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[46]

Memoir of the First Maryland regiment.

By General Bradley T. Johnson.

Paper no. 3.

The affair at Sangster's Station.

As spring approached, the pressure upon McClellan to do something became irresistible. It was evident he must move. He had for six months been organizing an army which for numbers, material and men was represented to be unparalleled. He had drilled it, and disciplined it, inured his men to the duties of the camp, the bivouac and the out-post. By grand reconnoissances and marches he had accustomed them to move in masses.

Notwithstanding, during the winter he had feared, not only to attack Johnston, immensely his inferior in numbers, but to expose himself to Johnston's attack. But his time was come, and the North would wait no longer.

By the 20th of February all our heavy baggage and sick had been sent off, and for a week the army had been in light marching order. On Friday, the 7th of March, the wagons were started, and three days cooked rations retained. Everything was ready for a move when Colonel Johnson was ordered to proceed to Sangster's Station with 200 men, and there relieve Lieutenant Colonel Walker, Thirteenth Virginia.

In the companies detailed there were only 150 men, and leaving the rest to bring down rations, Colonel Johnson started, reaching Colonel Walker's reserve two miles and a-half distant, about midday. While he was superintending the relief at one part of the line and Colonel Walker at the other, a vidette came dashing in, saying the “Yankees were coming,” and kept on with accelerated speed. Colonel Walker immediately offered to post himself on the railroad on right and rear, to prevent a flank movement, while Colonel Johnson collected his pickets to give them a brush in front. Just then the enemy's skirmishers appeared, and whilst Colonel Johnson was galloping towards parts of A and B companies to hurry them on, having ordered Lieutenant Hough, Company F, to fall back and hold a road, a troop of about forty cavalry charged Company F, some of them chasing the Colonel a short distance, and broke it as it endeavored to reach a fence to form on. Part of it got to the fence, and with Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, delivered a well directed volley, killed the commanding officer, and saved themselves, except Lieutenant Stewart, who was taken prisoner. In the meantime [47] Colonel Johnson was hurrying the junction of the other companies to make head against a regiment of infantry that was pressing down in front. Getting within reach of the cavalry engaged with the scattered remains of Company F, he ordered a volley from Company H, which drove them off, taking thirteen prisoners with them.

The battalion then fell back to the railroad, where with the Thirteenth Virginia it took position in advance of the right picket post and awaited the enemy. In the afternoon the Thirteenth was ordered back, and about sundown Colonel Johnson received orders to retire to Union Mills, which he did, burning the bridges and tressle-work on his way. Our loss here was three wounded, Lieutenant Stewart and nine men prisoners; total thirteen. The enemy lost a Lieutenant killed; how many wounded not known. Company F made the best fight under the circumstances that could have been made. Surprised in an open field, and without bayonets, it was not yet sufficiently veterans to receive the charge of cavalry with a volley in close ranks, which would have driven it back.

But the battalion made a narrow escape. General Kearney's division was the attacking force, and his advance of two regiments of infantry and two squadrons of cavalry, refrained from attacking three meagre battalions of the First Maryland and Thirteenth Virginia, numbering in the aggregate not three hundred men. Had General Kearney pressed them rapidly back that day he would have found the whole of Ewell's division on the march, just starting from Manassas. He was then not four miles from them. But he lost the afternoon in reconnoitering to see what the battalion on the railroad, consisting of companies H and I and parts of A and B, First Maryland, meant, and the rear of Johnston's army thus gained four or five hours march on him. It was dusk when the battalion reached Union Mills, just in time to cross over the burning bridge. The rest of the army had marched, and it was ordered to picket and hold Union Mills ford. About 2 A. M. Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols, Seventh Louisiana, relieved us, and we set off in a brisk march down the Orange and Alexandria railroad.

On Tuesday, 11th, it rejoined the regiment and crossed the Rappahannock, where it went into camp.


The campaign of the Potomac.

