Winchester, Virginia, Friday, May 30, 1862,
Braddock Street, at Mr. Bernhardt's.
The first news of an attack on Banks's column reached the camp of the Second Massachusetts Regiment at Strasburg, Virginia, on Friday evening after parade (May 23). The Third Wisconsin Regiment was despatched by Colonel Gordon, commanding brigade, toward Front Royal, to protect the bridges. At eleven o'clock that night we were ordered to pack wagons. After despatching our train we lay down and spent the night in bivouac. No marching orders came. It was understood by us that many of the other trains had not yet gone toward Winchester. At or near ten o'clock, A.M., Saturday, the order came for us to march. As we passed head-quarters on the way to Winchester, it was reported that the Rebel forces were pushing forward direct from Front Royal to Winchester, and we were hurried on, as it was said, to meet them or anticipate them. When we drew near the bridge over Cedar Creek, the battery was ordered forward in haste, and it was said that part of our train at Newtown had been attacked by cavalry. We pushed forward, found the trains halted, and some evidences of panic and disorder. We halted half an hour before reaching Middletown. Then pushed on again. The day, which had been rainy and clouded, grew more clear and hot. The march was through the trains, and a rapid push toward Winchester. Donnelly's brigade was before ours. Between Middletown and Newtown it became evident that our rear was being pressed. The rear-guard had been composed of cavalry and artillery. A large drove of loose horses overtook us near Newtown; one of cattle soon came also; the wagons, also, were crowding the way. Still we pushed on. At about two miles beyond Newtown General Banks appeared, and announced to Colonel Gordon that our advance was in Winchester, and all quiet there. The evidences of panic and pursuit in the rear had been rapidly multiplying, and it had been reported that our train was cut at Middletown by a force coming by the Front Royal road. The Twenty-seventh Indiana Regiment had been ordered to return to the rear with a section of Best's battery at Newtown. As soon as General Banks announced the entry of our force into Winchester, he ordered the Second Massachusetts Regiment to the rear to protect the train. The regiment, jaded by their march and fatigue, sprang to the duty. At Bartonsville, a little more than a mile this side of Newtown, we left our knapsacks, and pushed on.
As we came near Newtown, evidences of panic filled the road, — abandoned wagons, flying teamsters, &c. The regiment formed near the edge of the town. Two companies were deployed as skirmishers on each side of the road. Two companies were ordered to support Best's section, and the rest of the regiment moved into the town by the road by the flank. They had just entered the town, when the enemy's artillery from the other end of the town threw a few shells at them with skill. The shell burst directly over the battalion. Colonel Andrews ordered them within the yards on the right of the road. The skirmishers and reserve moved on, and the rest of the regiment followed, keeping within shelter of buildings. Before entering the town we had seen cavalry on our right and left. The line of skirmishers was halted in a hollow just beyond the town, and the reserves and battalion kept within the town. The artillery of both sides kept up a rapid fire. It was, perhaps, five, P. M., when we turned back. We held the position till sunset. At the edge of the town, on a door-step, was a half-eaten pile of corn. The man of the house said Ashby's horse was eating there when we came into town. I fed my horse with what was left. This was the only forage, I believe, taken from the enemy. Before we withdrew from Newtown we set fire to the abandoned wagons. It grew dark rapidly as we withdrew. I had a detail of two companies, A and C, as a rear-guard. One platoon of each company was deployed in the fields, on each side of the road. The reserves were united within the road. The enemy soon followed our retreat. As they came in sight of the burning wagons their yells and shouts were demoniacal. Expecting an attack by their cavalry upon the rear-guard, I prepared for it. When we came near Bartonsville a halt was ordered, to pick up the knapsacks. We could hear the yells of the men coming on. Soon the sound of approaching horses was heard. The growing darkness, confused by the glare of the burning wagons, compelled us to trust our ears. I drew the line of skirmishers into groups near the road, formed the reserve into a square, and directed the three bodies, so formed, to pour their fire upon the approaching cavalry at the command from me. The cavalry came on. The fire was ordered and delivered. The cavalry went back.
