Records Related to Augusta County Regiments

From: W. MERRITT, Brevet Maj.-Gen., Cmdg.
May 7, 1865.

Union Cavalry General Wesley Merritt reports on the February-March, 1865, campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. He discusses entering Staunton, destroying stores in the area, and ripping up the railroad to Charlottesville. Merritt also comments on the condition of the roads from Staunton to Charlottesville.

Petersburg, Va.,

May 7, 1865.


I respectfully furnish the following report of the operations of the cavalry during the past campaigns:

The command consisted of the First and Third Divisions of Cavalry, each division accompanied by one section of artillery (3-inch rifled guns). A pontoon train with a company of engineers, under command of Capt. Folwell, also accompanied the expedition. The command marched with five days' rations and thirty pounds of forage on the horses, and fifteen days' rations of sugar, coffee, and salt in wagons. Each man carried on his horse seventy-five rounds of ammunition, while 10 rounds per man were carried in wagons. The entire train of the command, including twelve ambulances and two medical wagons (all that marched with the expedition), was seventy-five wagons. One pack-mule was allowed to each squadron in the command, and two to each regimental headquarters. The command was placed in readiness to march on short notice, yet still the state of preparation was so complete that during the long and arduous marches not the smallest delay for inconvenience resulted from neglect in this respect. The pontoon train, which reported to the undersigned the night before the march, was provided with but poor teams, which, in consequence of the bad condition of the roads and the heaviness of the pontoon wagons, frequently failed on the route. These teams were replaced by others collected in the country through which the march was conducted.

February 27, 1865, the command marched from cantonment near Winchester, Va., camping at Woodstock. The bridge over Cedar Creek having been carried away by the winter freshest, the fording was deep, but attended with but little difficulty. From Woodstock a force of 500 men was sent in advance to hold the bridge at Edenburg during the night.

February 28, the command marched at 6 a.m., and arrived at Mount Jackson at 10.30 a.m., where the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah had been destroyed. The stream being too deep to cross wagons by the ford, which was also unsafe for the passage of mounted men, the pontoon bridge was thrown across, and the command, with the exception of Pennington's brigade, which forded the stream, passed safely over. One man and several horses were drowned in fording this stream. The command camped at Lacey's Spring. Capehart's brigade, of the Third Division, was moved to the front at 3 a.m. on the morning of March 1, to occupy Harrisonburg. The main body moved at 6 a.m., reaching Harrisonburg at 10 a.m. Capehart's brigade was ordered to move rapidly to Mount Crawford, and secure the bridge over North River at that point. The enemy, under Rosser, on the approach of this brigade, attempted to burn the bridge, but were quickly driven away by Capehart's men, who forded the stream above and below, flanking the enemy's rifle-pits. This command, under Rosser, was dispersed, captured, or killed. A number of wagons were taken and destroyed by the advance. The command camped at Middle River, the bridge over which was also secured by a rapid advance. Stagg's brigade was ordered to move forward and destroy the railroad bridge on Christian's Creek. This brigade occupied Staunton the same night.

March 2, the command arriving at Staunton, a force was detached from the First Division to go to Swoope's Station, where it was reported the enemy had stored supplies of war. This expedition found immense quantities of commissary, quartermaster's, and ordnance stores, which it destroyed. The main column, the Third Division in advance, moved toward Waynesborough, where the enemy was found, strongly posted behind barricades and rifle-pits. Gen. Custer, after engaging the enemy's artillery, with his own for a short time, moved three regiments, under directions of Col. Whitaker, first Connecticut, to the left flank and rear of the enemy, and routed him, with the loss of but 3 or 4 men to our command, capturing over 1,000 prisoners, the enemy's artillery and wagon train, containing all the wardrobe, papers, & C., of the officers of Early's depleted army. This event opened the roads for unresisted advance on the James River and all the roads and means of supply north of Richmond. All the captures which could not be carried away were destroyed. The prisoners and some few pieces of artillery were ordered back to Winchester, under a mounted guard of about 1,500 mounted and dismounted men, under Col. Thompson, First New Hampshire Cavalry.

March 3, the Third Division marched at 6 a.m. for Charlottesville. Gen. Devin was ordered to move in its rear with two brigades of his command, leaving one to guard the wagon train, which, on account of the fearful condition of the roads, was unable to make the marches effected by the cavalry. The column, as it marched, destroyed all Confederate Government property on its route, as well as the railroad bridges, depots, &c., between Staunton and Charlottesville. This latter place was entered without opposition by the Third Division, which immediately set to work to destroy the railroad bridge over the Rivanna River. Col. Randol, of Pennington's brigade, was sent the same day to destroy the railroad bridges on the Lynchburg railroad, over the North and South Forks of the Hardware River. The state of the roads from Staunton to Charlottesville defies description. Heavy rains, which fell during the march, rendered the stiff, yellow clay of that section of country soft and almost impassable. Great injury resulted to the horses of the command from marching over these roads. The disease called the hoof-rot was generated by the mud in this march. Quite a large number of horses were destroyed subsequently by this disease. The trains did not arrive at Charlottesville until the 4th of March. The greatest praise is due to Capt. W. H. Brown, chief quartermaster of this command, and his able assistants, for the energy and perseverance with which they worked in getting the train over the road. During the march from Staunton, and until the column reached the White House, they worked night and day, using every exertion and means which a settled determination to succeed could provoke or human ingenuity invent. At no time during the march, under the most trying circumstances, was there the slightest disposition to fail in this most responsible duty of moving the train. The command remained at Charlottesville until the morning of the 6th of March. During the term of its stay at this place the command was fitted up as well as possible. An abundance of forage was found in the country, and the animals well supplied. The best of discipline was maintained. Scarcely an instance of excess of any kind was brought to the notice of the general commanding.

