Confederate Colonel David G. Cowand reports on the actions of the Thirty-second North Carolina Infantry between June and December, 1864. Cowand discusses marching through the Shenandoah Valley, moving into Maryland, and fighting in the Valley after returning to Virginia. Cowand mentions camping near Staunton and leaving from the town on trains for Richmond.
Maj. G. PEYTON,
Camp near Sutherland's Depot, Va.,
March 4, 1865.
In obedience to instructions from division headquarters I have the honor of making the following report of the operations of this command from the 13th of June, 1864, to the 1st of January, 1865:
On the night of the 12th of June this brigade being encamped near Cold Harbor, it received orders from Maj.-general Rodes to be in readiness to move at day dawn the next morning, when we took up a line of march in direction of Louisa Court-House and marched to North Garden Depot, on the Orange an Alexandria Railroad, and there took the train for Lynchburg, Va. The march to the above-named place was very rapid and quite severe, as the weather was very warm. The marching was at the rate of twenty-five miles per day, but the men arose very cheerful. We arrived at Lynchburg just before night and moved out on the road on the right of the Fair Grounds, and after forming a line of battle went into bivouac. During the night received orders to move to the left of our line at 2 a. m. I believe it was the intention to make an attack on the enemy at daylight. This brigade moved right in front and was the leading brigade of the division. When daylight came we found the enemy had left his works and was moving toward Liberty. This was on the morning of the 20th of June. We were soon ordered to follow the enemy, which we did, taking the old turnpike. We marched very rapidly, but overtook but very few of their stragglers. We marched about twenty-five miles. Next morning at daylight we took up the pursuit and came up with the rear of the enemy at Buford's Gap, when our skirmishers had some little skirmishing which lasted until dark. Next morning we moved on (the enemy having evacuated the gap during the night) in the direction of Salem. The enemy were destroying the railroad as they were moving, but you could see from the things thrown away that they were completely routed. That afternoon we came to a gap in the mountains and found the enemy had gotten through, but not before our cavalry had given therm quite a severe blow. We remained in camp the next day resting and cooking rations, both of which the men needed very much intend.
Next day we moved in the direction of Staunton, passing through Lexington and several small villages. At Lexington the brigade passed by the grave of that noble old here Lieut.-Gen. Jackson at reverse arms and has uncovered. Stopped near Staunton a few days and then moved down the pike in the direction of Winchester, and passed on through very rapidly. Reached Harper's Ferry early on the morning of the 4th of July, and was met by only a small body of sharpshooters, which were soon driven in, the sharpshooters only being engaged, and they soon took Bolivar Heights. Next morning the Forty-third North Carolina Regt. was sent in the village of Harper's Ferry to relieve one of Battle's regiments, then on picket duty. After getting in the village it was quite dangerous relieving the troops then on duty. This regiment lost several men while relieving Battle's by the fire of the sharpshooters in the Maryland Heights. About night the Thirty-second North Carolina Regt. was ordered in the town to assist in doing garrison duty and to help load the wagons with the quartermaster's and commissary supplies that we captured, balance of the brigade being near the Bolivar Heights in reserve. Next morning the brigade was relieved by Lewis' brigade and moved in direction of Shepherdstown. Crossed the Potomac, leaving Shepherdstown to our left, and camped near Sharpsburg, Md. Next morning moved down Pleasant Valley and had some little skirmishing for a day or two, and then moved in the direction of Frederick City without meeting with any opposition. The brigade, except the sharpshooters, was not engaged in the Monocacy fight, being held in reserve. Next day we took up line of march toward Washington City, and arrived at Silver Springs on the 11th. This brigade being the front infantry brigade in the army, sharpshooters were thrown out immediately and the brigade formed line of battle, left extending on the road known as Seventh Street road. After remaining there about two hours were ordered to the front to support the sharpshooters.
