History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 4
Breaking Camp in Hanover and Storing Baggage at Louisa Courthouse—Through Orange and Culpeper—Raid on Catlett's Station—Capture of General Pope's Coat—March to Manassas Junction—Capture of Supplies—Second Battle of Bull Run—Heading Towards the Potomac—Fight at Sugar Loaf Mountain—Boonsboro'—Sharpsburg.
Having broken camp on the Pamunkey about the 15th of August, the regiment marched through Caroline to Louisa Courthouse. Orders were issued to store all baggage here not absolutely essential to be carried. The sick and dismounted men were left here, and guards detailed for the baggage of each company.
The head of column now pointed to the North, and, marching rapidly through Louisa and Orange, we crossed the Rapidan into Culpeper at Somerville Ford. The wagons containing the few cooking utensils brought from Louisa now separated from us, and our sole reliance for rations for man and horse was upon the country traversed.
The enemy was met in small numbers on the south bank of the Rappahannock, near Richard's Ferry. Company E, under Captain Smith, attended by Colonel W. H. F. Lee in person, captured a lieutenant and five privates, and ascertained that the Federal army, under General Pope, occupied the north bank. We fell back half a mile to a creek and camped for the night. We found on the persons of the captured men well executed counterfeit Confederate Treasury notes. Our march was resumed at early dawn along the road leading up the south bank. Large bodies of infantry, moving in the same direction, forced us frequently to march through the fields. We bivouacked for the night near Hart's Mill, and on the following morning crossed early to the north side of the river, and moved directly to Warrenton.
This place had been evacuated, and only a few stragglers fell into our hands. We now found that our whole brigade was up. It rained in torrents, swelling the little rivulets into foaming streams. General J. E. B. Stuart was present, and after a halt at Warrenton our brigade (under General Fitz. Lee), and, perhaps, other regiments, marched on the road leading towards Catlett's Station, on the Orange and Alexandria railroad. We reached a position near this place about dark. The rain continued, masses of dark, angry clouds, driven by furious winds, rolled over us, lit up at intervals by livid lightnings, and mingled with reverberating thunders. The Storm King dwarfed to stillness the tramp of our horses.
After a few moments' halt, in which the rear squadron of the Ninth was detailed to guard a road in our rear, the command was ordered to prepare for action. The darkness was intense, relieved only by the lightning's flash, and, to guard against collision among our own men, the writer suggested that some sign be given us. This was done by requiring the question to be asked, "Who is there?" and the answer, "Colonel Lee!" "Draw sabres!" "Forward, march!" "Trot, march!" followed in quick succession. The column of fours dashed along a road through a body of timber, and at the command "Charge" which rose with repeated yells above the howling winds and drenching rain, moved at full speed. Whither? What were we charging? Whether battery, army corps, or wagon-camp, none seemed to know. "Who is there?"—a moment's pause—then "bang" rang sharply out, and flickering lights gleaming through the woods made visible lines of canvas tents. The rear squadron, led by Captain Pratt, came suddenly abreast of a long line of lights. The order to fire was given, and a volley of buckshot and ball rattled and tore along. The steam-horse threw them from his polished side and, snorting, hurried his attendant train in rapid flight beyond the reach of a second volley. "Stop firing; you have killed Captain Hayne's horse," now shouts an unknown voice. The question: "Who's there?" is heard, followed by the flash of a pistol, and as the dying man falls the exclamation: "D———n you, take that," reveals the presence of Lieutenant Dade. To the command: "Forward march!" "Close up, Captain Pratt!" The Captain replies: "There are no squadrons in front to close up on; they have gone upon some other road."
Halting now, and for the moment without orders, we find, on looking around, that we are at a railroad station. Lights in the windows soon revealed the bright barrels of muskets and men hurrying to and fro. When ordered, they surrendered, and soon quite a large number of prisoners was collected by this squadron. Another squadron, as they charged in, passed a tent, the fly of which was drawn aside, and within a man was seen in his shirt-sleeves. As rapidly as possible two or three of these troopers entered the tent. The man had escaped. On a table in the tent they found a flask of brandy, and near by a military coat and several note-books. These articles were soon found to belong to General Pope, the commander of the Federal army. One of the note-books, retained by the writer of this account, was nearly filled with battle orders, written with pencil and pen, and cypher dispatches, and signed by General Pope, or his assistant adjutant-general. Near by were an ambulance and horses, which General Fitz. Lee directed to be brought off.
