previous next

Doc. 169.-fight at Culpeper Court-House, Va.

Report of Major William Wells.

headquarters First Vermont cavalry, Grove Church, Va., September 20, 1863.
P. T. Washburn, Adjutant and Inspector General of Vermont:
sir: I beg leave to submit the following brief report of the part taken by this regiment (the first and second battalions) in the recent operations by our cavalry against the enemy.

We left our camp near Falmouth, Va., at one o'clock P. M., on Saturday, September twelfth, 1863, and proceeded with the division to which we are attached to Kelly's Ford. Crossed the Rappahannock River early the next morning, Sunday, thirteenth instant, and arrived in the vicinity of Culpeper Court-House at about twelve o'clock M., where our calvary were briskly engaged in skirmishing with the enemy's cavalry and artillery, driving them toward the town.

The regiment was immediately directed by General Kilpatrick, commanding division, to move to the left of the town, and endeavor to cut off a portion of the enemy's force stationed in that direction; but a stream of water, running along the border of the village, had become so much swollen by the rain of the day before, as to render it unfordable, and thus prevent these instructions from being carried out. We then received orders to charge into town, which we did, passing through, capturing eight prisoners, and [502] one gun, with carriage, horses, etc., complete, and occupied a knoll on the south side of the village, where the regiment was subjected to a very severe artillery fire from the enemy's guns, stationed at our front and left. We were here directed by General Custer, commanding brigade, to attack the force occupying the woods to the left of the town, and holding the road leading in the direction of Orange Court-House. Companies E and I of the first battalion were sent to the right, dismounted, and engaged the skirmishers of the enemy's left. The second battalion, (companies B, C, H, and G,) under Captain Adams, being sent forward, charged the enemy, driving them from the road, and through the woods back under the protection of their artillery, capturing twenty-six prisoners. The fight at this place continued for a considerable length of time, three separate charges having been made by our men. The force in front of the second battalion largely outnumbering their opponents, and being strongly supported, rallied and gained a temporary advantage, during which time they succeeded in removing, their artillery stationed in our front. A movement on our flanks was at one time attempted, but it failed in its purpose, the enemy being compelled to retire. The repulse of the enemy along the whole line being at this time--four o'clock P. M.--complete, they retreated in the direction of the Rapidan River. The pursuit was continued until dark, but their forces did not make a stand before crossing.

The commanding officer being temporarily disabled during the engagement by the bursting of a shell, the command was turned over for a short time to Captain Adams.

The engagement lasted nearly four hours, during which time the regiment was continually under fire. We captured about forty prisoners during the day, the enemy leaving several killed and wounded on the field.

All the officers and men did their whole duty, and are entitled to great praise for their bravery and good conduct.

Accompanying this is a list of the casualties.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

William Wells, Major Commanding First Vermont Calvary.

list of casualties occurring in First regiment of Vermont cavalry, September Thirteenth, 1863.
Major William Wells, wounded slightly in the shoulder.

Adjutant C. D. Gates, missing.

Private John Henry, company B, killed.

Sergeant L. V. H. Haskell, company G, wounded in the left arm.

Private Monroe Lyford, company C, wounded in the shoulder.

Private F. A. Russell, company I, wounded in the side.

Sergeant B. G. Chapman, company B, missing.

Private B. J. Merrill, company B, missing.

Sergeant H. P. Aldrich, company C, missing.

Bugler A. F. Hacket, company M, missing.

William Wells, Major Commanding First Vermont Cavalry.

