FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
ON the 8th of October the whole command marched from Woodstock at five A.M., arriving at Strasburg at one P.M., resting for the balance of the day and the night close to this pleasant little town, the artillery exchanging shots with the enemy.
The Cavalry under command of General Rosser, of which great things were expected by the people of the valley, had for the past few days been very active, and on the 8th became very annoying to the Union forces, attacking the rear-guard, picking no small squads and stragglers, and in various ways harassing the march, until the commanding general determined, if possible, he would punish him for his annoying temerity. This officer and his men called themselves the "saviors of the valley," and in keeping with this self- styled appellation had decked their hats with sprigs of laurel, afterwards being forcibly reminded that to mount the laurel before the fight is dangerous, and he that exults on putting on his armor is not so wise as he that waits until taking it off. General Sheridan marshalled his cavalry under General Torbert, and early on the morning of the 9th he met Rosser at Tom's Brook, a small village between Strasburg and Woodstock, and attacked him. The result of the fight may be given in the words of General Sheridan's despatch to General Grant, sent from Strasburg: "In coming back to this point I was not followed up until late yesterday, when a large force of cavalry appeared in my rear; I then halted my command to offer battle by attacking the enemy. I became satisfied that it was only all the rebel cavalry of the valley commanded by Rosser, and directed by Torbert to attack at daylight this morning and finish this 'savoir of the valley.' The attack was handsomely made; Custer, commanding the Third Cavalry Division, charged on the back road, and Merritt, commanding the First Cavalry Division, on the Strasburg pike. Merritt captured five pieces of artillery, Custer captured six pieces of artillery, with caissons, battery-forge, etc. The two divisions captured forty-seven wagons, ambulances, etc. Among the wagons captured are the headquarters of Rosser, Lomax, and Wickham, and Colonel Pollard. The number of prisoners captured will be about three hundred and thirty. The enemy, after being charged by our gallant cavalry, were broken and ran. They were followed by our men on the jump twenty-six miles, through Mount Jackson and across the north fork of the Shenandoah. I deemed it best to make this delay of one day here and settle this new cavalry general. The eleven pieces of artillery captured to-day made thirty-six pieces of artillery captured in the Shenandoah Valley since the 19th of September. Some of the artillery was new and never had been fired before, - pieces marked 'Tredegar Works.'" And on the 11th General Sheridan despatched as follows: "I have seen no sign of the enemy since the brilliant engagement of the 9th instant. It was a square cavalry fight, in which the enemy was routed beyond my power to describe. He lost everything carried on wheels except one piece of artillery, and when last seen it was passing over Rood's Hill near New Market, on the Keen Run, twenty-six miles from the battle-field, to which point the pursuit was kept up."
It was afterwards reported that the people of that part of the valley, who were cognizant of this fight and race, indulged in the expression that Rosser came to save them wearing laurel-leaves, but that pumpkin- vines or something that would run would be more appropriate for him to wear.
On the 11th the brigade was placed in charge of the prisoners, captured artillery and wagons, and ordered down the valley. Accordingly left Strasburg, taking the road through Middletown and Newtown, arriving at Winchester at five P.M. and bivouacked, annoying no little the good people of this town by the sight of the captured guns, etc., though they betrayed no evidence of it.
The next day the brigade left for Martinsburg, and without incident of note arrived there at nine P.M. The sight of such a number of guns taken from the enemy was rather an unusual event here, and in consequence attracted much attention and was the cause of great rejoicing among the sterling Union people of the town, and, as may be supposed, a corresponding depression among the rebellious disposed; the former being greatly in the majority, however, as they had been since the commencement of the contest.