The command was now very much scattered. Officers and privates alike were engaged in searching wagons and stores. Upon riding up to one of the men thus engaged, and who hastily crouched beneath a wagon, Colonel Lee was greeted with the exclamation, "I surrender," and the response to the inquiry, "What regiment?" was "Ninth Virginia Cavalry."
The collection of wagons was by far the largest we had seen, the flashing lightning revealing an immense encampment. The teams generally were tied to the wagon-poles. Ambulances, too, there were in great numbers. The effort to burn them, owing" to the torrents of rain, effected little damage. For an hour, perhaps, we rode about the camp, and then returned to the rendezvous, which was near the point from which the charge began. The roadway was crowded with prisoners and horses and troopers guarding them. While the officers were endeavoring to reduce the regiment to order a sharp volley of musketry from the enemy, directed upon the wagons still occupied by our men, drove the stragglers in, and caused, temporarily, much confusion. Troopers without guides and horses without riders rushed recklessly away. In the hurry to escape a private was caught under his fallen horse, and in sore distress exclaimed: "O! I'm gone," just as a comrade more fortunate dashed by replying: "No, you arn't, but I am gone."
Order was speedily restored, though in the darkness many prisoners and horses escaped. The regiment secured about one hundred prisoners, brought in a good many horses, and, on private account, a good deal of clothing, cutlery, coin, and greenbacks, and escaped any serious casualty. Indeed, we heard of but one man lost in our whole command—Private Hiram Blackwell, of Company D, was severely wounded and captured. Two military chests were secured, containing eight or nine thousand dollars in gold and currency, which were turned over to the quartermaster.
After halting for some hours, the march was resumed leisurely back through Warrenton to camp near the river, where we remained that night, and recrossed at Hart's Mill the next morning as the enemy came in view along the hills. Quite a spirited attack was made by them to get possession of Waterloo Bridge, resulting, however, in an artillery duel only, in which Captain Pelham, though contending with much heavier metal, won an easy victory. The march was resumed in the evening up the south bank of the river, which we crossed at a rocky ford, and moved through Fauquier towards Thoroughfare Gap. This we reached the following day, and late in the night arrived at Bristoe Station, finding the railroad at that point held by General Jackson's infantry. By dawn we moved rapidly upon Manassas Junction, joining the Fourth Regiment under Colonel Williams C. Wickham, which had a brisk skirmish with some cavalry before we got up. The infantry was also here. The depot, full of supplies and a train of cars well laden near it, had fallen into our hands. "Touch not" was the order, and heavily we sighed as we rode away, leaving the McClellan saddles and handy sabres.
We moved to the right of the Junction, and, resting in line of battle, witnessed the advance of a New Jersey brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General G. W. Taylor, to attack the Junction. Pelham's Battery was on the crest of the hill directly in front of the plain on which Taylor's Brigade must advance. Our infantry, some distance to the left of the Junction, was concealed behind the hills in that direction. The New Jersey brigade, deployed in line of battle at the eastern side of the plain, moved steadily forward in the face of Pelham's fire. When they had passed over about half the distance they discovered our infantry. The line was instantly faced about, and the retreat commenced. The artillery was now run down close upon them. Twice their flag went down, but was as often caught up and borne onward. Steadily and in perfect order they marched on. Before reaching the timber skirting the plain, our infantry, which seemed to have been posted with a view to getting in their rear, opened its fire upon their left flank, and a few companies then broke and ran, but the great body of the brigade preserved its perfect alignment and order till lost to sight in the woods.
