FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
THE regiment remained at this camp (North Mountain) until March 6, 1863, when orders were received for a move, and, with the Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania and Battery E, First Virginia Light Artillery, took the cars and was transferred to Green Spring Run Station, thence marched to the first encampment of the regiment, in November, 1861, at Romney, remaining at this camp but a few days; was then moved to Mechanicsburg Gap, on the New Creek road, less than two miles west of the town named, there, in company with the regiment and battery mentioned, pitched tents, and was joined immediately afterwards by a company of the Ringgold Cavalry. Picket duty, scouting, drill, and parade occupied fully the time of the command, and the quartermaster's appeared to be the busy department, supplying the men with food and clothing. Alarms at night were frequent, but generally confined to the occupants of the tents. The camping-ground was of a stony, light, porous nature; each tent was supplied with a sheet-iron, conical-shaped stove; the heat warmed the ground sufficient to enliven the snakes, and a species called by the denizens "blowing viper" appeared to court familiarity with the men; indeed, to such an extent was this carried that on several occasions they got into the men's berths. The cry of "snakes" at night was sufficient to cause evacuation of a tent in the shortest possible time, no one wanting such a bedfellow. This was a laughing matter during the day, but a very serious one at night. The regiment remained at this camp for about three months, nothing very important having transpired. On the 14th of June orders for a move were received, and the command packed up and marched to New Creek Station on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; the division commander being General Kelley. The force at New Creek at this time consisted of the First Virginia, Twenty-third Illinois, and Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania Regiments, Colonel Campbell in command of the brigade. The regiment remained here but a few days, when ordered to Cumberland, Maryland, June 20, occupying a hill in the vicinity for camping-ground on the 23d.
On the 25th West Virginia was made a department, General Kelley being placed in command. From this time the regiment may be said to have a paternity. As the fifty-four counties of the western part of the State were separated from Virginia and organized as a separate State June 20, no longer could it be said that "Japhet was in search of a father," though it must be admitted when found step-mother would express the appropriate relation the State then bore and still bears to the counties of the Panhandle, the home of the majority of the men. The State was fortunate in securing for her first governor a true and loyal man, who from the first agitation of the question of separation of the State of Virginia from the Union had been the defender of the integrity of the country and the firm supporter of ranging the State on the side of the general government. Governor Boreman had been prominent in all the movements that were inaugurated to strengthen the hands of the President. His voice uttered no uncertain sounds on these questions, and it was felt throughout the State that the honor attached to being selected as the highest official of the new State had been conferred on the right man.
Much having occurred since dropping the narration of events throughout the country on the 1st of January, this period of inaction appears to be a fitting time for continuing it and showing the progress of the war throughout the broad field of operations. After the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg General Burnside resigned the command of the Army of the Potomac, a command he was urged to take, and one, it may be concluded, judging from the result, he was unfitted for, and which he himself had his misgivings as to his ability to fill. On the 1st of January the enemy captured Galveston, Texas, and on this day the President issued his Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming the freedom of all the slaves, - the hundred days having expired, - thus forever terminating slavery in the United States, and on this ever-memorable day was the ending of the indecisive battle of Stone River, the Union army losing about eight thousand men killed and wounded. The Southern army retreated on the 3d. On the 11th a combined army and navy attack was made on Forts Hindman and Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River, which resulted in their capture by the Union forces, with seven thousand prisoners and many guns. On the 26th General Hooker succeeded General Burnside in the command of the Army of the Potomac. There was during the month heavy fighting by General Grant's troops at Vicksburg. General Porter was dismissed from the army for his failure to support General Pope. During the months of February and March two attempts were made to capture Fort McAllister, near Savannah, Ga., both of which failed. The Confederate cruiser "Alabama" was at sea during this time, destroying the merchant marine of the Northern States. The ironclad "Indianola" ran the blockade at Vicksburg in February, but a few miles below was captured by the enemy, who retained possession of her but for a short time, when she was destroyed by the Union Squadron. On the 5th of March General Van Dorn captured Spring Hill, Tennessee, with thirteen hundred prisoners; he also captured Franklin, Tennessee, with a number of prisoners.
