History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 5

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Facing About to Meet the Enemy at Shepherdstown—On the Opequon—Resisting Pleasanton's Raid—Promotion of Officers—Charge at Mountsville—Fight at Aldie—At Union—At Upperville—A Gallant Exploit—Fight at Markham—At Barbee's Cross-Roads—Again in Culpeper—Reorganization of Brigade—March to Fredericksburg—In Winter Quarters in Essex—Capture of a Federal Squadron at Leedstown—Gloucester Point—Battle of Fredericksburg.

Our regiment, after crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown and halting for a few hours, moved for some distance on the Charlestown road, and, then changing direction to the right, camped not far from Leetown. We had now less than two hundred men for duty.

Early on the following morning we marched rapidly back towards Shepherdstown, and were placed in position on the extreme right of Major-General A. P. Hill's line. The enemy in some force had crossed the river, and General Hill, facing his troops about, marched back to meet them. The opposing forces met less than a mile from the river. Our troops charged with great impetuosity, broke the enemy's line, and drove them panic-stricken over the river. Many in their flight leaped from the precipices overhanging the road leading from the ford up to Shepherdstown, and were killed. We lay on our arms guarding the fords of the river here until the following day, and then leisurely followed the infantry, and pitched our tents some three miles from Shepherdstown on the road leading to Newcomer's Mill.

We remained in the vicinity of the Opequon till the close of October, our longest stay being on the banks of that stream. Green food cut from the fields of growing corn was the only provision that could be obtained here for our horses, and in a short time it rendered very many of them unfit for service. It became necessary to establish a camp remote from the army for the treatment of the diseased horses.

Our pickets on the Potomac while here grew quite friendly with those of the enemy. The two parties would leave their clothing on either shore and, meeting in the middle of the river, enjoy a bath together. Orders were issued forbidding the practice.

About the middle of October, whilst we were on picket the Union cavalry under command of General Pleasanton, crossed the river in large force at early dawn, and vigorously attacked our outpost under Captain Waller, occupying a position just outside of Shepherdstown. Two of his men, in trying to reach a point for observation, were captured. Our reserve, composed of two squadrons, was in camp at the intersection of the road to Newcomer's Mill with that leading from Martinsburg to the Leetown 'pike. Their advance, despite the efforts of Waller to check it, was so rapid that we barely had mounted when the columns of the enemy appeared on the hills half a mile in our front. One squadron, dismounted, was placed in ambush behind some large rocks on the left of the road, and the other was held back a hundred yards or so in the rear to await the onset. The enemy advanced rapidly and boldly, but before getting abreast of the ambuscade the dismounted men fired with but little effect. This fire, however, threw the Federal horsemen into confusion, and, on seeing our mounted men charging, they broke and fled precipitately. We pursued at full speed for some distance, when a large body of dismounted men and two pieces of artillery were discovered, so posted as to command the road. The rally was then sounded, and our men reformed on their former ground.

The relief regiment under Colonel J. M. Drake now reached us, and, though he was the senior officer, he declined to interfere with the arrangements that had been made, and gladly aided in carrying them out, taking the position assigned his regiment on our right. The enemy, however, did not renew the attack, contenting himself with opening a brisk fire upon us with his artillery. We remained in our position until our pickets were recalled, and were then ordered to fall back by Colonel W. H. F. Lee, who, in the absence of General Fitz. Lee, commanded the brigade. Private William A. Weaver, of Company C, was killed in our charge, and Privates Bird Lewis and Wat. Bowie were wounded. The first was kindly buried by some ladies as soon as the enemy passed, and we found his humble grave close by the road-side, where he fell. What loss our foes sustained we never knew.

As we retired to Newcomer's Mill, General Pleasanton moved down the road to Martinsburg. General Stuart, as soon as he was informed of what was occurring, dispatched General Wade Hampton by a circuitous route to occupy the road above Shepherdstown, while he, with a portion of our brigade, moved upon Martinsburg. General Pleasanton made a rapid retreat to avoid the snare, and we galloped some five miles or more, but saw only some charges by squadrons of the Fourth Regiment in our front, and shells from the artillery bursting over our heads. We reached Shepherdstown after dark, as the last files of Pleasanton's command were crossing the ford over which they had passed in the morning.