The evacuation of Manassas may be said to have terminated the Potomac campaign. The events of that period are too recent, and the [48] actors in it too prominent for either an intelligent or impartial analysis of its transactions.

History can only be written from the examination of time, whence the grand movements can be seen unobscured by the dust of action which blinds the immediate contestants. But when history shall know the enormous results achieved by Confederate arms, with almost infinitesimal means, the highest meed will be awarded the genius which used such weapons with such wonderful effect.

When General Johnston evacuated Harper's Ferry his command consisted of hardly 7,000 men of all arms. They were deficient in material, in transportation, in clothes, in ammunition, in every thing. The Maryland battalion had one wagon, which more than sufficed for its baggage and cooking utensils.

Thanks to .Mrs. Johnson's energy and the liberality of North Carolina and Governor Ellis, it had excellent arms. The clothing and equipments procured by her did not arrive until we were at Winchester. Many of the men were indecent for the want of clothes, wanting coats, shirts, hats, pants, and shoes.

On the march, Swisher, a gallant boy from Boonsboroa, fell out of ranks, and said to Captain Johnson, “Captain, it is impossible for me to keep up, my feet are so sore;” “Well,” said the Captain, “I will not order you to do so, but no man of my company has yet fallen out.” “Then I wont,” said he, and taking his place, barefoot for miles, his steps were literally marked by blood over the sharp stones of the Martinsburg pike. At Bunker Hill, on the 17th June, when Patterson was reported advancing, ammunition was served out, which the men carried in their pockets or haversacks. They had no cartridge boxes. The bold front then showed by General Johnston, with his raw levies, forced Patterson back over the Potomac, with a force certainly three or four times as numerous, and infinitely better equipped. A month after, by that masterly flank march, the Federal General was left at Charlestown, while Johnston swept down on McDowell's right flank, crushing it in, and saving the battle of Manassas. Then he only had nine thousand men up, and with the forces of General Beauregard they routed certainly three times their number. Whatever may be the judgment of history as to the inaction after that battle, and the failure to occupy Washington city, there can be no doubt but that the operations, subsequent to that period in which the city could have been taken, were controlled by the highest appreciation of the rules of the art of war.

In July and August, 1861, the Confederates could have occupied [49] Washington city. Persons for a week after the battle were constantly coming to the camp at Fairfax Courthouse, and giving full and perfect information as to the utterly confused and defenceless state of the enemy. Why that was not taken advantage of time will show. But after a few weeks it was too late. Then nothing could be done except hold the host McClellan was organizing in check. And this General Johnson did on a line extending from Acquia Creek by Leesburg to Winchester, with a scantiness of resources and disparity of force, which, when known, will not be considered the least remarkable of the great achievements of this war. The fortifications at Centreville, which might have readily been turned at any time by the Sudley Ford road, and the heavy siege guns thereon mounted (of wood) for four months held at bay a great General and a great army.

When at last McClellan had determined to attack him, and sending Banks by a grand movement by Winchester and the Berryville road to flank the position at Centreville, moved Kearney up the Orange and Alexandria railroad to feel our strength on our right. General Johnston, by alert and prompt action, threw his whole army back to the line of the Rappahannock. This was the second lesson he had given the enemy of eluding a proffered combat, and selecting his own time and occasion for battle with a celerity that confounded all his combinations. It was impossible for him to fight at Manassas. Banks, moving by Front Royal, could have cut his communications at Culpeper Courthouse, or, crossing at Berry's Ferry, seize the Manassas Gap railroad at Piedmont. The campaign of McClellan was frustrated by this sudden move to the Rappahannock. Banks fell back to Winchester, where he remained stationary for several weeks, and McClellan moved his army to the Peninsula.

The retreat from Manassas paralyzed all the operations of the enemy in Northern Virginia for weeks, and rendered an entirely new campaign necessary on his part.


The camp on the Rappahannock.

