FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
CARROLL'S brigade (Fourth), consisting of about eight hundred men, in number not a full regiment, had a task before it demanding the services of a strong division, confronted as it was by Jackson's whole command, infantry, cavalry, and artillery, amounting to fifteen thousand men at least. The orders of the commander of the Union forces, it was generally understood, were to burn the bridge; but unfortunately these orders were disregarded, that officer supposing that he could successfully oppose any attempt to cross it, or, in case he could not, to destroy it only as a last resort. Certainly ignorant of the number, prepared to force the passage. The regiment entered this engagement with about one hundred and fifty men, arriving near the bridge before mentioned about six A.M., having marched from one A.M., after a rest, as stated, of two or three hours, which was after a hard day's march the previous day, the men being urged forward almost beyond the powers of endurance of the strongest. The higher ground was on the enemy's side. Wheat and corn-fields were the features of the position taken by the brigade, bisected by the road leading to the bridge, the latter having been taken possession of for the moment; generally level ground or gently sloping to the river-bank. After a reconnoissance by the commanding officer, he sent forward a small troop of cavalry, which, securing a lot of straw, placed it against the timbers of the bridge and fired it. The bridge, being the old-style wooden structure, would soon have been destroyed, when, before the fire had caught, orders were given to stay the burning and hold it at all hazards, - fatal mistake, as was soon discovered when too late to remedy. This last order, doubtless, was based on the fact that the enemy showed no force that was to be feared; neither had he as yet betrayed any disposition to wrest the bridge from its possessors; all the aggressive demonstrations yet made by him having been the firing of a single gun at long range, which had done no harm, and served to attract rather than to repel, which doubtless was the intention. The brigade being in position to defend the bridge, supporting the artillery, it was opened upon by a heavy battery on the opposite side of the river, heretofore screened by some
wagons and tents so disposed that attention had not been attracted to them up to this time. These guns were well served, unusually so, the shells falling fast among the men. After standing this fire for a short time the brigade was compelled to fall back out of range, and finally to take a position two or three miles in the rear, leaving the bridge in the hands of the enemy, he making good use of it by crossing his whole force.
The brigade remained here until the next day, bivouacking on the ground, and was joined by the Third Brigade, which had been following the Fourth, a day's march in the rear, and Colonel Tyler, being the ranking officer, assumed command of the force, which consisted of about two thousand seven hundred men, or possibly less. On the morning following the enemy in strong force, infantry and artillery, came up and opened fire. A desperate fight ensued, and notwithstanding the enemy's superiority in numbers, throwing his force on the two little brigades in lines of three and four deep, the fight was stubbornly maintained. A whole division apparently attacked at once. The First being on the left flank, thrown up into a piece of woods to protect that flank, the Fifth Ohio joining on the right, the latter regiment fought desperately until out of ammunition, when the men asked for more, and there being no reserve and no fresh regiment to supply the place, the colonel ordered a bayonet charge, which was promptly responded to by these noble fellows, and the centre of the enemy's division was broken by it. The First then attacked the right wing, driving it back for nearly half a mile across and beyond a ravine, when the enemy was heavily reinforced by cavalry and artillery. The First in retiring before this force was compelled to recross the ravine mentioned, but on attempting to do so it was discovered that a considerable force of the enemy, anticipating this movement, had passed through it and was in rear of the regiment, cutting it off from the main body. The situation was an ugly, indeed, a desperate one, requiring the promptest action or a surrender was inevitable. The order to charge was given, and the enemy's line was broken, but the movement was a costly one, the regiment suffering a heavy loss in making it. When reformed again in the rear protected by a piece of woods, it was found that the remainder of the command had fallen back, having maintained the unequal contest for nearly two hours. The First was now the rear-guard, which, as may be supposed, was a heavy duty to the small band remaining. The enemy followed up with cavalry and artillery for about five miles, using the latter, then advancing his cavalry in his attempt to rout the rear-guard, but a volley or two resulting in the emptying of a few saddles was sufficient to put them to the right about, and the pursuit was given up, there being neither honor nor profit in it.
The remnant of the two brigades then fell back to Miller's bridge, being joined there by the other two brigades, which evidently had been two or three days' march in the rear. Colonel Thoburn was temporarily in command of the Fourth Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Hubbard being in command of the regiment; the latter was wounded, as also Major Duval. The loss of the two brigades was very heavy in this action, in killed, wounded, and missing fully one-half of the command. The First lost at least one-half of those engaged. This was as hard and stubborn a contest as the regiment was ever engaged in, and reflects the highest credit on the whole command. The loss to the enemy in killed and wounded was much greater. One of the first in attempting to save a wounded comrade being captured and afterwards re1eased, had an opportunity of viewing the field, reported that his loss was four, probably five times greater than that of Tyler's command. Jackson on this occasion appeared to be lavish in his expenditure of life, driving his battalions up in heavy lines, the Union artillery opening great gaps in them, while the fire of the infantry added to the loss. During this hot conflict the gunners fired grape, chains, and even the rat-tail files supplied to each battery for spiking guns. Time appeared to be more precious to the enemy than life, hence he sacrificed the latter to gain the first. He was after bigger game than the capture of a few hundred men who fought him like these men had, as was developed some days afterwards. Shields's command lost five or six guns, but no other materia1; the wagons and horses, thanks to the foresight of the commander and quarter-master, were out of the way. The guns that were captured were mired, the horses were near1y all killed, thus rendering it impossible to drag the guns off the field; several of them were cut down where they stood. Thus ended the battle of Port Repub1ic.
