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Memoir of the First Maryland regiment.

By General B. T. Johnson.
[Written in July, 1863.]

Paper no. 4.

The battle of Winchester.

At 3 o'clock Sunday morning, May 25th, we took the road for Winchester. The long march of the day before had been made without rations, except the contents of numerous sutlers' stores seized at Front Royal, which were neither nutritious nor satisfying, and the sleep in the crisp mountain air without fire, had stiffened and weakened the men, but as their blood warmed with the exercise and the coming fight, they stepped out as cherrily as ever.

Before day, Colonel Johnson received General Ewell's order--“bring your regiment to the front.” When we came up he was on the ridge of hills which rises on the Front Royal road to the southeast of Winchester, and distant from it a mile or a mile and ahalf. This crest sweeps around the town semi-circularly, cutting the Front Royal road and [98] Valley pike at short distances from the suburbs. From it the land sinks down a gentle swell of open field and meadow, closely checkered with heavy stone fences. Far to the left of us and off the Valley pike were the fortifications of the enemy vague and dim, and as yet undistinguishable as to size or shape. During the night, Jackson, with his old division and Taylor's Louisianians, had been pressing the retreating enemy down the Valley turnpike. General Ewell ordered Colonel Johnson to deploy as skirmishers on the left of the road, and of the Twenty-First North Carolina, Colonel Kirkland, to watch his left and keep it from being turned, and look out for Jackson on the Valley road. After getting into position and pushing forward a little, the rising sun slowly dissipated the heavy fog which had, till then, masked our movements. Before us lay the town of Winchester in all the quiet of the hour and the day. Far to the left stretched the Yankee lines of battle, glistening in steel. Just in front no signs of an enemy, save a few skirmishers, who tardily retired as the North Carolinians felt their way slowly but surely and steadily forward.

At that moment the splutter of Jackson's skirmishers was heard on the left. Colonel Johnson reported the fact and asked for orders, but then seeing the Twenty-first forming for a charge, he assembled his men and ordered them to the town. North Carolina was to our right about four hundred yards and about a hundred ahead. Down we all went together, making for the line of stone fences, when from one rose a line of blue and steel, and poured a volley into the Twenty-first that shivered it to pieces. Colonel Kirkland went down, badly wounded; the Lieutenant-Colonel was killed, and seventy or eighty men and officers killed and wounded. In the smoke and firing we penetrated the Yankee line, the Colonel intending to attack them in flank and rear while they were engaged in front. But on reaching the centre he found that he had no support. The Twenty-first had been driven back, and there were none of our troops within a mile and a half. He then sent to General Ewell, saying he was ready to attack in flank as soon as a demonstration was made in front. Before him to his right, as the battalion had changed front, and was formed at right angles to the Yankee line of battle, was the line which had driven back the Twenty-first, and behind him was a heavy force then being pressed back towards him by Jackson. There was every appearance of his being caught between the two forces. In that case there was nothing to be done but charge through the smallest, where we ran the risk of being charged by our friends advancing to attack the line we had broken. In this position all that could be done was to await events and orders. After a while, when the smoke had [99] become so thick that the light became dusky, the Yankee bugle sounded “cease firing,” and instantly there was a pause along their whole line. The perfect silence was startling. Slowly the powder smoke raised from the ground as evenly and as regularly as a curtain is drawn up, and on our right could be seen the enemy's regiments taking new positions, the words of command sounding as clearly and distinctly as if addressed to us. Just then a distant cheer was heard on our left, and then could be seen the Louisiana brigade sweeping over the crest of the ridge towards the enemy's batteries with the swiftness and regularity that a wave advances to the shore. That charge ended the fight. The first line of the enemy, we could plainly see, broke and ran. Its supports moved off swiftly toward the town, and the Colonel gave the order to “Get after them.” We had been ambitious of getting to the Taylor house first, and we made the best haste that we could. As the last Yankee marched down the main street of the town we were coming up a lane not three hundred yards behind them. Down the street we went, cheering like mad, and open flew doors and windows, old men, women and children rushed out, dressed and undressed in their Sunday clothes, and in their night clothes, hurrahing, crying, laughing, screaming. Such an excited scene was never seen before or since — a whole people demented with joy and exhibiting all the ecstacy of delirium. With closed ranks, double-quicking for a time and then shortening the pace to get breath, we went down the street, the first regiment in front, some of the Second Virginia and the Louisianians were before us, but they were mere scattered men. Coming down Lieutenant-Colonel Dorsey asked the Colonel permission to take a company off into the street where the railroad is. He was sent with Lieutenant Booth and a detachment. Turning a corner he rode into a party of five, four of whom on his order threw down their arms, but the fifth shot him through the shoulder. He instantly shot the man with his revolver. Lieutenant Booth captured a hospital with equipments, ambulances, horses and surgeons complete.