On the 13th the brigade "'bout faced," and started again for the front in charge of a loaded train, guarding it to Winchester, and returning to Martinsburg with another empty wagons. Again taking charge of a loaded train for the front, then at Cedar Creek, and leaving Winchester on the morning of the memorable 19th en route for the front, the sound of battle being heard early in the day, and nearing so fast from the start that it became plainly evident that the enemy was driving Sheridan's army down the valley. Fugitives began to arrive with terrible tales of rout and ruin to the whole army. At this juncture, probably about ten o'clock, the loud clatter of hoofs was heard, and approaching on a black horse, "flecked with foam," at a gallop was General Sheridan with a few attendants following. The fugitives stopped and cheered him, when, waving his hat, he called to them, "Face the other way, boys! face the other way!" which they did at once, and he passed on to rally a surprised and beaten army to assume the aggressive, and to gain a victory that would electrify the whole country. Colonel Thoburn was in command of a division of Crook's corps, and while attempting to rally the men in Middletown a rebel in blue uniform rode up and demanded his surrender. The colonel paid no attention to him, in all probability thinking he was a Union soldier, when the fellow shot him through the body. A mortal wound, of which he died the same evening. No nobler man died that day than Colonel Thoburn. The regiment joined the command the same evening, bivouacking on the battle-field.
General Sheridan at this time had a strong cavalry force in a high state of efficiency, which force was kept very actively employed during September and October. The enemy's cavalry, being inferior in number and equipment, was powerless to check the advances of these troops, they riding almost at pleasure in strong squadrons over this fine country. The fields bare of fences, there was no obstruction to a free range of it. For safety the depot of supplies was established at Martinsburg, and for a time, when the army was near or beyond Winchester, there was required, to meet the demands for food, clothing, and forage, - the latter being the chief article supplied, - seven hundred four-horse - or mule-teams, these teams in one train leaving Martinsburg every other morning. This train, if in single file, would extend seven miles, and would furnish a fine opportunity for the forces of the enemy to secure a supply of stores and horses. The wagons, however, were driven two abreast, thus reducing the length of the train one-half. Usually a brigade of infantry guarded the train, and for defensive purpose a system of alarm-signals was adopted to facilitate rallying in time of danger. Though this duty required the utmost vigilance and activity, the trains passed and repassed the many dangerous points (cross-roads) without material loss or damage from the enemy, which exemption may be credited to the vigilance of the guards and the precautions taken. Changes were often made in the guards, - one brigade substituted for another, - and the same vigilance required of all, as it was understood that no excuse could be offered that would be deemed satisfactory by the commander for the loss of a wagon. As he had a very exacting way with him, all learned while in his command. As already stated, the First, Fourth, and Twelfth Regiments were on this duty in October, and, being a body of men remarkable for their good marching qualities, were admirably adapted to this service, and it is probable, for this reason, may have had more than a fair share of it to perform at this time. This duty prevented the brigade from being in position with the Eighth Corps on that nearly fatal morning of the 19th, when, no doubt, like the other commands on the left, it would have been doubled up, as General Early threw a body of over twenty thousand men on that flank. As has often been well described, Sheridan rallied and marshalled his forces more by the magical power of his presence than anything else, and at about three P.M. presented the astonishing spectacle of the beaten and almost demoralized army of a few hours before moving on the enemy in solid column, every man animated by the same spirit as the commander. Advancing by a left half-wheel of the whole line, and with the aid of the cavalry turning both flanks of the enemy, the whole line advanced, the enemy making a stubborn resistance, but was pushed with the utmost vigor, falling back as his flanks became involved, and, finally, being completely routed, fled in the greatest disorder, abandoning almost everything. The artillery captured was upwards of fifty pieces (this includes what was captured from Sheridan's army in the morning), wagons and ambulances in large numbers, and about two thousand prisoners. This was one of the most complete victories of the war. The enemy continued his flight up the valley, unable thereafter to make a stand.