Active operations continued in Mississippi and Louisiana during the early months of 1863, and, though on some occasions indecisive, were generally in favor of the Union side. Admiral Farragut was very prominent in these operations, and General Banks performed important service, capturing many prisoners and guns, while General Grant kept knocking at the gates of Vicksburg, having during May crossed the river about thirty miles below the town, landing near the mouth of Bayou Pierre, and concentrated his troops on the left bank of the river to attack Vicksburg in the rear. In April an attack was made on Fort Sumpter by the ironclads, but the latter were worsted and compelled to withdraw. During this month Colonel Grierson, with a small cavalry force, made a raid through the heart of the State of Mississippi, destroying the enemy's supply-depots, capturing many prisoners, and defeating detachments sent to oppose him; he also tore up their railroads and burned stations and bridges, finally arriving at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with comparatively small loss.
On May 1 and 2 was fought the battle of Chancellorsville, between the Army of the Potomac under Hooker and General Lee's army, resulting in the repulse of the former. Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded at this battle, and died on the 10th, which was a severe blow to the Southern cause, he being without question Lee's ablest lieutenant. The loss of each side in this battle was about fifteen thousand men. Grand Gulf, Mississippi, was taken by Admiral Farragut on the 3d. On the 12th was fought the battle of Raymond, Mississippi, by Grant, the Confederates being defeated. On the 14th was fought the battle of Jackson, Mississippi, by Grant's army, the Confederates being routed and the town taken possession of; and within three days thereafter were fought the battles of Champion Hills and Big Black River by the same, ending in the rout and retreat of the enemy into the fortifications of Vicksburg, and on the 19th General Grant's forces invested the town on the land side, while Admiral Porter took care of the immense river front and opened communication with Grant through the Yazoo River, capturing Yazoo City, with a large amount of stores and several gunboats. On the 18th of June General Lee's army crossed the Potomac, and passing through Maryland, entered Pennsylvania near Chambersburg. The grand crisis of the war was now approaching. General Grant's Army was now face to face with Pemberton's at Vicksburg, and the Army of the Potomac, under General Meade, was being hastened forward to meet General Lee's invading forces on the soil of Pennsylvania. Desperate was the conflict, fearful the loss of life, but the turning-point in the war was reached and passed on the eighty-seventh anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. On that day Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg with thirty-two thousand men to General Grant, making the loss of Pemberton in and around Vicksburg aggregate with thirty-two thousand men to General Grant, making the loss of Pemberton in and around Vicksburg aggregate fifty thousand men, General Grunt losing about ten thousand. On the 3d General Lee, after three days' fighting at Gettysburg, met with a severe repulse, after some of the most desperate fighting of the war, by General Meade's army, losing during his invasion of the North about fifty thousand men, and recrossing the Potomac with an army straggling along the highways and byways for miles, dispirited and almost demoralized. These blows were followed by General Prentiss defeating a superior force of the enemy at Helena, Arkansas. Port Hudson surrendered to General Banks on the 8th with seven thousand prisoners, thus removing the last obstruction to the free navigation of the Mississippi, whose waters, in the language of the President, "flowed unvexed to the sea," and General Sherman defeated General Johnston at Jackson, Mississippi, on the 17th. These brilliant successes were somewhat marred by the great draft riot in New York City on the 13th, which was soon after quelled by the troops.
The people all over the North were now rejoicing. The seven months just passed had been productive of substantial results; and though General Meade was probably justly blamed for tardiness in pursuing his discomfited opponent, the Public saw in the repulse he had given Lee a brilliant victory, and believed that these two successes in such widely-separated regions on this anniversary and its eve as prophetic of the ultimate, perhaps speedy, downfall of the Confederacy. Much, however, remained to be done, as was discovered afterwards; and though the South was believed to be only a shell, it was found to be a very hard one to break, the Richmond government put forth its best efforts, and, in the language of the day, "robbed the cradle and the grave" in order to fill the army. As for the North, the words of President Lincoln on the field of Gettysburg in the following November touched the heart and made firm the resolve of the people: "That we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain," that the nation shall under God have a new birth of freedom," "and government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth."
