Thursday, April 28, 2011

Skirmish at Blooming Gap

The following is a vivid description of one of those bold exploits for which Gen. Lander is so noted.  What could surpass the cool courage of riding into a body of officers and demanding their swords?

Gen. Lander’s intention was to charge through the Gap in the night, as the position of the enemy could not be turned, and then halt his cavalry on the east side of the town, and check their retreat toward Winchester until the infantry provided for a support arrived.  It was believed that whatever force of the rebels, in the darkness and confusion the quarters of the officers could be surrounded and the officers taken before their men could form.  It was one of those dashing exploits for which this officer has been so justly celebrated.  But the enemy had retired beyond the town, and when led by the General and his staff the cavalry flew through the Gap and rallied beyond it, the bird had flown.  Col. Anastanzel was at once ordered to push forward on the Winchester road with the cavalry, reconnoiter, and, if possible, overtake and capture the baggage of the enemy.

Gen. Lander meantime brought up Col. Carroll with the 8th Ohio regiment, and the 7th Virginia, Col. Evans, for a support.  Col. Anastanzel encountered the enemy at the head of the pass, two miles from Blooming.  He was met by a sharp fire, and halted his command, instead of pushing through to the front.  On hearing the firing Gen. Lander came up and ordered Anastanzel forward.  The men faltered before the musketry of the enemy, when Lander saying “follow me,” halting at the head of the column only long enough to tell the men to remember their holy mission and follow their General to victory.  His appeal was answered by one private named John Cannon, a Virginia refugee.  Gen. Lander charged, followed by Major Armstrong, Ass’t Adj’t General; Fitz Jas. O’Brien, the well known poet, of his staff, and Major Bannister, Paymaster U. S. A. who had volunteered for the expedition.  A group of rebel officers were distant about 300 yards, encouraging their men.  Gen. Lander being mounted on his celebrated horse, outran the rest of the party, and cut off the retreat of the rebel officers, “Surrender, gentlemen,” he said and coolly dismounting, extended his hand to receive the sword of Col. Baldwin, whom an instant before he had appeared, to outside observers, to be riding directly over.  Five of the rebel officers surrendered to Gen. Lander, and four more immediately afterward, to the officers of his staff, among them the Assistant Adjutant General of Gen. Carson.

By this time the rebel infantry, perceiving the small number of their adversaries commenced a heavy fire from the woods, but the cavalry had recovered from its panic and now poured up the hill.  Gen. Lander once more ordered Anastanzel to charge up the road and capture the baggage of the enemy.  The cavalry dashed forward; the advance guard soon overtook and turned out of the road fifteen wagons and horses, but the main force of the cavalry seemed paralyzed and would not face the fire.  Two of the gallant privates in front were shot by the enemy, who had again rallied and there was another check.  Colonel Evans now came up with his regiment of infantry, and captured many more of the rebels.  Gen. Lander shot at one of his own cavalry men who refused to go forward, saying, “The next time I’ll hit you, and if you don’t clear the road this regiment I shall deploy and fire upon you.”  Col. Carroll then came up; “Go on,” said Gen. Lander to Carroll, “we need you now – clear them out and take their baggage.”  Col. Carroll cleared the road as he went, both infantry regiments behaving admirably; following the engaging enemy to the last, until ordered back.  The pursuit was continued eight miles.

The result of this affair was the capture of 18 commissioned officers and 45 non-commissioned officers and privates.  Thirty of the rebels were killed, with a loss on our side of seven killed and wounded.  Col. Carroll drove the enemy beyond the limits of Gen. Lander’s department and returned.

Gen. Lander has applied to the Governor of Maryland for the promotion of John Cannon to a Lieutenantcy.

Gen. Lander subsequently made complaint to Secretary Stanton of Col. Anastanzel’s unsoldierly conduct.  The following was the Secretary’s characteristic reply:–

WAR DEPARTMENT, Feb. 13 1862.

“If Gen. Lander is satisfied that Col. Anastanzel was guilty of cowardice or misbehavior before the enemy, he may be tried on the spot, and if found guilty, the sentence of death may be executed on the spot, or he may be cashiered by his commanding General at the head of his regiment.  The former course is recommended as the preferable one.  Cowardice in an officer, exhibited on the field of battle should receive the swift punishment of death.

Secretary of war.

– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Thursday Morning, February 27, 1862, p. 2

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