Union Major Charles Brown reports on a March, 1865, scouting expedition in the Shenandoah Valley. Brown reports hearing rumors that Confederate General Thomas Rosser was preparing a raiding force at Staunton.
Maj. WILLIAM RUSSELL, Jr.,
March 19, 1865.
I have the honor to report that, in compliance with orders from Brevet Maj.-Gen. Torbert, commanding Cavalry Corps, Middle Military Division, I left Winchester on the morning of the 17th at 1.30 o'clock, and moved up the Back road to Cedar Creek, with the intention of crossing at either Fawcett's or Mount Hope Gap. On arriving at Cedar Creek I found the water so high that it was impossible to cross. I then moved by a mountain road and struck the Moorefiled pike, moving up Cedar Valley, crossing Cedar Creek at the entrance of Rudolph's Pass, crossed the mountain by that pass, and struck on the Back road, moving up on that road as a far as the cross-road leading to Woodstock, where I encamped for the night. The guide (Sailor) judging from Cedar Creek and all the runs that we passed that it would be dangerous, if not impossible, to cross Stony Creek, and also the fact that it would be impossible for me to reach Columbia Furnace without the enemy being notified of my approach, I decided to move directly to Woodstock, and then to Edenburg, if I found it necessary. On arriving at Woodstock the scouts dashed through the town, followed by the advance guard, capturing two rebel cavalrymen, dismounted, belonging to Gilmore's battalion; one or two others managed to get away. From information gained from Union families along the route and at Woodstock, I found that there was no force at all this side of New Market, and doubtful if any this side of Staunton. From the time we left Winchester till we reached Woodstock but two rebel soldiers were seen; all that I conversed with gave the same information, that all the soldiers were moving up the Valley. By one Union family in Woodstock I was told that there was an order for all of Rosser's command to meet at or near Staunton, and that small parties of six or eight were passing about every day through Woodstock and on the Back road up the Valley, and none moving down. The scout Stearns, who had been lying at or near Woodstock for a week, confirmed this information from his own knowledge. His impression was, he told me, that Rosser had gathered about 800 men between New Market and Staunton, and that his intention was to make a raid in some direction down one of the valleys. Among the Union families in Woodstock the impression prevailed that Rosser was gathering in his cavalry with the purpose of withdrawing toward Richmond, instead of a raid down the Valley. Having been frustrated by the high water my intention of passing to the rear of Edenburg unheralded, and being certain from all the information gained that there was no force at all this side of New Market, and also from the fact that the detachment of the Eighteenth Pennsylvania had joined me without a pound of forage or rations, I decided to return to Winchester without proceeding farther.
In explanation of my not moving at 6 p.m. of the 16th as ordered, I have the honor to state that when I reported to Gen. Torbert at 5 o'clock of that evening the eighty men that I reported to him as all the men that I could move with, from this regiment, were saddled, bridled, forage packed on the horses, and men ready to move off, as soon as I returned; that on my return to the regiment I found that Col. Ives, commanding this detachment of cavalry, had made a detail from this regiment for thirty mounted men for picket duty. Thirty of the eighty men ready to move with me had gone on picket at Kernstown. Col. Ives requested that I would replace these men by others, and it occasioned a delay in my moving of two hours in getting those men back again. I had ordered Capt. Johnson, of the Eighteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, on his reporting to me to move out on the pike to the pickets at Mill Creek, and to notify me of his arrival. Not hearing from him within an hour after I was ready to move, I sent an orderly to try and find the command. He found them at Kernstown. Capt. Johnson was not to be found; had not been seen within an hour and a half. Lieut. McKay, the next in command, reported to me. It was then raining in torrents, and it was too dark to move with safety to man or beast. I ordered Lieut. McKay to shelter his men in the house and out houses of Mr. Prichard, near the pike.
At 1.30 the next morning, the moon being up and it having ceased raining, I moved. Lieut. McKay reports to me that the detachment of the Eighteenth Pennsylvania left their camp, under command of a man named Johnson done officer, Lieut. McKay; that Johnson was a sergeant in some other regiment, was mustered out to receive promotion in the Eighteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry as captain, and has never been mustered in as captain; that he was, or appeared to be, under the influence of liquor; that he laid down under a tree while the command was waiting at Kernstown and could not be found, and was not seen again; that while Lieut. McKay was absent from his command at Kernstown, reporting to me, quite a number of the men left the command and went back to Winchester, leaving only seventy-five men and one commissioned officer. The two prisoners we captured I sent you by Capt. Cadwell, the next in command.
In my decision as to the direction, after finding it impossible to cross at Mount Hope Ford, I was governed mainly, of course, by the judgment of the scout Sailor, keeping in view the end to be obtained. I have nothing to say of him but praise for his general conduct, forethought, and intelligences. I also have the honor to state that I should have reported promptly in person last evening and with written report, but for a violent attack of bilious colic, which made it impossible for me to move farther than the camp. I am still suffering severely from its effects.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. C. BROWN,
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 532-533, Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.