The battle at Leesburg.
description by an ycWitness — localities of the place — the time the enemy crossed — our forces engaged — the Federals Outnumber us two to one--desperate and successful charges by the Confederate soldiers, &c.
[special correspondence of the Dispatch.]
Fort Evans, near Leesburg, October 30, 1861.
All the accounts which I have seen of the recent battle at this point err essentially in important particulars.
A brief narrative, therefore, by an eye-witness of the engagement, may prove of some value and Interest.
A word, first, as to the nature of the ground.
A correct idea of localities lies at the foundation of all true conceptions of battles.
is about three miles and a half from the Potomac
, with, bending in an eastern direction just above the town, encircles an island of some eighty access, known as Swan
's or Harrison's Island
. Two miles below is Edward's Ferry, near the mouth of Goose Creek
, a considerable stream, which is crossed near the Ferry
by Kiphart's bridge, and about two miles up was crossed by a fine stone structure, which the Confederate cavalry destroyed in June or July last.
To these bridges run two main roads, diverging from Bank street, about the centre of Leesburg
In the triangle thus formed, and on a site which commands the whole surrounding country, on both the Maryland
side, is situated ‘"Fort Evans,"’ a hastily constructed earth-work.
From this point, the eye ranges over an open, rolling country to Edward's Ferry in front — Leesburg
, backed by wooden rides is in the rear — and a mile or two on the left is the wooden ground where the battle was fought.
Up to Sunday, the 20th, no engagement of any magnitude had signalized Gen. Evans
Two pieces of the Howitzer battery, the only artillery which he possessed, had cannonaded the enemy at Conrad's Ferry, and a few days before the battle had opened upon Harper's Ferry
from the mountain East
at the town, as a diversion, during the attack made upon that place by Col. Ashby
; with these exceptions, in spite of incessant alarms and picket firings, the brigade had remained inactive.
But on the night of Sunday, the 20th, it was known that the enemy had crossed in considerable force at E. ward's Ferry; and General Evans
was advertised of the fact that a strong column, supported by artillery, was about to advance upon him from the direction of Gen. McClellan
's left wing, via
the Burnt Bridge
on Goose Creek
To oppose the force at Edward's Ferry, General Evans
sent the 13th Mississippi, Col. Barksdale
, and the 18th Mississippi, Colonel Burt
The 17th Mississippi, Colonel Featherston
, was afterwards added.
At Burt Bridge were posted the 8th Virginia, Col. Hunton
, composed of Loudoun
and Prince William volunteers, and a 12-pound howitzer.
The forces thus posted remained awaiting the assault until about 3 P. M., on Monday, when all anticipation of an attack at the Burnt Bridge
At the same moment intelligence was brought that the enemy were crossing in force at Harrison's Island
, directly opposite, and abut three miles from the town.
promptly withdrew the 8th Virginia and the piece of artillery supporting it, from Burnt Bridge, double-quicked them to the point opposite the island, and gave the order--‘"The enemy is in that woods; drive them out,"’ Ball's Cheaterfied troop was posted on the left of the woods, the howitzer in front; and the order was, if the 8th Virginia fell back, for the gun to open with shot and shell, and the cavalry to charge.
The 8th went at double-quick across the open field in front, reached the left of the woods, in front of Capt Ball
, and formed line of battle.
The charge soon followed, and the cavalry participated in it, dismounting and fighting the enemy's advance guard on foot.
The engagement soon became vigorous, is the incessant firing — more uninterrupted and violent, I think, than at Manassas
Once or twice the noise of the musketry and the cheering seemed to roll nearer, and show that our troops were wavering and falling back.
But Col. Hunton
assures me that such was at no time the face.
‘"It was one steady advance,"’ he declares.
To notice more particularly, however, the mode of attach adopted by the 8th, the writer of this was with the piece of artillery above alluded to, and was denied all participation in the battle; but many of the regiment, officers and privates, related the circumstances.
On entering the woods, the regiment was at once deployed, and advanced thus towards the enemy, through the dense thicket.
Their flankers soon met, and the engagement commenced almost immediately all along the line.
The enemy had crossed their forces with three pieces of artillery--two navy howitzers and one heavy rille gun — in flats, had ascended by a winding road the steep, rocky bluff of some two hundred feet, which here extends along the river's bank, and had deployed their column right and left in the woods.
The 8th went into the fight, running and cheering.
In consequence of the density of the thicket, the forces were almost face to face, before they could fire — and the whole battle was of this description — at close encounter.
The enemy soon got their howitzers in position, on a little knoll, in front of which extended some open ground, and opened with canister.
Here took place the hardest fighting, as the many dead bodies of Glend and foe which I saw lying about on the day after, proved Capt Heaton
's company gallantly charged the battery, drove back its supporters, and turned it upon the enemy, but from want of artillerists the pieces could not be used, and one of them in the hurry was overturned.
The fleet on our side then continued, an infantry engagement exclusively.
It was certainly a desperate one.
I have never witnessed a more conclusive exhibition of the daring courage of the Virginia
Up to this time the enemy, 4,000 in number, by the confession of their own prisoners, was not only held in check, but driven back, foot by foot, by one regiment of ours, and in the main fight not even that force on our side was engaged.
