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Chapter 15:

  • Before Petersburg
  • -- flank movement -- cross the James -- incidents of the siege -- Wilson's raid -- Reams Station -- Sixth Corps sent to Washington -- affair at the Monocacy -- Fort Stevens -- pursuit of Early -- up Loudon Valley and through Snicker's Gap -- military execution -- return to Tenallytown -- marches and countermarches -- up the Valley -- Sheridan in the Valley

The march through the bottom lands of the Chickahominy, and over the fields of Charles City County, was uneventful, and, except that the weather was less sultry, and it was an advance movement, would remind one of the march down the peninsula, in the summer of 1862.

It was, we believe, on the 5th of June, that, begrimed with dust and perspiration, we reached a point opposite Charles City courthouse, where the James burst upon our view, glistening in the sun like polished steel. What a spectacle met our view! A seemingly endless, living, moving mass, of which we were a part, reached across the broad river skirting the far-off southern shore, then stretching to the southwest over the plateau toward the Appomattox. Never before had this historic river witnessed such a sight, or held on its bosom such an array of craft. Its rapid tide forbade the anchoring of the hundred pontoons; they were firmly attached by their cables to vessels above and below the bridge. Their anchors lay in the mud more than fourteen fathoms below. Over this driveway, 2,000 feet long, for forty hours, with ceaseless step, moved the vast train, composed of the three arms of our service, having in its wake 3,000 head of beef cattle, and it is said fifty miles of wagon train.


The drought of 1864, unsurpassed in meteorologic annals, had commenced in earnest; there was a continued scarcity of even that impure, brackish water that we were able to procure by sinking wells in naturally moist spots, during the months which we spent south of the James. The water of those wells which we scooped out in the swamp on the line of the Weldon Railroad, used to have a curious flavor of weeds and roots. [159]

From the 17th to the 29th of June, during the first two days of which period there was assault after assault upon the Confederate defences, we lay in a fort in the right section of the line of redoubts occupied by the troops that were investing the place in its front. The first week's experience may have produced a grave doubt, in the minds of Federal military authorities, whether these defences could be carried by direct assault. At all events, attempts were made at the end of that period to turn them by the south; then 8,000 cavalry, under Gen. Wilson, were dispatched to the line of the Weldon and Danville Railroad. Raiding along that road, he was hotly engaged at Stony Creek on the 28th.

It was on the night of this day that we were sent to the support of this cavalry force, and on the following day occurred the affair at Reams Station. It is stated that no mention of this event was made in the military report, and it has received no specific name. This must be due to the fact that the war had assumed such gigantic proportions that an engagement which in 1861 would be termed a battle, in 1864 was regarded as incidental by-play; nevertheless, this was an important link in the historical chain which was forged by destiny during the summer of 1864. We were in reserve upon the left in this vicinity, on the eighty-eighth anniversary of our national independence, and during five consecutive days following.

It was now that the Sixth Corps was selected to intercept and chastise the Confederate army of the Shenandoah, which advices said was menacing Washington. An all-night march to City Point, a speedy embarkation on the 10th, and we were steaming down the James. No senseless tarry in Hampton road, nor lingering in the Chesapeake. Sometime in the small hours of the night of the 12th, we debarked at the Navy Yard.

It was in the second week of July, 1864, that Gen. Hunter's command, which had made an almost unparalleled march up the valley of Virginia to Lynchburg, and had fiercely assailed it, was obliged to retire before a superior Confederate force hastily sent by rail from Lee's army; outnumbered and short of ammunition, it retreated over the Alleghanies into West Virginia, whence it regained the Potomac by a circuitous route.

There was now no Federal force of any moment in the valley, and Early, with 20,000 Confederate veterans, sped unobstructed [160] down the Shenandoah, and over the Potomac, scouring the country beyond even to Pennsylvania, for horses, cattle, and provisions, having defeated at the Monocacy near Frederick, a handful of Federal troops, comparatively considered (there were only one fourth of his own number, under Gen. Wallace). Among the troops at the disposal of Gen. Wallace, were one brigade of the Eighth Corps, some hundred days men, and militia, but, on the night of the 7th, Ricketts's division of our corps began to arrive at Baltimore from City Point, and was hurried out to the Monocacy by Gen. Halleck. Gen. Wallace placed the division of the Blue Greek Cross upon his left, the main point of attack covering the Washington pike and its wooden bridge. Of the 1,959 lost in this affair, nearly 600 were of this division. Gen. Wallace telegraphed to Gen. Halleck: ‘I am retreating with a footsore, battered, half demoralized column. I think the troops of the Sixth Corps fought magnificently.’

