History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 8

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Returning to Middleburg—Rendezvous at Salem—In the Rear of Meade's Army—At Fairfax Courthouse—Expecting a Fight Near Dranesville—Fording the Potomac—Chasing Scott's Nine Hundred–Capturing Wagon-Train Near Rockville—Marching Northward—At Westminster—At Hanover—At Carlisle—On to Gettysburg—Fighting on the Left at Rummell's Barn.

On the morning of June 22d we descended the mountain, and, passing through Upperville and Middleburg, observed many depredations committed by the enemy. We saw some of the graves of our fallen comrades, and numerous others of Federal soldiers, reminding us of the deadly strife in which we had been engaged on the two preceding days. In one place near where we had fought, the head-board showed that six members of the First Maine Cavalry had been laid in a common grave. We encountered no enemy until beyond Middleburg. Then, retracing our steps a short distance, we camped a few miles back near the Upperville 'pike, where we remained a day or two picketing towards the enemy. We then made a forced march to Salem, and reached its vicinity at a late hour. We here found a large Confederate cavalry force assembled. At two o'clock on the following morning we were again in the saddle moving towards Thoroughfare Gap, where we witnessed the cannonade of a wagon-train, and, continuing our march, bivouacked near Buckland. The day following we passed through Brentsville, and halted early in the afternoon near Wolf Run Shoals, on the Occoquan. Leave of absence was granted to Major Waller and some company officers, and the men whose horses were unfit for service were furloughed.

We were in motion early next morning—June 27th—with our faces turned northward. At Fairfax Station the troops in front had a skirmish with some cavalry. At Fairfax Courthouse a good many sutlers' stores fell into our hands, and late in the evening, near Dranesville, we were ordered to make ready to charge, but the enemy did not appear. About sunset we began bearing to the right, taking by-paths and the cover of woods, and winding through valleys, seemingly as though our wary General was approaching some unsuspecting foe.

After marching some miles repeated halts of the column satisfied those of us in the rear that the command was slowly passing some obstacle in front. The direction of our march, we knew, was to the Potomac. We reached it at last, and majestic, even here beneath the stars, was flowing the author's native river directly across our front. We had been conducted to a ford, to which no highway led on either side. The river seemed fully a quarter of a mile wide. The water generally reached as high as the saddle skirts, and in places covered the seat. When we seemed to be reaching the shore we found it an island, a hundred yards or more distant from the shore. The entire command, consisting of four brigades and some light artillery, was over before light, and the gray dawn found us on the hills in Maryland that skirted the canal and river.

We had spent a sleepless night, and our horses had had no food for twenty-four hours. Four companies of the regiment—A, B, D, and E–were now detached by General Stuart, the last of which did not rejoin us until the fall. In searching for grain for our horses, our Quartermaster encountered a considerable force of Union cavalry, who pursued the party back to our camp, capturing several. Lieutenant Pollard, commanding Company H, was sent forward, who reported a regiment in front, but, without waiting for support, he charged them. Eleven dead and wounded of Scott's Nine Hundred marked the scene of the encounter. The rest fled in the direction of Washington.

