previous next

Doc. 145 1/2. battle near Shepherdstown, Va.

camp Sixteenth Pennsylvania cavalry, Bolivar heights, Va., July 17, 1863.
On Wednesday, the fifteenth instant, the Third brigade, Second cavalry division, commanded by Colonel J. Irwin Gregg, left Bolivar Heights, taking the Winchester Pike. At Hall's Mills we turned to the right, on the road to Shepherdstown; the Sixteenth Pennsylvania in advance, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John K. Robison, a reliable and excellent officer. The advance-guard was composed of the squadrons of Captains Fisher and Swan, under Major W. H. Fry. After proceeding a couple of miles, we captured a mounted vidette of the enemy, and from that time until we reached Shepherdstown, kept up a continual skirmish with them, capturing seventeen, with their horses and equipments, with a loss to us of one killed and two wounded. At Shepherdstown Major Fry, with his command, charged through the streets, driving out over fifty of the enemy's cavalry, and scattering them in all directions, capturing eight prisoners, of whom one was a Major (Morgan, of the Sixth Virginia cavalry) and two lieutenants, two ambulances, and finding there over one hundred of the enemy's sick. The Sixteenth continued the advance through the town on the Martinsburgh road to [469] within six miles of that place, being engaged with and driving the enemy's skirmishers all the way. At this point we were so near the enemy's lines that we could hear distinctly their bands playing on our right and left. We obtained valuable information of their movements and location from parties who had left Martinsburgh that day. The object of the reconnoissance having been accomplished, we returned to within a mile of Shepherdstown, where we remained on picket. A little before dark our videttes were driven in, but we speedily charged and repulsed the attack. The other regiments of the brigade had camped near Shepherdstown, with the roads around well picketed.

The next day, the sixteenth instant, as the First Maine regiment was going out on the Winchester road for forage, they met our pickets (from the Tenth New-York) running in, pursued by two squadrons of the enemy's cavalry. This truly noble little regiment instantly formed and charged the assailants, driving them back beyond the abandoned picket-line. The enemy now appeared in force, bringing up their artillery rapidly, and opening fire on our line. The Maine held their ground, deploying skirmishers, and made a desperate fight. Our artillery was then advanced, and posted in an advantageous position on the right and left of the road, supported by the Forty-seventh and Sixteenth Pennsylvania regiments. The Fourth was soon sent out to the right front, dismounted, and thrown forward as skirmishers. Shortly after, the Sixteenth regiment was sent to relieve the First Maine, which had been engaged about two hours, and had expended all its ammunition. As we moved along the road they got our range very fairly, sending their shells in very disagreeable proximity to us. The tall figure of Colonel Gregg, as he and his aid, Lieutenant Martin, and his escort rode along with us, attracted their attention, and wherever he moved thereafter, very leisurely over the field, their shell followed him, the fragments scattering all around; but he appeared to bear a charmed life and escaped unhurt. Three squadrons of the Sixteenth were dismounted and sent forward; Fisher's and McDowell's, under Major Fry, on the right, each officer dismounted, with carbine in hand; and the third, under Captains Swan and Day, on the left; the fourth and last, under Captain Alexander, in reserve.

The country in which we were fighting is illy fitted for cavalry movements — the ground very rocky and broken, cut up into small fields, with high stone and rail-fence, and frequent small patches of timber. This will account for the strange event of a fight between cavalrymen, where all the fighting was on foot, aided by artillery. Our artillery consisted of four pieces. Soon after the Sixteenth was thrown forward; two of these were sent to secure an important position on our left, and were not brought into play during the fight; so we fought with two pieces of artillery, and these not as effective as they should have been, on account of bad ammunition; two of the shells which should have gone over our heads into the enemy's line, striking the ground between our reserve and the dismounted men. The rebels had eight guns in position firing at one time, and far better served than usual for them, in the cavalry fights I have noticed, whether Kelly's Ford, Aldie, Middleburgh, or Upperville. At times their firing was terrific to be concentrated on so small a line as ours; their shot, shell, grape, and canister coming all around and among us, lopping the branches from the trees, and splintering huge fragments from the rocks they came in contact with. Nothing but the uneven character of the ground preserved our little brigade from annihilation.

