- Organizing scouts
-- Miss Rebecca Wright
-- important information
-- Decides to move on Newtown
-- meeting General Grant
-- organization of the Union Army
-- opening of the battle of the Opequon
-- death of General Russell
-- a turning movement
-- a successful cavalry charge
-- three loyal girls
-- appointed a Brigadier
-- General in the regular Army
-- remarks on the battle.
While occupying the ground between Clifton
, referred to in the last chapter of the preceding volume, I felt the need of an efficient body of scouts to collect information regarding the enemy, for the defective intelligence-establishment with which I started out from Harper's Ferry
early in August had not proved satisfactory.
I therefore began to organize my scouts on a system which I hoped would give better results than had the method hitherto pursued in the department, which was to employ on this service doubtful citizens and Confederate deserters.
If these should turn out untrustworthy, the mischief they might do us gave me grave apprehension, and I finally concluded that those of our own soldiers who should volunteer for the delicate and hazardous duty would be the most valuable material, and decided
that they should have a battalion organization and be commanded by an officer, Major H. K. Young
, of the First Rhode Island Infantry.
These men were disguised in Confederate uniforms whenever necessary, were paid from the Secret-Service Fund in proportion to the value of the intelligence they furnished, which often stood us in good stead in checking the forays of Gilmore
, and other irregulars.
Beneficial results came from the plan in many other ways too, and particularly so when in a few days two of my scouts put me in the way of getting news conveyed from Winchester
They had learned that just outside of my lines, near Millwood
, there was living an old colored man, who had a permit from the Confederate
commander to go into Winchester
and return three times a week, for the purpose of selling vegetables to the inhabitants.
The scouts had sounded this man, and, finding him both loyal and shrewd, suggested that he might be made useful to us within the enemy's lines; and the proposal struck me as feasible, provided there could be found in Winchester
some reliable person who would be willing to co-operate and correspond with me. I asked General Crook
, who was acquainted with many of the Union
people of Winchester
, if he knew of such a person, and he recommended a Miss Rebecca Wright
, a young lady whom he had met there before the battle of Kernstown
, who, he said, was a member of the Society of Friends and the teacher of a small private school.
He knew she was faithful and loyal to the Government
, and thought she might be willing to render us assistance, but he could not be certain of this, for on account of her well-known loyalty she was under constant surveillance.
I hesitated at first, but finally deciding to try it, despatched the two scouts to the old negro's cabin, and they brought him to my headquarters late that night.
I was soon convinced of the negro's fidelity, and asking him if he was acquainted with Miss Rebecca Wright
, of Winchester
, he replied that he knew her well.
Thereupon I told him what I wished to do. and after a little persuasion he agreed to carry a letter to her on his next marketing trip.
My message was prepared by writing it on tissue paper, which was then compressed into a small pellet, and protected by wrapping it in tin-foil so that it could be safely carried in the man's mouth.
The probability of his being searched when he came to the Confederate
picket-line was not remote, and in such event he was to swallow the pellet.
The letter appealed to Miss Wright
's loyalty and patriotism, and, requested her to furnish me with information regarding the strength and condition of Early
The night before the negro started one of the scouts placed the oddlooking communication in his hands, with renewed injunctions as to secrecy and promptitude.
Early the next morning it was delivered to Miss Wright
, with an intimation that a letter of importance was enclosed in
the tin-foil, the negro telling her at the same time that she might expect him to call for a message in reply before his return home.
At first Miss Wright
began to open the pellet nervously, but when told to be careful, and to preserve the foil as a wrapping for her answer, she proceeded slowly and carefully, and when the note appeared intact the messenger retired, remarking again that in the evening he would come for an answer.
On reading my communication Miss Wright
was much startled by the perils it involved, and hesitatingly consulted her mother, but her devoted loyalty soon silenced every other consideration, and the brave girl resolved to comply with my request, notwithstanding it might jeopardize her life.
The evening before a convalescent Confederate officer had visited her mother's house, and in conversation about the war had disclosed the fact that Kershaw
's division of infantry and Cutshaw
's battalion of artillery had started to rejoin General Lee
At the time Miss Wright
heard this she attached little if any importance to it, but now she perceived the value of the intelligence, and, as her first venture, determined to send it to me at once, which she did with a promise that in the future she would with great pleasure continue to transmit information by the negro messenger.
's answer proved of more value to me than she anticipated, for it not only quieted the conflicting reports concerning Anderson
's corps, but was most important in showing positively that Kershaw
was gone, and this circumstance led, three days later, to the battle of the Opequon
, or Winchester
as it has been unofficially called.1
Word to the effect that some of Early
's troops were under orders to return to Petersburg
, and would start back at the first favorable opportunity, had been communicated to me already from many sources, but we had not been able to ascertain the date for their departure.
Now that they had actually started, I decided to wait before offering battle until Kershaw
had gone so far as to preclude his return, feeling confident that my prudence would be justified by the improved chances of victory; and then, besides, Mr. Stanton
kept reminding me that positive success was necessary to counteract the political dissatisfaction existing in some of the Northern States
This course was advised
and approved by General Grant
, but even with his powerful backing it was difficult to resist the persistent pressure of those whose Judgment, warped by their interests in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, was often confused and misled by stories of scouts (sent out from Washington
), averring that Kershaw
and Fitzhugh Lee
had returned to Petersburg
to southwestern Virginia
, and at one time even maintaining that Early
's whole army was east of the Blue Ridge
, and its commander himself at Gordonsville
During the inactivity prevailing in my army for the ten days preceding Miss Wright
's communication the infantry was quiet, with the exception of Getty
's division, which made a reconnoissance to the Opequon
, and developed a heavy force of the enemy at Edwards
The cavalry, however, was employed a good deal in this interval skirmishing-heavily at times — to maintain a space about six miles in width between the hostile lines, for I wished to control this ground so that when I was released from the instructions of August 12 I could move my men into position for attack without the knowledge of Early
The most noteworthy of these mounted encounters was that of Mclntosh
's brigade, which captured the Eighth South Carolina at Abraham's Creek
It was the evening of the 16th of September that I received from Miss Wright
the positive information that Kershaw
was in march toward Front Royal
on his way by Chester Gap
Concluding that this was my opportunity, I at once resolved to throw my whole force into Newtown
the next day, but a despatch from General Grant
me to meet him at Charlestown
, whither he was coming to consult with me, caused me to defer action until after I should see him. In our resulting interview at Charlestown
, I went over the situation very thoroughly, and pointed out with so much confidence the chances of a complete victory should I throw my army across the Valley pike
that he fell in with the plan at once, authorized me to resume the offensive, and to attack Early
as soon as I deemed it most propitious to do so; and although before leaving City Point
he had outlined certain operations for my army, yet he neither discussed nor disclosed his plans, my knowledge of the situation striking him as being so much more accurate than his own.2
The interview over, I returned to my army to arrange for its movement toward Newtown
, but while busy with these preparations, a report came to me from General Averell
which showed that Early
was moving with two divisions of infantry toward Martinsburg
This considerably altered the state of affairs, and I now decided to change my plan and attack at once the two divisions remaining about Winchester
's depot, and later, the two sent to Martinsburg
; the disjointed state of the enemy giving me an opportunity to take him in detail, unless the Martinsburg
column should be returned by forced marches.
While General Early
was in the telegraph office at Martinsburg
on the morning of the 18th, he learned of Grant
's visit to me; and anticipating activity by reason of this circumstance, he promptly proceeded to withdraw so as to get the two divisions within supporting distance of Ramseur
's, which lay across the Berryville pike
about two miles east of Winchester
, between Abraham's Creek
and Red Bud Run, so by the night of the 18th Wharton
's division, under Breckenridge
, was at Stephenson
's depot, Rodes
near there, and Gordon
's at Bunker Hill
At daylight of the 19th these positions of the Confederate infantry still obtained, with the cavalry of Lomax
, and Johnson
on the right of Ramseur
, while to the left and rear of the enemy's general line was Fitzhugh Lee
, covering from Stephenson
's depot west across the Valley pike
to Apple-pie Ridge.
moved at 3 o'clock that morning.
The plan was for Torbert
to advance with Merritt
's division of cavalry from Summit Point
, carry the crossings of the Opequon
at Stevens's and Lock's fords, and form a junction near Stephenson
's depot, with Averell
, who was to move south from Darksville
by the Valley pike
was to strike up the Berryville pike
, carry the Berryville crossing
of the Opequon
, charge through the gorge or cafion on the road west of the stream, and occupy the open ground at the head of this defile.
's attack was to be supported by the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, which were ordered to the Berryville crossing
, and as the cavalry gained the open ground beyond the gorge, the two infantry corps, under command of General Wright
, were expected to press on after
and occupy Wilson
's ground, who was then to shift to the south bank of Abraham's Creek
and cover my left; Crook
's two divisions, having to march from Summit Point
, were to follow the Sixth and Nineteenth corps to the Opequon
, and should they arrive before the action began, they were to be held in reserve till the proper moment
came, and then, as a turning-column, be thrown over toward the Valley pike
, south of Winchester
's brigade of Wilson
's division drove the enemy's pickets away from the Berryville crossing
at dawn, and Wilson
following rapidly through the gorge with the rest of the division, debouched from its western extremity with such suddenness as to capture a small earthwork in front of General Ramseur
's main line; and notwithstanding the Confederate infantry, on recovering from its astonishment, tried hard to dislodge them, Wilson
's troopers obstinately held the work till
the Sixth Corps came up. I followed Wilson
to select the ground on which to form the infantry.
The Sixth Corps began to arrive about 8 o'clock, and taking up the line Wilson
had been holding, just beyond
the head of the narrow ravine, the cavalry was transferred to the south side of Abraham's Creek
The Confederate line lay along some elevated ground about two miles east of Winchester
, and extended from Abraham's Creek
north across the Berryville pike
, the left being hidden in the heavy timber on Red Bud Run.
Between this line and mine, especially on my right,
clumps of woods and patches of underbrush occurred here and there, but the undulating ground consisted mainly of open fields, many of which were covered with standing corn that had already ripened.
Much time was lost in getting all of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps through the narrow defile, Grover
's division being greatly delayed there by a train of ammunition wagons, and it was not until late in the forenoon that the troops intended for the attack could be got into line ready to advance.
was not slow to avail himself of the advantages thus offered him, and my chances of striking
him in detail were growing less every moment, for Gordon
were hurrying their divisions from Stephenson
's depot acrosscountry on a line that would place Gordon
in the woods south of Red Bud Run, and bring Rodes
into the interval between Gordon
When the two corps had all got through the cafion they were formed with Getty
's division of the Sixth to the left of the Berryville pike
's division to the right of the pike, and Russell
's division in reserve in rear of the other two.
's division of the Nineteenth Corps came next on the right of Rickett
's, with Dwight
to its rear in reserve, while Crook
was to begin massing near the Opequon crossing
about the time Wright
were ready to attack.
Just before noon the line of Getty
, and Grover
moved forward, and as we advanced, the Confederates
, covered by some heavy woods on their right, slight underbrush and corn-fields along their centre, and a large body of timber on their left along the Red Bud
, opened fire from their whole front.
We gained considerable ground at first, especially on our left but the desperate resistance which the right met with demonstrated that the time we had unavoidably lost in the morning
had been of incalculable value to Early
, for it was evident that he had been enabled already to so far concentrate his troops as to have the different divisions of his army in a connected line of battle in good shape to resist.
made some progress toward Winchester
in connection with Wilson
's cavalry, which was beyond the Senseny road on Getty
's left, and as they were pressing back Ramseur
's infantry and Lomax
's cavalry Grover
attacked from the right with decided effect.
in a few minutes broke up Evans
's brigade of Gordon
's division, but his pursuit of Evans
destroyed the continuity of my general line, and increased an interval that had already been made by the deflection of Ricketts
to the left, in obedience to instructions that had been given him to guide his division on the Berryville pike
As the line pressed forward, Ricketts
observed this widening interval and endeavored to fill it with the small brigade of Colonel Keifer
, but at this juncture both Gordon
struck the weak spot where the right of the Sixth Corps and the left of the Nineteenth should have been in conjunction, and succeeded in checking my advance by driving back a part of Ricketts
's division, and the most of Grover
's. As these troops were retiring I ordered Russell
's reserve division to be put into action, and just as the flank of the enemy's troops in pursuit of Grover
was presented, Upton
's brigade, led in person by both Russell
, struck it in a charge so vigorous as to drive the Confederates
back in turn to their original ground.
