The Battle of Winchester - The Retreat - The North Mountain Girl - Left Bedford for Loudon - Milroy's Men Capture One of Lee's Trains and Many Prisoners - Marched to Hagerstown - Anecdotes - Marched to Sharpsburg - Thence to Martinsburg.
The time for the taking place of important events was approaching. The near
future was pregnant with events for the Twelfth; the time for the battle of
Winchester under Gen. Milroy was not far off. And an important crisis for the
entire nation in the progress of the war was almost at hand, involving the
welfare of the country and the better interests of mankind generally; for the
battle of Gettysburg, the greatest battle of the war, and the greatest battle
ever fought on American soil - a battle which is now regarded as the turning
point of the war, was about to be fought.
(128) We had now been in the service for nearly ten months and the regiment, as a whole, had never been in an engagement. We sometimes wondered whether we should ever get into a battle. It is safe to say that most of the boys were anxious to see, at least, one fight; and some of them were want to say somewhat boastfully, that they were "spoiling for a fight." Any doubts, however, as to whether we were to see a battle were soon to be dispelled; and the desire to see one, or to be engaged in it, was destined to be more than satisfied, at a later period.
(129) "Coming events cast their shadows before." There are frequently harbingers of future occurrences; but the difficulty is to measure their significance, and to know what is best to do in view of them. There began to be signs of a coming conflict in this field of operations. The next day after our return to this place we had orders to lie on our arms the succeeding night; and the next night, Sunday, the seventh, at 10 o'clock three companies, D, E, and I, were sent out on the Strasburg road to reinforce the picket there. The three companies stayed out till morning, when they returned to camp. Two days later the situation was becoming more threatening. Companies F, I, C, and H, under command of Col. Northcott were ordered out to support, at night, a section of artillery, which at the time was placed in position every night to be ready in case of an attack.
(130) In the morning, no enemy having appeared, the four companies returned to camp. This day, the eleventh, Major Pierpont gave us a farewell address, he having resigned as mayor, to accept the office of adjutant general of West Virginia. He left much to the regret of the Twelfth, being a general favorite.
(131) The bloody ordeal of a general battle for the whole command was just now at hand. The next day the Eighty-seventh Pennsylvania with some cavalry and artillery went out the Strasburg road five miles, and ambushing a force of Rebel cavalry, they killed and wounded some fifty of them, and captured about forty prisoners without the loss of a man of the Eighty-seventh. The boys of that regiment came back in good spirits saying, that they had "skunked them."
(132) That night four companies of the Twelfth were again ordered to support a battery. They returned from doing that duty at 7 o clock next morning; but before they got their breakfast, the whole regiment was ordered into line. After standing in line for awhile, we got orders to fill our canteens with water and get one day's rations in our haversacks; and about 11 o'clock we marched out on the Strasburg road. At the same time, cannonading commenced on our left, which told us the battle was on.
(133) We changed our position several times until got into a piece of woods. Here we were ordered to take off and pile up our knapsacks, which we did. The Rebels were advancing a heavy skirmich line in front; and soon were heard those peculiar sounds, the whistling of the minnie-balls, to which the men afterward became quite accustomed. So unaccustomed were they to the whistling sounds, that they began to question among themselves as to what they were, some saying that they were the sounds of flying bullets; others that they were not. An officer hearing the talk said: "Boys those are bullets as sure as you live." This assurance together with the increasing frequency of the sounds, settled the matter in their minds; and they never afterward had any doubts as to what it was, when they heard the whistle of bullets.
(134) We opened on the advancing enemy, and for about an hour we kept up a heavy fire. We held the Rebels in check in our front. After a while Adjt. Caldwell reporting that the enemy was flanking us on our right, Company A, under command of Lieut. Burley was ordered to form a skirmish line, and move to that flank to protect it. The force there, however, moving against us was too heavy to be kept back by one company of skirmishes; so the Colonel ordered us to fall back behind a small creek which position we held till dark.
(135) When we retired from the woods to the creek, the Colonel marched us to the rear by file, instead of in line of battle, which latter order under the circumstances, military tactics, it is taken, would demand. We filed off the field by the left flank, and in doing so the right had to march the length of the regiment before gaining a step to the rear. It was while thus marching to the point of filing left to the rear, Lieut. Bradley, of Company I, was shot dead. We left our knapsacks in the woods, where we had unslung them. They, of course, fell into the hands of the Johnnys, who, no doubt, examined them with a good deal of interest. This, our first engagement, was the only one in which we met with anything like a general loss of equipments.