While General Johnston from the Rapidan observed McClellan's movements until his attack was developed, whether by way of Yorktown or Fredericksburg, he left General Ewell, who had in February been assigned to General Kirby Smith's division, at Rappahannock station, where the Orange railroad crosses that river. With him were General Stuart and his cavalry. Elzey's brigade went into camp about a mile east of the railroad, and Trimble and Taylor were posted up the [50] river to the west of it. Here from the 11th of March until the latter part of that month they were undisturbed by any turnout or approach of the enemy. Colonel Steuart left about the 15th for Richmond, where on the 18th he was made Brigadier, and after this period the regiment was under the command of Colonel Johnson. In the early part of April couriers from the front gave notice that the enemy were approaching in force. General Ewell at once took position, and Colonel Johnson was ordered by General Elzey to hold the ford just below the railroad bridge. He placed the regiment in a skirt of wood near the river, but hidden from the view of the enemy, and ordered Captain Goldsborough to deploy company A as skirmishers on the bank. The Baltimore Light Artillery was posted on a mound on our right. Soon the enemy appeared in column in the open ground on the opposite side. They rapidly placed two guns in position and opened on the Baltimore battery, which was plainly visible. That immediately replied, and for some time a sharp duel took place. But the skirmishers of the enemy, in the meantime, had crept up to the bridge, where Goldsborough discovered them, and after a determined skirmish drove them away. It was the first time General Elzey had seen the men skirmish, and the cool manner in which Goldsborough's men deployed under a sharp artillery fire, and then in the fight fired, fell down and loaded lying, excited his admiration. He said no troops in the world could have excelled it.

After the enemy had induced us to fire the bridge he withdrew, having made his reconnoissance. It turned out to be Sumner, from Warrenton, with four thousand infantry, two regiments of cavalry and two batteries, feeling our strength.

After General Elzey had developed the enemy's force, he drew back from the river to induce him to cross, but he was too wary to be caught. A few days afterwards the performance was repeated for the purpose of making a movement down the river, which was subsequently found to be Sumner moving over to unite with McDowell at Fredericksburg. On each occasion, however, as soon as they attempted to fall back, Stuart pounced upon them with his cavalry and made them pay in prisoners for their expedition.

On the 18th of April, after one of these skirmishes, at sunset, in the most tremendous rain of the season, the whole command marched to Culpeper, distant ten miles, which it reached before daybreak, well jaded by a night march in the dark and rain, over a railroad. Such marching is peculiarly tiresome. The sills cramp and fatigue the legs, [51] and break shoes, so that a day's march on a railroad has always done more harm to men than two or three on an ordinary dirt road.

From Culpeper we started for Madison Courthouse, but marching in that direction five or six miles, retraced our steps, and continuing on the railroad, the next night reached Orange Courthouse. During most of the time it was raining, and the wet bivouacs made it anything but comfortable. After going to Gordonsville we camped at Liberty Mills, or Somerset, seven miles west of it. Thence by a delightful road, sixteen miles to Stanardsville, a charming village in the bosom of the Blue Ridge, and from there through Swift Run gap into the Valley of Virginia to the Shenandoah, at Conrad's store. The river was dear to the regiment. Born at the point of its debouchure at Harper's Ferry, it was destined to start from its head in the mountains and to illustrate a glorious campaign on its banks, equalled by few and surpassed by none. We got to know the Shenandoah; we crossed it on the grand march to Manassas; we fought over it at Front Royal; the echoes of Bolivar sent the ring of our rifles across its bosom to Loudoun, and thence they leaped back to Maryland; and at Mount Jackson and Rood's hill we trusted to the river to protect our flank while we fronted Fremont's pursuit; at Cross Keys and Port Republic again its pure waters were mingled with blood. In this quiet nook General Ewell remained until he started on the glorious campaign down the Valley, which at once placed the name of Jackson by the side of the greatest soldiers.


The campaign of the Valley.

The evening Ewell arrived at Conrad's store Jackson marched from there. He had been followed up the Valley by Banks and Shields, who were then near New Market, and had taken refuge from their pursuit in the lock of the mountains at Conrad's, with the river in his front and the Blue Ridge on his flanks and rear. Marching to Port Republic, he crossed into the Piedmont country by Brown's gap, striking the Virginia Central road at Waynesboro, and thence was not heard of for days. Banks telegraphed that Jackson had fled from him. About the 10th of May, however, news came from that General in his laconic dispatch, “God has given us a victory at McDowell's to-day.”

Passing swiftly through Staunton, he had fallen like a thunderbolt on Milroy at McDowell, and hurled him back. Then wheeling down the Valley, he was already on the march for Banks. On the 14th Ewell marched for Columbia bridge, but Shields had already passed it and gone through Luray, over the mountain, towards Fredericksburg. [52] Then it appeared that Banks began to have some faint idea of his imminent peril, for he fell back rapidly to Strasburg, a strong position, well fortified. Ewell, on the 17th, passed the Shenandoah for New Market gap, whence on the 21st he marched to the top of Milem's gap, on the Graves road. Jackson, in the meantime, had swept up the Valley to New Market. While Ewell halted here, it was that Jackson is said to have requested “fewer orders and more men.” That at least was the camp story about him. At any rate he there assumed command of Ewell, who retraced his steps to Luray, where he formed a junction with Jackson on the 22d. At this time Brigadier-General Steuart, who had been assigned to the command of the “Maryland line,” reported for duty, and the First Maryland and Baltimore Artillery were assigned to him as composing the Line. The regiment marched over, and thus Colonel Johnson took leave of “Old Blucher,” their first Colonel, under whom they had so long served and to whom they were greatly attached. Through the trials and sufferings incident to a young soldier's career, he had always furnished them the model of the soldier and the officer, and they parted from him with great reluctance, though glad enough to go into the Line. In camp on the 23d, eight miles north of Luray, a number of men who claimed to have been enlisted for twelve months, refused to do duty because their time was up. While they were firm they were at the same time perfectly respectful, and only desired, they said, to have the matter determined by the proper authority. All of the companies enlisted at Richmond had been mustered in for twelve months, and on the 17th of May, the year having expired, Company C, Captain R. C. Smith, had been mustered out and discharges given them by Colonel Johnson.

On the 21st, some twenty men of Companies A and B, who were also twelve months men, enlisted by Colonel Johnson at the Point of Rocks, but who had not reenlisted with the rest of their companies, were also discharged by the Colonel.

These men demanded their discharges also from him. He explained to them that their cases were different, that their muster rolls showed they were regularly enlisted at Harpers Ferry by Lieutenant-Colonel Deas, “for the war;” that those muster rolls had regularly been filed in the War Department, and that the regular bi-monthly muster ever since had also showed they were “for the war,” and that even if they had been deceived, as they alleged, and had signed the muster rolls without understanding them, he had no power to discharge them. Their proper mode of proceeding was to apply through him to the Secretary of War. Many were satisfied at this, but many ran away [53] without waiting for this explanation. Some dozen, however, were not willing to do duty, would not desert, and preferred going to the guard-house.

