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Chapter 11:

1st November.

The following morning we received reports that the enemy in heavy force was advancing from Leesburg in the direction of Union. Thither we marched at once, arriving just in time to occupy a naturally strong position about a mile and a half from the little village. Scarcely had our artillery got ready for action, when the Yankees made their appearance, and there began a lively cannonade with spirited sharpshooting, the latter doing little damage to either party, as the high stone fences which enclose the fields in this part of Virginia afforded protection to both sides. The Federal cavalry being far superior in numbers to our own, and our scouts reporting the approach of a strong infantry force, whose glistening bayonets, indeed, we could already see in the far prospect, it seemed almost certain that, after some little resistance, we should be compelled to retire. The Yankees, however, appeared to have their reasons for not moving too rapidly forward, and so the day passed in comparative inaction, the whole resembling, with its slow manoeuvring of troops and regular firing, the operations of a sham-fight or a field-day of volunteers.

Stuart and Fitz Lee, with the officers of their respective [239] Staffs, had taken their position on a gigantic rock, from which they had an excellent view of the movements of the Yankees, and could observe with perfect security the effect of the incessant explosions of the shells that were exchanged between our own guns and those of the enemy. We had the opportunity here of witnessing one of those daring feats which Pelham was so constantly performing. He had been greatly annoyed during the day by a squadron of Federal cavalry which operated with great dash against his batteries, rapidly throwing forward their sharpshooters and as rapidly withdrawing them, after their muskets had been discharged, behind a piece of wood which completely hid them from view. This they did before Pelham could get a shot at them, and they had already killed or disabled many of his horses, when our gallant major, losing all patience, suddenly advanced with one of his light howitzers at full gallop towards the wood, where the horses were unhitched and the piece drawn by hand through the impeding undergrowth which rendered further progress of the horses impossible. From our position, which was some distance to the right of the batteries, we could plainly see the Yankee squadron, which had come very quietly to a halt without the slightest suspicion that a cannon loaded with a double charge of canister was directed upon them from a point only a few hundred yards off. All at once, the thunder of the howitzer was heard, and its iron hail swept through the ranks of the Yankees, killing eight of their number, among whom was the colour-bearer, wounding several others, and putting the rest to flight in hopeless stampede. Pelham and his cannoneers now emerged from the wood in a run, bringing with them many captured men and horses, and the Federal standard, amid loud shouts of applause. Before the Yankees could recover from their astonishment, the howitzer was removed, the horses were hitched to it again, and it had arrived safely at the battery. [240]

With the approach of evening the firing ceased, and as the smoke of the camp-fires rising all along the Federal lines clearly indicated that it was not the enemy's intention to push on further during the night, Stuart gave orders for his command to encamp about a mile beyond Union, after having established a strong cordon of pickets in front of the village. The General and his Staff bivouacked near the extensive plantation of a Mr C., at whose house we supped luxuriously, our host serving up for us a gigantic saddle of Virginia mutton which might have rivalled any of the famous southdowns of Old England.

2d November.

Peacefully broke the morning of Sunday the 2d1 of November, a rich, soft day, with all the splendour of the autumnal sunshine, and all the quietude of the Christian Sabbath, till, instead of the sweet church-bells from the neighbouring village calling us to the house of God, we caught the summons to the field in the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon. It would have been exceptional, indeed, if, confronting the enemy so closely, we had not been compelled to fight on this “day of rest,” for it is remarkable that many of the most important and sanguinary engagements of the war in America-Chancellorsville and others — were fought on Sunday.

The enemy commenced his attack on us at an early hour with great vigour. A double line of tirailleurs advanced in excellent order; four batteries opened upon our guns from different points; the air shook with the continuous roar of the cannonade; on every side the bullets buzzed like infuriated insects; on the whole, the outward signs were rather those of a great battle than of a mere cavalry combat. This day the enemy's artillery was admirably well served, and its effect was very dreadful. Just as I rode up to a battery, which was answering as rapidly as possible the Yankee fire, a hostile shell blew up one of our caissons, killing and wounding [241] several of the men, and stunning me completely for several minutes. For some time the fire was terrific at this spot. In less than half an hour one battery alone lost fifteen men killed and wounded, and I was obliged to force the frightened ambulance-drivers to the assistance of their suffering and dying comrades, by putting my revolver to their heads and threatening to shoot them if they did not go.