A National account

Culpeper Court-House, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 1863.
On the morning of the thirteenth the cavalry division of General Kilpatrick crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford, and marched in the direction of Culpeper by Brandy Station. No rebels in force were encountered until reaching Brandy Station, where the advance, consisting of the Harris Light, or Second New-York, met them in some force. A brisk skirmish ensued, the rebels, however, immediately falling back toward Culpeper. At this place the division of Kilpatrick formed a junction with the divisions of Buford and Gregg, the whole under command of General Pleasanton. The whole corps advanced up the railroad toward Culpeper. General Kilpatrick had the left, resting on the left of the railroad; General Buford the centre, and General Gregg the right — the skirmishing and cannonading becoming quite sharp as we advanced. As the cavalry moved across the plain in perfect order, some of the regiments in line, some in column, and a long line of skirmishers in front, with the batteries a little to the rear, the respective division and brigade commanders moving up with their staffs, it presented one of the most brilliant spectacles of the war. The rebels did not make much resistance until, we reached a point about one mile this side of Culpeper, where they opened three batteries upon Kilpatrick's division, but not checking the advance in the least. On approaching near the town, the rebels seemed disposed to dispute our further advance. A long line of dismounted infantry could be seen along a fence just across a deep creek, with two batteries in support. General Kilpatrick ordered General Custer to dislodge them, which he soon accomplished. The Sixth Michigan dismounted, and engaged the rebel skirmishers, and soon routed them in good style. The Harris Light charged the battery on the edge of the town, capturing two guns. This brought the division of Kilpatrick to the edge of the town. Buford and Gregg were driving the enemy on the right, and General Kilpatrick, with characteristic boldness, was about to charge the whole rebel force upon our left, and capture the train of cars that was moving off toward Orange, but was prevented by the unexpected discovery of a deep creek, which was only passable at one place in his front. This enabled the train to escape, affording time to the rebel cavalry to take up a strong position, a little to the rear of the town, in the woods on the Cedar Mountain road. In the mean time, General Custer, at the head of the First battalion of the First Vermont, commanded by Major Wells, dashed into town, driving the rebels out and capturing one piece of artillery to the right of the town. The rebels had two other pieces in the woods to the rear of the town, [503] strongly supported by a strong force of cavalry. The Harris Light gallantly charged up into the woods where the rebels were posted, but were driven back by superior numbers. The First Vermont, consisting of two battalions, numbering about one hundred and fifty men, under command of Major Wells, now gallantly advanced to charge under a heavy fire from the enemy's battery. The Harris Light promptly rallied, and both regiments charged into the woods and drove the rebels further toward the Cedar Mountain road. Our loss here was the heaviest of any during the day. General Custer, while leading the First Vermont, was wounded in the leg by the bursting of a shell, which also killed his horse, and the Harris Light sustained some loss, the extent of which I have been unable to learn. The rebels now formed just beyond the woods, where they had a battery in position. The Fifth New-York and one battlion of the First Vermont charged upon the battery, but were repulsed, the rebels returning to the woods in great force, but were driven out the second time, whereupon they retreated for the Rapidan, closely pursued for four miles by General Buford, when operations for the day ceased.

Our casualties on this day were three killed and forty wounded. On the fourteenth the cavalry advanced to the Rapidan, and found the enemy strongly posted at the respective fords on the other side of the river. In the fight the day previous the rebels were commanded by General Stuart--his force consisted of Fitzhugh Lee's and Wade Hampton's divisions of cavalry and five batteries.


Another account.

The following private letter from one who accompanied the Second New-York cavalry in the advance upon Culpeper, gives the following particulars of the skirmishing:

