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[220]

Desperate picket fight against superior force. From the times-dispatch, October 13, 1908.

Fisher's Hill scene of battle Royal in Civil War when two hundred old Confederates oppose, with honor, Federal force of over 2,000.


Late in March, 1863, General William E. Jones, going on a raid into West Virginia, left in the Shenandoah Valley, Company C, Seventh Virginia Cavalry, Captain John E. Myers, and Company E, Eleventh Virginia Cavalry, Captain Hess, both under the command of Major S. B. Meyers, with order to establish and keep up a rigid picket line across the Valley at any point he might think best.

Not far south of Strasburg is an irregular chain of hills reaching nearly across the Valley, and along this chain Major Meyers thought proper to establish his picket line, with the reserve near Fisher's Hill, on the Valley Turnpike. The Valley Turnpike is cut in the steep western side of Fisher's Hill from summit to base, having a stone wall on its left or lower side and an abroupt bank on its upper side, both increasing in heighth as the road goes down the hill, until it reaches the height of thirty feet, where the stone bridge and pike leave the hill at a right angle, crosses over the rough, rocky ravine, with its swift stream, along the base of the stone wall.

On the east side, steep and partly wooded, is a narrow strip of cleared land, a country road, and the North Branch of the Shenandoah River.

About April 20th, Lieutenant Philpot reported to us, his company having gone with the regiment. Lieutenant Dorsey, Company B, White's Battalion, of twenty-one men, having been off on detached service, reported to us.

On April 22d the picket on the pike reported the enemy advancing in force. The major called in the men from the nearest posts and with the reserve moved from camp out on to [221] the pike, where we met thirty or more members of the First Maryland Confederate Regiment, brave men, who volunteered to help us.

When all were lined up ready for orders, we had, all told, 226 men, and here, from our elevated position, we could distinctly see two full regiments and a battalion of cavalry, composed of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Regiments Pennsylvania Cavalry (Cole's Battalion); four full regiments of infantry, Elliott's Brigade, and a battery of four guns. I write full, as it was early spring, and the regiment had recruited to the full during the winter, and reported that morning nearly 5,000 men.

The orders given, concise yet clear, revealed to the veterans the plan which every man approved, and knowing their commander, were thoroughly enthused for the work. Two-thirds of the men were dismounted and marched off one-third of the way down the hill, but on the bank on the upper side of the road, where they would stand full breast-high with the enemy's cavalry down on the road and be not more than fifteen yards from them in the heavy brush and woodland.

Here they were placed, with orders not to fire until the mounted men at the top had opened fire. The rest were formed across the road at the top. Then Captain John E. Meyers rode out in front, and asked for a few volunteers to go down into the bottom below. Seven of us rode out with Captain Meyers and Lieutenant Philpot down into the open bottom.

We were ordered to move our horses so as to appear nervous, and thereby induce the enemy to charge us and be drawn into the ambush.

The enemy allowed us to come within sixty yards without firing, which seemed rather strange, until Miss Spangler notified us of a trap to catch us, and to avoid it we must move back 100 yards or more. Seeing their game was up, the two first regiments of cavalry charged us. As we made the turn off the bridge to go up the hill the whole regiment in front fired into us, and I think wounded Lieutenant Philpot. He was clinging with both hands to the cantel of his saddle. A few seconds later his horse was shot and fell, the lieutenant falling headlong out over his horse. One-third of the way up Cliendentes went down. A few moments later we rounded into line and fired full [222] in their faces at thirty yards. We kept up until every chamber of our revolvers and carbines was empty. By this time the frantic efforts of the men to get away from the telling fire from the ambush pushed on the men in front, thus driving us back. We did not run; we contested every rod of the way, loading and firing as we were slowly going back, and, the open space getting broader, with the enemy pushing around us on both flanks, we were compelled to give back again and again for about twenty-five minutes, when they ceased firing and stopped coming.

We kept within easy range, at no time neglecting them, neither showing any fear. This continued for perhaps fifteen minutes, when they started back down the hill in full run, we adding every possible inducement. A portion of the rear regiment of cavalry ran back from the ambush, and while the fight was going on above, General Elliott rallied and reformed the runaways, brought Cole's Battalion to the front, thus forming a column, and moving the infantry up nearer to supporting distance, he ordered the battery into position on our left front and advanced up the eastern side.

We were soon notified by the videttes, and hurried around to the eastern side. There we met and had a pretty sharp little fight with Cole's Battalion, who fought us harder than the Pennsylvania.

But soon the dismounted men, having been double-quicked across the top, came down the steep hillside with a yell and the impetuous charge of the Ashby Cavalry that no Yankees ever withstood. In a very short time Cole's Battalion was running from half its number of men.

The battery now opened fire on the front of the hill, and shelled slowly but regularly for three and one-half hours, during which some little movement was made, but no active demonstration. Occasionally some of the men would get permission to ride to the front of the hill, where we could see every movement and even hear the commands when given.

Other than these there were only four videttes on part of the hill, and as neither of these were hurt the shelling did no harm. After three and one-half hours the battery ceased firing and a truce was started up, as we supposed, to get the dead and wounded. But just before reaching the brigade Elliott came at [223] full run, calling, ‘Stop that truce.’ In half an hour the entire command was divided into two columns, and were advancing simultaneously up both sides, and we had to give way. We showed no ‘white feather.’ We kept within range, and facing them, giving as compelled.

There was no active demonstration on their part; they came far enough; stayed only long enough to get their wounded and then moved quietly, leaving us in possession of the field with thirty-three prisoners and thirty-five horses.

Our lost was one killed, twelve wounded, and two captured.

General Milroy's quarters were in Mrs. Long's house in Winchester. Her daughter, Miss Mary, a friend of mine and staunch rebel, sent me the following:

Seeing a number of wounded coming in, I know there had been a fight somewhere. I watched for General Elliott, took the raw cotton plug from the keyhole and listened to his report: Killed, wounded and captured or missing, 227 men.

I congratulate you. You did more than well. They knew the number and names of the men, which made it harder for you.

He did not know of the Maryland volunteers.

I write by request of the participants now living, still having the report, and of this fight the only one in existence giving us the enemy's loss.

Yours truly,

W. A. Conn, Company C. Seventh Virginia Cavalry, Second Brigade, Second Division, A. N. V. Island Ford, Va.

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