A scouting expedition.
camp of the Eleventh corps, Virginia
, June 8, 1863.
Scouting is a very pleasant business if one is fond of novelty and adventure, and does not mind taking the chances of the weather and of meeting the enemy in too great force.
I went out on an expedition of this kind a short time since, and found it quite as agreeable as I had anticipated.
The object of our foray was not to reconnoitre, but to pick up straggling rebel soldiers and guerrillas, of whom there are many in the country, not far outside of our lines.
Secesh soldiers get furloughs to visit their friends in this portion of the State
, and many of them are sent here to glean information regarding our army.
During the day they remain concealed, or play the role
of peaceful citizens; but, when night arrives, they often collect in squads and capture or shoot pickets, or commit other depredations.
Hence expeditions, such as the one I accompanied, always go out in the night.
Small parties are the best for this purpose, and ours consisted of four men besides Captain Newcomb
had information that five men of the Stafford Rangers
were in the country, about ten miles outside of our lines.
All of these men had families or friends in the neighborhood, and were stopping at their own homes or at those of acquaintances.
They were mostly furloughed men, but were fond of amusing themselves bly getting together and capturing an occasional Yankee picket, for the sake of the spoils, such as horses, arms, and equipments, which are important to the ill-supplied rebels, and worth some trouble and risk to obtain.
Indeed, a poorly clad rebel will frequently risk life and liberty with the prospect of capturing a blanket or an overcoat.
We knew the rendezvous of the party we were after and the residences or stopping-places of most of them.
Some of the same clan had already been captured by Captain Newcomb
If it should be one of their gathering
nights, there was a chance that we might take the whole party together; otherwise, our design was to take the individuals from their abiding-places.
We were piloted by a scout named Hogan
, one of those who became so efficient under Sigel
's direction — than whom no general in the army appears so well to understand the business and the benefits of scouting.
and all the privates of our party belong to the First Indiana cavalry, a detachment recruited as a bodyguard, and which has acted as such under Rosecrans
, in Western Virginia
, and is now with General Howard
Better soldiers than those of this guard do not exist, and their “story” is much more worthy of being told, while it would be more interesting, than that of the Missouri Guard to which Mrs. Fremont
devotes a book.
It was this guard, with some of the Sixth Ohio cavalry, that, led by Captain Dahlgren
, made the famous raid into Fredericksburgh
last fall, and which rebels even confess was the most daring feat of the war. The story is worth repeating.
Fifty-two men, more than fifty miles from any support, pierced through the enemy's pickets, forded the Rappahannock
, and dashed into Fredericksburgh
, which was occupied by five hundred rebel cavalry, of whom they killed and wounded a number, and at one time captured one hundred and twenty, bringing off over forty, recrossing the river and returning with a loss of one man killed and one taken prisoner. The rebels were so badly scared that many of them did not pause in their flight until they reached another body of troops several miles below Fredericks-burgh.
To return to the narrative of our expedition — which, however, will be found to amount to very little.
We started at about four o'clock P. M., and travelled by unfrequented roads and paths through the woods, fording creeks, picking our way among trees and transcending fences in a rather aboriginal style.
We did not find our nomadic friends at their rendezvous, and it as necessary to seek for them at their several places of abode.
This is a rather unpleasant business for men of humanitarian feelings — as all of our party were — for one does not like to batter at doors in the dead of night, frightening women and children out of their wits when they peep out and behold armed men surrounding their domicil and hear them thundering for admittance.
A soldier's duty in such a case is plain, for it will not do to let a house which may conceal a rebel soldier, or perhaps arms and supplies, remain unsearched.
When a hastily dressed dame appears with a tallow candle and a supplicating air, her fears must be quieted in the most delicate manner, and if she assumes the indignant and hurls all sorts of epithets at the Yankee
barbarians, a little pleasant raillery suffices; but, in either case, the search must be proceeded with.
When these people find that they are treated with courtesy, and that all their rights are respected as much as is consistent with military necessities, they soon lay aside the one sort their demeanor of apprehension and the other of railing scorn.
In most of these houses will be found supplies of provisions concealed in cellars and garrets, and in some cases arms and munitions of war.
We were not fortunate on this occasion, and it would seem that those we sought had information of our approach.
We found but one rebel soldier comfortably sleeping in his bed, and his gun was discovered hid in a closet.
Two horses were found in the stable, one of which had evidently been captured, as it was branded “U. S.”
We reached camp about sunrise the next morning, having made a circuit of perhaps thirty miles during the night.
Such is a scouting expedition, with less than average results.