This action, one of the most brilliant in which our cavalry were engaged, and one of the first in which they won the reputation of being superior to the rebels in that arm of the service, in which they had especially plumed themselves, is thus graphically described by a participator in it:
It was the prettiest cavalry fight that you ever saw,
said the adjutant, stretching his legs, and lighting a fresh cigar.
“ It was just my luck to lose it,” I answered.
“Here have I been lying, growling and grumbling, while you fellows have been distinguishing yourselves.
It was miserable to be taken sick just when the army
got in motion, and still worse not to hear a word of what was going on. I almost wished that we had been a newspaper
regiment, so that I could learn something about our share in that day's work.
Be a good fellow, and play reporter for my benefit.
Freshen hawse, as the nautical novelists say, and begin.”
Well, we were lying at Warrenton Junction, making ourselves as comfortable as possible after the raid, when on the morning of the 8th of June, the whole division was ordered out in the very lightest marching order.
That night we lay close to Kelly's Ford, in column of battalions, the men holding their horses as they slept, and no fires being lighted.
At four o'clock on the morning of the 9th, we were again in motion, and got across the ford without interruption or discovery.
Yorke, with the third squadron, was in advance, and as we moved, he managed so well that he bagged every picket on the road.
Thus we had got almost upon the rebel camp before we were discovered.
We rode right into Jones' Brigade, the First Jersey and First Pennsylvania charging together; and before they had recovered from the alarm we had a hundred and fifty prisoners. The rebels were then forming thick upon the hill-side by the station, and they had a battery playing upon us like fun. Martin's New York Battery on our side galloped into position, and began to answer them.
Then Wyndham formed his whole brigade for a charge, except a squadron of the First Maryland, left to support the battery.
Our boys went in splendidly, keeping well together, and making straight for the rebel battery on the hill behind the station.
Wyndham himself rode on the right, and Broderick charged more
toward the left, and with a yell we were on them.
We were only two hundred and eighty strong, and in front of us was White's Battalion of five hundred.
No matter for that.
Wyndham and Broderick were leading, and they were not accustomed to count odds.
As we dashed fiercely into them, sabre in hand, they broke like a wave on the bows of a ship, and over and through them we rode, sabreing as we went.
We could not stop to take prisoners, for there in front of us was the Twelfth Virginia, six hundred men, riding down to support White.
By Jove, sir, that was a charge!
They came up splendidly, looking steadier than we did ourselves after the shock of the first charge.
I do not know whether Wyndham was still with us, or if he had gone to another regiment; but there was Broderick, looking full of fight, his blue eyes in a blaze, and his sabre clenched, riding well in front.
At them we went gain, and some of them this time met us fairly.
I saw Broderick's sabre go through a man, and the rebel gave a convulsive leap out of his saddle, falling senseless to the ground.
It seemed but an instant before the rebels were scattered in every direction, trying now and then to rally in small parties, but never daring to await our approach.
Now, there were the guns plain before us, the drivers yelling at their horses, and trying to limber up. We caught one gun before they could move it, and were dashing after the others, when I heard Broderick shouting in a stormy voice.
I tell you, it was a startling sight.
The fragments of White's Battalion had gathered together toward the left of the field, and were charging in our rear.
The First Maryland was there, and Broderick
was shouting at them in what their colonel considered a “very ungentlemanly manner,” to move forward to the charge.
At the same time two fresh regiments, the Eleventh Virginia, and another, were coming down on our front.
Instead of dashing at White's men, the First Maryland wavered and broke, and then we were charged at the same time in front and rear.--We had to let the guns go, and gather together as well as possible to cut ourselves out. Gallantly our fellows met the attack.
We were broken, of course, by the mere weight of the attacking force, but, breaking them up too, the whole field was covered with small squads of fighting men. I saw Broderick ride in with a cheer, and open a way for the men. His horse went down in the melee; but little Wood, the bugler of Company G, sprang down, and gave him his animal, setting off himself to catch another.
A rebel rode at the bugler, and succeeded in getting away his arms before help came.
As Wood still went after a horse another fellow rode at him.
The boy happened at that moment to see a carbine, where it had been dropped after firing.
He picked up the empty weapon, aimed it at the horseman, made him dismount, give up his arms, and start for the rear Then he went in again.
Lucas, Hobensack, Brooks, and Beekman, charged with twelve men into White's Battalion.
Fighting hand to hand, they cut their way through, but left nine of the men on the ground behind them.
Hughes was left almost alone in a crowd, but brought himself and the men with him safe through.
Major Shelmire was seen last lying across the dead body of a rebel cavalryman None of us thought any thing
of two to one odds, as long as we had a chance to ride at them.
It was only when we got so entangled that we had to fight hand to hand that their numbers told heavily.
It was in such a place that I lost sight of Broderick.
The troop horse that he was riding was not strong enough to ride through a knot of men, so that he had to fight them.
He struck one so heavily that he was stunned by the blow, but his horse was still in the way; swerving to one side, he escaped a blow from another, and, warding off the thrust of a third, managed to take him with his point across the forehead; just as he did so, however, his sabre, getting tangled with the rebel's, was jerked from his hand.