While Wallace was retrograding toward Baltimore, that night, Early, having buried his dead, and placed his wounded in the hospitals of Frederick, moved twenty miles east unopposed, along the Georgetown pike, and on the night of the 10th camped near Rockville. It was clear that he was at least going to make a demonstration against the capital. The Confederate cavalry in the meanwhile, holding by detachments the fords of the Potomac, were gathering a vast amount of plunder and sending it back in the shape of breadstuffs, livestock, and horses, to be transported across the river into Dixie.

Sabbath morn, July 10, 1864, in the capital of the nation, was a season of feverish excitement. Gen. Augur, commanding the defences of the capital, had collected heavy artillery, hundred days men, convalescents, invalids, sailors, marines, militia, clerks. According to Gen. Barnard, ‘there was in the defences of Washington a total of 20,400; of that number, however, but 9,600, mostly raw troops, constituted the garrison of the defences. Of the other troops a considerable portion was unavailable, and the whole would form an inefficient force for service on the line.’

But if the nation's capital were at this time seriously in danger when menaced by Early's force of invaders, succor was at hand; early in the afternoon of the 11th of July, 1864, Abraham Lincoln was on the Sixth Street wharf to greet the veterans of the First [161] and Second Divisions of the Greek Cross Corps, which had left the James soon after the engagement of their Third Division at the Monocacy. ‘These are the men who captured Marye's Heights,’ said the citizens who thronged the way and the clerks who were doing guard duty, as the infantry of the corps marched up Seventh Street, along toward the west Maryland defences of Washington, passing fleeing families from the country, who were seeking shelter in the town, reporting that their houses were burned, or that their household goods had been plundered. Hard by Fort de Russy, the Sixth Corps Infantry bivouacked that night.

‘On the 11th of July,’ said Gen. Early in a despatch to the Confederate commander-in-chief,

when we reached the enemy's fortifications, the men were completely exhausted, and not in a condition to make an attack.


I determined to make an assault, but before it could be made it became apparent that the enemy had been strongly reinforced.


After consultation with my division commanders, I became satisfied that the assault, even if successful, would be attended with such great sacrifice as would ensure the destruction of my whole force before the victory could be made available, and if unsuccessful, would necessarily have resulted in the loss of the whole force.

From the tenor of this despatch, it is fair to infer that this general had no serious intention of attempting anything so foolhardy as to carry by assault the western fortifications, and that probably his demonstration at this point was to cover the escape of his mounted plunderers across the Potomac. From the facts within our knowledge, viz. that the Sixth Corps, and a portion of the Nineteenth, had arrived upon the 11th, having made equally good time with less fatigue than the Confederate troops from the Kittoctin Mountains, it is evident that a genuine attack would have resulted in the destruction of the Confederate force.

In the forenoon of the 12th, Gen. Getty's division of the Sixth Corps was placed on picket in front of Fort Stevens; at the same time the sharpshooters of the enemy, concealed by the orchard near the Rives House on the Silver Spring road, began to be active in attempting to pick off the Federal skirmishers. Between [162] three and four o'clock, the path having been opened by the guns of Fort Stevens, by order of Gen. Wright, Bidwell's brigade of the Second Division, in two lines, advanced on the orchard and grove by the Rives House, and cleared out Early's skirmishers, sweeping them back to a ridge beyond, whence, after a stout resistance on the part of the latter, they were driven back one mile. This affair was witnessed by the president and members of his cabinet. At midnight a message from the lieutenant general of the armies of the United States to the chief of staff at Washington, said, ‘Maj. Gen. Wright should get out of the trenches with all the force he possibly can, and should push Early to the last moment.’ To the assistant secretary of war, he said: ‘Boldness is all that is needed to drive the enemy out of Maryland in confusion. I hope and believe Wright is the man to assure that.’