(136) Col. Curtis, then Captain of Company D, used to tell this ancedote concerning this day's fighting. There was an Irishman in his company whose name was Tommy Burke, who, like his nationality in general, was quick-witted and humorous. During the fighting in the woods the hammer was shot off his gun, and about the same time be missed his haversack, Tommy believed - no doubt correctly - that it had been shot away too. Being thus completely knocked out as it were, he turned to the Captain saying, with reference principally, it is presumed to the loss of his haversack, "Captain, Captain, the bloody Rebels have cut ahff my supplies."
(137) After dark we fell back from the creek to a stone wall at the outskirts of town, when it began pouring down rain in torrents. At 2 o'clock in the morning, Sunday the 14th, we marched up into the fortifications, remaining there till 7 o'clock. At this time while in the fortifications, Lieut. Melvin of Company I, arrived from home, showing that the rear was still open till near that Sunday morning, at least.
(138) Our regiment was the first to go out of the fortifications that morning. We took a position behind a stone wall between the Strasburg and Romney roads, and about a mile from the main fort, which we held till ordered back. A little later two companies as skirmishers took position behind the stone wall we had just left. The left wing was held in reserve, while the right supported a battery placed at about 900 yards from the Rebel lines.
(139) In front of this battery off to the southwest the Johnnys were behind a stone wall. Our artillery did some very accurate shooting, knocking several holes in the wall behind which the Johnnys were, causing them, when the wall was struck, to scatter in a lively manner, and thus affording for the time being, at least, great sport for our boys, though they were quite worn out from want of sleep, having had little or none the night before. Occasional shots from the enemy reached this battery. It was one of these that struck and killed Lieut. Beugough of Company F, who was lying sleeping at the time, being overcome by want of sleep.
(140) About 6 o'clock P. M. the whole regiment advanced to the stone wall. A half hour later the Rebels opened a tremendous fire with their artillery, which heretofore, during the day had been quiet, on our fortifications. The whole force then fell back to the forts, the Rebels having shortly before this captured battery L, of the Regulars. Thus practically ended this day's fighting. However, our siege guns replied to the Rebel guns till about night, the roar of our heavy guns being deafening.
(141) The Rebel artillery fire came from a ridge southwest of our forts, and was directed seemingly to the flag staff of the main fort; and when Gen. Milroy climbed the flag staff, as he did, in order to get a view of the Rebel batteries, it may be, or to note the effect of our fire, the boys cheered him lustily.
(142) Greely in the American Conflict says in regard to this capture of Winchester by the Rebels, that our men took a prisoner Saturday night the 13th, "who rather astonished Milroy by the information that he belonged to Ewell's corps; and that Longstreet's also was just at hand - the two numbering about 50,000 men."
(143) In regard to the operations of the next day, Sunday, 14th, he says that at 4 P. M. they (the Rebels) made a charge up the Front Royal road to the edge of town, but were repulsed. A little later they opened fire from two eight-gun batteries on the northwest, hardly a mile from town; and forthwith Ewell's infantry swept up to and over our breastworks, disregarding the fire of our guns, driving out the 110th Ohio with heavy loss, and planting their colors on our defenses. Meantime, the city had been substantially invested on every side, and was now virtually lost; though an attempt to storm the main fort from the position first gained was repulsed."
(144) Referring to the foregoing alleged attempt to storm the main fort, if there was any made, it was after dark. It is remembered that there was heavy firing from the fort, on the northwest side, as though the enemy was making an attack, but it never seemed quite clear that he was, as it was so dark at the time that an object could be seen but a short distance.
(145) At 1 o'clock A. M. Monday, 15th, Milroy held a council of war which decided to evacuate our force of all arms being only 10,000, and not all of it effective, against a corps of 25,000 and more if necessary. The artillery was spiked, the harness cut up, the axles and wheels sawed to pieces, and at 2 o'clock, the whole command began moving out to evacuate the fort, the soldiers hastily breaking some boxes of crackers (conveniently placed for the purpose) with the butts of their muskets, and putting some of the crackers in their haversacks, as they marched out.
(146) We started on the road leading to Martinsburg. A mile or two from the fort, Gen. Milroy rode along the road past the men telling them to push along; that he wanted to get as far out the road as possible before daylight. The Twelfth was somewhere about the middle of the line. Four miles from Winchester our advance was attacked by a division of Rebels holding the road in our front. It was at this time just breaking day. There was very heavy firing for about a half hour - heavier than at any time during the two proceeding days.
(147) We were halted when fighting began in our front; and stood in line seemingly waiting on orders, but none coming we filed to the left of the pike, and started in the direction of North Mountain. It was just here where we left the pike, that Lieut. Col. Northcott, getting separated from the regiment, was captured. We encountered no enemy until we got to the base of the mountain several miles distant. Here we were fired upon by some Rebel cavalry, from a road running along the base of the mountain. Company A, being at the head of the regiment opened fire in return upon the Johnnys, pouring it in briskly, and they soon got out of the way. We had now got outside of the Rebel ring. None of our men were hit at this place.
(148) The One Hundred and Sixteenth Ohio, the First New York cavalry and the Twelfth West Virginia, were the only regiments that came out of the fight retaining their organizations. We lost no men as prisoners except those who had in some way got separated from the regiment; though our loss in prisoners was considerable, about 200. Among these were, Lieut. Col. Northcott, Asst. Surgeon, F. H. Patton, and Lieut. Henry F. Anshultz. Among the killed were, Lieut. Thomas W. Bradley of Company I. and Lieut. John T. Beugough of Company F; and among the wounded was Lieut. James R. Dunham of Company E.
(149) This fight at Winchester was a disastrous one for the Union cause. Milroy lost between 3,000 and 4,000 men, all his artillery and some 400 wagons, the troops coming out of it, retaining their organizations, had only their small arms.
(150) It was an opinion entertained by many of Milroy's men, that this disaster to our arms was largely compensated for, by the alleged fact that his stubborn resistance at Winchester had so detained Lee in his invasion of Pennsylvania, that Hooker and Meade were the better enabled to concentrate their forces to protect Washington and meet him in battle. There is seemingly not much in this view, for it was only a part of Lee's army that was detained; the bulk of it kept moving on, not being detained, in the least, by Milroy. Days after his rout the enemy was still on the road south of Winchester, marching down the Valley, as will appear further along.
(151) It was more than two weeks after Milroy's defeat that the battle of Gettysburg was fought. He could have got out his entire command, if he had started one day sooner. Considering the length of tine after the defeat, before the battle of Gettysburg took place, this detention of the advance of Lee's army for only one day longer than was consistent with his escape, was of not very great importance, Greely says, "Milroy's great mistake was holding on just one day too long - his communications with Schenck and Halleck having already been served." This will doubtless be the verdict of history. It was for this blunder and its consequences, evidently, that he was relieved from command of his army.
(152) Going back a little, Col. Curtis tells this story about Lieut. Phil Bier of Company A, in reference to our being fired upon by the Rebels at the foot of North Mountain. When our men began returning the fire, some one shouted, "You are shooting the cattle." Lieut. Bier replied, "D---n it! whoever heard of cattle shooting - give it to them boys."
(153) In this connection it is proper to speak of the conduct of Sergt. Henry Spear, of Company D, at this time. When we were fired upon, some of the boys, not knowing, of course, the strength of the enemy, and being taken by surprise, began shying off to one side of the road into the woods. Sergt. Spear, however, walked toward the Johnnys, so as to get a good view; and spying a fellow behind a fence, took deliberate aim at him and fired. He got from behind the fence quickly. Spear had unknowingly exchanged guns with a comrade at night in the fortifications. He insisted that if he had had his own gun, he would have shot the Johnny.
(154) In closing any reference to the fighting of our regiment at this battle of Winchester, it is but simple justice to say that the manner in which Company B, acquitted itself on the first day's engagement, as skirmishers, called forth deserved praise.
(155) Here is an incident of our retreat copied almost verbatim from an old letter written at the time, well worthy of a place. After we had driven off the cavalry at the foot of the mountain, and were ascending it along a road, through a sort of defile, near the top a girl of some fourteen or fifteen years, barefooted, bareheaded, her hair hanging loosely down over her shoulders came out from a humble, unpretentious dwelling near by, and with a coolness and confidence calculated, under the circumstances, to excite admiration, inquired for the Colonel telling him that she thought it best to not take the road he was on; that she had heard that the Rebels held it at the point where it intersected the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, about 35 miles distant; and when inquiry was made of her as to whether she could show us another route that was open, she said that she thought she could.
(156) When the Colonel told her that we would burn their house if she deceived us intentionally, and got us to take a road on which we would be intercepted by the Rebels, she showed no alarm, and was not in the least disconcerted. She went with us about four miles along a path on the mountain crest, where we had to walk in single file. Striking another road here, she left us. Before she left, however, each of several officers gave her some money.
(157) This young heroine talked very rapidly - was not bold, but had a simple confidence and was not a bit afraid of the soldiers. Her hair was blonde, her forehead high, she was intellectual in appearance, and had native beauty of person. This mountain maid needed only a little polish to make her highly attractive. It is to be hoped that she never had to suffer at the hands of the Rebels for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The soldiers of the Twelfth who met her that morning on the mountain will long remember her.
