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Doc. 104.-crossing of the Rapidan.

Heaquarters army of the Potomac, Monday, February 8, 1864.
The heavy reconnaissance sent out to the Rapidan on Friday evening and Saturday morning last, returned to camp last night, having, it is asserted, accomplished the object of its mission — the exact position and probable strength of the army of North-Virginia.

Had the weather been more propitious, the operations of the reconnoitring party would undoubtedly have been more extended. But, as it is, enough has been ascertained to justify even the sacrifice of the heroic spirits, who, having passed unscathed through a hundred leaden storms, were destined here to fall martyrs to the great rebellion. Two hundred and fifty in killed, wounded, and missing, will cover our total loss, of which ten per cent will correctly indicate our killed and mortally wounded.

As the principal fighting was done by General Warren, I will first give a detailed account of the operations of the Second corps. The Second corps, under the command of Brigadier-General Cauldwell, General Warren being temporarily indisposed, left camp at seven o'clock on Saturday morning, taking the road leading to Morton's Ford. The men were supplied with three days rations, as were all the troops engaged in the reconnaissance.

The corps reached the cavalry reserve within half a mile of the Rapidan, at ten o'clock A. M., when a consultation between Generals Cauldwell, Webb, and Hayes, commanding respectively the First, Second, and Third divisions, was held, and a crossing of the river decided upon. Brigadier-General Hayes, commanding the Third division, was directed to lead the advance, which he did in person, fording the river waist-deep, on foot, at the head of General J. T. Owen's Third brigade. The rebel sharp-shooters, in rifle-pits, on the other side, kept up a galling fire, while a battery, stationed on the hills to the right, and a mile beyond the ford, hotly shelled the advancing column.

Captain Arnold, in command of battery A, First Rhode Island artillery, and which has so often been mentioned in connection with the Second corps, was at this time placed in position on a bluff several hundred yards from the river on the north side, and did excellent service in responding to the enemy's guns, which were mainly directed against the fording party. The fire of the enemy was unusually wild, and but few casualties occurred in General Owen's brigade.

On reaching the south bank of the river, a charge was made on the rebel rifle-pits, and twenty-eight men and an officer captured. A few of the prisoners regarded their situation when taken with indifference, and the majority seemed inclined to rejoice rather than weep at the fate which had befallen them. The prisoners taken were members of Virginia, Georgia, and Mississippi regiments. The brigade was posted in line of battle to the left and half a mile beyond the ford, under the shelter of several crests of hills, the fire of several rebel guns being still directed upon them from the heights above the ford.

The Thirty-ninth and One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New-York were then deployed as skirmishers nearly at right angles with the river, with [449] orders to force back the enemy as far as possible. Sharp skirmishing then ensued, the enemy's line gradually retiring before our skirmishers. The right wing of the skirmish-line was commanded by Colonel Bull, of the One Hundred and Twenty-sixth, and the left by Lieutenant-Colonel Baird, of the same regiment, and here it is but just to state that the latter officer won the highest commendation from General Hayes and other general officers for an exhibition of gallantry seldom witnessed on the battle-field.

Colonel Bull, it will be remembered, was dismissed for misbehavior in presence of the enemy at the surrender of Harper's Ferry. Assured of his innocence of the charge of cowardice, he was afterward reinstated by the President, and by the Governor of his State promoted from Major to Lieutenant-Colonel--the position which he now holds in his old regiment. Those of his regiment instrumental in his dismissal, are now ready to testify to his merit as a gallant soldier. At twelve M., Colonel Carroll, commanding the First brigade of General Hayes's division, crossed to the support of the Third, and at five P. M., Colonel Powers, Second brigade, followed.

The position occupied by Colonel Powers's brigade being an exposed one, his command suffered more than any other. It was nearly dusk when the brigade mentioned got into position, and at this time the heaviest fighting occurred. The Thirty-ninth and One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New-York, having occupied the picket-line all day, were relieved by the Fourteenth Connecticut, which suffered more severely than any other regiment engaged during the day.

Some little disorder at one time occurred on the right of the skirmish-line, but it was almost instantly checked by the officers in command. The fight continued fiercely until half an hour after dusk, when the cannonading and musketry ceased, and all was quiet except occasional shots from the sharp-shooters. At half-past 8 P. M. General Webb's Second division was ordered to ford the river to support the Third.

At midnight, General Warren, who had come down to the front in the afternoon, received orders to recross his troops, which he did in good order and without being molested by the enemy. One division of the Third corps--the Second--marched on Saturday afternoon to the support of General Warren; but their services were not needed.

General Alexander Hayes, commanding the Third division of the Second corps, whose reckless daring on many a battle-field has excited the astonishment and admiration of his troops, met with a narrow escape while on the other side of the river.

A rebel bullet pierced his trowsers, burying itself in his saddle, without, however, inflicting a wound. Above the flag of his division is a white silk streamer, presented to him by members of his command, bearing the words: “My God, my country, and General Hayes.” The inscription is indorsed by “the boys,” among whom he is a great favorite. Captain J. C. Lynch, Acting Inspector-General of the division, had the top of his hat blown away by a shell during the engagement.

