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Chapter 7:

October 19 to November 8, 1863.

Gen. Lee, having thrown forward a light line to Bull Run to mask his purpose, entered upon the destruction of the Orange and Alexandria (now called the Midland) Railroad, which had been our sole artery of supplies. Every rail was removed for miles, and having been placed across piles of burning ties was rendered temporarily unserviceable. Every bridge, too, was thoroughly destroyed, and any movement of a nature contemplating the continued use of this road must involve some days of waiting for it to be restored to its normal condition.1

Gen. Meade, it is said, felt not a little ashamed and somewhat nettled at the part he had played in this campaign, and would have ordered an advance at once had not a heavy rain rendered Bull Run impassable without pontoons, which were not then at [154] hand. He then determined to make a rapid movement to the left, and before the Rebel commander could gain knowledge of his intentions, seize Fredericksburg and the heights in its rear, with the design of pushing operations against Richmond, from that point as a base. In this project, however, he was negative by General-in-Chief Halleck, and compelled to go forward in his recent line of retreat, if at all. Accordingly, at 6 o'clock on the morning of Monday, October 19th, we left our camp at Fairfax Station, and again took up our march towards the foe, proceeding along the line of railroad, thus having an excellent opportunity to observe how faithfully the enemy had executed the work of destruction on their return. That night we camped at Bristow Station, and the next morning crossed the battlefield where Warren had had his hardest fighting. We counted, in passing, fifteen rude headboards over the graves of soldiers belonging to the Seventh, Fifteenth, and Twenty-sixth North Carolina regiments. Then there were other graves unmarked, and the stench from the carcasses of dead horses that lay putrefying was sickening. Our march this day ended at Greenwich, which we had occupied just one week before.

Wednesday morning, at 7, we were again under way, but at 11 A. M. went into camp at Catlett Station. While here we moved camp twice, and were inspected by Capt. Randolph on the 23d, and Capt. Sleeper on the 25th. The weather being quite cool, we made ourselves as. comfortable as possible by stockading our tents and building fireplaces.

At this station (October 27th), Lieut. Thos. R. Armitage was detached for duty in Battery K, Fourth Regiment, U. S. Regulars.

On the 30th, line of march was again resumed [155] and continued a distance of about eight miles, when a halt was made one mile and a half from Warrenton Junction. November 1st the Battery was again inspected by Capt. Sleeper, and the location of our camp slightly changed. Our stay here was otherwise uneventful, and continued until the 6th, when, at evening, orders came to strap sacks of grain upon the caissons. This, in our experience, plainly portended a move, although some had thought no further movement probable, owing to the lateness of the season. But all surmises were now at an end on this head, and at 3.30 A. M. of the 7th we were aroused by the familiar notes of the reveille, and a more ill-natured set of men never tumbled out in the darkness to perform the duties which striking camp necessarily devolved upon them. Batterymen, to be studied in their most favorable aspects, should never be seen at so early an hour nor under such inauspicious circumstances. In the darkness ensued a scene difficult to describe, but perfectly familiar to artillerymen. Soon huge bonfires were lighted, and in their glare men were seen with loads of varying description in their hands. Tents were struck, leaving merely the skeletons of our late abodes, and through the camp resounded a Babel-like hubbub. The rattling of harnesses mingled with divers (and drivers') expletives, which were hurled at unruly or laggard horses, whose movements on this occasion showed, in one respect at least, their kinship to man. Loud voices resounded in all directions, sergeants' names were bandied from one end of camp to the other, and imperious tones of officers mingled with the urgent inquiries of puzzled men. ‘Sergeant Townsend send me a detail of three men, immediately!’ ‘Sergeant Townsend, have the picket rope taken down at once!’ ‘Sergeant Townsend, what [156] horse shall I take in place of my lame one?’ ‘Sergeant Townsend, what caisson shall I put this tent on?’ ‘Sergeant Townsend, where is that detail of men I ordered?’ ‘Sergeant Townsend, come and get the sugar and coffee for your detachment!’ ‘Sergeant Townsend, have your men fall in for their hard-tack!’—are a few of the orders and queries that greet the ear of the luckless sergeant of the guard, who on such occasions is expected to be omnipresent. The detailed men must be dispatched immediately, a respectful ‘yes, sir,’ returned to every order, a horse at once sought out to relieve the lame one, the extra tent stowed away on some caisson, a corporal found and sent for the coffee and sugar, and the widely scattered detachment notified to fall in for rations, all in the same breath, or the sergeant will be reprimanded for delay in getting his piece ready.

