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Fight at front Royal.

[from the Richmond (Va.) times, May 10, 1896.] a vindication of Historical truth, by one who knows. Facts from a Diary of events, Substantiated by official reports of actors in the scenes.

Editor of the Times:
Sir,—In consequence of the frequent misstatements made, some of which have found their way into public print, concerning the fighting in the vicinity of Front Royal on the 23d of May, 1862, and the capture of the Federal garrison at that place, I have frequently been requested by some of my old comrades to prepare for publication a correct statement of the occurrences of that eventful day. From various causes I have from time to time postponed a compliance with these requests until the present, but, having been recently [132] informed, whether correctly or not I am not able to state, that some of these statements have been incorporated in some of our modern histories, I have concluded to prepare for your columns a correct statement of the occurrences referred to, and in doing so I shall not depend upon my memory, but shall state the facts in the matter under consideration, as recorded in a diary kept by me during the war, and I shall substantiate that record by quotations from the official reports of the officers (Confederate and Federal) who were actors in these stirring events.

On the 20th of May, 1862, the 2d and the 6th regiments of Virginia cavalry, the former under the command of Colonel Munford, and the latter under Colonel Thomas Stanhope Flournoy, who, being the senior officer, had command of both regiments, broke camp near Culpeper Courthouse and marched to Woodville, Rappahannock county. On the following day we crossed the Blue Ridge into Page Valley, in advance of General Ewells' Division, and continued our march to Luray. On the 22d our march was continued in the direction of Front Royal. On the two last-named days, all along our route, the loyal women of that beautiful valley, from the gray-haired matron to the fair, blooming maiden, flocked to the roadside to bid us welcome, and to cheer us on our way.

It is proper to state here, before going into a narration of the events of the following day, that the misstatement referred to above is to the effect that the garrison at Front Royal was captured by the First Maryland (Confederate) Regiment of infantry, and Wheat's Louisana Battalion of Infantry, whereas the facts and the official records will show that there was no Confederate infantry within three or four miles of the Federal force at the time of its capture.

On the following day, the 23rd, our march northward was resumed, but the cavalry was soon sent to the left to cut the railroad and telegraphic communications between Strasburg and Front Royal, while the infantry pressed on towards the latter place, where a brisk skirmish ensued, but the Federal force retreated across both forks of the Shenandoah, carrying with them their artillery and wagon-train, and firing the bridge over the North river after they had crossed it.

Too slow for Jackson.

In referring to what transpired at Front Royal, General Jackson, in his official report, says: ‘But in the meantime, Wheat's Battalion, Major Wheat, and the First Maryland Regiment, Colonel Bradley [133] T. Johnson, advanced more directly, driving in their skirmishers, the Federals retreating across both forks of the Shenandoah.’

The cavalry, having accomplished the mission upon which it had been sent, moved on in the direction of Front Royal. Upon reaching the bridge crossing the North Fork, we found that the enemy had fired it. The fire, however, had been extinguished by our infantry, but not until the flooring on the south side of the bridge had been burned nearly through. By riding slowly, in single file, and bearing as far as possible to the right, we proceeded to cross the bridge. This was slow work, and too slow for General Jackson, who as soon as four companies had crossed, ordered Colonel Flournoy in pursuit of the enemy with those four companies.

Colonel Flournoy promptly obeyed, and started rapidly up the turnpike towards Winchester with his small force (not exceeding, if equalling, 200 men), the companies being in the following order: Company E, of Halifax, Captain C. E. Flournoy; Company B, of Rappahannock, Captain Daniel Grimsley; Company K, of Loudoun, Captain George A. Baxter; and Company A, also of Loudoun, Captain R. H. Dulany.

Being in the front section of fours of our company, I was a witness to the following rather amusing incident: We were proceeding in a rapid trot, Captain Baxter being immediately in front of my section. Just in front of the latter rode two soldiers who did not seem to be connected with the company next in front. The elder wore a dingy gray coat and an old military cap, pulled well forward, and rode a raw-bone sorrel horse, while on his right rode a youth who seemed to be more neatly dressed than the other. True the old sorrel and his companion ambled along at a good gait, but not fast enough for the ardent and impatient spirit of Baxter, who, in no very choice language, peremptorily commanded them to ‘get out of the way of my (his) men.’ The younger of the two turned to Baxter and, with a motion towards his companion, said: ‘This is General Jackson.’ This was like a thunder-bolt to Baxter and the rest of us, as we were not then as familiar with General Jackson's appearance as we became afterwards during his Valley Campaign and as couriers for him in the winter of 1863-‘64. As soon as he recovered his breath, Baxter, waving his hat around his head, led us in ‘three cheers for General Jackson,’ given in genuine Confederate style. General Jackson immediately wheeled his horse, and ordered Captain Baxter to take his company and Company A and form his squadron and charge on the right of the turnpike; Company E was ordered [134] to the left of the turnpike, while Company B was ordered to charge in the turnpike.

