FOURTH SEPARATE BRIGADE.
MAY 23, 1863, Brig. Gen. W. W. Averell was assigned, by special order No. 133, headquarters Middle Department, Eighth Army Corps, to the command of the Fourth Separate Brigade, and assumed command on the 24th. The general had won renown as a dashing cavalry officer in the Army of the Potomac, and came to the western region with the prestige of success. He was one of the ablest cavalry officers of the army, and handled a brigade or division with a skill and bravery, that won him the honor he deserved. He was more than a match for any confederate general that he encountered in West Virginia, with anything like equal numbers. At Droop Mountain he defeated superior numbers intrenched on the mountain, and on the Salem raid he outgeneraled the officers commanding many times his force. The Fifth West Virginia Cavalry always had a great liking for the dashing general and admired his high courage and ability. We give herewith a brief sketch of his life:
William W. Averell was descended from New England families. His father was a pioneer of western New York and his grandfather a soldier of the Revolutionary War from Connecticut. His great grandfather wedded a daughter of Josiah Bartlett, the first governor of New Hampshire under the constitution, whose name appears second on the Declaration of Independence. His grandmother was a Turner of Mayflower memory, and his mother a Hemmenway, a name borne by one of the oldest New England families. His father hewed a farm out of the wilderness in Steuben county, N. Y., early in the century, and the first postmaster and the first magistrate in the town of Cameron, which offices he held for many years, rearing a family of five children, and died in 1887, aged 92 years. William had the benefit of a academic education, and taught school during two winter terms when he was 15 and 16 years of age, and surveyed lands and roads during the summer. In 1851, at the age of 18, he entered West Point, and was graduated in 1855. While he maintained a fair standing in his class, he devoted all his spare time to a comprehensive course of reading, which the great library at West Point permitted him to enjoy. Fond of athletic sports, he excelled in horsemanship, and stood at the head of a class of five riders. On graduation he was assigned to the regiment of mounted riflemen, now the Third United States Cavalry, whose colonel was then W. W. Loring. He was ordered to the cavalry school at Jefferson Barracks, Mo., whose superintendent was Col. Charles A. May, of the Second Dragoons. The school was removed to Carlisle Barracks, Pa., in December, 1855., and Lieut. Averell remained with it as adjutant until August, 1857. Fitzhugh Lee, W. H. Jackson, D. H. Maury, C. H. Tyler and many other dashing cavalry officers, served at the school while Averell was adjutant. In the autumn of 1857, he joined his regiment in New Mexico, and assumed command of a company, of which both his senior officers were absent; the captain, Andrew Porter, on leave in Europe, and the first lieutenant, Gordon Granger, on recruiting service. An incursion of Kiowa Indians into the valley of the Rio Grande in December, 1857, gave Averell his first chance in an Indian fight, which he embraced by destroying the band and capturing the chief in a hand to hand encounter. For this exploit he was honorably mentioned in general orders from General Scott, commander-in-chief of the army. The outbreak of the Navajo tribe in 1858, opened an active field for "The Rifles," as his regiment was familiarly called, and Averell was engaged in about twenty-five combats with that powerful tribe, and was mentioned in general orders several times for his gallant conduct. His frontier experience was terminated by a wound received in a night attack of Navajoes on his camp, October 8, 1858, which resulted in the fracture of his left thigh, and put him upon crutches for nearly two years. In 1861, Lieutenant Averell went to Washington to see Mr. Lincoln inaugurated, and witnessed the struggles of many of his old southern comrades and friends, to escape the social and political toils which drew them into secession and rebellion. Although still on sick leave, and an invalid and lame, when Fort Sumter was fired upon, he at once reported for duty, and was selected by General Scott as bearer of dispatches to Col. W. H. Emory then in Northern Texas and the Indian nation, commanding the first regiment of cavalry and the first regiment of infantry, the only portions of our little army in that region which had escaped the disgraceful surrender of Twiggs. Emory's command was isolated by the intervening turbulence of secession in Southern Missouri and Arkansas, and a special messenger was decided upon as the only means of communication. Making his way through these states with a variety of adventures, young Averell reached Fort Smith to find it in the hands of a rebel force under Col. Boreland from Little Rock, and our troops some hundreds of miles out on the wild and perilous frontier. Purchasing a horse, he escaped from the town, swam the Poteaux river, which was booming, and the bridge burned. He was pursued and captured fifty miles out on the Wachita trail, escaped to the San Bois Mountains which he crossed to the north, was again pursued on the Arbuckle trail, but escaped at the expense of becoming lost for forty-eight hours, but constantly making his way westward. In a blind ride through a savage country, infested with wild beasts and murderous men, for over 260 miles, he found the command he was seeking to the southeast of Fort Arbuckle, surrounded by Texans and frontier secessionists. The anxieties of the command were dispelled and its march taken up to the northward. Averell parted with the command on reaching Kansas and hastened to Washington. He was employed in mustering in volunteer regiments until recalled to become adjutant general of the regular brigade at the first battle of Bull Run, and after that adjutant general to the governor of Washington, and provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac. In August, 1861, he was appointed colonel of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry, and shortly after had the Eighth Cavalry added to his command, forming the first brigade of cavalry organized in the war. He led the advance into Manassas, March, 1862, and served with the cavalry during the Peninsula campaign. He was promoted to brigadier general United States volunteers, September 26, 1862, and served in the Army of the Potomac until he was appointed to the command of the Fourth separate brigade in West Virginia, May 16, 1863. Our command served under his leadership until our regiment was mustered out, in which time his history is that of the gallant brigade which he commanded. He served after that time in the severe battles of the Shenandoah Valley. He was breveted brigadier general United States army, March 13, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services in the field during the rebellion, and breveted major general United States army, March 13, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Moorfield, Va., and resigned May 18, 1865, and since has resided at Bath, Steuben county, N. Y.