Amid all this apparent confusion everything goes on rapidly and orderly, and long before daylight every horse is harnessed, every tent packed, every wagon loaded, the marching rations distributed, breakfast eaten, and all are ready for a start.

In this movement the army set out in two divisions, the right wing composed of the Fifth and Sixth corps, commanded by Gen. Sedgwick, leading; followed by the left wing, including the First, Second, and Third corps, commanded by Gen. French. This plan put Gen. Birney in command of the latter corps, and Gen. Ward, ‘Hobey,’ to whom we were ordered to report, succeeded to the charge of the First Division of this corps. Just as the first streaks of dawn lighted the east, we filed out into the road and took position with that division, which, as might be expected, had the advance of the left wing, the right wing having moved by another road. [157] Having marched rapidly, but quite noiselessly, a distance of perhaps ten miles, we reached the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford about noon, and the troops were massed as they came up, behind a low ridge of hills, which concealed them from the enemy across the river. No fires were permitted, drums and bugles were hushed, and the greatest quiet observed to insure a surprise. But we were not obliged to wait long; orders soon came for us, and we were led by a winding road to a commanding position on the left, overlooking the Rappahannock and the village of Kellysville beyond. The latter lay somewhat to our right front, while directly across, the ground gradually rose in plain, unobstructed view, until at last a belt of woods, perhaps half a mile distant, shut off further prospect in this direction. This opening and these woods we were instructed to watch. While occupied in doing this a succession of rattling sounds, which some affirmed to be the fire of skirmishers, but which others, with equal positiveness, declared to emanate from the engineers engaged in unloading planks for a pontoon, fell upon the ear, coming from our right flank. We could not verify either assertion, as the ford at which the crossing was to take place was hidden from our view by dense woods.

While engaged in scanning the territory under our special guardianship, we see at first only a few scattered men hastily driving back into the woods a number of cattle that had been grazing in the opening. Soon after a squad of horsemen, perhaps a half-dozen in number, emerge from cover and ride towards the village. Presuming them to to be Rebel officers. we send a salutation of six howling shells at them, and although we may not have increased the Confederate mortality by our sextuple [158] deputation, we confidently assert that the same number of men were never any more completely demoralized and left alive. It was truly enjoyable to see them scatter. Each man seemed all at once to have pressing business to transact elsewhere, and of such a nature that he preferred to go unaccompanied, for such was the suddenness of their departure that no two fled the same way. A small force coming out as skirmishers we serve in like manner, and send them to cover, a part in the woods and others in rifle-pits. They are followed in a few moments by a brigade in line of battle. It advances firmly and confidently at a double-quick, with bayonets, held at charge, glistening in the sun, and evidently intent on sweeping our force of infantry, which had by this time effected a crossing, back into the river. But this is a matter in which we propose to have something to say, and by the time they have traversed half the interval between the woods and the river, we are sending our Schenkl shells among them in quick succession. The result is immediate and surpasses our highest anticipations. The line wavers for a moment, then breaks and scatters, some returning to the woods, but the larger portion keeps on and seeks refuge either in the rifle-pits or the buildings in Kellysville. On the latter we now train our guns. The range being rather short, every shell takes effect, as we afterwards ascertain from personal observation.