The enemy's strong advance, in heavy column on our centre, was met and repelled by three or four companies only.
The battle had continued with brief intermissions for more than an hour, as well as I could estimate the time, when Gen. Evens
ordered up the 18th Mississippi, Col. Burt
, from Edward's Ferry, two miles below and subsequently the 17th Mississippi, Col. Featherston
, leaving the 13th Mississippi, Col. Barksdale
, to hold the enemy in check at that point, and prevent his throwing a force upon our flank.
The 18th arrived in good time, entered the woods, in the rear and on the right flank of the 8th, and commenced their attack with all that desperate valor which characterizes the great race of which they were on this occasion the worthy representatives.
The engagement, which had begun to languish upon our side, in some degree, from the exhaustion of our troops, thus recommenced with new fury.
The volleys were incessant, and the cheering rung above the woods like the shout of victory.
Let this fact here be placed on record in words so plain that to one can misunderstand: From the beginning to the end of this face to face combat, between 4,000 Northerners, and less than 2,000 Southerners, there never was a moment when the Southerners gave back one inch--very movement was forward; their own officers could not control them, and without advantage of ground, opposed more than two to one, and knowing that Federal reinforcements were continually crossing, they advanced doggedly, step by step and by simple superiority of hearts and arms, wrested the victory from the enemy.
Happy and glorious men!
True sons of the sires of the Revolution, and noble offshoots of the Southern
oak ! You had truly hearts
of oak ! On that day the men of Virginia
covered themselves all over with undying glory.
There were those of your brethren, near at hand, who listened to the mortal volleys, and with finished faces and hot tears, burned to leap to your rescue, for the honor of their blood and race, and stand or fall with you. But this was denied them, and the glory, remains all your own.
's regiment, the 17th Mississippi, came up on the enemy's left flank just as the battle ended.
They were already in full-flight.
Down the rocky bluff, pell-mell dropping muskets, swords, pistols, everything — crowded and crowding into the boats and on the rude rafts — mastered by a wild panic, and anxious only to get away from the ‘"Southern devils"’--thus did the fine column re-cross the river.
Many succeeded, but a raft with some 300 sunk, and the scene is represented as having been horrible.
One was heard crying as be sank, ‘"O my God!
help ! help !--help!"’--many clung to each other and went down thus to their watery grave — others fainted from wounds and fell into the stream, which was soon crowded with dead bodies.
The rout was thus terrible, bloody, complete.
I should say here before I lose sight of it — and in order to make the reader's comprehension of everything accurate — that we had besides the forces enumerated, four companies of the 18th Mississippi on our extreme left flank, and at Fort Evans, and a wooden breastwork just below it on the road to Edward's Ferry, four pieces of the Howitzer Battery, Lieut. Palmer
commanding in the absence from sickness of Captain Shields
.--These pieces commanded the approach to Leesburg
, and as General Evans
had reason to expect that he would he compelled to fall back, and had made every arrangement for that movement, this artillery was designed to cover the retreat of his brigade.
The remaining piece of this battery was commanded by Lieut. McCarthy
its position has been indicated, and its intended use to open on the enemy when the 8th fell back — in consequence of which it never opened,
The artillery had thus no part in the battle.
One other item should not be omitted — the gallant fight of one of the most gallant of the Mississippians, Capt. Duff
, of the 17th, at about in the morning, at a point somewhat nigher up, With his single company he met and completely routed four companies of the enemy, fighting afterwards throughout the entire main engagement.
The battle companies about three in the evening, after The
enemy had been driven under the bluff, and were trying vainly to recross.
Hat the curtain had not yet fallen upon their tragedy — their iliad of were had not ended.
Toward midnight our pickets again attacked them, and took prisoner all who had not passed over.
They surrendered without thought of resistance — even boys taking their little covies of them, and marching them before them.
As I slept on the roadside I was waked by the tramp of one party of 110, who were being conducted into Leesburg
, by the overjoyed boys of the gallant 8th.
Thus terminated a battle which was desperately fought against great odds, and in which the defeat of the enemy was no less perfect than at Manassas
Its effect is shown by McClellan
's falling back — which may or may not be unfortunate.
With that I have nothing to do, being simple chronicler of the battle of Leesburg
The enemy has fallen back here also.
has retired his force to Poolesville
, where — seen from For Evans
, where I write — his cloud of tents crown the upland, his watch fires blaze at night, and his drums are heard beating tattoo and reveille.
I have not spoken of the death of the brave Colonel Furt
, that of the Federal General
, nor stated the loss on either side.
On the latter point I know nothing accurately — I saw, I suppose, some 20 or 30 dead bodies of the enemy, generally shot in the head, and suppose that the dense thicket concealed as many, perhaps a great many more.
The enemy's loss, in killed and drowned, must have amounted to 400 or 500, and the prisoners to 600 or 800.
Thus, whatever may have been the character of Gen. Evans
's instructions — whether he carried out or disobeyed Beauregard
's orders — this has proved a great, a splendid victory.
I write these lines in my tent, on my knees.
They must necessarily prove very rude, and open to criticism in point of style.
But the facts are accurate, and the statements I trust, plain.
J. E. C.