The Ninth and Fourth regiments under Brigadier-General Fitz. Lee marched immediately, on a line south of and parallel with the railroad, leading towards Fairfax Courthouse. Our march was over fences, across ravines and through swamps. Along the railroad bodies of the enemy were moving in the same direction. So close was our march to the road that stragglers seeking water and fruit were often captured, almost in sight of their companies. At dark we crossed to the north side of the road, and, picketing all the approaches to a hollow or bottom, lay with our bridles on our arms to sleep. Having started out at midnight we reached Fairfax Courthouse at sunrise, and made some captures of ambulances and prisoners in full view of a line of infantry drawn up in battle array across the 'pike, about half a mile from us. A squadron, under the command of the lieutenant-colonel, was detached to engage their attention, and was so manoeuvred as to keep the enemy on guard against a charge until our pickets were in and our captures safely borne away.
Our march was then directed to Centreville, which was occupied by the cavalry forming the advanced guard of General Pope's army. The Ninth Regiment, led by Colonel W. H. F. Lee, charged them in the village, driving them at full speed back upon the infantry. Captain Haynes and a few privates pursued the flying horsemen through the woods, and received the volley of a regiment of infantry. Private William O. Guttridge, of Company C, never returned, and was doubtless killed. Wat. Bowie's horse was killed. Captain Haynes followed his man, captured him, and brought him out. Several of the enemy besides were captured and a few killed. Four or five of our men were wounded.
Our horses were now nearly exhausted. Several of them fell in the charge, and were abandoned. From Waterloo Bridge to Centreville, they had been without food, and had had only a few hours of rest. We halted at a late hour and bivouacked on the road leading up the north side of Bull Run towards Sudley Mills, where we procured hay for our horses. Our rations for two days consisted of a few crackers, handed around to the men whilst mounted at Manassas.
We passed Sudley Mills early the following day and camped at a point north and east of Manassas Junction. Forage and rations were supplied, and we remained nearly inactive, though in sight of the forces engaged while the second great battle was fought on that bloody field. The day after the battle we marched through woods and fields, avoiding the roads, and near night were formed in line of battle by General Stuart in a ravine near the 'pike leading from Fairfax Courthouse to Alexandria. Several pieces of artillery were posted on the hill in our rear. We could hear wagon-trains moving on the 'pike, and soon our artillery opened a rapid fire in that direction. The regiment bivouacked at dark, on the Chantilly road, down which the column moved at early morn. Just after sunrise the Fourth Regiment in front surprised a squadron of United States Dragoons at breakfast, and captured every man without firing a shot.
For one or two days we remained in this vicinity picketing. A squadron of the Ninth had here a smart skirmish with a body of Union home guards.
We witnessed the commencement of the battle fought near this road. A section of Pelham's Battery, under his immediate command, was moving down the Chantilly road about one hundred yards in front of our column. On these guns the enemy's sharpshooters opened fire from the cover of woods about one hundred and fifty yards to the right of the road. With perfect coolness and great rapidity the guns were unlimbered and a raking fire of grape poured upon the assailants. Our command remained as support to Pelham for a few minutes, when the infantry skirmish-line came up, and then we moved at a trot to the extreme left.
In posting videttesm Private Moncure Hull, of Company B, was shot by the enemy and killed instantly. The enemy retreated, and we remained on our post till morning. We here saw the body of the brave General Phil. Kearney in an ambulance, attended by an escort and borne into the Federal lines.
Our march now was to Fairfax Courthouse, which we reached about night. Bivouacking near the Courthouse, we continued the pursuit next morning, and arrived at Fairfax Station by sunrise. The station had been fired, yet so hurriedly that ample supplies for our men and horses were rescued. After a few hours' halt, we resumed the saddle, and at night rejoiced to join once more our long-lost wagon-train at Drainsville. A day's rest was granted, and we learned definitely that on the morrow the army would cross the Potomac and test the sympathy of Northwestern Maryland with the Confederate cause. A good many furloughs were granted, and some servants returned to their homes. These facts brought paper, pens and pencils into demand, and many letters were prepared for the loved ones at home.