It was in the first faint gray of dawn, July 13, that we hurried through the capital and out on the Seventh Street road. Clerks and counter-jumpers were doing guard duty in the streets, otherwise scarcely a citizen was visible. Passing the fortifications, where we are joined by the First Division of the Nineteenth Corps, from Louisiana, we proceed toward Poolesville, reaching this place, twenty-six miles from Fort Stevens, on the evening of the 14th. The wagon train was yet stretched along the road behind us. On the morning of this day, at this place, our cavalry had overtaken that of the enemy acting as rear guard, and had fired upon it as it crossed White's Ford after the infantry. So there was artillery firing later from this side upon the Confederate pickets who held the ford upon the Virginia side.

During the 14th, while moving along the Poolesville road, we noticed at times the provost guard with prisoners who were under sentence of court martial, which had been imposed south of the James, but which was still in abeyance, because the exigencies of the service had not permitted time for execution.

There was one man under sentence of death, who had a rope attached to him, the end of which would sometimes be in the hand of a guard, and sometimes trailing on the ground. Once while it was dragging, a German, an artilleryman, picked it up, and, making a noose on the end, tossed it to the prisoner, saying, [163] ‘Tam you, I hung you for a draitor.’ A comrade who witnessed this, retorted: ‘If I were the guard, I would prod you with the bayonet, for tantalizing an unfortunate man with a rope around his neck.’

By a curious coincidence, the German's captain had been the judge advocate in the court martial of this prisoner who bore the rope, a convicted deserter; and when at night, the train having halted near Poolesville, the question arose among the powers that were, as to who should be the man's executioner on the morrow, the judge advocate is reported to have said that he had a man in his company for any duty that might be required, and that he would furnish a hangman. And sure enough, the next day the German was detailed to launch into eternity the man at whom he was jeering the day before.

We remember seeing Snyder return to his camp from the fatal tree, with a bunch of rope in one hand and a canteen in the other, and we remember a chorus of tongues asking, ‘Well, Snyder, did you get your fee?’ and the same chorus uttering a deep groan. But Snyder's mould was of a cast too phlegmatic to be warped in the least by such demonstrations. ‘I hung my vater, if he vas a draitor,’ said the Teuton.

On the night of the 14th, Gen. Hunter had reached Harper's Ferry, on his return through the Kanawha region, from his memorable raid, to Lynchburg. He received orders from Gen. Wright to join the latter at Leesburg, for Wright had been given, ‘supreme command of all troops moving out against the enemy, regardless of the rank of other commanders.’ Yet, on the 15th, the lieutenant general declared to Gen. Halleck: ‘There can be no use in Wright's following the enemy, with the latter a day ahead, after he has passed entirely beyond all our communications. I want, if possible, to get the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps here, to use them here, before the enemy can get Early back (to Petersburg). As soon as the enemy is known to have passed Hunter's forces, recall Wright and send him back here with all despatch, and also send the Nineteenth Corps.’

Early was now at Leesburg; Gen. Hunter, immediately upon receiving Gen. Wright's notification, had despatched infantry and cavalry, some 9,000 men under Mulligan and Duffie, eastward toward that place; this was on the morning of the 15th. On the [164] evening of this day, Gen. Wright received Gen. Halleck's orders to continue the pursuit, ‘but with caution.’

There were now 15,000 men before White's Ferry, near Poolesville, and several thousand approaching that place from Washington, with 9,000 men sent by Gen. Hunter, moving on a route that would enable them to strike Early's flank, as he marched from Leesburg to the gap in the Blue Ridge. It would seem that if Gen. Wright had been unhampered by conflicting and doubtful orders, having had a definite understanding with the commander of the force which Hunter had sent east, Early might have found great difficulty in reaching the valley. That the directions of General Grant at this time, and until Sheridan's arrival on the scene, seem always to have been filtered through the office of the chief of staff at Washington, before reaching the commander of the forces on the upper Potomac, appears to have continually prevented that commander, whoever he might be, from acting with anything like decision.


