Chapter 37: pursuit of Hunter.
On the 12th of June, while the 2nd corps (Ewell
's) of the Army of Northern Virginia was lying near Gaines' Mill
, in rear of Hill
's line at Cold Harbor, I received verbal orders from General Lee
to hold the corps, with two of the battalions of artillery attached to it, in readiness to move to the Shenandoah Valley.
's and Braxton
's battalions were selected, and Brigadier General Long
was ordered to accompany me as Chief of Artillery
After dark, on the same day, written instructions were given me by General Lee
, by which I was directed to move, with the force designated, at 3 o'clock next morning, for the Valley
, by the way of Louisa CourtHouse and Charlottesville
, and through Brown
's or Swift Run Gap in the Blue Ridge
, as I might find most advisable; to strike Hunter
's force in the rear, and, if possible, destroy it; then to move down the Valley
, cross the Potomac
in Loudoun County
, or at or above Harper's Ferry
, as I might find most practicable, and threaten Washington City
I was further directed to communicate with General Breckenridge
, who would co-operate with me in the attack on Hunter
and the expedition into Maryland
At this time the railroad and telegraph lines between Charlottesville
had been cut by a cavalry force from Hunter
's army; and those between Richmond
had been cut by Sheridan
's cavalry, from Grant
's army; so that there was no communication with Breckenridge
was supposed to be at Staunton
with his whole force, and Breckenridge
was supposed to be at Waynesboro
or Rock-fish Gap. If such had been the case, the route designated by General Lee
would have carried me into the Valley
The 2nd corps now numbered a little over 8,000
muskets for duty.
It had been on active and arduous service in the field for forty days, and had been engaged in all the great battles from the Wilderness
to Cold Harbor, sustaining very heavy losses at Spottsylvania Court-House, where it lost nearly an entire division, including its commander, Major General Johnson
, who was made prisoner.
Of the brigadier generals
with it at the commencement of the campaign, only one remained in command of his brigade.
) had been made Major Generals
; one (G. H. Stewart
) had been captured; four (Pegram
, J. A. Walker
and R. D. Johnston
) had been severely wounded; and four (Stafford
, J. M. Jones
, and Doles
) had been killed in action.
Constant exposure to the weather, a limited supply of provisions, and two weeks service in the swamps north of the Chickahominy
had told on the health of the men. Divisions were not stronger than brigades ought to have been, nor brigades than regiments.
On the morning of the 13th, at two o'clock, we commenced the march; and on the 16th, arrived at Rivanna River
, having marched over eighty miles in four days.1
From Louisa Court-House I had sent a dispatch to Gordonsville
, to be forwarded, by telegraph, to Breckenridge
; and, on my arrival at Charlottesville
, on the 16th,
to which place I rode in advance of my troops, I received a telegram from him, dated at Lynchburg
, informing me that Hunter
was then in Bedford County
, about twenty miles from that place, and moving on it.
The railroad and telegraph between Charlottesville
had been, fortunately, but slightly injured by the enemy's cavalry, and had been repaired.
The distance between the two places was sixty miles, and there were no trains at Charlottesville
except one which belonged to the Central
road, and was about starting for Waynesboro
I ordered this to be detained, and immediately directed, by telegram, all the trains of the two roads to be sent to me with all dispatch, for the purpose of transporting my troops to Lynchburg
The trains were not in readiness to take the troops on board until sunrise on the morning of the 17th, and then only enough were furnished to transport about half of my infantry.
's division, one brigade of Gordon
's division and part of another were put on the trains, as soon as they were ready, and started for Lynchburg
' division, and the residue of Gordon
's, were ordered to move along the railroad, to meet the trains on their return.
The artillery and wagon-trains had been started on the ordinary roads at daylight.
I accompanied Ramseur
's division, going on the front train, but the road and rolling stock were in such bad condition that I did not reach Lynchburg
until about one o'clock in the afternoon, and the other trains were much later.
I found General Breckenridge
in bed, suffering from an injury received by the fall of a horse killed under him in action near Cold Harbor.
He had moved from Rock-fish Gap to Lynchburg
by a forced march, as soon as Hunter
's movement towards that place was discovered.
When I showed him my instructions, he very readily and cordially offered to co-operate with me, and serve under my command.
's advance from Staunton
had been impeded by a brigade of cavalry, under Brigadier General Mc
Causland, which had been managed with great skill, and kept in his front all the way, and he was reported to be then advancing on the old stone turnpike from Liberty in Bedford County
by New London, and watched by Imboden
with a small force of cavalry.
As General Breckenridge
was unable to go out, at his request, General D. H. Hill
, who happened to be in town, had made arrangements for the defence of the city, with such troops as were at hand.
Brigadier General Hays
, who was an invalid from a wound received at Spottsylvania Court-House, had tendered his services and also aided in making arrangements for the defence.
I rode out with General Hill
to examine the line selected by him, and make a reconnaissance of the country in front.
Slight works had been hastily thrown up on College Hill
, covering the turnpike and Forest roads from Liberty, which were manned by Breckenridge
's infantry and the dismounted cavalry of the command which had been with Jones
The reserves, invalids from the hospitals, and the cadets from the Military Institute at Lexington
, occupied other parts of the line.
An inspection satisfied me that, while this arrangement was the best which could be made under the circumstances in which General Hill
found himself, yet it would leave the town exposed to the fire of the enemy's artillery, should he advance to the attack, and I therefore determined to meet the enemy with my troops in front.
We found Imboden
about four miles out on the turnpike, near an old Quaker church, to which position he had been gradually forced back by the enemy's infantry.
My troops, as they arrived, had been ordered in front of the works to bivouac, and I immediately sent orders for them to move out on this road, at a redoubt about two miles from the city, as Imboden
's command was driven back by vastly superior numbers.
These brigades, with two pieces of artillery in the redoubt, arrested the progress of the enemy, and Ramseur
's other brigade, and the part of Gordon
's division which had arrived, took
position on the same line.
The enemy opened a heavy fire of artillery on us, but, as night soon came on, he went into camp in our front.2
Upon my arrival at Lynchburg
, orders had been given for the immediate return of the train for the rest of my infantry, and I expected it to arrive by the morning of the 18th, but it did not get to Lynchburg
until late in the afternoon of that day. Hunter
's force was considerably larger than mine would have been, had it all been up, and as it was of the utmost consequence to the army at Richmond
that he should not get into Lynchburg
, I did not feel justified in attacking him until I could do so with a fair prospect of success.
I contented myself therefore with acting on the defensive on the 18th, throwing Breckenridge
's infantry and a part of his artillery on the front line, while that adopted by General Hill
was occupied by the dismounted cavalry and the irregular troops.
During the day, there was artillery firing and skirmishing along the line, and, in the afternoon, an attack was made on our line, to the right of the turnpike, which was handsomely repulsed with considerable loss to the enemy.
A demonstration of the enemy's cavalry on the Forest
road was checked by part of Breckenridge
's infantry under Wharton
On the arrival of the cars from Richmond
this day, Major Generals Elzey
reported for duty, the
former to command the infantry and dismounted cavalry of Breckenridge
's command, and the latter to command the cavalry.
The mounted cavalry consisted of the remnants of several brigades divided into two commands, one under Imboden
, and the other under McCausland
It was badly mounted and armed, and its efficiency much impaired by the defeat at Piedmont
, and the arduous service it had recently gone through.
As soon as the remainder of my infantry arrived by the railroad, though none of my artillery had gotten up, arrangements were made for attacking Hunter
at daylight on the 19th, but some time after midnight it was discovered that he was moving, though it was not known whether he was retreating or moving so as to attack Lynchburg
on the south where it was vulnerable, or to attempt to join Grant
on the south side of James River
Pursuit could not, therefore, be made at once, as a mistake, if either of the last two objects had been contemplated, would have been fatal.
At light, however, the pursuit commenced, the 2nd corps moving along the turnpike, over which it was discovered Hunter
was retreating, and Elzey
's command on the right, along the Forest
road, while Ransom
was ordered to move on the right of Elzey
, with McCausland
's cavalry, and endeavor to strike the enemy at Liberty or Peaks of Otter.
, who was on the road from Lynchburg
to Campbell CourtHouse to watch a body of the enemy's cavalry, which had moved in that direction the day before, was to have moved on the left towards Liberty, but orders did not reach him in time.
The enemy's rear was overtaken at Liberty
, twenty-five miles from Lynchburg
, just before night, and driven through that place, after a brisk skirmish, by Ramseur
The day's march on the old turnpike, which was very rough, had been terrible.
had taken the wrong road and did not reach Liberty until after the enemy had been driven through the town.
It was here ascertained that Hunter
had not retreated
on the route by the Peaks of Otter, over which he had advanced, but had taken the road to Buford
's depot, at the foot of the Blue Ridge
, which would enable him to go either by Salem
was, therefore, ordered to take the route, next day, by the Peaks of Otter, and endeavor to intercept the enemy should he move by Buchanan
The pursuit was resumed early on the morning of the 20th, and upon our arrival in sight of Buford
's, the enemy's rear guard was seen going into the mountain on the road towards Salem
As this left the road to Buchanan
open, my aide, Lieutenant Pitzer
, was sent across the mountain to that place, with orders for Ransom
to move for Salem
was also instructed to ride all night and send instructions, by courier from Fincastle
, and telegraph from Salem
, to have the road through the mountains to Lewisburg
and Southwestern Virginia
The enemy was pursued into the mountains at Buford's Gap, but he had taken possession of the crest of the Blue Ridge
, and put batteries in position commanding a gorge, through which the road passes, where it was impossible for a regiment to move in line.
I had endeavored to ascertain if there was another way across the mountain by which I could get around the enemy, but all men, except the old ones, had gotten out of the way, and the latter, as well as the women and children, were in such a state of distress and alarm, that no reliable information could be obtained from them.
We tried to throw forces up the sides of the mountains to get at the enemy, but they were so rugged that night came on before anything could be accomplished, and we had to desist, though not until a very late hour in the night.
By a mistake of the messenger, who was sent with orders to General Rodes
, who was to be in the lead next morning, there was some delay in his movement on the 21st, but the pursuit was resumed very shortly after sunrise.
At the Big Lick, it was ascertained that the enemy had turned off from Salem
, on a road
which passes through the mountains at a narrow pass called the “Hanging Rock
,” and my column was immediately turned towards that point, but on arriving there it was ascertained that the enemy's rear guard had passed through the gorge.
had struck his column at this point and captured ten pieces of artillery, some wagons and a number of prisoners; but, the enemy having brought up a heavy force, McCausland
was compelled to fall back, carrying off, however, the prisoners and a part of the artillery, and disabling the rest so that it could not be removed.
As the enemy had got into the mountains, where nothing useful could be accomplished by pursuit, I did not deem it proper to continue it farther.
A great part of my command had had nothing to eat for the last few days, except a little bacon which was obtained at Liberty.3
The cooking utensils were in the trains, and the effort to have bread baked at Lynchburg
Neither the wagon trains, nor the artillery of the 2nd corps, were up and I knew that the country, through which Hunter
's route led for forty or fifty miles, was, for the most part, a desolate mountain region; and that his troops were taking everything in the way of provisions and forage which they could lay their hands on. My field officers, except those of Breckenridge
's command, were on foot, as their horses could not be transported on the trains from Charlottesville
I had seen our soldiers endure a great deal, but there was a limit to the endurance even of Confederate soldiers.
A stern chase with infantry is a very difficult one, and Hunter
's men were marching for their lives, his disabled being carried in his provision train, which was now empty.
My cavalry was not strong enough to accomplish anything of importance, and a further pursuit could only have resulted in disaster to my command from want of provisions and forage.
I was glad to see Hunter
take the route to Lewisburg
as I knew he could not stop short of the Kanawha River
and he was, therefore, disposed of for some time.
Hac he moved to Southwestern Virginia
, he would have done us incalculable mischief, as there were no troops of an) consequence in that quarter, but plenty of supplies at tha time.
I should, therefore, have been compelled to follow him.4
My command had marched sixty miles, in the three days pursuit, over very rough roads, and that part of it from the Army of Northern Virginia had had no rest since leaving Gaines' Mill
I determined therefore to rest on the 22nd, so as to enable the wagons and artillery to get up, and to prepare the men for the long march before them.
had come up, following on the road through Salem
after the enemy, and the cavalry was sent through Fincastle
, to watch the enemy and to annoy him as he passed through the mountains towards Lewisburg
, and also ascertain whether he would endeavor to get into the valley towards Lexington