(158) We continued our retreat in a somewhat northerly direction, camping at night in the mountain. At about midnight we renewed our march and in the forenoon of the next day, crossed the Potomac into Maryland, at a placed called Millstone point, wading the stream. Passing on the river five miles farther we reached Hancock on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad about noon. The men, of course, by this time were much exhausted from two or three days' fighting, little sleep since the fight began three days before, little to eat for the last day or two, and hard marching. It is believed that the men generally, got something to eat here.
(159) The One Hundred and Sixteenth Ohio, which arriving on another road, and portions of the First New York, and Twelfth Pennsylvania cavalry, with some stragglers from various commands; joined us at this place. Scouts reporting that some Rebel cavalry coming from the direction of Martinsburg were going to receive them; but no attack was made however. We stayed here till 10 o'clock at night, when we marched to Little New Orleans, eighteen miles distant, arriving there sometime the next day. We expected to take the care here for Cumberland, Md., but no cars came.
(160) We waited here till dark, when Col. Washburn of the One Hundred and Sixteenth Ohio, receiving a dispatch from the colonel of the First New York, that the enemy held Cumberland, we went a little back on a hill and camped for the night in some woods. Having got some coffee, meat and flour at Little New Orleans we managed to make out of these articles a slim breakfast in the morning, and began our march for Bloody Run, Pa., about thirty-five miles distant, arriving there the 19th.
(161) When we got into Pennsylvania we struck a new atmosphere. If hitherto, when we were in the so-called Confederacy there was always a feeling present, that we were out of our country, we now felt that we were once more in the land of the "stars and stripes," the United States of America. The people all along the road gave us a hearty welcome, and freely gave us food. There was no danger of being bush-whacked here, if you should chance to become separated from your command.
(162) When we arrived at Bloody Run, we met Gen. Milroy there. This meeting was the first knowledge we had that he had escaped from Winchester. He proceeded to reorganize his command, but was soon relieved because of his disastrous defeat. The members of the Twelfth generally, regretted very much to part with their brave old commander, who was familiarly known in his command as the "Old Grey Eagle," as he was a general favorite with them. They felt that he had been harshly dealt with, considering that the last order he had received from Gen. Schenck at Baltimore, commander of the department, communication being soon thereafter cut off was to "hold the place until further orders." They thought that his fault, if it was such, was in too literally obeying orders.
(163) Col. Pierce of the Twelfth Pennsylvania cavalry being the senior of the officers present, took command of the remnant of Milroy's demoralized force after Milroy was relieved of his command; and Col. Plunk of the Twelfth West Virginia, was put in command of the infantry. We remained at Bloody Run till the 30th, when we marched to Bedford, Pa., starting in the morning and passing up the Juniata river, we arrived here about 1 o'clock P. M. of that day. Here we drew blankets and clothing the first after leaving Winchester.
(164) We stayed at Bedford till July 3rd, when we had orders to march starting in the direction of Gettysburg, but too late to participate in the battle that was then going on there. We passed through Bloody Run and Connellsburg, arriving at London, Franklin county, the 5th, making a distance of about forty-five miles. Somewhere on the road perhaps on the 4th, we got of a daily paper of the date of July 3rd, which gave a vague, indefinite, unsatisfactory mention of the battle, taking place at Gettysburg; which, of course, made us exceedingly anxious for more news.
(165) Most of the infantry went on six miles farther to Mercersburg to meet 200 or 300 of our cavalry who had captured a Rebel train of wagons, with the guards, hauling wounded and plunder to the crossing of the Potomac at Williamsporth, Md. There were 110 wagons and ambulances, and about 600 prisoners, half of whom were wounded in this capture. The wagons were loaded tip with quartermaster's stores, and all kinds of plunder of which they had robbed the people on their invasion. There were several thousand dollars worth of fine cloths, cassimeres, silks, and etc., in whole bolts in this plunder.
(166) Hospitals were established at Mercersburg, and the Rebel wounded were cared for. They were in a horrible condition, having been there from three to five days without having had their wounds dressed. The next day the infantry returned to London bringing back the unwounded prisoners, about 300 in number, and the wagons and etc. The wagons, ambulances and stolen goods were turned over to the quartermaster's department.
(167) We remained at London until the 13th, when we were ordered at 3 o'clock A. M., to prepare one day's rations and get ready to march. We started at 6 o'clock A. M., marching through Mercersburg and Greencastle, we reached Hagerstown, Md., the next day. Passing through the town, we camped about two miles south of it in the middle of the afternoon, having marched thirty-two miles.