At the Taylor house some one told the Colonel that Strother — Porte Crayon — the Virginia renegade had just run in there. He sent Lieutenant Ward and a detail to search the house. Lieutenant Ward lost Porte Crayon, but unearthed a number of officers who had not expected such a sudden termination of the battle. Here Colonel Johnson received five swords from surrendered officers, which he distributed among his own. Lieutenant Howard and a party captured a ware-house of ordinance stores, &c., and brought in the keys, and a guard was immediately sent round to take possession of all captured property. [100] Thus saving an immense amount of medical supplies, provisions, sutlers stores, &c., from indiscriminate pillage. All this was done before the next regiment entered the town.

Among the amusing incidents that occurred was the surrender of a Yankee officer's wife to the Colonel. She was in the Taylor House, and sent Lieutenant Ward to ask him to come to her, which he did. She said, “I am Mrs.------, wife of Captain------, Fifth New York Cavalry, and I have sent to you Colonel to surrender myself prisoner of war.” He bowed and replied, “I cannot receive you as such, madam, we do not make war on women, and do not recognize them as parties to this contest. I shall be happy to afford you every protection in my power, but as to taking you prisoner, I can't think of that.” After insisting upon it awhile, she at last became convinced that Southern officers would not disgrace themselves by arresting women, and he sent an officer to escort her to a private house, where the wife of the Major of the Fifth New York was staying, who also desired to surrender.

When the town was thoroughly in possession of a provost guard, the Colonel turned over the prisoners and property to him and marched into camp four miles from town, where we had camped the year before, the third day out from Harper's Ferry.

The amount of plunder accumulated by the regiment was indiscribable. Bran new officers' uniforms, sashes, swords, boots, coats of mail, india-rubber blankets, coats and boots, oranges, lemons, figs, dates, oysters, lobsters, sardines, pickles, preserves, cheese, cake, the finest brandies, wines and liquors, the choicest hams and dried meats and sausages, all the contents of a large city clothing establishment, and miscellaneous grocery and confectionary.

In a day or two we moved to Martinsburg, whither General Steuart had gone with the cavalry, and from thence to Charlestown, reaching there Thursday, May 29th. The next morning we were ordered up towards Halltown and Harper's Ferry. Arriving on the crest of hills south of Bolivar, we found the enemy in force on the Bolivar Heights. General Steuart ordered Colonel Johnson to drive them off, but, as he was about attacking on the flank, the order was countermanded by a courier from General Jackson. Sometime afterwards Colonel Johnson took some volunteers from Company H, and drove in their skirmishers, and following that up, got possession of the Heights and their camps. Here booty in the greatest profusion was scattered about, fine muskets and rifles, axes, cooking utensils, tin plates and cups, &c. But before it could be secured and taken off, while their position was being reconnoitered, [101] they opened a brisk fire from a 12-pound battery by Barbour's house, down in the village of Harper's Ferry, and it being thought inexpedient to answer them with artillery, we were obliged to fall back behind the crest of hills. At dark we returned to our camp, two miles and a half from Charlestown.

During the night General Jackson received information from General Johnston at Richmond, that a column from McDowell, at Fredericksburg, under Shields, was pressing up from Culpeper by Front Royal to cut him off. Just before, he had received information that Fremont had left Moorefield in Hardy and was marching on Strasburg. In an instant the concert of action between the two Federal Generals became apparent. With Shields at Front Royal the Luray Valley was closed to him. With Fremont at Strasburg the Valley Pike was shut, and with it his only other sure road of retreat, and these two being only eighteen miles apart supported each other. But the Federal plan was not comprehensive enough. Even had Fremont and Shields joined so as to have put Jackson's fighting through them out of the question, he would have fought them together for awhile to save his train and then suddenly wheeling to the right have crossed into Western Virginia and have beaten them to Harrisonburg by way of Hardy and Franklin.