An artillery-man giving his experience just after the fight, said that a heavy line of infantry came charging down on him as he was preparing to fire his 1ast shot, having loaded his piece with a heavy charge. One big fellow immediately in front of the gun made himself quite conspicuous by calling to him, "Surrender, you Yankee - - -!" The gunner said, "I just stepped back and pulled the string, and I've never seen that fellow since."
On the 10th, after a night's rest, a few stragglers having joined during the night, the brigade left the bivouac early in the morning. Nothing at this time in the way of rations but hard bread, a little sugar, and an abundance of water. This had been the variety for several days, which, as will be admitted, was light fare to support men at such work as has been narrated. Again the direction is down the Shenandoah, the men feeling the loss of comrades very much, and the commanding officer doubtless reproaching himself for not burning the bridge according to first orders when he had the opportunity, and by preventing the crossing of the enemy have saved his own command from disaster. The calamity, it might almost be called, following this, indeed, directly traceable to it, was, that Jackson was enabled to take the most direct road to Gordonsville, then take the cars for Richmond, getting on the right flank and rear of General McClellan's army; materially assisting in compelling the latter to fall back, while at that same time the Union officers supposed he was in or near the valley. The day before the fight here described Jackson had defeated General Fremont, who had, it was stated, at least ten thousand men. The guns could be plainly heard, and for anything that was known to the officers of Shields's command to the contrary, Fremont's forces were able to hold their own; but, as was ascertained shortly afterwards, General Fremont suffered a defeat, or at least a repulse. It is somewhat astonishing to the uninitiated to find that McDowell in one place, Shields in another, fifty or sixty miles distant, and Fremont at another point, Cross Keys, twenty or thirty miles distant from the latter in another direction, or the three commands occupying the three points of a right-angle triangle, should each have Jackson on his front at the same time. It may be concluded from this that "Stonewall" spread over a great deal of territory. It is probable, however, that he detached two or three commands, chiefly cavalry, and with these made such demonstrations as to receive all and to convince each one that he (Jackson) was in his front with a heavy force, by this means preventing a junction of the Union forces, which was all he had to fear; indeed, it is probable that his manoevres at the time caused Shield's command to be divided, allowing the "flying column" (Fourth Brigade) to get two days in advance of the main body. The division secured, he took the different commands and beat them in detail. This piece of generalship on the part of General Jackson is unsurpassed by any of his subsequent movements; and while he depended much on himself and his men, he left the accomplishment of the rest to the blundering of his opponents, calculating to a nicety just what they would do and what they would refrain from doing. In which, it may be added, he was not disappointed.
It was understood afterwards that General Shields was removed from the command of the division on account of this failure, as was reported, to obey orders. At all events here ended the record of Shield's division, as the regiments composing it never constituted a separate command again. On this day, in passing Columbia bridge, the regiment was refreshed with coffee, and stopped for rest near the Luray road, having marched sixteen miles through the usual rain and mud. Jupiter Pluvius must reign in this part of the State. This evening the First and Second brigades joined the remnants of the Third and Fourth. The four brigades have not been together for several weeks. Had the four brigades been together at Port Republic, the fight would have been a hard one indeed, but the result, judging from Jackson's force, would have been a Union repulse, although some were of the opinion that Jackson would have been beaten. The appearance of these men was hailed with joy by Tyler's command. The Seventh Virginia was the first regiment that was seen, and looked like a brigade, having full ranks. It was certainly a fine-looking regiment and, as was afterwards demonstrated, able to give a good account of itself. Next day the command passed through Luray, and camped about two miles beyond. The wounded were being brought into the town, filling every available space. Poor fellows, how they stood transportation over such roads as had been passed can never be known. Stragglers joined in considerable numbers at this time, likewise received some welcome additions to the slim rations heretofore distributed, and the men were beginning to feel a little more like themselves. Near this camping-ground is a rather remarkable spring; in extent it covers about half an acre, and is five or six feet deep in the deepest part. The water is perfectly clear, temperature of the ordinary spring water, and, probably owing to its location, without any tinge of color. Supplied at bottom, the water percolating through the sand, is constantly agitated, indicating the large quantity flowing. At the end nearest the road leading to Front Royal is its exit, and crossing this road in a strong stream, it furnishes the power for driving the machinery of quite a large flour mill situated about one hundred yards distant.
