History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 10

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The Author Obtains Leave of Absence—Heavy Skirmishing Near Shepherdstown—The Return to Culpeper—Fight of September 13th—Colonel Beale Wounded—At Raccoon Ford—Fight at Morton's Ford—Battle at Brandy Station—March to Warrenton–Engagement at Auburn Mills—On the Plains of Manassas—Captain Haynes Wounded—Under Fire at Manassas Junction—Lieutenant Davis Killed–Return to Culpeper—Retreat from Culpeper—On Robinson River—Pursuing Averill

The author was sick and broken down on reaching Virginia, and was forced to linger in the rear until the regiment reached Culpeper, when he obtained a ten days' leave of absence. Major Waller was in command, and the regiment camped near Leetown for several days. The enemy's cavalry having crossed the Potomac and moved up to Shepherdstown, the road to that point was taken by our division, and some heavy skirmishing occurred. Colonel Drake, of the First Regiment, was killed, and the Ninth suffered some loss. The march afterwards was through Leetown and Smithfield, and they bivouacked on the road to Front Royal. Next day the Shenandoah was crossed by a blind ford, and after marching through Rappahannock county, the regiment was left on picket at Gourdvine Church. From this point they returned to the vicinity of Brandy Station, and again encamped on the farm of John Minor Botts. An advance of the enemy from Rappahannock Bridge on August 4th brought on an engagement in the plain below Miller's Hill, in which the regiment took an active part, and was for some minutes a target for several of the enemy's guns. The casualties were slight.

We remained in camp in a measure inactive until the 13th of September. On the morning of that day, at three o'clock, we were ordered to pack our wagons and move them towards the Courthouse before daylight. Ere sunrise a long line of dismounted cavalrymen advanced over the hills east of Brandy Station, accompanied with artillery, and, followed by heavy columns of mounted men. Brigadier-General Lomax, in the absence of General Chambliss, was in command. The numbers of the enemy were overwhelming, and in the endeavor to check their columns in front, we were exposed to great danger of being surrounded by their forces threatening our flanks. The author had charge of the right wing, consisting of the Fifteenth Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Collins, dismounted, and a part of the Ninth, mounted. The force was insufficient to cover the ground assigned them, and a request was sent for a reinforcement. This was promised, and, it seems, was sent, but it came not. Finding both flanks heavily pressed, the author rode towards the centre to look for and direct the promised support, and he found both the centre and left in full retreat, and some distance in the rear. Orders, with a view to extricating the little command, were at once given, and our retreat commenced. Collins was directed to follow a line of ravines and then the railroad embankment, and Pratt was ordered with his mounted men to watch the left flank and rear. Riding with the brigade staff towards the right of our line, a bullet passed deep into the writer's leg, and the loss of blood forced him to move on to the Courthouse.

The dismounted men, in falling back, were charged twice before reaching the Courthouse, and some of them were captured. A dashing charge by our mounted squadron released a good many of our men, and captured some of the enemy in turn. A charge made by the enemy in the street of Culpeper resulted in the capture of a gun under escort of a squadron of the Ninth—the first ever taken. The command was gradually forced back towards the Rapidan. As they retired a dash by a mounted force on the wooded hills beyond the town was repulsed by our men, pistols being used at very close quarters.

Captains Pratt and Bolling were wounded, and Lieutenant Love, of Company G, badly so in the shoulder. Private Richard Corbin, of Company B, and several others were killed.

The author, after being wounded, was taken to Orange Courthouse, where the bullet was extracted. Thence he was taken to Charlottesville to the care of a sister (Mrs. Davis). His wound, with several painful and serious complications, confined him for many weeks. He reached home in October, and returned to the command in November, but was sent back by General R. E. Lee as unfit for duty. He did not resume command of the regiment until the 25th of December. It was then encamped on the mountain above Charlottesville. During his absence the movements of the regiment were carefully noted and recorded for him by another hand.

On the day after the retreat to the Rapidan the command moved down the river and camped near Raccoon Ford, in which vicinity we remained until about the l0th of October. We then followed our infantry, which had been passing for two days, and, proceeding up the river, were halted at the Madison House, in the fork of the Rapidan and Robinson rivers. Early next day we began to retrace our steps to the camp we had left. Here we halted but for a night, and then moved down to Morton's Ford. At this point the enemy had crossed to the south side of the river, and were occupying a line of rifle-pits which our infantry had evacuated. As we approached, their sharpshooters opened on us from these works. They used their artillery, also, with some injury to our men.