On the 18th of October, 1862, Colonel W. H. F. Lee, who had been temporarily disabled by the kick of a horse, was made brigadier-general; R. L. T. Beale, colonel in his stead; Meriwether Lewis, lieutenant-colonel, and Captain Thomas Waller, of Company A, major. Our quartermaster and commissary, Charles Waite and A. G. Dade, were promoted by Lee. Captain M. Forbes was made quartermaster of the regiment, and G. C. Taliaferro adjutant. Our efficient and faithful surgeon, J. S. Gilliam, was promoted, by Lee, and Dr. Thomas Taylor succeeded him as surgeon of the regiment. Captain John Murphy, of Company C, resigned, and Lieutenant John W. Hungerford was promoted in his place.

The advance of General McClellan's army having crossed the Potomac river east of Harper's Ferry, we broke our camp on the 28th of October, and, after marching rapidly by Berryville, bivouacked near the Shenandoah. Many of our horses were disabled from a singular disease in the feet. Resuming the march at early morn we crossed the Blue Ridge at Snickersville, and, passing Bloomfield, camped for a day upon the road leading to Upperville. Captain Haynes, commanding Companies G and H, was left on picket before reaching Bloomfield. We moved from camp on the morning of the 31st, the Ninth Regiment in front, followed by the Fourth, Colonel Wickham commanding the brigade, and General Stuart accompanying in person. Our march was directed to Mountsville. Near this point Lieutenant Robinson, of Company C, commanding our advance guard, captured a picket of the enemy, having dashed upon them so suddenly that only a single pistol-shot was fired. He was complimented for his address and good management.

The command halted for a moment at the post of the picket, yet short as was the halt it served to notify some Federal officers of our presence. These were at a house close by, where they had ordered dinner. We at once commenced a charge. After moving at a gallop for a few hundred yards the cry of "Artillery" was heard at the head of the column. Nothing daunted, forward we dashed, knowing not, and seemingly caring little, upon what arm of the foe we charged. Upon reaching the fork of two roads a camp of the enemy pitched in the open space near the junction of the roads, was seen. They were panic-stricken and in great confusion. Some who had mounted made at full speed for the woods in the distance; others pushed for the roads, while some, motionless from fright, stood still by their horses. Two squadrons were ordered upon either road, and the chase became intensely exciting. Breaking from the ranks, our troopers, singly and in squads, rode after the flying enemy. The rally was sounded in vain. The leading men were brought to a halt about three miles from the starting point of our charge by a few volleys of rifles from well-dressed lines of mounted men not far from Aldie. Whilst the squadrons of the Ninth were being collected and reformed the Fourth Regiment forced these lines back upon Aldie, but were compelled in a few minutes to retreat before what seemed to be a very large force. Indeed, the heavy masses of troops seen about Aldie suggested very strongly that the scene through which we had just passed was about to be repeated with the parties in the chase exchanging places. We were placed in line of battle with our sabres drawn, covering the retreat of the dismounted men, and momentarily expecting to charge. Two of our guns opened fire from the hills behind us, sending their missiles in rapid succession over our heads into the opposing ranks, and this was continued until darkness came, when we quietly withdrew to bivouac near Union. The result of the day's work was decidedly encouraging. Captures on various private accounts were acceptable to the men, and the acquisition of pistols, sabres, saddles, bridles, and blankets gave to the Ninth a greatly improved military appearance. We had encountered nearly a full regiment (the First Rhode Island Cavalry) rifled their camp, killed some, and among them Lieutenant L. D. Gore, captured many, and, when pursued to their heavy supports, held the positions gained, and retreated at our leisure. We had a single man wounded, seemingly slightly, with a shot in the leg. He was a gallant youth—John Rust, of Company C—and died in hospital from this wound.

On the following day the enemy, in very strong force, advanced towards Union, and by noon we were hotly engaged with cavalry and artillery. Though the enemy greatly outnumbered us, General Stuart drove them, and we bivouacked at nightfall fully a mile in advance of our position in the morning.

