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Doc. 115.-battle of the deserted House, Va.

A National account.

Suffolk, Va., January 31, 1862.
The engagement with the rebels, which took place yesterday, proves to have been more important and formidable than was at first supposed, and we have won a dear-bought victory.

Our loss is now ascertained to be twenty-four killed and eighty wounded, while that of the rebels must have been about the same, if not greater. The enemy managed to carry off their killed and wounded, with the exception of one major, a lieutenant, and a number of privates, whose bodies, divested of boots and whatever of clothing there was time to take away, were found upon the field as our troops returned from the pursuit of the retreating foe. The conflict was a sanguinary one, and nothing but the indomitable courage of our soldiers and the judicious management of Gen. Corcoran and Col. Spear saved to us success.

I learn the following particulars this morning: It seems that Gen. Pryor pushed his way across the Blackwater last Sunday, as it is supposed, on a foraging expedition, and augmented his force up to Thursday, when he took position about nine miles from Suffolk, at a point known as the “deserted house,” a locality commanding the road from this town to Franklin, and completely protecting his forage train. Our scouts brought in information of the whereabouts of the enemy, and at a late hour on Thursday night Gen. Peck despatched a force under command of Gen. Corcoran. Our troops prepared with great alacrity for the expedition, and departed for the scene of action about eleven o'clock.

Colonel Spear, whose perfect knowledge of the road rendered his services invaluable to the command, led the advance with the Eleventh Pennsylvania cavalry. The utmost secrecy was observed in regard to the movements, a precaution at once valuable and necessary. The reports of the scouts proved to be correct, and at the point of the road suggested by Col. Spear, the outer pickets of the rebels were come up with by an advance-guard of the Pennsylvania cavalry, led by Lieutenant Roper. At this time the moon had gone down, and it was impossible to distinguish the exact position of the foe. The pickets fled at the approach of our cavalry, and Lieut. Roper was ordered to proceed cautiously and “feel” the strength of the post.

After proceeding a short distance he descried dispute his passage. He immediately dashed forward and asked: “Who are you?” A volley was the response, and Lieut. Roper retired to make report. Follett's battery was then wheeled into position, and at twenty minutes to four o'clock the action commenced in earnest. Then ensued an exhibition of artillery practice such as has been rarely seen in this war. For three hours and eleven minutes this artillery duel continued, and the service of the guns on both sides is said to have been unexcellable. During this time the enemy was slowly giving way before the superiority of our cannonading. Their pieces were all silenced by seven o'clock, and they had been driven two miles from the “deserted house.”

Pryor had the advantage of position, and the direction of his artillery was equal to ours, but his infantry and cavalry proved no match for ours. As the enemy's battery seemed to become weaker and weaker, Col. Spear advised that the time had arrived for a charge, and Gen. Corcoran gave the order to advance upon the position. It must be confessed that the ordeal was a fearful one for untried troops. The only way to advance was through a sort of gorge, with heavy timber and swamp-land on each side of the road. It was indeed entering the “valley of the shadow of death,” for the enemy's cannon swept the narrow defile as with the besom of destruction.

But that was the road to victory; there was no other, and along that terrible pathway our soldiers were required to pass. The moment was one of peril. To delay was to lose the chance of triumph; and, although death and danger marked the hour, it was the time to show the bravery of heart and the strength of arm of our noble U nion soldiers. Shame to record it, the One Hundred and Sixty-seventh regiment Pennsylvania militia — drafted men — was not equal to the emergency. Like the veriest cravens that ever cursed a noble cause, nearly every man of this regiment skulked, and all were as deaf to the calls of their commanding general as they were insensible to the demands of patriotism and the ordinary dictates of manhood.

The delay occasioned by the supineness of the Pennsylvania regiment lost us the golden opportunity to capture a large portion of the enemy's cannon and many prisoners. Time was afforded the enemy to resume his retrograde movement and take up a new position. Skirmishing continued for some seven miles along the road, and at about five o'clock the rear-guard of the rapidly skedaddling rebels was overtaken, and another sharp engagement between the infantry took place about two miles from Carrsville. Night [406] coming on, it was not deemed expedient to make further pursuit, and the enemy was allowed to make his way to the Blackwater without interruption.

The battle was exceedingly well contested. The number of troops on each side was equal, the enemy having the advantage of choice of position. In open field fighting it was fully demonstrated that the rebels are lacking in the stamina possessed by the Northern troops. They fought desperately, it is admitted, but with a bravery no doubt more stimulated by the stomach than the head — they were fighting for provender, not from principle.

The coolness and judgment displayed by Gen. Corcoran is highly praised, and the encomiums bestowed upon him are shared in by Col. Spear. Both of these officers displayed in a brilliant manner all the characteristics of the finished soldier and the accomplished gentleman. Our victory has been dearly bought, considering the result attained, but still it is a triumph to be proud of.

The enemy has been driven back to his lair by an equal force, and if our loss is great in view of the numbers engaged, the rebels have undoubtedly lost six to our one, as evidenced by their hospital arrangements along the route of their retreat. An idea of the determined resistance of the enemy and the perseverance of our troops may be gained in the fact that the fight and pursuit covered a period of over thirteen hours. Our troops all came into camp this morning, and the wounded are being well cared for.


General Peck's order.

headquarters United States forces, Suffolk, Va., February 1, 1863.
The Commanding General desires to express his warmest thanks to Brigadier-Gen. Corcoran and the troops assigned to his command for their good conduct and gallant bravery in the engagement of the thirtieth of January, 1863, at the Deserted House, and which resulted in driving the confederate forces to the Blackwater. Most of the regiments were under fire for the first time, and furnished those others so unfortunate as not to have part in the expedition with examples of patriotism worthy of imitation.

The misconduct of some of the troops has been brought to his notice; but he forbears to specify them, in the belief that those conscious of deserving censure will avail themselves of the first opportunity to retrieve the past.

Especial commendation is due to the wounded for their bravery on the field, and for their patience under suffering. They are cared for by the kind and skilful officers of the medical department, under the able superintendence of Surgeon Hand.

The families and friends of the dead have the sympathies of all patriots, and the precious recollection that they fell in the great cause of constitutional liberty.

By command of

Major-General Peck. Benj. B. Foster, Major and Assistant Adjutant-General.

Petersburgh express account.

Petersburgh, February 2.
Immediately after the arrival of the eight o'clock train from Weldon, Saturday morning, a great many rumors of an engagement between General Pryor and the enemy, which it was alleged occurred on Friday, found currency in our streets. These rumors generally gave out that our arms had met with a sad reverse; but as they could be traced to no really trustworthy source, little credit was given them. Saturday afternoon a courier from Gen. Pryor arrived in the city, bringing a despatch for headquarters. This despatch we have been permitted by the Commanding General at this post to copy. It will be seen that so far from General Pryor's command meeting with any thing like a reverse, the advantages of the fight were all in our favor. The following is a copy of General Pryor's official despatch:

General: This morning, at four o'clock, the enemy, under Major-General Peck, attacked me at Kelly's Store, eight miles from Suffolk. After three hours severe fighting, we repulsed them at all points and held the field. Their force is represented by prisoners to be between ten thousand and fifteen thousand. My loss in killed and wounded will not exceed fifty--no prisoners. I regret that Col. Poage is among the killed. We inflicted a heavy loss on the enemy.


Roger A. Pryor, Brigadier-General Commanding.

From a member of Captain Wright's battery, which is composed chiefly of volunteers from Halifax County, Va., and who were in the fight, we have obtained a few additional particulars:

Some two hours or more before the dawn of day Friday, our pickets were driven in by two regiments of mounted men, and a few minutes thereafter the enemy's artillery opened on our bivouac fires. We immediately replied with guns of Captain Colt's S. C. battery, and one section of Capt. Wright's. The enemy's shell fell thick and fast in our immediate vicinity, but our boys stood manfully to their guns, and gave the vandals as much and as good as they sent.

At daylight the artillery duel ceased, and the fight was then maintained with musketry for about one hour, when the enemy ceased firing and fell back. We held our position, but the enemy not advancing and showing no disposition to renew the fight, General Pryor retired to Carrsville, eight miles from the Blackwater River, where he remained undisturbed at last accounts.

The following are all the casualties that we have been able to obtain:

There were four killed in the Fifth Virginia regiment. Among the number is Colonel Poage, of Pulaski County, a gallant officer who distinguished himself in the Western Virginia campaign, under Gen. Floyd. Col. P. was struck in the thigh by a fragment of shell, which severed the main artery, and he bled to death in a few minutes.

Capt. Dobbins, of the Twenty-seventh Virginia [407] battalion, from Floyd County, was killed by a Minie ball.

In Wright's battery, Captain W. was slightly wounded in the left leg by a piece of shell. Lieut. Watkins was also slightly wounded. Charles W. Hughes, of Halifax, had a leg broken, and was also wounded in the hip. Geo. R. Watts, of Halifax, was slightly wounded.

The bodies of Col. Poage and Capt. Dobbins, reached here yesterday morning on the train from Weldon. They will be forwarded to their friends for interment.

Two of Capt. Coit's battery were slightly disabled--one having been spiked by the breaking of a priming-wire, and the other becoming useless from the lodgment of a ball, which it was found impossible to remove.

Gen. Pryor now occupies a strong position at Carrsville, and is prepared for the enemy, let him come in any force he may.

General Pryor's address.

headquarters forces on Blackwater, February 2, 1863.
General order, No. 7.

The Brigadier-General congratulates the troops of this command on the results of their recent combat.

The enemy endeavored, under cover of night, to steal an inglorious victory by surprise, but he found us prepared at every point; and despite his superior numbers, greater than your own, in the proportion of five to one, he was signally repulsed and compelled to leave us in possession of the field.

After silencing his guns and dispersing his infantry, you remained on the field from night till one o'clock, awaiting a renewal of the attack, but he did not again venture to encounter your terrible fire.

For the slight loss sustained on our side, you inflicted an adequate retribution on the three hundred of his men killed and disabled in the fight.

When the disparity of force between the parties is considered, with the proximity of the enemy to his stronghold, and his facilities of reenforcements by railway, the result of the action of the thirtieth will be accepted as a splendid illustration of your courage and good conduct.

By order of

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Roger A. Pryor (11)
George C. Spear (5)
Corcoran (5)
J. C. Peck (4)
James Wright (3)
Roper (3)
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Dobbins (2)
W. A. Whitner (1)
George R. Watts (1)
Charles T. Watkins (1)
Charles W. Hughes (1)
Hand (1)
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