Records Related to Augusta County Regiments

July 16, 1865.

Union General Phil Sheridan reports on February and March actions in the Shenandoah Valley. Sheridan discusses destroying goods in the Staunton area, as well as entering the town.

New Orleans, La.,

July 16, 1865.


I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of my command in the campaign from Winchester, in the Shenandoah Valley, to the armies in front of Petersburg, beginning February 27 and ending March 28:

The command consisted of the First and Third Divisions of Cavalry of the Army of the Shenandoah, under the immediate command of Bvt. Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt--Bvt. Maj. Gen. George A. Custer, commanding Third Division, and Brig. Gen. T. C. Devin the First, The following was thee effective force:

Effective force First and Third Cavalry Divisions, Army of the Shenandoah, February 28, 1865, Maj. Gen. Wesley Merritt, Chief of Cavalry.

First Cavalry Division,
Brig. Gen. T.C. Devin commanding...............260 4,787 5,047
One section Companies C and E,
Fourth U.S. Artillery.......................... 2 52 54
Third Cavalry Division,
Bvt. Maj. Gen. G.A. Custer commanding..........240 4,600 4,840
One section Company M, Second U.S. Artillery... 1 45 46
Total.......................................503 9,484 9,987
O=Officers. EM=Enlisted Men. T=Total.

On the morning of February 27, 1865, we marched from Winchester up the Valley pike, with five days' rations in haversacks, and fifteen days' rations of coffee, sugar, and salt in wagons, thirty pounds of forage on each horse, one wagon for division headquarters, eight ambulances, and our ammunition train; no other wagons, except a pontoon train of eight boats, were permitted to accompany the command.

My orders were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join Maj.-Gen. Sherman wherever he might be found in North Carolina, or return to Winchester; but in joining Gen. Sherman I must be governed by the position of affairs after the capture of Lynchburg.

The command was in fine condition, but the weather was very bad, as the spring thaw, with heavy rains, had already come on. The valley and surrounding mountains were covered with snow which was fast disappearing, putting all the streams nearly past fording.

On our first day's march we crossed Cedar Creek, Tumbling Run, and Tom's Brook, and went into camp at Woodstock, having marched thirty miles.

At 6 o'clock on the morning of the 28th instant the march was resumed through Edenburg, across the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, and through New Market, going into camp at Lacey's Spring, nine miles north of Harrisonburg; the crossing of the North Fork of the Shenandoah was by a pontoon bridge.

Small bands of guerrillas hovered on our flanks during the day, but no effort was made to drive them off, and no damage was done by them; distance marched, twenty-nine miles.

The march was resumed at 6 o'clock on the morning of the 29th (March 1), through Harrisonburg and Mount Crawford, and camp pitched on Middle River at Cline's Mills. Guerrillas hovered around us during the march, and at Mount Crawford Gen. Rosser, with 200 or 300 cavalry, attempted to burn the bridge over the Middle Fork of the Shenandoah, but did not succeed; two of Capehart's regiments swam the river above the bridge, charged Rosser and routed him, driving him rapidly to Cline's Mills, the advance pushing almost to Staunton; but few of the enemy were killed, 30 taken prisoners, and 20 ambulances and wagons, with their contents, were captured and destroyed; our loss was 5 men wounded. Cline's Mills are seven miles from Staunton, where the headquarters of Gen. Early were said to be. Not knowing but that he would fight at Staunton, Col. Stagg's brigade, of Gen. Devin's division, was ordered to destroy the railroad bridge over Christian's Creek, between Staunton and Waynesborough, to prevent his getting re-enforcements by rail, or, in case he would not stand, to prevent him carrying off supplies and ordnance stores; the bridge was burned, but Gen. Early, learning of our approach, made a hasty retreat to Waynesborough, leaving word in Staunton that he intended to fight at that place.

The next morning we entered Staunton. The question then arose in my mind whether I should pursue my course on to Lynchburg, leaving Gen. Early in my rear, or go out and fight him with my cavalry against his infantry and what cavalry he could collect, defeat him, and open a way through Rockfish Gap, and have everything in my own hands for the accomplishment of that portion of my instructions which directed the destruction of the Central Railroad and James River Canal. I decided upon the latter course, and Gen. Custer's division (Third), composed of Col. Wells', Pennington's, and Capehart's brigades, was directed to take up the pursuit, followed closely by Gen. Devin's division, composed of Gen. Gibbs' and Col.'s Fitzhugh's and Stagg's brigades. The rain had been pouring in torrents for two days, and the roads were bad beyond description; nevertheless, the men pushed boldly on, although horses and men could scarcely be recognized for the mud which covered them.

