Doc. 28.-expedition through Page Valley, Virginia.
headquarters, December 28, 1863.On Monday morning, December twenty-first, the First Maine cavalry, with the Second, Eighth, and Sixteenth Pennsylvania cavalry regiments, assembled at Bealton Station, on the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, preparatory to their departure for Page Valley, Perryville, and the cosy little town of Luray. It was the intention of Colonel Charles H. Smith, of the First Maine cavalry, who commanded the expedition, to start at daylight, but owing to two of the regiments having returned to camp from a tedious campaign of three days only the preceding evening, a delay of a few hours was necessary to replenish exhausted stores of forage, ammunition, and subsistence. At eleven o'clock A. M., every thing being in readiness, the four regiments took up their line of march for Sulphur Springs. After a short halt, the line was formed, and the bugle-notes echoed: “Advance.” A march of a few hours brought the expedition to Amisville — a small, dilapidated village, whose inhabitants are all of strong rebel proclivities, many of them furnishing aid and comfort to the gangs of guerrillas infesting this vicinity. At daybreak, on the twenty-second, the expedition proceeded toward Gaines's Cross-Roads, and, just at the left of Amisville, a charge was made upon a few guerrillas, capturing one prisoner, and scattering the remainder in all directions. At Gaines's Cross-Roads, a nest of Mosby's men was surprised and driven to the mountains. Thence, the expedition marched to Sperryville, where the enemy were discovered holding Thornton's Gap, and, upon the approach of our troops they offered considerable resistance to our advancing skirmishers. A strong reserve making its appearance, the entire force fled to the numerous paths in the mountains,  where, far above carbine range, the discomfited guerrillas, perched among the rocks and caverns, waved their hats and shouted in defiance to our cavalrymen. On leaving Sperryville, you reach the ascending turnpike leading to Thornton's Gap. As you ascend mounted, a fine view can be had from the saddle. Thornton's Gap is immediately beneath the highest peak of the Blue Ridge, and it is no exaggeration to say that the vicinity of this mountain-pass affords one of the grandest views to be found in this country. There is one portion of the serpentine turnpike, where a carbine-shot would cross the pike six times in a direct line, so zig-zag is its course. One hundred sharp-shooters, stationed at this point, could retard the progress of a large army, rendering the ascent an almost impossible one. Such a picturesque panorama of natural beauties one seldom witnesses as were revealed on the morning of our ascent. The frost-king had touched the leaves of the forest trees with his magic wand of silver, and placed his glistening crown upon the mountain-tops, while the rays of the sun danced upon the frozen dew, coloring the valley with gaudy lines, and the crests of the mountains, till the dazzling scene reminded one of a mammoth kaleidoscope. It was a vivid and romantic picture to witness five thousand horsemen climbing the steep mountain sides, their sabres flashing in the sunlight as their warlike steeds pranced along the pass. The mountains were finally crossed, and our forces encamped for the night within four miles of Luray. Our pickets were attacked an hour after dark by a party of Gillmore's guerrillas, but, after a brief skirmish with our vigilant cavaliers, they deemed “prudence the better part of valor,” and they retired, carrying off their wounded. The march was resumed at daylight on the twenty-third instant, our advance driving the weak picket force on our front before them with little difficulty. As we arrived within sight of Luray, quite a large rebel force were observed drawn up in line of battle to check our advance, and with the apparent intention of making a sufficiently strong stand to contest our entrance to the town. The order was given for one of those resistless “Yankee” cavalry charges which only “greasy mechanics” and “Northern mudsills” can execute, when lo! the F. F. V. s and the Second F. V. s fled in the greatest disorder, utterly dismayed and thrown into the greatest confusion by the temerity of Colonel Smith, who dared thus invade their limits of the sacred soil. Owing to the fleetness of the chivalry, but few prisoners were captured, and, their horses being in a much better condition than ours, it was fruitless to attempt further pursuit. At this point, two deserters entered our lines, and, after being relieved of their arms, they were sent to our rear-guard. Those deserters reiterated the same doleful story of the terrible condition of the “poor white trash” of the South, many of whom they represent as being on the verge of starvation. They report great disaffection throughout the ranks of the rebel army, and said the President's Amnesty Proclamation had given considerable satisfaction to poor, oppressed and helpless people, many of whom have been mercilessly conscripted to fill up the decimated ranks of the rebel army. The wealthy spurn the Proclamation, and in Richmond the strictest surveillance is maintained over those persons suspected of sympathy with the North. At Luray, Colonel Smith learned that Rosser's brigade had encamped there Sunday night, and had left on Monday, taking the “grade” up the Page valley, on the east side of the river, in the direction of Madison, and, as Rosser had succeeded in getting forty-eight hours start of our fatigued forces, Colonel Smith concluded, very wisely, to run no further risks, inasmuch as the objects of the expedition were accomplished, and no infantry or artillery were at hand to lend assistance in case of an attack by superior numbers. Colonel Smith sent several officers to examine the post-office, jail, court-house, and other public buildings. A number of conscripts were taken from the jail upon hearing the news of our approach. A large three-story building, filled with harnesses and artillery and cavalry equipments, and which was used as an extensive manufactory for the supply of rebel outfits, was destroyed, together with a large quantity of raw material, rings, buckles, and a valuable lot of tools. Adjoining this manufactory was a large tannery, with numerous vats filled with stock in a half-finished state. Several wooden buildings were stored with thousands of dollars' worth of hides and finished leather; these were destroyed by fire. On the return march, five new and well-furnished tanneries, stocked with a large amount of leather, were completely gutted, and their contents destroyed, on the road between Luray and Sperryville. Near Sperryville, our advance-guard surprised and captured a two-horse wagon belonging to a rebel sutler. An examination of the wagon by the inquisitive “Yankees” revealed a secret bottom, in which were found a rebel mail and a quantity of medicines and dry goods en route for the rebel lines. This wagon was on its way from the Upper Potomac, a strong argument in favor of increased vigilance in that department. At Little Washington, our advance-guard surprised a small party of Mosby's guerrillas, killing one and capturing another. Here the expedition halted and encamped for the night to rest their horses, which were, if possible, more jaded than their gallant riders. At daylight the march was continued, and on Christmas Eve the wearied soldiers reached their comfortable winter quarters in a high state of glee, every man having provided himself with an abundant supply of poultry, in order to properly celebrate Christmas in the army. The expedition marched one hundred and twenty-five miles in four days, inflicting a serious blow to the enemy in the most vital part of their prosperity. I regret to announce that these perambulating “Yankee cavaliers” were allowed to help themselves to several dressed hogs, which were in readiness for  the satisfaction of more refined appetites, such as the disciples of Mosby, White, and other prominent F. F. V. s. As our troops were out of rations, Colonel Smith had no scruples in allowing his troops to indulge in the secesh provender. On the person of the captured rebel sutler was found a revolver and a valuable gold watch. Seven thousand dollars in shinplasters, representing the currency of the would-be Confederacy, were found on the prisoners whom we captured, some fifteen or twenty in all. A large quantity of fine tobacco was confiscated in the town of Luray. The town of Luray being situated in the centre of Page valley, is one of the prettiest in Virginia. It consists of a large brick court-house, several substantial churches, and the streets of the town are laid out very tastily, running at right angles, and lined with shadetrees on either side. The private residences are superior to most of the Southern towns, and their architectural finish denotes the refined taste of their owners. Colonel C. H. Smith deserves notice for the energy and rapidity with which this difficult and hazardous movement was executed. The valor and discipline of the moral regiment under his command, and the excellent reputation they sustain for promptness and bravery on the field, among the various cavalry regiments of this army, is sufficient eulogium.
J. E. H.