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Doc. 196. skirmish near Fairfax Court House, Va.


Captain W. H. Boyd's report.

camp Kearny, near Alexandria, Va., Nov. 17, 1862.
Capt. E. Sparrow Purdy, A. A. G., Alexandria Division:
sir: A reconnoitring party of a squadron of cavalry, consisting of my company and Captain Bennett's, was ordered out this day, under my command. The command proceeded along the Little River turnpike to within a short distance of Annandale, where we passed the last of our pickets. Here we halted, and ordered the arms to be loaded, and sent forward an advance guard, consisting of a dozen good men, armed with Sharp's rifled carbines, under command of Lieutenant Stevenson, of my company. I also detached a rear guard and flank patrols, under the direction of Lieutenants Woodruff and Thomas, Captain Bennett and myself remaining with the main body. In this order we proceeded to within one mile and a quarter of Fairfax Court House, where we learned that about a dozen of the enemy's cavalry had been for corn early in the morning. Hence we marched to within about a thousand yards of the Court House, when our advance guard was suddenly fired upon by the enemy's infantry, from behind a large rifle pit, running diagonally across the turnpike, covering the approach to the village. The direction of the pit was from our right to left. The advance guard immediately deployed to the right and left, some of them sheltering themselves behind a house on the right of the pike, from which they kept up a lively fire upon the enemy's cavalry, which appeared in scattering groups at various points, evidently for the purpose of drawing us out. On the first shot being fired, I rode forward to reconnoitre, having halted the main body, and leaving them under command of Captain Bennett, where they remained concealed from the enemy's view during the whole affair, none but the advance guard being engaged. As one of my men, who was dismounted behind the house, raised his carbine to his shoulder, he said, “I wish I had my old rifle here.” With the remark he fired, and one of the rebel cavalry dropped from his horse. During all this time the enemy kept up a desultory fire from the rifle pit, and fearing they might be manoeuvring to outflank us, I ordered the men to cease firing, and we started on our way home.

It gives me pleasure to be able to state that during the whole affair the officers and men of my command behaved with most admirable coolness, standing where the enemy's bullets whistled all around them, and aiming their pieces in a calm and determined manner. It was with much reluctance they left the field.

On our return, the enemy followed us at a respectful distance, firing upon our rear guard. Our men returned the fire, and the pursuit was abandoned.

We returned on the Little River turnpike as far as Hughes' house, where we took the left-hand road leading to Mills' Cross Roads, and thence on the Fairfax road to Falls Church.

When on this road, about a mile from Mills' cross roads, we were challenged by the advance guard of the Twentieth New York Volunteers, Colonel Pratt, who mistook us for rebel cavalry, as a lot of cavalry had been seen on the hill reconnoitring all day. The officers of the regiment showed a complete knowledge of their duty, and it would be well for the service if all our outposts would exercise the same vigilance. We met no further obstructions, and reached camp about five P. M., having been in the saddle since nine A. M.

There ought to be signals adopted so that out-posts and patrols may be enabled to recognize each other, and thus avoid very unpleasant suspicions, and, frequently, accidents. It is my opinion, that if a squadron of cavalry were allowed to bivouac out over night, some prisoners might be captured, as the enemy's cavalry, in squads of about a dozen, are in the habit of patrolling the road early in the morning and late in the evening.

A few companies of infantry, a section of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry might dislodge the enemy from Fairfax Court House. The roads to Fairfax Court House are in excellent condition for all arms of the service.

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

W. H. Boyd, Captain Company Lincoln Cavalry.

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Lorenzo Thomas (1)
Amos Stevenson (1)
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Benaiah Pratt (1)
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