Gen. Custer found Gen. Early as he had promised, at Waynesborough, in a well chosen position, with two brigades of infantry and some cavalry under Gen. Rosser, the infantry occupying breast-works. Custer, without waiting for the enemy to get up his courage over the delay of a careful reconnaissance, made his dispositions for attack at once, sending three regiments around the left flank of the enemy, which was somewhat exposed by being advanced from, instead of resting upon, the bank of the river in his immediate rear. He, with the other two brigade, partly mounted and partly dismounted, at a given signal boldly attacked and impetuously carried the enemy's works, while the Eighth New York and the First Connecticut Cavalry, which were formed in column of fours, charged over the breast-works, and continued the charge through the little town of Waynesborough, sobering a few men as they went along, and did not stop until they had crossed the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, which was immediately in Gen. Early's rear, where they formed as foragers, and with drawn sabers held the east bank of the stream. The enemy threw down their arms and surrendered, with cheers at the suddenness with which they were captured.

The general officers present at this engagement were Gen. Early, Long, Wharton, Lilley, and Rosser, and it has always been a wonder to me how they escaped, unless they hid in obscure places in the houses of the town.

Col. Capehart, with his brigade, continued the pursuit of the enemy's train, which was stretched for miles over the mountains, and the other two brigades pushed rapidly after him, with orders to encamp on the east side of the Blue Ridge.

The substantial results of this brilliant fight were 11 pieces of artillery, with horses and caissons complete; about 200 wagons and teams, all loaded with subsistence, camp and garrison equipage, ammunition, and officer's baggage; 17 battle-flags, and 1,600 officers and enlisted men. The results, in a military point of view, were very great, as the crossing of the Blue Ridge, covered with snow as it was, at any other point would have been difficult.

Before leaving Staunton for Waynesborough, I obtained information of a large amount of rebel property at Swoope's Depot, on the Lexington railroad, and sent a party to destroy it, which was done, a list of which property will be attached to this report.

Gen. Custer's division encamped at Brooksville, on the east side of the Blue Ridge, Gen. Devin's division remaining at Waynesborough.

The next morning the prisoners were sent back to Winchester under a guard of about 1,500 men, commanded by Col. J. L. Thompson, First New Hampshire Cavalry, who safely reached that point, notwithstanding he was harassed by Gen. Rosser's command as far as the crossing of the North Fork of the Shenandoah near Mount Jackson, at which point Gen. Rosser made a fierce attack upon him and tried to rescue the prisoners, but he was handsomely repulsed by Col. Thompson, who captured some of his men, and finally arrived at his destination with all his own prisoners, and some of Rosser's men besides.

Gen. Devin resumed his march at 6 a.m., leaving Gen. Gibbs' brigade to destroy the iron bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah and to burn and destroy the captured wagons and their contents.

Gen. Custer moved on toward Charlottesville, destroying much Government property and subsistence at Greenwood Depot and Ivy Station, also the railroad and the large bridge over Mechum's River, arriving at Charlottesville at 4 p.m., the mayor and several of the most prominent citizens meeting him in the suburbs of the city and delivering up the keys of the public buildings.

The roads from Waynesborough to Charlottesville had, from the incessant rain and spring thaws, become so terribly cut up and the mud was of such a depth that it was impossible for our train to reach Charlottesville under two days. I therefore notified the command that we would remain two days at this point, for the purpose of resting, refitting, and destroying the railroad. Parties were sent well out toward Gordonsville to break the railroad, and also about fifteen miles toward Lynchburg for the same purpose, to prevent troops massing on me from either Richmond or Lynchburg. A thorough and systematic destruction of the railroads was then commenced, including the large iron bridges over the North and South Forks of the Rivanna River, and the work was continued until the evening of the 5th instant, when Gen. Gibbs reported, with our trains. Forage and subsistence were found in great abundance in the vicinity of Charlottesville.

Commodore Hollins, of the Confederate Navy, was killed while trying to escape from a scouting party from Gen. Custer's division.

This necessary delay forced me to abandon the idea of capturing Lynchburg, but trusty scouts had been sent there to find out the state of affairs in that vicinity.

When the time to start came I decided to separate into two columns, sending Gen. Devin's division, under immediate command of Gen. Merritt, to Scottsville, thence to march along the James River Canal, destroying every lock as far as New Market, while with Custer's division I pushed on up the Lynchburg railroad, through North and South Gardens, destroying it as far as Amherst Court-House, sixteen miles from Lynchburg, and then moved across the country and united with Gen. Merritt's column at New Market.

Gen. Merritt started on the morning of the 6th, first sending the First Michigan Cavalry, Col. Maxwell commanding, down the Rivanna River to Palmyra and toward Columbia, with directions to rejoin him at Scottsville. Gen. Merritt thoroughly accomplished his orders, destroying all large flour mills, woolen factories, and manufacturing establishments, tearing up and demolishing all the locks on the James River Canal from Scottsville to New Market. I had directed him to try and obtain possession of the bridge across the James River at Duguidsville, intending to hold it and strike the South Side Railroad at Appomattox Depot and follow up its destruction to Farmville, where the High Bridge crosses the Appomattox. A bold dash was made to secure this bridge, but without avail, as the enemy had covered it with inflammable material and set it on fire the instant their scouts signalled the approach of our forces. They also, and by the same means, burned the bridge across the James River at Hardwicksville, leaving me master of all the country north of the James River.