By three o'clock in the morning (September 5th) the bugles sounded to horse. Near Leesburg we breakfasted on roasted corn and apples, and when in sight of that town, filing to the right, we soon reached the river and forded it at Edward's Ferry. The Ninth Regiment was in the rear of the brigade, and the Fifth in front. A dashing charge, we heard, was made upon some troops at Poolesville by a portion of the latter regiment, under the lead of Major Douglas. All was quiet when we reached the village about dark. The merchants here accepted our Confederate Treasury notes, and many bare feet were clad in boots and shoes. Our march was continued to Barnesville, where we camped for the night. Leaving a squadron at this point under command of Captain Waller, the command moved next to New Market, near which we remained quietly for two days, and then marched rapidly back towards Barnesville. Waller's squadron had been attacked by a force greatly superior in numbers. His outpost picket of ten men was captured. Moving his camp after dark delayed the attack upon his main body until light. He fell back on the road to New Market, contesting every foot of ground on the way. Lieutenant Williams, of Company A, was killed, and Lieutenant King, of Company I, and four or five privates were wounded. The object of the enemy's advance was the possession of Sugar-Loaf Mountain, on which a signal station had been established commanding very extended views of the surrounding country, and from which the movements of General Lee's army could be observed. We met Waller near the eastern base of this mountain, and checked at once the charging squadrons of the enemy. They then dismounted and advanced on foot, and now came a contest most unequal. We had but a single squadron armed with carbines and these of inferior quality, while our foes were fully equipped and outnumbered us three to one. Colonel Lee, selecting a wooded slope, posted Captain Knight's squadron in skirmish-line, protecting the flanks with the remaining squadrons mounted. The firing was very rapid, and charge after charge was gallantly repulsed, yet the numbers seemed to increase. Artillery began to belch forth its humming missiles. Captain Knight began to despair, and, being slightly lame, was leisurely retreating from the woods when met by Colonel Lee, who inquired if he was wounded. "No," responded the Captain, "but the enemy are in such force we can't hold the position." He was ordered back, and for hours held the ground, repulsing every effort of the crowd which pressed his front till darkness threw her mantle over the scene. Our men were well protected behind trees and logs, and our casualties were but few. The enemy's losses, we thought, were much more serious.
Our object having been accomplished, we were withdrawn during the night, and traversed the road back through New Market towards Frederick City. We crossed the mountain to receive and cook rations, the first received for two days. Before this was done, however, we mounted and moved rapidly back to the New Market road, upon which a charge was made by the Fourth Regiment, resulting in the capture of a few wagons. The entire force returned to the foot of the mountain, and remained in line of battle till after midnight, when the march over the mountain was again made, and continued until about ten o'clock the following morning. It was Sunday, and our halt was close to a large mill. The regiment remained here until the evening, feeding the horses, cooking, and eating. A party of women seemed amused and delighted at the ragged outfit of our men, and were certainly as intensely hostile as any blue-stocking "school marm" of Massachusetts.
At four o'clock the bugles sounded to horse, and after a march of four hours we halted with our wagon-train, which we found camped near Boonsboro'. We had heard heavy cannonading in this direction during the day, and now the sound of artillery and wagons passing rapidly down the 'pike leading through the village could be distinctly heard. About eleven o'clock we parted from our wagons, and, taking the 'pike running through the South Pass, ascended the mountain for over a mile and halted in column of fours on the road. The infantry in detached parties of from ten to two hundred marched by us, moving down the 'pike. After sunrise on the morning of September 15th we followed them, moving slowly and often facing about. The Fourth Regiment was in front in the retrograde march, and the Ninth in the rear. As we got well out from the mountain the dark-blue columns of the enemy, with their bright muskets gleaming in the morning sunshine, were seen filing down the 'pike, and on both the right and left of that road. We reached Boonsboro', and found a large building on the Main street converted into a hospital, and filled with Confederates wounded in the previous day's fight, made by General Longstreet at South Pass. The order "Forward" was given, but, from some cause, was not executed by Colonel Wickham in time. Before the Ninth Regiment cleared the town our rear guard, under General Fitz. Lee in person, I think, were driven at full gallop upon our rear. A fire was at the same time opened upon us from the upper windows of some of the houses. The order to wheel about, given by Colonel Lee, was heard only by the officers commanding the rear squadron, and before it could be executed the enemy's cavalry was upon us. Clouds of dust enveloped everything. The column became a confused mass, hurrying without order down the 'pike, and many escaping through the fields. Colonel Lee was dismounted early in the action, and the enemy pressed up closely, using their carbines. Rallying a few men, the Lieutenant-Colonel led a charge with the sabre, when his horse, too, was killed within twenty yards of the enemy's line, deployed across the 'pike and the field on our left. Captain Haynes, now leading a few men, pressed on, broke the enemy's line, forcing them back somewhat, and bringing out three or four prisoners from the Eighth Illinois Cavalry. This check enabled Colonel Lee to make good his escape, and kept the enemy at a respectable distance. Private Thomas Lewis, of Company B, insisted that the Lieutenant-Colonel should accept his horse, thus enabling him to assist in the speedy rallying of the command. The enemy continued their pursuit for over a mile, bringing up artillery to aid the cavalry. The regiment, however, was rallied and reformed and fell leisurely back without further annoyance, and bivouacked late in the night in the neighborhood of Sharpsburg.