Their advance seemed checked. I rode back up the hill over which the cavalry had come, but could hear no sound. It then became necessary to draw in and relieve the rear-guard, to enable it to take its knapsacks. At the foot of the hill on which we had been posted was a little run which the road crossed over a small bridge. The rear-guard was drawn in across that run, together with Company B, which had come out to their support.
Company I had been ordered to report to me as a rearguard; Colonel Andrews stating that he thought the pursuit checked. Company I came down near the run to wait there till the knapsacks should be taken and till the column should move. Hardly had they got there when I could hear voices beyond the run. It had been reported to me that orders were being given to infantry. I heard a voice saying, “There they are! there they are! in the road!” As a few shells had been thrown at us when we were in position beyond the run, I thought the enemy might intend some such compliment, and I directed the company which was in column by platoon to break back against the roadsides. The doubt was soon scattered. A galling and severe infantry fire opened on us. Company I replied at once, and with admirable coolness and effect. In spite of their inferior numbers, and of the wounded falling about, they kept their position and maintained their fire. I sent back to Colonel Andrews for support, and parts of Companies C and B in the clover-field on the right of the road soon opened a fire that relieved us speedily.
Company I, however, had lost eight or ten killed or wounded in this sudden and vigorous attack.
We withdrew slowly, the column having now got in motion again. The enemy pressed us only a little way; then all was quiet. When we came to a brick house our wounded were carried into it, and a halt was ordered till ambulances, which were sent for, could be brought back for them.
I posted a line of sentries across the road and in the fields, and posted the reserve of Company I within that line, and the regiment was taking some rest, while Dr. Leland1 was busy dressing the wounded in the house. After about half an hour the sentries reported sounds as of an advancing column. Upon going back, I found that I could hear it, and so reported to Colonel Andrews. Colonel Andrews expressed an unwillingness to leave the wounded unless we were compelled to do so, and ordered me to return again. I did so; and leaving word with my sentinels to fire at once upon hearing or seeing anything suspicious, I was on my way to report to Colonel Andrews that the enemy were certainly approaching, when I was stopped by a fire from the direction of the sentinels. Immediately a sharp and extended line of fire opened from the enemy's skirmishers close upon us. The column moved at once, as soon as it could be got in order.
Our sentinels and reserve from Company I stood their ground under a second severe fire. Part of Companies B and C were rapidly deployed, and we moved on in retreat. Part of Company D, under Lieutenant Abbott, was unluckily left behind on our right, where they had been deployed as flankers. For a moment they were between two fires, but the fact was discovered in season to avoid disaster. We were compelled, however, to leave Dr. Leland and the wounded prisoners in the hands of the enemy. The enemy pursued us closely beyond Kernstown. Soon after passing that village, I drew in the skirmishers, and followed the column rapidly. We passed our cavalry picket at the tollgate. Between twelve and one o'clock the whole regiment lay down to a dreary bivouac just outside of Winchester on the left of the road.
I met Colonel Gordon on the road, and went with him into town. He sent out his Adjutant, Lieutenant Horton, to attend to the posting of pickets. We went to see General Banks. I had only a few words with him. I told him the nature of the pursuit, and intimated the opinion which I had formed, that an attack would be made at daylight. I got no orders nor any intimation of any plan or purpose for the next day. I went back and lay down by a small fire for about an hour.
Soon after three o'clock, A. M., Colonel Andrews requested me to go into town, to hurry out some ammunition for our regiment. I saw Colonel Gordon, but could get no ammunition. When I came out of Colonel Gordon's room I met a messenger from Colonel Andrews, saying that an attack seemed imminent, and there was no general officer on the field. As I went back to the regiment I met Generals Williams and Hatch, and gave them the message. I then went back to the regiment. I found Colonel Andrews and Colonel Ruger together. I said to the former: “Ought we not to take possession of that ridge?” pointing to the one on the right of the road. Colonel Andrews said, “I have already selected it, but where is Colonel Gordon?” I replied he was coming. The regiment was formed, and Colonel Gordon, on his arrival, sanctioning the position, the regiment moved by the flank, across the road, and up the hillside.