A squadron was dismounted under Captain Boiling, and put in line with detachments from other regiments, and a small force of infantry which had been left on guard. This party, under Colonel Rosser, made a vigorous and determined attack, carried the position, and drove the enemy across the river. The artillery commanding the approaches to the river checked our efforts for a time to force a passage. By noon, however, the enemy retreated, and we were in full pursuit. Captain Bolling was again wounded. The enemy was falling back towards Brandy Station by way of Stevensburg. As we drew near to the station we were ordered to prepare for action. A long line of bluecoats, moving rapidly from the direction of Culpeper Courthouse, could be seen hastening to support the brigade that was flying before us. Forming column of squadrons, we marched at a trot till we were very near the station, and then paused a moment to dress our ranks. Our direction was now changed a little to the right, and, crossing the railroad under a severe fire from the enemy's batteries, we charged into the right of their line a few hundred yards north of the station.[1] Heavy bodies of mounted men dashed up to support the enemy's broken line, and for some minutes, with broken ranks, in confused order, and without leaders, we fought hand to hand. We were being forced back by the weight of superior numbers, when our support, the Thirteenth Regiment, came up, and, making a magnificent, dashing charge upon the enemy, enabled us to rally, reform our ranks, and charge again. This last charge was decisive, and we were victors on this part of the field, the enemy being driven back under cover of their infantry and artillery on Miller's Hill. Still exposed to the fire of the enemy's artillery, we were withdrawn from the field of battle and ordered to form a line under the shelter of the hill at Fleetwood. We then moved forward under command of Captain Samuel Swann, Major Waller being wounded, to dislodge some sharpshooters who were posted on the opposite hill. Reaching a small body of woods at the base of the hill, we halted and returned the enemy's fire until Colonel Rosser came up with the Fifth Regiment, when we advanced with him, the enemy retreating rapidly. Night now closed in upon us, and we were withdrawn to bivouac on Green's farm, near Welford's Ford, the Third Squadron being sent to guard the Ford, and watch the retiring foe. Our loss was from sixteen to twenty men killed, wounded, and missing.

The next day we resumed the pursuit, crossing at Welford's Ford and camping at a mill on the Rappahannock river. We marched next to Warrenton, having a slight skirmish on the way, and capturing a few stragglers from the enemy's lines. Near Warrenton we halted to feed, and, then moving forward, encountered the enemy near Auburn Mills. Here our dismounted sharpshooters were engaged until night, and the mounted squadrons were often within range of the enemy's rifles. We had two men killed. Returning on the road leading to Warrenton, we bivouacked for the night. Here General Rhodes' division of infantry passed us, moving towards Auburn, and Captain Oliver's squadron was detailed with orders to report to that General. Continuing the march next morning, we followed the turnpike leading towards Alexandria, and in the afternoon bore to the right towards Bristoe Station, where, about sunset, we witnessed a sharp and bloody encounter between the advance brigade of our infantry and the rear one of Meade's army.

After having received at nightfall full supplies of food for men and horses, we marched on the following day to the familiar, blood-stained fields of Manassas, with Major-General Fitz. Lee commanding the brigades of Wickham, Lomax, and Chambliss. These were drawn up in order of battle, and the long line of skirmishers in front was placed under command of our brave and skilful Captain Thomas Haynes. We met the enemy on the plain, in the midst of which stands the large brick house, which was on a former occasion the headquarters of General Beauregard, and they were driven before us beyond Bull Run. They selected a strong position beyond the stream, and occupied it with a considerable force. With the rifles of our dismounted men, aided by artillery, the attempt was made to dislodge them. Captain Haynes was commanding a line too long to watch on foot, and as he rode on horseback from point to point encouraging his men and directing their fire, he became a target for hundreds of rifles. He presently fell, pierced by a bullet which, passing near the spine, paralyzed his lower limbs. He was borne back to the brick house, as was supposed, to die, his wound being pronounced fatal. Disabled for life, he did survive; but no more could his bright sabre be seen flashing in his uplifted hand; nor his manly voice be heard above the din of battle cheering and inspiring his men to deeds of daring and glory.

We bivouacked as darkness came on near the house where the wounded Captain lay, and many of the soldiers came to look with tears for the last time upon him, known and loved as he was by every man in the regiment.

