«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
-43sic -, & the the] valley of Virginia, below them in front the lovely Luray valley, with its apple, peach and cherry trees in bloom the verdure well started in the groves, and the rich green of the grass and wheat fields presenting in the morning sunlight a scene of such tranquil beauty that the soldiers could hardly realize that they were descending into that beautiful vale seeking to drench its fields with blood. A short rest, and the descent was quickly made. The brigade encamped near the Luray caves, now a resort but little less famous than the Mammoth cave in Kentucky. It was found that no enemy was there, none had been there. The long, night march had been made on a false alarm.
Instead of going into battle, the tired men sank down to welcome slumber, save the luckless detail who were posted out on all approaches as pickets.
They with stiffened joints must stand on watch while the camp was drowned in sleep.
There were in the valley many wives of poor men who had been forced into the Confederate ranks. These poor women, often with large families of children, were left in destitution, and were the pictures of wretchedness.
There were many Dunkards, a religious sect having conscientious scruples against bearing arms. They hid in the mountains during Jackson’s occupation, but came from their hiding places when our forces appeared, only to flee again as soon as we fell back.
go along with that coffee.” Putting on an old sun bonnet, evidently one she had had in her youth, she disappeared among the bushes, with an old knife in her hand. She soon returned with some milk, some slices of bacon and some corn meal. With remarkable celebrity she soon had some corn cakes browning by the fire, and the odors of frying bacon and boiling coffee filled the room.
A rude table was set; and we four sat down to a repast with a hearty relish. It was a pleasure to see those poor women enjoy their coffee, and grow cheerful and garrulous under the stimulant. “In these times o’ worrit and trouble,” said the old lady, “there ain’t anything so liftin’ as a cup of coffee.” We paid them for the dinner; but they seemed to feel rich when Knight emptied the coffee bag into the dish which the old dame brought for the purpose, and her opinion of the Yanks rose many degrees by the time the dinner was over.
N THE 8th day of May, the Third recrossed the Massanutton and lay O listless in the warm weather at New Market tell the 13th, when we fell back to Strasburg. Soldiering grew tame. We seemed likely to remain simply as a guard. All were discontented. The officers of the Second petitioned the secretary of war to send them to a more active field. Since we had entered the valley, Donelson, Henry, Shiloh had startled the nation;
Yorktown was evacuated and McClellan nearing Richmond, and we, alas!
were rusting in a sleepy valley. We were soon given more activity than we desired.
While Banks was drawing back, Shields withdrew from New Market and moved over to join McDowell who from about Fredericksburg was to move on to join on McClellan’s right. Jackson at Elk Run valley burned to fall upon Banks. His command had been increased. He made an expedition to McDowell, off to the southwest, united forces with Gen. Edward Johnson, and fell upon Milroy, in the Bull Pasture valley, drove him over into West Virginia;
then returned with Johnson’s 3,500 men, and was joined by Ewell, and turned upon Banks with a force of 17,500 men.
They arranged the movement with skill. One brigade of Ewell’s was to move with Jackson down to New Market, thence over the Massanuttons.
Ewell was to move from Elk Run valley down the South fork of the Shenandoah in Luray valley. The plan was put in execution on the 19th, and both columns in motion. Jackson crossed the Massanuttons, and fell in rear of Ewell, moving down to Front Royal, and bivouacked on the night of the 22d within ten miles of that place.
Turning now to the Union camps we find the situation as follows: On the morning of the 23d, Williams’ one division of two brigades — the First commanded by Col. Donnelly, the Second by Col. George H. Gordon — was at Strasburg, and stretched along from there to Front Royal. Three companies of the Second Massachusetts were at the bridge just out of Strasburg; one company of the Third Wisconsin (Company G), commanded by Capt. Edwin L. Hubbard, and one company of the Twenty-seventh Indiana, Capt. Davis, were near Buckton Station, six miles from Strasburg, toward Front Royal, having been sent there May 16th, by orders from the War department, to guard the railroad between there and Strasburg. The town is a small one, lying at the west base of the Blue Ridge, with high hills all about it, and is about a mile and a half south of the confluence of the two forks of the Shenandoah. On the east, a turnpike and the Manassas Gap railroad lead through the gap of that name to the southeast, another road leads through Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge. The Winchester turnpike leads north from the
-45town and crosses both forks of the Shenandoah. The road to Luray runs southward up the valley.