Practically the battle of Cedar Creek terminated the war in the Shenandoah Valley. The destruction of the mills and grain, and the driving off of the cattle, etc., by the army of Sheridan, - which by fire and sword destroyed the power of the country to furnish an army with supplies, - removed at once the ability to sustain and the inducement to possess. Hereafter this ground that had often shook with the tread of a mighty array was no longer to be the prize fought for, - its value was gone. This was a justifiable war measure, being the most severe blow that could be administered to the enemy short of the destruction of his army, and being one of the causes that led to shortening the contest was humane, and in this view of it the end accomplished justified the means used. With the termination of the contest in the valley ended the hope of sustaining the rebellion in Virginia another year. The Union forces at this time had penetrated into North Carolina, and from the West through the Kanawha Valley into Virginia, and by Eastern Tennessee into both States mentioned, destroying the railroads, salt-works, depots of supplies, etc., until the authorities at Richmond were sorely pressed to feed the army, surrounded at the same time by the needy population of that city clamorous for food. Heroism of the highest order and almost unbounded confidence in their final success were required on the part of the men composing the armies of the rebellion to inspire them to continue a contest that to the ordinary observer appeared hopeless. This confidence and heroism they brought to the support of their cause, and in the defence about Petersburg made a most valiant fight, eliciting from their opponents expressions of the highest degree of respect and admiration for the display of the noblest soldierly qualities.
It is with saddened feelings, in our view of it, that the incidents connected with the last days of armed resistance are read, showing as they do the tenacity of purpose, the "four o'clock in the morning courage," and the lasting endurance of these men from the outer defences of Richmond until confronted by the army across the path at Appomattox, - the desperate forlorn hope worthy of a cause elevating humanity instead of degrading it. With this there is also a feeling of pride when reflecting that these men were our countrymen and now are of the national brotherhood, - cemented, we trust, to the Union the closer and more firmly by what had passed, - and realizing that all this sacrifice of blood and treasure is a punishment to the nation for the oppression of, and inhumanity towards, a weaker race, - fellow-beings springing from one common Father.
After the battle of Cedar Creek the regiment was ordered to report to General Kelley, at Cumberland, Maryland, the term of the first enlistment of the majority of the men having expired. Accordingly, the line of march was once more taken up, and down the valley for the last time the men faced. Arriving in Martinsburg without incident, there taking the cars, arrived in Cumberland on the 2d of November, and remaining there until the 12th. The three years' men who had not re-enlisted were ordered to Wheeling to be discharged. The re-enlisted, numbering about two hundred and fifty, remained at Cumberland in winter quarters, and on the 10th of December were consolidated with the re-enlisted men of the Fourth West Virginia. Those of the First being divided into four companies, - the newly-organized regiment being the Second West Virginia Veteran Infantry.
It has been said that to find out a man's disposition and qualities fully it is necessary to summer and winter with him. We are, however, disposed to think that in camp-life a year's contact with many men is not necessary to reveal their peculiarities. The regiment was thrown into companionship, such as a war of this kind will make, with men from many States and under circumstances which bring out the qualities and peculiarities in a strong light, showing the predominant ones. Under very adverse circumstances sometimes the ruling passion was exhibited. An incident will illustrate. At one of the encampments of the regiment in the lower valley the adjacent ground was occupied by a Connecticut regiment, the men of which were always on the lookout to turn an honest penny. One of their methods to accomplish this was making dried-apple pies and selling them to the men of other regiments who were not so thrifty nor so imbued with the desire of gain in this way. One of these men one day on his rounds with this delicacy, looking into a tent of Company C, called out "Pies!" the well-known voice of H---n C---k responded from the interior in his deepest bass, "No, don't want any; just bought one from your colonel." This pleased the listeners, of course, and disgusted the pie-peddler. A dried-apple pie in the abstract, under ordinary circumstances, is not particularly inviting or much sought after, but to the average soldier is not without its charm. In the life led by these men no indigestion or dyspepsia lurked in the pie, hence it became a mere matter of taste as to indulgence in this luxury. It was reported on one occasion that one of the men of the First ate for his supper half a dozen pigs' feet, more or less, bought of the sutler, and one of these pies. Suring the night he was reported unwell. After a thorough canvass of the matter this man's comrades were rather disposed to think that what he had eaten for supper might possible have something to do with his sickness.
