History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Chapter 9
Retreat from Gettysburg—Passing Our Infantry Line—On Road to Emmettsburg–Meeting the Enemy in a Mountain Pass—Ride to Leitersburg in the Dark—March to Hagerstown—Fighting in the Town—Pursuing Enemy Towards Williamsport—Charging Cannon—Lieutenant Ball's Gallantry—Sergeant Washington's Death—Bivouacking Near the Potomac—Fighting on Boonsboro' Road—Driven into Hagerstown—On Greencastle Road—Expecting a Great Battle—Recrossing the Potomac.
On the morning of July 4th we moved to the right of our army, passing along in front of the infantry line, who appeared defiant and undaunted. Nothing betokened that we had suffered any reverse until we reached Pickett's division. Here we learned the extent of our loss on the day previous, and the certainty was disclosed of a disagreeable and fatiguing retreat before us. We next came to a great camp of prisoners of war, and barely cleared the infantry lines by dark. The night set in rainy and very dark. After halting in the road some time, we moved slowly, and arrived at Emmettsburg about light next morning. A few prisoners, ambulances, and sutlers' stores fell into our hands. We left the main 'pike leading from Emmettsburg before noon, and, filing off to the right, followed a narrow road which penetrated the Catoctin mountains along a ravine, having on either side precipitous bluffs and spurs. About three o'clock P. M. the sharp report of rifles was heard at the head of the column, and Lieutenant Pollard was ordered to the front. Dismounting his men, and throwing them out along the side of the mountain, the firing soon receded and we pushed on. At the western end of this mountain defile the country opened with an undulating landscape of rolling hills, and a battery of the enemy posted to command the gorge began throwing its missiles as soon as the head of our column appeared at its mouth. Climbing up the steep mountainside on our right, and using some cavalry horses to aid those of the artillery, several of our guns were drawn to the summit, and they very soon drove the enemy's guns to a distance so respectful that their balls fell short of our men. From the mountain we could see a body of the enemy's cavalry in the distance, but could form no idea of their number.
About sunset General Stuart pointed from a hill in the direction of Leitersburg, and directed the writer to proceed thither with a part of his command, but to be wary, as the enemy might be there. He said he could not furnish a guide. He sent a dispatch, to be forwarded to General R. E. Lee, who was expected at a point about seven miles to the right. Our party was small, consisting principally of Company C. The night was intensely dark, and the road had several forks and crossings, so that the danger of becoming lost became great and imminent. Twice we barely escaped coming into contact with bodies of hostile cavalry ten times our numbers. However, we finally reached the little town in safety. An officer with ten men was sent with the dispatch to General Lee. Pickets were posted on the roads leading into the village, and the Colonel and his little reserve rested on their arms in the town.
About three o'clock A. M. the party who had been sent with the dispatch to General Lee returned without having found him. They reported having come upon many of our wagons with the spokes of the wheels cut, and that just as they reached a little village three hundred Yankee cavalry were leaving it, and that they were marching towards Leitersburg. At the same time our pickets reported large forces of cavalry approaching us on each road. The fences were hastily removed, and a way opened to a body of wood not far off. We were speedily relieved of all apprehension by the information that the approaching cavalry was General Stuart's.
After a good breakfast, our brigade under Chambliss took the road for Hagerstown. Our regiment was sent forward to ascertain if the enemy was there, and to communicate with Colonel Chambliss. We found no enemy there, and this information was sent back. While our pickets were being posted, however, several regiments of the enemy were discovered approaching from the southeast on the road which entered the town by the Female College. The greater part of the brigade having gotten up, we were instructed to tole the enemy in. We had scarcely time to join the picket on the College road, under Lieutenant Davis, of Company G, before the enemy was discovered coming fast enough. This picket held their ground until the leading squadron charged them, and then wheeled and retreated. Colonel J. Lucius Davis had drawn up his regiment—the Tenth—in line from north to south, on the main street leading through the town, and directly across that on which the pickets were retreating. These men, intermixed with the leading files of the charging enemy, came at full speed into contact with the men of the Tenth Regiment. Colonel Davis, spurring his horse forward, ordered a charge. His horse was soon shot, and fell beneath him, and the Colonel was seen defending himself with his sabre. The regiment was soon moving back up the main street. There was, however, no panic. The Tenth quickly halted and faced about. Our whole force was now ordered back to the hill above the town. Several of the enemy who followed us up Main street were shot, or cut down with the sabre.
