A narrative of Stuart's Raid in the rear of the Army of the Potomac.
By Richard E. Frayser, formerly Captain on General Stuart's Staff and Chief Signal Officer of the Cavalry Corps Army of Northern Virginia.Near dawn on Thursday, the twelfth day of June, 1862, General J. E. B. Stuart, with portions of the First Virginia Cavalry, Colonel Fitz Lee; Jeff Davis's Legion, Colonel W. T. Martin; Ninth Virginia Cavalry, Colonel W. H. F. Lee, also a detachment of the Fourth Virginia Cavalry, commanded at the time by Captain Utterback, of ‘Little Fork Rangers,’ Culpeper county, Colonel W. C. Wickham, who commanded the Fourth, was absent, owing to the fact of his having received a very severe and painful sabre wound shortly before, at the battle of Williamsburg, which rendered him unfit for active duty when the raid was made, and two pieces of Stuart's horse artillery, commanded by Lieutenant James Breathed, started from camp, near Richmond, with the intention of making a reconnoissance in rear of the Federal army lying at that time on both sides of the Chickahominy River and menacing the Confederate Capital. The White House, situated immediately on the banks of the Pamunkey River, was in possession of the United States forces, and was held and used as their base of operations. This point of the Pamunkey is navigable for both steamers and sailing vessels, and was admirably adapted for the purpose for which it was used. By an examination of a map of the Peninsula, the reader will perceive that the distance from the White House to where the strength of McClellan's army lay on the Chickahominy is about twelve miles. It will also give the reader a better idea as to the great peril in which Stuart placed himself after he began to penetrate the Federal lines, almost surrounded by navigable rivers and an alert enemy. The Richmond and York River railroad passed at that time, as it does now, through the narrow strip of land lying between the Pamunkey and Chickahominy, which afforded the Federals all necessary transportation, but was not properly guarded.
An encouraging start.Stuart was not only brave, but full of sagacity and vigilance. Before leaving camp he obtained some valuable information from scouts regarding the position and movements of the enemy and with respect to the condition of roads and fords. Little occurred of interest on the first day of the march, which was bright and sunny with the  foliage of the forest in full leaf, and everything apparently propitious for the expedition. The command moved on the Brook Church turnpike, in the direction of the Rappahannock River. Reaching Winston's farm, near Taylorsville, Stuart, with his command, bivouacked for the night. Near morning the firing of signal rockets announced the summons to horse, and every man was quickly in the saddle. It was conjectured by many of the command that Stuart was en route to unite his forces with General Jackson, in the Valley. But this notion was very soon dissipated by an attack on the enemy. Friday, the second day of the raid, opened with a cloudless sky, the air was soft and balmy and all nature had assumed a lovely aspect. In approaching Hanover Courthouse it was ascertained that it was in possession of the Federal cavalry. The pickets were driven in, and without stopping to make any resistance, the whole force retreated on the road leading to Hawes's shop. That daring leader, Colonel Fitz Lee, by a flank movement, made an effort to capture this command, but failed. The enemy halted near Hawes's shop and formed in line of battle. But Fitz Lee very soon repulsed and scattered the Federals, who fled through forest and fields without much loss. It was there that Heros Von Borcke, formerly in the Brandenburgischen Dragoons, Prussian army, who had very recently arrived and was serving as volunteer aid on General Stuart's staff, first attracted attention by his gallant bearing as an officer. And soon thereafter he won the the esteem of all who witnessed his soldierly conduct. Drawing an immense sabre he dashed forward in the midst of the charge upon the enemy. Some prisoners were captured in the skirmish and the Confederates hastened on in pursuit of the retreating Federals, who never halted until after crossing the Tottapotomoi, a small stream spanned by a bridge and within a short distance of Old Church. Passing through a deep ravine where the country road is narrow, with high and precipitous banks on either side and fringed with laurel and pine, Stuart found massed upon the summit of the hill the whole of the Federal cavalry; it was here he met a most determined resistance. A piece of artillery was placed in position and the road was shelled, but this failed in dislodging the enemy. Stuart, desirous of carrying this point, speedily ordered W. H. F. Lee forward with the Ninth. The third squadron of this regiment was composed of the Essex Light Dragoons, Captain Latane, and the ‘Mercer County Cavalry,’ L. Walker commanding. Captain  Latane charged at the head of the squadron and met the advancing Federals. As the two bodies clashed the Federal commander shouted: ‘Cut and thrust,’ and the gallant Latane yelled: ‘On to them boys!’ The Fifth United States Regulars fought splendidly but they could not long resist the Ninth, that struck them like a thunderbolt. In this fight the brave and deeply lamented Captain Latane was killed while charging fifteen paces in advance of his squadron. The writer saw him after he fell in the road and while in the throes of death. A more daring and fearless spirit never drew sabre. Captain Royall, a gallant officer on the Federal side, was severely wounded. The defeat and rout of the enemy at this point placed Stuart in possession of an immense camp, abundantly supplied with commissary and quartermaster stores, many of which were carried off by the Confederates. The rest, together with a large number of superb new tents pitched in the field near the roadside, were consumed by fire. Old Church had now been reached and the Federal cavalry had retreated in the direction of the Chickahominy and Stuart had penetrated far into the lines of the enemy, where he had cause to expect a most terrific attack at any moment. But he was cool and defiant. Calling Captain Richard E. Frayser, who subsequently became his chief signal officer and a member of his staff, General Stuart ordered him to take some men and go in advance of the column and report any movements of the Federals. Between Old Church and Tunstall's (the latter place is situated on the York River railroad), some army wagons, loaded with stores, were captured, also teamsters, horses, and mules belonging to them. As the command neared Tunstall's, Captain Frayser reported a squadron of Federal cavalry drawn up in line of battle in a field and near the county road. The officer in command had evidently obtained some information as to the approach of Stuart, and was on the qui vive. Taking a position in front of his command, he hailed Frayser and interrogated him as to what command he belonged. Captain Frayser, being fully aware of the perilous situation of the officer and his command, and in order to detain both for capture, responded that he belonged to the Eighth Illinois regiment, said to be the finest in the Federal service at that time. Now, this was a ruse to delay and entrap the Federal officer and his command, and came near proving successful. But this truce was abruptly broken by the officer casting his eyes quickly to the right and discovering Stuart at the head  of his column sweeping rapidly down upon him. He lost no time in giving the order, ‘Head of column to the right, wheel, march!’ at the same time telling Frayser, in the most emphatic manner, to go to h—l with his Eighth Illinois regiment. He moved off in a state of consternation with his command hurriedly on the county road leading to the White House. Lieutenant W. T. Robins, with a detachment of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, charged an infantry force, consisting perhaps of more than one hundred men, occupying and guarding Tunstall's. After a very sharp and stubborn resistance the whole of this force was captured, together with all the military stores of the place. Before reaching Tunstall's, Stuart sent the fourth squadron of the Ninth, under command of Captain Knight, consisting of the Lancaster cavalry and Lunenburg troop, with orders to destroy some large transports with valuable cargoes at Putney Ferry, on the Pamunkey River; also wagons. This was done in the most satisfactory manner, and they joined the column on its route. ‘Hab we got Richmond yet, boss?’ asked a darkey, as he turned up his eye-ball in admiration of the cavalry; ‘if we ain't we soon shall, for McClellan and our boys is sure to fotch her!’ It was late in the evening of the second day's march when Stuart reached Tunstall's, and as this was a very important point he determined to inflict all possible injury upon the Federals. He halted his command and dismounted a large portion of it, although he was poorly prepared for the work before him. The cutting down of telegraph poles and tearing up of railroads without the proper implements is no holiday occasion. No sappers and miners accompanied Stuart on this expedition; so, in order to carry out his scheme of destruction, it became necessary for him to procure axes and picks from the neighboring farms, but the country had been so thoroughly pillaged by the Federals but few could be procured, and they were of the most inferior kind. But with these the men went earnestly to work, and while engaged in it a train was discovered approaching from the direction of the Chickahominy, with troops, and but a short distance off. The daring raider, ever ready for any emergency, quickly placed a large number of men, armed with carbines, on either side of the railroad, and awaited in breathless silence for the train, which appeared as if reluctant to run the deadly gauntlet. It moved slowly, as if the Captain of the