History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 7

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Camping Again in Culpeper—Grand Cavalry Review—The Hard-Fought Battle of Fleetwood or Brandy Station—In Peril at Thoroughfare Gap—Looking for the Enemy in the Dark—Second Encounter With First Rhode Island Cavalry—Middleburg Fight—Death of Captain Hungerford—Fight at Upperville—Lt.-Col. Lewis Wounded and Captured—Captain Robinson's Capture and Daring Escape.

The regiment returned to its old camping-gronnd near John Minor Botts', in Culpeper, and pitched its tents nearer Welford's Ford than before, on the extreme left of the cavalry line. Eugene Baker, of Company B, was selected to fill the place of Captain Forbes, as quartermaster. Early in June the regiment took part in a general cavalry review under the inspection of General R. E. Lee, on the plain near Brandy Station—the most imposing display of Confederate horsemen we had yet seen.

On the morning of the 9th of June the enemy at dawn forced a passage over the river at Kelly's Mills and Beverly's Ford, and drove the regiment on the right of our line rapidly back. They pursued the Fourth Regiment quite up to General Stuart's headquarters about Brandy Station. The main force of the enemy crossed at Beverly's Ford, and, bearing to the right, swept up the river, and, when about breakfast-time, we were ordered out, several of their squadrons had reached the fields just to the south of the Welford house. These were speedily driven back, but with some serious loss in Companies G and H. Two pieces of our artillery were advanced, and posted upon a hill near a bend of the river, and four squadrons of the Ninth were posted in the rear for their support. Several attempts were made upon the position, but were repulsed by the dismounted men of the brigade, with severe losses to the enemy. By three o'clock the centre of our line was forced back to Miller's Hill, and over half a mile in our rear. Our brigade was now ordered to fall back to Barbour's Hill. This change of position was critical, for, besides the enemy's force in our front, heavy masses of them were seen below Miller's Hill, and the line of our march crossed the road only about half a mile from them. The order from General Lee now was that the mounted squadrons of our regiment should occupy that road in advance of the point at which the brigade would cross it. Leaving our dead and wounded behind us, we reached the road and made ready to meet an attack. We held the position until all safely reached the hill, and then moved back to our position on the left. Just before reaching it a charge by the enemy was handsomely repulsed.

After reaching Barbour's Hill a body of the enemy's cavalry, which seemed not less than three regiments, were seen moving towards our left flank, and apparently seeking the ravines and woods to conceal their line of march. We did not penetrate the design of this movement at the time, but soon the few men forming the extreme left of our videttes were seen running from their posts, and Yankee troopers leaping the fence in pursuit. It was then perceived that the high land to our left commanded the whole field, and was a strategic point of great importance. The regiment, which was resting in column of fours, was ordered to charge up the hill to save the dismounted men. They came up in column, forming rapidly into line as they approached near to that of the enemy. The last squadrons did not halt on the alignment, but dashed upon the foe with the sabre, who broke, and were driven off in confusion. General W. H. F. Lee coming up at this moment, and seeing the enemy in retreat, commanded "Forward," and was at the same instant wounded. Fresh troops of the enemy were now seen emerging from the bottom, which ran parallel with the hill up which we had charged, and were forming a line across our rear. The rally was now sounded, and our men, breaking through this line, became involved in a hand-to-hand fight to the foot of the hill. Here we reformed and again charged, and were in turn forced down the hill by fresh troops. Just where we had reformed before we met the Second North Carolina Cavalry dashing forward, followed by the Tenth Virginia.

An officer from General Stuart here accosted the Colonel, saying: "The General sends his thanks to Colonel Beale and the men of the Ninth for gallantry in holding the hill, and if you will hold it five minutes longer he will send reinforcements."

The reinforcement promised was in sight, but the Federals were in full and rapid retreat.

The enemy had a body of sharpshooters posted in the woods about two hundred yards beyond the summit of the hill, and also two guns to our right which commanded the ground on which we fought, and as soon as their mounted regiments were driven off they opened fire upon us. This checked the pursuit in every charge, and drove the Second North Carolina and Tenth regiments from the hill. No vigorous pursuit was made, and the commanding generals must have thought we were in peril of being whipped, as a line of infantry skirmishers were seen advancing after the fight was over.

Colonel Sol. Williams fell at the head of the Second North Carolina Regiment on the brow of the hotly-contested hill. About ten men in the Ninth Regiment were killed, including Privates Thomas Barber and Charles Jett, of Company C; James Orgain and F. Nash, of Company G, and Harry Ward, of Company K. We had many men wounded. Some twenty of the enemy's dead were left on the scene of the evening's conflict and buried by us.

The author witnessed in this battle the brim and band of Lieutenant Dandridge's hat cut smoothly from his brow by a cannon-ball without the slightest injury to him. The enemy removed their dead for the most part from the ground of the fighting in the morning, but in several places we saw groups of cavalry horses piled upon each other, with here and there a man lying dead among them.

