Union General James Wilson reports on summer and early fall, 1864, fighting in the Valley. Wilson discusses capturing prisoners and stores at Staunton, and destroying all that could not be carried off. He also mentions destroying the Gordonsville and Staunton Railroad.
Lieut. Col. J. W. FORSYTH,
Chief of Staff, Middle Military Division.
GRAVELLY SPRINGS, ALA.,
February 18, 1865.
From the 31st of July till the 4th of August the division picketed from the left of the infantry line to Lee's Mill, connecting at that place with the Second Division. On the 4th of August I received orders to move my division, via Washington City, to the Shenandoah Valley and report to Maj.-Gen. Sheridan. At daylight the next day the division broke camp and marched to City Point, where it arrived the same day and made preparations to embark upon steam transports for Giesborough Point, near Washington. On the night of August 12, the whole division having arrived at Giesborough, it began the march to the Shenandoah Valley, via Leesburg and Snicker's Gap. While near Washington the First Brigade had been armed with Spencer carbines. On the 17th of August, about noon, the command arrived at Winchester, having marched from Berryville by the way of White Post. The army had fallen back from Cedar Creek and was just retiring from Winchester. I was ordered to report to Gen. Torbert, chief of cavalry and hold Winchester as long as possible. I posted my command so as to cover all the roads into the place from the south, particularly the Millwood, Front Royal, and Valley pikes. About 2 p.m. Lowell's brigade of cavalry and Penrose's brigade of infantry arrived; the latter were deployed as skirmishers between the Valley and Front Royal pikes. At 4 p.m. the enemy advanced to the attack with infantry skirmishers, but were repulsed, but at 6 p.m. returned with Breckinridge's entire corps, and after a sharp fight compelled us to withdraw from the place. This was done under cover of night, Col. Chapman's brigade, with Pennington's battery, having been previously sent back to occupy a strong position on the Martinsburg road, just north of Winchester. The command then marched to the east side of the Opequon and bivouacked at Summit Point just before daylight. The army having halted at Charlestown my division was kept employed in picketing and patrolling the Opequon from Middleway to the Berryville and Winchester pike. On the 21st of August the rebels crossed the Opequon in force at Middleway, drove in our pickets at that place, and threatened to interpose themselves between us and Charlestown. After a sharp fight, in which both Chapman and McIntosh gave the enemy a severe check, I received orders from Gen. Sheridan to communicate with Gen. Merritt's division then operating in the direction of Berryville, and, in conjunction with it, to lose no time in joining the army at Charlestown. I therefore called in everything except a light skirmish line, withdrew by the right and left flank of brigades at the same time, and marched directly for the Charlestown and Berryville pike. After hearing that Gen. Merritt was unmolested, I retired slowly to Charlestown and went into position on the Leetown road, covering the right of the infantry. Gen. Merritt was unmolested, I retired slowly to Charlestown and went into position on the Leetown road, covering the right of the infantry. Gen. Sheridan having determined to withdraw to the strong position at Halltown during the night, I was directed to cover the rear with my division. I was ordered to be ready to move at dawn, and had my command under arms accordingly. Merritt's division and Duffie's brigade were late in starting and thereby delayed my march. The enemy, having discovered the withdrawal of the infantry, advanced just after dawn, and a sharp skirmish ensued. The road was soon cleared by the march of Merritt's division, marching toward Shepherdstown. The withdrawal was finally effected with but little difficulty. The division camped that night near the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and covered all approaches between the right of the infantry and the Potomac.
