Records Related to Augusta County Regiments

From: G. A. CUSTER, Brevet Maj.-Gen.
March 20, 1865.

Union General George Custer reports on a February-March, 1865, expedition in the Shenandoah Valley. He discusses action in and around Staunton.

Capt. E. M. BAKER,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., Cavalry, Middle Military Division.

White House, Va.,

March 20, 1865.

I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my command since February 27, 1865:

At an early hour on the morning of the 27th my command broke camp near Winchester, and moved up the Valley pike, following the First Cavalry Division. The Second Brigade, of the Second Cavalry Division, Army of West Virginia, having been assigned to my command, reported to me soon after leaving camp, and was designated the Third Brigade of the Third Division. Nothing worthy of note occurred until March 1. At 3 o'clock on that morning the Third Brigade, Col. Capehart commanding, was pushed forward to Harrisonburg, and there awaited the arrival of the main column, when it again moved in advance, skirmishing with the enemy under Rosser, until the North River was reached. Here the enemy had made preparations to oppose the crossing, by throwing up a line of earth-works and barricades on the south bank and occupying them with dismounted cavalry. The long, covered bridge over the North River had also been fired by the enemy, and was in flames upon Col. Capehart's arrival. Sending two of his regiments to swim the river above the bridge and attack the enemy in flank, Col. Capehart at the same time sent a column to charge through the burning bridge. The enemy was driven in disorder and the bridge saved. The pursuit was continued to within four miles of Staunton, where the command was encamped for the night. The enemy in the affair at the bridge lost 37 men, including 5 commissioned officers; our loss was slight.

The importance of our success in saving the bridge over North River cannot be over-estimated. Had the enemy succeeded in destroying the bridge it would have compelled a long delay on our part, as there were no fords practicable in that vicinity. On the 2d we moved to Staunton, where the command was halted for a short interval. In accordance with verbal orders received from the major-general commanding the expedition I then marched toward Waynesborough. My orders were to proceed to Waynesborough, ascertain something definite in regard to the position, movements, and strength of the enemy, and, if possible, to destroy the railroad bridge over the South River at that point. The roads were almost impassable, owing to the mud caused by the heavy rains of the past few days. Our march was necessarily slow. Upon reaching Fisherville, six miles from Staunton, our advance struck the enemy's pickets, and drove them in the direction of Waynesborough. Upon arriving at the latter point we found the enemy in force, posted behind a formidable line of earth-works. His position was well chosen, being upon a range of hills west of the town, from which his artillery could command all the approaches, while his infantry could, by their fire, sweep the open space extending along their entire front. The Second Brigade, Col. Wells commanding, was at once moved against the enemy to compel him to display his force. A short but brisk engagement convinced me that while our success would be doubtful, it would involve a large loss of life to attack the enemy in his front. A careful reconnaissance along his entire line convinced me that the enemy had a heavy force of infantry behind his works, while ten pieces of artillery were in position and completely covered his front. But one point seemed favorable for attack. The enemy's left flank, instead of resting on South River, was thrown well forward, leaving a short gap between his left and the river. The approach to this point could be made under cover of the woods. I directed Lieut.-Col. Whitaker, of my staff, to conduct three regiments of Pennington's brigade to our extreme right. Selecting three regiments armed with the Spencer carbine, they were moved, dismounted, under cover of the woods to the point previously indicated, where they were held in readiness to charge the enemy's left. Col. Well's, commanding the Second Brigade, had been instructed to keep the enemy's attention engaged in front by displaying a heavy force of mounted skirmishers, while Col. Capehart, commanding the Third Brigade, was ordered to place his brigade in readiness to charge the enemy in front the moment the attack on the right began. The remaining two regiments of the First Brigade were under similar instructions. Woodruff's section of horse artillery, which, to deceive the enemy, had previously been moved to the rear in open view of their line, was again brought to the front, under cover of the woods, and placed in position to open on the enemy's lines. At a given signal the three dismounted regiments charged on our right. Woodruff opened his guns upon the enemy, compelling them to lie down behind their works, while the brigades of Wells and Capehart moved to the attack in front, at the charge. So sudden was our attack and so great was the enemy's surprise that but little time was offered for resistance. The artillery, however, continued to fire till the last moment and till our troops had almost reached the muzzles of their guns. One piece was captured with the sponge-staff still inserted in the bore and the charge rammed half way home. The rout of the enemy could not have been more complete; no order or organization was preserved. The pursuit was taken up by my entire command, and continued through Rockfish Gap for a distance of twelve miles.