The following day was Sunday, and was ushered in by a bright sun rising through a cloudless sky, and an atmosphere in perfect repose. As the morning grew that stillness was broken by the dread sounds of war, and the artillery was sending its shrieking balls quickly and loudly. The enemy was driving us, and the brigade, fighting and contesting every position, was compelled to retreat before a large force, composed of infantry and cavalry. Private Luttrell, of Company K, had his arm shattered by a shell near Union. The enemy seemed to be pressing both flanks, as well as our front. General Stuart ordered that the Ninth Regiment should move to the left and occupy the Bloomfield road. We joined Captain Haynes on this road some miles from Bloomfield, from which he had been driven, after suffering the loss of some ten men, chiefly by capture. One or two of these escaped and rejoined us. A column was now pressing forward on this road, and also one upon the Trappe road, running parallel with and near the mountains. The two roads united near the town of Upperville.

Our instructions were to hold this force in check while the General fell slowly back upon the direct road connecting Union and Upperville. We reached by nightfall a position beyond the junction of the roads, and in sight of Upperville, and bivouacked, with three squadrons, in a graveyard, while the other two picketed the roads in front of the enemy's two advancing columns. The night was passed in quiet. The squadrons on picket fell back at dawn to the position held by the others. The enemy appeared close in their rear; halted on coming in sight of us, and threw out a skirmish-line of dismounted men, which, extending across our front, sought to reach a wooded ridge on our right and a stone fence on our left. Our Mountsville captures now proved of essential service. The long-range rifles in the hands of our dismounted men defeated every effort to reach our flanks, and finally drove the skirmishers back to the cover of the hill. Before noon we discovered that a road a mile to our right upon which the Fourth regiment was placed had been carried by the enemy, and we could see their squadrons in the fields moving down on our right flank.

The troops under General Stuart were passing through Upperville, and across our rear towards Paris, and as soon as the artillery reached the point of intersection of the Trappe road, on which we were, the order came to fall back. It being impossible to withdraw our skirmish-line in time to pass down this road, directions were sent to them to take the by-paths skirting the mountains. The main body of the regiment received the fire of the enemy's mounted men at very short range, as we passed to the 'pike, escaping, however, without any very serious casualties.

On reaching the 'pike, orders came from Colonel Rosser, commanding the brigade in place of Wickham, who had been badly wounded, to protect two or three guns which were drawn slowly along by jaded horses. No other troops save our regiment were to be seen, and considerable bodies of the enemy's cavalry were advancing on the road we had held, and also up the 'pike. The Federal skirmish-line soon pressed hotly upon our rear and flank, and some men, badly wounded and supported in the saddle by comrades, were hurried past us. General Stuart was in the midst of our rear squadron when faced about and deployed by Major Waller as skirmishers to repel the too near approach of the more daring Yankee troopers. The shells, too, began to explode over our heads as we approached the high hills through which the 'pike ran. Looking back upon the hosts of the enemy, the capture of our small body seemed probable, when, opportunely enough, the sound of artillery in front from long-range guns posted on the heights told of the precaution of our General for our safety. The pursuit ended at once, and we proceeded for some miles along the 'pike, and then took a road to the left, which formed an acute angle with the 'pike, and led to Piedmont Station on the Manassas Gap railroad. The guns were placed in our rear, and the orders from Colonel Rosser were that we should approach the station cautiously, as the enemy might occupy it.

An advanced guard under our Sergeant-Major Richerson was ordered to move half a mile in our front. Not far from the station a foraging party from the Fourth and Fifth regiments was met, who, having reported their regiments as quietly camping with the wagon-train at Piedmont, the advanced guard was recalled, and the Sergeant-Major directed to ride on and provide something for supper. The men of the foraging party whom he met returned with him. When within a few hundred yards of the station a pistol-shot was heard, followed by the sound of horses' hoofs coming rapidly towards us. The regiment was instantly halted, and, with sabres drawn, prepared to charge. The men proved to be the party which had ridden ahead, who stated they had discovered what they took to be a Yankee picket stationed at the intersection of our road with the railroad. A courier was at once dispatched to Colonel Rosser with the information. Major Waller, coming to the front to learn what had halted us, the Colonel said to him: "We must ascertain certainly whether the enemy is at Piedmont, and I have some difficulty about the best way to do it." Private Bell, of Company A, having heard the remark, volunteered to do it if he could get a pistol. One was handed him, and, selecting a comrade, he rode forward. Before the courier who had been sent to Colonel Rosser returned with an order to ascertain certainly the truth of the information sent, Bell and his companion returned, bringing a mounted prisoner captured from the picket itself, from whom all necessary information was obtained.