Our loss was the heaviest yet sustained. Two officers, one of them Lieutenant A. E. Fowlkes, of Company G, and sixteen privates were killed, and ten privates captured. The advancing column of General McClellan's army nearly surrounded us, and nothing but our own rapid, though disorderly retreat, prevented the capture of the whole regiment. Captain Hughlett had two horses killed under him before clearing the town. Concealing himself in a lot of Indian corn on the skirts of the village he remained undiscovered all day, and had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing his fallen comrades committed to the earth by the enemy's hands. He saw also that the loss which we had sustained was nearly equalled by that which we inflicted. When darkness came, he sought and received shelter and food from a mother who had two sons in the opposing army, and, after some adventures, he rejoined us on the following day. Worn down by toil and hunger and bruises received from their falling horses, the field-officers of the regiment were compelled to rest a day. A good many of the men followed their example, and found food in the adjacent country. The regiment, commanded by Captain Samuel Swann, was employed in picket and vidette duty on the left flank of the army. Several officers passed over to Shepherdstown to procure fresh horses to replace those killed or disabled at Boonsboro'. In the afternoon of September 16th the regiment, supporting a masked battery, witnessed the advance of McClellan's army and the commencement of the battle of Sharpsburg. We remained on the extreme left until morning, and were then ordered to the rear of the centre of our lines. Major Lewis and Captain John Murphy, who had been left in Hanover, rejoined the regiment to-day. Though exposed to shells throughout the day no casualties occurred among our men. We bivouacked at night on the Sharpsburg 'pike. The next day we were ordered to collect the stragglers from the ranks of our army. These brave men, exhausted by toil and hunger, and without ammunition, were found in numbers in the corn-fields.
Replacing the infantry outposts as they retired after nightfall, our regiment held the extreme left of our line. This was regarded as full of danger. The right wing of the army was at Sharpsburg, and the left some two and a half miles north of it. A vigorous pursuit at dawn was expected by all, and, owing to the remoteness of our position from the point of crossing at Shepherdstown, we concluded the enemy on the right would reach it before we could. In moving to the posts assigned us, our march was over the fields so hotly contested by Hooker and Jackson. The dead in many places covered the ground. Near our reserve straw had been strewn over a large surface, and hundreds of wounded Federals collected and laid upon it. Surgeons with numerous assistants, were in charge of them. Poor fellows! intense suffering was unavoidable, and many, sinking under it, slept their last long sleep.
The sound of axes, falling trees and moving wagons kept us on the alert during the night. The bugle calls in the enemy's camp, beginning about three o'clock in the morning, caused some anxiety. They died away, however, as did the tramping of their horses. The signal gun was fired about sunrise. We fell quietly back, and crossed the river before many of our wagons reached it. It was not until ten o'clock in the day that we saw from our side of the river small bodies of the enemy's cavalry cautiously advancing over the hills we had left. Quite a large number of our wounded were left to the care of the foe, and many of our dead lay on the field unknelled. Sharpsburg as called by us, Antietam as named by the Federals, was, as we had abundant occular demonstration, a bloody field.