Banks heard on the 21st of Jackson’s presence within eight miles of Harrisonburg, but he seems to have lost further track of his active adversary until he heard of him at Front Royal.
As Jackson approached Front Royal, in order to get as close as possible without being discovered, he turned off from the main road to the right, and passed up into the steep wooded hills and approached the town from the south by a narrow, secluded road, well hidden in the forests of the Blue Ridge.
His purpose was to pounce upon the town from an unexpected quarter and capture the force there without giving them opportunity to alarm Banks at Strasburg.
It was necessary, also, to cut off the little force of two companies near Buckton Station and other bridge guards, lest they hearing firing at Front Royal communicate with Strasburg. And it was necessary also to destroy railroad communications and bridges between the two places. So Ashby’s cavalry was turned from the main road of advance to the left at Spangler’s cross-roads to cross the south fork and move west up under the Massanuttons, to skirt along the base of that mountain and destroy the bridge guarded by Captains Hubbard and Davis and others, also guarded nearer to Front Royal.
Captain Hubbard was in command of the little detachment of two companies. Some advance scouting parties had captured two of his men the day before, and he was on the lookout. On the morning of the 23d he sent Capt. Davis and Lieut. Giddings down the track a little ways to report to Lieut.Col. Parham, who with five companies of his own, the Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania regiment was guarding other bridges and points on the railroad.
Parham had ordered Hubbard to report to him for instructions as to building defenses. Hubbard sent these officers instead, and fearing attack remained with the command. They reported and started back to their companies, but the enemy had come between, and they were compelled to fall back to Parham’s camp.17 Captain Hubbard, therefore, commanded and made such Lieutenant Giddings reported back to Front Royal that he was unable to join his own command and tendered his services to Col. Murphy of the Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania, who assigned him to a company in his regiment. In the retreat of that regiment toward Winchester, the enemy’s cavalry charged upon it, broke its lines, and Giddings with others took shelter in the timber and in that way tried to get beyond the rebel advance toward Winchester. When they approached the pike they found it filled with Confederate stragglers. They kept concealed until dark and then tramped all night toward Winchester. On the 26th about sunrise, near Winchester, they, Giddings and his companions in flight, were captured near Winchester by several farmers, who had discovered their tracks in the dewy grass. He was taken to Winchester, sent thence to Staunton on foot, thence by rail to Salisbury, N.C., remained there about two months, was then sent to Libby Prison, was paroled, and rejoined the regiment in the winter, after his exchange, at Stafford C.H.,
-46dispositions to resist attack as he deemed prudent. In front of the railroad on the southern side was a wheat field and back of it a large wood. In this timber out of sight of Hubbard’s pickets Ashby’s cavalry — about 400 — massed. At 2 o’clock they charged across the wheat field, with a whoop and yell, two or three officers in front swinging their sabers, toward the camp of the companies. Hubbard with his Company G, and the brave Indianians did not flinch. It might will shake the nerve of veterans to see so solid a column of cavalry bearing down upon them in the momentum of full gallop; but the Indiana boys gave the advancing host a volley. Both companies then got behind a fill in the railroad, and when the still advancing cavalry came within 100 yards gave them a volley well directed which threw them into confusion, emptying many saddles. Horses fell; others riderless ran in all directions; two or three of the cavalry charged up to the fill or embankment, but were killed before they got back. Among them was Capt. Fletcher, a splendidly mounted and fine-looking officer. His followers broke and fell back into the timber in confusion and at a break-neck pace. They soon rallied, and made another charge on the right. The little force was waiting them, every gun loaded, and the men confident and cool. Hubbard’s company, lying behind a fill in the track, gave them a volley at close range, which was more than they could stand. They broke and fled precipitately to the woods, not daring to face another fire. Such is Capt. Hubbard’s version of this skirmish.18 One incident connected with this skirmish has a humorous aspect well worth record. When Banks was operating the valley in 1862, some enterprising printer had printed cartloads of a fac-simile of Confederate money, and circulated it through the army. There were many instances where Va.
