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Skirmish at Manassas Gap.

After recrossing the Potomac, with the exception of twenty-four hours spent in an ineffectual effort to strike the Federal force at Hedgesville, the division remained quietly in camp near Darkesville, Berkeley county, until the 22d of July, when it resumed the march up the Valley. Bivouacking at Winchester one night, the next afternoon found us, after a march of twenty-three miles, facing nearly the whole Federal army in the vicinity of Manassas Gap. My division was ordered there to relieve Wright's brigade (of about 600 men), of Anderson's division, but arrived too late to do so. The enemy having already engaged Wright's skirmishers, [157] it was necessary for his whole brigade to deploy, so as to cover strongly and hold the line which he occupied until I could establish my line of battle a little in its rear. I caused this movement to be executed, acting under General Ewell's orders. These precautions were proper, as the enemy were making an apparently determined advance with an extended front, and had full 20,000 troops already in view, whilst others were coming through the gap. All my sharpshooters, about 250 men, were, as soon as possible, sent to strengthen Wright's line. Rodes' (old) brigade, under Colonel O'Neal, the first to arrive, was deployed behind Wright's on a ridge some 300 yards in his rear. The main line was strongly posted on a spur of the mountains, which commanded the ridges occupied by Wright and O'Neal. The enemy attacked in force, driving the front line of skirmishers back slowly. Wright's men fought obstinately, as did the sharpshooters. After obtaining possession of the ridge occupied by the first line of skirmishers, the enemy attempted to make a further advance in line of battle, and with a force sufficient to have overwhelmed the first line — which had now rallied at the foot of the ridge — but failed signally, the gallant fellows of that line breaking his solid lines repeatedly. His officers acted generally with great gallantry, but the men behaved in a most cowardly manner. A few shots from Carter's artillery and the skirmishers' fire halted them, broke them, and put a stop to the engagement. Only a few shots were fired by my second line of skirmishers. Of course my main line was not engaged. The fight, if it be worthy that name, took place in full view of the division, and whilst the conduct of our men, and of Wright's particularly, was the subject of admiration, that of the enemy was decidedly puerile.

Wright's brigade lost, I beileve, about eighty men, killed and wounded, including amongst the latter Colonel Walker, commanding the brigade. My total loss was fifteen killed, wounded and missing, including one officer of Ramseur's sharpshooters killed. The enemy's loss was, in my opinion, greater than ours. By a prisoner's statements, and from what I saw, the enemy had at least two corps backing his attacking force. General Meade's dispatch from Front Royal next day showed that a very large portion, if not all of his army, was present.

During the night, the pontoons, baggage, &c., having been safely disposed of, my division fell back on the Luray road, about two miles from Front Royal, and bivouacked, Johnson's division remaining [158] at Front Royal as rear guard. This day's work, including a march of twenty-seven miles on one of the hottest of summer days, the excitement of a threatened battle, and the night march of four or five miles, damaged the division seriously. Its marches had been admirable up to the time of reaching Front Royal, but for some days after that the men were broken down, and therefore straggled. Fortunately the marches during this period were quite short. Continuing the march leisurely, resting near Luray a day or two, the division arrived at Madison courthouse, by way of Thornton's Gap and Sperryville, on the 29th of July.

In concluding what I have to say about this campaign, I beg leave to call attention to the heroes of it, the men who day by day sacrificed self on the altar of freedom, those barefooted North Carolinians, Georgians and Alabamians, who, with bloody and swollen feet, kept to their ranks, day after day, for weeks. When the division reached Darkesville, near one-half of the men and many officers were barefooted, and fully one-fourth had been so since we crossed the Blue Ridge. These poor fellows had kept up with the column and in rank during the most rapid march of this war, considering its length, over that worst of roads for footmen, the turnpike, and during the hottest days of summer. These are the heroes of the campaign.

I have the honor to be, Colonel,

Yours very respectfully,

R. E. Rodes, Major-General.

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