We had just crossed the road when a Rebel regiment, in line (Fifth Virginia), appeared on the ridge, showing that they had anticipated us.
As we moved up the hill Colonel Andrews told me to ride forward, to examine the position. I did so. A fire from some sharpshooters saluted me, and I could see a battery and some regiments opposite the position that we were advancing to occupy. Meantime, Cothren's battery opened on the Fifth Virginia Regiment, and scattered them out of view. The Second Massachusetts moved on to its position, and took the line of a broken stone-wall, the right of the regiment resting on the crest of the hill. The rest of the regiments of the brigade formed on our left down to the pike. The battery was posted on a rise of ground behind our regiment. The Second Massachusetts was ordered to lie down. Part of Company D was deployed on the right as skirmishers. There was a warm fire of artillery and musketry on our position. The three right companies kept up a brisk fire on the battery and infantry opposite; rising and lying down again. Colonel Andrews and I dismounted. We could see one of the enemy's guns deserted. The enemy's pieces, I have since found out, belonged to the Rockbridge artillery. Our fire drove them from their guns, and I have also heard that their loss at this point was considerable. Soon, however, their fire ceased, for the most part, to annoy us; though their battery and ours kept up a rapid interchange over our heads, with more or less effect on both sides.
I happened to notice one or two mounted officers of the enemy pointing and gesticulating in the direction of our right flank, and suggested to Colonel Andrews whether they did not mean to send round a force to flank us. He seemed to think it probable. There was a stone-wall on our right and in front of our line about thirty yards or forty. Colonel Andrews ordered Companies D and I to deploy forward to that wall as skirmishers to protect that flank, and also to observe and harass any movement of the enemy like the one anticipated. At about this time a sharp fire of grape and spherical case, as I suppose, began upon the wall and the field in rear of us. I have since found out that the guns of the Rockbridge artillery were ordered to divide their fire between this wall and the battery to prevent our pushing a regiment up to the wall.
I went forward to the wall, dropping occasionally, as I saw the flash of the enemy's guns, to avoid their somewhat importunate projectiles. It appeared that the expected movement had commenced. There was one piece of low ground where the enemy's flank was exposed in their movement. They then passed behind a wooded knoll which covered them. Colonel Andrews ordered me to go to Colonel Gordon to report the movement. I did so, finding him in a hollow in rear of the centre of the brigade. He directed me to return, and ascertain in what force the enemy were moving. I went out to the wall, and ascertained that two or more regiments had already passed. Our skirmishers were exposed to a sharp fire at the wall. I reported the fact of the number of the enemy moving on our right to Colonel Gordon. He told me to tell Colonel Andrews to throw back the right of the regiment, and he would send up a force to support him. He also directed me to see that some of the artillery moved forward and to the right to play upon the enemy at this point; I was busy attending to these matters.
One of Cothren's pieces was brought forward, our skirmishers were withdrawn from the wall, the Twenty-seventh Indiana and Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania moved up to our right. I had dismounted to go down toward the wall, and was directing the officer in charge of the piece where his fire could be directed with most effect, when I heard a cry. I turned and saw that the Twenty-seventh Indiana, which had just opened its fire, had broken and was running. I saw that the enemy were pouring up the hillside and round on our right. I saw, also, that the Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania had broken and was following the Twenty-seventh Indiana. The enemy were coming on at a run, with yells, but not in any regular order. The officer commanding the piece said to me, “What shall I do? I have got no support for my gun.” “Blaze away at ’em,” said I. “I shall lose my gun,” said he. “Well,” said I, “you must do as you choose.” I turned and found that our regiment was withdrawing. I could not see my horse anywhere, and so I followed on foot. As we passed off the hill the enemy rose on its crest. Their cracking and whistling fire followed us closely. I recollected an unmailed letter in my pocket, and preferring to have it unread, rather than read by hostile eyes, I tore it up as we went down the hill. A few of our men would turn and fire up the hill, reloading as they went on. I delayed a little to applaud their spunk.
But the flight before me and the flight behind me are not reminiscences on which I like to dwell.
We passed down into the edge of the town. As I came along, a young soldier of Company C was wounded in the leg. I gave him my arm, but, finding that he was too much injured to go on, advised him to get into a house, and went on. The regiment was forming in line when I reached it. Before I had time to go to the left, where Colonel Andrews was, the regiment moved off again, and I followed. It now became a run. A fire began to assail us from the cross streets as well as from the rear. I turned in at the Union Hotel Hospital to get on to the next street, but found the same fire there. Just as I was near the edge of the town one of our soldiers called out to me, “Major, I'm shot.” I turned to him, and took him along a few steps, and then took him into a house. I told the people they must take care of him, and laid him down on a bed, and opened his shirt. I then turned to go out, but the butternut soldiery were all around the house, and I quietly sat down. “Under which king,” &c. A soldier soon came in and took me prisoner. I made friendly acquaintance with him. He went with me for a surgeon for my wounded soldier, and also to pick up the overcoat which I had thrown off in the heat. I soon went down with my captor to the Taylor House, where I found Colonel Bradley Johnson, First Maryland Regiment, who took charge of me.
As I came back through the streets secession flags were flying from many of the houses; the town was full of soldiers and rejoicing. I found many of our soldiers prisoners in the court-house yard. I was busy about the wounded, and was allowed to go out to get a dinner.
In the afternoon I went upon the field with some of the prisoners of our regiment and buried our dead: two of our own regiment and two from some other. They were buried under the cedar at the right of our line on the hill, and I read a portion of Scripture over their open grave.2
In the evening I went up to the Academy Hospital, where I found Major Wheat of Wheat's battalion, who took care of me, and with whom I passed the night, and who treated me with the utmost kindness and courtesy.
The next morning (Monday, May 26) Major Wheat took me, together with Colonel Murphy, to breakfast at the Taylor House. There I saw Pendleton, of General Jackson's staff, and through him sent in a request to General Jackson. First, to see him; this was refused. Second, to send information, by a flag, to our friends of our number of prisoners, wounded, and dead; this was refused, on the ground that General Banks, after the battle of Kernstown, took no such step; and, as the aid said, “If it had not been for our private sources of information we could have known nothing of our wounded and prisoners.” Third, for a parole for our soldiers who were suffering from want of food; this was also refused on similar ground to the former. Fourth, then for a parole for myself, to enable me to board at some private house in Winchester; this was granted.
I went to the house of Mr. George Barnhardt, on Braddock Street, where I had stopped when we were in Winchester before.
I was at the Union Hotel Hospital on Tuesday morning, May 27, where our wounded were being collected, when I was delighted to see Colonel Kenly, of the First Maryland, from Front Royal, wounded with a sabre-cut on the head, but not dead, as reported. The Colonel came with me to Mr. Barnhardt's house, and has been with me ever since.
On Wednesday, May 28, I attended the funeral of Sergeant Williams, Company F, who died on Tuesday morning soon after I left him. General Jackson gave permission to eight of the Second Massachusetts prisoners to go out with me as an escort for the burial of their companion.
The number of killed, wounded, and prisoners of the Second Massachusetts may be approximately stated thus: killed, eight; wounded, thirty; prisoners, ninety.
Our men have suffered from want of food, but only because the Confederates had it not to give them.
The wounded are doing well, and are in fine spirits. Company I, especially, is in fine spirits.
It should not be omitted in the record of the scenes of Sunday, that, in the retreat through the town, citizens fired from the houses upon our flying and straggling soldiers.