In pursuance of instructions from Gen. Sheridan, on the morning of the 25th of August my division marched through the country to Walper's Cross-Roads, where it met Merritt's division. The corps, under the command of Gen. Torbert, proceeded by the pike toward Leetown for the purpose of ascertaining the position and movements of the rebel army. The advance had hardly crossed the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Kearnesville before it encountered the enemy's pickets. The command, moving by flanks of brigades, with the artillery on the pike, formed line of battle with great rapidity, and advanced at once to the attack--McIntosh's brigade, with Ransom's battery, formed on the left of and across the pike, dismounted in a heavy piece of woods; Chapman's brigade, with Pennington's battery, moved well off to the left, partly mounted and partly dismounted, while Merritt's division kept to the right of the pike. The enemy was encountered in the woods, and after a very sharp fight of twenty minutes was driven back nearly a mile in great confusion. My division took sixty prisoners all from Breckinridge's corps. From them we learned that Early's whole force had begun the march that morning for Shepherdstown with the intention of again crossing the Potomac into Maryland. Having accomplished the object of the reconnaissance I was directed to return with my division to its old camp. Although by this time the enemy had recovered from their surprise and succeeded in forming their line for an attack upon us, no difficulty was experienced by my command in regaining its camp. Gen. Sheridan hearing that the rebels, notwithstanding the discovery of their movements, would endeavor to make a new invasion of Maryland, directed me to cross the Potomac at Harper's Ferry and proceed, by the way of Pleasant Valley and Boonsborough, to the vicinity of Sharpsburg, for the purpose of watching the fords on the Potomac as far up as Williamsport. At 11 p.m. the same night I began the march, and after crossing the river sent parties to communicate with Gen. Custer, near Antietam Furnace, and the pickets of Averell's division, still farther up the river. The enemy having failed to attempt a crossing and fallen back beyond the Opequon, my division recrossed the river at Shepherdstown on the 28th of August, and marched via Charlestown, to Berryville from which place it was engaged till the 18th of September in making daily reconnaissance in the direction of Millwood, White Post, and the Opequon. On the 13th of September Gen. McIntosh was directed to make a strong reconnaissance toward Winchester for the purpose of determining the enemy's position. Rushing rapidly across the Opequon on the Winchester pike he struck the enemy's cavalry pickets near the stream and captured 37 men and 2 officers. Without halting he marched rapidly forward. Within two miles of Winchester he struck a strong force of infantry posted so as to cover the town, broke through their line, captured one entire regiment, the Eighth South Carolina Infantry, with their colors, 14 commissioned officers, including the colonel, and 92 enlisted men.
September 18, orders were issued for a general movement against the enemy, and in pursuance thereof, at 2 a.m. the next morning, the division, McIntosh's brigade in advance, moved by the Berryville, and Winchester pike crossed the Opequon, drove in the enemy's pickets and attacked Ramseur's division of infantry, found in the same position occupied by the rebel infantry on the 13th. It was not yet dawn, but Gen. McIntosh posted Peirce's battery, Second U. S. Artillery, supported by Gen. Chapman attacked at once with his entire brigade, mounted and dismounted and after a most gallant and determined effort drove the enemy from their strong position. Knowing the ground they had lost was of the greatest importance to them, they returned at once to the attack with both infantry and cavalry, but were gallantly met and repulsed. I then disposed of my forces on the right and left of the road so as to hold all they had gained till the infantry could reach and relieve them. Sharp skirmishing continued till 8 p.m. at which time the Sixth Corps had all arrived and occupied the position we had gained. I was then directed to move to the left and watch for an opportunity to attack the enemy again. About eighty prisoners were taken during the morning. Lieut.-Col. Brinton, in charging the enemy got so entangled with them as to fall into their hands as a prisoner. Our loss was quite severe in killed and wounded. Gen. McIntosh displayed the highest qualities of a cavalry officer in this morning's work. The pike runs all the way from the Opequon through a deep ravine heavily wooded on both flanks; at a point about two miles and a half from Winchester crosses a commanding ridge. The enemy was strongly posted along the ridge, in the woods and hastily constructed breast-works commanding the road and the open fields on both sides of it. This position, the most commanding one on the entire field, securely in our possession the infantry were enabled to form at leisure and to deliver battle with every prospect of success. Having moved well round toward the Millwood pike, numerous demonstrations were made upon the enemy's right during the day, in one of which Gen. McIntosh was severely wounded through the leg by a musket-ball. He was compelled to leave the field, and that night had his leg amputated below the knee. Gen. Chapman was also struck and partially disabled for several hours. Peirce's battery was posted well to the front, and from the commanding position it occupied did excellent service in enfilading the rebel infantry line. About 3 p.m., seeing that the enemy were giving way, I directed Lieut.-Col. Purington, Second Ohio Cavalry, then commanding Gen. McIntosh's brigade, to march at once toward Kernstown, on the Valley pike, followed as closely as practicable by Chapman's brigade. The Second New York Cavalry, Capt. Hull commanding in advance had not proceeded far before it found Bradley Johnson's brigade of rebel cavalry posted upon the Millwood pike to cover the enemy's flank. Capt. Hull formed his regiment by platoon, at a trot, and with sabers drawn dashed gallantly forward, riding through and scattering the rebels in all directions. Their flight was accelerated by a simultaneous charge upon their right flank and rear by Capt. Boice, Fifth New York, commanding a squadron of scouts. The march across the country, although impeded by stone fences and rough ground, was made with rapidity. The Third New Jersey and the Second Ohio Cavalry continued the pursuit till 10 p.m., repeatedly charging the enemy's infantry during the night. The command bivouacked 10 p.m. at Kernstown.