Early on the 16th, the Sixth Corps and its associate troops began to cross the Potomac at White's Ferry. Meanwhile, Gen. Crook, who had assumed command of the forces of Mulligan and Duffie on the Virginia side, had reached Purcellsville, midway between Leesburg and Snicker's Gap; a small brigade under Tibbets, falling upon Early's train, captured 117 mules and horses, and 82 wagons. We do not know if there were pontoons with the Sixth on that day, but we are sure that we plunged into the Potomac without ceremony, the water reaching to the armpits as we gained the middle of the river, and splashed through the shallower depth on the other side to the steep Virginia bank; so came artillery carriages and wagons, grinding the bed and tossing the water to the right and left. The weather being warm and a bath quite grateful, horses and men were supple enough as they emerged from the river, and climbed the heights with alacrity. We moved rapidly through Loudon Valley, passing through the village of Leesburg, after giving our horses a fodder of green aftermath which we remember had been cut in the little burial-ground of that village. The pursuit was steadily continued toward the base of the Blue Ridge, over the ridge by Snicker's Gap, to the Shenandoah. [165]

So vigorously indeed was the invader followed and pressed, that of the 2,000 horses that he was reported to have hurried into Virginia among other trophies of his raid, very many were found hidden here and there in the mountains, doubtless to be recovered after the expected departure of the Federals. We saw many a fine steed which had been intended to replenish the stock of the Confederate squadrons.

On the 18th, Gen. Wright instructed Gen. Crook to move through Snicker's Gap, where his advance was, and the Sixth Corps was in motion for the same mountain pass. On this afternoon, from the summit of the ridge, the enemy could be seen on the high ground beyond the river. How strong in position there, and what part of his force remained, was yet uncertain. Gen. Crook sent Thoburn's division to a ford below Snicker's, and one of the brigades of this division did charge across Island Ford, capturing some skirmishers. From this party it was learned that Early's whole force was within a couple of miles. Sending back this intelligence to Gen. Crook, Gen. Thoburn was directed to form a line with his brigades and await the arrival of a division of the Sixth Corps Infantry. Before its arrival, however, the cavalry was attacked by Breckenridge and Rodes, and forced back upon the east side of the river with a loss of over 400. When the Third Division of the Sixth came up, the division commander did not think it prudent, under the circumstances, to cross his men, and the remaining troops fell back in good order.


It was as dark as Egypt as we threaded our way through the trees and among the stumps and rocks to a bivouac ground on the crest, having climbed the east slope about sundown and passed through the gorge. We left the rough, winding road by the north side, and traversed the side of the mountain for a mile or more before we halted for the night. The moon at length rose soft and clear above the summit of the Blue Ridge, its light disclosing a high, rugged wilderness overlooking the valley of the Shenandoah. Here we remained during the day and night of the 19th. During the day, as we have previously remarked, many horses which had been stampeded across from Maryland or Pennsylvania, having been sought out in the mountains where they had been hidden, were appropriated by our troops. That night the Confederates [166] retreated toward Strasburg. The next day (20th) we crossed the Shenandoah at Snicker's Ferry, moving thence toward Berryville. But before reaching Berryville, we turned back, retraced our steps through Snicker's Gap to Leesburg, encamping that night on the east side of Goose Creek. The next night was spent at Dranesville; thence we moved by rapid stages via Falls Church to Georgetown. We hurried on toward Arlington Heights, passing the highly-cultivated government plantation, where freedmen were employed in the culture of corn and vegetables; and reaching one of the numerous forts in the southern chain of defences, not far from Chain Bridge, we made a brief halt. Rumor said we were on our return to the James, to further participate in the siege of Petersburg.

We were a travel-stained, dusty set of fellows, and we have no doubt, from an esthetic point of view, unsightly looking soldiers; but we heard a comrade say as he viewed the soldiers in the fort, with their clean raiment, polished boots, and shiny breastplates and shoulder scales, that he ‘much preferred the feverish excitement of a campaign to the humdrum life that was evidently led by the men of this garrison.’ In less than an hour, the bugle said, ‘Drivers, mount!’ and following our leaders we proceeded to Tenallytown in Maryland.

But transports were positively waiting off Washington to convey the Sixth Corps to the James. Indeed, our return from the Blue Ridge was in accordance with Gen. Wright's construction of the orders given by the commander-in-chief through Gen. Halleck,—‘to go only far enough to verify the enemy's retreat, and then be ready to return speedily to City Point.’ We went into camp, but there was an evident feeling that we were only waiting our turn to embark. There were the most stringent orders in vogue, forbidding any private to enter the capital, and the strictest injunctions to be always within call.