Thus far we had had the fun all our own way, but now our attention is drawn away from the village, for while we have been interested in breaking up the line of battle and persecuting its fragments, a Rebel battery has emerged from the woods unperceived, has taken position, and announces its business intentions by sending a 12-pound shot over to us. [159] Hearing the report, and turning, we see the puff of smoke and catch sight of a black speck rising against the sky. It increases in size until finally it drops on the slope in our front and ricochets over our heads. In like manner we saw nearly every shot fired by the enemy before it reached us. They have a perfect range at once. A second shell whistles over us, and a third crashes through a fallen tree in our rear. We accept their challenge without loss of time, and return their greetings with interest. One of our shells explodes between their pieces, and in the shout that follows, another of their iron globes ploughs up the ground between two of our limbers. So the fun goes on, but we have the advantage: first, in a superior position; and second, in having rifled guns—theirs are smooth-bores,—and they are soon compelled to withdraw. This was the first Rebel battery to test our mettle. It was by no means the last, however, to test it, with a similar result. We have a ‘record’ in this respect of which we are rather proud. Never were our guns silenced or driven from position by Rebel artillery.

This adversary disposed of, we turn our battery once more on the village and those whom it harbors.

At sunset our attention is diverted by distant firing up the river, and casting our eyes in that direction we see, at a distance of some six miles, the smoke of the battle of Rappahannock Station,2 where the right wing was successfully combating [160] the foe. But what part have our infantry been taking in this fray?

Without waiting for a pontoon to be laid, the Third Brigade of Gen. Birney's own division, in command of Gen. De Trobriand, and consisting of Berdan's Sharpshooters, the Fortieth New York, First and Twentieth Indiana, Third and Fifth Michigan, and One Hundred and Tenth Pennsylvania Infantry, waded across the river, the sharpshooters in front, charged into the Rebel rifle-pits, capturing Col. Gleason, of the Twelfth Virginia, and about five hundred men, with a loss on their side of only forty, and holding the ground thus taken without further serious opposition. The pontoon was soon laid, and at dusk the three divisions had crossed and were confronting the enemy in force.3 At 5 o'clock, P. M., we ceased firing, having been engaged more or less constantly since 2, and after dark crossed over and went into park for the night. A Rebel shell was brought off as a trophy upon one of our limbers, where it was found lying between a pair of boots that had been strapped to a bundle. It had evidently struck the ground and ricochetting had landed there, cutting through all the clothing in a bundle and splitting the front of the limber-chest, but doing no other damage. It was our good fortune that it was thus well spent when it struck, for an exploded limber-chest, with the probabilities consequent upon it, would have thrown a serious damper over our first artillery duel.

Our infantry lay in line of battle all the ensuing night, the enemy's skirmishers lying within conversing distance of our own. At 3 o'clock in the morning [161] of the 8th, theirs were called in. A dense fog filling the atmosphere prevented movements until 8 or 9 o'clock, when, the mists lifting, everything was at once put in motion, and passing through the little village, nearly every house of which bore marks of our shells, we found the enemy had retreated. We went through the belt of woods already mentioned, in which the Rebels had built comfortable .log-huts, evidently expecting they were housed for the winter, only to have their expectations rudely dashed to earth by our advance.

The two wings of the army now joined forces, and forming in lines of battle, the Second Corps on the left, the Third in the centre, the Sixth on the right, and the First supporting the centre,4 advanced across an open plain of considerable extent. It was a grand sight to see now and then from rising ground the long blue lines of troops stretching away as far as the eye could reach, their banners, on which the corps symbols were distinguishable from afar, waving in the breeze, and their arms gleaming in the sunlight like polished silver. It was war in its glory. A victorious army in battle array sweeping triumphantly over a conquered country, as it were. This order of battle was continued as far as the nature of the country would permit, when the Third Corps, in advance of the left wing, proceeded to Brandy Station, the enemy retreating before it. Here Gen. Birney was ordered to halt.5 We had [162] advanced only about eight miles this day, and parked north of the railroad, a half-mile distant from the station. Here we stayed until Tuesday morning, when we started once more, but only to move a short distance into a belt of pines, which we found had recently been occupied as a camp-ground by some portion of the Rebel army. We took immediate possession of the deserted tenements, and made ourselves as comfortable as the raw, squally weather and the means at our command would permit.

This movement of our army was something of a surprise to Lee, who was preparing to go into winter-quarters. His army now numbered about fifty thousand men,6 while ours aggregated seventy thousand. Had our advance, after the successes at the fords, been a little more prompt, a battle would probably have been precipitated, in which the advantage of numbers might have achieved for us a decided success. But the Fates had decreed otherwise, and during the night of the 8th the enemy retreated across the Rapidan, leaving us to take quiet possession of the region they had occupied.