The next morning the fifty-third North Carolina Regt. was ordered down to the line of sharpshooters to support them in case of an attack. All that day the enemy were firing their artillery, which did this brigade some little damage, wounding some 5 or 6 men of the sharpshooters. Kept up a continuous firing all day, and just before night (the enemy having been re-enforced) began to fire at our skirmish line very heavily, and then began trying to set the houses near our lines on fire, which they succeeded in doing, and then made an attempt on our line. They were driven back in our immediate front, but succeeded in driving the troops on our right back, which compelled the troops of this brigade, or rather the Fifty-third North Carolina Regt. and the sharpshooters, to fall back (the Thirty-second North Carolina Regiment and the Forty-fifth North Carolina Regt. were deployed as skirmishers and ordered to the front. They went up beautifully, and the men of the Fifty-third North Carolina Troops and the sharpshooters joined in, and they soon established their line again on the right of the road, but the troops on the left could not succeed in going quite as far as their original line. The troops fought remarkably well indeed, being under very heavy artillery fire, and we had none replying, and besides, the enemy had decidedly the advantage in position, but our men went up cheerfully and confidently. We were ordered to fall back that night about 1 o'clock, and moved off in the direction of Rockville. Marched all night that night and until about 3 the next day, when were rested a few hours and then moved on very slowly, only going a few miles during the night, reaching the Potomac at White's Crossing, in a few miles of Leesburg, and remaining there one day.
One the morning of the 16th we took up line of march and moved in direction of Snicker's Gap. Some time during the day the enemy attacked our wagon train and captured a few wagons. This brigade was soon ordered back, but the enemy had been driven back before we arrived. We then moved on and crossed the mountains that night. Next day we crossed the Shenandoah and moved in direction of Charlestown and went into camp for a few days. About 12 o'clock of the 19th we were ordered to move out in the direction of the ferry again. After marching a few miles we left the road and moved direct toward the river. The enemy having driven the pickets back and succeeded in crossing, we were soon formed in line of battle. This being the second brigade from the right, moved froward. We soon struck the enemy and had quite a severe fight, but we soon drove them back, although we were fighting a very superior force of infantry and at a great disadvantage, the enemy having several pieces of artillery playing on us no the other side of the river, and we had none at all in position. Our men fought desperately and were driving the enemy beautifully toward the river. Some of the troops of this brigade were within thirty steps of the enemy's colors when the troops on the right were ordered back and left our right so much exposed that we had to be swung back. In doing this the gallant Col. W. A. Owens, of the Fifty-third North Carolina Regiment, then commanding brigade, was mortally wounded. Col. Owens was as gallant an officer as his State has in the service. Our service lost much in the fall of this officer. He had just returned from home that day, having been wounded on the 12th of May.
I think I can safely say that if the troops on our right had held their position a half hour longer we would have captured a large number of prisoners. They were retreating as rapidly as they could, and from what was seen afterward they must have taken or drowned, as the river was quite deep in their rear. The brigade suffered very severely in this fight. The Forty-fifth North Carolina Regt. was not in this fight, it being on picket duty at another ford at the time the fight was going on. The officers and men behaved as well as troops could. Next day we remained in camp near the battle-field, and that night moved off in direction of Millwood, and that night moved of in direction of Millwood, and rested at that place for a few hours, when we again moved off in direction of Newtown, and then down toward Winchester to support Ramseur's division, which had been engaged that day. Next day we fell back slowly to Fisher's Hill, where we remained a few days, and then threw up a line of entrenchments. On the morning of the 24th we again moved down the Valley. At Kernstown we formed a line of battle and threw out the sharpshooters. They soon moved forward, and, some other troops coming up on the flank of the enemy, soon routed them, and we chased them to Winchester, where they made another stand. This brigade, with the balance of the division, was double-quicked around on the right flank to try to cut off some cavalry. The enemy, seeing the movement, soon began to retreat again in great confusion. We followed them as rapidly as we could, but could scarcely keep in sight. They destroyed a good many wagons, caissons, &c., and threw away everything that could impede them. Although this was one of the rear brigades when the retreat commenced, it was when it ended in front of everything else except the cavalry, and a good part of the time up with that. Next morning we moved on down toward Bunker Hill and toward Martinsburg, where we tore up the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. We then moved up and down the turnpike form Bunker Hill and the Potomac.
