line rose to the crest of the knoll, we could see even their features when turned in profile.
The commands were all by bugle, and the notes came to us distinctly from the skirmish line until, no other troops of ours remaining on that side, the rally was sounded, and then the retreat, and the regiment trotted down to the ford and crossed it, entirely unmolested by the enemy, who, if they advanced to the river at all, were lost to us in the twilight and darkness which soon came on. Considering the distance from the river to which our troops had penetrated, and that the various columns, widely separated though they were, withdrew from their advanced positions and recrossed the Rappahannock
without the slightest interruption from the enemy, I feel justified in denying that we were “driven across the river,” although it was so reported by General Lee
to the authorities at Richmond
I have not attempted to dispute with Major McClellan
as to the numbers in action, for such an argument is always unprofitable.
We had all our available cavalry, and so had Stuart
; and no doubt the numbers opposed were very nearly equal, though on neither side was the fall force seriously engaged at one time, while on both sides the moral effect of infantry supports was the principal benefit derived from that source.
There is no question that the action began in mutual surprise, in the sense of unexpectedness.
Regarding the operations of the Kelly's ford
column, and the occurrences in front of St. James' Church, there is no dispute; and it is only by implication that Major McClellan
ascribes Ruford's sudden withdrawal from our right to an actual repulse.
On this point, following Major McClellan
's example in other instances, I have thought it proper to speak from my personal knowledge.
Military history could not expect an easier task than to reconcile our narratives; and it is only with a view to historic accuracy that I have denied the general terms of the official reports on his side that we were “driven across the river;” a statement which, being incorrect, may as well be corrected.
The objects hoped to be gained by the reconnoissance were for once fully realized.
The incidental fighting was very creditable to both sides, and it is simply a matter of fact, from which I argue nothing, that the nature of the fight was on our side more difficult than on Stuart
's. The progress of the engagement brought him constantly into better position, enabling him to concentrate his troops within a very limited area around Fleetwood hill
, while ours were operating from opposite points of the compass.
If there was a sense of victory remaining with Stuart
's men, it was natural on their seeing our men withdraw to the fords and recross the river; but there was not the