Our regiment suffered more heavily in this battle than on any previous occasion. The loss inflicted upon the enemy must have been many times greater than our own.

The command of the brigade now devolved upon Colonel John R. Chambliss, of the Thirteenth Regiment.

We returned to our camp after remaining at Brandy Station the night of the 9th of June. Our next march—a day or two later—was to White Plains, in Fauquier county. At the latter place we were ordered to proceed to Thoroughfare Gap, and ascertain if any enemy occupied it, but not to engage in any fighting. An officer from General Stuart's staff went forward with a detail of men to inspect the pass. This party returning, met us at a small house about a mile from the entrance to the Gap, and reported that they had gone to the summit, and, looking over the country beyond, had discovered no appearance of the enemy. On receiving this report, some of the officers were permitted to go to the house to get dinner, and the regiment, after being faced about, were directed to rest.

As a matter of precaution, a sergeant and several men were sent to the top of the hills on our right to act as videttes, with instructions to select points from which the Gap might be watched. Before the last man could be posted the sergeant and his men were seen riding back at full speed. The hill was soon crowned with a party of bluecoats. Our only outlet was along the sinuous road winding around the hills, and the enemy were nearer the point at which the road emerged from the ravine than we were. Their fire brought the officers in at once. Waller was promptly in the field on the right with a squadron deployed as skirmishers, and we commenced our retreat. The enemy kept up a brisk fire, but if they were familiar with the country and aware of their advantage, they failed to use it. They followed us at a safe distance until we got out of the narrow gorge on the highlands, when we faced about and formed line. They then moved away in the direction of Middleburg.

Colonel Chambliss now joined us with the other regiments of the brigade, and after dark the command marched with drawn sabres on the road which the enemy had taken. To aid in distinguishing friends from foes in the event of an encounter in the dark, a watchword and reply were passed down our line from man to man.

Two men had been sent from Thoroughfare Gap to General Stuart, at Middleburg, with dispatches, one saying that no enemy was there, and the other that they had come. Both of these couriers were captured.

After a tedious march we reached the vicinity of Middleburg at a late hour, and bivouacked in a grove on the edge of a large field. We were called to horse before sunrise. It was reported that some Yankee cavalry were close at hand, within the same field in which we had encamped and near one of the two roads leading south from Middleburg. We were directed to pursue them. Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, with two squadrons, was sent on the road to the left. The Colonel, with three squadrons, took the one to the right. Captain Haynes, having gotten his squadron into line first, was, at his request, put in advance. He soon found the same unfortunate First Rhode Island Regiment, which a year before had furnished us so fine an outfit at Mountsville, now drawn up to dispute his passage. Impetuous and dashing himself, he hurled his men in headlong charge upon them. The dead and wounded marked the place of the encounter to us who followed. As often as they attempted to rally Haynes charged, and for several miles the chase was kept up till scarcely two of the regiments were together. About a hundred were pursued to the mountains, where some, abandoning their overtaxed horses, found safety on foot. Nearly a hundred prisoners were captured.

We afterwards marched to Middleburg, and, passing through, camped a mile beyond, on the 'pike leading to Upperville. Before we had fed our jaded horses the enemy occupied Middleburg. The outposts were held by troops from other regiments, and after moving a mile farther up the 'pike, we enjoyed a quiet night.

The next morning we were placed in line of battle on the left of the brigade, and to the left of the 'pike, looking towards Middleburg. A battery was posted on the crest of the hill in our front, and some companies of dismounted men were thrown out beyond the guns along the wooded slope of hills facing the town. General Robinson's brigade extended the line of battle to the right beyond the 'pike. The artillery of both combatants was firing occasionally, and quite a spirited discharge of rifles was kept up during the morning.

About noon a courier brought an order for the regiment to move out on the 'pike. We did so, moving diagonally across the front of our line and in column. We struck the 'pike near a blacksmith's shop, and just opposite the ground held by General Robinson's troops, when we were placed in line in the morning. As the head of the column reached the 'pike Lieutenant Ball's order was heard: "Draw pistols; fire!" The Colonel was about to countermand the order to fire, supposing the men beyond the 'pike were friends, but, on looking up, saw a squadron of the enemy where Robinson's men had been, and in the act of discharging their carbines at us. The direction of Ball's squadron was immediately changed, and, charging across the road with sabre in hand, they drove the Yankees before them. A force of the enemy was seen a hundred yards or so distant in the 'pike, and to the right of it. The other squadrons were led in a charge against these. Before clearing the woods which skirted the road a considerable body of the enemy's cavalry was discovered in line to our right. Changing direction, our squadrons were now thrown on this line. We broke them, only to find, however, another line beyond, which, returning our charge, drove us back, beyond the shop. We had, too, received a galling fire from the sharpshooters posted below the woods. We had scarcely rallied, beyond the shop, when a column of the enemy appeared in the 'pike, in fine order, and with glittering sabres, charged bravely np to within a few paces of our front, surrounding one of our guns. A charge was ordered, and we dashed at them. A shot fired by James R. Courtney, bugler of Company C, killed the captain. The enemy retreated, and we pursued them down to the field where the fire from a body of dismounted men, or infantry, again drove us back. In this charge Captain John W. Hungerford, of Company C, was killed. He was the sole remaining male member of a noble family. Few nobler gifts were laid upon the altar of civil liberty than the life-blood of this heroic Virginian.