The command was now put in motion, and we marched a mile or two before halting to feed, and while we were doing so Hampton's brigade passed us. By the time we had remounted an order was received to advance at a trot. On arriving at Rockville, the county-seat of Montgomery county, fifteen miles west of Washington, General Stuart directed us to form in line in a field a short distance from the village. While we were forming a second order came directing us to move out on the turnpike leading through Rockville to Georgetown. We marched at a trot. It was Sunday morning. The villagers seemed to be ready for church, as the doorways were thronged with ladies in their scarfs and bonnets. Many waved with their handkerchiefs a graceful greeting, and manifested evident pleasure at seeing us. On clearing the village, by order of General Stuart, one of our companies was thrown out on the right to guard our flank, and the remaining five were sent in pursuit of the enemy, who were retreating down the 'pike towards Washington. General Stuart informed us they were a wagon-train, attended by a strong guard, and that another regiment would be sent forward to our support. The chase now commenced. William Campbell and Isaac Curtis, with two men of Hampton's command, who resolved to share our dangers, led as a vanguard, each of them riding a fleet horse. As we passed a house near the 'pike a lady ran out clapping her hands in eager excitement, and exclaiming: "Push on; you have nearly caught them!" After riding a mile or so, we saw the guard of the train, a small party of cavalry, drawn up in line directly across the road, as if to bar our passage. The troopers having the fastest horses were now ordered forward to reinforce the men in advance; but before they got within two hundred yards of them, the enemy wheeled and fled, "without standing on the order of their going." A mile beyond a long train of canvas-covered wagons loomed up, moving at a furious pace. As we got near to them the drivers, especially the colored ones, forsook their teams, leaping to the ground and over the fences, and running for shelter to the woods. Left to themselves, the frightened mules ran wildly, dashing wagon against wagon, upsetting some, and throwing several down embankments, catching and holding the teams beneath them. As fast as they were overtaken the wagons were turned about and sent back under guard. Curtis and his party, not far from the District of Columbia line, and almost within sight of the dome of the Capitol, overhauled the quartermaster in charge of the train. They received the fire of his pistol as they reached his ambulance, but before they could return it his hands were raised. His surrender was accepted.

Some three or four of the enemy were killed or wounded in refusing to halt or surrender when ordered. The regiment, now reduced to a score or two of men, by reason of details to guard wagons, mules, and prisoners, returned to Rockville. The wagons that were upset and broken were burned. The others were loaded principally with oats and corn. Bakers' bread, crackers, whiskey in bottles of great variety, sugar, hams, with some tin and woodenware, knives and forks, were also found. The bacon and crackers, as well as the whiskey, proved to our jaded and hungry troopers most acceptable. The train consisted of three new ambulances, two of which were captured by Hampton, and one hundred and seventy-five wagons, drawn by nine hundred mules. The wagons were brand new, the mules fat and sleek, and the harness in use for the first time. Such a train we had never seen before and did not see again.

We had scarcely set out from Rockville before many of us began to regret our capture, foreseeing that the train would impede our movements, and be very difficult to guard in passing through the enemy's country. And while we rested on the edge of that village the men might be seen collecting in squads, narrating the exploits in which each had shared, discussing the good qualities of the whiskey, hams, bread, and cheese, and commending the excellent taste of the government officials who provided such luxuries for our Yankee brothers.

It was about sunset that the bugles called us to horse, and we resumed our northward march. We found the number of our prisoners embarrassing, and with the wagon-train our progress was slow. To what point we were tending no one save our General knew. The country over which we passed was entirely new to us. The next morning's sun, peeping through clouds, found us still moving slowly on. Knowing that we had crossed the line of march of General Meade's army, we were satisfied that they were now between us and our infantry. This weary day was passed without halting, and as night approached we learned that the head of the column was fighting. We now reached Westminster, and our twenty-four hours' march was rewarded with an ample supply of rations for man and horse, much of it appropriated without orders from the large railroad depot at this place. A quiet night's rest here after forty-eight hours spent in the saddle greatly refreshed us.

The march was resumed at dawn next morning. An order detailing a squad of men and an officer from each regiment to collect horses for our dismounted men satisfied us that we had passed from Maryland, and had entered the State of William Penn, whose armed sons we had so often seen upon the soil of our native Virginia. The time had come to pay back in some measure the misdeeds of men who, with sword and fire, had made our homesteads heaps of ruin, and, in many instances, left our wives and children not a horse, nor cow, nor sheep, nor hog, nor living fowl of any kind. Soon a country store was reached and trooper after trooper escaping from the ranks quickly filled it with Confederates, who, without asking the price, were proceeding to help themselves to any and every article they needed or fancied. The first field officer, however, who discovered what was going on, rode quietly up and cleared the store, compelling the men to put back what they had taken, and posted a guard to remain until the command had passed.

