Doc. 114. General Averells expedition.
Charleston, West Virginia, July 5, 1864.The cavalry of this department is divided into two divisions, of which General Averell commands the second. On the first of May this division, starting from Charleston, moved down through the uninhabited and almost unknown region of South-western Virginia, toward the Virginia and Tennessee railroad. The design of the movement was to prevent such a concentration of the rebel force as would defeat or delay the main column of General Crook moving on Dublin depot. For a hundred and fifty miles, across deep streams and over trackless mountains, where a Wheel had never been seen, and up which the horses were dragged, among fallen trees and huge rocks, the command held its way, surrounded on all sides by an active enemy. The news of their approach preceded them, and at Cove Gap, eight miles from Wytheville, they encountered the command of General W. E. Jones, which, advancing against Crook, had been brought to a halt by the sudden appearance of this new enemy at their very camps. The rebels were five thousand, and they doubtless expected to crush, easily the little division of eighteen hundred men, which had so impudently thrust itself between them and their goal. For five hours they hurled themselves against it, until dark put an end to the conflict, and they retired to Wytheville, leaving Averell, wounded in the head, to move off the field unmolested, with a loss of one hundred and thirty men. The object of the expedition had been accomplished, for Crook was, at this time, on his way to Lewisburg, having defeated the ex-Vice-President, and destroyed New river bridge. Averell's command moving toward Lewisburg, destroyed the railroad from New river to Christianburg, at which place two guns were captured. The ammunition had been spoiled in crossing New river and by days' and nights' exposure to rain, and no more could be obtained  until Crook's column was reached. A junction was effected with him at Union, and the division halted there to cover the passage of his command across the Greenbrier. They encamped at. Lewisburg on the nineteenth of May, having marched three hundred and fifty-one miles. They were out nineteen days on nine days rations, and with such forage for their horses as they could pick up during the unfrequent halts. Resting for ten days without supplies, and on half rations, they moved eastward to join General Hunter at Staunton, which place was reached on the ninth day of June. Now commenced the real work of the already worn-out division. In advance of the army, they occupied Lexington, drove the enemy thence to Buchanan, so rapidly that the bridge over the James at that point was destroyed only by leaving the rebel General McCausland on the north side of the river, to escape by swimming as best he might. From Lexington a detachment was sent out by General Averell which crossed the Blue Ridge; cut the Lynchburg and Charlottesville railroad; swam the James river; destroyed the South-side railroad; passed around Lynchburg and rejoined the division at Liberty. They passed through Imboden's camp by night, killing and capturing a number of his men, and making prisoner of the sentinel in front of the Headquarters of the rebel General.While at Buchanan, a portion of the Second cavalry division destroyed the branch of the Tredegar Iron Works, near Fincastle. The enemy were driven by the Second cavalry division, in a succession of sharp skirmishes from Liberty to New London, from New London to the point where, meeting their main body, they had resolved to make their final struggle. On the afternoon of the seventeenth, Averell, unsupported, attacked the enemy in front of Lynchburg, and by the impetuosity of his assault, drove them nearly a mile before the infantry could come up. A carbine would carry its ball from the place where Averell drove the rebels to the spot where the foremost Union soldier fell the next day. It is generally considered the thing for infantry to assist cavalry, and had all our infantry been up that night, the rising moon would have seen the Union troops in Lynchburg. That night General Hunter asserted that to Averell belonged the honor of the day. During the fighting of the eighteenth the Second division protected the right and rear. In the retreat which followed the battle of the eighteenth, General Averell with his division brought up the rear. At Liberty the division, and especially the first brigade, sustained for two hours a fierce attack from the pursuing enemy, the infantry a mile in rear commenting upon the progress of the fight and quietly cooking their coffee, while the slighted cavalry were beating back a superior force, that the weary footmen might rest. And this was done by the Second division, for the other was already far on its way to Salem. Marching his division all that night and holding it in line of battle all the next day, the evening of the twentieth found General Averell hurrying on to Salem, picketing the roads, and ensuring a safe march to the trains and worn-out column. At Salem the division repulsed a fierce attack on the right flank of the retreating army, and while so engaged their commander received notice of the most serious disaster of the campaign. By gross neglect of the orders of General Averell a byroad had been left without a picket, and the enemy suddenly advancing upon it, attacked the artillery and captured ten pieces, but Averell moved his division quickly to the spot and in fifteen minutes, by a gallant charge, had recaptured the guns with thirty prisoners, losing, however, forty men in killed and wounded. Now rumors became rife of an enemy in our front, and Averell was put in charge of all the cavalry, and hurried in advance, leaving one brigade of his own division as rear guard of the army. To General Averell, now that the rear was comparatively safe, was entrusted the task of choosing a sure route of retreat, and repulsing the enemy should he dare to interfere with the homeward march of the column. This done, the cavalry again took the rear, protecting the trains, picking up the numerous stragglers, and transporting on the wagons and on their own horses such of the starving footmen as could walk no further. The loss of the division in this campaign was two hundred and fifty killed, wounded, and missing in action. This ends the story. The first in advance, the last in retreat, their casualties nearly double in proportion to those of the rest of the army, show the duty that they did. The history of this past campaign, truly told, will reflect honor alike upon the General and the troops which he commanded.