Nevertheless, a good representation of each command might have been found in the city on any day during this tarry at Tenallytown. Even in the Capitol, venturesome privates were seen inspecting the paintings, and alas! too many others, victims of the venders of bad whiskey, who would later come straggling to their companies, weak and enervated, when marching orders should be received. Four days of suspense dragged by; on [167] the 26th our corps and the Nineteenth were again in motion, westward.

Gen. Early, on the 23d, at Strasburg, having learned that the Sixth Corps had returned to Washington, and that only Crook's forces were at Kernstown, the Nineteenth Corps also having departed, he fell with his combined force upon the commands of Crook and Averell at that place. Of this affair Gen. Hunter wrote: ‘It was only owing to the steadiness and good conduct of the infantry which came with us from the Kanawha, that the army was saved from utter annihilation. . . . The refuse force sent from Washington, representing twenty-seven different regiments, is said to have done more injury than service.’ It was the receipt of the news of the misfortune at Kernstown that caused the hurried march of the Sixth Corps on the 26th; now, the soldiers who had been enjoying self-granted furloughs in the city, were hurried beyond the barriers, some of them reaching their commands just on the eve of their departure, some dropping in in knots on the first, second, and third days after. Some came to their camps outside the fortifications just as the corps were moving out in column, looking a little worse for wear; others smiling and serene; some haggard and spiritless, dragging themselves wearily along; some alighted from hacks, quite stylish turnouts, which the soldiers had chartered to convey them to the outposts. We made, in the next day and a half, another of those forced marches for which the Sixth Corps was memorable in the annals of the Maryland and Northern Virginia campaigns.

Reaching the vicinity of Frederick on the 28th, we advanced to Jefferson, halted there at midnight, rested there until dawn, then through Sandy Hook to the foot of Maryland Heights, into the gap where the Potomac had some day cut its path through the monntain rock and made an awful gateway with frowning columns of dizzy height on either hand, and between them a rugged channel for its torrent, and a long, irregular shelf for the mountain road. A halt in the deserted, half-obliterated hamlet of Harper's Ferry, under Bolivar Heights; later, a march to Halltown, where we bivouacked.

The following afternoon we countermarched; infantry and artillery were sweltering for hours in the motionless, heated, [168] stagnant atmosphere of the gorge, between Bolivar and Loudon Heights, pending the exasperatingly slow crossing of the single pontoon bridge at the ferry. The poor, panting beasts that drew the cannons and caissons were bathed in perspiration and tortured by flies; standing harnessed for hours in the dust of this hot pen, they suffered more than on the march hither, when prodded to the utmost. At dark (and the darkness was thick) a huge fire was kindled at the shoulder of the great rock that overhangs the village; and when in the course of the night our column, in its turn, began to round the bluff to march down onto the bridge, our drivers, having been for a long time in the glare of the light, now coming suddenly into the deep shadow of the rock, were blinded and utterly unable to discern the steep bank within the swing of their whips, on their right hand; ‘Bear hard to the left,’ officers shouted, standing at the bend in the road; and the drivers instinctively obeyed, blind as moles. Across the river, and through the pass, and on, up Pleasant Valley, all night and all day following we were afoot. On the evening of the 30th of August, we were again in the vicinity of Frederick. Our existence at this time was peripatetic. We were on the wing all day, and after we had made some preparations at nightfall, for tarrying, ‘assembly’ would be sounded, and we either were directed to move at once, or notified that ‘first call’ would be at three A. M. During the next three days our corps held the South Mountain passes, and the Nineteenth Corps was sent to Frederick.

During this time Gen. Grant was at the Monocacy, although the fact was unknown to a private of the Sixth Corps; also had Sheridan arrived at Washington. This was a strange fortnight of marches and countermarches, inexplicable to the average private. ‘Six men fell dead yesterday in one of our smallest brigades,’ wrote Gen. Hunter, on the 29th. Horses and men by scores fell by the wayside, the latter succumbing to the heat, intense even for the season.

On the 5th of August we were returning to Halltown, Virginia, via Harper's Ferry. This was in pursuance of orders which Gen. Grant had given Gen. Hunter, ‘to concentrate all the forces, consisting thus far of Wright's Sixth, Emory's Nineteenth, and Crook's Eighth, in the vicinity of Harper's Ferry; and if it [169] should be found that the enemy had moved north of the Potomac in large force, to follow and attack him wherever he goes.’