On the morning of the 24th the regiment started on the march sullen and unhappy. Many men were greatly mortified at what had occurred, so injurious to the reputation of the “First Maryland,” which had always been without a blemish, and many were uncertain whether they were right or wrong. Thus they plodded along, silent, lifeless, and without spirits. Mile after mile they trudged, round and round the mountain road, until a courier rode up to Colonel Johnson. He brought an order for the First Maryland to come immediately to the front and attack the enemy. Ewell was there and had sent for us. The Colonel halted the command instantly. He told the men, in few and stirring words, that they had been selected to open the fight. They were placed in the post of honor, but that he would not lead dissatisfied men. He would not risk the honor of Maryland with men who could not sustain it if discontented and spiritless. Every man who felt aggrieved he demanded should lay down his arms and go to the rear with the guard, but he invoked them to beware how they did so. They should recollect that a woman had given them those very arms which they would thus throw down in the presence of the enemy, and their duty to their friends at home would restrain them. They had a heavy debt to pay for the dungeons of the Northern tyranny. After the battle he promised them he would forward any complaints to the Secretary of War. The mountain sides then rang with cheers, and “We won t leave you;” “we will not disgrace the State;” “we don't want to dodge,” came from all sides. The dozen prisoners in charge of the guard begged to be allowed to come in; the Colonel consented, released them, and sent them back to the wagon, seven miles off, for their rifles. They ran all the way back, and got up in time for the fight at Front Royal. All were up that night. New life was infused into the mass, and the men sprang forward with that quick elastic step for which they were noted, and which Kirby Smith and Whiting used to say was more like the French than anything they had ever seen. The whole column halted to let us pass. The Louisiana brigade presented arms, and the men seemed to tread on air as they swung along. The glorious old Fourth, and “Blucher,” the whole army, cheered enthusiastically. “There they go I look at them,” was the universal cry, as, not two hundred and fifty strong, they tramped at quick time through column after and took the front.

General Steuart, who had also been assigned a cavalry brigade, was [54] ahead, and about 1 o'clock we came in sight of the enemy's pickets. The sentinel on post, in a red shirt, was taking his ease at full length under a rail shelter. The group of horsemen, Generals Ewell, Taylor and Steuart, Colonel Johnson and others, who halted to reconnoitre, appeared somewhat to puzzle him. He looked, and looked again, as if he could not believe his eyes, at last, lazily getting up, he reached over for his musket, and all at once quickly raised it, fired, and ran for his life. The truth had suddenly flashed on his benighted brain that the “Rebels” were upon him. After him went companies D and G, on the right and left as skirmishers, and down the road charged a squad of cavalry. In a few minutes the whole post was captured. “What regiment do you belong to?” said Colonel Johnson to a Dutchman whom a cavalryman was double-quicking to the rear: “I pelongs to de First Maryland,” said Hans. “There's the First Maryland,” shouted the Colonel, as the boys sprang on again in a run. The First Maryland Yankees had long been an object of great interest to us. We had often heard of their expressed anxiety to make our acquaintance, and the feeling had got to be quite warm in reciprocity. If there was anything we did desire, next to marching down Baltimore street, it was to get as close to the bogus First Maryland as possible. We knew that while it had many Baltimore men in it, a large proportion were Dutch Yankees, and such people, and had a private idea that any intimate intercourse between the two regiments would not be healthy for them. And, now here they were, close at hand. It was delightful. While the regiment was halted a second or two to breathe and reform, our skirmishers could be seen engaged with the enemy, posted in a large hospital, from which they were showering balls. “Colonel” said, General Steuart, “Can't you take that building?” It was distant six or seven hundred yards. “I think so,” said the Colonel. “There they are, boys;” “take them,” said he. Off we went with a yell, every man doing his prettiest with his legs. Adjutant Ward dashed ahead, saying, “By your permission, Colonel,” while Major Wheat shot by like a rocket, his red cap gleaming, revolver in hand, and got in first, throwing his shots right and left. The hospital was taken. Charging through the village, some of the men ran against a large squad of Yankees, who fired right in their faces without effect. Clearing the town on the Wincester road, a line of battle could be perceived on the crest of a hill half a mile off, and advancing to a stone fence near to it, Colonel Johnson halted to collect and breathe the men. In a few minutes their skirmishers came rapidly down the hill into the wheat field in front. The whole battalion then advanced as skirmishers, [55] with Wheat's men on our left. The enemy opened on us sharply with shell from two pieces, and though shooting remarkably well, did no execution. During the rest of the afternoon, after a short struggle, their skirmishers were driven back, and Captain Nicholas was ordered to take a white house to the left of the road, which would give him a flank fire on their line, while Colonel Johnson, with Captains Smith and Herbert, turned them on the right. Nicholas got nearly to his position, but was obliged to give ground on account of Wheat's battalion falling back and exposing his flank. Smith pushed his way rapidly on the hill until within reach of the cannonneers at the guns, when a squadron of cavalry came rapidly down the hill, evidently intended for the centre of the skirmishers. Smith was immediately ordered back to form with Captain Robertson and repel their charge, but they retired without making an attack. The right of our line then swung rapidly round, while Goldsborough and Nicholas closed in on them on the left, in a run, in conjunction with Wheat. Their colors was captured in their camp by Private Drers, Company H, together with their camp fixtures, tents, &c., and some prisoners, while Smith, Herbert, Robertson, and Murray were pressing them as they crossed the railroad bridge over the Shenandoah. Private Tom Levering, Company H, brought seven prisoners to the Colonel, and Valiant, Company E, brought a Lieutenant with a fine horse and equipments.

They had been driven so rapidly over the bridges that no time was allowed to burn them; a small fire kindled on the upper one was thrown off before any damage was done, and we immediately crossed to the railroad depot, where there was a large quantity of stores. Here we bivouaced while the rest of the column marched on to camp. As they went by the greatest delight was manifested at our success. “The real First Maryland had whipped the bogus,” was the common expression and cheers and shouts came from every passing battalion and brigade. Elzey rode by, and turning to the hearty cheers of the men, took off his hat, saying, “Boys, I knew you'd do it.” All night long prisoners were being brought in by the cavalry, who went within three miles of Winchester and captured the whole force, except some twenty or thirty infantry and a few cavalry. The prisoners were under our charge, and the recognitions among old acquaintances were highly amusing, although the conversations which generally passed between them were not of a polite or complimentary character. The total of prisoners of that night and next morning was about 900.

The Yankee force engaged was under Colonel John R. Kenly, First Maryland (bogus) and consisted of his own regiment, with the exception [56] of one company off on duty, which escaped, but having in the fight near 700 men; two companies, Twenty-Ninth Pennsylvania, 150 men; one squadron, New York cavalry, 125 men; one section artillery, 75 men; making a total of 1,050. About 100 were killed and wounded, and perhaps fifty escaped.

Against this force were engaged the First Maryland, Colonel Johnson, and special Louisiana battalion, Major Wheat; the first 250 strong, the last 175--total, 425. Not a gun was fired by any other infantry during the fight; no one else was engaged, and no one pressed the enemy until after he had been driven across the Shenandoah, when the cavalry pitched on him and captured most of his men. About one hundred were taken on the field. Some half a dozen shots were fired by one of our pieces during the skirmish, and no other aid was offered us. It was evidently General Jackson's intention to make us whip the enemy by ourselves, and consequently we were left struggling in the unequal contest for four or five hours before we succeeded in driving them from their position. But we did succeed! During his retreat Colonel Kenly for a while kept his men well together, and made a gallant resistance to our cavalry charge, but being cut down and captured his command was then easily dispersed and picked up. One captain surrendered himself and seventeen of his men to a boy of sixteen, of the Second Virginia cavalry, who, riding in the woods alone, was suddenly accosted, and finding himself surrounded, was about making a run for it when this little captain relieved himself of his sword and the cavalryman of his anxiety by giving up the whole party.

The next morning, Saturday, General Jackson proposed to Colonel Johnson to send him back in charge of the prisoners to Richmond, but the Colonel declined the offer, preferring to keep in the front. It would have been exceedingly desirable to have the regiment at Richmond for a few days to recruit, but he thought it better to stay where he was, and subsequent occurrences justified his judgment. We were then ordered to Middletown, on the Valley turnpike, with the Baltimore Light Artillery, to support General Steuart, who with some cavalry had got into Banks's rear. We reached within two miles of that point during the afternoon, and found General Steuart retiring, having been driven out by infantry. We then retraced our steps and camped by the side of a stream, seven miles from Winchester, without fires, and in the rain, without blankets.

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