History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 11

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Marching from Charlottesville to Centre Cross—A Small Force in Camp—Weary Marches Under Mistaken Orders—A Bootless Chase After Kilpatrick—Capture of Dahlgren's Party—Papers and Book Found on Dahlgren's Body—Marching and Countermarching in King and Queen—Hastening to Check Kilpatrick in Middlesex—His Passage Through the Northern Neck.

The author had returned to camp the day after Christmas, and was waiting impatiently the arrival of General Chambliss, with the brigade, hoping to secure permission to move the regiment to the banks of the Lower Rappahannock to winter and recruit horses and men. Some of the men now in camp had horses in serviceable condition, but the majority of them were practically dismounted. The order to move was received on the night of the 19th of January. A military ball in Charlottesville that night had attracted most of the officers and men whose wardrobes could supply an unpatched suit, and a heavy draft had been made for sabres as a part of the hall decorations. By day-dawn on the morning of the 20th our tents were struck and wagons packed, and the regiment, partly mounted and partly afoot, with a small train of wagons, was put in motion for the lower country.

The march was necessarily slow, yet the anticipation of a good commissariat, mingled with the hope of a short furlough to greet once more the dear ones at home, seemed to give elasticity to both hoof and heel. Our first bivouac for the night was near Trevillian's Station, on the Central railroad. Resuming the march early next day, we passed White Hall, and halted again for the night at Chesterfield Station. Another day's march brought us to Newtown. On the 24th of January we reached the vicinity of Centre Cross, in Essex, and on the following morning located our camp near by, on the land of a Mr. Hundley. Company G, from Lunenburg county, were furloughed on the march down. Companies C, D, I, and K, from the counties of Westmoreland, Lancaster, King George, and Richmond, were sent to their respective counties in the Northern Neck, to assist Majors Waite and Dade, division quartermaster and commissary, in collecting tithes of bacon, and forwarding grain, cattle, and sheep to convenient points for shipment to the south side of the Rappahannock for the use of our army. Opportunities were found to furlough the remaining companies in details for short visits to their homes. Our picket-line extended from the Piankatank to the Mattaponi river, and the details for this duty, with the absence of the companies mentioned above, left us only about one hundred and fifty effective men in February, when an order was received to move with the utmost dispatch to support General Young at Fredericksburg. After having made a hurried and laborious march of twenty-four hours to Hamilton's Crossing a courier informed us rather cavalierly that the order which we had received had been a mistake of the Adjutant's. The writer called on General Hampton, represented the condition of the regiment, and begged that no further mistakes of the kind might be made. He was assured by the General that he knew nothing of the order. After obtaining such scanty rations as could be supplied for men and horses, we retraced our steps to the camp, in Essex.

About ten days later, we were ordered to Hanover Courthouse to find again, after reaching there, that it was all a mistake. Upon each of these occasions we marched over winter roads at least sixty miles in twenty-four hours.

Near the close of February an order was received for the regiment to proceed to Hanover Junction, and await further orders. We marched for the third time sixty miles in twenty-four hours. At the Junction we received no orders, but, finding that Kilpatrick was making a raid towards Richmond, our march, after we had drawn a supply of ammunition, was continued to Taylorsville. At this point we were informed by one of our generals of infantry that the enemy had been headed off by Hampton, and must retreat to the Rapidan, and that we would probably encounter them about Ashland. To Ashland we directed our march. When within two miles of this point, information was obtained that the main body of the enemy were near Old Church; but that we might strike a force of about two hundred at Hanover Courthouse. Our direction was immediately changed for this point. About dark we reached it, and found that the force of which we had been informed had passed in the morning, without halting. Rest for man and horse was now an imperative need, and the command bivouacked around a church a few hundred yards from the Courthouse. Before our supper of cold bread was over one of our pickets sent in a man taken under such suspicious circumstances as to induce the belief that he was a Yankee. He was at once subjected to a rigid examination, and it was found that he had been captured in the morning by a party of the enemy under command of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, and had made his escape; and, further, that this party, after passing the Courthouse, had moved to Indiantown Ferry, on the Pamunkey, at which point about one-fourth had crossed, and the remainder had moved down the south bank towards Old Church. We also learned from him that the party that crossed the river had orders to go by Saluda to Gloucester Point. In doing this they would approach dangerously near to our camp in Essex. A trusty and tried soldier was, therefore, immediately summoned, and, furnished with an order to impress horses, if needed, on his way, was sent with information and orders to the officer in charge of the camp. He was directed to reach the camp without fail by dawn next morning.