The race up the Valley.

On Saturday morning, May 31st, the regiment found itself at sunrise in camp trying to get something to eat. Everyone had marched but it had received no orders. Before the men had been fed, an orderly came from General Charles Winder, looking up some one when we found we were behind everything. In three minutes we had fallen in packed up and started. At Charlestown, we struck some stragglers from the Stonewall Brigade, which we found was just in front, and on Colonel Johnson's reporting to General Winder for orders, he directed him to take charge of the rear guard, sending his train ahead. At the same time General Winder communicated to him General Jackson's instructions, to wit: that if Fremont was pressing toward Winchester, General Jackson would endeavor to hold it to let us get through, but if he could not do so, we must march round it in the night. Without being aware of the particulars, but with a general understanding that we were in a tight place, we struck off for Winchester. We marched through there just after dark, and at ten o'clock lay down on the roadside in a drizzly rain seven miles south of the town, after a march [102] since sunrise of thirty-three and a half miles and no rations. Next morning the Colonel procured us a barrel of crackers, and off we started again, still as rear guard. A short time after noon a perceptible movement among the stragglers who lined the road in front indicated something unusual. It soon became known, as we approached Middletown, that Shields had driven in our pickets three miles east of the town, and that Fremont's advance was coming rapidly, a short distance on the west of it. We had a column of limping stragglers, two miles long, to force through the opening between the two Federal armies. As we pressed on artillery opened sharply on our right, showing that Jackson had grappled Fremont. Then the rattle of musketry indicated that he was closing with him, and we in the rear were prepared at any instant to fight Shields's cavalry. Through Middletown we went, and reaching Cedar Creek, halted to allow stragglers to close up before burning the bridge, as Winder had ordered. In this halt we lost an hour, but in the meantime got up at least a thousand men, whose halting steps were accelerated by the sound of Fremont's artillery on our right, and the sputter of Shields's skirmishers to the left. Thence we marched through Strasburg to Fisher's Hill, where we hoped to stay for the night, knowing that Fremont had been sharply checked, and we had our faces to the combined armies, and our backs to a sure retreat. But we had no such good fortune. The Colonel had succeeded in saving a barrel of whiskey from the Winchester plunder, and a stiff drink was served out to each man. We then marched to Mount Jackson that night. The next day — though relieved as rear guard--Ashby, who had just been made a General, asked Colonel Johnson to protect a battery with which he was driving back Fremont's pursuit at Rood's Hill, and another place after this. As we were marching through Woodstock squads of cavalry commenced hurrying by us — some jumped their horses over fences, and some pushed down gates in their hurry to get forward and away from the rear. It was not until a young officer rode up and vainly commanded and implored them to rally, that the truth flashed out they were stampeded and running.

Instantly the Colonel cried out, “File left — march! Front, charge those men and drive them back.” The men went at it with a yell, and belabored men and horses so thoroughly with rifle-barrel and butt, that they stopped the running by them. Few, however, went back. It was not until next day they rallied, and a few days after retrieved their disgrace in a fight with Sir Percy Wyndham.


The fight with the Bucktails.

On the evening of the 5th of June we arrived early at Harrisonburg, and leaving the Valley road turned to the left and went into camp. For the last two days we had been marching leisurely along closing up stragglers, and feeding the horses and men pretty well with the provisions the country afforded. Fremont had been very pertinacious, and was continually on our rear. From Strasburg up, the artillery — either of the pursuer or pursued — sounded continually in our ears from day-light until dark. But as we diminished our pace he slackened his, and indicated that though eager to strike a flying foe, he was not so well prepared to fight one which faced him. Since leaving New Market, such had been our attitude, willingness to fight him whenever the position suited us. On Friday morning, June 6th, we marched late. General Steuart had been relieved of his cavalry command and returned to the “Maryland line,” consisting of the regiment, the Baltimore Light Artillery, Captain Brockenbrough, and Captain Brown's cavalry company, which had joined us just after the fight at Winchester. He had also assigned to him the Fifty-eighth, Forty-fourth, and two other Virginia regiments.

That morning being the rear-guard we were late starting, and delayed by the enormous trains which were carrying off the plunder of the expedition, by the afternoon we had not marched more than three miles. The head of this column was then at Fort Republic, five miles distant, where a bridge spans the Shenandoah. While the cavalry under Ashby had dismounted, during one of those numerous halts, which render the movement of a long column so tiresome, a regiment of Yankee cavalry suddenly dashed through them. Quick as the Yankees were, however, they were not quick enough for Ashby, who instantly formed and charged, routing them totally, and capturing prisoners and horses.

Among his prizes was Sir Percy Wyndham--an itinerant Englishman — a soldier of fortune, who though without rank or position at home, had served in the Italian campaign of Garibaldi, and was a man of gallantry and courage. He was eagerly caught up by the Lincoln Government, when personal courage and dash were at a premium, made Colonel of cavalry, and sent off to the Valley to meet Ashby. His only interview with the Virginia Cavalier was when he was riding bareheaded behind one of Ashby's troopers — a prisoner. He expressed profound disgust at the arrant cowardice of his men, to which he attributed [104] his whole disaster. As soon as Ashby chased the remnants of the Yankees back he returned, and reported to General Ewell that he had discovered an infantry force coming rapidly on us, and showed him that by a quick detour through the woods he could strike them in flank. Ewell, delighted at the prospect, ordered Steuart's command back at once. The regiment in the order of march in the morning had been last. In thus reversing the direction it should have been first, but having been placed to support a battery, two Virginia regiments got ahead of us. The Colonel however soon managed to cut in and got up next to the Fifty-eighth Virginia. Ewell and Ashby rode at the head of the column — the latter explaining to the former the nature of the ground, the position of the roads, and the direction of the enemy. Though too far off to hear what he said, his dark face was lit up in a blaze of enthusiasm, and his eloquent gesticulation indicated his meaning as intelligibly as words. “Look at Ashby,” said the Colonel to the Adjutant, “see how happy he is!” In a few moments we entered a thick wood, then changed direction in line of battle. Companies D and G of the regiment out as skirmishers under Ashby's immediate command. Moving cautiously along, in the quiet woods, every sound was exaggerated in the stillness, and at last without a moment's warning the Fifty-eighth gave way and ran back. “Steady there men, steady First Maryland,” shouted our Colonel as pistol in hand he headed the broken mass. “Form behind there!” pointing to our solid ranks. The panic was only momentary, one of those strange accidents which occur in battle, and almost immediately the Fifty-eighth re-formed and went on. In a minute the sputter of the skirmishers was heard immediately followed by the volley of the Fifty-eighth. “Charge, Colonel,” cried General Ewell, who was just by us--“charge men,” said Colonel Johnson, and down the hill we went with a cheer, in a run. But we found no enemy. The fire on our right was excessive — we were made to lie down, but balls began exploding and smacking among the men on the rocks. “Those Virginians are killing our men.” Off galloped General Ewell and the Colonel, both to stop the firing, but directly returned finding out they were Yankee bullets. “I see one, Colonel can I kill him,” cried Southoron of Company H. Assent was given, and he pulled away, but his cap snapped. Coolly putting on another he fired. “There I've killed you,” said he. “Let us charge them, let us charge them, Colonel,” came from several. “Very well,” said he. “Up men, forward, file right, march” --and as soon as the colors came into line, “By the right flank charge!!!” in a voice that could be heard far [105] above the crash of small arms. The right companies and colors went in on a run, the left companies catching up, they closed with the Bucktails, who were strongly posted behind a worm fence full of under-growth and briars, and drove them out, and as they ran across the open field, poured a most deadly fire into them, which melted them away like frost before the sun.