He always carried a pistol in his boot.
Pulling that out, he fired into the crowd, and put spurs to his horse.
The bullet hit a horse in front of him, which fell.
His own charger rose at it, but stumbled, and as it did, Broderick himself fell, from a shot fired within arms' length of him and a sabre stroke upon his side.
I saw all this as a man sees things at such times, and am not positive even that it all occurred as I thought I saw it; for I was in the midst of confusion, and only caught things around by passing glimpses.
You see I was myself having as much as I could do. The crowd with whom Broderick was engaged was a little distance from me; and I had just wheeled to ride up to his help when two fellows put at me. The first one fired at me and missed.
Before he could again cock his revolver I succeeded in closing with him. My sabre took him just in the neck, and must have cut the jugular.
The blood gushed out in a black looking stream;
he gave a horrible yell, and fell over the side of his horse, which galloped away.
Then I gathered up my reins, spurred my horse, and went at the other one.
I was riding that old black horse that used to belong to the signal sergeant, and it was in fine condition.
As I drove in the spurs it gave a leap high in the air. That plunge saved my life.
The rebel had a steady aim at me; but the ball went through the black horse's brain.
His feet never touched ground again.
With a terrible convulsive contraction of all his muscles the black turned over in the air, and fell on his head and side stone dead, pitching me twenty feet. I lighted on my pistol, the butt forcing itself far into my side; my sabre sprung out of my hand, and I lay, with arms and legs all abroad, stretched out like a dead man. Everybody had something else to do than to attend to me, and there I lay where I had fallen.
It seemed to me to have been an age before I began painfully to come to myself; but it could not have been many minutes.
Every nerve was shaking; there was a terrible pain in my head, and a numbness through my side which was even worse.
Fighting was still going on around me, and my first impulse was to get hold of my sword.
I crawled to it and sank down as I grasped it once more.
That was only for a moment; for a rebel soldier seeing me move, rode at me. The presence of danger roused me, and I managed to get to my horse, behind which I sank, resting my pistol on the saddle, and so contriving to get an aim. As soon as the man saw that, he turned off without attacking me. I was now able to stand and walk; so, holding my pistol in one hand a :d my sabre in the other, I made my way
across the fields to where our battery was posted, scaring some with my pistol, and shooting others.
Nobody managed to hit me through the whole fight.
When I got up to the battery I found Wood there.
He sang out to me to wait, and he would get me a horse.
One of the men, who had just taken one, was going past, so Wood stopped him and got it for me.
Just at that moment White's Battalion and some other troops came charging at the battery.
The squadron of the First Maryland, who were supporting it, met the charge well as far as their numbers went; but were, of course, flanked on both sides by the heavy odds.
All of our men who were free came swarming up the hill, and the cavalry were fighting over and around the guns.
In spite of the confusion, and even while their comrades at the same piece were being sabred, the men at that battery kept to their duty.
They did not even look up or around, but kept up their fire with unwavering steadiness.
There was one rebel, on a splendid horse, who sabred three gunners while I was chasing him. He wheeled in and out, would dart away, and then come sweeping back and cut down another man in a manner that seemed almost supernatural.
We at last succeeded in driving him away, but we could not catch or shoot him, and he got off without a scratch.
In the meantime the fight was going on elsewhere.
Kilpatrick's Brigade charged on our rights The Second New York did not behave as well as it has sometimes done since, and the loss of it weakened us a great deal.
The Tenth New York, though, went in well, and the First Main 3 did splendidly, as it always does.
In spite of their superior numbers (Stuart had a day or two
before reviewed thirty thousand cavalry at Culpepper, according to the accounts of rebel officers), we beat them heavily, and would have routed them completely if Duffie's Brigade had come up. He, however, was engaged with two or three hundred men on the left; the aide-de-camp sent to him with orders was wounded and taken prisoner, and he is not the sort of man to find out the critical point in a fight of his own accord.
So now, they bringing up still more reserves, and a whole division of theirs coming on the field, we began to fall back.
We had used them up so severely that they could not press us very close, except in the neighborhood of where the Second New York charged.
There some of our men had as much as they could do to get out, and the battery had to leave three of its guns.
We formed in the woods between a quarter and half a mile of the field, another regiment moved back to cover the left of Buford, who was in retreat toward Beverly Ford.
Hart and Wynkoop tried hard to cover the guns that were lost, but they had too few men, and so had to leave them.
The rebels were terribly punished.
By their own confession they lost three times as many as we did. In our regiment almost every soldier must have settled his man. Sergeant Craig, of Company K, I believe, killed three. Slate, of the same company, also went above the average.
But we lost terribly.
men of the First Jersey were killed, wounded, or missing.
Colonel Wyndham was wounded, but kept his saddle; Lieutenant-Colonel Broderick and Major Shelmire were killed; Lieutenant Brooks was wounded; Captain Sawyer and Lieutenant Crocker were taken prisoners; and I, as you see, have had to come in at last and refit.