The Thirteenth Regiment now came forward on the left of the road; and we reformed as its support, and while drawn up in line on the 'pike our killed and badly wounded were removed. We were here the target for a battery, and a piece of shell having disabled the present writer's arm, he rode back to the surgeon. Colonel Chambliss afterwards led the two regiments in a charge upon the line below the woods, and, failing to carry it, retired with the brigade in good order, and bivouacked a mile from the scene of the fight near the 'pike.

Private Robert Sandford, of Company C, was particularly distinguished for gallantry under the eye of the Colonel in our second charge. The latter rejoined the regiment on the day following—June 21st—and we moved to Dulaney's, where the brigade advanced to meet the enemy, but was soon faced about, and narrowly escaped being surrounded. We were some two miles to the right of the 'pike leading to Upperville, and were pressed by troops of the enemy numbering certainly twice as many as our brigade.

Our line of retreat was on a road, the general direction of which was parallel to the 'pike. Hampton's brigade occupied the latter road. Jones' brigade was to our left, as we faced the enemy. Robinson's and Jenkins' brigades, supposed to be on our left, were not seen during the day.

The Ninth Regiment was the rear-guard of our brigade. One squadron, under the Colonel's immediate command, moved in support of two pieces of artillery. Two squadrons under Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, and two under Major Waller, took positions alternately in front to check the enemy's advance. On reaching the Trappe road, Jones' brigade, moving from our flank, passed over the open country between us and the mountains. We followed the two guns up the Trappe road. The Second North Carolina, followed by the Tenth Virginia Regiment, were on our left as we moved on this road. Our aim was to form a junction with Hampton at the intersection of the Trappe road and the 'pike before the enemy, who were forcing him back, reached that point. From delay, caused by halting the artillery to wait for a guide, Hampton passed before we came up, and the enemy made dispositions to cut us off. A body of infantry were pushed up a bottom running in rear of Upperville, and posted behind a stone fence enclosing a field which lay beside the Trappe road, and a body of cavalry were put in position near the head of this bottom.

The Second North Carolina Regiment was moving in column through the field when the Yankee infantry from behind the fence fired upon them. This was immediately followed by a charge by some squadrons from the head of the bottom. The North Carolinians met the charge with a shout, and the Yankee troopers were driven to the fence held by the infantry, and back towards the bottom. The two guns which we were escorting passed from the road to the field on their right, and, quickly unlimbering near the road, opened a rapid fire upon the enemy in the field in which the cavalry was engaged. Deeming it useless to make fight against such odds, we were directing our march to the foot of the mountain in rear of our guns, and out of range of the musketry, when orders came for the regiment to relieve the Second North Carolina, as the position must be held for a time. Turning to the left and making openings in the stone walls to pass through, we were joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis with another squadron. As we passed into the field a fresh body of mounted men emerged from the bottom to our right. These Lewis was ordered to charge with his squadron, while the other squadrons were directed against the troops who were engaging the North Carolinians. A mixed hand-to-hand fight was kept up for a few moments, when, finding fresh squadrons of Yankees pressing up from the bottom, we got back through the stone walls and into the field beyond as best we could. We reformed near the road on the side next to the mountain, and waited till the order came to fall back, and then retired to the woods at the foot of the mountain, the enemy's guns throwing a few shells after us.

Though we were in this fight only a few minutes, twenty-seven of the small number engaged were missing. We suffered most from the deadly aim of the muskets or rifles fired from the breastwork of the stone fence. Among those who had fallen severely wounded or killed were Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, Captain Charles Robinson, of Company C, and Acting-Regimental-Bugler Tappscot, of Company D. The latter survived only a few hours, having died at a house at the foot of the mountains. Lewis, shot through the chest and lungs, was left by the enemy in their retreat, to die at Middleburg. He survived, however, and though never able to return to active service, finally well-nigh fully recovered. Captain Robinson fell under the stroke of a sabre across the head, and was taken prisoner. He was confined at Johnson's Island, from which prison he made a daring escape, and, having crossed the frozen lake on foot, found refuge in Canada. Thence he sailed to Nassau, after having received much kind treatment from the Canadians, and finally succeeded in running the blockade at one of our southern ports, and returned to us in 1864.

Captain Haynes was painfully, though not seriously, wounded in the forenoon, and retired on furlough. We fell back after dark to the mountain-pass and bivouacked behind some of our infantry, near the banks of the Shenandoah river.