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The Battle of Milford Station.

An Address by Sergeant Chas. T Loehr, before Pickett Camp, U. C. V., August 31, 1896.

[Sergeant Charles Theodore Loehr, of German birth, has proven himself as good a citizen of Richmond as he was valiant as a soldier, as his comrades, to a man, attest. At the organization of George E. Pickett Camp Confederate Veterans, he was elected its Commander, and his zeal in its objects and benefactions, is still as animating and effective in good works as at the beginning of his inspiring connection with it. He is held widely in warm regard, not only in Richmond, but in many States of our re-united country. Who does not know ‘Charley Loehr’?

Soon after the conclusion of the war Mr. Loehr became connected with the Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company, of Richmond, in a highly responsible position, which he still holds.]

On Friday, May 20, 1864, Kemper's old brigade, with the exception of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, marched through the streets of Richmond. There was nothing extraordinary in this for the movement of troops during those days was constant, and the veterans of Pickett's Division would hardly have been distinguished from other commands that preceded or followed them to join the army of Lee in its struggles with Grant. Yet, there was one thing that might have attracted the spectator's attention in viewing the brigade as it passed. Each one of the regiments carried colors that were certainly not intended for Confederate soldiers. These were flags from Massachusetts and New Jersey, besides the Stars and Stripes in all its glory, the spoils of the battle of Drewry's Bluff where Kemper's men gobbled up nearly the whole of Heckman's Star Brigade, brigadier and staff inclusive. We marched over Mayo's Bridge, up 14th, Main and Ninth streets to Broad street, where the brigade came to a halt. Here we found a long train of flat cars ready to take a part of the brigade northward on the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad.

Most of the men of my regiment, the ‘Old First,’ had urgent business on hand just then. They were bound to see their friends and relations, and thus, it did not take long to reduce the small regiment [111] to a good size company. I think not more than fifty men boarded that train when it started. Besides these, there were seven companies of the 11th, and nearly the whole of the 7th Regiment; also a company of unarmed artillery from Georgia, altogether about 450 men.

The train started about 2 o'clock P. M., and with a farewell shout to our remaining comrades we left the city to face again the enemy. Just before leaving, Captain E. Payson Reeve, of my company, came up and entrusted to my care his sword and blankets, requesting me to be very particular so as not to lose them.

The company of about ten men were also turned over to my charge. About 9 P. M. we reached Milford Station, the furthest point to which the train ran, and this was the last train that reached there that season. We marched and halted near the bridge over the Mattapony river, some 300 yards west of the depot. Here we got our supper and made our beds upon the ground. The next morning, Saturday May 21st, opened with beautiful weather, and on looking around we found ourselves organized as a separate command under the charge and subject to the orders of the Major, George F. Norton, of the Old First, as Commander-in-Chief (being the only field officer of the brigade), and our Sergeant-Major, J. R. Pollak, was duly installed as Adjutant-General and Chief-of-Staff. Our command was further reinforced by about twenty-five cavalrymen who happened to be around; these formed on Major Norton's staff. The regiment was in charge of Captain Herbert Davis, of Company B. Our cavalry reported that the enemy's cavalry was close to Bowling Green, and were raiding the country; that we might expect a visit from them at almost any time. This put us on our guard, but led us to believe that it was only a cavalry raid we had to deal with. We were under this impression for sometime after the fight had commenced. After finishing our morning meal, which did not take much time, Major Norton ordered the 1st Regiment to the station to deploy around the houses and along the railroad track. I had my company together in an old log blacksmith shop a short distance east of the depot. The door faced the depot and a wooden shutter opened on the back from which there was an excellent position to fire on the advancing enemy with comparative safety.

From Milford Station the road to Bowling Green, about three miles distant, runs in a northern direction. Milford Station consisted of a depot, engine-house, a few scattered dwelling-houses, out-houses and shops. [112]

About 10 o'clock A. M. it was reported that the enemy's cavalry were coming down the Bowling Green Road, and I walked over to one of the dwelling-houses to verify the report. Seeing the lady of the house, I asked permission to deposit the articles entrusted to my care by my captain, which was granted, and I thought I was making a satisfactory arrangement when I placed the sword and blankets in the parlor of that dwelling. Having got rid of my charge, I climbed upon the roof of the front porch, on the lookout for Yankees. I soon saw them coming, tearing down the road, and got ready to leave my elevated position, when the lady above referred to called out to ‘be careful or you will damage my shutters.’ I advised her to move herself to safety, or the enemy would soon make it uncomfortable for her. I believe that she took my advice, and finding that time for me was short, I jumped down to the ground, perhaps twelve feet, without hurting myself. Then seeing one of the enemy's riders, who had stopped under a tree about 800 yards off, getting on his horse and taking a survey of our position, I took a good aim at him and blazed away, with the result of seeing him change base at double quick time. Thus the first shot was fired, and the ball was opened in due form. Our little squad prepared itself for the coming struggle, and we did not have long to wait before a whole squadron of the blue riders charged towards the depot, firing as they came. But a volley from our rifles sent them back in confusion, leaving several of their comrades and horses bleeding behind. Twice more they charged, but our fire was too much for them; then they saw that they must change their tactics, in order to drive us from our position.

A gallant charge.

The whole of Torbert's Cavalry Division was now before us. Dismounting and forming into a semi-circle, the enemy surrounded us, coming closer and closer, and while the firing was kept up at a lively rate. To relieve us, Major Norton now ordered the 11th Virginia to charge, and right gallantly these men did their duty. Sweeping up the enemy's skirmish line like a lot of grass-hoppers, they drove them some distance, and took position in our front near the hill east of the Bowling Green Road. Here they opened fire. The enemy now brought out their artillery, and the first shot killed a stray horse near the depot. Then we could see the enemy's infantry advancing in heavy columns, and resistance was no longer prudent. Therefore Major Norton ordered the withdrawal of his army. His cavalry was ordered to notify the 11th regiment, which was [113] holding its isolated advance position; but it appears that the orders did not reach them in time, and over sixty of the 11th were captured by the enemy. After a stubborn fight of nearly two hours, in which we expended nearly all of our ammunition, we withdrew slowly, in single file. The men moved towards the bridge, nearly surrounded by the enemy's skirmishers, the firing being kept up on both sides. Near the bridge some of the companies of the 7th Virginia were posted, who covered our retreat as we passed the bridge. Soon after we crossed the bridge, the enemy charged up, but some of the planks having been removed and a close volley from our rifles brought them to a halt, and thus the battle to a close. We then marched to a high ridge about three miles west of Milford, where we formed a line of battle, expecting a flank movement of the enemy; but no enemy appeared, and we took up our line of march, stopping on the road leading from Spotsylvania Courthouse. H e r e we halted for the night. Early the next morning we found that Ewell's Corps was passing on the road going to Hanover Junction, and we fell into line with them, reaching the Junction sometime about 2 o'clock, that afternoon, where we were welcomed by the rest of our division. A

Milford and surroundings.

The first one to meet me was my captain, and his first inquiry naturally enough was, ‘Where are my sword and blankets?’ I could only reply, ‘At Milford.’ Such is the fate of war. The loss of such articles was no trifling matter in those days. There was no money, and little chance to replace them, except when we could lay under tribute our friends in blue. These used to supply us with all we needed, but they were getting too many for us now.

The stubborn resistance of our small force had far greater results [114] than we had any idea of. To make this clearly understood, let us take a look on the map.

Lee and Grant were confronting each other at or near Spotsylvania Courthouse, which is about thirty miles north of Hanover Junction. Hancock's Corps, the advance of Grant's army, was ordered, on the 19th of May, to move by the left flank towards Bowling-Green. He reached Guinea Station, about ten miles from Spotsylvania Courthouse, on the night of the 20th, and on the morning of the 21st, at 10 o'clock, Torbert's Division of cavalry, of Hancock's Corps, struck Kemper's men at Milford Station, the infantry being close in its rear.

Hancock's report of that day says Torbert's Division of cavalry succeeded, after a stubborn fight, in driving a part of Kemper's Brigade from the station where they were heavily entrenched. The statement as to being entrenched is not true. We had no time to entrench ourselves, nor had we any idea of having to fight Hancock's Corps when the action began.

A fortunate halt.

After driving us from Milford Station Hancock halted.

This halt was fortunate for General Lee, for had Hancock pushed on, there can be but little doubt that he would have reached the Junction first and thus been enabled to select advantageously choice of position.

The causes which brought about this halt of the enemy's advance, may be more fully explained when we learn the fact, that Corse's brigade which had been left at Penola Station, marched up from there and reached a point called the Poorhouse Field, which was about a mile south of the position occupied by us, on the range of hills west of the Mattapony river on which we formed in line after crossing the river. General Corse also formed his brigade into line of battle and seeing the enemy in his front was about to charge them when he was informed that the whole of Hancock's corps were in his front. After holding this position until sundown, Corse marched his men to the rear, where they fell into line with Ewell's corps early the next morning. We were at that time entirely ignorant of Corse's men being so near to us, otherwise we should have joined in with them, near where they fell back. As it was, each command acted independently of each other, but obtained an object undreamed by them at that time bringing Grant's army to a halt.

The enemy after crossing the river, seeing the hills in their front [115] lined with our infantry; one brigade on the heights northward, and Corse's on the south, no doubt came to the conclusion that a formidable army was in their front. Hancock may have thought that he had to deal with the right flank of Lee's army, anyhow it brought him to a halt and it appears that at night when he took possession of the hills, he at once proceeded to entrench his line, which to-day may be seen and traced for miles on those hills, there are two lines of trenches.

The rear one, or main line, was very strong and must have required several days of incessant labor for its erection. During a recent trip to Milford by the writer he, together with Captain J. M. Hudgin, of the 30th Virginia infantry, visited the fields of action and drove over to the hills west of the Mattapony river, along the formidable works erected by Hancock's men after the engagement on May 21, 1864. The position occupied by Corse's brigade was pointed out, and after looking from these hills and the hill occupied by Norton's men, the circumstances of the occasion seemed to be to us explained; certainly if we could have held these formidable heights, Hancock would not have had an easy task to drive us from them.

Lee arrived at the junction with the head of Ewell's Corps at 9:30 A. M., on the 22nd, having marched all night, a distance of over thirty miles, from Spotsylvania Courthouse. The following is his report to the War Department in Richmond:

“I arrived here with the head of Ewell's Corps at 9:30 A. M. Longstreet is close behind. I expect A. P. Hill to-night. I have as yet seen nothing of the enemy east of the Mattapony.”

Thus it will be seen that on the morning of the 21st, Lee was at Spotsylvania Courthouse, thirty miles off, while Hancock was at Milford, only sixteen miles from the junction. Lee lost no time in reaching the junction to select his ground, and how well he shaped his line when his opponents came up is a matter of history.

An important bearing.

These facts will show that the action of Milford Station had a very important bearing on General Lee's movements, and we were told that General Lee expressed in person to Major George F. Norton, his high appreciation of the services rendered him by the men of Kemper's Brigade in their gallant fight at Milford Station.

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