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[196]

An attack of the enemy upon the baggage-train of the First and Second brigades (Generals Naglee and Ferrero) of Sturgis's division, yesterday forenoon, which resulted in the death of Lieutenant Howard McIlvain, of Durell's battery, and which came very near resulting in the destruction or capture of a portion of the train, has been already partially described to you by another correspondent. Being personally in the midst of the engagement, from its commencement to its close, I have waited till now to gather together all the particulars of a rather warm skirmish, which at one time threatened to become a really serious affair.

The First and Second brigades broke camp at about seven o'clock A. M. yesterday, to move from the camp at White Sulphur Springs to the neigh-borhood of Fayetteville, then and still occupied by General Doubleday, of Franklin's corps. There was a choice of two roads, one of which led back from the Rappahannock, and was therefore safe from the shot and shell of the enemy, while the other — the most direct route and considerably more convenient for the transportation of the wagon-trains — passed the Spring and the ruined hotel mentioned in my last letter, and, approaching the river, turned to the left at a sharp angle in plain view of, and but a trifling distance from the large mansion upon a hillside on the other bank of the stream, now rendered somewhat famous as the scene of the capture of Lieutenant-Colonel Carruth and Adjutant Wales, of the Thirty-fifth Massachusetts regiment, an account of which I have already sent you.

The road as it approaches the river exposes a column of troops or trains of wagons passing over it to a dangerous enfilading fire from the hill, where the house is situated, and after the turn is made, troops and trains moving away to the left, are in range from the hill for some distance, till they are finally protected by hills, rising upon either side of the river, behind which the road winds.

The two brigades had been for some time in motion, and a portion of the train, under charge of Captain Plato, Division Quartermaster, had passed the dangerous turn in the road, when our cavalry were seen skirmishing with the rebels in the neighborhood of the house on the opposite hill.

Finally, our cavalry seeing the departure of the troops, formed in a solid square, and retired toward the river at the point where the ruins of the bridge crossing the stream was guarded by the Thirty-fifth Massachusetts regiment.

At the same moment the rebel cavalry emerged from the wood in the rear of the house, formed in a hollow square, protecting two pieces of artillery, which were planted by the house. A moment more, and a twenty-pound rifled shell from a Parrott gun came whizzing along over the line of wagons approaching the river, exploding in unpleasant proximity to the train.

Captain Durell, battery A, One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania artillery, immediately took up position, and opened as soon as possible, being assisted toward the close of the engagement by two or more guns of Captain Romer's battery, L, Second New-York artillery.

The rebels now got five guns in position, three of them being twenty-pound Parrotts, and a hail of shot and shell flew over the heads of the train, the troops having got beyond range.

Captain Plato, seeing the danger to which his wagons were exposed, many of them containing ammunition, turned back that portion which had not reached the turn, and they moved to their destination over the more difficult but less dangerous road.

Captain Durell's battery, occupying an exceedingly exposed position, withstood for something like an hour the fire from the heavy twenty-pound guns. Early in the fight Lieutenant Howard McIlvain was struck by a shell, which carried away his arm, side, thigh, and his hip, laying open his entrails, and causing one of the most fearful wounds ever recorded.

The brave and unfortunate young man lay in most horrible agony, raving from pain a great portion of the time, from the moment of receiving his wound till eight o'clock this morning, when he was relieved from his sufferings by death. He said to a friend, as he lay writhing in agony, that he was not afraid to die; he only wished that death might come soon to rid him of the dreadful pain he suffered.

The deceased was from Reading, Pennsylvania, and had been in service since the opening of the war, having served with Captain Durell in the three months volunteers. In September, 1861, the present Durell's battery was sworn into the service of the United States, and has since been constantly employed. All who have come in contact with Lieutenant McIlvain pronounce him a young man of remarkable promise and most excellent qualties, social and otherwise, and one who would have made a noteworthy mark in the world had he been spared. He is universally lamented in this corps, with which he had been connected since the eleventh of last August, and Captain Durell mourns in him his best and most trustworthy officer, which is saying nothing derogatory to the other brave men in his command.

While Captain Plato--to return to the attack — was turning back that portion of his train which had not yet reached the turn in the road, he observed a squadron of our cavalry crossing the river in retreat, leaving the bridge to be defended only by the Thirty-fifth Massachusetts regiment, in case of an attempt on the part of the emeny to cross and attack us in the rear. He immediately rode up to the officer in command and ordered him back. “By whose authority?” inquired the officer. “By authority of General Sturgis,” replied Captain Plato. “But there will be a shell here in a moment!” said the officer. “I know that,” replied Captain Plato, “and it's for that reason you are wanted here!”

The cavalry turned back. The next moment the expected shell — the first one of the fight — passed over the train, and a short time afterward occurred the very charge anticipated by Captain


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