The Sixteenth took up the fighting for the Maine, which retired; but seeing us pushed at one time, they came out gallantly, without being asked, and we made “Johnny” travel. As our men's passions became excited in the contest, having repulsed an attack on the right, they forgot the order of Colonel Gregg, “to hold the line, but not to advance,” and with a cheer sprang forward after the foe, driving them to their, guns, where they, having a fair sweep, open all their pieces on us at once, with grape and canister. We were driven back. They charged us with exulting shouts, while their artillery hurled shell without cessation. We were driven back a quarter of a mile from our old line — all we were driven that day. In this charge the noble Captain Fisher was mortally wounded, one ball passing through his thigh, another through his breast. Colonel Gregg looked anxious, and appeared irritated that his order was not obeyed. On the left, Captain Swan had advanced in imitation of the right, and had fared the same fate, having his horse shot from under him and losing some of his best men. A new line is soon formed, strengthened by Alexander's squadron, a couple of squadrons of the First Pennsylvania regiment, from McIntosh's brigade having come up to support us. The fight goes on as wickedly as ever. The rebel battle-flag is shot down three times in a few minutes, and the last color-bearer compelled to crouch behind a wall and hold up the flag from his lurking-place. As night came on the enemy made several desperate attempts, all of which were steadily repulsed; after the last, our men, mounting the stone wall behind which the last line was formed, cheering and waving their hats, and challenging their opponents to come on, although their ammunition was exhausted.

Night put an end to the contest. At about nine o'clock the First Maine and First and Fourth Pennsylvania were ordered to fall back, leaving the Sixteenth to hold the battle-field. At about midnight Assistant Adjutant-General Maitland came and announced to Lieutenant-Colonel Robison that our wounded and all the other regiments had left, and that we were to bring up the rear, but to remain until two o'clock. At that hour we noiselessly marched through the fields for a couple of miles, until we struck the road to [470] Harper's Ferry, when we soon rejoined the brigade, and by five A. M. formed squadron on Bolivar Heights.

Thus ended one of the most desperate cavalry fights of the war, considering the number actually engaged; our brigade not numbering over eight hundred men, having become reduced by detachments sent to different points, and men left in the rear dismounted, their animals having become used up by the hard work of the past two months. At different times our fire ceased entirely, from want of ammunition. A remarkable circumstance is, that, to our knowledge, not one prisoner was taken on either side, except those of ours so badly wounded that they could not move, and were left behind when we were driven back. General Gregg accompanied us to Shepherdstown, and McIntosh's brigade was posted on our left, toward Harper's Ferry, but, with the exception of that portion of the First Pennsylvania referred to, did not participate. Captain Fisher, to whom I have referred, is well known to Philadelphia merchants as an old merchant of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. A gallant soldier, a gentleman, and a pleasant companion, his loss will be deeply regretted.

Richmond despatch account.

army of Northern Virginia, July 18, 1863.
The heavy cannonading heard in the direction of Shepherdstown Thursday originated from a severe cavalry fight, of which you have been advised by telegraph. I will now furnish you the particulars as they have been ascertained.

After the return of General Lee's army to Virginia, the enemy, evidently too much crippled for immediate pursuit, and desirous of ascertaining our movements, and feeling our position, despatched a large body of cavalry down the river to accomplish this object, if possible. They crossed at Harper's Ferry, where pontoon-bridges were thrown across for the purpose, and proceeded up the river as far as Shepherdstown, where they arrived on Wednesday; then coming down the Leetown and Winchester road to the distance of about five miles, halted. Meantime, Fitzhugh Lee, who was in the vicinity, and hearing of their whereabouts, proceeded up the Shepherdstown road for the purpose of checking the enemy's advance. He arrived in sight of the Yankees Thursday morning, which brought on desultory skirmishing and cannonading, which continued throughout the day until about four o'clock P. M. Then dismounting his men and advancing, the fight became general along both. lines, the enemy having also dismounted.

