordered to remain and check any attempt of the enemy to extinguish the fire. Whilst engaged in this service, and drawn up in line on the road leading down the river, the enemy opened upon us with artillery posted on the crest of the hill just above Falmouth. The first shell came crashing into our ranks, wounding several, and among them Private R. S. Lawrence. One or two horses were also killed. We stood without flinching, eliciting some praise from our officers, and escaped further injury, though the fire was continued as long as we remained. One man of Company E lost his life, unfortunately, by the accidental discharge of his gun, the ball having entered the lower part of his head and, passing out at the top, carried his hat many feet into the air. Our route was through Fredericksburg, and here all was hurry and confusion, army-wagons rattling away, steam engines hissing, women lamenting, and bodies of troops moving towards the old Telegraph road leading to Richmond.

At nightfall the rain fell in copious showers, yet hungry and without shelter, all save those detailed for picket service, gladly stretched themselves upon the earth and slept soundly after the fatigues of the preceding twenty-four hours.

Massaponax church, on the following day, became our regimental headquarters, and we picketed down to the hills overlooking Fredericksburg. There was a considerable force of infantry in the immediate neighborhood, commanded by General Joseph R. Anderson, and for some days we expected to fight the enemy along the line of the Massaponax. Whilst camping at this point Companies A and C were marched under command of Major Beale to Culpeper Courthouse, making minute examination of several fords across the Rapidan. We returned to Massaponax without encountering the enemy at any point.