A terrific charge.

These orders were rapidly given and promptly and quickly executed. After passing into the field on the right, our squadron advanced in a gallop, crossing one or two fences, until we reached a post-and-rail and capped fence, enclosing an orchard, where the enemy, quietly watching our advance, was prepared to receive our onslaught. They were posted at Cedarville, about five miles from Front Royal. As soon as the head of the column reached the fence, I leaped from my horse and attempted to pull down one of the fence-posts, but, finding myself unequal to the task, I sprang into my saddle again. However, by some means an opening was quickly made in the fence, and through it we rushed. As we entered the orchard, Captain Baxter gave the command, ‘Left into line,’ which was done in a gallop. Quickly thereafter, being in front of his men, with his pistol over his head, he gave the order to charge, then, pressing our rowels into our horses flanks, with a wild rush we charged upon the enemy like a tempest, and they might as well have tried to stop a tornado. I do not believe they could have checked our onset by any volley they could have given us, without killing our horses, for if the majority of the riders had been shot down the horses would have been carried by their tremendous momentum into the ranks of the enemy. Captain George A. Baxter, Company K, was killed by a musket shot fired at close range. No more generous and heroic man than he fell during the war, and he was idolized by his men. The horse of Lieutenant George F. Means, Company K, being killed with bayonets, fell upon his rider, who was about to be dispatched with clubbed muskets of some of the enemy when Sergeant Fout, Company K, rushed to his rescue. Company A lost one killed and one wounded. But Company B, which charged in the turnpike, was the principal sufferer in this conflict. The enemy, at close range, poured a deadly volley into the ranks of this company, killing nine and wounding fourteen out of thirty-six men, and killing and wounding twenty-one horses, but failed to stop them, for the remainder of this heroic band, led by the gallant Grimsley, dashed into the midst of the enemy and scattered them like chaff before the wind. One man in Company B was pierced with fourteen bullets. I was informed of many interesting and thrilling incidents that occurred during the conflict, but I did [135] not witness them, as, being at the head of the column when we entered the orchard, the command, ‘Left into line’ threw me on the right of the line, and I found matters in my own immediate vicinity so intensely interesting, that I had no time to gaze around to see what was transpiring in other parts of the field.

When we broke their ranks the enemy scattered in every direction, and we scattered in as many directions, also in pursuit. Companies D and I of our regiment, the 6th, came up in time to join in the pursuit. Thus had our small force of about 200 cavalry attacked and routed a vastly superior force of the enemy, numbering about 800, and consisting of cavalry, infantry, and artillery, although that force had formed in battle array to repel our attack. Besides their killed and wounded we captured about 700 prisoners and their artillery and wagon-train. The remainder of our regiment did not get up in time to join in the pursuit. On the following day I heard General Ewell remark to Colonel Flournoy, after expressing his regret at the loss sustained, ‘But you made a glorious charge.’

Among the prisoners was Colonel Kenley, the Federal commander, who was also wounded by a sabre cut, I think, on the head. In the ranks of Co. K, of the 6th Virginia, he had a cousin, a Mr. T. M. C. Paxson. It so happened that on the following day Paxson was among the number detailed to take the prisoners to Winchester. Colonel Kenley, being in the ambulance, recognized Paxson, and called him. After conversing a few minutes he asked Paxson what regiment he belonged to. On being told, the 6th Virginia Cavalry, he replied: ‘Do you know that you men made the greatest cavalry charge yesterday on record?’ and he went on to state that he had formed his men to repel our attack, and they had stood their ground until we were in their midst, yet they had been overcome, and that history nowhere recorded an instance where so small a force of cavalry had charged and overcome so greatly a superior force of infantry, supported by cavalry and artillery. Mr. Paxson is now residing near Peoenia, Va., and will verify the statement just made.

Captured by Cavalry.