A charge was ordered, and our men rushed upon the enemy, who were driven back two or three miles, where they sought the protection of a stone wall extending to the right and left of the road, their right and left flank stretching some distance either extremity of the wall. Here the fight raged for some time, our men frequently charging up to the enemy's front, and delivering their fire with telling effect, but exposed to an incessant fire of shot, shell, and small arms from the enemy, who had availed themselves of the protection of the stone wall, and every rock, tree, and stump that afforded the least shelter. While our men were in dangerous proximity, without the slightest shelter to cover their movements, bodies of the enemy's cavalry would frequently charge up to the stone wall, file to the right and left, rapidly deliver their fire, and gallop into a wood that skirted the wall on either side. Later in the afternoon, when the fight had progressed some time, the Fourteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Thirty-sixth battalion, of Jenkins's brigade, came up from near Martinsburgh, and reenforced General Lee, taking a position on the left of the road toward Shepherdstown. During the remainder of the day they rendered gallant and efficient service with their long-range guns, and participated with their comrades, previously on the field, in the subsequent charges on the enemy's position. The enemy was repulsed and driven back on the right and left, but so effectual was their protection behind the wall, they were enabled to hold that position until night. Our line of battle extended about the distance of a mile and a half to the right and left of the road, the enemy's about the same distance, with reserves — in supporting distance..

We had three pieces of artillery, and the enemy it is believed about the same number, planted in an admirable position on the right of the stone wall and in front of the woods, commanding the whole field in front. During the entire engagement our officers and men displayed the utmost gallantry. General Jenkins being absent by reason of a wound in the head received at Gettysburgh, his men were led by Colonel Ferguson, the whole under command of Fitzhugh Lee. Our loss, not yet definitely known, is unofficially reported at from seventy-five to one hundred from all causes. We lost no prisoners. The loss of the enemy is estimated at from one hun. dred and fifty to two hundred. Night having drawn her sable curtain over the scene, the enemy fell back from this position behind the stone wall, leaving their dead and wounded in our hands, and our men in possession of the field. They retreated down the river road toward Harper's Ferry, and it is reported have since gone to the other side of the river.

The casualties, as usual latterly, were considerable among the officers, who greatly exposed themselves leading and encouraging the men, and forming conspicuous marks for the enemy's sharp-shooters. Colonel Drake, First Virginia, and Adjutant Barbour, Seventeenth Virginia, are reported killed; the latter while cheering the men to a charge. Colonel Gregg, of Lee's brigade, reported mortally wounded, and Major Jos. H. Newman, of the Sixteenth, wounded in the head.

Prisoners taken report that the enemy was commanded by General Gregg.

I should mention that the enemy, on their entrance into Shepherdstown, found fifty or sixty [471] of our sick and wounded, who were told they would be paroled, and those physically able carried off; but the issue of the fight was so unexpected to them they were compelled to leave the intended prisoners behind.

“All is quiet” in and along the lines, and this is all I am at liberty to report at this writing. The movements of the army since the great battle of Gettysburgh, which are as well known to the enemy as ourselves, may be briefly summed up as follows: Withdrawing from our position at Gettysburgh almost simultaneously with the enemy, our army formed line of battle, our right resting near Hagerstown, our left on the river, near Williamsport. Here we lay two tedious days and nights, offering fight, which the enemy declined, when it was determined to recross the river, which was most successfully accomplished. Of our movements since, or present position, I cannot speak, though it would appease a prurient curiosity, which seeks gratification even at the expense of the public interests and safety. I will always promptly advise you of facts accomplished, and events that may be given to the public without detriment.

No considerable body of the enemy are yet reported to be on the south side of the river. A small body of cavalry advanced from the direction of Williamsport to-day, and captured three of our wagons and as many men, who had been foraging in the vicinity of the mountain, about seven miles from Martinsburgh. The remainder of the party escaped.

General Pettigrew, of North-Carolina, died of his wound at half-past 6 yesterday morning, at the residence of Mr. Boyd, Bunker Hill, from the effect of his wound received in repelling a cavalry charge into his brigade just before recrossing the Potomac, Wednesday last. His confinement was soothed by every attention his condition required, and his faithful body-servant attended him to the last. His noble features, calm and placid in death, and his body arrayed in full uniform, with his limbs composed, he appeared, instead of death, more like one who “wraps the drapery of his couch about him,. and lies down to pleasant dreams.” It being impossible to procure a metallic coffin to convey his remains home, they were interred temporarily at Bunker Hill.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 18th, 1863 AD (1)
July 17th, 1863 AD (1)
16th (1)
15th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: