Doc. 15.-skirmish at Blackwater River, Va.
Baltimore American account.
in headquarters First mounted rifles, near Suffolk, Virginia, October 25, 1862.the regiment returned at a quarter after four P. M. from the reconnoissance upon which it started at four P. M. on the twenty-fourth instant. The following will be a concise and veritable report of all that has been important in the movements of the regiment during its absence, particularly the occurrences which passed under the direct observation of the writer of this journal. At five P. M. on Friday afternoon, eight squadrons responded to the call to “boots and saddles,” the other squadrons being unavoidably absent on guard and picket-duty. The rumor having been spread that a fight was surely expected, men and officers who were really ill were seen to rise and hastily prepare to move, determined to share in the perils and honors which they fondly hoped were before them. Such was particularly the case with Major Wheelan, who had been severely indisposed for several days, but who now, against medical advice, was seen upon his horse, willing and ready for any duty which his physical strength would enable him to perform. Upon moving out from camp, the following field, staff and line-officers were in their respective proper positions; Colonel C. C. Dodge, Lieut.-Colonel B. F. Onderdonk, Majors Wheelan and Schiefflin, Surgeon Bennett, Assistant Surgeon Wright, Adjutant M. A. Downing; Captains Terwilliger, Poor, Gregory, Sanger, Masston, Ellis, and Dean; Lieutenants Harman, Penny, Freeborn, Adams, Disosway, Varick, Simmonds, Wheelan, Warren, Ball, Wright, Ergelke and Cronin. Upon passing their camp the Eleventh Pennsylvania cavalry, under Colonel Spear, fell into column, having two howitzers along. Our own howitzer battery, under Lieutenant Thomas Fairgraves, formerly Adjutant of the First Fire Zouaves, also was in position in our own regiment. As we moved on we discovered infantry regiments in motion, and soon learned that the cavalry force under command of Colonel Dodge was to be supported by a full infantry brigade, under command of Brigadier-General Ferry, commanding the reconnoissance, and two regiments of Acting Brigadier-General Foster's brigade; also, a Captain Howard's battery of United States artillery, acting Brigadier-General Foster, second in command of the expedition. The column now moved steadily on, the New-York Mounted Rifles leading, taking the most direct road for Windsor, on the Norfolk and Petersburgh Railroad, which place we passed at or about ten or eleven o'clock at night, securing guides as we passed on. Col. Dodge moved rapidly forward until within four miles and a half of Blackwater bridge, or rather where Blackwater bridge stood when the rebels fled from Norfolk before e our victorious forces. When at this distance from the point where we were assured of meeting resistance to our crossing, Colonel Dodge halted to wait for the infantry, and to give his men and horses time to feed and rest preparatory for action. The night had been dark, and a film of clouds drawn over the faces of the stars betokened an approaching storm. The column waited impatiently for daylight and the order to advance, the Eleventh Pennsylvania cavalry being immediately in our rear. As soon as it was light enough to discover objects ahead distinctly, Lieutenant-Colonel Onderdonk was sent forward at a gallop with a strong detachment under Captain Sanger and Lieut. Wheelan to feel the enemy, and discover, if possible, his position and strength; also one company of the Eleventh Pennsylvania cavalry accompanied them. A rapid ride of twenty minutes brought our extreme advance in sight of the enemy's pickets, who fired and instantly retired beyond the river. Lieutenant-Colonel Onderdonk, now in a cool and soldierly manner, proceeded to take measures to learn the enemy's position and forces as nearly as possible, a most difficult matter, as the opposite bank of the Blackwater River, where the enemy held position, was densely wooded. He sent a messenger back to report that we had found the enemy, deployed flankers and placed advanceguards, and ordered a private from squadron A, to advance and reconnoitre the position of the enemy. It was done, and the enemy found to be  intrenched in a force of from twenty-five to thirty in a rifle-pit, behind the abutments of the burned bridge on the opposite shore. Others were seen lurking in the dense forest in the rear of the breastworks. Having drawn the fire of the riflemen in their intrenchments, the pilot of troop A returned and reported the position of the enemy to Colonel Onderdonk, who immediately ordered an advance of sharp-shooters, which was made by Captain Sanger and Lieutenant Wheelan with great gallantry. Under the personal supervision of Lieut.-Colonel Onderdonk, our forces advanced under such cover as they could get, poor at that; for on our side an open field, with a tree here and there, and two or three dilapidated houses, gave little chance for cover. When within twenty yards of the enemy our troops opened fire with their Sharpe's rifles, the enemy pouring upon us a galling fire from their intrenchments and opposite woods. For ten or fifteen minutes a most rapid fire was kept up on both sides, several of the enemy being seen to fall, having incautiously exposed too much of their carcasses to the aim of our practised riflemen. In about twenty minutes from the commencement of the action Lieut. Wheelan, who was in the extreme advance of his men, encouraging them by his words and deeds, received his deathwounds from the enemy, who had evidently marked him by his uniform, as they had Lieutenant-Colonel Onderdonk, who narrowly escaped death from a volley fired a few moments previous directly at him. Though struck in four places at the same instant, the brave Lieutenant pushed in front, but Capt. Sanger and Sergeant-Major Fairgraves, aided by two privates of company F, whose names I have not yet learned, gallantly rushed in under fire and bore the brave officer to the rear, being covered as much as possible by the fire of our riflemen, who gave the enemy no rest. After the Lieutenant had been moved out of range, Lieut.