Bell gave this account of the mode by which he accomplished his undertaking: A few yards from a run which washed the base of the railroad embankment, the road formed a right angle. On reaching the corner here his companion halted, and he, moving on alone, found himself in close proximity to ten or twelve Yankees on their horses on the bank of the railroad. Fearing to turn back he rode into the run, and his horse, suffering for water, pressed up the run until stopped by a fence, which crossed it and ran along the roadside. While his horse was drinking one of the picket rode down to water his horse, also, which pressed up the stream until he brought his rider in close contact with him. He was holding his pistol cocked in his hand, and, bringing it to bear upon the heart of the Yankee, he whispered to him to ride out with him without a word or sign, or die. He accepted the first alternative presented, and, on turning the corner, quietly surrendered his arms, and was brought in. The prisoner confirmed this statement, and uttered curses on his comrades for suffering one man to take him right under their eyes.

It was now dark, and, reversing our course, the regiment moved back along the road we had come for a mile or two, then moving to the left, travelled over a hilly country, along by-roads, on which it was very difficult to drag the artillery. After halting a few hours to feed the horses and allow the men to eat what might be gotten, we reached the railroad at Markham Station about daylight. Leaving Companies G and H, under Captain Haynes, we resumed the saddle before noon, and, being in advance, marched quietly to Barbee's Cross-Roads. The Fourth Regiment and our squadron under Haynes had to hold the enemy in check, and were engaged in skirmishes for some hours. Haynes lost two or three men, and the officer in charge of the artillery complimented him very highly, saying that his gallantry and courage had saved his guns.

In the afternoon the brigade passed us, moving towards Orleans. We were left on picket at the Cross-Roads, and two pieces of artillery remained with us. Leaving Captain Hungerford with Companies C and K, the other four squadrons were withdrawn with the two guns, some three miles on the road leading to Orleans, and we bivouacked. About midnight an order came from General Stuart directing that we should reoccupy Barbee's Cross-Roads before light on the morrow. This was done, and shortly afterwards it was learned that General Hampton's brigade was in position on our left front. Our brigade, owing to the loss of the horses from diseased feet, barely numbered five hundred men fit for duty. The enemy's cavalry were quickly seen moving towards us, on the road, and to the right and left of it. Our position was at the intersection of the roads close to Barbee's house, the head of the column of fours resting just under the little hill at that point; and within fifty yards of the crossing, with one squadron dismounted and deployed in skirmish-line to the front and right beyond the Cross-Roads.

Some few solid shot and shells were fired at us from guns posted on the slope of the mountain to our right. The road leading to Markham had been strongly barricaded the previous night, and was so still, and a panel of fence on the left of the road removed to make a passageway.

The enemy encountered Hampton, and by weight of numbers pressed him back rapidly. Our skirmish-line, under Captain Stith Boiling, was next engaged. They made a stubborn resistance, and apparently inflicted some loss upon the enemy. They were, however, driven back behind the barricade, and from that line back further to a stone fence bounding the road on the left, immediately to the left of our mounted squadrons. The enemy's mounted column now charged down the road on Barbee's, Pelham's two guns to our left and rear opening a rapid fire on them as they came. When they had nearly reached the barricade the order was given for us to charge. Intending to lead three squadrons to the left of the houses, Lieutenant James K. Ball was ordered to charge with the squadron in front (Companies D and E) up to the barricade and through the open fence-panel, where the ground was open and free of obstructions. Moving with Ball at the head of the column to the crossing, and, pausing to await the next squadron so as to direct it up the left road, the Colonel found himself at the instant of reining up his horse assailed by a party of Yankees who had charged around the houses. When extricated from this personal combat, he found the regiment had fallen back and were reforming a hundred yards in rear of the position previously occupied. The fault was not the regiment's, but the Colonel's. Lieutenant Ball and Adjutant Gawin C. Taliaferro were the only officers who understood the order to charge, and they were both dangerously wounded. The men in the lead of the charging squadron dismounted on reaching the open panel of fence, and at the same time the enemy's dismounted skirmish-line, closing in upon them, opened fire at close quarters. Our loss was three killed, six wounded, and six or seven missing, and about twelve horses killed and disabled. Adjutant Taliaferro, with thigh shattered, was left on the field, and fell into the hands of the enemy.

Captain Pelham, with his guns, checked any further advance of the Yankees, and after remaining in line of battle some time, the brigade leisurely fell back to Waterloo Bridge on the Rappahannock.

At early dawn next morning we crossed to the south bank, and, being ordered to guard the ford at Hart's Mill, proceeded to that point. After reaching it an order came to hold it at every hazard. From the topography of the country this seemed to involve the sacrifice of the regiment. An amphitheatre of broken rocks, covered with a growth of small brush-wood on the opposite bank, commanded every inch of ground on our side within rifle-shot of the stream. No enemy made his appearance, and at nightfall four squadrons were sent to Jeffersonton, the Colonel remaining with one till morning, when he rejoined the brigade at that point. Captain Crutchfield left the regiment about this time, and shortly afterwards sent in his resignation. His name was finally dropped from our roll. The Colonel's last horse having become totally unfit for service, the regiment was placed under Major Waller's command, and was employed on picket duty north of Hazel river. The brigade moved towards Culpeper Courthouse, and the regiment followed next day. Two days later it recrossed the Rappahannock with a body of infantry and cavalry under General Stuart, and, with some difficulty escaping overwhelming numbers of the enemy, reached Rixeyville. Here the Colonel rejoined the regiment with a fresh horse, finding them doing picket duty in the vicinity of New Boston. While here an order was received to report to Brigadier-General W. H. F. Lee at Brandy Station. A new brigade now assigned to his command was composed of the Ninth, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Fifteenth Virginia, and the Second North Carolina cavalry regiments.

The results of the campaign had materially changed the appearance of our troops. United States army pistols and sabres, and good McClellan saddles were now generally owned by our men. In these particulars of cavalry equipment our government had been very deficient, supplying only a few saddles of very inferior make.

After a rest of a few days at Brandy Station we made a forced march to Fredericksburg, where we met the Fifteenth Regiment. After a day's halt here we moved into camp at Hick's Hill. A permit for detached service was here obtained, and for the purpose of recruiting the dismounted men and allowing those with disabled horses to secure fresh ones, we marched down the river to camp near Lloyd's, in Essex county.

Robert J. Washington had been selected as adjutant in the place of Lieutenant Taliaferro, who was retired on account of permanent disability. Dr. Clarence Garnett was appointed assistant surgeon. Our ranks were now speedily recruited to their usual number for duty. Two small brass guns, commanded by Lieutenant Betts, were sent down and kept near us. The Federal army, under General Hooker, occupied the northern side of the Rappahannock, and their pickets were extended down the river opposite to our encampment. We could see and hear from them almost daily, and the Colonel's desire to cross the river and strike them a blow was warmly seconded by the officers and men of the regiment. Scouts were sent across the river to find out the position and strength of the parties picketing in King George and Westmoreland, and the exact situation of the camps, picket posts and reserve stations, and the paths by which they might be approached and surprised. The Eighth Regiment of Pennsylvania Cavalry were camped, it was ascertained, at Greenlaw's, in King George, with a squadron at Leedstown, in Westmoreland county. Boats were provided, and plans arranged to cross with three hundred men—two hundred to be led by the present writer to attack the camp at Greenlaw's, and one hundred under Major Waller to secure the squadron at Leedstown. Application had been duly forwarded to our commanding General for leave to execute this purpose, and a favorable answer was eagerly awaited. The answer came, but allowed only a part of the force to be sent, and forbidding that any officer should go above the rank of Major. Major Waller was, therefore, directed to carry out the plan against Leedstown, and one hundred men were selected from those who eagerly volunteered to go. These moved up the river some six miles after dark. The two brass guns and a supporting force were moved to a point previously chosen nearly opposite to Leedstown to guard, as well as we might, against any untimely appearance of a gunboat in the river.