near Rapidan River, Va., Monday, Sept. 14, 1863.
Kilpatrick's division moved Saturday morning. We arrived at Kelly's Ford in the evening, and lay by our horses in marching order during the night. Between three and four there came up one of the most drenching showers I ever experienced. The rain fell in torrents, and we were soon standing in pools of water. At day-light we crossed, capturing the enemy's picket. Our advance was rather slow and cautious till we reached the forest bordering on the old Brandy-Station battle-field. Here we first struck the enemy in some force. A rapid charge ensued. The First brigade, under Colonel H. E. Davies, which had the advance, kept it throughout the day, led the charge at a gallop. We soon emerged on the old Brandy Station battlefield. Here the sight was grand in the extreme. The Second New-York cavalry (Harris Light) had the advance of the brigade, and were charging over the plain, supported by the other regiments, Colonel Davies leading every thing. Off in the distance we could see Generals Gregg and Buford bringing up their columns at a gallop. In the far advance charges were being made, and skirmishers were circling over the hills like the advancing waves of a flood-tide. Prisoners and wounded began to come in. The plain was soon cleared of the enemy, and soon our force disappeared in pursuit. Now commenced a running fight, till we reached the vicinity of Culpeper — the Harris Light still keeping the advance, and giving the enemy not a moment's rest. Whenever they made the slightest pause, an impetuous charge from this regiment would start them again. For two miles before reaching Culpeper, the Harris Light was exposed to a very severe artillery fire, as great trees broken off and shattered clearly proved. The enemy finally planted their guns up a high hill, at the entrance of the town. It was a very commanding position. The enemy must be dislodged, and that right speedily, too. The Harris Light were ordered by General Davies to do the work. Major McIrwin led the charge, accompanied by Captains Downing and Mitchel, and Lieutenant Jones, and supported by two batteries. General Custer, whose irrepressible gallantry led him far ahead of his command, came up and went with them. Down the hill they went at a gallop — a perfect avalanche of shot and shell crashing above them, and ploughing the ground around them. Dressing the line for a moment at the foot of the hill on which the battery was, they charged up with such impetuosity that every thing gave way before them. With great rapidity they dashed around in the rear of the guns, and in a moment they were ours. After the guns were captured, General Custer came up, armed only with his riding whip, compelling many a man to surrender at discretion. Captain Mitchel ordered a rebel to help limber up the guns. He replied with perfect coolness that he was not going to help the Yankees capture their guns. He again received the order and again refused. Mitchel then drew his sabre and said: “Now do as you are ordered.” This final pointed argument prevailed, and the rebel said: “Well, if I must, I suppose I must.”

Perhaps the incident contains a moral. Captain Mitchel then rallied the men and charged through the town, which in a few minutes was ours also. We would have captured a train of cars loaded mainly with contrabands, but General Custer's flank movement was delayed by a deep and almost impassable ravine. At one point Captains Hasty and Mitchel fought the enemy, they having five to our one. After taking Culpeper, we drove the enemy till night — Kilpatrick's division encamped on Stony Mountain, on the extreme left. We had a hospital at Brandy Station and Culpeper. While at the latter place, Doctor Hackley, the Division Surgeon, requested him to find some bed-ticking, if possible, for the wounded. I was fortunate enough to discover within twenty yards of the hospital a lot of stuffed mattresses and ticking, and abundant provisions for the hospital. It was a rebel storehouse, a sort of sanitary commission. A young lady in town had her leg taken off by a [504] shell. I saw two ladies on the porch of one house that had four or five shells through it. In one house off to the left both father and son were killed by a shell. Kilpatrick said our regiment never did so well before, which is saying a great deal. Colonel Karhouse, who commands the regiment, manoeuvred it ably. Colonel Davies handled his brigade splendidly, as all remarked, and as the result proved.

We encamped at night on Stony Mountain, in a drenching shower of rain, and slept soundly on the wet ground. Doctor Kingston, our surgeon, showed himself a brave and skilful man, and our wounded got the best of attention.

A rebel narrative.