-Col. Onderdonk ordered the men who had held the advance to fall back a couple of hundred yards to await the reinforcements for which he had sent, the advance having nearly exhausted the ammunition in their cartridge-boxes. He threw out flankers and guards at every point which the enemy could assail; he sent Sergeant Kavanagh, with four picked men, to a point where he could enfilade the river, which the enemy were preparing to cross in boats which they had drawn up at the base of their breastwork. Sergeant Kavanagh gallantly opened fire on the enemy, thus attracting their attention to his point, while our advance-guard on the right occasionally sent in a shot, to show them that we were still on the ground. Colonel Dodge now came on the ground at full speed, closely followed by Capt. Howard and his battery. A section of the battery was immediately placed in position on the left, under command of Lieut. Bucher, and another on our right, under command of Lieut. Hasbrouk. As soon as possible they were brought into play, while an advance of skirmishers of the Thirty-ninth Illinois regiment was gallantly made to the bank of the river. The enemy could not stand the rain of shot and shell which now fell among them, and fled, bearing back their dead and wounded to light carts in the rear, and mounting their fresh horses. The river was reported by our guides not to be fordable, the banks were precipitous and steep, and but one spot where a crossing was possible could be seen, and that directly in front of these deserted intrenchments. Col. Dodge rode up to the head of squadron C, now in advance, and asked for volunteers to cross the river and test the possibility of its passage. In an instant every officer and man moved forward in response. Col. Dodge selected the first three in front, who were Sergeant James M. Eaton, Corporal J. H. Cintler, and private Vanduser, and ordered them to cross. Nobly and gallantly they spurred their horses in the dark and treacherous-looking water, and among logs and old tree-tops, swimming in some places, they plunged through and gained the opposite bank while the shells from Captain Howard's battery were crashing through the trees, tearing away limbs and trunks but a few feet from them. Finding it possible to cross, Col. Dodge requested Capt. Howard to cease firing, and Lieut. Harman, Acting Quartermaster, bravely led a volunteer platoon of company C across, and dashing forward formed an advanced-guard to keep in check any force that might attempt to prevent the crossing of our howitzers and ammunition. He was followed as rapidly as possible by the en tire regiment, Col. Dodge and Lieut.-Col. Onder donk, with Majors Wheelan and Schiefflin crossin. also in front. In a very short space of time the force had crossed, and as soon as possible was firmed and in pursuit of the enemy. The latter had the advantage of fresh horses and a thorough knowledge of the country, and made such good use of both, that though repeatedly in sight, it was impossible to come up with them. Lieut. Harman, with his usual gallantry, pursued this force with only a platoon for over five miles beyond the river on one road. A portion, evidently a large body by their tracks, having taken a road to the right of that taken by Lieut. Harman, Col. Dodge led the pursuing column in that direction. Within two miles of the river he came to an unfordable creek, with swampy ground on both banks, crossed by a bridge which the flying enemy had just rendered impassable by casting the planks into the water, carrying forward a part of them to prevent our repairing it. This caused a delay which undoubtedly prevented our capturing a portion of them, for their carts had evidently just crossed there. By tearing down the railings of the bridge the footing was made sufficiently strong to enable the force to cros<*>, but the enemy had gained their point, and were now temporarily beyond our reach. Learning from a negro that at Joiner's Ford,  on the Blackwater, a short distance below Zuni, a picket-guard of rebels was stationed, by order of Col. Dodge, Major Wheelan dashed forward to that point and succeeded in surprising the party, capturing five of the partisan rangers from Georgia, under arms, and dispersing the rest, who escaped in the dense forest, where it was impossible to find them. Having positive written orders only to remain one hour over the river, and having been unavoidably detained over three hours beyond the time specified, and the object of the reconnoissance having been fully accomplished, Col. Dodge reluctantly gave the order to recross the river at Joiner's Ford, moving over just before dark to a position a mile or two beyond, where men and horses were allowed a few hours' rest, which they much needed. Our surgeons, Bennett and Wright, were exceedingly attentive to their duties, and were accompanied by the gallant and accomplished first assistant surgeon of the One Hundred and Twelfth New-York regiment of infantry, Dr. Boyd, of Chautauque County, a volunteer on the expedition, whose zeal and enthusiasm cannot be too highly commended. I should have mentioned before that Adjutant Downing crossed with the Colonel, and used great exertions in hurrying across the howitzers, both officers, with Lieut. Fairgraves, personally tugging at the ropes to drag them through the water and mire, thus by example encouraging the men to greater efforts. It is impossible in this report to speak particularly of all who exhibited the qualities of true soldiers on this occasion. It is sufficient to say, not an officer or man faltered or blanched under fire, and that Colonel Dodge received convincing proof that his regiment is fit for service on any field, and will fall to a man before they will turn from the flag and cause which they have pledged themselves to uphold. The Colonel was gallantly seconded by staff and field-officers, Adjutant Downing tiring down horse after horse in his arduous duty. The noncommissioned staff, encouraged by the example of their superiors, did all that gallant men could do to fulfil their duty. I noticed great gallantry displayed by Lieut. Snowden, of Pittsburgh, Pa., in command of infantry skirmishers who advanced to cover the gallant Capt. Howard while placing his battery in position. Orderly Sergeant Burton, of troop F, displayed great bravery under fire also. Our return to camp was cheerful, though made in a drenching storm, but officers and men were saddened down when they learned that Lieutenant Wheelan, who had been sent back in an ambulance, had died of his wounds at noon of this day. We all mourn for his loss, but are resolved that the enemy shall be made to feel it as deeply as ourselves when we strike them again.