On elevated ground beyond the town we found several companies of our infantry, some of the men posted behind stone fences, and some in the yard of a house beside the 'pike. Our men with carbines were here ordered to dismount, and were sent back to dislodge the enemy from the town. Captain Haynes commanded, and, though it was a critical undertaking, it was very handsomely accomplished. While Haynes and his men occupied the inclosed space about the market-house, with their ammunition almost exhausted, a squadron of Federal cavalry charged up Main street, receiving the fire of the whole force. Their leader was killed, and the men, seeming not to know what else to do, came at full speed up through the town. The infantry gave them a volley at close range, disabling several horses and wounding a number of men. Our mounted men, occupying the road under Lieutenant Beale, now charged, driving the enemy into a field, and capturing the entire party. They belonged to the First West Virginia Cavalry.
Two Federal guns were placed in the yard of the Female College, and were fired upon us; but no shot was returned. As soon as Haynes reached the farther end of the town with his body of sharpshooters, the Thirteenth and Ninth regiments again occupied the Main street.
Late in the afternoon loud cheers along our line announced the presence of General Stuart, whose horse's feet clashed against the pavement at the side of the street as he dashed forward to the front. The enemy were now retreating from their position above the college across to the turnpike leading to Williamsport, and down that 'pike. We speedily followed them, the Thirteenth Regiment in front, and ours next to them, on the 'pike, and a large cavalry force that had arrived with General Stuart to our left on a line parallel with the 'pike. We moved down the broad macadamized road at a trot. Before we had gone a mile, shells thrown from guns posted on the crest of a hill in front of us began to burst over and near us. As we approached the hill these guns disappeared, but no sooner had we reached the crest and began to descend into the valley beyond than they opened upon us from the next elevation with renewed vigor. At the foot of the hill, in the bottom, a small body of cavalry was stationed some three hundred yards in front of the guns. As we approached, this party fled to the left of the 'pike into a small body of timber which stood near, and were pursued by the Thirteenth, leaving the Ninth on the 'pike, with a few men also of the Thirteenth. Now volleys of canister swept down the smooth broad 'pike. As we neared the guns our pace was quickened. Lieutenant Beale and Sergeant Richard Washington were leading. As soon as the ascent of the hill began on which the guns were posted our column of fours divided, two files taking one side of the broad roadway and two the other side. Upon nearing the summit, and when not over twenty paces from the muzzle of the guns, the last charge of canister, before escaping from the net of wire which enclosed it, struck one of our men in front, who, reeling, fell heavily to the ground. Our column paused, though the guns were deserted by the enemy. The fence on either side of the 'pike was lined with riflemen. Riding from the centre of the regiment to the front, the writer called to the men: "Take those guns, boys," just as our General's voice was heard ordering the column into the field to the left, saying as we passed from the 'pike: "That place will be too hot for you." While this was passing the enemy limbered up, and the guns were gone; and the fire of the dismounted men ceased as soon as the guns were removed. We had now passed into a wheat-field, and were broken into small squads.
Under the impression that his son had been killed, and, unwilling to leave his body there in the road, the writer stopped and for some minutes was quietly discharging his pistol at the Federal line of mounted men in our front, extending across the 'pike and through the field to the right, and which must have been composed of two or three full regiments. In our rear along a wooded bottom was the command that had been brought up with General Stuart. He was now riding in front of their line waving his sword and commanding: "Stop your firing; you are shooting our men. Charge!" It seemed a critical moment. Had the enemy made a vigorous charge it would have been disastrous to us. Just at this moment Lieutenant James K. Ball, of Company D, rode up to the author, exclaiming loudly: "Rally, Ninth! Here's Colonel Beale; he will lead us!" The men fell rapidly into order without regard to companies, and, led by that gallant lieutenant, they were hurled against the centre of the enemy's line in front. Ringing shouts from the forces behind told that they had caught the enthusiasm, and ere they had crossed to the right of the 'pike the whole body of the enemy were wheeling and running. The country was open towards Williamsport, and as far as could be seen no rallying in front of our troops was allowed. When we followed their track, a half hour later, the work of their sabres and pistols told a sorrowful tale for our foes.