My eight pontoons would not reach half way across the river, and my scouts from Lynchburg reported the enemy concentrating at that point from the west, together with a portion of Gen. Pickett's division from Richmond and Fitz Lee's cavalry. It was here that I fully determined to join the armies of the lieutenant-general in front of Petersburg, instead of going back to Winchester, and also make a more complete destruction of the James River Canal and the Virginia Central and Fredericksburg railroads, connecting Richmond with Lynchburg and Gordonsville.

I now had all the advantage, and by hurrying quickly down the canal, and destroying it as near Richmond as Goochland, or beyond, and then moving up to the railroad and destroying it as close up to the city as possible, in the same manner I did toward Lynchburg, I felt convinced I was striking a hard blow by destroying the means of supply to the rebel capital, and, to a certain extent, the Army of Northern Virginia, besides leaving the troops now concentrating at Lynchburg without anything to oppose them, and forcing them to return to Richmond. This conception was at once decided upon, and Col. Fitzhugh's brigade was ordered to proceed to Goochland and beyond immediately, destroying every lock upon the canal, and cutting the banks wherever practicable.

The next morning the entire command moved from New Market down the canal leisurely, completely destroying the locks and the banks about the aqueducts, and in some places cutting the banks.

The rain and mud still impeded us, and the command, particularly the transportation, was much worn and fatigued; however, by replacing our worn-out mules with those captured from Gen. Ealy's trains, and with the assistance of nearly 2,000 negroes who attached themselves to the command, we managed to get along in very good shape, reaching Columbia on the evening of the 10th instant, at which place we were rejoined by Col. Fitzhugh's brigade. Col. Fitzhugh had destroyed the canal about eight miles east of Goochland, thereby reducing it to a very small length.

At Columbia we took one day's rest, and I here sent a communication to the lieutenant-general commanding the armies, notifying him of our success, position, and condition, and requesting supplies to be sent to White House.

My anxiety now was to be able to cross the Pamunkey. I felt confident that the enemy would march out a heavy force, and try to destroy my command, and prevent me from crossing the river. The railroad from Richmond to Gordonsville was still intact, and to go south of the Pamunkey River, and between it and Richmond, I regarded as too hazardous, and I was fearful that the enemy might use it to get on my flank and rear; Gen. Custer was therefore directed to strike the railroad at Frederick's Hall, and Gen. Merritt at Louisa Court-House. Gen.Custer was ordered to thoroughly destroy the track toward Richmond as far as Beaver Dam, while Gen. Merritt did the same thing from Louisa Court-House to Frederick's Hall.

While at this latter place Maj. Young's scouts from Richmond notified me of preparations being made there to prevent me from getting to the James River, and that Pickett's division of infantry was coming back from Lynchburg, via the South Side Railroad, as was also the cavalry, but that no advance from Richmond had yet taken place. I at once determined that there was no way to stop me unless Gen. Longstreet marched directly for the White House, and that he would be unable to do so if I pushed boldly on toward Richmond, as he would be forced to come out and meet me near Ashland; then I could withdraw, cross the South and North Annas, and march to White House on north side of the Pamunkey. It proved true.

But, to divert from the narrative, when Gen. Custer struck Frederick's Hall Station, he entered it so suddenly that he captured the telegraph office with all the dispatches; among them was one from Lieut.-Gen. Early to Gen. Lee, stating that he had been informed that Sheridan's forces were approaching Goochland, and that he intended to move up with 200 cavalry which he had and attack them in the flank at daylight. Gen. Custer immediately ordered a regiment of cavalry in pursuit of this bold party, which, in about two hours, it overtook, attacked, and captured or dispersed in every direction, Lieut.-Gen. Early escaping on a side road with five or six orderlies and two staff officers; he was, however, closely followed by a small detachment, and his staff officers captured, he barely escaping over the South Anna with a single orderly; and the next day he made his way to Richmond, after a campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in which he lost nearly the whole of his army, together with his battle-flags, and nearly every piece of artillery which his troops opened upon us, and also a large part of his transportation.

But, to resume, Gen. Custer, on the morning of the 14th instant, was directed to push down the Negro foot road and cross the South Anna. He sent his scouting parties up to within eleven miles of Richmond, where they burned a hospital train. The object of this move was to divert the attention of the enemy from the North and South Anna bridges, and bridges over Little River, which Merritt was ordered to destroy with Devin's division, Custer's main column meanwhile being held at the Negro foot crossing of the South Anna. Gen. Merritt was ordered to follow the railroad to Hanover Junction, cross the Little River, and go into camp on north bank of South Anna.

In the attack upon the railroad bridge over the South Anna the Fifth U. S. Cavalry charged up to the bridge, dismounted, dashed across it, and drove away the company of artillery who tried to defend it, and turned their own guns--four 20-pounder Parrotts--upon them. . .

Bibliographic Information : Letter Reproduced from The War of The Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 46, Serial No. 95, Pages 474-479, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.

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