Our march was towards Hanover, but before reaching it we learned the enemy in large force occupied the place. On nearing the town the column halted for some time before attacking. Close beside the road was a house, and our attention was attracted by the screams of children. The Colonel of the regiment rode in, and found a little boy and girl clinging to their mother's skirts, who seemed herself to think that death was upon her. He assured her that she was safe and need not fear, and, taking from his saddle pocket a knife and fork, gave them to the little boy, leaving him quiet, and the family seemingly astonished at any words of kindness from a "rebel."

Our ranks were now closed up, and, descending from the hills, we moved in column of fours along the plain directly upon the town. The Thirteenth Regiment was in front, followed by two squadrons of the Ninth. We were on the main 'pike. The Second North Carolina moved upon a road to our left, which we supposed entered the town on the side opposite to us. We could see none of our other troops. When getting within about three hundred yards of the edge of the town a squadron of the enemy advanced slowly up the road in our front. The Major commanding the Thirteenth Regiment, seeming to hesitate, Lieutenant Pollard was ordered to the front with his squadron to charge the enemy. This was gallantly done, and the Federals, breaking, ran back into Hanover, followed by our whole force. The enemy's troops must have been raw levies, as the side of the 'pike was strewn with splendid pistols dropped by them as they ran. The author dismounted and picked up two, and leisurely surveyed the scene, supposing the town captured. Some of our men in charge of ambulances and prisoners, were soon met, however, and then the whole body of them came retreating, some through the fields and others on the road. The enemy followed our retreating troops—a body in the road, and several squadrons on our right. Those in the road advanced in column of sections. Some of our men, rallying, charged down the road, driving these back. We could see no organized force of Confederates in the field to our right as we returned. General Stuart was in this field as the enemy swept over it. Our men in the road opened fire on them, and as soon as the fence could be broken down, a small party charged with the sabre. The mounted Federals retreated behind a line of dismounted men, who now advanced, extending across our front and as far to the right as we could see.

The author's command had now dwindled to a handful, and he rode back to collect the scattered men. General Chambliss, commanding the brigade, was met and told that General Stuart had been seen surrounded, and was probably captured. He then ordered the writer to go rapidly to the wagons on the hills and to collect all the men that could be found, reform them, and march them back. To our great joy, we met General Stuart, smiling as ever, and found a line of dismounted skirmishers was forming to meet that of the enemy. Company I, of the Ninth Regiment, under Captain Billingsley, formed the left of this line, and a heavy skirmish fire was maintained across the fields, our men yielding only as they were forced back by a fire on their flanks. We at length occupied a fine position on the hills, and our troops were posted to contest seriously any attack by the enemy. As our skirmishers approached this line of hills, the enemy's pursuit was less vigorously pressed, however, and before sunset we were marching northward on roads leading to the right of Hanover.

The loss of our three squadrons in the engagement at Hanover was about twenty, including Captain Billingsley. Most of this loss was in prisoners.

We again marched all night, halting once for an hour or more at Dover, to catch a little rest, and to parole our prisoners, now numbering about six hundred. The march continued the following day, and a good many prisoners were taken, being chiefly men going to rejoin their regiments. Among them was a young surgeon, travelling with a span of fine horses, handsome buggy, and colored servant. His surprise at being halted by our picket was manifest. His handsome buggy was brought to Virginia. Nightfall found us in the vicinity of Carlisle, where we expected to find our infantry, behind whose sheltering muskets we hoped to find one night of sweet sleep. Painful was the intelligence that this hope must be deferred to some more convenient time and place, as our infantry had retired to Gettysburg, and the enemy occupied Carlisle.

A demand for the surrender of the place was declined, and our cannons opened. The United States barracks blazed. The women screamed. The author, in charge of our now thoroughly-hated wagon-train, and provided with a guide, who, with bated breath begged that no names should be spoken, employed our half-asleep men in opening fences that we might pass across fields into the 'pike leading to Papertown, a little village nestling at the foot of the mountain. After reaching the 'pike the guide was informed, immensely to his relief, that he might retire. The whole face of the country, once familiar to the author, seemed now changed. Its great natural features, however, remained, and the recollections of boyhood were vividly recalled, as, when a student at Dickinson College, he had hunted over these grounds with his comrades, crossed the Yellow Breeches creek in a cider-trough and eaten lunch at a little spring up on the mountainside.