There was to be some new material for history obtained in the valley,—a change of tactics by and by, quite as novel in its way as that wrought in the heart of Virginia during the previous spring. Sheridan had arrived from the James to assume command of an army, composed of the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps, of the ‘army of West Virginia,’ or Eighth Corps, and the cavalry of Torbert and Wilson, to operate in the region of the Shenandoah. The words of Grant at this time were significant, and indeed savor of prophecy: ‘What we want is prompt and active movements after the enemy, in accordance with the instructions you already have. I feel every confidence that you will do the very best, and will leave you as far as possible to act upon your best judgment, and not embarrass you with orders and instructions.’

Four days we tarried at Halltown, a period of recuperation. On the 10th of August we were marching through Charleston, to the air of ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah!’ How inscrutable are the ways of Providence! The institution against which old John Brown warred was in ruins, a crumbling shell, like the jail yonder whence he was led to execution. A few months more, and the ruins of this social fabric shall be as unsubstantial as those of the old court-house, in which he was condemned.

The Sixth Corps moved through Charlestown to Clifton, occupying the right of the line, the Nineteenth, along the Berryville pike; the Eighth Corps was on the left of the Nineteenth, Lowell's cavalry was upon our right, and Merritt's upon the extreme left of the army. This was a movement which covered the northern passes of the Blue Ridge, through which reinforcements were to come.

There were three fords on the Opequon, in front of the three corps respectively; there was an interval of three fourths of a mile between the right, on the Berryville pike, and the next higher, and the third was one mile south of the second.

These crossings were occupied on the 11th. Early, in the meanwhile, had retreated from Bunker Hill and had taken a position before Winchester, which held the junction of the roads which led respectively from Manassas Gap via Front Royal, and the Millwood pike. His force was in line of battle, but his expected [170] reinforcements had not arrrived. He did not intend to stand at this place, and while the Federal corps were reaching the crossings of the Opequon, the Confederates were, as Torbert discovered by encountering their cavalry in a severe skirmish on the Millwood pike, hastening toward Strasburg.

The Sixth Corps was now moved up the right bank of the creek to the Millwood Ford, where it spent the night; the Nineteenth was between our corps and the Front Royal road, and the Eighth was five miles east of Middletown. Now Middletown is nearly east of Strasburg, and unless Early retired beyond the latter place, a battle on the 12th was inevitable. On the morning of that day, the Confederates moved across Cedar Creek, occupying the southern bank; later, their lines were established to extend from Little North Mountain, the west wall of this part of the valley, over Fisher's Hill, to the west fork of the Shenandoah, which flows along the west base of the rugged Massanutten range,—a triple interloping spur that extends northward from the vicinity of Harrisonburg half a hundred miles, terminating east of Strasburg in grim old ‘Three Top,’ around whose foot the west branch of the river breaks away to Front Royal, there to join the east fork.

On the morning in question, the three Federal corps were pushed forward to the north bank of Cedar Creek, our corps being on the right of the line. A skirmish line of the Sixth and Eighth Corps at once crossed the creek on either side of the valley pike, menacing the enemy's pickets until evening. The following morning the cavalry reconnoitred the neighborhood of the town, by moving along the back road which runs west of and parallel with the great valley pike, and found that only pickets occupied Hupp's Hill; so Gen. Wright was ordered to move his skirmishers into Strasburg, which he did, and occupied Hupp's Hill in force.

The enemy was now signaling from Three Top, where he had a station; something of unusual importance was in progress. What was it? A message from the commandant at Harper's Ferry to Gen. Sheridan will perhaps explain. ‘I have information from a source always found reliable, that reinforcements under Hill and Longstreet are moving up the valley that if attacked in his present position, Early proposes to show fight and retire until a junction can be formed with the advancing forces.’ [171]

Sheridan, deeming the position on Cedar Creek untenable, resolved to retire to the Clifton-Berryville position which we had occupied on the 10th. Besides, reinforcements were on their way through Snicker's Gap to join us. The subsequent glorious successes of the Federal Army of the Shenandoah justified this last retrograde movement. The enemy perceiving from Three Top that Sheridan had retired, pursued. A sharp engagement occurred on the 21st. Our cavalry pickets on the Opequon having been driven in, the divisions of Rodes and Ramseur fell upon the Sixth Corps, gaining, however, no permanent advantage, while Anderson, who had later moved from Winchester, was repulsed by Merritt and Wilson..