On the 5th of August we crossed the Potomac at Williamsport and marched towards Boonsborough, and went in camp. Next day recrossed the river and moved up the Valley. We then moved up and down the Valley for some days, one day running the enemy and the next falling back. On the 17th some of the troops had a fight at Winchester. This brigade was not engaged. On the 21st we moved in the direction of Charlestown. We struck the enemy near Charlestown. Our sharpshooters were sent to the front, and they had quite a severe fight and were being driven back when the Forty-third North Carolina Regt. was ordered out to their support, and they soon checked the enemy. This regiment and the sharpshooters suffered a good deal. That night the enemy fell back and we followed them through Charlestown and formed line of battle just beyond the town, and remained there until the 25th, when we were relieved by a brigade of Kershaw's division, and moved toward Shepherdstown. Had considerable skirmishing with the enemy's cavalry, but amounting to almost nothing, they falling back faster than we could follow. The next day we marched back and camped near Leetown, and next moved back to Bunker Hill, where we remained several days. Then we moved down the Valley and back again several times, when we were ordered to Berryville to support Gen. Anderson.
Next day we moved back and attacked the enemy's cavalry near Stephenson's Station. We drove them back very rapidly and in great confusion, but the brigade lost several men. We then remained near Bunker Hill several days, moving first one way and then the other, having several skirmishes with the enemy's cavalry and driving them back on all these occasions.
On the morning of the 19th of September we received marching orders and we moved up to Stephensons' Station, formed line of battle, and waited further orders. After remaining there from a half to one hour received orders to move toward Winchester. This was the first brigade of the division. When we arrived in four miles of Winchester we found both Gordon's and Ramseur's divisions fighting. We faced to the front and moved forward. Just as we met our cavalry falling back and the brigade went in with a yell, and had only gone a short distance when we gaining ground to the right, and at once time moved to the right by the flank, trying to make connection with Ramseur's division. The brigade moved in fine order and without any hesitation for some distance through an open field beyond any other troops. If the balance of the troops had pushed forward like this brigade we would have driven the enemy from the field. Finally, we were ordered back and took position on a hill in line with he balance of the troops on the left that given way. It fell back in good order beyond Winchester and that night moved toward Fisher's Hill. During this day's hard fighting the brigade acted as well as men could, particularly while holding the hill they had fallen back to. They were suffering very severely from artillery and musketry fire.
On the morning of the 20th of September the brigade, with the balance of the army, reached Fisher's Hill and formed a line of battle on the left of the army. Remained there until the morning of the 22d, when the enemy moved up in our front and soon threw out their sharpshooters and moved forward their line of battle. The sharpshooters of this brigade were warmly engaged for some time, and finally charged by heavy force of cavalry, but very handsomely repulsed them. The battle soon became general, but after a short time our cavalry gave way on the left, being flanked by a heavy force of infantry, and fell back in confusion. The Forty-fifth and Thirty-second North Carolina Regiments and Second North Carolina Battalion were moved rapidly to the left to their support, and for some time fought successfully the whole force of the enemy, and did not retire until nearly surrounded and being fired at in front, flank, and rear. The Forty-fifth North Carolina Troops acted very gallantly on this occasion. This part of the brigade suffered very heavily from this fire. At this time the whole army had given way and were falling back very rapidly. It retreated toward Mount Jackson and camped near this place, forming line of battle on the right of the army, right resting on the Shenandoah River. On the next morning the enemy made its appearance, and soon engaged our sharpshooters, which lasted until night. At night we fell back to Rude's Hill, and formed line of battle on right of the army. In the morning fell back in line, the enemy pursuing vigorously. This brigade, with our whole army, fell back in good order, under a very heavy artillery and often musketry fire for more than twelve miles. Both officers and men acted well. The brigade left the turnpike, taking the left toward Port Republic, reaching there the following day, and then moved up toward Brown's Gap, camping several days, and then moving out and up to Waynesborough. Camped there for several days, and then moved down toward New Hope, and after camping here for a few days moved down the Valley toward Harrisonburg. The enemy had fallen back, and the brigade went into camp at New Market for some days, and then moved down the Valley to Fisher's Hill and camped from several days.