The success of Russell
enabled me to re-establish the right of my line some little distance in advance of the position from which it started in the morning, and behind Russell
's division (now commanded by Upton
) the broken regiments of Ricketts
's division were rallied.
's division was then brought up on the right, and Grover
's men formed behind it.
The charge of Russell
was most opportune, but it cost many men in killed and wounded.
Among the former was the courageous Russell
himself, killed by a piece of shell that passed through his heart, although he had previously been struck by a bullet in the left breast, which wound, from its nature, must have proved mortal, yet of which he had not spoken.
's death oppressed us all with sadness, and me particularly.
In the early days of my army life he was my captain and friend, and I was deeply indebted to him, not only for sound advice and good example, but for the inestimable service he had just performed, and sealed with his life, so it may be inferred how keenly I felt his loss.
As my lines were being rearranged, it was suggested to me to put Crook
into the battle, but so strongly had I set my heart on using him
to take possession of the Valley pike
and cut off the enemy, that I resisted this advice, hoping that the necessity for putting him in would be obviated by the attack near Stephenson
's depot that Torbert
's cavalry was to make, and from which I was momentarily expecting to hear.
No news of Torbert
's progress came, however, so, yielding at last, I directed Crook
to take post on the right of the Nineteenth Corps and, when the action was renewed, to push his command forward as a turning column in conjunction with Emory
After some delay in the annoying defile, Crook
got his men up, and posting Colonel Thoburn
's division on the prolongation of the Nineteenth Corps, he formed Colonel Duval
's division to the right of Thoburn
Here I joined Crook
, informing him that I had just got word that Torbert
was driving the enemy in confusion along the Martinsburg pike
; at the same time I directed him to attack the moment all of Duval
's men were in line.
was instructed to advance in concert with Crook
, by swinging Emory
and the right of the Sixth Corps to the left together in a half-wheel.
Then leaving Crook
, I rode along the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, the open ground over which they were passing affording a rare opportunity to witness the precision with which the attack was taken up from right to left.
's success began the moment he started to turn the enemy's left; and assured by the fact that Torbert
had stampeded the Confederate cavalry and thrown Breckenridge
's infantry into such disorder that it could do little to prevent the envelopment of Gordon
's left, Crook
pressed forward without even a halt.
took up the fight as ordered, and as they did so I sent word to Wilson
, in the hope that he could partly perform the work originally laid out for Crook
, to push along the Senseny road and, if possible, gain the valley pike south of Winchester
I then returned toward my right flank, and as I reached the Nineteenth Corps the enemy was contesting the ground in its front with great obstinacy; but Emory
's dogged persistence was at length rewarded with success, just as Crook
's command emerged from the morass of Red Bud Run, and swept around Gordon
, toward the right of Breckenridge
, who, with two of Wharton
's brigades, was holding a line at right angles with the Valley pike
for the protection of the Confederate
Early had ordered these two brigades back from Stephenson
's depot in the morning, purposing to protect with them his right flank and line of retreat, but while they were en route
to this end, he was obliged to recall them to his left to meet Crook
To confront Torbert
's brigade of infantry and some of Fitzhugh Lee
's cavalry had been left back by Breckenridge
, but, with Averell
on the west side of the Valley pike
on the east,
began to drive this opposing force toward Winchester
the moment he struck it near Stephenson
's depot, keeping it on the go till it reached the position held by Breckenridge
, where it endeavored to make a stand.
