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Doc. 197.-battle of Buckland's Mills, Va.


General Custer's report.

headquarters Second brigade Third division cavalry corps, army of the Potomac, October 24, 1863.
Captain L. G. Estes, A. A. G. Third Division:
In compliance with instructions received from the General commanding the division, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my command, from October ninth to October twenty-third, 1863:

On the night of October ninth, my picket line, which extended along the north bank of Robertson River, in the vicinity of James City, was attacked, and a portion of the line forced back upon the reserves; at the same time my scouts informed me that the enemy was moving in heavy column toward my right; this report was confirmed by deserters. In anticipation of an attack by the enemy at daybreak, I ordered my entire command to be saddled at three A. M. on the tenth. At daylight the enemy began by cautiously feeling my line; but seeing his inability to surprise us, he contented himself with obtaining possession of Cedar Mountain, which point he afterward used as a signal station. At one P. M. I received orders from the General commanding the division, to report with my command at James City. The head of my column arrived in the vicinity of that point at three P. M. The enemy had already obtained possession of the town, and had brought several guns to bear upon the position I was ordered to take. Battery M, Second United States artillery, under command of Lieutenant Pennington, was unlimbered, and succeeded in shelling the enemy out of the woods on the right of the town. At the same time, Colonel Alger, of the Fifth Michigan cavalry, who held the extreme left of my line, moved forward with one battalion of his regiment under the gallant Major Clark, and charged the battery. The charge, although daring in the extreme, failed for want of sufficient support. It was successful so far, however, as to compel the enemy to shift the position of his battery to a more retired point. Night setting in, prevented us from improving the advantage we had gained. Most of my command rested on their arms during the night. Early in the morning I retired on the road leading to Culpeper, which point I reached without molestation from the enemy. It was not until the rear of my column was leaving the town that the enemy made his appearance, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to harass my rear-guard. On the hills north of the town I placed my command in position to receive an attack. The enemy not feeling disposed to accept the invitation, I retired on the road leading to Rappahannock Station. My column had scarcely begun to march before the officer commanding the rear-guard--Colonel Mann, of the Seventh Michigan cavalry--reported the enemy to be pressing him closely. At the same time a strong column was seen on my outer flank, evidently attempting to intercept our line of march to the river. The vigorous attacks now being made upon my rear-guard compelled me to place my battery at the head of the column, and to employ my entire force to keep the enemy from my guns. My advance had reached the vicinity of Brandy Station, when a courier hastened back with the information that a brigade of the enemy's cavalry was in position directly in my front, thus cutting us completely off from the river. Upon examination I learned the correctness of the report. The heavy masses of the rebel cavalry could be seen covering the heights in front of my advance. When it is remembered that my rear-guard was hotly engaged with a superior force, a heavy column enveloping each [562] flank, and my advance confronted by more than double my own number, the perils of my situation can be estimated. Lieutenant Pennington at once placed his battery in position and opened a brisk fire, which was responded to by the guns of the enemy. The Major-General commanding the cavalry corps at this moment rode to the advance; to him I proposed, with my command, to cut through the force in my front, and thus open a way for the entire command to the river. My proposition was approved, and I received orders to take my available force and push forward, leaving the Sixth and Seventh Michigan cavalry to hold the force in rear in check. I formed the Fifth Michigan cavalry on my right, in column of battalions; on my left, I formed the First Michigan in column of squadrons. After ordering them to draw their sabres, I informed them that we were surrounded, and all we had to do was to open a way with our sabres. They showed their determination and purpose by giving three hearty cheers. At this moment, the band struck up