The Confederate accounts do not agree. Allan says: “Ashby ~ ~ came suddenly upon the infantry guard, consisting of two companies (Davis’s of the Twenty-seventh Indiana, and Hubbard’s of the Third Wisconsin), that had been posted at and near Buckton, for the protection of the railroad. This force, however, quickly threw themselves into the depot building and Mr.
Jenkins’ house and stable, and from this cover maintained a very spirited contest with the Confederate cavalry, in which fell Capts. Sheets and Fletcher, two of Ashby’s best officers. The Federals were finally overpowered and dispersed and the railroad track torn up.” Jackson reports: “Ashby ~ ~ met with a body of the enemy posted as a guard at Buckton in a strong position, protected by the railroad embankment. Ashby drove back and dispersed the enemy, but with the loss of some of the most valuable of his followers, among them Capts. Sheets and Fletcher.: (Off. Records of Rebellion, vol. XII., pt. 1, p. 703.) Cooke, in his “Biography of Jackson,” page 143, says: “Ashby was meanwhile scouting along the base of the Massanutton. ~ ~ At Buckton he came upon a body of the enemy, posted as a guard at that point, in a strong position, and protected by the embankment of the railroad. Ashby charged and dispersed them, gaining possession of the place and capturing a train of cars.” From all this it is evident that the infantry they did disperse and drive away was a part of the Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania, who were at Buckton Station. Lieut.-Col. Parham, commanding below, reports that his men at the station were driven away by Ashby’s men.
-47soldiers had passed these fac-simile bills on the unsophisticated Virginians as genuine money, although it was clearly printed on the margin that the same were fac-similes. The Confederate government caused it to be circulated that any Federal soldier having this imitation money in possession upon capture, would be treated not as a prisoner of war, but as a counterfeiter, and sent to state’s prison. It happened that the Company G men had their pockets crammed with this paper when the rebels were charging upon them. While waiting between charges, they so gallantly repulsed, the men buried their money in the bank. Every vestige of it was hidden. They meant not to be captured, but they had no notion of wearing stripes in the Virginia prison.
They called it “putting their money in the bank.” Captain Hubbard, after this repulse, called for volunteers to swim the Shenandoah and take a dispatch to Banks. Two men volunteered, ran to Strasburg, and Col. Ruger, with his regiment, at once marched to the succor of the brave outpost. Never was reinforcement more welcome. Ruger was soon ordered back to Strasburg, and the whole command was in motion, as we shall presently see.
HILE Ashby was attacking the companies at Buckton, and finding W them so hard to ride over, the head of Jackson’s column had pounced upon Kenly19 at Front Royal, and taken him by surprise.
Kenly made “a spirited resistance,” as Jackson admits, destroyed a part of his stores, and then fell back across the South fork and took a commanding position on a height, and played on the enemy with his rifled artillery. Jackson sent the First Maryland rebel regiment to attack them, supported by a battalion of Louisiana troops, while his artillery was posted to take them in flank. Kenly fell back across the North fork, and attempted to destroy the bridge, but the enemy was too close upon him. He continued to retreat; but Ashby’s and Flourney’s cavalry were soon upon him, they having come down from Buckton to join in the pursuit. At Cedarville, five miles north of Front Royal, Kenly made another stand; but there the Confederates overpowered him, captured his section of the battery of 10-pounder Parrotts and several hundred prisoners.