General Kilpatrick, accompanied by battery C, Third artillery, Lieutenant Kelly, left camp at seven o'clock A. M. on Saturday morning, and, after several feints, crossed at Culpeper Mine Ford, where six rebel pickets belonging to Hampton's Legion were found posted. On crossing, detachments were sent out to scour the country in every direction. Colonel Alger, commanding the Fifth Michigan, was sent on the macadamized pike to Robertson's Tavern; while General Kilpatrick, with the main body, proceeded down the Fredericksburgh plank-road to the vicinity of Chancellorsville, meeting no infantry force, and but small parties of cavalry, who fell back before his advance.

In accordance with instructions, he returned to the vicinity of Culpeper Ford on Saturday night, to await further orders, and was there directed to return to camp, which he did the next day. On recrossing, Major White, with one battalion, was sent up the river, for the purpose of capturing any pickets which might be stationed at the upper fords. He recrossed the river at Jacob's Mills, where four or five videttes were taken prisoners.

General Kilpatrick's reconnoissance conclusively proves that no force of the enemy occupies the country east of Mine Run. The small parties of cavalry all belonged to Hampton's Legion, which is stationed at Fredericksburgh. More than half the videttes have no horses, are seldom relieved, and are sometimes obliged to walk twenty-three miles to their post of duty. The rebels are represented as being engaged in replanking the road from Chancellorsville to Orange Court-House, and are laying out several new roads through the wilderness.

Twelve or fifteen prisoners were captured by General Kilpatrick, and he returned to his camp yesterday evening, without having lost a man during his reconnoissance. At cavalry headquarters last night, no special details of General Merrill's operations had been received, except that he had been to Madison Court-House, and that he was, at the time his courier was despatched on Saturday night, at Barnett's Ford. He had encountered no considerable force of the enemy, and had met with no losses.

The First corps, General Newton, left its camp on the night of Friday, fifth instant, and proceeded to the vicinity of Raccoon Ford. The corps, which was afterward followed by two divisions of the Third, encamped two miles from the river; but no important demonstrations against the enemy were made.

Warren's movements on the left seem to have drawn the main body of the enemy to Morton's Ford; while at Raccoon Ford but comparatively a small body was observable on the opposite bank of the river. Our total loss is covered by two hundred, but a small proportion being among the killed. Nearly one hundred rebel prisoners were sent to headquarters this morning.



[450]

General Owen's official report.

headquarters Third brigade, Third division, Second corps, February 8, 1864.
I have the honor to report that on Saturday, the sixth instant, at seven o'clock, I marched my command in the direction of Morton's Ford, in accordance with orders received about three hours previous to that time. I arrived at the headquarters of the cavalry reserve within half a mile of the ford, at ten o'clock A. M., and halted. At thirty-five minutes past ten, I received orders to cross the river, which I succeeded in doing, and pushed the enemy back about half a mile; and then, under orders not to press the enemy too hard, but to skirmish with him, if he appeared so disposed, I halted my advance, and made my disposition to hold the favorable ground which I had taken.

In a short time, the enemy began to concentrate troops in my immediate front, and to advance a stronger line of skirmishers. I communicated this fact to corps headquarters, through the signal officer, and asked for reeinforcements. At ten minutes past three P. M., Colonels Carroll and Powers reported to me, by order of General Hayes, and I massed their brigades (First and Second, of the Third division) under cover from the enemy's fire, and in a position whence they could be readily deployed to the right or left, as circumstances might require. The enemy kept up a vigorous fire of small-arms during the day, and, at intervals, a heavy artillery fire from a battery in position on his left. Fresh troops were arriving continuously, and in great haste. At twenty minutes past five P. M., the enemy opened with a heavy fire from his batteries, and shortly afterward advanced and attacked vigorously our right and right centre; but it was futile, as, under the personal supervision of the General commanding the division, the enemy was met and repulsed at all points.

At fifty minutes past seven P. M., I was ordered to hold myself ready to recross the river, which I did at half-past 11. All the troops behaved well. I am satisfied with the Third brigade. It will do its duty, and never disgrace the Second corps.

The passage of the river, under the enemy's fire, I consider as worthy of special notice, and I specially mention the good conduct and gallant bearing of my Adjutant-General, Captain Robert S. Seabury, who was the first to cross the river at the head of the three hundred picked skirmishers, and to drive the enemy back from the riflepits, capturing twenty-seven men and two officers.

My loss was two officers wounded, and three men killed and thirty-three wounded, which is remarkably light under the circumstances; and I believe that the enemy suffered much more severely.

The Thirty-ninth New-York volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes; the One Hundred and Eleventh New-York Volunteers, Colonel Luck; the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth New-York volunteers, Colonel Crandell; and the One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New-York volunteers, Colonel Bull, were handled by their commanders with skill and judgment, and behaved splendidly. I am indebted to Captain Joseph Hyde and Lieutenant P. C. Rogers, of my staff, for their prompt and intelligent conveyance of my orders to different portions of the line.

I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,

Joshua T. Owen, Brigadier-General Volunteers. Lieutenant John S. Sullivan, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

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Alexander Hayes (7)
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Joshua T. Owen (2)
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