Morning reports.


Oct. 19. Battery left Fairfax Station.

Oct. 20. One dark gray horse died on the road, wounded.

Oct. 21. Arrived at Catlett Station.

Oct. 22. Privates Starkweather and Apthorp report for duty; Wm. H. Trefry reported to quarters. [163]

Oct. 23. One horse reclaimed by Lieut. Dauch (?) which was one of the horses turned in to the Battery (See morning report of Oct. 4, 1863.) Six horses shot, by order of Dr. Benson. Four horses unserviceable. Sergeant Chandler Gould reported to quarters.

Oct. 25. Serg't C. Gould and Private F. A. Chase reported for duty.

Oct. 26. Wm. H. Trefry reported for duty. Asa L. Gowell and Elias Ashcroft reported to quarters. Received nine horses from A. Q. Master.

Oct. 27. Lieut. T. R. Armitage detailed on detached service for duty in Battery K, 4th U. S. Artillery, per order Gen. French. One horse died of glanders.

Oct. 28. Elias Ashcroft, Asa L. Gowell, Wm. Rawson, reported for duty. Wm. H. Trefry to quarters. Four horses shot by order Dr. Benson, 3rd A. C.

Oct. 29. Private C. N. Packard and Corp'l John H. Stevens reported to quarters.

Oct. 30. Received five horses from Capt.—— A. A. Q. M., Catlett Station, Va.

Oct. 31. Private H. Chase and Corp'l Stevens reported to quarters.

Nov. 1. Corp'l Pease reported to quarters; Corp'l Stevens reported to duty.

Nov. 2. Private H. Warburton reported for duty. H. Chase ditto.

Nov. 3. Corp'l Geo. A. Pease reported for duty. H. Chase, 0. F. Glidden reported to quarters.

Nov. 4. Privates Norman H. Butterfield and Wm. A. Trefry sent to Washington Hospital.

Nov. 5. H. Chase, O. F. Glidden reported to quarters.

Nov. 6. C. N. Packard reported to quarters. [164]

Nov. 7. Left Warrenton Junction at 5.30 o'clock A. M. Arrived at Kelly's Ford at 12 M. Opened fire with the enemy at 2 o'clock.

Nov. 8. Arrived at Brandy Station, Va., about 4 o'clock P. M.

Nov. 10. Moved across the railroad and went into camp.


Lee claims to have taken 2,000 prisoners during his dash across the Rappahannock; while our captures were hardly half as many. In killed and wounded the losses were nearly equal—not far from 500 on either side. But the prestige of skill and daring, of audacity and success, inured entirely to the Rebel commander, who with an inferior force had chased our army almost up to Washington, utterly destroyed its main artery of supply, captured the larger number of prisoners, destroyed, or caused us to destroy, valuable stores, and then returned to his own side of the Rappahannock essentially unharmed; having decidedly the advantage in the only collision that marked his retreat.

American Conflict, Vol. II.

The collision referred to in the above extract was a cavalry fight at Buckland's Mills, between Stuart and Kilpatrick.

2 One of the most brilliant engagements of the war, in which Gen. David A. Russell's Third Brigade of the Sixth Corps, less than sixteen hundred strong, slightly aided by two or three other regiments, charged over great obstacles and captured a strong line of works on the north bank of the river, taking more than sixteen hundred prisoners, four guns, eight battle-flags, two thousand small arms, and their pontoon bridge, with a Union loss of about three hundred killed and wounded.

3 ‘I crossed with one division upon the other side about 2 o'clock and laid the pontoons, and crossed my other two divisions on them. By the time I got across it became dusk.’—Gen. Birney: Testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War.

4 I do not know the position of the Fifth Corps on this occasion, but assume that it was in the line of battle.

5 ‘We advanced to Brandy Station, and although the enemy were in full sight, we halted and remained there. The enemy that night moved into Culpepper with their trains, and I am of opinion that if I had been permitted to advance . . . we could have struck the enemy a very severe blow.’—Gen. Birney: Testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War.

6 ‘Total effective of all arms, 45,614.’—Four Years with General Lee. Taylor.

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