We afterwards heard that of over 200 Bucktails who went into that fight only fifty came out. After driving them off, a brigade of infantry was seen a short distance off, and a six-gun battery of brass pieces with an apparently large force of cavalry. They had had enough though for the evening, and it only being General Ewell's instruction to check Fremont sharply, he retired. The fight, short as it was, had cost us dearly. Ashby's horse fell at the first fire, immediately jumping to his feet, he half turned round to the Fifty-eighth, in front of whose second company he was brandishing his right hand with his pistol, ordering them to charge. The confusion was such that they did not obey him, and he fell, a ball entering his right side just above his hip and passing diagonally upward, came out under his left arm, showing that the ball was fired by some one lying down. Though in front of the Fifty-eighth, he was not more than thirty yards from the enemy, who were lying flat behind the fence. The opinion of Lieutenant Booth, who saw him fall and was closer to him than anyone, is that a shot from the Yankees killed him. We lost Captain Michael S. Robertson, Company I, killed instantly; as he fell, he said, “Go on, boys, don't mind me.” He was a native and resident of Charles county, one of our oldest families — wealthy and highly educated. At the same time fell Lieutenant Nicholas Snowden, Company D, from Prince George of that well known family. At the time of the Baltimore outbreak he commanded a cavalry company, which he immediately put under arms until, like so many others, he found Hicks had betrayed the State, and he came to Virginia. No braver, or more gallant gentlemen than these have died for Southern Independance. With them fell six or eight more dead, Color-Sergeant Doyle was shot down, Color-Corporal Taylor caught the colors, but soon went down, the next Corporal to him caught them, but instantly falling, Corporal Shanks, Company H, seized them, lifting them arms length above his head, carried them safely through the fight.

Colonel Johnson had been that afternoon to see General Jackson, and was in full uniform, rather an unusual sight in that army where few officers wore any sign of rank. As the regiment charged, his horse was shot in the shoulder; then directly received in his forehead a ball, [106] intended for his rider, and as he fell, another in the pommel of the saddle. His uniform doubtless procured him these compliments, as he was not more than thirty yards from the Bucktails. Captain Nicholas, Company “G,” found Lieutenant-Colonel Kane, their commander, sitting on a stump with a broken leg, who invoked the Captain to shoot the cowardly hounds who had run off and left him. Although this fight was quickly over, it was one of the bloodiest of the war, considering the time and number engaged. Our loss was about one hundred killed and wounded, and that of the enemy probably one hundred and fifty in all, including prisoners, of whom there were very few. Dr. Johnson, the surgeon of the First Maryland, the next morning had Lieutenant Snowden buried near the Harrisonburg road, and his company buried Captain Robertson in Union church-yard by the brick wall opposite the gate — the first church on the road from Harrisonburg to Port Republic. Feelings of sorrow at the loss of so many friends strongly impressed us all, and Saturday was quietly spent in taking position and going into camp near the Shenandoah. General Jackson had the day before directed the Colonel to pick out a good camp and recruit his men. “Drill them four hours a day,” said he. Friday evening we had one drill, which has just been described. Fate had reserved such another in store for us.

The battle of Cross--Keys.

On Sunday morning Fremont began to press us from Harrisonburg. Early that morning a body of cavalry and two pieces of artillery had dashed into Port Republic, capturing a number of persons, and nearly capturing Jackson who was there. They were Shields's advance. While Fremont had followed us up the Valley road, Shields had pushed up the Luray Valley, intending to cut off Jackson from the numerous passes, by which alone he could escape into the Piedmont country, and in the Upper Valley unite with Fremont and capture his whole force.

Their campaign now approached the crisis. They had driven him back into a corner, with the river and only one bridge at his back — Shields ready to hold that, and Fremont with 30,000 in his front — never appeared more certain to combining Generals the success of their strategy. The quickness and genius of Jackson overmatched them. Escaping from the Federals in Port Republic by hard riding, he swiftly galloped over the bridge in front of their cavalry and artillery, put a battery in position so quickly, and opened such a prodigious fire on them, that they withdrew without burning the bridge. [107]

Our whole train, ammunition and all was then on their side of the river. While this was done he directed General Charles Winder, and the Stonewall Brigade, to hold the bridge and town, from the high hills on the Cross-Keys side of the river, while Ewell was to turn on Fremont. Going up the road some miles we met General Ewell, who said to the Colonel, “Colonel, you must fix a Bucktail to your colors to-day in honor of the gallantry of your regiment day before yesterday.” So the Bucktail was tied at the end of the lance, and some days after, when we all had leisure, the General issued the following order:

[General order no. 30.]

