Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Skirmish At Blooming Gap

(Correspondence of the New York Tribune.)

A small portion of Gen. Lander’s force being at Paw Paw Tunnels, a station on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, half way between Hancock and Cumberland, joined it from New Creek with a portion of the force there, and ordered the construction of the Great Cacapon Railroad bridge.  This was completed on the evening of the 14th inst.  At 4 o’clock p. m. on the 13th inst. Gen. Lander started south with a small cavalry force.  At 8 o’clock the same evening word came back for a portion of the command to move.

This was the first intelligence we had of a march being intended, although the command had been turned out twice a day with blankets slung, inspected, marched short distances, and ordered to keep two days’ cooked rations on hand.  It was soon covertly whispered among officers that it was the intention of Gen. Lander to move on Bloomington Gap, a strong pass in the mountains, reported to be held by Gen. Carson’s Brigade, 4,000 strong.  For this purpose, he had called in all his cavalry force, numbering nearly 500 men, and led by Col. Anastanzel, of the 1st Virginia Regiment.  They had been arriving for two days previous.  It appeared afterward that it had been intended to bridge the Cacapon river the next day, but the enemy having discovered the small party of scouts led by General Lander, he concluded to make the march that night.  Twenty wagons were placed in the river, planks were hauled and in four hours a bridge improvised at a point about seven miles south of the railroad.

The bridge, 180 feet in length, was built between 9 and 10 o’clock at night.  It was about seven miles to Bloomington Gap from where the river was bridged.

Gen. Lander’s intention was to charge thro’ 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 the 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 lead by the General and his staff the cavalry flew through the Gap and rallied beyond it, the birds 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 it 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 to follow their General to victory.  His appeal was answered by one private named John Cannon, a Virginia refugee. – Gen. Lander charged, followed by James Armstrong, Assistant Adjutant General Fitz James 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 the 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.  Col. 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 shall deploy and fire upon you.”  Col. Carroll now 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 and engaging the enemy to the last, until ordered back.  The pursuit was continued eight miles.

The result of the 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.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 1, 1862, p. 1

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