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Doc. 70.-operations in West-Virginia.

A national account.

in the field, West-Virginia, February 5, 1864.
The operations of the last seven days, although at times extremely varied in their character, have at last terminated in a series of successes that at once dispel the darksome clouds of temporary rebel prosperity, and open a bright vista to our true interests.

The operations on both sides have been conducted with great rapidity, considering the mountainous condition of the country, the bad state of the roads, the time it requires to concentrate and move columns of troops, and the usual necessary features attendant upon a raiding and the repelling of a raid campaign.

For some time past we had been in possession of information to the effect that General Early was concentrating troops and being reenforced in the neighborhood of Harrisonburgh, with a view to again attempting the capture of the garrison at Petersburgh, and then making another raid on the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. To meet a movement of this kind, General Kelly made all possible preparation. Yet as time wore away, and the weather continued fair, and the enemy gave no signs of an intention to advance, a large number of men (including nearly the whole of a regiment of cavalry) who had reenlisted for the war were furloughed and allowed to go home, in accordance with the War Department order on that subject. Hardly had this been done when we got news of Early having moved on Friday, January twenty-ninth. Of course it was too late and a matter of impossibility to recall the furloughed troops.

At the earliest possible moment cavalry, in small detachments, was sent out from Harper's Ferry, Martinsburgh, and Cumberland to gain information of the enemy's whereabouts. The scouting-parties did not bring us in any particularly reliable information, and hence many were inclined to believe the “grand movement” to be nothing more than Rosser's or Gillmore's forces out on a big foraging expedition, and a kind of half-way reconnaissance.

The next reliable information we had of the [362] enemy's movements was when Rosser suddenly attacked one of our trains while on its way from New-Creek to Petersburgh. It is now known to be a fact that the eight hundred men sent as a guard with the train were disgracefully remiss in the discharge of their duty. The officer in command of the train-guard officially reported that he had eighty killed and wounded, while neither fact nor report has, up to this time, confirmed his statement. The truth of the matter is that some one is to blame for allowing the enemy to get what portion of the train he did secure, and for permitting either himself or his men to be misled or frightened away by the mere opening of the enemy's artillery. What if the rebel force were two thousand strong? Eight hundred brave, well-handled men could have made a strong defence. The capture of a few wagons does us little injury; yet when we take into consideration how the rebels catch at straws, and build bright, hopeful, airy structures on very small foundations, we must ever deprecate the conduct of all officers and men who fail in ever so small a degree to discharge their whole duty and nothing less. The most of the train-guard has returned, coming in at different points along the railroad. The enemy took but a few of the guard prisoners. Our loss in the attack on the train turns out to be astonishingly small. It is reported that official inquiry will be made into the conduct of the whole affair at an early date.

On learning that this train had been attacked, and that the garrison at Petersburgh was again threatened, General Kelly ordered movements to be made in the most expeditious manner from Harper's Ferry and Martinsburgh. Of Sullivan's troops, a force was sent to Winchester, under the command of Colonel Fitzsimmons. Of Averill's command, (and I must take occasion to mention at this point that another unfortunate thing for us, added to the absence of the furloughed regiments, was that General Averill had just gone home on a thirty days leave of absence, thus depriving us of his active services,) another column, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomnpson, moved from Martinsburgh to Winchester, and there made a junction with Fitzsimmons. These united columns then moved across the country toward Romney, going by way of Wardensville. Their march was a rough and rapid one, and, although conducted in the best possible manner, failed by several hours to communicate with or get in supporting distance of Colonel Mulligan.

While Fitzsimmons's and Thompson's troops were marching toward Romney, a cavalry force was despatched to look after rebel movements in the neighborhood of Leesburgh and in the Loudon County district, it having been rumored that a rebel force was moving and operating in that neighborhood.

On Saturday night, the thirtieth, Colonel Thoburn, finding the enemy about to attack him in force at Petersburgh, Hardy County, evacuated his position there, and escaped to Ridgeville, where he joined a detachment of Colonel Mulligan's troops, and afterward moved with Mulligan to attack Early, near Moorfield. How Thoburn outwitted the enemy, who thought he had Thoburn penned in, has been partially explained in a previous despatch to the Herald. Let it suffice that I now say he got away with better success than we anticipated, and that his strategic movement over the mountains and “far away” is looked upon in the light of a very commendable feat.

Having got Thoburn all right, our forces moving on Romney. another small force out watching from the neighborhood of Cumberland, we slowly fell back in the New-Creek valley, with a view to drawing the enemy sufficiently close to the railroad to enable Fitzsimmons and Thompson to get in his rear. As we desired, the enemy followed up. During this time a number of small fights occurred, in which we lost a few killed and wounded.

On Sunday and Monday our cavalry took some prisoners, but the number of these latter was far exceeded by the deserters who hastened to come into our lines. From these deserters we learned that Early had been reenforced heavily, and that it was true he had been making extensive preparations to carry out this raid.

