History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 6
Picketing the Rappahannock—Outrages of the Enemy in the Northern Neck—Changes in Officers—Sergeant King Declines an Election—March to Gloucester Point—Camping Again in Culpeper—Under Fire at Rappahannock Bridge and Beverly's Ford—At Kelly's Mills—In Rear of General Hooker's Army—Opposing Averill—Charge at Rapidan Station—Charge at Trevillian's–On the Three-Chop Road—A Remarkable Coincidence—Captain Forbes Falls at Chancellorsville.
The campaign of 1862 was the first in which we had seen much of the realities of flagrant war. The infantry had suffered the heaviest losses; the cavalry was still regarded by those not familiar with its duties as offering a place of comparative safety.
Our winter camp was now located at Occupacia, in Essex, and some weeks later on the Dragon, in King and Queen county. At the instance of a majority of the officers the duty was accepted for the regiments of picketing the Rappahannock from Port Royal to Urbana, with headquarters fixed near Lloyd's. This duty was the more cheerfully accepted because of the hope which it offered that we might cross the river and strike the marauding parties which were sent out by the enemy from their camps in Stafford as far down as the lower end of Westmoreland. Scouts were sent over and plans made to cross the river, but after repeated applications we got the liberty to do so, coupled with an order not to remain under any circumstances over twenty-four hours. One enterprise seemed practicable, even with this condition, and arms and boats were made ready, but the morning of the day of its execution brought the Colonel of the regiment an order for his presence at camp, to preside over a court-martial, and this unwelcome service continued through the winter. A record of the vile deeds done at this period among the helpless and unarmed people of the Northern Neck by Federal soldiers and armed negroes, would find its parallel only in the accounts of the atrocities of savages.
Many changes had occurred among the officers of the regiment. R. K. Smith had succeeded Crutchfield as captain of Company E, Captain John Tayloe and Lieutenant John Tayloe, Jr., of Company I, had resigned, and Lieutenant Billingsley (a prisoner) had been made captain. Sergeant King had commanded this company, and, though a plain mechanic, had shown fine soldierly qualities during the year previous, and had never been absent when duties demanded his presence, and as a reward for his fidelity and good conduct he had been recommended for appointment as first lieutenant at a time when the company was too much reduced in numbers to elect its officers. Before the appointment came the wagon-train and its attendants (Company Q) joined us, and as elections would be held in several companies, the Colonel, not doubting but that King would be the choice of Company I, said to the Adjutant he had as well embrace that company in the order for holding the elections. This remark was communicated to King, and he promptly called at the log-fire at regimental headquarters. Finding several officers present he remarked that he preferred that no election should be had in his case, as he would "value much more highly an appointment from such men as Stuart and the Lees." He was told very well; that no election would be ordered by his company. King tarried, however, until he was alone with the Colonel, and then informed him that, supposing his commission certain, he had cursed one of the men that morning, and he thought if the election was put to a vote he would be beaten. G. W. Beale was elected lieutenant in Company C, and George E. Chancellor in Company E.
The brigade was soon after this brought together at Saluda. Upon reaching this place and rejoining the regiment the Colonel, with other officers, was summoned to a council, and found the object of the movement was an attack upon Gloucester Point. He advised strongly against it, but was overruled, and orders were issued to march early the following morning. A halt was made late in the evening, and the commandants of regiments were summoned to receive orders. The Ninth was assigned to the capture of the fort; the Thirteenth and Second North Carolina to the attack of a regiment of cavalry, said to be encamped on the point, a few hundred yards from the fort, and the Fifteenth Regiment was to be held in reserve. After dark we moved, and after proceeding cautiously and silently halted when in close proximity to the Point. Captain Boiling was sent forward with a party to reconnoitre, and on his return. General Lee concluded not to make the attack; so, facing about, we returned to our camp in Essex.
The campaign of 1863 opened about the 1st of April. Having struck our tents near Occupacia, we joined the brigade, and, marching by Newtown, Waller's Tavern, and Chesterfield Depot, halted and camped for some days about a mile from Orange Courthouse. We then crossed the Rapidan and moved to the farm of John M. Botts in Culpeper, near Brandy Station. On reaching this camp the regiment numbered seven hundred and fifty men for duty. The enemy occupied the north bank of the Rappahannock in our front. A party of Federals one morning crossed at the railroad bridge, and, driving the picket out, occupied a redoubt on our side. The Ninth Regiment was ordered to drive them back and reinstate our picket. The enemy's position on the bluffs beyond the river gave them the power to rake with canister and grape the open plain over which we had to pass in order to reach the men in the redoubt. After inspecting the position, it was concluded that the duty assigned us would necessarily entail severe loss. On reaching the foot of the hills bounding the plain where the regiment was screened by some timber, we halted, and the front squadron, commanded by Lieutenant Boulware, was detached, and after being deployed into line, was sent forward at a trot to charge the redoubt. To our surprise the enemy decamped at a double-quick, and forded the river without firing a shot. The picket was marched back to their old quarters, and the squadron withdrawn before the artillery beyond the river commenced its fire, and the shells fell harmless to us among the trees.
