Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 27.djvu/290

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282 Southern Historical Society Papers.

My conclusion that General Custer had not directed the execution of our men at Front Royal has also been the subject of much discus- sion. But to-day I am more convinced than ever of its correctness. General Torbert was commanding all the cavalry under Sheridan. On September 21, 1864, he had gone up the Luray Valley under orders to cross over to the main valley and attack Early 's rear or flank. After a skirmish with an inferior force of Confederate cavalry, he retreated, very much to Sheridan's disgust. He returned through Front Royal on September 23d. His command consisted of two divisions, embracing five brigades. The first division commanded by General Wesley Merritt was in front, marching in the following order: Reserve brigade, Colonel Chas. R. Lowell, Jr., commanding; First brigade, General Custer commanding; Second brigade, General Devin commanding. Captain Chapman, with about eighty of Mosby's men, charged Lowell's advanced guard of one hundred and fifty cavalry. The remainder of the brigade closed in on Chapman's men and captured six of them, but not until one of Lowell's best officers and several of his men had been killed. Our men were executed after they surrendered. None of the reports of the engagement state this fact. It would seem, as Colonel Mosby has since said, that they were ashamed of it. But Colonel Lowell, the brigade commander, reported that he made the fight and "killed" the men. General Merritt, the division commander, reported that Lowell's men fought the skirmish and "killed" the men, and General Torbert reported that Merrill's division had "killed" ihe men.

We had always thought that General Custer had direcled ihe exe- culion. We had gollen ihis impression from the citizens of Front Royal. Custer's brigade was marching next to Lowell's, and had arrived before the execution. General Custer was a conspicuous figure, in his velvet uniform, with long golden curls. The cilizens of Fronl Royal had learned lo recognize him. Seeing him in iheir slreels al the time, it is not surprising thai ihey should have reported him in command. Bui il would have violaled all military rules for one brigade commander to have taken the prisoners from another brigade commander and ordered their execution, especially when the division commander was in reach.

But, lhal I mighl be sure of my conclusion, I have written to Major-General Thomas L. Rosser for a statement. Generals Custer and Rosser were friends before the war, and although they fought on opposite sides, their personal regard for each other was never dis- turbed. Their friendship was greally strengthened by their inti-