As soon as the horses had eaten the bugle sounded, and we moved down the road in the direction of Old Church. Just before light the advance was halted by a picket near this place. It proved to be a picket of Colonel Bradley T. Johnson's command. We now halted, got breakfast, and then marched rapidly as far down as Tunstall's Station. We saw only the half-extinct fires of the enemy's camp, and the evidences of their outrages upon helpless and defenceless families, and after a bootless chase returned to the junction of the road leading down to New Castle Ferry. Here we halted and bivouacked to await the return of a courier that had been sent to General Hampton in the morning.

Whilst seated around our fires here a courier rode up, inquiring for the colonel of the regiment. He bore a dispatch from Lieutenant James Pollard, commanding Company H, who had been located with his command at King William Courthouse before we set out on our march. The dispatch was accompanied with a bundle of papers and memorandum-book. The dispatch was to the effect that Pollard, having been notified by his pickets of the approach of a party of the enemy, had hastily collected in addition to his own command, a number of the Home Guards, furloughed soldiers, and reserves, and, after crossing the Mattaponi, had taken position at Dunkirk to dispute their passage. After waiting some time he learned the party had discovered a boat and crossed two miles below him at Aylett's. He immediately pursued them, and his party, availing themselves of their familiarity with the country, before nightfall succeeded in getting ahead of them. As he pursued his march he was joined by others of the above-mentioned troops, until his force numbered about one hundred, the Home Guards being under Captain Richard Hugh Bagby—all ready to dispute the enemy's advance. The men were posted in ambush. From a reconnoissance made, none expected an advance before morning. Captain Campbell Fox, of the Fifth Virginia Cavalry, being the senior officer present, took command. About eleven o'clock the tramp of horses was heard. When they had approached within twenty paces, the Federal officer commanding cried out: "Surrender, you damned rebels, or we'll charge you!" "Fire," ordered Captain Fox, and the Federal horsemen retreated rapidly. The leader, who proved to be Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, had fallen as his horse wheeled. He was killed instantaneously, being struck by five buckshot. The men of the party, deserted during the night by their officers, next morning from the flat below the hill, sent in the white flag by two Confederate prisoners, whom they had previously captured.

The papers which were sent with the dispatch conveying the above information, were those found on Dahlgren's person. Most of these papers had been copied from the memorandum-book. They comprised an address to his command in view of the hazardous enterprise in which they were to engage; the order of attack upon the city of Richmond; enjoining the release of the prisoners on Belle Isle; the assassination of the officers of the Confederate Government; the burning and gutting of the city, with directions where to apply for the combustibles necessary to set it on fire, and an exact copy of the last field return of our cavalry made to General Stuart, with the location of every regiment indicated. This return had been furnished by the Bureau of Information in Washington. The orders and directions were unsigned. The papers were forwarded by Pollard's courier to Richmond. The order-book was retained. After the papers were published in the newspapers and their authenticity was denied by the northern press, inquiries came to the writer from the government in Richmond, and an order for the book, which was accordingly sent on.[1]

We set out next morning for our camp by way of New Castle Ferry, and reached it the following day. Our orders from General Stuart now were to watch the movements of Kilpatrick, who was at Gloucester Point, and to prevent, if possible, his crossing the Rappahannock into the Northern Neck. Should he attempt to move up between the Rappahannock and the Mattaponi we were instructed to keep in his front, and to advise General Stuart at Hanover Junction. Lieutenant Pollard, with his company, was placed, in conjunction with a squadron from Colonel Robins' regiment (Twenty-fourth Virginia Cavalry), on the line from the Mattaponi to the Dragon. By permission of General Fitz. Lee, Pollard, withdrew his company to King William, leaving a body of Home Guards to hold the picket line in his place.

About the middle of March a portion of Kilpatrick's command moved up through Gloucester into King and Queen county. They encountered Robins' picket near Little Plymouth, and their presence at that point was reported at our camp at nightfall. Our force in camp, numbering perhaps one hundred and fifty effective men, was made ready to march, and couriers were sent to our picket reserves with instructions to keep a sharp lookout for the enemy, and to report immediately any advance beyond Plymouth. No further intelligence was received until nine o'clock next morning. The enemy was then ten miles further up the country, and had routed the reserve and burned their camp near Carlton's Store.

