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[361] through the gap by which to move up the main body of the corps; but, in the face of these obstacles, General French kept his command well closed up and ready for immediate use.

But the enemy appeared to have no great force in the gap, having been content with occupying its western end with a picket force of a few hundred men. They fell back as our skirmishers advanced, until they came upon a supporting force strongly posted on a lofty hill, facing directly up the gap, and around which the road leading through the gap passed by a debouch to the right. On this hill the enemy made a stand, and seemed disposed to resist our further advances.

General Ward then detached two regiments from his skirmish line — the Third and Fourth Maine, veterans of Kearny's old division — and directed them to clear this hill by assault. Our sharp-shooters held the attention of the enemy while the Maine men crept silently and all unobserved up the face of the hill. On gaining the summit they sprang to their feet, delivered a volley, and with a most determined charge cleared the hill, gaining a number of prisoners and spreading the ground with killed and wounded rebels. The charge was a right gallant one, such as soldiers may well feel proud of having participated in, and will ever be a bright credit mark for these fine regiments.

But, when this hill was gained, it was discovered that the enemy were more strongly posted on a system of hills beyond and in front, commanding the main road through the gap, and to some extent fortified there, having a stone wall, a sunken road, and some hastily constructed breastworks of brush and logs to cover them.

General French was determined to sustain the reputation of the old Third corps, and was not willing that any obstacles should retard its advance when it had received orders to move forward. He directed General Prince, commanding the Second division, to detail a brigade to charge this system of hills, commanding the debouch of the road, and dislodge the enemy.

The famous Excelsior brigade was selected for this bold enterprise. The men were formed in line, and their new commander, General Spinola, addressed them a single word of encouragement, when the gallant fellows gave one of their peculiar cheers, so full of determination and confidence, and started forward. Room was made for them to pass through the line of skirmishers, and in a few minutes they were at the base of the hill.

The eastern slope of the hill was very rocky and precipitous, at some places being so nearly perpendicular that the men were obliged to scramble up on their hands and knees. The enemy, posted on the summit of the hill, were pouring down upon them a murderous fire of musketry; yet the men never flinched nor hesitated, but pushed forward and upward-now hanging by the bushes and scrambling on all fours, again panting and puffing at a double-quick, fearless of danger and intent only on dislodging the enemy. The elevation is estimated at three or four hundred feet.

Up this steep and rough mountain-side this glorious old brigade forced its way, and on reaching the summit fired and received one volley from the enemy, and then, fixing bayonets, gave another shout and rushed upon the rebels.

This charge was too much for flesh and blood to withstand. The enemy quailed before it and fled in confusion, closely and hotly pursued by our victorious troops.

The flight of the enemy from their first position disclosed a second ridge or crest back of the first that had been so gallantly carried, to which the rebels betook themselves and prepared to make another stand.

General Spinola was twice wounded in the assault of the first hill, and was obliged to leave the field he had so nobly won. Colonel Farnum, of the First Excelsior regiment, succeeded to the command of the brigade. The ferocity of the assault had disarranged the line somewhat, and Colonel Farnum, as commander, halted them for a moment to re-form, and then gave the order to advance again, placing himself in front of the line. Not a man hesitated or faltered at the renewal of the fight. Another cheer was given, and with a rush the entire brigade passed over the crest, into and across the ravine, and were quickly seen ascending the slope of the second hill. Here the resistance of the enemy was equally as desperate as on the first hill. But the assailants were flushed with victory, and could not have been checked had the whole rebel army stood in front of them.

All breathless and exhausted with fatigue they gained the summit of the second crest, the line broken and disordered, but only disordered as one and another strove more successfully with their companions for the honor of being first at the top. It was an exciting race, in which the danger was forgotten in the noble strife to be ahead. And as they came up the hill, singly and in squads of five, a dozen, twenty, fifty, and so on, each man rushed forward on his own account to secure prisoners.

Like demons they charged upon the bewildered foe, each man catching his prisoner by the hair, an arm, or perhaps a coat-tail, with the usual exclamation: “Here, you----son of a----, you're my prisoner!” And thus the second crest was carried as quickly as the first, and the Excelsior brigade were unanimously accredited with having made the most desperate and brilliant charge of the war. Their heroic deeds had been watched from the lofty summits in the rear by General Meade and staff, General French and his staff; and by the officers and many men of other corps; and as their success was made certain hill-top echoed to hill-top in a prolonged shout of admiration and praise. The accompanying list of casualties, sustained mainly by this brigade in making this almost unexampled charge, will attest the character of the affair more fully than any words I can give. A parley was now sounded. We had gained a second crest to discover lying yet between it and the valley a third lofty elevation, to which the enemy had fled.

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