Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Major Wilder Dwight: Monday, March 25, 1862

winchester, Virginia, March 25, 1862.

A blue March morning, and I have just returned from the battle-field. A sight to forget. I question much if description of it is well. You may fancy the scattered dead through woods and over hillsides.

The oddest coincidence of blunders brought about a battle.

Banks's division had left Winchester on Saturday noon. Shields drew back from Strasburg, and had gone on the back of the town (Winchester). No forces or pickets were on the Strasburg road on that side of the town.

On Saturday evening there was some skirmishing by Ashby's cavalry, in which Shields was wounded. It seems that Jackson had been informed that every one had left the town. His skirmish on Saturday failed to develop any large force.

On Sunday, therefore, the fight commenced by our and their artillery. It continued through the day till half past three without any development of infantry on their side. At three o'clock General Banks, supposing it to be only Ashby's cavalry, with a few pieces of artillery, continuing his system of annoyance, went to Harper's Ferry. But, at about four o'clock, Jackson, with his infantry, attempted to turn our right by sending round over a ridge through the woods. No one was in command of our forces. Colonel Kimball, the ranking colonel of Shields's forces, was, so to speak, in charge of the battle. Shields was abed in town. The staff were galloping about, and the soldiers fought like heroes. General Banks had gone to Harper's Ferry. Jackson had put his artillery on the commanding ridge on his left. He had two regiments of infantry behind a stone-wall in rear of the batteries. Here was the sharp fighting. We sent round our force to turn their position and take their artillery. It was done. Then they tried to retake it. Their force came over a hill, and fired over our men. Our men shot up at them and took them in the head and breast. The woods are torn and shivered by musketry and cannon. Thirty men in Confederate homespun, shot in the head, lie in this wood. Their upturned faces seemed to me looking reproach at Jeff Davis. The fight lasted till dark, when Jackson withdrew, leaving us the field and two pieces of artillery and five caissons; leaving also his dead and wounded and two hundred and fifty prisoners in our hands.

Both parties had blundered, — they, by acting on our retreat; we, by acting on his retreat. The upshot is a glorious victory for us. I have just come back from a sad visit to the hospitals; seeing wounded, dying, and dead, Rebels and Loyalists lying side by side, and receiving equal care. The loss on our side is one hundred or more killed, and two to three hundred wounded. Theirs is nearly three hundred killed and probably five hundred wounded. Everything shows how easy it is to kill a great many men by shooting very often! Jackson's men, as some of their wounded state, came down expecting to find Winchester empty. They consider our actual movement a feint. Some of their troops marched two days, and came into action late in the afternoon. I give you my impressions.

We go to Strasburg to-morrow. We shall meet no opposition. We left a door open, and in came Jackson. We must not leave another door open. That's the moral of this story. The sheer fighting of our men saved us. Good by. Love to all at home.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 216-8

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