Returning to the scene of our charge upon the cannon, the writer found that not his son, but Sergeant Richard Washington lay dead in the arms of his weeping brother. Lieutenant Beale was ordered to see that the remains of his brave, high-toned, noble, fallen comrade were safely conveyed across the Potomac.
The Colonel, attended by the bugler and color-bearer, now rode forward to collect the scattered companies. Passing over the field of the fight and seeing the dead, we knew the enemy's loss had been severe. We paroled next morning over eighty officers and men. It was considerably after nightfall when the bulk of the regiment was found on the hills above Williamsport. We bivouacked in a field, and our flag-bearer, going to a neighboring house for fire and water, brought back a message from the lady occupant, asking that we would please encamp in her yard, as the house was full of Yankees. We found two Federal and one Confederate officer very seriously wounded in the house and about six Union soldiers nursing them. A search of the stable was made, and three more were found. We left three to nurse the wounded officers, and sent the others to the provost-guard.
The gallantry of Lieutenant Ball was specially mentioned in the Colonel's report, but received no higher official notice. We now retraced our steps to Hagerstown, and, passing through Funkstown, encountered the enemy on the Boonsboro' road. For two days the command held the cavalry in check, finally driving them back upon their infantry. The loss of the regiment was considerable during these two days, chiefly from Companies G and H (under command of Second-Lieutenant Nick Davis, of Lunenburg), who were acting on foot as skirmishers. We recrossed the Antietam at Funkstown under fire of the Federal artillery, and, passing through the line of our infantry, bivouacked on the Hagerstown road. Next day we moved to the north and east of Hagerstown, and, crossing the Antietam a mile from the town, felt the enemy in that direction. We then recrossed the river, and became the outpost guard at the bridge, the remainder of the brigade bivouacking between us and the town. General Meade's army, in full force, was now immediately in our front. General Lee was in position east and south of Hagerstown quietly awaiting an attack. Our regiment was stationed about four hundred yards from the bridge, at the intersection with the 'pike, of a road leading to a ford below. General Robinson's brigade occupied positions higher up the stream to our left. By some mistake the pickets sent from our regiment had been posted in front of Robinson's men. It was not till after nine o'clock P. M. that Lieutenant Beale, sent with a company to barricade the bridge, reported the fact that our front was open. Pickets were immediately posted at the bridge and crossings of the river, and Captain Oliver was ordered to take a position in advance of us with a squadron, with instructions for the men to rest on their arms.
About dawn of the following morning a scout came in and reported that all the obstructions had been removed by the enemy from a road leading to a ford above the bridge, and that cavalry was being massed on the road beyond the bridge. At the same moment a courier from General Chambliss reported that he had moved to reinforce General Robinson. Orders were given the company officers to saddle up and mount the men as rapidly as possible. Captain Oliver was ordered to hold the bridge. The enemy, however, crossed the bridge and were driving Oliver back. He was joined by Lieutenant Davis with his squadron, and these held the enemy in check until the remainder of the regiment was moved out. We fell back from hill to hill, holding each as long as possible, the enemy pressing up closely. Just before we entered Hagerstown a charge by a heavy column drove us in some disorder into the town. The enemy only used carbine and pistol. We had several men wounded; but few seriously, and none mortally. Several of our videttes were made prisoners.
Our brigade now passed to guard the Green Castle road, and all expected another grand battle would this day be fought on Maryland soil. It rained, as it had done for two weeks previous, in showers heavy and almost continuous. General Meade, showing no disposition to improve the advantage gained at Gettysburg, our army was put in motion at night, and, evacuating its positions, recrossed the Potomac at Falling Waters and Williamsport. Our brigade forded at the latter point. The river was high, and the current rapid, and the water rose to the top of our horses' backs. The wetting received was not uncomfortable, however, to men who had not been dryly clad for fourteen days.