March 6, the command marched in two columns--the First Division, accompanied by these headquarters, to Scottsville, on the James, and the Third Division, with wagon trains, along the Lynchburg railroad toward Lynchburg. This division was accompanied by the major-general commanding. It destroyed the railroad bridges and culverts to Buffalo River, joining the First Division at New Market on the 8th. The First Division arrived at Scottsville on the 6th instant at 3 p.m. The work of destruction on the canal was commenced at once, and continued by the Reserve Brigade, which remained at Scottsville, during the night to await the arrival of Col. Maxwell, First Michigan Cavalry, who was detached with a light force to move down the Rivanna River, as far as Palmyra, to destroy bridges, mills, manufactories, and rebel Government establishments. The First and Second Brigades of the First Division were marched to Howardsville. The work of destruction on the canal was prosecuted with great vigor. All locks from Goochland to Duguidsville were destroyed during the time the command operated in this country; also immense quantities of rebel Government stores, tobacco, cotton, and subsistence stores were issued to the command or destroyed. The officers and men of the First Division worked with great energy, marching all day over the worst possible roads, and working early and late for the complete accomplishment of the object of the expedition. Great credit is due Gen. Devin and his energetic brigade commanders for their untiring zeal in carrying out the orders given them at this time. Besides the locks, the aqueduct over the mouth of the The River was destroyed, and the canal cut down and injured for miles.

On the 10th of March the command moved to Columbia. The idea of crossing the James River and pushing still farther south was abandoned, for the reason that the enemy had destroyed the bridges on the James River, thus rendering the crossing impracticable, and the fact that, owing to the bad condition of the roads and the reduced condition of the teams and animals of the command, it was not thought feasible to pursue that route. Col. Fitzhugh's brigade was detached on the night of the 8th of March to precede the command to Columbia, and thence send a force down the river as far as Goochland. His command made an elegant march to the point designated, fully accomplishing the objects for which it had been sent out. During the 11th of March the command remained at Columbia, resting and awaiting the arrival of the wagon trains. Reports were furnished at that time of the amount of property destroyed, captured, & C.

On the 12th of March the march toward the Virginia Central Railroad was resumed. The two divisions marched on different roads, the Third Division having orders to occupy the railroad in the neighborhood of Frederick's Hall Station by night. This was done by Gen. Custer, who detached a brigade for the purpose. The fords on the South Anna River were very bad, but after some repairing the command was crossed without trouble, and reached the Central railroad, at Tolersville, on the 13th of March. Here the First Division commenced the work of destruction on the railroad, while the Third Division prosecuted the same work at Frederick's Hall Station and beyond. Quite a number of miles of track were effectually destroyed.

March 14, the command marched south for the purpose of destroying the bridges over the South Anna and Little Rivers. Gen. Custer directed his march over Ground Squirrel bridge, while Gen. Devin moved directly along the railroad to the South Anna. The bridges were taken possession of and destroyed after a brisk skirmish with the guards at the bridge, in which the Fifth U. S. Cavalry did splendid service. Three pieces of artillery and a number of prisoners were captured. The Third Division pushed south as far as Ashland, while the First Division, after completely destroying the bridges, crossed the river with a view to moving to Hanover Court-House. As it soon became apparent that the enemy in considerable force (Pickett's division and part of Longstreet's corps) were moving to intercept us on our march to the army of the Potomac, the command recrossed the South Anna and moved on the north bank of the Pamunkey to White House Landing. This point was reached on the 18th of March. Here ample supplies were found for the command, and the time was busily occupied in refitting.

On the 25th of March the command resumed the march to the Army of the Potomac, which it joined on the 27th of March.

Thus was completed a campaign which, for brilliancy of conception and perfect success in execution, has never been equaled in the operations of cavalry in this or any other country. The results attest the importance of the services performed. The remnant of Early's famous Army of the Valley, which, less than a year before, had enviroded the capital of the country, was captured or dispersed, his artillery, trains, correspondence, and baggage in our hands. Two railroads and one canal, immense arteries of supply for the rebel Army of Northern Virginia, were completely disabled, and millions of dollars' worth of rebel property, contraband of war, was destroyed or used for the command. The rapidity of our march over roads rendered almost impassable by heavy rains, which rendered the crossing of each petty creek a work of great labor and time, was truly marvelous, and led the enemy completely astray as to our movements. Over 350 miles were marched by the main body of the command, some parts of which made over 500 miles. Over 2,000 prisoners were taken, 18 pieces of artillery, a large number of arms, and many stand of colors. These are some of the substantial fruits of the expedition, which, while it inflicted immense damage on the Army of Northern Virginia, introduced for the first time to many of the responsible people of Virginia the stern realities of the wicked war they themselves had sought.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brevet Maj.-Gen., Cmdg.

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 484-488, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.

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