A part of the regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis was employed in picketing the fords on Welford's farm, at Beverly's, and above. A detachment, chiefly from Company C, was at Beverly's Ford. The rain had fallen heavily for twelve hours, and the streams were much swollen. A brigade of Federal cavalry having crossed at a ford above, drove the squadron at that point so rapidly back as to get well in the rear of the detachment at Beverly's before any notice of their approach was given. The reserve under Captain Hungerford were forced to beat a hasty retreat, leaving the dismounted men, with Lieutenant G. W. Beale, on the immediate bank of the river to their fate. Their horses at the reserve post were captured ere they had opportunity to know what was occurring. With rare coolness and courage this little band of seventeen men, fording a stream waist deep, traversed an open country for two miles, and repeatedly halting and facing them, kept a squadron of the enemy at bay, and made good their retreat to the woods.
As soon as the intelligence of the enemy's advance reached our camp, the Thirteenth Regiment, supported by the remaining squadrons of the Ninth, was sent in pursuit. Upon nearing Welford's the enemy was seen retreating rapidly to the ford. The Thirteenth Regiment, charging at full speed under a rapid fire of rifles from the opposite side, reached the ford in time to capture the rear files. The river, swollen by the rains, was too deep for fording, and a good many of the Yankees were drowned in attempting to swim it. Learning that a picket guard that had been stationed farther down the river had not yet escaped, a party was dispatched in pursuit of them, who soon returned to us. bringing ten or twelve prisoners, and what were equally acceptable, as many good horses, well equipped, to supply the places of those captured from us. We had one man—George Garrison, a private in Company A—killed.
The regiment remained inactive until about the middle of May, when the Federal army advanced. The cavalry in force crossed at Kelly's Mills, driving before them the dismounted pickets of the Ninth Regiment on guard at that point. After crossing they engaged the Thirteenth Regiment, which was pushed forward on the plain below Miller's Hill. Our regiment occupied the hill. The skirmishing was continued until near noon, by which time General Stuart discovered that the main Union army was advancing rapidly to the Rapidan. We moved speedily to that point, the Fourth Regiment preceding us. Charges were made upon the rear of the enemy by some of the squadrons of this regiment, and some thirty or forty prisoners brought in. These prisoners were placed in our custody about dark, and orders were received to return to Culpeper Courthouse. The rain and mud made our march tedious and slow, encumbered, as we were, with prisoners on foot. We reached the Courthouse barely in time to draw rations and resume the saddle by sunrise. We continued the march to Rapidan Bridge, where the rear squadron was left to guard it. Another squadron under Major Waller was detached to watch the fords above, and the remaining three were dismounted to feed. Before the horses were fed, the squadron at the river were skirmishing with the advance parties of the enemy, and men were at once put in the rifle-pits, and several cannon posted, to hold the bridge and ford. Thus we remained during the night, supported by the Thirteenth Regiment.
On the next morning General W. H. F. Lee, commanding the brigade, anxious to find out what force was pressing us, directed the present writer to take a squadron and break through their line of skirmishers beyond the river, and draw the enemy out. This enterprise was full of excitement. As we ascended the slope leading up from the river, on the crest of which the enemy's sharpshooters were posted, the windows of several houses were raised and the ladies, leaning out, waved joyfully their handkerchiefs. A single volley from the skirmishers greeted us, and they fled. Beyond the ridge the reserve picket—a squadron or so—in column confronted us in the road. With drawn sabres, and our Adjutant's clerk, William Campbell, taking the lead, the squadron charged with a yell. In vain the officer commanding the enemy's party waved his sabre and urged his men forward. They wheeled and fled, and he, gallant fellow, leaping his fine charger over the fence to our right, held his ground till abreast of us, and then after emptying his pistol on us, retreated unscathed by the dozen bullets which were fired at his person. Our men kept up their headlong pursuit after the rally was sounded, and did not retreat until General Averill's regiments in line of battle were uncovered. Enough was discovered to satisfy us that the force in front of our little command was overwhelming. The enemy's artillery had been firing upon us during the whole time, to which our guns seemed to make but feeble replies. Our loss, after recrossing the river, was found to be but two missing. These were the brothers M. U. F. and J. N. Wright, of Company C, the latter of whom was severely and basely wounded after he had surrendered. They both rejoined us before the campaign ended.