The next day the army was established at Halltown, with one flank on the Shenandoah and the other upon the Potomac, the best defensive position in the valley. Early now spent several days in demonstrating against the Federal position, and then moved off to the northwest, as if designing to cross the Potomac. Had he commenced such operation, an opportunity to strike his divided forces would have been eagerly embraced by Sheridan. The enemy, however remained on the south side of the river, and posted his forces west of the Opequon. On the 26th and 27th he had resumed his old position occupied by him prior to his retirement to Strasburg on the 11th and 12th; i. e. at Bunker Hill and Stephenson, with his cavalry on either flank. This was the signal for us to move forward to re-occupy the position which we left on the 11th to reach the crossings of the Opequon.

Marching early on the 28th we made a gradual advance by easy stages, and with commendable caution, the enemy's designs yet unknown, while the character of the face of the country readily betrayed our own. We gained the old line on the 3d of September, within a week after our departure from Halltown; i. e. the Sixth Corps was at Clifton on the right of the line, the Eighth at Berryville on the left, and the Nineteenth between them.

The time thenceforth until the battle of the 19th of September, was employed by Gen. Sheridan in reorganizing his army and in preparing for a campaign that was practically to end the war in northern Virginia.

A remarkable coincidence, illustrating that the thoughts of great minds flow in the same channels, here looms up to the [172] observer. About the 8th of September, in a despatch to Anderson, Gen. Lee said: ‘I have been desirous for some time of recalling you to me. But my unwillingness to diminish the force in the valley has prevented. A victory over Sheridan would materially change the aspect of affairs.’

On the 8th of September, Sheridan telegraphed to Gen. Grant: ‘I have not deemed it best to attack the enemy, but have watched closely to press him hard so soon as he commences to detach troops to Richmond. This was the tenor of your telegram to me after I took up the defensive.’

On the 9th, Gen. Grant replies: ‘I would not have you make an attack with the advantage against you, but would prefer just the course you seem to be pursuing; i. e. pressing closely upon the enemy, and when he moves, follow him up, being ready at all times to pounce upon him, if he detaches any considerable force.’

Now in our command there was a general recollection that the nucleus of our company was mustered upon the 29th of August, 1861, as the third anniversary of that day approached. Our captain was absent, but our second in command called the attention of the corps commander to the matter of the expiration of the term of service of the company. Now the question was raised, whether our service as United States troops commenced when we were mustered in Massachusetts, or when we departed for the seat of war. If at the latter moment, then we were to remain until the third of October. This question seems to have presented no grave difficulties to the mind of the corps commander, for he directed that all those men who were mustered on the 29th of August, 1861, should be discharged on the third anniversary of that day, and that men who were mustered at different subsequent dates should be discharged as fast as their terms of service expired. Accordingly, forty men of the first group departed from camp on the 29th, for New England. But before there was any further discharge of members of our company, an order was received at corps headquarters, to hold the balance of the three years men, until the third of October.

This unquestionably meant another campaign. No man sent by Grant to the valley to direct military affairs in that quarter was destined for a lay figure, and certainly not when that man was Phil Sheridan. If we remained inactive eighteen days longer, it [173] was because he meant, when he moved, to push Early up the valley, and was preparing to do so.

During the next nineteen days, foraging was the leading industry of the mounted troops; after guard mounting, almost invariably, of a morning, we sallied forth for provender for the horses, now east, now west, now to the rear, scouring the farms by the cross roads, and now out upon the wings of the army, even passing sometimes with an infantry guard, the cavalry picket line, with its motionless riders, sitting with carbines at aim. What a region of diverse natural gifts is this valley of the Shenandoah,— a land flowing with milk and honey! Such mutton as the slope of the mountains produced, we believe could be found nowhere else; no need of strips of pork in the frying-pan, to facilitate the cooking of this fine, juicy meat. In all that portion of the valley north of the interloping Massanutten Range, twenty odd miles south of Winchester, the farms present about every variety of surface, with uniformly excellent soil, and consequent adaptation to every variety of stock raising and cereal culture.

We found that much of the fruits of that section had been left untouched by the Southrons, and we came in for a fair share of those things that the quartermaster's and commissary department of an army may properly appropriate in an enemy's country.

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