On Tuesday between four and five hundred of Rosser's men slipped in between Mulligan's and Fitzsimmons's columns, and broke our railroad communication, by partially destroying one bridge and slightly injuring another one. How soon the damage was repaired and how trivial it was, you have already learned. The enemy succeeded in reaching the railroad and in partially safely getting away, only in consequence of the columns from Martinsburgh and Harper's Ferry having defeated General Kelly's calculation by failing to reach Romney at six P. M. on the evening of the second. It was calculated that this column would be at Romney as stated, and that any rebel force which moved in by way of Springfield or Frankfort would be cut off by Fitzsimmons's, Thompson's, or Mulligan's forces, and kept from doing any great injury to the railroad by the troops stationed at Cumberland and elsewhere within easy supporting distances. This was not all the plan of operation, but that portion which the enemy knew about, as well as ourselves; and hence I can see no indiscretion in now publishing it. Yet while all did their duty in the best possible manner, (and here I feel constrained to assure the reader that, no matter how beautifully the philosophical professor explains the mountains to be nothing more than as “little asperities on the rind of the orange,” these self-same “little asperities” are not unfrequently the cause of uncontrollable delays in military movements, and tend to defeat the wisest and best-considered calculations,) still the enemy's success in reaching the failure of our cavalry from Martinsburgh, etc., to reach the Romney region at the expected time.

As soon as it was known the railroad had been cut, Colonel Mulligan's forces moved forward from the New-Creek region and attacked the [363] enemy. We were successful in making the enemy fall back. Our movements toward the enemy's rear of course hastened his departure from a position that was getting to be more dangerous than either interesting or profitable.

At the time when the enemy was known to be within six to eight miles of the Cumberland, the troops there stationed formed for action. Scenes of lively interest ensued.

In the streets of Cumberland the ladies — that is, a great many of them — promenaded up and down, of course waiting for the “ball” to open. Instead of seeming excited, they appeared to be rather remarkably cool and desirous of hearing the “Where are you? Where are you?” shells go whizzing over the devoted city of Cumberland, and to see the coal-dust flying in all directions.

I will not stop to detail all the minor movements we made and the skirmishes we had, but, passing over these, will state that as soon as Colonels Fitzsimmons's and Thompson's forces opened communication with Colonel Mulligan, we vigorously pursued the enemy, driving him on all the roads and out of all the gaps in which he attempted to maintain a position.

Our forces continued to press the enemy hard, until the latter made a stand a short distance this side of Moorefield.

The Moorefield valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in the United States. It is about fifteen miles long by, upon an average, three miles wide, and contains river bottom land of unlimited richness. It is surrounded by mountains of picturesque formation about two thousand feet in height, and forms altogether one of the most beautiful scenic displays to be met with in any portion of this country. Moorefield, situated about two or three miles from the ford, is a town of four hundred inhabitants. The town is well built, contains brick residences with tin roofs, and displays evidences of progress and refinement not observable in other portions of this region of country.

About three miles from the town of Moorefield, following the Moorefield and Romney turnpike road, you cross the south branch of the Potomac River at what is known as McNeil's Ford. It was here that Colonel Mulligan on Thursday, in pursuing the enemy, had a fight. Rosser's command disputed the passage of the river. The lands of this neighborhood are almost of a dead level, but the river bank upon which Colonel Mulligan took position is higher than the one on the other side. Thus we had the advantage of position. Our artillery opened on the enemy about eight A. M., and rapid firing was kept up for some considerable time afterward. The enemy replied vigorously, and for a long time kept us warmly at work. After a good deal of rapid sharp-shooting our shot and shell drove the enemy off to a sufficient distance to enable us to obtain command of the ford. A crossing was then effected. We found the country, as I have previously stated, a dead level from here all the way to Moorefield. This level served our purpose very well. After leaving the ford, the enemy slowly fell back toward Moorefield, all the way keeping up a scattering, skirmishing fire — a regular “fire and fall back” engagement. At the time when Mulligan first engaged Rosser at the ford — Early was at Moorefield (behind Rosser) with a heavy force of infantry and two or more batteries of artillery.

Fighting was kept up until the enemy got near the town, when he made another stand. More fighting ensued, and in the course of three hours we drove him from his last position to and through the town and beyond it. Early's forces then fell back toward the south fork of the south branch of the Potomac River, Mulligan all the time keeping close upon the enemy's rear, by aid of his cavalry force. The enemy took the south fork road, which runs through a branch valley of the great Moorefield valley. This South-Branch valley is quite a narrow one, hemmed in on either side by very high mountains and traversed by a considerable stream of water known as the South-Fork of the South-Branch. Rosser undertook to protect Early's rear. The narrowness of the valley alone prevented us from driving him along with more than agreeable rapidity. As it was, we compelled the enemy to fall back with much haste. The South-Fork road leads directly to Brock's Gap and Harrisonburgh — the original position from which the rebels moved. Colonel Mulligan continued to pursue the enemy until the latter reached the last river road, and was compelled to retire over into the Shenandoah valley again.

Colonel Mulligan has been highly complimented for the alacrity with which he obeyed and carried out General Kelly's orders and the manner in which he personally conducted the pursuit. The other commanding officers have also been complimented for their gallantry.

Our losses have not been large. Even in the six hours hard fighting our losses proved to be less than at first reported.

Looking back at the operations of the last seven days, it must be said that we have been successful, and that it is beyond doubt we have again defeated Early's designs, which were to seriously injure the line of the railroad and capture the garrison at Petersburgh. He has been defeated in getting into New-Creek or Cumberland, failed to interrupt the running of the railroad trains beyond a few hours, and failed to get off with any large portion of his prisoners or plunder. Besides, he has lost many by desertion, and quite a number as prisoners and picked — up stragglers. On the whole, he has been made to discover that raids are adventures that cost much time and material, and do not pay rebels or generals where the result is “diamond cut diamond.”

Our cavalry have driven the rebels out of Petersburgh. The enemy burned the government buildings.

Captain Gleason, of the Twenty-third Illinois, who was taken prisoner, has been recaptured.

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Mulligan (13)
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