train designed stopping it. Now putting on a full head of steam, the train shot, with the rapidity of an arrow,  through the heavy and destructive fire along the railroad, and soon disappeared, going in the direction of the White House. Many of the troops on the train were killed, among them the engineer, who was shot by Captain W. D. Farley. Stuart, being in a most perilous position, could not long occupy Tunstall's, for he was within a few miles of the Federal base, and not far removed from the head of McClellan's army. He had marched forty miles on this day, and had whipped and demoralized the enemy in every encounter. About twilight his column was again in motion on the road leading to Talleysville. The burning of the transports and wagons illuminated the Northern horizon and rendered it a grand spectacle for an hour or more after nightfall. Colonel W. H. F. Lee, after crossing the bridge spanning Black Creek, and who was in advance of the column, overtook an immense wagon train ascending Southern Branch Hill, which stretched out for miles on the road. Colonel Lee, fearing an ambuscade, dismounted his command, and threw out skirmishers on either side of the road, which was densely fringed with forest and undergrowth, but very soon discovered there was no guard with it. The wagons contained commissary and quartermaster stores of every kind, which fell like ripe fruit into the hands of the Confederates. The horses and mules were detached from the wagons and the latter, with all of their contents, were destroyed by fire. This was the most valuable capture made during this memorable raid. Reaching Talleysville during the night, which is four miles from Tunstall's and about the same distance from the White House, Stuart halted for several hours, to rest and to put his column in proper shape. The raiders found some enterprising sutlers occupying Talleysville and carrying on a very profitable business, secure, as they supposed, from the Confederates. All of their stocks, consisting chiefly of nice edibles, were quickly confiscated, and the sutlers were mounted on horses and mules and informed that their destination was Libby Prison. This was a most opportune capture, for the men were nearly out of rations and just in the mood to appreciate such knick-knacks. At Talleysville Stuart struck the old stage road leading from. Richmond to Williamsburg, over which a large portion of the Confederate army had retreated in the evacuation of the Peninsula. After marching a mile or more on this road the head of the column filed into one leading to Providence Forge, a princely estate, a portion of which is situated on the Chickahominy River.  At Sycamore Springs, a contiguous plantation lying immediately above the one just mentioned, and which was noted for its great hospitality in the olden time, is a private ford, where the cavalry leader designed crossing the Chickahominy with his command into Charles City county, for he had been informed by reliable scouts before leaving camp near Richmond that the river at this point was fordable. But owing to heavy rains having fallen this ford was not in a condition to give such relief as the great exigency of the case required. On the approach of Colonel W. H. F. Lee to the river he discovered an immense volume of water, which had overflowed its banks, rushing madly before him. This was, indeed, a most startling surprise to the leader of the Ninth. Here was an insurmountable barrier in the shape of a swollen river confronting him, with a powerful enemy menacing Stuart and his whole command with annihilation. Captain Jones R. Christian, of the Third Cavalry Regiment, who accompanied Colonel Lee as guide, and who resided at Sycamore Springs, and was perfectly familiar with this locality and the ford, was unable to point out any relief, as he too was greatly disappointed in finding the river so high as to render it unfordable. This was, indeed, a most trying situation, but Lee determined on crossing the Chickahominy at this point at the peril of his life. After making a careful survey of the river and sounding the ford he, with others, plunged into the flood with the heads of their horses turned up stream. The effort to reach the opposite shore was a protracted one and came near resulting in the death of men and horses, for in swimming the river the feet of the latter became entangled in driftwood and roots of trees. Lee recrossed the Chickahominy in the same manner and reported the scheme of swimming the river with the command as impracticable. The next scheme was to construct a bridge at this point, if possible. Axes and other implements were procured and large trees standing on the banks of the river were felled in such manner that the tops might reach the opposite shore and thus form a substantial bridge. But as they fell the current swept them down the stream as if they were reeds. This mode of escape was now abandoned and everything looked gloomy for the Confederates. At this juncture Stuart arrived. With eagle eye he at once saw his dilemma. The writer followed him from the time he began his campaigns in the Peninsula until he was cut down at Yellow Tavern, but never saw him the least excited under fire or elsewhere. When Stuart reached the ford he never dismounted. He sat erect in his saddle and occasionally  caught hold of his long flowing beard, which was a habit of his when his schemes were not working smoothly. He did not long remain in this state of mind, for he very soon discovered a passage through which he and his whole command could escape. A mile or more below this ford on the Chickahominy, where the county road crosses the river leading from Providence. Forge to Charles City Courthouse, were the ruins of Jones's bridge, which had been destroyed by fire by the Confederates when this portion of the Peninsula was evacuated. The abutments and a few of the piers were all that remained of the old bridge, which Stuart at once determined to rebuild. Working parties were organized and began to tear down an old farm house which stood in a field near by, the timber of which suited admirably for the bridge. The great genius of Stuart was now fully evinced, and this was to be the grand achievement of the raid. Caesar-like, no trouble could abate his ardor or in the slightest manner affect his great presence of mind. The style of the bridge did not resemble the celebrated one of Caesar, over which youths sometime rack their brain, but it was of sufficient strength for all to pass safely to the Charles City side. This impromptu structure did not exist long after being used by the Confederates, for the reason that Rush's Lancers, with other Federal troops, had followed in hot pursuit and were threatening Stuart's rear. The torch was applied and the bridge was very soon consumed, which checked the advance of the enemy. Among those who distinguished themselves in building the bridge, and whose names deserve to be recorded, are Captain R. Burke and Corporal Hagan, who worked earnestly from the time the bridge was begun until it was finished. Without the services of these officers the column would have been long and dangerously detained, as it was in close proximity to the enemy. Corporal Hagan is deserving of more than a passing notice for his labors and justly merits all the praise and encomiums that can be given him. The Corporal had won a name on the fields of Drainsville and Williamsburg for his coolness before the enemy, which had attracted the attention of Stuart, and he had already recommended him for promotion. Stuart, while at the ford at Sycamore Springs, already mentioned, sent a dispatch by Mr. Turner Doswell, to General R. E. Lee, giving him some account of his progress and of the important captures he had made. Mr. Doswell had to pass through the Federal lines, and he came near being taken prisoner. Stuart hurried on  after reaching Charles City county, passed up on the north side of the Chickahominy, a distance of two miles, to Mr. Thomas Christian's residence; but although much fatigued, he did not draw rein. He had now accomplished much in obtaining information as to the location and strength of the Federal army, and was desirous of reaching the Confederate lines with all possible speed, and did not halt his column for rest until he reached the hospitable mansion of Judge Isaac H. Christian, in the vicinage of Charles City Courthouse. Here he and his staff were received in the most cordial manner and entertained in princely style under some lovely shade trees in the yard. After partaking of some refreshments, Stuart and his staff slept for several hours. About twilight Stuart, after making all necessary arrangements with Colonel Fitz Lee, with whom he left his command at Buckland, the residence of Colonel J. M. Wilcox, with instructions to follow at 11 o'clock that evening, left with Captain R. E. Frayser, his guide, and a courier for the headquarters of General Lee, near Richmond. The distance from Buckland to Richmond is about thirty miles, and the country through which he had to pass lay in the enemy's lines, and the route he took is known as the James River road. While he was liable to capture by scouting parties, he dashed over the road without the least fear. At Rowland's Mill, about six miles from Charles City Courthouse, Stuart drew rein to quaff a cup of strong coffee, a favorite beverage of his, and to rest fifteen minutes or more; then springing in the saddle, he galloped off in the direction of Richmond. The writer never saw this dashing officer on an inferior horse, although he had been with him on many a long and weary march. As Stuart approached the neighborhood of White Oak Swamp with his guide and courier, he was in great danger of being captured or shot, for it is but a short distance from White Oak Swamp to the road upon which he was traveling at that time, and this was occupied by General Hooker, with his command, who could have intercepted the bold raider without the slighest difficulty