the inspiring air, “Yankee Doodle,” which excited the enthusiasm of the entire command to the highest pitch, and made each individual member feel as if he was a host in himself. Simultaneously, both regiments moved forward to the attack. It required but a glance at the countenances of the men to enable me to read the settled determination with which they undertook the work before them. The enemy, without waiting to receive the onset, broke in disorder and fled. After a series of brilliant charges, during which the enemy suffered heavily, we succeeded in reaching the river, which we crossed in good order. From the eleventh to the fifteenth instant, my command was employed in picketing and guarding the flank and rear of the army. On the afternoon of the fifteenth, the brigade being posted on the Bull Run battle ground, I detailed Major Kidd with his regiment, the Sixth Michigan cavalry, to reconnoitre the position and strength of the enemy in the vicinity of Gainesville. The reconnoissance was entirely satisfactory, and showed the enemy to be in considerable force at that point. Sunday, the eighteenth instant, at three P. M., the entire division was ordered to move on the pike leading from Groveton to Warrenton. The First brigade moved on the pike, the Second moved on a road to the left of and parallel to the pike, but soon encountered the enemy, and drove him as far as Gainesville, where the entire command bivouacked during the night. The First Vermont cavalry, under Colonel Sawyer, deserves great credit for the rapidity with which they forced the enemy to retire. At daybreak on the morning of the nineteenth, my brigade took the advance and skirmished with the enemy's cavalry from Gainesville to Buckland; at the latter point I found him strongly posted upon the south bank of Broad Run. The position for his artillery was well chosen. After a fruitless attempt to effect a crossing in his front, I succeeded in turning his left flank so completely as to force him from his position. Having driven him more than a mile from the stream, I threw out my pickets, and ordered my men to prepare their dinner. From the inhabitants of Buckland I learned that the forces of the enemy with whom we had been engaged were commanded by General J. E. B. Stuart in person, who, at the time of our arrival at that point, was seated at the dinner-table, eating; but, owing to my successful advance, he was compelled to leave his dinner untouched — a circumstance not regretted by that portion of my command into whose hands it fell. The First brigade took the advance. At this point I was preparing to follow, when information reached me that the enemy was advancing on my left from the direction of Greenwich. I had scarcely time to place my command in position to resist an attack from that direction before the enemy's skirmishers appeared. Pennington's battery opened upon them, while the Sixth Michigan cavalry, under Major Kidd, was thrown forward and deployed as skirmishers. One gun of Pennington's battery, supported by the First Vermont cavalry, was placed on my extreme left. The First Michigan cavalry, under Major Brewer, acted as a reserve, and as a support for the remaining five guns of the battery. The Fifth Michigan cavalry, under Colonel Mann, were engaged in the woods on my right. At first I was under the impression that the skirmishers were composed of dismounted cavalry, but later developments convinced me that it was a very superior force of infantry that now confronted me. After completing his dispositions for attack, the enemy advanced upon me. In doing so, he exposed a line of infantry of more than a mile in extent; at the same time he opened a heavy fire upon me from his artillery. Pennington's battery, aided by the Sixth Michigan cavalry, poured a destructive fire upon the enemy as he advanced, but failed to force him back. A desperate effort was made to capture my battery. Pennington continued to fire until the enemy was within twenty yards of his guns. He was then compelled to limber up and retire to the north bank of Broad Run. The other portions of the command followed. The First Michigan cavalry was intrusted with the duty of covering the movement — a task which was gallantly performed. My command being very exhausted, I retired to the vicinity of Gainesville, where I encamped for the night. Major Clark, Fifth Michigan cavalry, was detached from his regiment with one battalion. When the command retired to the north bank of Broad Run, he, with a small portion of his battalion, became separated from the rest of the command, and were captured by the enemy. Computing my losses from the ninth instant, I find them to be as follows:

Officers.Men.Total.
Killed,099
Wounded,24148
Missing,8154162
Aggregate,214

Before closing my report, I desire to make honorable mention of the highly creditable manner in which both officers and men of my command [563] have discharged their duty during the long and arduous marches as well as the hard-fought engagements of the past few days. Too much praise cannot be given to the officers and men of battery M, Second artillery, for the gallantry displayed on more than one occasion. For the untiring zeal and energy, added to the unflinching bravery displayed in transmitting and executing my orders upon the field, my acknowledgments are due to the following members of my staff: Captain R. F. Judson, A. D. C., Lieutenant R. Baylis, A. A. D. C., Lieutenant William Colerick, A. D. C., and to Lieutenant E. G. Granger, A. A. A. G. Lieutenant Granger, while leading a charge at Brandy Station, had his horse shot in two places. Surgeon Wooster, of my staff, in addition to his professional duties, rendered me valuable assistance by aiding in transmitting my orders. Respectfully submitted,

(Signed) G. A. Custer, Brig. Com. Second Brigade Third Division Cavalry Corps.


Me. A. Paul's narrative.

headquarters army of the Potomac, Wednesday, October 21, 1863.
The advance of this army--Lieutenant Whittaker and twenty of General Kilpatrick's cavalry division--entered Warrenton last evening, the enemy's cavalry, under Stuart, at the same time retiring toward Sulphur Springs.

The recent gallant cavalry fight of General Kilpatrick's division at Buckland's Mills and vicinity is still the subject of conversation throughout the army. Now that all the command is in, I am able to furnish a more reliable account of that affair than the first despatches, which were necessarily incomplete, owing to the absence of a portion of the command. The commander of the division received orders on Sunday last to move as far as possible toward Warrenton, under the supposition that nothing but cavalry would oppose his progress; and knowing that Kilpatrick had whipped Stuart alone on several well-contested fields, it was not thought worth while to advance infantry within immediate supporting distance. Notwithstanding this division has been constantly on active duty, and the men and horses were considerably the worse for wear, the order to march was obeyed with alacrity, and the command was moving by three o'clock P. M. on Sunday. But little progress had been made from Bull Run before the enemy's pickets were encountered and driven back upon their supports at Gainesville, where two regiments were found drawn up in line of battle. Night coming on, the command encamped. Early Monday morning the advance was sounded, and the enemy retired from Gainesville, fighting as they went, taking the Warrenton pike. From Gainesville General Kilpatrick took the precaution to send the First Virginia regiment, Major Farrable, to Haymarket and vicinity to guard the right flank, and the Seventh Michigan, Colonel Mann, to Greenwich and vicinity to guard the left flank, while the remainder of the division moved up the Warrenton pike. The enemy fled precipitately until they had crossed Broad Run, at Buckland's Mills, where Hampton's and Jones's brigades, under the immediate command of Stuart, with two batteries, occupied a very strong position west of the run. The banks of Broad Run in this vicinity are very steep, and, therefore, are fordable only at a few places. Pennington's and Elder's batteries were opened with effect, compelling the enemy to move their batteries several times. After an artillery duel and skirmishing for nearly two hours, and the Commanding General having received word that there was no enemy near at hand on his right or left, under a concentrated fire of the artillery a crossing was effected in force by the pike bridge. The skirmishers, not to be left behind, boldly waded the river, and notwithstanding all the obstacles to such a movement, kept up an excellent line, the whole command pushing forward under a very heavy fire. The conflict, though comparatively brief here, was sharp, the enemy contending manfully for every foot of ground, but when they did give way, General Davies's brigade, which had before been held in hand while Custer's had the advance, moved rapidly forward, pressing the enemy above New-Baltimore. While General Custer's command was taking a nooning, a messenger came in out of breath to General Kilpatrick, with the information that a column of the enemy was threatening his left. Suitable disposition of the force was at once made to resist this unexpected danger by Major Cook, Chief of Staff, and Adjutant-General Estes. No sooner had this been done than a portion of the Seventh Michigan which had been stationed on their flank was forced back by a line of rebel infantry, acting as skirmishers, with a strong reserve, believed to have been at least one full division, with a brigade or more of cavalry. The extreme danger of the command as situated was seen at a glance by General Kilpatrick, and he despatched Lieutenant Hickey with orders to General Davies to fall back at once, as he was in danger of being cut off. General Davies had in part anticipated the order, for upon hearing firing at his rear, had fallen back to within one mile and a half of General Custer's brigade, and was there awaiting orders when the messenger arrived. While this was transpiring, the Fifth Michigan, Colonel Alger, was deployed as skirmishers to so far as possible fill up the gap between the two brigades and keep back a threatened movement of the enemy to divide the command. A severe struggle now took place for possession of the pike — our forces trying to hold it so as to enable Davies to pass and take up a new position, while the enemy were determined that the movement should not be made. Having both infantry and cavalry, in this they were successful--General Custer, however, succeeding in getting his command in safety across Broad Run after the most desperate fighting, in which Pennington's battery, (company M, Second artillery,) as usual, took a most important part, firing with great rapidity, and making their guns a terror to all massed forces with which the enemy threatened the retiring troops, though at one time they boldly came [564] within a very short distance of the guns, intent upon capturing them.

Once across the river, the bridge was held, though some of the men were entirely out of carbine ammunition, and resort was had to Colt's revolvers, in which the officers took a conspicuous part. The enemy, however, succeeded in effecting a crossing some distance to the left, and the brigade fell back fighting to the vicinity of Gainesville, where the troops disappeared in a belt of timber, passing through a line of Sixth corps infantry skirmishers there concealed, whom the enemy, not seeing, made bold to charge, and were repulsed with great loss, the officer leading the charge being among the killed.

When General Kilpatrick saw that Custer's brigade was safe across Broad Run, he directed him to fall back slowly, and fighting if pursued, and then started, accompanied by an orderly only, to join General Davies, whom he had notified previously by an aid that he was cut off, and must make his way to the pike leading from Thoroughfare Gap to Gainesville. To many not acquainted with the circumstances this might seem a foolhardy errand, having to recross Broad Run, which he did at the bridge, and to run the gauntlet of skirmishers for more than a mile; but General Kilpatrick would rather have lost his own life on that field than to lose a brigade, the fate of which then hung in the balance; and while having the utmost confidence in the ability and coolness of General Davies, he at the same time realized the fact that his own presence would do something toward encouraging the troops, particularly as some of them had been associated with him for years. Providence permitting, he succeeded in reaching the command with ten or a dozen gallant spirits, both officers and men, who, seeing the noble conduct of their General, resolved to accompany him without orders. Fortunately, as the sequel will show, Dr. Capehart, Chief Surgeon of the brigade, was familiar with that section of country, and avoiding the main road leading to Thoroughfare Gap, reached the pike a short distance above the village of Haymarket. The difficulty of this movement will be understood when it is stated that this reduced brigade was attacked in the rear by both Hampton's and Jones's brigades, and that Fitz Lee was ready to confront it on the Thoroughfare Gap road, which they expected Davies would take when cut off. When General Kilpatrick reached the command, he at once ordered the Harris Light (Second New-York) to act as rear-guard. So hard pressed were they in rear and flank, that the choicest spirits — because the bravest, both officers and men — of the command joined the rear-guard, and nobly did they withstand the onsets of the enemy, and even mocked them — while exulting at the idea of even driving a moiety of Kilpatrick's command — in their beast-like yelp, and hurled them back on more than one occasion by the sword alone. At one time the rear-guard and the advance of the enemy were all mixed together. The enemy's advance wearing a uniform similar to that worn by our own troops, in the excitement of the moment it was not easy to distinguish one from the other. As an instance of this, I may state that a rebel urged Lieutenant Whittaker, of General Kilpatrick's staff, to press forward. Whittaker, supposing it was some of our own men, upbraided him for wishing, as he supposed, to press past and abandon the wagons. By half-past 7 o'clock in the evening both brigades were in camp at Gainesville, having been engaged nearly all day fighting a combination of infantry and cavalry, with a loss, all told, as now appears — including killed, wounded, and missing — not to exceed one hundred men, instead of three hundred or four hundred, as was at first reported by stragglers. And instead of losing eight or nine wagons, the actual loss is only two, and one of these got mired, and the other broke down. No horses or mules were lost. In this retreat Elder's battery took a conspicuous part, and was handled with consummate skill.

General Kilpatrick, upon bringing his Second brigade into camp, reported personally at headquarters, and received the thanks of both Generals Meade and Pleasanton for the able manner in which he had discharged the important duty that had been intrusted to him, and the skill he displayed in extricating his command from the most trying positions in which a command can be placed. It is just such emergencies that test the capacity of a commanding officer, and General Kilpatrick, all through the trying scenes of Monday, showed that he was fully equal to the occasion, for nothing but cool judgment and discriminate action, with hard fighting, saved the division from the trap the enemy had laid for it. Generals Kilpatrick, Custer, Davies, Colonels Alger, Mann, Sawyer, and in fact a large majority of the officers and men, deserve particular mention for preserving intact, almost by superhuman exertions, the hard-earned reputation of the cavalry corps.

General Merritt reports that the enemy have so completely destroyed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad between Warrenton Junction and the Rappahannock River, that it will take two months to reconstruct it; and in the opinion of engineers, it will be much easier and save time to construct almost an entire new road than to attempt to repair the old one. They have filled the cuts — of which there are several — with trees and earth; burnt the culverts and bridges, blown up the abutments, destroyed the ties, and miles of rails, by heating and twisting them.


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