Among some of the substantial fruits of this victory we had possession of about 1,800 prisoners, 14 pieces of artillery, 17 battle-flags, and a train of nearly 200 wagons and ambulances, including Gen. Early's headquarter's wagon, containing all his official desks and records. The result of this engagement was of the highest value and importance to us for another reason; it opened a way across the Blue Ridge Mountains through Rockfish Gap, and thereby saved us from several days' delay and marching.

My command encamped that night at Brookfield (Brooksville). The following morning I moved in the direction of Charlottesville. When near that place we struck a force of the enemy's cavalry, but drove them without difficulty. A deputation of the citizens of Charlottesville, headed by the mayor and common council, met me outside the town and formally surrendered the town. Moving through the town, in the direction of Gordonsville, the enemy was again encountered, and a skirmish ensued, which resulted in the route of the enemy, we gaining possession of 3 guns and 1 battle-flag. We remained at Charlottesville until the morning of the 6th, destroying, in the meanwhile, the railroad bridge over the Rivanna River, beside rendering unserviceable but twenty miles of the Virginia Central Railroad. A scouting party sent out from my command on the 5th came upon a party of rebels, among them being Commodore Hollins, formerly of our Navy. In attempting to make his escape the commodore was killed. On the morning of the 6th my commandant moved in the direction of Lynchburg, parallel to the railroad to that point. All the bridges and trestle-work on the Lynchburg road were destroyed as far as the bridge over Buffalo Run, including the the latter bridge. On the 8th we moved to New Market, on the James River, where a cut was made in the canal. On the 9th marched to Scottsville; the following day reached Columbia, where we rested until the morning of the 12th, when we marched to Frederick's Hall Station, on the Virginia Central Railroad, a portion of the division going to Bumpass Station. The following day the entire command was engaged in destroying the railroad track, by burning the ties and bending the rails. In this manner about ten miles of the road was destroyed at this point. On the 14th marched to Ground Squirrel bridge over the South Anna, at which point the main portion of the command was halted, while two regiments proceeded as far as Ashland and returned, meeting no enemy on the route. The entire command encamped near the Ground Squirrel bridge. I sent a scouting party toward Richmond on the Brook pike, which succeeded in capturing a train of 40 wagons and a number of prisoners, including one of Gen. Early's staff officers. Moved at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 15th, reaching Ashland early in the day, where I learned that Longstreet and Pickett were advancing upon that point, with a heavy force composed of all arms. The First Brigade, under Col. Pennington, was sent forward to hold the enemy in check until the rest of the command could pass that point in the direction of the railroad bridge over the South Anna. The enemy made several attempts to force Pennington back, but was repulsed each time. His most determined effort was made just before dark, but was a complete failure. Having held the cross-road as long as was desirable or necessary, Pennington, in obedience to my orders, withdrew his command, and followed the remainder of the division to the north bank of the North Anna, where the entire command encamped near Carmel Church. From the latter point we marched, via Mangohick Church and King William Court-House, to White House, crossing the Pamunkey River at that point over the railroad bridge on the 19th; encamped near White House.

In the battle of Waynesborough, in which the loss of the enemy in killed, wounded, and captured was upward of 2,000, my loss was but 9 in all. With reference to the conduct of the officers and men of my command throughout the entire expedition, both when engaged with the enemy and while on the march, I have nothing but words of the highest praise and commendation to offer. As a special report will be made, making mention of those who are particularly deserving and meritorious, none of the many instances of personal gallantry and merit, as displayed on the late expedition, are mentioned in this report.

I am, very respectfully, &c.,

Brevet Maj.-Gen.

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 501-504, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.

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