The whole address, of which the foregoing is an extract, was an inspiration, and is probably the equal of anything of the kind ever uttered in the English language, appropriate and timely, resounding as it did through the land, stirred up the love of country in all, and stamping the orator as a leader among men, though, like Moses, he was allowed only a glimpse of the "Promised Land," to which point he led the colored race. And it may be added that his successor in office did not prove a Joshua to wear his mantle.
During the latter part of June and early in July much alarm was felt in Cumberland, as General Lee's army had crossed into Maryland in force, as already recorded, his whole command being at the time referred to in Pennsylvania foraging, taking from the well-to-do farmers of the border counties lying in the Cumberland Valley stock of all kinds, grain, and provisions in immense quantities, concentrating his army finally on the 1st of July at Gettysburg, and after that battle falling back with the chief part of his plunder to the banks of the Potomac, to find that river much swollen and his pontoons destroyed by General French. He, however, succeeded in crossing on the night of the 12th. The regiment (First West Virginia) was move from Cumberland to Hancock, Maryland, and thence to Williamsport, on the 13th, and a few days afterwards crossing the river, recrossing in a day or two thereafter, and for the third time crossing on the 20th, having picked up a lot of prisoners and material by the way. Afterwards, a large force of the enemy appearing, the regiment took post at Back Creek, arriving there on the 28th of July, and remaining at that point until the first week in August, when another forward movement was made, the line of march being up the valley, arriving in Winchester early in August, and was then again ordered to Romney, taking the Winchester and Romney pike for the route. The command of Imboden at this time again became very active and aggressive in the South Branch Valley and throughout Hampshire and Hardy Counties.
On the 15th of August the regiment, with the Fourteenth West Virginia, a troop of cavalry, and a battery or light artillery, moved to Peterburg, Hardy County, and there were engaged in scouting through the mountains, the country being infested with bushwhackers, who were citizens at times and soldiers when there was promise of gain. Any stores or supplies being moved by wagons were almost sure to be captured by these partisans, unless strongly guarded, and weak detachments were often picked up by them, they knowing the country well, and the roads intersecting one another in these mountain regions in a remarkable way, offering the best facilities for the prosecution of this species of warfare, of which they were not slow to avail themselves. These duties, as here indicated, were arduous in the extreme. Long and weary marches were often undertaken to surprise an enemy, and generally resulted in finding that enemy on the alert, and usually absent, at least not in the place desired and expected by his pursuers, hence the latter, as it often happened, had their labor for their trouble and nothing more; in short, there was neither profit nor honor in this service. Early in September Companies B, E, D, F, and H, in command of Major Stephens, were sent by the colonel to Moorefield to take possession of that place, and be prepared to meet McNeil and others on their raids through that part of the country. Imboden with his command also frequented those parts, probably in search of supplies, often obtained by capture of the Union wagon-trains. The other five companies of the regiment were left at Petersburg. On the 10th Major Stephens with his command were in quiet possession of the town. Rumors, however, to the effect that Imboden was in the vicinity were prevalent, but it was supposed in no great force. On the night of the 11th Captain Morrow took his company, with details from the other companies sufficient to make a hundred men, with a guide, to effect the capture or rout and dispersion of McNeil's command, reported but a few miles distant; but McNeil stole into the camp of the four companies remaining before daylight of the 12th, and captured the majority of the command, killing and wounding some of them, but few escaping, - the extraordinary precautions that men should use when placed in such a position as this having been neglected by the commander. Captain Morrow failed to re-capture the men, not having sufficient force, though he made the effort; but McNeil's men being mounted easily escaped with the prisoners. It appears that the attention of the officer in command was devoted to the front (in the direction the enemy lay), where the pickets were strong and on the alert. McNeil came in by the rear, his men crawling on their hands past the lone picket at that point, who, it is stated, was asleep. Once inside all was easy, as the men were asleep in their quarters. The loss in this affair was about two hundred and thirty men. This was a terrible blow to the regiment, weak in numbers as it was. Being now reduced to a small battalion, it remained at Petersburg with the fourteenth Virginia and Twenty-third Illinois, Colonel Mulligan in command.