had he known of his approach. At this point he had the James very near him on the south and General Hooker on the north in uncomfortable proximity. But this never delayed Stuart a minute in his important mission. He moved rapidly on, and arrived at General R. E. Lee's headquarters before sunrise the following morning. Before this he had given orders to Captain Frayser to see Governor John Letcher, for whom he had great esteem and admiration,  and to report to him all he had done in making his reconnoissance. Captain Frayser, on his arrival in Richmond, repaired at once to the Executive Mansion; the servant, who met him at the door, informed him his Excellency was in bed and that he could not be seen at such an early hour; that later in the morning, when his toilet was made, he could be seen. Now, Captain Frayser was under orders to report in person without delay, and he insisted on an interview. He told the servant to tell the Governor that a soldier from General Stuart's command was at the door with important dispatches, and desired to see him. When this announcement was made all ceremony was at once waved, and Captain Frayser was soon ushered into the presence of the Governor. On entering the bed-chamber, Captain Frayser was most agreeably surprised to find an old friend in the person of Dr. John Mayo, a brother of Joseph Mayo, who was Mayor of Richmond for many years, in bed with Governor Letcher. Now, there was much anxiety manifested upon the part of both to hear everything connected with the raid, and nothing short of Frayser's making another raid around McClellan would satisfy them; although he had been in the saddle three days and two nights, he had it all to go over again, and the two listened with the deepest interest to every incident as related and laughed heartily as some daring achievement of Stuart was told them. When Captain Frayser had hurriedly communicated all that had been done he arose to take leave, when the broken condition of his sabre attracted the attention of the Governor, and after learning how it happened in the raid, he very kindly said to Captain Frayser that if he would call that day, or the next, he would give him an order on the officer in charge of the State Arsenal for a superb one. Now a good sabre is always prized by a cavalryman. The generous impulse which prompted this offer was duly appreciated, and Captain Frayser called and received the order from his Excellency, and made his own selection from a large collection of superior sabres at that time in the arsenal. This raid was full of exciting incidents, and will never be forgotten by those who participated in it. General Fitz Lee, with whom Stuart had left his command at Buckland, arrived within the Confederate lines in due time with all the prisoners and other captures that had been made on the expedition. This brilliant achievement of Stuart was heralded by the press throughout this country and Europe. The great military genius of this daring leader was  at once recognized by the Confederate authorities by making him Major-General of cavalry, and who subsequently became one among the most distinguished leaders of the Army of Northern Virginia and a great favorite of General R. E. Lee. How McClellan, with a grand army, allowed Stuart to ride around him with only fifteen hundred cavalry, is a mystery to the writer. In less time than two hours he could have thrown a sufficient number of troops into Tunstall's by the York River railroad to intercept and crush the Confederates. Instead of having five thousand men here he only had the use of one hundred. Again, when Stuart passed into the Confederate lines between White Oak Swamp and the James, McClellan could have closed the only avenue of escape by ordering General Hooker, who occupied White Oak Swamp, the extreme left wing of his army, to extend his lines to the James. This would have closed the doors upon Stuart and he and his whole command would have inevitably been captured or killed. McClellan had been on the Chickahominy but a short time when the raid occurred, and must have been somewhat ignorant of the geography of the country through which Stuart passed, for he could have intercepted him at Tunstall's, and if Stuart had been compelled to retrace his steps from this point by the way of the Old Church, his command would have been in great peril. But McClellan never acted as if he understood the situation. He was struck so suddenly and with such violence at a vulnerable point that apparently he knew not how to act, and this stunning blow afforded Stuart a golden opportunity to prosecute his foray. If the reader will take a map of the Peninsula and examine it carefully he will at once see the many difficulties the Confederates had to overcome and the great peril to which they were exposed during the reconnoissance. The command, as it passed over the county roads, presented a most formidable appearance, and to persons unaccustomed to witness military displays its strength was estimated at five thousand men. Stuart on his return to camp at Braxton's, near Richmond, issued the following general orders:
In General Stuart's official report to General R. E. Lee, dated June 17, 1862, he says: Although the expedition was prosecuted further than was contemplated in your instructions, I feel assured that the considerations which actuated me will convince you that I did not depart from their spirit and that the boldness developed in the subsequent direction of the march was the quintessence of prudence. The destination of the expedition was kept a profound secret (so essential to success), and was known to my command only as the actual march developed it. At Old Church Stuart conferred with his officers as to the expediency of prosecuting the expedition farther. In his report he says: Here was the turning point of the expedition. Two routes were before me, the one to return by Hanover Courthouse, the other to pass around through New Kent, taking the chances of having to swim the Chickahominy and make a bold effort to cut the enemy's lines  of communication. The Chickahominy was believed by my guides to be fordable near Forge Bridge. I was fourteen miles from Hanover Courthouse, which I would have had to pass if I returned. The enemy had a much shorter distance to pass to intercept me there; besides, the South Anna River was impassable, which still further narrowed the chances of escape in that direction. The enemy, too, would naturally expect me to take that route. These circumstances led me to look with more favor to my favorite scheme, disclosed to you before starting, of passing around. It was only nine miles to Tunstall's station, on the York River railroad, and that point once passed I felt little apprehension beyond. The route was one of all others which I felt sure the enemy would never expect me to take. On that side of the Chickahominy infantry could not reach me before crossing, and I felt able to whip any cavalry force that could be brought against me. Once on the Charles City side I knew you would, when aware of my position, if necessary, order a diversion in my favor on the Charles City road, to prevent a move to intercept me from the direction of White Oak Swamp. Besides this, the hope of striking a serious blow at a boastful and insolent enemy, which would make him tremble in his shoes, made more agreeable the alternative I chose. In a brief and frank interview with some of my officers I disclosed my views. But while none accorded a full assent, all assured me a hearty support in whatever I did. In the Richmond Dispatch of June 16, 1862, we find the following in reference to this expedition: ‘What, then, was the result?’ asked we of a wearied, dusty trooper watering his jaded and faithful animal by a roadside spring. ‘The result?’ answered he, proudly, but much exhausted. ‘The result? We have been in the saddle from Thursday morning until Saturday noon, never breaking rein or breakfast. We have whipped the enemy wherever he dared to appear—never opposing more than equal forces. We have burned two hundred wagons laden with valuable stores, sunk or fired three large transports, captured three hundred horses and mules, lots of arms, etc., brought in one hundred and seventy prisoners, four officers and many negroes, killed and wounded scores of the enemy, pleased Stuart, and had one man killed, poor Captain Latane. This is the result, and three million dollars cannot cover the Federal loss in goods alone.’ The names of Lieutenants D. A. Timberlake, Thos. W. Sydnor and  private J. H. Timberlake, of the Fourth Virginia cavalry, deserve to be recorded as having rendered very valuable services as guides and scouts. Captains John Esten Cooke, of General Stuart's staff, and Samuel A. Swan, of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, bore themselves with conspicuous gallantry. There was a very large hospital at Talleysville, but Stuart passed it without disturbing the sick and wounded, or taking any of the supplies belonging to it. At Cedar Lane, adjoining this place, the writer was, shortly after the foray, captured and carried to Fort Delaware, where he was confined until the first cartel for the exchange of prisoners, which took place at Aiken's Landing, on James River, in. 1862. The writer cannot close this narrative without saying something in behalf of the heroic Martin and his gallant Mississipians, who gave Stuart their most cordial and unswerving support throughout the entire expedition. This raid gave General Lee the information he desired, for it disclosed McClellan's position on the Chickahominy, and the advantages derived from it enabled him to strike that terrific blow which resulted so disastrously to the Federal arms in the seven days fighting around Richmond, driving McClellan to Harrison's Landing, on the James, where he sought refuge under his gunboats, which raised the siege of Richmond and gave the people of that city temporary relief and much encouraged the Confederate forces.