Union Cavalry Colonel Charles Fitzhugh reports on a February-March, 1865, expedition in the Shenandoah Valley. Fitzhugh discusses entering Staunton, and destroying supplies in the area. He itemizes in detail the goods and buildings destroyed in and around the town.
Maj. A. E. DANA,
Assistant Adjutant-Gen., First Cavalry Division.
White House, Va.,
March 19, 1865.
I have the honor to forward the following report of the operations of the Second Brigade, First Cavalry division, during the late cavalry expedition:
The brigade left Winchester with the cavalry of the Valley, February 27, 1865, and marched without incident of importance by the Valley pike to Staunton, arriving there March 2, having seen no enemy by the way but a small party of fifty cavalry, which made a demonstration on right flank of the brigade February 28, but were easily repulsed by a squadron from Sixth New York Cavalry. Near Staunton a detachment of 300 men from Twentieth Pennsylvania, under Maj. Douglass, was sent to Swoope's Station, eight miles west of Staunton, for the destruction of rebel Government property there. The expedition was highly successful, destroying a large amount of valuable quartermaster's and commissary stores, viz, the depot and four barns in the vicinity, containing the following amount of stores: 3,000 pairs of boots, a like number of shirts, drawers, pants, jackets, and blankets; 50,000 pounds of ham and bacon, and a small quantity of ordnance stores, consisting of small-arms and ammunition. At Staunton the Fourth New York (120 strong) and 257 men with unserviceable horses, under Lieut.-Col. Nichols, of the Ninth New York, were sent to the rear, as part of the escort to prisoners and guns captured by Third Division at Waynesborough. The Sixth New York, Maj. White commanding, were left at Staunton for the destruction of rebel property there, and reported to me at night, having destroyed 17 stage coaches, 60 wagons, 1 tannery, containing a large quantity of leather, and 1 Government blacksmith shop.
Leaving Staunton March 3, the brigade marched with the division through Waynesborough and Rockfish Gap, burning a large tannery by the way, and camped seven miles west of Charlottesville; distance made, twenty-nine miles. Arrived at Charlottesville on the 4th of March, and on the 5th the Sixth New York, Ninth New York, and Seventeenth Pennsylvania were detached and sent to assist in the destruction of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad south of Charlottesville. This work was done most effectually, the regiments named demolishing the road for a distance of two miles, burning the ties and heating and bending every rail, and burning two bridges, each fifty feet in length. A rebel caisson, concealed near camp, was also destroyed here. At Charlottesville also was destroyed 2,000 pounds of tobacco, 15 wagons loaded with corn, wheat, tobacco, and flour; also a tannery containing 1,000 hides. The command was supplied at Charlottesville with seven days' rations of sugar, coffee, and salt, and marched, March 6, through Scottsville to Howardsville, at the mouth of Rockfish River, on the James, making a march of thirty-three miles and destroying effectually one canal lock at Scottsville. The First New York Dragoons, Maj. Smith commanding, was sent from Howardsville, March 6, with instructions to proceed rapidly to Hardwicksville, twelve miles up the river, and to use his utmost exertions to seize and hold the bridge at that point. The attempt was a failure, Maj. Smith reaching the bridge at early dawn just in time to see it destroyed by fire. It was impossible to save the bridge, each end being filled with straw and a man stationed ready to apply a match on the slightest indication of a hostile approach. Maj. Smith contended himself with destroying 336 sacks of salt, 4 bales of cotton, and a large quantity of tobacco, and then rejoined the brigade at Warminster, and, with the Sixth New York, destroyed the locks at that point.
March 8, the brigade was ordered by Brevet Maj.-Gen. Merritt to proceed without delay to Columbia, to reach there by daylight on 9th, and to remain there until further orders, holding the place and sending back all the information possible regarding the movements of the enemy. The brigade marched at 12 m., reached Scottsville at dark, halted one hour to rest and feed, and then, in a hard rain and through heavy roads, pushed on for Columbia, reaching there at daylight. Two squadrons of the Sixth New York were left to protect the bridge over the Hardware River, and were relieved two days after by Col. Pennington's brigade, of the Third Division, Maj. Farmer, commanding the detachment, having captured and destroyed in the meantime three wagons loaded with commissary stores and a number of horses and mules. The march from Warminster to Columbia, a distance of fifty-six miles, was made in seventeen hours, and was a most severe one, owing to the rain and mud encountered. The loss in horses was less than the severity of the march might be supposed to cause, and this loss was more than made up by animals captured on the route. Before reaching Columbia Capt. Blunt, brigade inspector, with two orderlies, succeeded in capturing three of Fitz Lee's scouts with their horses, arms, and equipments. Arriving at Columbia strong scouting parties were at once sent out on the Richmond and Palmyra roads, and a small party sent back to acquaint Gen. Merritt with the progress of the brigade. This party captured two rebels, with horses, arms, and equipments, near Scottsville. The detachment on Richmond road, fifteen men and one officer, proceeded to Cartersville, eleven miles down the river, to the site of the old bridge, and returned at night without seeing the enemy, after destroying a canal boat and a large amount of commissary stores. The information obtained by this detachment, as well as that sent to Palmyra, was all to the effect that Fitzhugh Lee's division of cavalry was south of the James River, marching toward Columbia in anticipation of our crossing there. According to orders received from Gen. Merritt there was no destruction of property at Columbia, with the exception of breaching the canal. The brigade remained at Columbia until the arrival of the rest of the cavalry on the 10th of March, and then destroyed two naval camps in the vicinity, containing the following property: 1 valuable steam-engine, a great number of workmen's tools, and a large amount of dressed timber.
March 11, in compliance with orders from Gen. Merritt the brigade proceeded to Goochland Court-House, for the destruction of Government property there. The march was commenced at 6 a.m. and Goochland reached at 1 p.m., the distance made being twenty miles. The advance into Goochland was disputed by a squadron of fifty of the Seventh South Carolina, Gary's brigade, which was charged by Maj. Dinnin, with one squadron of the Ninth New York, and routed, Maj. Dinnin capturing an officer and thirteen enlisted men. A strong scouting party sent out on the river road advanced to within eighteen miles of Richmond, without meeting any opposition. The brigade destroyed all the canal locks between Columbia and Goochland, 10 in number; also 15 canal boats, most of them loaded with grain and commissary stores; 2,000 pounds of tobacco, 4 hogsheads of tobacco, 1 large warehouse, 1 dredge, 1 grist-mill, and 1 saw-mill. The jail at Goochland, in which soldiers had been imprisoned, was also burned. The command left Goochland at 6 p.m. and rejoined the cavalry at Columbia at midnight.
On the 12th the brigade marched with the cavalry command to within a short distance of Tolersville, on the Virginia Central Railroad, and camped, and the next day assisted in tearing up the track, burning the ties, and bending the rails as far as Frederick's Hall. Marched on the 14th to Beaver Dam, twelve miles; on the 15th to Taylorsville and returned, crossing the North Anna at 4 p.m. at lower ford, and camped at Mount Carmel Church. Continued the march next day and reached the White House without further incident March 19.
During the expedition the brigade has marched over 450 miles, and has destroyed the amount of property shown in the appended list; has captured 51 prisoners of war, 270 horses, and 175 mules. The command has never suffered from scarcity of forage or rations; good foraging parties under competent officers having been able to meet every want. The loss in the brigade has been slight; 1 man killed and 1 wounded by guerrillas, 42 reported missing, chiefly stragglers, who have been picket up by the enemy, and 1 died from disease. The health of the command is perfect; no sick are reported.
I cannot speak in too high terms of the zeal and intelligence of the members of the staff, whom I found at brigade headquarters on assuming command: Capt. Mahnken, assistant adjutant-general; Capt. Cating, provost-marshal; Capt. Blunt, brigade inspector; Lieut. Chamberlain, ordnance officer, and Doctor Clarke, brigade surgeon, have all performed their duties with energy and ability, and I commend them to my superiors for a proper recognition of their services.
Report of property destroyed by the Second Brigade, First Cavalry Division, during the late cavalry expedition: 6 1/4 miles railroad, 18 canal locks, 6 flat-boats (loaded with tobacco and flour), 12 canal boats, 5 canal-boat loads of tobacco, flour, and hospital supplies; 2 large buildings containing 300 hogsheads tobacco, 1 jail at Goochland Court-House, 500 cords railroad wood, 1 depot, 4 barns, 3,000 pairs boots, 2,000 pairs pants, jackets, blankets, and drawers; 50,000 pounds meat, a small quantity of ordnance (small-arms and ammunition), 4,000 pounds of tobacco, 15 wagons containing corn, wheat, flour, and tobacco; 1 tannery with 1,000 hides, 2 naval camps with workmen's implements, 1 steam-engine, and a quantity of dressed timber, 4 hogsheads leaf tobacco, quantity of blacksmith's tools, 1 boat-load corn, the machinery of a saw-mill, 1 large warehouse, 1 mill, 3 wagons loaded with quartermaster's and commissary and subsistence stores, 4 bales cotton, 8 boxes tobacco, 42 hogsheads tobacco, 12 barrels potash, 8 bales hay, 1 dredge, 1,000 grain sacks, 1,000 shelter-tents, and 336 sacks of salt.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
CHAS. L. FITZHUGH,
Col., Cmdg. Brigade.
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 496-499, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.