The force was reported as very large, and it was concluded that Kilpatrick's whole command was present. Having orders to keep in the enemy's front, our aim was to get into the road leading up to Newtown a little in advance of him. Lieutenant Baker, of Company B, was sent with a detail of men to watch the enemy at Carlton's Store. The command, after crossing a small tributary of the Dragon at a bridge a mile or so from our camp, moved to Exol meeting-house, on the road leading towards Newtown. Within a few hundred yards of Exol, our picket and some Home Guards were met, from whom we learned that the enemy's column would reach the intersection of the roads before we did. The command was ordered to the right at once through a body of timber, and a direction taken so as to strike the road half a mile above Exol. Captain Oliver, with his company, who had been in front, was ordered to bring up the rear. We had scarcely cleared the road when we heard the enemy yelling in full charge down it. Wheeling at once into column of platoons, and facing in that direction, we prepared to meet them; but they did not appear.

It was soon discovered that Oliver had gone at full speed back over the road on which we had come, and that the enemy were in hot pursuit of him. It was concluded that the party in pursuit of Oliver were the advance of the main body, and, though it was hard to resist so good a chance of striking an effective blow by charging upon them from the rear, we hurried on to the main road, and, finding an admirable position, made ready to resist the enemy's advance as soon as they should appear. We waited half an hour with no signs of the enemy appearing. Scouts meanwhile came in and reported that the artillery which had been seen below Exol had gone back. It now looked as though we had been misinformed as to the enemy's force, and that it was merely a raiding party, bent on a dash into our camp. So at a gallop we moved in that direction. We soon learned that the Yankees, after driving Oliver over the Dragon, had taken the road to Carlton's Store, on which Lieutenant Baker, with a detachment, had been sent. We at once followed in pursuit, having learned that five of Oliver's little band had been captured, and that he had taken two prisoners belonging to a Pennsylvania regiment, commanded by Colonel Spear. Our command was now divided, and the men with good horses put in front, and we followed the tracks of the enemy at the trot and gallop. Below Carlton's Store we found that a second party of the enemy had retreated from the direction of King and Queen Courthouse, and citizens informed us that they were moving so rapidly that the spokes in the wheels of their gun-carriages could not be counted.

Signs seemed to indicate that we would strike the enemy at Plymouth, and a squadron dashed forward with drawn sabres, to find, however, that the horsemen seen were our own scouts.

Scouts were sent forward to ascertain the enemy's precise location, who soon reported that they were camped two miles distant, just behind a marshy swamp, crossed by a narrow causeway. A forlorn hope, under Lieutenant Beale, was ordered to lead a night attack. While resting our horses and preparing for the attack, information was received through a note from a lady that some regiments of negro infantry were encamped near her house, and that they were repairing a bridge across the Dragon, now much swollen from recent rains. This information led to the belief that Kilpatrick was preparing to cross his force into Middlesex to embark at Urbanna. In such an event, our orders required that we should move promptly to reinforce Captain Bolling at that point. Our march was accordingly resumed for this purpose. In order to get over the Dragon it was necessary that we should go back twelve miles. This march brought us near to camp, to which we returned, and secured rations for horses and men. Before sunrise next morning the command was in position on the Middlesex side of the Dragon, fronting the bridge which the enemy was repairing, and over which it was expected they would attempt to cross. The scouts sent forward to observe the bridge soon sent back a note from the lady who had written before, saying the enemy had broken up their camp and retreated on the road to Gloucester by which they had come.

The wharf at Urbanna had been burned on the previous day by Captain Bolling, and that on the opposite side of the river in Lancaster had been burned, as directed, by Captain Ball. These facts, as we afterwards learned, were signalled by the enemy. Kilpatrick returned to Gloucester Point.

In the encounter of the preceding day Lieutenant Baker had four of his party captured, and he reported two of the enemy killed.

The citizens along the route of this marauding expedition were informed that it was to avenge what our Yankee brothers termed the murder of Dahlgren. Revenge, it was, executed upon women and children, and upon a false accusation. The enterprise was suited to the capacity of a mean, little soul, however ill it became a major-general of the Union army and the flag under which he fought. The enemy burned King and Queen Courthouse and several private residences.

Later on, after our regiment had been withdrawn, Kilpatrick transported his force up the bay, landing in Lancaster, and moved a motley crowd of negro men, women, and children in wagons, carts, carriages, and buggies, and afoot up through the counties between the Rappahannock and the Potomac.

  1. An interesting account of the Dahlgren capture, and the incidents leading to it, written by Captain Pollard, and published in the Philadelphia Times of September 17, 1887, appears in the appendix.—G. W. B.