(168) The battle of Gettysburg had been fought, the Rebels had met "a bitter crushing defeat," and "the Army of the Potomac had won a clean, honest, acknowledged victory." Lee's army had retreated as far as the Potomac; but when it reached there it found its pontoons gone, they having been destroyed by some of our forces, sent up from Harpers Perry for that purpose and the river was so high from recent rains that it could not be forded. Lee was compelled to halt until he could restore his means of crossing. In the meantime the Army of the Potomac had come up and was again facing its old enemy. Gen. Meade, however, was hesitating to make an attack, when he received orders from Washington to do so, and accordingly he would have attacked the Rebels the day, the 14th, we of the remnant of Milroy's army passed through Hagerstown in the vicinity of which place the two armies confronted each other; but on the previous night, Lee got his army across the river; not however, without considerable loss, Kilkpatrick having, after a sharp engagement, captured 1,500 of the Rebel rear-guard. If there had been a battle there, as Meade expected, it is more than probable that the Twelfth would have been on the ground in time to have engaged in it.
(169) Here is an anecdote of Lee's invasion of Pennsylvania, heard at the time of his retreat, that should not be lost. A Rebel officer, as Lee was marching north through the state stopped at a private house for some purpose. The woman of the house with some curiosity asked him where they were going, which presumably, he did not know, and would not have told if he had known. But he replied, "We are going to Boston." The woman said to him, "You'll get 'Boston' before you get back."
(170) When Lee's army was retreating the same officer stopped at the same house and reminded the woman that he had stopped there before, saying to her. "Madam, I have just called to say that we got 'Boston.'"
(171) The next day after Lee crossed the Potomac, the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac passed our camp en route to Harpers Ferry. They had been on the go marching and fighting for about a month, with no time to do any washing or to get new clothes; and, of course, they were covered with dust and dirt, and were hard looking generally. A large part of Milroy's men had new uniforms and were pretty bright and clean looking, and the First Corps boys tantalizingly called us Sunday soldiers.
(172) The Sixteenth; we of Milroy's late command, marched to Sharpsburg, Md., ten miles distant. Some time during the latter part of July, while we were at Sharpsburg, Capt. W. B. Curtis of Company D, received his commission as major of the regiment, to rank as such from June 17th, 1863.
(173) This vicinity is Maj. Curtis's birth place, having been born here April 18th, 1821. He migrated from here in 1827 to West Virginia. He recognized the old log house in which he was born. It was pierced with cannon balls in several places during the battle of Antietam. He met several of his relatives who were loyal and made him welcome, while we remained here.
(174) Maj. Curtis on the receipt of his commission was immediate put in command of the regiment, as the Lieutenant Colonel was still held a prisoner of war, and the Colonel was in command of a brigade. For more than two weeks we remained at this old village, which is indeed, a very old one apparently; there being one or more old-style churches in it gone into disuse, and tumbling down. It is historically interesting too, as being the scene of the bloodiest battle (at the date of it) ever fought on American soil, the battle of Antietam; and is today the site of one of the great National Soldiers cemetery.
(175) On August 4th, we were ordered to Martinsburg, W. Va. We started in the morning and marched to Harpers Perry, a distance of ten miles, took the cars there which carried us to within two miles of Martinsburg, they being prevented from going any further by reason of the railroad's having been torn up by the enemies, got out of the cars when they stopped and marched the rest of the way to town in the evening and camped for the night.
(176) In the morning we moved our camp to a pretty lawn of some five acres at the edge of town, filled with fine young shade trees, the property of the Hon. Chas. James Faulkner, who held in all about 800 acres of valuable land adjacent to town. As the weather was very warm we wanted to camp on this lawn to get the benefit of the shade there. No doubt our doing so was not altogether agreeable to Mrs. Faulkner and daughters who still occupied the fine mansion at the rear of the lawn. But as Mr. Faulkner had seen fit to join his fortune with that of the Rebellion, it was hardly any part of our business to be consulting his interests, or the wishes of his household, though Mrs. Faulkner used to claim to be a good Union woman. She protested that she was such, to the Union soldiers, at least, fortifying this claim on one occasion, by saying that she "would not give a cent for a woman that did not have a mind of her own - would you?" Subsequent events seemed to show that the lady did protest too much.
(177) Martinsburg at this time was a thrifty town of several thousand inhabitants, situated in the Shenandoah Valley on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and was noted for the general loyalty of its inhabitants. There was always an air of welcome to us about the place.