Union Cavalry Colonel John Thompson reports on a March, 1865, expedition to bring Confederate prisoners from Waynesborough to Winchester. Thompson passed through Staunton with the troops, ordering the town's citizens to provide food for the prisoners. When they only could scrape together a "poor pittance" Thompson reports taking food from the town asylum for the men's subsistence. Thompson also discusses military actions in the Valley and the Staunton area.
Maj. WILLIAM RUSSELL, Jr.,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Cavalry Corps, Middle Military Division.
March 9, 1865.
I have the honor to submit the following report of the conducting a convoy of prisoners from Waynesborough to our lines at this place:
Some 1,300 prisoners, including 56 officers, were turned over to me at Waynesborough on the 3d instant, with instructions to conduct them to Winchester. I was furnished with an escort, consisting of the dismounted men and those with poor horses, from all the cavalry, about 600 men, together with seven small organizations, numbering about 600 men in the ranks.
I destroyed at Waynesborough 4 guns and caissons and 6 ambulances, leaving the sick and wounded in the houses, the horses and mules being too weak to draw them. I took I gun, with a train of 14 horses and 2 mules. I was provided with no forage for the horses nor rations for the escort or prisoners, except three day's rations of coffee, sugar, and salt.
I encamped at Fisherville on the night of the 3d, and before daylight sent the Fourth New York Cavalry, Maj. Schwartz commanding, to secure the two bridges between Staunton and Harrisonburg, as the streams were so swollen that it was impossible to ford them. They arrived only in time to save them from burning.
Maj. Schwartz was directed to inform the citizens of Staunton that a large number of prisoners would pass through the town, and that they must supply them with food. On reaching Staunton I found a few females bringing out a poor pittance in small baskets. I refused to allow them to approach the prisoners, and told the citizens that they could have a half hour to provide food or I should take it from the insane asylum. They brought none, and I took flour and bacon from the asylum, upon which the prisoners subsisted until they arrived at Winchester. I learned at Staunton that Gen. Rosser was collecting his command, which had all been furloughed, for the purpose of releasing the prisoners. He had then only fifty men, with whom he skirmished with the rear guard and prevented foraging except with large parties.
At Harrisonburg McNeill's company joined him, together with about 100 more of his regular troops. He had sent dispatches in front of us to all parts of the country, directing the citizens and soldiers to rendezvous at Mount Jackson to prevent our crossing the North Fork of the Shenandoah, stating that he would follow with his forces, and certainly capture us. I arrived at Mount Jackson at noon on the 6th, and found the river impassable, even for horsemen, except at the ford near the pike. A force of 200 men had collected, and held all the fords. I spent the afternoon in trying to build a bridge by felling trees, but was unsuccessful. The river was falling rapidly, however, and would be fordable the next morning. At daylight I directed Maj. Brown, commanding Twenty-second New York, with his own regiment and the First Rhode Island, to force the ford above the pike, and drive the enemy from the main ford. This was executed very handsomely; in ten minutes the enemy was scattered in the mountains, and we had taken several prisoners. At this time the enemy attacked our rear,which had taken a position on Rude's Hill, but was repulsed. The dismounted men and prisoners forded the stream in groups of fifty or sixty, holding each other by the arm. It was impossible for a single footman to ford, the water being breast high, with a rapid current. When the fording was nearly completed Gen. Rosser, with about 300 men, made a vigorous assault upon the troops guarding our rear, and was again repulsed, with a loss to him of 10 killed, several wounded, and 25 prisoners. The enemy made no other attack, though I was informed by the citizens that Mosby's men were to join Gen. Rosser, and they would attack us in our camp that night. We marched, however, across Cedar Creek, and encamped in the earth-works at that place, reaching our lines at Winchester at noon on the 8th. I think Gen. Rosser gave up the pursuit at Woodstock. During the night at Mount Jackson the gun we had brought was spiked and the carriage destroyed, as I was fearful that it could not be drawn over the ford, and it might fall into the hands of the enemy. I had no ammunition for it, the cartridges having been taken, by order of Gen. Merritt, to destroy the bridge at Waynesborough.
Lieut.-Col. Nichols, Ninth New York Cavalry, who was detailed by Gen. Sheridan to take command of the troops belonging to the First Division, rendered very efficient services. Lieut.-Col. Boice, Fifth New York Cavalry, whom I put in charge of those from the Third Division, deserves high commendation. He covered the rear during the entire march. His repulse of the enemy in the two assaults at Rude's Hill was brilliant. The prisoners could not withhold their commendation, but shouted with our own men.
Maj. Brown, Twenty-second New york, also merits praise for the manner in which he forced the ford, and cleared the enemy from our front.
The troops were all severely tried with labor and hunger, and behaved perfectly.
Our loss was 1 officer (Capt. Wyatt, First New Hampshire) and 5 men wounded, and 2 captured. The number of prisoners was increased by 4 officers and 30 men.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. L. THOMPSON,
Col. First New Hampshire Cavalry, Cmdg. Detachment.
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 528-529, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.