About midnight we were ordered to burn the railroad bridge. This structure, saturated by continuous rains for days, was impervious to any fire we could make, and though the effort to burn it was not abandoned till our retreat commenced, the bridge was left standing.
Our march was now made through Orange Courthouse to Gordonsville. About the same hour that we left the Rapidan General Averill commenced his retreat to the north of the Rappahannock. The two men mentioned above, who were prisoners at the time with the enemy, told us on their return that, from the conversation of their guards, they gathered the information that this retreat was caused from fear of an attack by us the following day.
After a brief halt at Gordonsville we were ordered to proceed down the railroad to Trevillian's Station, at which point it was reported that a part of General Stoneman's force was engaged in tearing up the railroad. When within a mile of the place two citizens were met who informed us that they had just left it, and that no enemy was in sight. A detachment under Lieutenant Robinson was directed to proceed down the road as far as Louisa Courthouse, unless the enemy was sooner discovered, and the regiment was withdrawn a short distance from the road on the right and dismounted to rest. This was scarcely done before rapid firing was heard on the road which Robinson's party had taken. Mounting and moving at a gallop back into the road, the head of our column reached it just as Robinson's men came up at full speed. The leading squadron was sent charging down the road, and the next dismounted and ambushed in a railroad-cut commanding the road. Another squadron was put in position a hundred or two yards further back under Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, and the remaining ones were ordered to be arranged, some in ambush and some mounted, half a mile in our rear, under Major Waller. Before these dispositions were completed squads of the party charging began to return. A few of the enemy had been killed—some three or four—and one mortally wounded was brought in. About forty-five prisoners were taken. As these were found to represent three different regiments, it was concluded that Stoneman's whole force was in our front. A courier was dispatched to General W. H. F. Lee, and the enemy's advance quietly awaited. After waiting a short time we began to withdraw, when a feeble yell was heard, and a small squad of troopers charged past our dismounted men, and received their fire at very close range, but without any injury to them. Before they could wheel Lewis was on them with a mounted squadron. These charged some distance without encountering any more of the enemy. Lieutenant Boulware, of Company B, who was riding a fresh and unmanageable horse, continued to charge, without sabre or hat, nearly down to Louisa Courthouse, and was made a prisoner. This was the only loss we sustained.
We remained in position until General Lee came up. No further charge was made, and the command moved back to Gordonsville to enjoy a supper, which ended a fast of thirty-six hours, and to get a much-needed night's rest.
In the early morning we were again in the saddle. The Union cavalry were reported to be moving on Columbia to destroy the canal at or near that place. Traversing the Green Spring country in Louisa, we reached Palmyra before night, fed our weary steeds and supped. The enemy had retreated, and about dark we moved in pursuit of him. We marched all night, and about daybreak halted on the Three-Chop road, in Goochland, for breakfast. The citizens reported the enemy as having passed three hours ahead of us.
One of our men got permission to go out to forage for a breakfast, and soon came back reporting a Yankee picket about a mile in advance of us. Captain Ryalls, of General Stuart's staff, who accompanied our command, asked for ten men to capture this picket, and they were furnished to him. A stronger force was soon sent for, and Major Waller, with Companies D and E, was sent. The whole command was now moved forward, so as to be in supporting distance.
Before we reached Waller he had encountered a squadron of United States Dragoons, belonging to the Fifth Regulars, and a spirited hand-to-hand sabre fight had taken place. Singular it was that squadrons of the same two opposing regiments should have twice met each other alone, using on each occasion the sabre and pistol, first on the Tolopottomoi, and now on the Three-Chop road. Company E, of the Ninth was engaged on both of these occasions.
The odds in numbers were in favor of the United States Regulars. They met on this occasion in column of fours; before in line of battle. Three of the enemy were killed, a good many wounded, and eleven captured, including a Captain Owens, commanding, and a Lieutenant Buford. Our casualties were two privates wounded. After a continuous march of sixty miles in twenty-four hours, we again camped at Gordonsville.
On the following day we marched to the North Anna river, returning by Louisa Courthouse. A few stragglers were taken. Stoneman had recrossed the Rapidan; the great battle of Chancellorsville had been fought, and "Stonewall" Jackson, our greatest field marshal, had gone down; Captain Forbes, our quartermaster, who was in Fredericksburg when Hooker advanced, and had volunteered to serve on General A. P. Hill's staff, had been killed in the same battle.