On the night of the 16th of October this brigade was mounted behind Rosser's cavalry and moved on the right flanks and rear of the enemy, surprising and capturing a picket of thirty men. The men then had a very hard march back to camp, reaching there late in the evening. On the evening of the 18th of October the brigade was ordered to move at sunset, and with the balance of the army left camp, crossing the turnpike and moving down the Shenandoah River toward Front Royal. It was quite a long and tiresome march, often climbing in one rank around the brow of mountain. It was also quite cold, and when the men halted to rest they suffered much, having forded the river an not able on account of the proximity of the enemy to have fires. At daylight we crossed the Shenandoah River and moved rapidly to the right of the army, forming in line, and soon struck the enemy and drove them rapidly for some time, when we were halted and remained for some time under ave heavy artillery fire, losing many men from it, our right flank being exposed. The Thirty-second North Carolina Regt. was deployed as sharpshooters, and going to the left moved forward in line with the brigade. The Forty-fifth and Forty-third North Carolina Regiments were also detached to support other troops on the left. The brigade then moved forward under heavy fire, the Third-second as a line of sharpshooters following the enemy through Middletown. The enemy made a stand on a very high and temporarily fortified hill, and the Fifty-third North Carolina troops and Second North Carolina Battalion were ordered to charge them, which they did with a yell, driving them back for some distance, but being unsupported on either flank, soon had to retire, the enemy moving on both flanks. In falling back they lost heavily in good men.
In this charge both offices and men acted very handsomely, and fell back stubbornly, resisting the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Lieut. Murray, Company A, Fifth third North Carolina Troops, then acting adjutant of this regiment, acted with distinguished gallantry. These two regiments, with the balance of the brigade, were soon reformed and moved forward again, but the enemy had fallen back. The brigade followed. In this charge these two regiments lost many good and gallant men. The whole army soon halted, formed line, and then moved forward for about half a mile, halting for a short time; then moved forward again, the enemy still falling back, and after passing beyond Middletown for some distance the whole army was halted, and remained inactive for several hours. During this time the enemy had rallied his army and brought up fresh troops. At about 3.30 p. m. moved forward. Soon our sharpshooters became engaged, and then their line in front of this brigade moved forward in a charge. The brigadier-general commanding this brigade ordered a counter charge, which the men readily obeyed with a yell, and met the enemy and drove them in great confusion from the field. Soon the troops on the left fell back a short distance, and we were ordered to fall back and form on the, which we did. The troops on the extreme left had given way in much confusion, and soon orders reached us to fall back; and after crossing the creek we found the enemy were between us and Strasburg on the turnpike. The brigade with much of the army, turned to the left, crossing the river twice below the town, and reaching the turnpike again at Fisher's Hill about 10 p. m. We were then ordered to move toward New Market, but soon camped near the pike a part of the night, leaving before day toward New Market, which we reached the same day. Remained there in camp reorganizing and drilling for some weeks. Then moved to the rear of New Market to new cam, remaining there for several weeks.
On 22d of November the enemy's cavalry in heavy force moved up as high as Mount Jackson, driving in our cavalry. We moved down to Rude's Hill with the balance of the army, formed line of battle, and threw out our sharpshooters, which, with the line, drove the enemy back rapidly in the direction of Mount Jackson. Our sharpshooters followed them for several miles, but could not overtake them. We returned to camp, remaining there until the 14th of December, when we took up a line of march for Staunton, Va., which we reached on the evening of the 15th, and then took the train for Richmond, arriving there on the night of the 16th; then came to Dunlop's Station and went into winter quarters on Swift Creek, near the turnpike, where the brigade has since been stationed.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. G. COWAND,
Col., Cmdg. Brigade.
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 601-607, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.