Thursday, June 30, 2016

Major Wilder Dwight: Saturday, March 8, 1862

Charlestown, Virginia, March 8, 1862, Saturday.

We are quite at home in Charlestown now. We went into camp on Wednesday. On Thursday I was detailed as brigade officer of the day.

That kept me in the saddle all day and until night. And now I have a story of a midnight march for you. It is midnight of Thursday night. It may have begun to be Friday morning. I am sleeping in my tent; my nose alone apprising me that it is bitter cold. The rattle of an orderly is heard galloping into the camp. Soon, again, my reviving wakefulness hears the voice of Major Perkins, General Banks's Chief of Staff, talking to the Colonel in the next tent.

At last I am called. “Get the regiment under arms at once, Major,” is the order, “and move down on the Berryville Pike.” Colonel Maulsby, who is at Kabletown, near the Shenandoah, with part of his regiment, is reported to have been attacked by Rebel cavalry, and “cut to pieces.” A force of cavalry, artillery, and two regiments of infantry, under Colonel Gordon, is to move at once, cautiously, to his relief. It is dark, and so cold. A discussion of the best route ensues. The regiment is turned out. I mount my horse and ride down to take command. In the darkness, it is difficult to see whether the regiment is facing one way or another. We move down upon the road. The Sixteenth Indiana follows us.

After proceeding a mile upon the pike, we turn off upon the “Dirt Road,” so called, toward Kabletown. Over rocks, through ruts and mire, half frozen, we make a slight headway. The artillery cannot proceed. It is too dark for even safe progress by infantry. “Halt! Build fires, and bivouac till daylight.” In fifteen minutes, from our position at the head of the line to the rear of it is a succession of bright fires, with groups of men gathered round them. Down the hill, and along the winding road is one blaze of camp-fires. The sight is a fine one. At last the morning star rises, like a flame, and the day follows her. We move again, with flankers and advance guard. As we had been sitting about the fire, waiting for day, a teamster of Colonel Maulsby's regiment, who was our guide, had told his story, how the cavalry charged upon them, cut them down, and “now,” said he, “Colonel Maulsby and all his officers are either dead or on their way to Richmond.”

As we drew near to Kabletown we saw pickets and outposts. A company of our regiment, deployed as skirmishers, went down on the field toward them. They withdrew; but suddenly it appears that they are part of Colonel Maulsby's Home Guard!

We advance again, when, at a turn in the road, the quiet camp of Colonel Maulsby appears in tranquil unconsciousness. The teamster opens his eyes in blank amazement. We halt. I go on and find Colonel Maulsby, delighted and surprised to see me.

Then come the explanations. A patrol of our cavalry lost its way, last night, came rapidly in on the camp by the wrong road. Maulsby's men fired, and so did the cavalry. The teamsters and a few of the outposts were panic-stricken, and their terror drew a picture which had little resemblance to the reality.

In the unlucky blunder, a horse and man were shot. The fugitive teamsters and outposts had led us a pretty chase. The joke and collapse were ridiculous. “Come in to breakfast,” said Colonel Maulsby. Ha! ha! ha! We are the heroes of Kabletown! On our return, I told General Banks that Kabletown should be inscribed on our banners!

We had a night march, and at ten o'clock in the morning we got back to our camp, after fourteen miles of marching over the worst road in the world. Well! what of it? There is no harm done, and perhaps this wretched cavalry has learnt a lesson.

I am writing in the Provost Marshal's office in the Charlestown jail. Colonel Andrews is still Provost Marshal. John Brown's cell, on the opposite side of the entry, is full of contrabands, fugitives within our lines, most of them to be sent to work at Harper's Ferry. Again I give you an odd retribution from the whirligig of events.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 203-5

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