Within an hour after the Rebel occupation of the town, Confederate flags were flying from windows, the women appeared gayly dressed on the streets, with Confederate colors, and wearing also little flags. The houses were vocal with “Maryland! my Maryland!” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag!”
There is little doubt, however, that the Rebel loss far exceeded ours. The hospitals are crowded with their wounded. They lost, also, many officers. Their wounded are much more severely wounded than ours. I have heard that the official reports show the loss on Sunday to be ninety-six killed and one hundred and ninety-two wounded.
I got, from conversations with various officers and soldiers, certain interesting facts connected with the pursuit and retreat. I inquired about the charge of cavalry near Bartonsville. “Who was it ambuscaded us there?” was their inquiry. And it seemed, from further conversation, that it was a serious interruption of their advance, and a cause of loss to them. It led them to bring forward their infantry, which gave us a fortunate delay to get our knapsacks. At General Jackson's head-quarters I saw the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fifth or Second Virginia Regiment. He asked, with interest, who it was that was at the run near Bartonsville. I told him I had that honor. He said that he had three companies deployed there of his regiment, and he added that he did not care to fight us again in the dark. Privates of the Fifth and Second Virginia reported that Jackson told them they should be in Winchester on Saturday night. The Fifth and Second are from the neighborhood of Winchester, and were coming home. Some unexplained cause led Jackson to hold them back at Newtown, otherwise they would have attacked us there.
In the battle on Sunday morning, it was Taylor's Louisiana brigade that went round to our right. Wheat's battalion was a part of that command, and he told me about the movement. Jackson had a very large force, eight or ten thousand men, moving on the pike. On our left was a part of Ewell's force, which engaged the First Brigade. One of their regiments (a North Carolina regiment) suffered severely from the fire of the Fifth Connecticut; but their force swept into the town even before the Louisiana brigade turned our right.
Jackson's forces were so jaded and worn down that they could not keep up the pursuit. The infantry was halted about four miles from town. The cavalry continued the pursuit. The colonels of the infantry regiments kept sending word to Jackson that their men could not keep on. Jackson had been marching his men without baggage, almost without food, from Franklin, where he had engaged Milroy. He crossed the Massanattan Gap at New Market, kept up the Valley at Front Royal. The number of his forces must have been between twenty and thirty thousand. It consisted of Ewell's and Johnson's (Edward) and his own command. They pushed rapidly on, and were promised that they should go into Maryland!
The young soldier who took possession of me was on foot, but he told me he belonged to the Second Virginia Cavalry. “Where is your horse?” said I. “He was shot last night when we were ambuscaded,” was the reply. Then I informed him that we shot him.
To-night (Friday evening, May 30) there is every evidence of alarm and retreat on the part of our captors. We are expecting every kind of good news, and hoping that they will be too late to carry us off on their retreat.
1 Dr. Francis Leland, Surgeon of the Second Massachusetts Infantry.
2 Four years later, almost on the very anniversary of this burial, friends of Major Dwight sought and found the consecrated spot. They were guided thither by a man from the immediate vicinity, who, when asked if he remembered, on Sunday afternoon, after General Banks's retreat in May, 1862, seeing a Union officer with some of his men, under a Rebel guard, come out upon the hill yonder to bury four Union soldiers, replied, “I should think I ought to remember it; I helped to dig the graves.” The cedar had been recently cut down, but the stump remained, and beside it were the four graves. The bodies had only the week before been removed to a soldiers' cemetery in Winchester, and those who visited the spot stood, as Major Dwight had stood, over the open graves. The form of the bodies was distinctly visible, and outside the graves were portions of the blankets in which they were wrapped, the visor of one of their caps, and other relics of them. Nearby was the “broken stone-wall,” behind which the two of the buried men belonging to the Second Massachusetts had perished, and within sight were all the most interesting points connected with the battle and the retreat.
SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 252-63