In October two companies were sent to Greenland Gap, and remained there for a time, but were withdrawn, and in company with part of the twenty-third Illinois and the Fourteenth Virginia remained in the mountains the remainder of the year, no very remarkable events transpiring. This mountain warfare, with its alarms, night attacks, and skirmishing, was little calculated to reflect honor on any branch of the service. The opposing force invariably being cavalry, could wait for the opportunity, - having reliable and prompt information through the citizens, knew well the position and strength of the Union forces, the movements of trains and foraging-parties, - strike a blow, and through their knowledge of the country escape, usually with but little loss, it being useless to attempt to pursue them with infantry.
The chief of the enemy, under General Lee, fell back to the south side of the Rapidan, but during the month of October attempted a flank movement on General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, resulting in several engagements b detachments of the two armies, the most severe being between General Warren's corps and General Hill's, of Lee's army, the latter being worsted. General Lee failing in his efforts to turn the flank of General Meade, fell back again to the Rappahannock, putting that river between the two armies, leaving about two thousand men in a redoubt with rifle-pits, on the north side of the river, at Rappahannock Station. This force was attacked by General Russell's division of the Sixth Corps, and after a desperate fight one thousand six hundred prisoners with four guns were captured by General Russell's command. After this, in November, General Lee went into winter quarters on Mine Run, Orange County, the Army of the Potomac remaining on the banks of the Rappahannock. During December General Averill made his raid over the mountains with three West Virginia and a Pennsylvania regiment (cavalry), with a West Virginia battery, seriously damaging the Virginia and Tennessee Railway, and destroying rolling-stock, stations, and supplies, and though the whole country was in arms against him, he got back within the lines with trifling loss to the command.
Operations during the latter part of the year 1863 in the West may be summed up in the following: General Burnside having been transferred from the Eastern to the Western department, captured Knoxville, Tennessee, September 1, and on the 8th he took Cumberland Gap with two thousand prisoners. On the 10th Little Rock, Arkansas, was occupied by the Union forces. On the 19th and 20th of the same month was fought the terrible battle of Chickamauga (River of Death), General Rosecrans, in command of the Union forces, being defeated by General Bragg; the Union loss was about fifteen thousand men, the enemy's loss being less. In October General Grant was given command of the Western armies. On the 17th the President called for three hundred thousand more men. And during the month the troops at Chattanooga were strongly reinforced. On the 23d to the 26th of November was fought the battle of Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain, the enemy under General Bragg, General Grant commanding the Union forces. Bragg being severely handled and defeated, losing these strongholds, never to be recovered by him. And to crown the triumphs of the year, General Longstreet, who had been detached for the purpose, on the 28th assaulted General Burnside at Knoxville and met with a bloody repulse, being compelled to retreat from the vicinity.
Nothing of importance transpired during the remainder of the year. A movement was made by Colonel Thoburn's command in the mountains in December, which will be recorded to show the kind of warfare, attended with hardships and suffering, with results in no wise commensurate as a compensation.