The ground which Breckenridge
was holding was open, and offered an opportunity such as seldom had been presented during the war for a mounted attack, and Torbert
was not slow to take advantage of it. The instant Merritt
's division could be formed for the charge, it went at Breckenridge
's infantry and Fitzhugh Lee
's cavalry with such momentum as to break the Confederate
left, just as Averell
was passing around it. Merritt
's brigades, led by Custer
, and Devin
, met from the start with pronounced success, and with sabre or pistol in hand literally rode down a battery of five guns and took about 1,200 prisoners. Almost simultaneously with this cavalry charge, Crook
's right and Gordon
's left, forcing these divisions to give way, and as they retired, Wright
, in a vigorous attack, quickly broke Rodes
up and pressed Ramseur
so hard that the whole Confederate army fell back, contracting its lines within some breastworks which had been thrown up at a former period of the war, immediately in front of Winchester
tried hard to stem the tide, but soon Torbert
's cavalry began passing around his left flank, and as Crook
, and Wright
attacked in front, panic took possession of the enemy, his troops, now fugitives and stragglers, seeking escape into and through Winchester
When this second break occurred, the Sixth and Nineteenth corps were moved over toward the Millwood pike
to help Wilson
on the left, but the day was so far spent that they could render him no assistance, and Ramseur
's division, which had maintained some organization, was in such tolerable shape as to check him. Meanwhile Torbert
passed around to the west of Winchester
to join Wilson
, but was unable to do so till after dark.
's command pursued the enemy through the town to Mill Creek
, I going along.
Just after entering the town Crook
and I met, in the main street, three young girls, who gave us the most hearty reception.
One of these young women was a Miss Griffith
, the other two Miss Jennie and Miss Susie Meredith
During the day they had been watching the battle from the roof of the Meredith residence, with tears and lamentations, they said, in the morning when misfortune appeared to have overtaken the Union
troops, but with unbounded exultation when, later, the tide set in against the Confederates
Our presence was, to them, an assurance of victory, and their delight being irrepressible, they indulged in the most unguarded manifestations and expressions.
When cautioned by Crook
, who knew them well, and reminded that the valley had hitherto
been a race-course-one day in the possession of friends, and the next of enemies-and warned of the dangers they were incurring by such demonstrations, they assured him that they had no further fears of that kind now, adding that Early
's army was so demoralized by the defeat it had just sustained that it would never be in condition to enter Winchester
As soon as we had succeeded in calming the excited girls a little I expressed a desire to find some place where I could write a telegram to General Grant
informing him of the result of the battle, and General Crook
conducted me to the home of Miss Wright
, where I met for the first time the woman who had contributed so much to our success, and on a desk in her school-room wrote the despatch announcing that we had sent Early
's army whirling up the valley.
My losses in the battle of the Opequon
were heavy, amounting to about 4,500 killed, wounded, and missing. Among the killed was General Russell
, commanding a division, and the wounded included Generals Upton
, and colonels Duval
The Confederate loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners about equaled mine, General Rodes
being of the killed, while Generals Fitzhugh Lee
were severely wounded.
We captured five pieces of artillery and nine battle-flags.
The restoration of the lower valley — from the Potomac
— to the control of the Union
forces caused great rejoicing in the North
, and relieved the Administration from further solicitude for the safety of the Maryland
The President's appreciation of the victory was expressed in a despatch so like Mr. Lincoln
that I give a fac-simile
of it to the reader.
This he supplemented by promoting me to the grade of brigadier-general in the regular army, and assigning me to the permanent command of the Middle Military Department
, and following that came warm congratulations from Mr. Stanton
and from Generals Grant
, and Meade
The battle was not fought out on the plan in accordance with which marching orders were issued to my troops, for I then hoped to take Early
in detail, and with Crook
's force cut off his retreat.
I adhered to this purpose during the early start of the contest, but was obliged to abandon the idea because of unavoidable delays by which I was prevented from getting the Sixth and Nineteenth corps through the narrow defile and into position early enough to destroy Ramseur
while still isolated.
So much delay had not been anticipated, and this loss of time was taken advantage of by the enemy to recall the troops diverted to Bunker Hill
on the 17th, thus enabling him to bring them all to the support of Ramseur
before I could strike with effect.
My idea was to attack Ramseur
, successively, at a very
early hour and before they could get succor, but I was not in condition to do it till nearly noon, by which time Gordon
had been enabled to get upon the ground at a point from which, as I advanced, they enfiladed my right flank, and gave it such a repulse that to re-form this part of my line I was obliged to recall the left from some of the ground it had gained.
It was during this reorganization of my lines that I changed my plan as to Crook
, and moved him from my left to my right.
This I did with great reluctance, for I hoped to destroy Early
's army entirely if Crook
continued on his original line of march toward the Valley pike
, south of Winchester
; and although the ultimate results did, in a measure vindicate the change, yet I have always thought that by adhering to the original plan we might have captured the bulk of Early