FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
THE advent of the year 1862 found the regiment as described in last chapter, improving in drill and discipline and gaining experience through foraging for subsistence and encounters with semi-military bands of the enemy. The men were in receipt of news through the newspapers received almost every day, and were kept fairly well posted in matters transpiring in the great outside world. Mentally they were doing very well, physically they were doing even better, - the animal was being fully developed in this pure mountain air with hard tack and flitch as adjuncts. On the morning of the 7th of January Companies A, B, C, D, E, and F, with about the same number from the other regiments, moved out on the Winchester road to attack the enemy at a place called Blue's Gap on the road named. Arriving at the entrance, the battalion of the First was ordered through the defile, the Ohio and Indiana troops over the hill on either side. The enemy attempted to fire their guns through the gap, but fortunately they failed. The men of the First were soon upon them, capturing two field-pieces (six-pounders) with a few prisoners; the majority of the enemy escaped. The forces returned to camp the same evening. This was the first aggressive action taken by the regiment, at least the first one to meet a considerable body of the enemy. The men acquitted themselves well, and their being a State rivalry among the different commands, and the question coming up which battalion should go through the gap in the face of the guns, Colonel Thoburn immediately responded, "My men will go through it." After his failure to fire the guns, and the Union forces too strong to resist, the enemy did the next best thing, - to live to fight another day, - got out of there quickly. His loss was three or four killed and wounded.
About this time Lieutenant Thayer Melvin, who had been promoted from sergeant, was promoted to captain and made assistant adjutant-general on General Kelley's staff. As was afterwards demonstrated, this was an excellent selection, Captain Melvin soon ranking high in the estimation of the officers at the headquarters of the army. On the 10th, after many alarms, the regiment was ordered to strike tents, pack up, and load the wagons for instant departure. This was, as may be inferred from what has been written, considerable of a job, but it was accomplished in very good time, everything considered. The debris and worthless stuff that had accumulated was burned, the men fell in, and, after a tedious delay of several hours, marched at six P.M. Evidently something was the matter, or camp would not thus be broken up and the regiment ordered to march at such an hour as this. It was afterwards discovered that this was the first alarm that "Stonewall" Jackson gave the command, and credit must be given him for many afterwards. Coming from the valley with infantry, cavalry, and artillery in much stronger force than the forces here collected, General Kelley's command was compelled to fall back. The regiment stopped late at night at Springfield, having crossed the south branch of the Potomac at the suspension bridge (afterwards destroyed). Howe's battery was placed near to and commanding the bridge and road leading to it, supported by infantry, until all had passed. Jackson failed to come up, but it was looked upon at the time as a narrow escape. The weather had been very cold and his men suffered greatly, which, of course, delayed him, and was the cause, it was reported, of his nearly losing his commission. To this suffering more than to anything else may this escape from Jackson be attributed. An incident occurring on this march will show how little observant the average soldier is. Special efforts no doubt had been made to keep the nature and cause of the movement from them, which succeeded well, much better than at any other time thereafter, hence many were the opinions entertained of it and various the conjectures offered in explanation. Captain Morgan, who had served in the Mexican war, remarked, as the regiment was floundering through the mud, "What do you think of this? Do you call it an advance or a retreat?" The answer was, "Captain, when the wagon-train is hurried up and put in the advance, the men ordered from camp at six P.M. of a winter evening, the battery placed in position on the side of the river farthest from the direction the enemy would naturally be expected to come, commanding the only road of approach and strongly supported by the infantry, and the direction of march away from the enemy, the conclusion is forced on a fellow that it is a retreat."
The regiment crossed Patterson's Creek and encamped near the railroad station in mud almost as bad as it was possible to be. This was truly a miserable place for an encampment, but suppose it was a fair strategic point. On the 14th was the first appearance of that always welcome official, the paymaster, - in this instance being I. M. Pumphry, who paid the men up to the 1st instant. On the 17th the regiment was brigaded with the Seventh Ohio and Seventh Indiana, Colonel Tyler in command. On the 20th the brigade received Sibley tents, - a great improvement on the small tents which up to that time had been in use, being much larger, each one accommodating about fifteen men comfortably when arranged for winter quarters, - taper or conical in shape, admitted of a fire inside, and a hole at the top was supposed to carry off the smoke. These tents made the men much more comfortable, and removed the risk of the inside men crowding the one next the canvas through the tent and into the snow or mud outside, which often occurred with the common tents, to the annoyance of the neighbors. The men were here drilled in firing and in brigade movements. The Twenty-ninth Ohio Regiment was afterwards added to the brigade while here. The regiment remained here until February 5, when the command took cars and were unloaded at French's Store, a station farther east, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and from this point proceeded out the Romney road the next day about eight miles. General Lander (Photo) was in command of the division. Weather was very cold and all were without tents, these having been loaded on the wagons, which had not arrived. Crossed the Little Capon River, and then orders were given to "'bout face," returning to camp about two miles south of the station last named. The men here constructed shanties or covers of brush and pine branches and called the bivouac Camp Levels. The South Branch River at this point makes a bend, forming a large, apparently nearly level, peninsula, which is a beautiful farm. Looking down on this from the camp on the levels above and across the river is a sight as near approaching the grand as is to be found in the Alleghanies.
The men suffered very much from the cold here, being, with all they could do, badly protected from it. Remained here until the 13th. Marched, and struck the railroad again at Little Capon bridge, and proceeded down the road to Paw Paw tunnel. Marched again the next day, continuing east, and pitched tents two miles from the railroad. This is the first seen of the tents since the 5th instant. Called this Camp Chase 22d, celebration of the anniversary of Washington's birthday. General Lander, before all the troops assembled, denounced Colonel Anisansel, of the First Virginia Cavalry, for his behavior before the enemy, and afterwards, through his report to the War Department, had him dismissed, and it is probable that if General Lander had followed his inclination Colonel Anisansel would have danced before the public once more only. The Third Brigade (the first being a part of it) was reviewed by General Lander, who was certainly a remarkable man, a born commander, of fine proportions, probably six feet two in height, decisive in action as well as words, full of resources, fine, clear-cut face, and an eye you would never forget having seen, such a one as few men ever possessed. It was generally felt that if there was work to be done he would cut it out and do his full share of it.
On the 1st of March orders were given to be prepared for a march, and at three P.M. started, arriving at the Capon River, which stream was crossed on a bridge made of the wagons; bivouacked a short distance beyond for the night. This is a start for Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, at this time a terra incognita to nearly every man in the command, but became well known in the three year, that followed. Next day, to the surprise of all, marched back to the former camp near Paw Paw. General Lander died on that day, which will account for the retrograde movement; there was considerable snow on the ground at this time. On the 3d the brigade attended the funeral of General Lander at Paw Paw Station. There ended the promising life of Lander in this obscure hamlet, with no relative or, possibly, close friend to close his eyes, and before he had opportunity to show his qualities as an officer in high command. On the 8th officers, men, horses, and wagons were all put on the cars at Paw Paw and run east to Back Creek; at this point, some twelve miles west of Martinsburg, the fine railroad bridge had been destroyed by the enemy. This structure bore the appearance of having been strong and massive, and had been blown up. The command remained here several days, all the material with the wagons having been unloaded.