Headquarters Ewell's division, June 12th, 1862.
In commendation of the gallant conduct of the First Maryland regiment on the 6th June inst., when led by Colonel Bradley T. Johnson, they drove back with loss the Pennsylvania Bucktail Rifles, in the engagement near Harrisonburg, Rockingham county, Virginia, authority is given to have one of the captured “Bucktails,” (the insignia of the Federal regiment,) appended to the color staff of the First Maryland regiment.

By command Major-General Ewell,

James Barbour, Acting-Adjutant General.

The regiment was justly proud of this compliment from a soldier esteemed by the army as second to none, and in their affection the first of all. They marched gaily into action that morning, proud of their diminished ranks, which told the story of their deeds, and the trophy on their colors which showed them their General's approval.

General Elzey had on that morning been in rear and selected a good position. When General Ewell came up he was so pleased that he made no attempt to change it. He placed Trimble in the centre, Elzey on the right, Steuart on the left, the First Maryland only being thrown forward, until later when some Virginia regiments were posted to cover our left flank, and towards the middle of the day Taylor came up and acted as reserve. The Baltimore battery and another posted on a hill in the centre of the line between Trimble and the First Maryland, opened on Fremont's force, which could be seen advancing in columns of companies over the open ground in our front. We held a hill with a steep slope toward the enemy; at the bottom was a creek [108] and worm fence, in front a meadow, then a wheat field. The enemy moved up a battery and showered canister among us. We were ordered to lie down, and companies A and G deployed below the edge of the hill as skirmishers. Very soon they sent word that the enemy were coming. Getting to our feet and moving forward, we could see them about four hundred yards off, marching battalion front, in quick time, towards their fate in the woods. “Give them a fire by company,” said the Colonel, and off the companies went as regular as clock work. The first round cleared them out. In a short time another regiment attempted to get on our right and charge our battery, but a short and sharp struggle drove them off. Then one came through the wheat field, their movements covered to some extent by the growing grain, and taking shelter behind a fence three hundred yards off, poured into us a most incessant rain of balls for an hour. We were pretty well covered, however, and held our ground until at last we drove them off, leaving a number of dead there. They were particularly pertinacious, being the Garibaldi Guards, a New York regiment of Blenker's command, all Germans. Later in the day another attempt was made to dislodge us in vain. By 5 o'clock, or half-past 5, the cartridges were exhausted and the guns foul and hot. The fire of the men was deliberate and deadly, but a great many had fired more than forty rounds, having taken the cartridges from the dead and wounded. Colonel Johnson reported the fact to General Ewell. The General said, “Why, Colonel, you have whipped three regiments without moving an inch.” “Yes,” said he, and offered to stay without ammunition or bayonets, confident that the men could hold the position, but it being almost sundown, the General ordered him to the rear to clean up and refit.

As we marched off, some regiment cried out, “Maryland, you ain't going that way.” But the boys only cheered and trudged on, they were too well pleased with themselves to be offended at any one's mistakes. We bivouaced that night at our old camp. General Steuart was wounded, and the command of the line devolved on Colonel Johnson. Our loss here was severe, sixteen per cent. of the force engaged. Colonel Johnson lost another officer, Lieutenant Bean having been shot through the foot. “See, I've got it, Colonel,” said the Lieutenant as he showed his foot as he was carried off by two of his men. The term of his company was to expire on the 15th--just a week off — and he was delighted at having so honorable a testimonial. All of its officers had been now killed or wounded, except Lieutenant Diggs, who took command. It was the best fight we have made. Our force engaged actually [109] was not 4,500 men, while Fremont claimed to have had over 30,000. He displayed less Generalship and his men and officers less spirit than have been ever exhibited by them. We claimed this a Maryland fight, all the Brigadiers commanding, Elzey, Trimble and Steuart being Marylanders, and Ewell being more than half one.

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