On our right the sharpshooting grew warmer and warmer, the enemy bringing line after line of their dismounted men into action, and I was despatched thither by General Stuart to watch the movements of the Yankees, and to animate our soldiers to an obstinate opposition. Here I found my dashing friend Rosser stationed with his brave fellows of the 5th Virginia Cavalry. In reply to my question as to how he was getting along, he said, “Come and see for yourself.” So, to obtain a good look at the enemy, we rode forward together through the wide gaps in the stone fences, which had been made to admit of the passage of cavalry and artillery, and presently discovered, somewhat late, that we had got much nearer to our antagonists than we had intended. Suddenly the Yankee sharpshooters emerged from behind rocks and trees, sending their bullets in most alarming proximity to our ears, and running forward to cut us off from our line of retreat. Fortunately, we were both well mounted, and our horses had escaped a wound, so that we were able to clear the stone fences where they stood in our way, without difficulty. This steeplechase afforded great amusement to Rosser, who seemed delighted at having got me into what he called “a little trap,” but what I regarded as an exceedingly ticklish situation.

As the far superior numbers of the enemy's cavalry, which up to this time we had successfully opposed, began now to be reinforced by infantry, General Stuart at last decided to fall back upon a new position. The retreat through Union was admirably covered by Pelham with his artillery, and was [242] executed with great steadiness and order under a perfect hail of shot and shell, which, crashing through the houses of the little village, had already set on fire several stables and straw-ricks. The furious flames, leaping from one to another of these great masses of combustible material, and the dense volumes of smoke that rolled from them, added to the terror and confusion of the scene, which now became truly frightful. On a ridge, behind a small creek where we had encamped the previous night, about a mile and a half beyond the town on the road leading to Upperville, we halted and again confronted our assailants, who did not keep us long in waiting for their attack, and ere half an hour had elapsed the thunder of cannon again shook the air, and the sharpshooters on either side were hotly engaged.

The enemy here, by a resolute and united charge, drove a portion of our dismounted men back in some confusion through the woods; and the officer in command, the gallant young Captain Bullock of the 5th Virginia, in the attempt to rally them, had his horse shot under him, and, before he could get on his legs again, found himself surrounded by the Yankees, who demanded his surrender. Bullock, however, responded with two shots of his revolver, killing two of his adversaries, and then endeavoured to save himself by flight. The whole incident having taken place within fifty paces of Stuart and myself, we could see, and even distinctly hear, the Yankees as they gave chase to our poor captain. Taking some of our couriers, and such of the tirailleurs as had recovered from their stampede, with us, we galloped forward at once to the assistance of our brave comrade, whom we succeeded in rescuing from his pursuers, but in a state of such utter exhaustion that we had to lift him to the back of one of the led horses that chanced to be on the spot.

After a short but spirited resistance we were again compelled to retire, turning round and showing fight wherever [243] the nature of the ground would admit of it, until late in the afternoon we took a new position near the large estate of Colonel Dulaney, which was of some strategical importance. Preparing for a more serious opposition to the movements of the enemy, Stuart and myself had halted on an eminence which afforded an extensive view of the surrounding country, when a squadron of Federal cavalry, which came trotting along over an open field in beautiful lines as if on parade, and which seemed quite disdainful of the opposing host, attracted our attention. Stuart turned to me, and said, “Major, pray amuse yourself with giving these gentlemen a lesson: take two of Pelham's guns, place them in such position as you think best, and receive our impudent friends with a proper salute.” Our cannoneers followed me with loud expressions of joy, bringing with them the two howitzers, to a small hill, where dense bushes concealed our preparations from the enemy's notice. The guns were carefully aimed, and when the hostile squadron came within easy range, both shots sounded simultaneously, the shells exploding with wonderful accuracy right in front of the foe, emptying several saddles, and driving our contemptuous adversaries into headlong fight, along the line of which we sent several missiles from the howitzers with less effect.

All our pieces were now concentrated on a wooded acclivity, and were soon brought into a spirited cannonade with four or five hostile batteries. As usual, General Stuart and his Staff exposed themselves for several hours continuously to the hottest fire-shells and solid shot fell around us on all sides, covering us with dust and dirt, and tearing the splinters from the trees right and left; and I could not comprehend how any of us escaped death. The scene was one of the wildest and grandest confusion and destruction. Men were falling, killed or wounded, on every hand, wounded horses galloped hither and thither, and the numerous herds of [244] cattle, which had until that Sunday grazed peacefully in their wide pastures, wrought up to the highest pitch of brute frenzy by the first battle they had ever known, ran about in frantic terror and excitement.

In the very fury of the cannonade, one or two little incidents excited our surprise and amusement. A shell, falling in the midst of a large flock of sheep, exploded there, and we thought that the greater part had been converted into mutton; but when the dust and smoke had cleared away, we saw the frightened animals scamper off, not one of their number missing, and all apparently unhurt. A few minutes afterwards, a stout young bullock, out of a herd of oxen that had been galloping up and down for a considerable time before our batteries, suddenly threw a sommersault, and lay, to all seeming, dead upon the field, but presently got on his legs again, and after reeling and tumbling about for a little while in a drunken sort of way, started off all at once with the speed of an arrow. I have already mentioned cases of prostration by “windage” of cannon-balls. A more diverting instance occurred, in a later fight, with one of our soldiers, a North Carolinian, who, lying flat on his back, apparently badly wounded, answered to General Stuart's inquiry whether he was hurt, “Oh, General, I shall soon be all right again, but I am dreadfully demoralised by a bomb-shell;” the fact being, that a cannon-ball, passing very close to his head, had knocked him over.

With the darkness of evening, our situation became critical. Our artillery had lost many men and horses; our cavalry, having been exposed all day to a murderous fire, had also suffered severely, and our sharpshooters were unable any longer to resist the double and triple lines of Federal tirailleurs, which were again and again sent against them. General Stuart accordingly determined to retreat to Upperville, and ordered me to recall our dismounted men all along [245] the line. To obey this order, I had to ride to our extreme right, where Captain Farley, with a small body of riflemen, occupied some hay-stacks, which he had held all day against the vastly superior numbers of the enemy. As I was the only man on horseback in range of the Yankee carbines, I was exposed for the whole distance to a heavy fusillade; but returning was yet more perilous, for having to ride between the enemy and our own troops, the former hotly pursuing, and the latter, in their dogged retreat, returning with spirit every shot that was sent after them, I was subjected to two fires, and was in as much danger of being killed by friendly as by hostile bullets.

The Yankees did not continue their pursuit after nightfall, and allowed us to retire quietly to the vicinity of Upperville, about a mile from which place we bivouacked. A feeling of devout and fervent thankfulness possessed my heart, as I lay down on my blanket for a short night's rest, and recalled the innumerable dangers through which I had safely passed on that exciting eventful day. These smaller combats with the enemy are far more dangerous than great battles. Especially is this true as regards the staff-officer, who, having to be constantly in the saddle, remains throughout the day exposed to the enemy's particular attentions. In a general engagement there is much more rattle of musketry and thunder of cannon, but the fire is not so much concentrated upon a small tract of ground, and four-fifths of the balls and bullets which wound or kill, find their mark accidentally.

3d November.

Fighting was renewed the following morning, and the tremendous hosts of the Yankees advancing upon us across the fields, which I could compare only to a mighty avalanche, seemed likely to crush everything before them; but the gallant [246] fellows of Fitz Lee's brigade stood the shock of their attack nobly, and succeeded for a time in checking the onward movement of their columns. Stuart perceiving, however, that he could not long maintain his ground, sent me off in the direction of Paris to select a new position, where the nature of the country would facilitate further resistance. This I soon found near Ashby's Gap, a few miles from Upperville, where a range of mountains, spurs of the Blue Ridge, accessible for a long distance only by a single road, made successful opposition to a far superior force possible. On my return to the General, the conflict had reached its height, and, in my opinion, the urgent necessity of immediate retreat was patent to all. Nevertheless, Stuart was for continuing the struggle. Again and again animating his men by his presence and the exposure of his own person, he led our admirable soldiers to the conflict. Not until one of our caissons had been exploded by a well-aimed shot; not until Colonel Wickham, temporarily commanding Fitz Lee's brigade, had been wounded at my side, a fragment of shell striking him in the neck; not until the hostile infantry was outflanking us on either side,was the order given for the withdrawal, which, in consequence of the long delay of our commander in issuing the order, was managed, I am sorry to say, with a great deal of haste and confusion, and came very near being a rout. The dismounted sharpshooters, running back hurriedly to their horses, upon gaining them, rode off, without forming, in every direction; the regiments themselves, exposed to a concentrated withering fire of the enemy, galloped confusedly, and in precipitation, through the narrow streets of Upperville, followed by the hostile cavalry in eager pursuit.

General Stuart and myself were the last of our column to ride through the village, escaping almost miraculously the Yankee balls and bullets that whistled after us, and both receiving slight injury from a falling chimney, which, at the [247] very moment of our passing by it, was struck by a shell, and toppled over by the explosion, the shattered stones and bricks flying far and wide. We had not left the village when the enemy entered it on the opposite side; and yet many heroic young ladies, regardless of the great danger, ran out of the houses to wave a last farewell to us with their cambric handkerchiefs, and what was better still, to seek out, amidst this fearful tempest of shells and bullets, our poor wounded, who, unable to follow their flying comrades, were lying about, in their agony, anywhere in the dusty streets.

Too much credit cannot be given to Pelham for the great forethought and coolness with which he had taken his artillery along a little by-path around the village to a point about a mile distant, where, placing his guns in a favourable position, he skilfully covered our retreat, and, by the accuracy and rapidity of his firing, saved us from greater disaster. My brave friend was himself hard at work in his shirtsleeves, taking a hand with the cannoneers in loading and aiming the pieces. Meanwhile the united efforts of General Stuart and the members of his Staff had availed to put a stop to the stampede; our regiment were re-formed, and our lines reestablished. But the scene was still frightful. Wounded men on foot were limping to the rear, or riding two on one horse; wounded animals were galloping wildly over the field; ambulances and army-waggons were being hurried along the road, on which was concentrated a heavy fire of the hostile batteries, and over which canister and shell were howling in the air, or ricochetting on the hard dry ground.

Pelham's guns were now in a very dangerous situation, a squadron of Federal cavalry having advanced against them at a gallop, and having dismounted and placed a number of men behind a stone fence not more than 200 yards distant, from which they poured a fatal carbine fire upon the gunners and artillery-horses. I tried my best to lead two squadrons of one [248] of our regiments forward to a charge, and I might drive the Yankees from this position; but after following me at a gallop to within eighty yards of the wall, they broke into rapid flight at the murderous volley of the sharpshooters. Pelham was doing his best, in the mean time, to dislodge the bold riflemen, by firing canister at the wall, but this had not the desired effect in consequence of the thickness of the barrier, so I shouted out to him, “Try solid shot!” which he did at once, and with the best results. Every ball demolished large sections of the fence, scattering the fragments of the stones all around, killing and wounding many of the sharpshooters behind it, and driving off the rest, whom we pursued, cutting down and taking prisoners nearly all of them.

About six o'clock in the evening we arrived at the heights near Ashby's Gap, from which we could overlook the whole lower country towards Upperville. In the waning light of the day we could plainly discern that for a considerable distance it was covered with the dark masses of the enemy, with their long cavalry columns and artillery-trains, so that we had no reason to indulge chagrin at having been put to flight by numbers more than ten times superior to our own. The exceeding narrowness of the approach, and the two mountain-ridges stretching out on either side of it, made defence an easy affair; not to mention the fact that D. H. Hill, with his division, was only a few miles farther back, ready to come to our assistance at any moment that this might be necessary.

The hostile batteries, occupying the heights near Upperville, kept up an incessant firing upon our troops ascending the mountain, but not being able at so great a distance to get the necessary elevation, their shells fell, and exploded innocently, at the base of the ridge, and our own batteries did not any longer respond. Only a 12-pounder Whitworth gun, which yet held its position half a mile in our rear, maintained [249] the fight, and here stood its very first trial magnificently. Being on the higher part of the mountain, watching closely the enemy's movements with my trusty field-glass, I had the full opportunity of witnessing the wonderful efficiency and accuracy of this fine gun. When the wholly ineffective bombardment of our position had been carried on for some time by the Federal batteries, I heard all at once the sharp clear report of the Whitworth, and distinctly saw the ball strike, at a distance of four miles from the gun, right in the midst of the enemy's artillery, which, changing its position again and again as the Whitworth missiles became more and more destructive, at last altogether retired. Firing ceased entirely with the coming darkness; and as we saw by the Yankees going into camp that the pursuit would not be continued by them until the following day, we determined to give rest to our weary men and horses, and the glow of our bivouac-fires was soon reflected from the mountains around us.

1 Ed: the source text mistakenly lists this as the “3d” .

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