We remained in this vicinity for two days, and on the 18th of October marched over to Manassas Junction, and, halting near night, were ordered not to unsaddle. Lieutenant Nick Davis commanding Companies G and H, was sent out on the road leading over Bull Run, and the Second Squadron was posted so as to support him if attacked. These dispositions having been made, the remainder of the regiment bivouacked, and began preparations for supper. Ere the frying-pans were warm, however, a rapid discharge of rifles was heard on the road in front, and the bugles rang out To horse! throughout our camp. Before a squadron could be formed the red flashes of carbines and pistols could be seen in the gathering darkness. Nearer and nearer the firing came, both of our squadrons being pressed and driven back by an overwhelming force. Rallying his few scattered men near where the regiment was forming, Davis cried: "Follow me," and, turning upon the enemy, made a gallant stand, nobly vindicating the high appreciation and confidence in which his superior officers held him. It was, he must have known, a forlorn hope, but the enemy must be checked until the other squadrons could form, and though in the shadowy twilight this young officer went down to be seen by us no more on earth, he accomplished his brave purpose, saved his comrades, and laid down his young life on the altar of his country, with all its budding hope and promise, and added another name to the sacred catalogue of martyrs who have dared to die for Duty and for Liberty. The regiment was now mounted, and though it was growing dark, the enemy pressed up, and we exchanged shots at very close quarters, and, indeed, some hand-to-hand blows. Our retreat was without panic and in good order. Our loss was eight killed and wounded. Two privates, Lewis and Haskins, of Company F, were killed. The horse of Lieutenant Davis came in. His body was with the foe.

The enemy appeared in our front, beyond a stream, next morning, but was held in check by our artillery. Our march in the afternoon was along the line of the Orange and Alexandria railroad, and we bivouacked at night without food for man or horse. Resuming the saddle, we marched to Catlett's Station, and near by halted to graze our well-nigh famished horses. We next made a forced march to Buckland, near which we encountered the pickets of General Kilpatrick's command. We were very soon hotly engaged. Before night the whole body of the enemy were in rout, and were pursued by us over a large stream. Lieutenant Cullen, of Company H, was wounded.

The next day our march was through Fauquier county, along the line of our recent advance, and we passed over the field of our fight at Auburn, and saw from numerous fresh graves that our shots had been well aimed. We reached Welford's Ford at dark. The river was very high, but after some delay we effected a passage, and cold, wearied, wet and hungry, bivouacked on the Green farm.

The regiment, now commanded by Captain Hughlett, of Company D, was on the following day ordered to report to General George H. Steuart, commanding a brigade of infantry, and stationed at the railroad bridge over the Rappahannock. We were for three days in front of this brigade, and on several occasions skirmishing with the enemy without receiving or inflicting any loss. Recrossing the Rappahannock, we remained for some days in Culpeper, doing picket duty near the bridge. On the 6th of December we moved with our division to Miller's Hill, and were put into position, awaiting the advance of the enemy. We fell back in the evening to the Courthouse, and early next morning marched out on one side of the town, as the enemy's cavalry came in on the opposite side. After making a short detour on the Sperryville road, in which we were exposed in crossing a field to the fire of a masked battery, we moved to the vicinity of the Madison House, near the junction of the Rapidan and Robinson rivers.

Here we remained doing picket duty, and allowing details of the men to go home in quest of fresh horses, until Christmas. An order was put into effect while here to distinguish the regiments in the brigade by a sign or badge, to be worn on the hats of the men. The Ninth regiment was henceforth designated by a star, which was afterwards generally to be seen attached to the front of the men's hats.

Our next move was to a point a few miles above Charlottesville, whence the regiment accompanied the expedition in search of Averill. Their line of march was through Augusta, Rockbridge, and Botetourt counties, by way of Lexington, Natural Bridge, Buchanan, and Fincastle. Thence they passed near the White Sulphur Springs, over into Lost-River Valley, and on to the vicinity of Moorfield, in Hardy county, W. Va.

While crossing Jackson river Private Luther Marmaduke, of Company K, was swept down by the swollen current and drowned. The weather was intensely cold, and the earth covered with snow. Pitiless rains fell, forming sheets of ice along the roads. It was impossible to keep the horses roughly shod, and on the steep mountain descents the troopers were forced at times to dismount and lead their weary steeds cautiously over the slippery roads.

The brigade flag with the men who remained fit for service reached the camp above Charlottesville on the 14th of January, 1864. Most of the horses employed in this dreadful expedition were completely broken down, and many of the men, ragged, frost-bitten, and worn out, returned limping to camp in squads.

  1. A graphic account of this charge and of the "rebel yell" that accompanied it, by Comrade J. Harvie Dew, of New York, may be found in the Appendix.—G. W. B.