On reaching Papertown a halt was made for the command to close up. Here some of our men were busy in a search for rations, but most of them, suffering an agony for sleep, lay on the road with bridles in hand, some on rocks, and others on the wet earth, slumbering, soundly.

Our slumbers lasted only for an hour. Resuming the saddle, we moved over the mountain spurs along a broad macadamized road leading towards Gettysburg. The sound of cannonading reached our ears during the march, and once or twice we were put into position in order of battle. We saw no enemy, however. The gardens along the line of our march suffered heavily from frequent charges by our hungry men. The author's individual share of these captures was two onions, fresh and juicy, washed down with a bottle of good domestic wine, kindly supplied to him by our accomplished brigade commander.

About three o'clock P. M. we reached the vicinity of Gettysburg, on what we deemed to be the left of General Lee's lines, and under Colonel J. Lucius Davis, who was now temporarily commanding the brigade, we were placed in order of battle, as support to a number of guns massed in our front. Directly in front of this artillery the land rose rapidly, culminating in very high bluffs, or ridges. A detail was here made to capture a few sheep, which were seen hard by grazing, and to impress the necessary implements for cooking them. The author rode up to one of the batteries, and was informed that the artillery was massed at this point, in anticipation of an attack upon the flank. We remained on our ground until nearly night; then moved at a trot a mile or so to the left, where the men who had rifles were dismounted, and advanced a few hundred yards on foot, and took position behind a fence to the left of the road along which we had come. A few shells began now to explode over our heads, and we were ordered at a double-quick to a position on the right of the road. The firing soon ceased, and at twilight we moved to a small field of flat meadow land, not very far from our first position. A carbine accidentally discharged here while the men were dismounting killed the horse of Flag-Bearer Charles Edwards. Hampton's brigade, we learned, had just charged and scattered the enemy's cavalry, a small body of which was advancing on the left, and to meet which we had been moved.

The writer was in conversation with Colonel Davis when a courier delivered General Stuart's request that the command should be kept in the saddle all night, with the further assurance that the promise was fair that Pennsylvania would on the morrow be open to our army. The reply was sent that the request would be cheerfully complied with; but that the utmost verge of endurance by men and horses had been reached, and that whatever the morrow might bring, we feared that neither horses nor men could be used either to march or fight. We were soon ordered to dismount in the fields immediately around us, where we found food for the horses. The captured sheep came in due time, and then the grassy sod supplied a couch softer to the wearied limbs than any downy bed in days of moping peace.

We were in the sadde early next morning—the memorable 3d of July. We moved in column a mile or two to the left, on the York turnpike, and after bearing to the right, formed line of battle in a body of woods, east of the ridges which had confronted us on the previous evening. One of our squadrons was dismounted and thrown forward on foot, some three hundred yards in front, occupying a barnyard and two fences which connected with the barn, and formed an obtuse angle. Some of the men of Jenkins' brigade dismounted, held the line to our right, and Hampton's and Fitz. Lee's commands were on our left. A deep depression in our front and to the right, partly wooded, was bounded beyond by high ground which sloped very gently; and to our left beyond the head of the bottom it became almost a plain. The author was mounted upon a borrowed horse which had all the qualities of an ox, except its freedom from stumbling and falling; he was in no charge, though on the field and a close observer of what was passing. On the hills to our right and front the enemy had several field-pieces. Beyond these a broad road descended from the ridges, running south, and from the frequency of the passage of horsemen along this road, we concluded it was the line of communication between General Meade and his supply and ammunition-trains. The firing on our skirmish-line began before noon, and steadily continued, and at times so hotly that it required some effort on the part of officers to hold the men to it. The men immediately to our right began finally to give way, and the Federal sharpshooters advanced so as almost to enfilade our right flank. About the same time the roar of artillery began on the ridges to our right, and also to resound from the hills yet farther to the west. The roar of the guns created the impression that our lines must run in an irregular, serni-horseshoe shape around the high ridges. After the roar of the artillery, the grandest and most terrific we had ever heard, had ceased, several hundred of the enemy's skirmishers were thrown forward to reinforce and extend the right of their skirmish-line. We viewed the approach of these troops as they descended from the highland beyond the bottom with some anxiety because our left was already in danger of being turned. We soon discovered another body of the enemy, emerging from a distant grove to our left. They marched until they reached the fence which crossed the plain, and connected with the right of the line already in the field, and then halting along the fence, opened a hot rifle fire upon our new force, which was now moving up directly in front of them. This fire did not check our men, but, advancing steadily until close upon them, they rushed at the enemy with a hearty yell, which was echoed down the entire line, and the men in blue, running from all points, were pursued by our men so rapidly and with such ardor that they could not be recalled in time to save them from the charge of a mounted regiment which, passing through them, captured some.