Early next morning the pursuit was renewed, but at Middletown I turned toward Front Royal and drove the rebel cavalry on that road to the south side of the Shenandoah. When near Cedarville Capt. Russell, assistant inspector-general of the division, was severely wounded in the knee, from the effects of which he died a few days after. At daybreak of the 21st the division crossed the Shenandoah and attacked the rebels at Front Royal, while the First Vermont and the First New Hampshire, under command of Lieut.-Col. Wells, Fist Vermont, marched up the south fork and crossed it at Kendrick's Ford. The rebels were driven with confusion up the Luray Valley and closely followed to Gooney Run that night. The valley at this place is a mere gorge impracticable for any kind of troops, except on the pike. The position was turned the next day by Custer's brigade, of the First Division, and the march continued through Luray, Massanutten Gap, and New Market, to Harrisonburg where we joined the army September 25. The enemy by occupying the numerous advantageous positions which the valley afforded him, had been enabled to delay us long enough to prevent any damage to the army under Gen. Early. September 26, marched to Staunton with Lowell's brigade, of First Division, Gen. Torbert in command of the whole, where we captured a number of a convalescent and wounded men, a large quantity of hard bread, flour, tobacco, saddles, bridles clothing, and camp equipage. After supplying the wants of the command the balance was destroyed. On the 27th moved to Waynesborough and bivouacked. The next day the command was engaged in destroying the track and bridges of the Gordonsville and Staunton railroad. On the 29th, at 5 p.m., the enemy drove our pickets back to the village and advanced to attack our main force about a mile west of them, with a strong force of cavalry, infantry, and artillery. Heavy skirmishing continued till dark, but Gen. Torbert, having heard from Gen. Sheridan, and the balance of the cavalry in the neighborhood of Port Republic, though best to retire without delivering battle. The withdrawal had already begun, with nearly all the command on the march, when a small force of the enemy succeeded in getting to the pike on the left and rear of the force covering the movement. I ordered Col. Lowell to charge through with his command and sent word to Col. Wells, commanding the rear guard, to follow him. The former went through handsomely by following the road, and Col. Wells inclined to the left avoiding the rebels entirely. The march was continued through Staunton to Spring Hill, where we bivouacked and fed at daylight. The same day we marched to Bridgewater seven miles from Harrisonburg.
In pursuance of instructions from Lieut.-Gen. Grant, I was relieved from command of the division September 30, and directed to proceed without delay to Atlanta, Ga., and report to Maj.-Gen. Sherman, as chief of cavalry of the Military Division of the Mississippi.
In closing this report I have the honor to commend the zeal, gallantry, and soldierly conduct of both officers and men of the division throughout the entire period they remained under my command.
Gen.'s McIntosh and Chapman performed every duty assigned them with the utmost promptitude and fidelity, and are entitled to promotion for distinguished and meritorious services.
Col. John Hammond, Fifth New York, and Lieut. Col. W. P. Brinton, Eighteenth Pennsylvania; Col. W. Wells and Lieut.-Col. Bennett First Vermont; Col. Benjamin, Lieut.-Col. Pope and Maj. Caleb Moore, Eighth New York; Maj. Samuel McIrvin and Capt. Hull, Second New York; Lieut.-Col. Suydam, Third New Jersey; Maj. Patton, Third Indiana, were always conspicuous for the zealous and intelligent performance of their duties in the field, and in the care of their men in camp. They are worthy the special confidence and care of the War Department.
To my assistant adjutant-general Capt. Louis Siebert and to my aides, Capts. E. B. Beaumont, J. N. Andrews, Eighth U. S. Infantry; Lieut. Henry E. Noves, Second U. S. Cavalry; Capt. Lee, Third Indian Cavalry, provost-marshal; Capt. E. W. Whitaker, First Connecticut Cavalry, always prompt and gallant in the discharge of their duties, I am greatly indebted for the valuable assistance they have rendered me.
From the 4th of May till the 1st of October the division marched 1,350 miles and participated in over twenty fights and skirmishes. For details of these operations I respectfully refer to the reports of Gen.'s McIntosh, and Chapman, herewith transmitted.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. WILSON,
Brevet Maj.-Gen., U. S. Volunteers.
Bibliographic Information : Letter Reproduced from The War of The Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 43, Serial No. 90, Pages 516-520, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.