Another story went the rounds of the regiment at another time, which may be mentioned as showing the disregard to comfort and health which some men have; fortunately, there were few of this kind in the regiment. One man of Company I was extremely negligent respecting his personal appearance. Cleanliness was foreign to him, and he evidently had great aversion to soap and water. This man was the butt of his comrades. One winter day the lieutenant ordered two or three of his comrades to take him to the run and give him a thorough scrubbing, which it is said was done with the aid of a corn broom. One of the men ordered to this duty describing it afterwards stated that after rubbing at his neck for some time they discovered an old necktie that the wearer had supposed to be lost long ago. Of course, in the language of the advertisement, "Selling this as trustee I can only give such title as is in me vested/" Compared with some other bodies of troops, the men of the First were not successful traders. On the first entrance to the valley the extent to which this was indulged in was to save the coffee-grounds - coffee being rare, consequently highly prized, article at the time to these people, and traded for eggs, apples, and vegetables with the rather unsophisticated denizens; but this little deception was soon discovered and coffee-grounds became a drug. The men after this were at the end of their resources, there fore trading was no longer indulged in. It was discovered when the regiment was in the Luray Valley that the people placed a high estimate on a promise to pay in the way of a circulating medium. the men took possession of a store on one occasion, and after distributing the contents there remained a lot of script which the owner had been issuing in lieu of silver fractional parts of a dollar, which undoubtedly had become very scarce; this script was in the form of, and about the size of, the paper half-dollar issued by the government during the war, requiring only the signature of the owner of the store to render it a genuine circulating medium, redeemable by him. The script the men took possession of, and on occasions when the opportunity offered n the neighborhood used it as money in payment of purchases of provisions, actually signing the notes in their presence. Could simplemindedness go further?
All the forces of the enemy in Virginia being required to resist the terrible blows then being delivered by the armies of the Potomac and James on General Lee's forces before Petersburg, no attempt was made by Early to repossess the valley. The defence even of their strongholds became weaker and weaker during the early spring of 1865, until finally it became plain to the most hopeful among them that the days of the rebellion were numbered, and half-starved, with numbers greatly reduced during the winter months by casualties and desertions, the lines were withdrawn from the fortifications around Petersburg, and the memorable evacuation of Richmond and the retreat of Lee's army began, ending in the capitulation of all that remained of the historic Army of Northern Virginia, twenty-three thousand men, at Appomattox on the 9th of April, 1865, and with it terminated the contest in Virginia. And a few days thereafter the army of Johnston surrendered to Sherman in north Carolina, it in turn followed by the army of the trans-Mississippi, under Kirby Smith, which closed the military operations.
In the mean time the Second Veterans had been ordered to Bulltown, Braxton County, but the situation required no important duties of them, the rebellious spirit having been quenched in that part of the State. The regiment was mustered out of service July 16, 1865, at Clarksburg. As near as can be ascertained, the three years' regiment lost during the term of service by death, disability from wounds, and sickness attendant on the service 372 officers and men; missing (no doubt dead), 10; captured, 350; transferred to other branches of the service, 21; dismissed the service, 1 officer; dishonorably discharged (drummed out), 2 men; desertions, 48. Total number of officers and men attached to the regiment during term of service, including recruits, 1178.
In completing the task placed on the writer by his comrades, performed as well as it has been possible in the limited time allowed and with the material attainable, the writer expresses the hope that the result will be looked upon with a friendly eye, ready to excuse the errors - doubtless many - and overlook the want of style expected in a work of this kind, and the failure to furnish a scholarly production. Charge all shortcomings to inability to make a more readable narrative rather than to the want of a desire to do so. This is all that is asked, and no doubt will be readily granted.