On Sunday, 15th, the command resumed the line of march in direction of Front Royal, and without incident worthy of place here rested at five P.M. This was a very warm day, and as many of the men had received and carried their knapsacks, this, with the haversack, canteen, and camp equipage, besides arms and accoutrements, made quite a load for each man on a hot day.
On the 16th passed through Front Royal again, and found a number of regiments of Eastern troops here, bivouacked near the Manassas Gap Railroad. The cars were found to be loaded with the Thirteenth Massachusetts Infantry. These men stated that they heard the guns at Port Republic plainly on the 9th, nearly sixty miles distant. Passing through the town, most of the men's clothing being completely worn out, - some were without trousers, others without shoes or some other article of attire generally looked upon as necessary, - none were presentable in ladies' society, and, observing one or more ladies on the porch of the hotel, the worst or least clothed themselves on the outside of the column. One of these ladies, probably the most interested of the spectators, appeared to be on very friendly footing with the officers. This was Miss Belle Boyd, of Martinsburg, who had already gained some notoriety as a spy. It was rather a surprise to the men that this lady should be allowed such freedom and friendly intercourse with the commander or his staff, as a review of the men passing would warrant the belief that such existed. They may have had a purpose in this, or she may have deceived them. Most likely the latter was the case. It is probable, however, if the command had been on the advance this scrutiny on the part of a generally-recognized enemy would hardly have been permitted.
On the 17th the regiment received two months' pay and enjoyed the rest and the increased ration, the latter being better than had been issued for about a month. The regiment remained at this camp until the 21st, regulation hats having in the mean time been distributed to the men. Having a march to make, and many of the men of the brigade being unable to walk, they were put on the cars and sent eastward. At this time regiments new to the service-men hearty and strong, not having undergone any hardships or even made a forced march - were being taken on the cars in the direction of Manassas Junction, when, to all appearances , to have marched them the distance would have been beneficial to the men and have allowed the use of a train for all the men of the Third and Fourth Brigades; but other arrangements had been made, and all that could do so were compelled to march. The battalion marched at noon for Manassas Gap, destination, it being understood, was the Junction.
In passing through the Gap, the wagons being in rear of the regiment, Wagon-Master Holliday, on horseback in rear of the train, was very much annoyed by the driver of a team in the train behind him, belonging to Robinson's Ohio Battery. This man repeatedly drove the tongue or pole of his wagon into the flanks of the wagon-master's horse. Holliday finally warned him that if he repeated it he would knock him out of the wagon. The warning did not serve to prevent it, for shortly afterwards he repeated it. Holliday thereupon jumped off his horse, and, picking up a good-sized stone, hurled it at the driver, just missing his head. The man sitting with the driver, Bollman by name, said at the time to be from Portsmouth, Ohio, pulled out an old-style holster pistol, and, taking deliberate aim, fired at Holliday, striking him fair on the temple, inflicting a mortal wound. Holliday was taken to Markham Station, placed in a car, and, in charge of a brother-in-law, taken to his home in Wheeling, where he died a few days afterwards. This was a great loss to the regiment, as Mr. Holliday was possessed of great energy and excellent judgment; the men never suffered for subsistence or supplies of any kind if it depended upon him. There were but two or three witnesses to the affair, the column just ahead of the wagons having been halted to afford the men an opportunity to gather wild strawberries, which grew in great abundance thereabouts. The man (Bollman) escaped to the woods, and though Company A scoured the country he got away. It was well for him that he was not caught.
Continued the march this day, also on the 22d and 23d, without incident deserving of mention. And on the 24th arrived at Bristoe Station, which is in Prince William County, having passed through on this march Rockingham, Page, Rappahannock, and Fauquier Counties. Pluvius still in the ascendant, as it rained on the 23d and 24th about as hard as at any time previously. On arrival the men were regaled with soft bread and a drink of whiskey, - great strangers to their stomachs, - and which appeared to have a decidedly enlivening effect on them, the camp being merry for a time.
On the 25th the bivouac was moved about two miles, and being but a few miles from the Bull Run battlefield, some of the officers secured horses and visited that historic ground, probably little thinking that in about two months other feelings than that of curiosity would be connected with the ground traversed that day; however, we suppose that it is better for all that human vision does not extend into the future. On the 27th orders were received for a move, and six companies took the cars, destination being Cloud's Mills, about three or four miles southeast of Alexandria; but through some mistake were taken to the town named, the consequence being these men got into no end of trouble, many of them finally bringing up in the guard-house. The following day the four remaining companies were taken by cars to Cloud's Mills for the purpose of rest and allowing the men recuperate, recover the stragglers, and give the sick and worn-out time to regain their strength, there being hardly two hundred men at all fit for service. A few of the men never recovered. The six companies sent to Alexandria joined the others at the Mills. The situation being well selected for the purpose, the men recovered their strength rapidly.