The mounted men of our brigade were now ordered to charge. They passed through the yard of the barn, under a raking fire from the guns to our right, and, doubling the head of the bottom, dashed up the slope to meet the foe. The little band led by Chambliss did not apparently exceed two hundred men. Reaching a fence which separated them from the enemy, they halted in line, and used their carbines until the fence was thrown down. It seemed to one who stood in a place of comparative safety that the enemy slackened their fire, curious to see if so few would dare to cross sabres with them. When the fence had been thrown down the brigade, with headlong impetuosity, hurled its columns upon the enemy's line, and for a few moments sabres flashed and pistols cracked. The work was soon over. Pierced and doubled up from centre to flanks, the enemy fled in disorder, leaving many prisoners in the hands of our men. Meanwhile fresh troops of the enemy were dashing to the rescue, and our brigade, threatened in the rear, had in turn to fly. The captors of prisoners became now prisoners themselves. The charging party pursued our men to the barn-lot, where Lieutenant Beale's horse fell, pierced with three balls. The shouts of Hampton's men, hastening to their support, are heard as our brigade pass the barn, near which they speedily reform. Upon looking towards the plain, the Federal line is seen now to have grown in numbers, and extends so far that we cannot see the end of it. Hampton is riding at a gallop at the head of his column, and halts not until he reaches the foe, where wounds from pistol and sabre are inflicted upon him at the same time. He was but fairly engaged upon the left flank, when Fitz. Lee's division came in upon his left, and now the rays of the setting sun are thrown back from a thousand flashing sabres, and the ringing clash of steel is heard above the sharp reports of Colt's revolvers. The enemy's guns, as though dreading some fresh advance, were trained upon the field in which the writer stood.

The Confederate sabre proved now, as it had generally proved before, too much for our foes, who, breaking in rout, were driven–cavalry and artillery—entirely over the hills. We were informed by a captured lieutenant that our men ended their pursuit within three or four hundred yards of General Meade's train of wagons, with his reserve ammunition. Darkness now covered the scene, and some of our dead were necessarily left upon the field.

We saw at the close of the charge made by our brigade, in the hands of Privates Thomas Jett and George Carroll, the hilts of their sabres, from which the blades had been cut, as they were warding off the blows of their antagonists. The brim of Carroll's hat had been neatly parted with a sabre, and a gash inflicted along the roots of his hair on the forehead. He said his foeman's weapon was again uplifted to cleave his head, when the pistol of a comrade planted its ball in the heart of his partner in the bloody game.

For the numbers engaged, our losses were heavier than on any previous day's fighting. Private W. A. Richerson, of Company B, was mortally wounded, and his brother, Sergeant-Major Reuben Richerson, remaining with him, was captured in Gettysburg. Private Burdett B. Ashton, of Company C, was missing, and though a party was sent over the battle-field in search of his body, it was not found, nor was it ever heard of afterwards.

On hearing the next day of Pickett's glorious charge, we wondered that our fight had not been made simultaneously. Diminished as our numbers were, if we met all whom General Meade had on that flank, we might have ridden through his line of communication in the morning more easily than we hurled back his attack upon us in the evening. We moved back early in the night, and bivouacked on a road leading into Gettysburg.