The night proved icy cold, and an unfavorable tide rendered the crossing in the boats very difficult. Many of the men and officers, however, had been reared near rivers, and understood well how to navigate them, and, burning to strike the foe who was plundering their homes, braved the difficulties and rowed across. About sixty went over. The trusty guides led the separate parties quietly through the fields and along ravines until close upon the pickets, who were surprised and taken. Major Waller, now uniting his force, moved down to Leedstown, surrounded the house in which the picket-reserve was quartered and noiselessly disarmed them. He then marched his men towards the Taylor residence, a quarter of a mile distant, where the main body of the enemy was camped. After approaching near the house silently, the men, after firing a volley from their carbines, rushed with a yell upon it. The surprise was complete. A few pistol-shots followed, and all was still. We, who were on the opposite shore, could hear the shouts and firing, and knew all was well. The result was the capture of the entire party of sixty men and horses, except one picket of three or four men who escaped. Two privates of the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry and two citizens, held as prisoners, were released. Before light Waller recrossed the river with Captain Wilson and his squadron; and he succeeded in swimming over forty-eight horses, though the river was quite a mile wide. Sergeant R. B. Lewis, of Company C, was wounded. This was the only casualty among our men.

The author having been denied the privilege of crossing the Rappahannock, his attention was turned to Gloucester Point. Two intelligent and reliable scouts were sent down to collect the necessary information, and a request was forwarded to General R. E. Lee for permission to attack the place, if found practicable. This was promptly granted, and arrangements were made to move as soon as the scouts returned with their report. The information obtained was minute and accurate. The position of each gun, the range of the two gunboats, the ditch, the tortuous approach through felled timber, were all inspected, and the enterprise promising no chance of success was abandoned at once.

On the 12th day of December orders reached us to march with dispatch to Fredericksburg. Though forty miles distant at the time, we were in position on the extreme right of our army at the crossing of the river road and the Massaponax run by sunrise on the morning of the 13th. A dense fog enveloped the flats on the river, and concealed everything in front. We had crossed the run and were resting in column of squadrons in the field on the right. As the fog rose a formidable array of artillery was discovered in our front at short range. We were ordered to recross the run at a trot, leaving our dismounted riflemen to hold the field. Heavy guns posted on the heights above Fitzhugh's and along Gray's lane, beyond the river, fired at us at intervals throughout the day. No damage, save a few slight wounds and the loss of six horses, was sustained.

From our position we saw the flashes and smoke on the bloody field before Fredericksburg. We saw also the line of Federals as it moved across the River road to assault Jackson at Hamilton's Crossing; their flight back over that road; the panic which seized the reserve line as the yells of Jackson's men reached them, and the promptness with which their officers checked incipient disorder. Near night Pelham ran his guns down on the plain, followed by two or more batteries from the infantry line, and opened a rapid fire upon the lines of the enemy near the river. The enemy's batteries replied, and as night threw her mantle of darkness over the land the mass of sulphurous smoke was lit with a lurid glare from the explosion of shells.

The long dark line of our infantry descended from the hills, and we expected momentarily the rattle of musketry, but it came not, and we bivouacked in the woods which skirted the field we had occupied during the day. A few shells disturbed our quiet next morning, and we were made more uncomfortable by a cold rain and great scarcity of provisions. On the 15th of December we marched to Port Royal and camped with the brigade on the hills overlooking that village, performing picket duty up the river as high as Moss Neck. Near Christmas General Stuart, with details from many regiments, made a reconnoissance in the rear of the Federal army. Major Waller commanded the detail from the Ninth. They went around the right flank of the Yankee army, and advanced as far as Fairfax Station, and returned through Fauquier and Culpeper without any serious encounters.