Richmond, Sept. 14, 1863.
The following is an accurate statement of what transpired in Culpeper. About three o'clock on Sunday morning information was conveyed to the cavalry — that the enemy were preparing to cross at Stark's Ford, some eight miles above our forces, and at Kelly's some five miles below them; and that they would no doubt be cooperated with by the corps of the enemy, which for some time past has been encamped on this side of the Rappahannock River, at the railroad bridge. The wagons were at once packed and sent to the rear, and the horses were ordered to be saddled, and the men were bidden to prepare for any emergency. At daybreak, Brigadier-General Lomax, in command of Jones's old brigade, now his own, and W. H. F. Lee's, under Colonel Beale, of the Ninth Virginia cavalry, moved at once to the front and found all quiet. Some hours later, couriers brought information that the enemy were crossing at Stark's Ford, with six hundred cavalry and artillery, and were advancing on Culpeper Court-House, by the Ridgeville road, and were driving in the pickets there stationed. The Seventh and Twelfth regiments Virginia cavalry were immediately sent forward to strengthen the picket on this road. Major Flournoy at this time held the front with the Sixth regiment and a squadron of sharp-shooters from the Ninth Virginia cavalry. About ten o'clock, Major Flournoy fell back to Brandy Station, and shortly thereafter Captain Moorman's artillery opened fire on the enemy from this point. Just then General Lomax received information that the enemy had crossed at Kelly's a large force of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, and were advancing on the Stevensburgh and Brandy roads. A very short time after this a sharp carbine fire announced their arrival at Brandy. Major Flournoy fell back rapidly, contesting every hill, and only giving way when in danger of being outflanked. The Thirteenth Virginia cavalry, supported by squadrons of the Ninth, was now thrown forward to the left of the railroad in Botts's (formerly J. A. Beckham's) woods. The Fifteenth Virginia cavalry was thrown forward to the right of the railroad in same woods. Six regiments of the enemy were now deployed in a field near Brandy, with two batteries of artillery. The infantry of the enemy were massed behind the cavalry and the timber. Of course our men were compelled to again give back. Another stand was made by our forces on the ground where the infantry first became engaged during Hampton's fight on the first of August, and here a severe fight took place, in which artillery, musketry, and carbines were freely used. At this time it was discovered that a column of at least two brigades of cavalry were moving on our right flank by way of Stevensburgh toward Culpeper Court-House. While the artillery on the left showed that the enemy, who were moving on the Rixeyville road, were nearly at the Court-House, our forces, of course, were compelled again to give back, and this time the Court-House fell into the hands of the enemy. In the fight made at this point, Colonel Beale, Ninth Virginia, was wounded slightly in the leg. At this time a train of cars was at the Court-House bringing off the plunder of our people. This was fired upon some three or four times, and though the shells exploded just above the cars, scattering the fragments over them, yet no damage was done. One shell passed into the house of Mr. Thomas Hill and exploded, but did no damage. I am told that nearly every thing was removed from the depot at Culpeper Court-House, though I hear that we lost some four or five boxes of saddles, eight boxes of ammunition, and forty sacks of corn. The excitement and confusion at Culpeper Court-House is said to have been very great and very striking. Women were shrieking, soldiers were groaning with their wounds, and children were crying from fright, and the death-shots hissing from afar were howling and screeching over the town. At last accounts the enemy had not advanced more than two miles out from Culpeper Court-House. The roar of artillery continued, however, until four o'clock, when it ceased.

I can get nothing definite as to our losses, save that we lost three pieces of Stuart's horse artillery yesterday evening.

Later.--After the enemy obtained possession of Culpeper Court-House, on Sunday, our forces made a stand about one and a half miles this side. Whilst engaged at this point, the Ninth Virginia cavalry made a bold and dashing charge, going right up to the Court-House. In this charge they captured some twenty-one prisoners. The aim of the enemy was a surprise, and, by inclosing us, to capture our forces. In this they were most signally disappointed. The artillery (three pieces) which we lost were captured as we were retiring through the Court-House. The fifteenth Virginia made three gallant charges in the fight which occurred after leaving the Court-House, and which was decidedly the hottest of the day. In this fight, Colonel Beale having been wounded, Major Waller, of the Ninth, commanded W. H. F. Lee's brigade, and handled it with great ability. Our men were finally compelled to give back before superior numbers, and retired upon Cedar Run, fighting as they receded. The enemy advanced during the night as far as Rapidan bridge, on the railroad, and threw a column down as low as Raccoon Ford. Yesterday [505] (Monday) morning picket fighting began early, and was continued by the dismounted cavalry acting as sharp-shooters. In the evening there was a sharp artillery duel at Sommerville Ford, between a battery of the enemy and one of Colonel Carter's battalion of artillery, in which our loss was three killed and ten or fifteen wounded. Our fire is believed to have been very destructive to the enemy. At Rapidan bridge, about four o'clock, Beckham's horse artillery opened upon the enemy, doing good execution on their squadrons, which were carefully massed behind the declivity of a hill. Toward night, Major Flournoy, with the Sixth Virginia cavalry, was ordered to make a demonstration on the enemy, but no orders were given him to fight them. Major Flournoy formed his regiment and darted off. In a short time he had charged them three times most gallantly, driving before him a whole brigade of the enemy and capturing five prisoners, and but for the hour being late and near dark, and our own artillery playing upon our men by mistake as they advanced, a large number of prisoners would have been secured. I am satisfied that our cavalry fought well in this last fight, but they could do nothing, because of the vastly superior force which they had to confront. We must have lost at least seventy-five prisoners, from all accounts, and not over fifty in killed and wounded.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: