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[461] Fifth and Third, in spite of two gallant charges, which served only to retard for a time their progress. Retiring to a position where an open field, nearly a mile in breadth and more than two in length, gave a fair opportunity for the use of cavalry, our brigade was drawn up in line of battle, the Fourth on the extreme right, then the Second, Third, Fifth, and First. Here we waited for nearly half an hour the advance of the enemy. Afraid to come beyond the support of their artillery, their progress was slow; and we, who are accustomed to Stuart's and Lee's quick movements, grew impatient, and even thought they had given up all thought of further advance. But presently the line of woods, as far as we could see, was fringed with the smoke from the rifles of their skirmishers, and our carbineers were hotly engaged with a force nearly ten to one. Now came the order from Fitz Lee that, when the charge commenced on the right, it must be carried on down the whole line. A few shots from our two pieces of artillery, which now, for the first time, were brought into action, was the signal for our advance, and on moved the Fourth and Second on the right of the road across which our line of battle was formed. Forward was the command to the other regiments. “Charge!” rang from the lips of commanding officers, and the whole brigade was in motion, hurled in echelon against the foe; fearful odds, our numbers reduced by that time to less than nine hundred men, the enemy more than three thousand strong, five pieces of artillery sending forth grape and canister with fearful rapidity and effect, and a line of woods from behind whose protection the enemy's riflemen poured incessant volleys on our advancing line. There were men in our lines who were engaged at Malvern Hill, at Gaines's Mill, in many of Jackson's battles, and with accord they say that they never before passed through such a fearful fire as thinned our ranks in that charge. The enemy's battery was posted on the right of the road, and was supported by three regiments of cavalry. The Second and Fourth most gallantly moved upon them, but the enemy's numbers were too great for them. Failing in their effort, they retired, slowly firing as they went, the enemy not daring to come more than one hundred yards from the friendly shelter of the wood. Two fences, the great protection of the enemy during the whole day, protected the three which was immediately on the left of the road from sweeping around in rear of the enemy's battery and their supporting regiments. Could this have been done, we would have had their battery as a trophy and testimony of the gallantry of our brigade. But the enemy would not come out of the woods to meet our charges, and we were obliged to fall back to form for any further movements that might be necessary, which we did without any pursuit whatever on their part. This was the last of the cavalry fighting proper for the day. Our sharp-shooters and our artillery continued. Our General, the gallant Fitz Lee, hesitated not to attack them immediately. Our carbineers were thrown forward until the regiments could be gotten into position, and at once the Third Virginia cavalry was ordered to charge. The enemy's sharp-shooters lined the woods on the side of the main road; another column of cavalry, with artillery in position, were concealed in a by-road leading off to the right. With impetuous speed, led by Colonel Owen, on dashed the Third. Little cared they for the storm of carbine-balls that greeted their approach as they swept down a stone fence, until then undiscovered, endeavoring to find an opening through which they might pass to reach their foes. They, though protected by two fences, amazed by the tremendous yells of our boys, broke in confusion, and had the Third only been able to have gotten at them, would have been then and there utterly routed. But in vain did Colonel Owen look for an opening through which to lead his men. The fence was impassable, and, sweeping off to the left in almost perfect order, the Third formed again for another charge. Now came down the well-known Rosser with the Fifth. Few his superiors in coolness and judgment in the field. But two little regiments could not encounter the immense force that was now disclosed in imposing array in the field, behind the woods and stone fences; and, in the face of a fearful storm of carbine-balls, these two regiments slowly retired to the open fields on the left, in the vain hope that the enemy would show us a fair fight on the ground where we could cross sabres with them. Here the noble Pelham received his death-wound — a loss irreparable to the cavalry division--and Butler, Major of the Fifth, fell to rise no more. We fought them until dark, when, retiring, they recrossed the river, leaving many of their dead and wounded on the field of battle. What was their loss we cannot accurately estimate, but it must have been severe, especially from our artillery, which was served as Stuart's horse artillery always is — most splendidly. Though compelled to retire after each of our separate charges, we claim a complete victory, because we succeeded in entirely frustrating the evident design of our enemy, which was to make a long cavalry raid à la Stuart, penetrate perhaps as far as Gordonsville, and destroy the bridges and railroad between that place and Culpeper. They were satisfied that they would have harder fighting to do, if they persisted in their attempt, than might agree with their constitutions, and so they prudently withdrew. We mourn the loss of many gallant comrades; many we shall never meet again this side of the grave; and many more will he languishing on beds of suffering for long, weary (lays, before they can again join us in the only place where an honorable man now feels himself at home — the tented field.


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David Stuart (2)
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