On the 10th of December the First, with the Fourteenth West Virginia and a troop of cavalry, and thirty five men with two guns of a battery, left the camp at five A.M., the weather being very cold, to guard a train of wagons, eighty-three in number, to McDowell for General Averill's command. Marched the first day twenty-two miles, and after this hard march the men lay on the ground to rest, - sleep, under the circumstances, being impossible. Next day marched at four A.M., and over these mountain roads accomplished a distance of twenty-three miles, through the keen, piercing blasts. On the 12th the command was again on the march at five A.M., and at ten A.M. it began to rain and sleet, which continued all day. The advance was fired into this day and three men were wounded, - these were of the cavalry. The command camped that night at Monterey, the rain not ceasing until the next morning, the start being made for McDowell, ten miles distant, at ten A.M. The advance at this time, consisting of Colonel Thoburn with his staff and four orderlies, just entering McDowell, were met and fired upon by a small troop of the enemy's cavalry, about fifteen in number. The colonel immediately sent back for support, but before it arrived a number of shots were exchanged, after which the enemy showed a disposition to fall back, when, upon the colonel's squad advancing, they turned tail and beat a hasty retreat, pursued by the colonel and squad for nearly two miles, escaping into the mountains. The command occupied McDowell, Imboden being reported in the neighborhood, seven miles distant, with four to five thousand men; number doubtless exaggerated. Colonel Thoburn's force was eight hundred, but he placed them in such a manner on the hills, building many fires, that would lead an enemy to suppose that his command might embrace five or six thousand. Imboden doubtless was deceived by this show and feared to attack such numbers, already aware of his presence. On the 14th there was rain and snow at times, which, as may be supposed, made things very uncomfortable, and being away from all possibility of support, confronted by many times their number, watching every opportunity to strike a blow, was not a pleasant situation for the command to be in. Of course there was little sleep for the men even if the weather had permitted. The rain continued for several days.
On the night of the 15th, the scouts having reported that Imboden had been reinforced by McNiel and was prepared for an attack on the morning of the 16th, the Colonel had all the usual preparations made for a continued stay; but at about eight o'clock in the evening the train moved out escorted by two hundred men, and the balance of the command brought up the rear, taking a new road entirely, if road it could be called, down the bank and bed of a creek, the men for seven miles of the way marching much of the time in the water. Finally the main road was struck near to the destined point, - Crab Bottom, - and during the next morning the officers and pickets, which consisted of about sixty men and constituted the rear-guard, joined the command without the loss of a man, though very great anxiety had been felt on their account. The little force continued the march in the direction of Petersburg, arriving there on the 23d. Thus the colonel succeeded in withdrawing the entire force, encumbered with a large train, occupying at least a mile of the road, without the loss of a man or destruction of material, in the face of a vastly superior force. Kind friends at home, in anticipation of Christmas, had collected provisions and delicacies for the men, which were placed in the care of those good friends of the soldiers Mr. and Mrs. Hornbrook, who met the regiment at Petersburg, and, it may be concluded, full justice was done to the good cheer provided, accompanied by the hearty thanks of the men to these kind and thoughtful friends at home, which was felt as compensating for the two weeks' hardships and privations just undergone. The remaining week of 1863 was passed in this camp, the monotony relieved by occasional alarms of the presence of the enemy.
The substantial results of the year's contests were with the Union side, consequently there was a great change in the feelings of the public as to the outcome compared with those entertained a year before. It was apparent that the most extraordinary exertions must be made to fill the Southern armies, and, as they encountered defeat East and West, the ability of the government at Richmond to keep large bodies of men in the field became lessened. The financial condition or ability, which necessarily enters largely into the calculations in conducting modern warfare, based on the success of their arms, was very injuriously affected by their defeats during the last six months, and it is not too much to say that to the reverses to the Southern arms in the last six months of 1863 may be attributed the loss of hope to the Southern people in the remaining mouths of the war, as they were never afterwards able to put such a number of men in the field as they could muster prior to the 1st of July of this year. As some great leading event or events usually have led to, or at least preceded, the downfall of a state or a conqueror, - the invasion of Russia in 1812 and the battle of Leipsic in 1813 may be pointed to as the beginning of the overthrow of Napoleon in 1815, - so, also, may the invasion of Pennsylvania by Lee and the defeat of Pemberton at Vicksburg, both occurring in 1863, be termed the turning-point in the rebellion leading to the overthrow of the South in 1865.