From the foregoing it will be seen that no Confederate infantry whatever had anything to do with the capture of the Federal force under Colonel Kenley. Soon after the fight the report gained credence that the 1st Maryland (Confederate) and Wheat's Battalion had captured the Federal force at Front Royal, yet I have never [136] heard any member of either of those gallant commands making any such claim.

In substantiation of the fact that this Federal force was captured by the four companies of the 6th Virginia Cavalry named, I will now quote from the official reports of some of the officers engaged.

Colonel Kenley says: ‘I still pushed on in an orderly, military manner, and had actually gained some four miles from the river when Major Vought rode up from the rear and informed me that he was closely pressed. * * * The infantry in the field poured in a very close volley, which nearly destroyed the leading company, but it did not check the advance of the succeeding squadrons, which charged in the most spirited manner. Large numbers of them, turning into the field, charged upon the men there, who continued fighting desperately until nearly all were captured, some five or six officers and about 100 men alone escaping. * * * There was no surrender about it.’

General Jackson says:

Delayed by difficulties at the bridge over the North Fork, which the Federals had made an effort to burn, Colonel Flournoy pushed on with Companies A, B, E and K, of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, and came up with a body of the enemy near Cedarville, about five miles from Front Royal. This Federal force consisted of two companies of cavalry, two pieces of artillery, the 1st (Federal) Regiment, Maryland Infantry, and two companies of Pennsylvania infantry, which had been posted to check our pursuit.

Dashing into the midst of them, Captain Grimsley, of Company B, in advance, these four companies drove the Federals from their position, who soon, however, reformed in an orchard on the right of the turnpike, when a second gallant charge being made upon them, the enemy's cavalry was put to flight, the artillery abandoned, and the infantry, now thrown into confusion, surrendered themselves prisoners of war.

In this successful pursuit our loss was twenty-six killed and wounded. Among the killed was Captain Baxter, of Company K, while gallantly leading his men in the charge.

Colonel Flournoy in his report says:

The enemy had fired the bridge across North river, which delayed the pursuit. Four companies of the 6th crossed the river in time to overtake the enemy at Cedarsville, about three miles up the pike, where they had formed to receive the charge. Company E, Captain C. E. Flournoy, was ordered in front and on the left; Company K, Captain Baxter, and [137] Company A, Captain Dulaney, to the right, and Company B, Captain Grimsley, directly up the turnpike.

Company B.

Company B was first upon the enemy, and charged most gallantly right through their lines, breaking them and throwing them into confusion. This company was supported by Company E from the left, and Companies K and A on the right. The enemy was driven from this position, but soon reformed in an orchard on the right of the turnpike, where these companies again charged and put them to complete route.

When the charge was commenced, their cavalry took to flight. The two pieces of artillery were abandoned and taken, and nearly the entire infantry force taken prisoners.

Company D, Captain Richards, and Company I, Captain Row, came up in time to engage in the pursuit. The other companies of the 6th and 2d Regiments were prevented from coming in time to take part on account of the difficulty in crossing the bridge, which alone prevented their taking the most active part in the fight.

The officers and men engaged acted with the greatest intrepidity and courage, executing every order with promptness, and gained a complete victory over the enemy.

In his report of the fight at Winchester, after referring to the absence of the cavalry under Generals Ashby and George H. Steuart, and the failure of the latter to pursue the enemy promptly when ordered to do so, on the ground that the order did not come through General Ewell, under whose immediate command he was, General Jackson says:

There is good reason for believing that, had the cavalry played its part in this pursuit as well as the four companies under Colonel Flournoy two days before in the pursuit from Front Royal, but a small portion of Banks' army would have made its escape to the Potomac.

The reports of some of the subordinate Federal officers engaged in this fight are somewhat amusing, inasmuch as they estimate one attacking force all the way from 3,000 to 10,000 men, and one even says that we attacked then with these overwhelming numbers, carrying a black flag, and giving no quarter—this in the face of the fact that no one ever saw a black flag in Virginia during the war, and of the further fact that we took alive about 700 prisoners, which shows [138] under what mental and optical delusion some people may labor during the excitement of such an occurrence, or else, what deliberate lying they will do in order to make their own part in the affair appear as great as possible.

This article has been written simply in vindication of historical truth, and in justice to the heroic dead and of the living, as well.

In further verification of the foregoing, I refer to Judge Grimsley, of Culpeper, Va., and Colonel R. H. Dulany, Welbourne, Va.

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