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Doc. 142.-fight near Lee's Mills, Va.


New-York Tribune account.

Lee's Mills, Va., April 17, 1862.
A reconnoissance was made about a mile north-east of Lee's Mills yesterday, which, in the severity of the fighting it involved, may be properly ranked as a battle.

At half-past 6 o'clock, companies E, F, D and K, of the Third Vermont, began to work as skirmishers, Mott's battery supporting them with a very accurate fire of shot and shell. The Vermonters skirmished until noon, when they were relieved. The fire had been very accurate. The rebel braggarts, who began dancing on their ramparts, and swinging their hats, and defying our troops in the customary Southern military fashion, were dropped so rapidly by the sharp-shooters as to be soon cured of this style of warfare. The four companies of the Third lay down after dinner, and thoroughly rested themselves. At four o'clock in the afternoon, they were called up, formed into line, and told by their Colonel in a pithy speech that the work expected of them was to charge across the creek and take the enemy's intrenchments. Ayres's guns — all of the batteries, numbering twenty-two pieces, were under the command of their accomplished artillery officer — covered the Vermonters' advance. They marched steadily at the quick to the edge of the creek; and plunged in, on the run. The water deepened unexpectedly. The men were soon wading to their breasts, their cartridge-boxes slung up on their shoulders and their muskets held up high. The moment they entered the stream, the rebels swarmed on the edge of their rifle-pit, and rained a fire of bullets on the advancing line. The stream, as dammed, was about twelve rods wide. The Vermonters loaded and fired as they waded. Their killed and wounded began to fall from the instant of entering the water. Many of the latter were sustained by their arms and the collars of their coats, and so helped across, and lay down on the opposite side. The Third, as soon as they emerged and got foothold received the order to “charge!” With a yell, with true Green Mountain ring in it, they dashed at the extended rifle-pit. At least a regiment of rebels broke from behind it, and ran into the redoubt in the rear, leaving the Vermonters in the pit. For at least an hour they fought from here against overwhelming numbers, receiving reenforcements in that time, first of four companies of the Sixth Vermont, and afterward of four companies of the Fourth Vermont. They shot their foe principally through the head, and so superior was their fire, and their pluck so impressive, that the rebels moved two additional regiments into the fort, and into a flanking position on the left of the rifle-pit. Exposed now to a cross-fire as well as an increased fire in front, the Vermonters, though they wanted to stay, had to go. In good order, covering themselves behind trees, and fighting as they went, they recrossed the stream, carrying with them all their wounded whose condition at all promised survival of their hurts. Many were now shot in the water, and drowned beyond all possibility of help. The language of a Lamoille county boy, not sixteen years old, “Why, sir, it was just like sap-boiling in that stream — the bullets fell so thick,” is so expressive that I use it as a measure of intensity. These [504] brave men having backed out of the deep water, formed on the dry land and began the fight anew, while many, not detailed, but volunteering through impulses of soldierly devotion and personal affection, dashed into the stream again and dragged out the wounded, who were clinging to the trees, and sitting with their heads just out of water. Julian A. Scott, of the Third Vermont, company E, under sixteen years of age, was one of these heroes. He pulled out no less than nine of his wounded comrades. He twice went under fire away across the stream, and brought back from the slope of the rifle-pit John C. Backum, of his own company, who was shot through the lungs. Ephraim Brown, who was helping him, was himself shot through the thigh in the inside, and disabled. Scott waded back, like the heroboy he is, and brought him safely over.

It was a sight to come all the way from New-York to see — the masterly manner in which Capt. Ayres saved the Fourth Vermont's four companies from the fire of the rebels, who swarmed more than a regiment full in their rifle-pit. The moment he saw them form for a charge, he rode to every gun and directed it to be sighted so as to shave the top of the breastwork, and then, in the magnetic manner which distinguishes him in the field, required his command to serve the twenty-two pieces with the utmost possible rapidity. The fire was literally a besom of destruction. The shells burst with precision within a few inches of the top of the parapet, and over it. The Fourth's companies were saved by it. The rebels dared not lift themselves, or even elevate their heads above the edge of their breastwork to fire down on the Vermonters in the creek. Their guns necessarily were discharged at an upward angle, and their fire almost wholly thrown away.

As an evidence of the terrible accuracy of the fire of Ayres's battery, which silenced every rebel gun, the effect of four of his shots is very significant. A rebel regiment — was moving at right angles to his position. He fired a conical ball at the file in which the flag was carried, cut down the whole file and threw the flag to the earth. The other three shots, equally effective, scattered the regiment like smoke. The naval maxim is established that three guns in a battery are equal to one hundred afloat. The proportion of power between those in embrasures, against those in position in an open field, is nearly as great. When we consider that Capt. Ayres, with his fire of spherical shot, from a level cornfield, against a large and exceedingly strong work, silenced every gun in it, we can appreciate the marvellous skill and science with which this officer's justly celebrated battery is worked. Every shot took effect within the embrasures and over the enemy's pieces. He literally swept and cleared the rebels away from their guns, and furnished a new and most interesting fact in the history of artillery warfare — the possible superiority of guns in a plain over an equal number protected by earthworks. The affair is the subject of general and admiring comment to-day, among all the West-Point officers who have heard of it.

Among the incidents of the fight was the recovery from a fever of Sergeant Fletcher of company E, Third Vermont, on the sick list and excused from duty, and the use he made of his temporary health. He crossed the stream and went through the fight — then on his return, was among those who went back and rescued the wounded. On his return to camp, he went into the hospital and resumed his fever, with aggravation.

John Harrington, a beardless orphan boy of seventeen, unarmed, went over and rescued out of the rifle-pit a disabled comrade.

Lieut. Whittemore commanded company E, which is without a captain for some reason. This officer, with his revolver, covered Harrington in his hazardous expedition ; and killed several rebels who aimed their pieces at the boy. His most intimate friend in the company, private Vance, had been killed in the rifle-pit. Whittemore, enraged with sorrow, burst into tears, and seizing the dead soldier's musket, stood over him, and threatened death to any one who should retreat; and then stooping down, he took cartridge after cartridge from his friend's box, and killed his man with every fire — raging with a divine fury the while.

All will recall the case of private Wm. Scott of the Third Vermont, sentenced by McClellan last fall to be shot for sleeping on his post, while on the Potomac, and whom Simon Cameron, then Secretary of War, saved from his rigorous fate. Among the foremost across the creek, and the first to be killed yesterday was this very man — as brave a soldier as ever died on the field of battle.

Among the phenomena of the fight was the condition of the uniform of Capt. Bennett, of company K, of the Third. It had eight bullet-holes in it. One through the collar of his coat, one through the right coat-sleeve, one through his pantaloons below the left knee, one through both pantaloons and drawers above the right knee, and four through the skirts of his coat. There was not a scratch on this man's skin.

The sharp-shooting was marvellous. Ten men, with the telescopic rifle, kept the rebels two hours away from their largest gun. Every man who came near it was killed. It was utterly useless for that long time. The rebel commander had finally to drive up an entire regiment to the piece and man it by superiority of numbers — more gunners than could be killed. It was fired thus four times, when a shot from Kennedy's battery dismounted it. The value of sharp-shooters is a demonstrated fact of the greatest military importance.


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