On May 25th, Gen. Averell sent official notice to Company G of the permanent transfer of the company to the First Regiment of West Virginia Light Artillery, in accordance with the following order:
WAR DEP'T ADJT. GENERALS OFFICU, Washington, May 18, 1863
Special Order No. 221. [Extrsct.]
Company G, Second Virginia Volunteer Infantry, now serving as a battery, is hereby permanently detached from that regiment and will hereafter form part the First Regiment Virginia Light Artillery as a gun battery. The Governor of Virginia is hereby authorized to recruit a company to replace it in the Second Virginia Infantry,
By order of the Secretary of War,
E. D. Townsend
It may be well to state in this connection, that the company thus authorized to be recruited, never became a part of the regiment. It was organized late in the spring of 1864, did not even join the regiment, but upon the muster out of the regiment in the summer, with the veterans and recruits, became a part of the Sixth West Virginia Cavalry. The Second Virginia Regiment had but nine companies from the time Company G. was made a battery.
The new brigade formed for Gen. Averell was composed of the Second, Third and Eighth Virginia Mounted Infantry, the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Gibson's Battalion of Cavalry and Battery G. The intention was to organize a force that would be able to meet the confederate partisan rangers on their own ground, and as our regiments were so intimately acquainted with all the ins and outs of the warfare of the mountains, they were selected for this exceedingly difficult, arduous and dangerous service. On June 15th our regiment left Beverly for Grafton, arriving at the latter place on the 17th. Horses were distributed to the command on June 21st, and from that time until fully organized for active duty in the new line of service, we were kept constantly busy learning to ride and manage our horses, and doing such drilling as we were capable of. We were known for the time as "Mounted Infantry," and did service in either arm of the service, as occasion required. We received our equipments of arms and accoutrements on July 2d.
On the 2d of July, Battery G was at Beverly, and while the orderly sergeant was making out his morning report, half the horses being let out to grass, and a dreamy listlessness was over everything, a citizen who lived in the immediate vicinity came along, and asked the men if they were not afraid of the rebels, and informed them that the whole valley above was full of them, and he had walked ten miles to come and tell them. While discussing the matter, Harmon Snyder came along and confirmed the first report, when Capt. Ewing had bugler Phillips blow "boots and saddles." They got enough horses together to move the guns, and soon enough to supply the whole battery, and by nine o'clock were ready for duty. A few minutes latter some of Captain Frank Smith's Independent Cavalry Company of Cincinnati, came riding in, and reported that most of their company were captured; that the confederates had slipped around between them and Beverly, built a fence across the road, and surrounded them, a few only making their escape. About the same time Col. Harris held a consultation in regard to what was best to be done. The baggage wagons with commissary stores, etc., had been ordered out on the road toward Webster, but it was soon found that the roads were all occupied by the enemy under Gen. W. L. Jackson. Our troops went up to the hill just a little northeast of Beverly, and about 2 o'clock the enemy opened on them with their artillery about four miles away, and then advanced within a mile and a half, doing no harm, and evidencing no real desire for close and warm work. They kept firing occasionally all night, and Ewing returned the courtesy by throwing a shell at them every two or three minutes. Capt. Ewing sent John McGilvery with another man in the direction of Webster for reinforcements, who continued until they opened communication with General Averell. On the morning of the 3d the little garrison was still surrounded, but early in the day Major Gibson's battalion came to their relief. A strong and rapid fire was then opened on the enemy, when the rest of the Fourteenth Pennsylyania cavalry and the Third and Eighth Virginia came up, and the confederates fled precipitately. Our forces followed them in the morning, General Averell now in command, skirmishing a little at Huttonville, after which they fled beyond our reach. The command returned to Beverly, and the part belonging to Gen. Averell's brigade, returned to Webster on the 10th.
On July 7th the Second Virginia went to Buckhannon, remaining in camp there until the 15th, when they marched to Beverly during the night, in a heavy rain. On the 17th, six companies of the regiment went on an expedition in the direction of Huntersville, but did not encounter any of the enemy. Companies E and K went to Cheat Mountain Summit, D remained at Beverly and B at Buckhannon. The expedition returned to Beverly on the 18th, in a drenching rain, and the next day the regiment resumed their camp at Buckhannon, remaining there until the 20th of August, when they joined the brigade at Huntersville on the 23d. On the 4th of August Company B went on a scout, and on the 6th Companies E and I were sent out, and other scouting patties were constantly keeping a close watch on the front, ready for the forays of the enemy. While here the time was mostly taken up in drilling, the men learning readily the duties required of them in their new arm of service.
On July 7th, Gen. Averell, with all his brigade except the Second Virginia, was ordered East to harass the lines of Gen. Lee, in his retreat from Gettysburg. While hot permitted to take a part in that memorable battle, the brigade rendered efficient service on Lee's flank, causing him considerable trouble and loss. Gen. H. W. Halleck, in his report to the Secretary of War, November 15, 1863, thus concisely states the services of our department in that campaign:
"The operations of our troops in West Virginia, are here referred to as being intimately connected with those of the Army of the Potomac. The force being too small to attempt any important campaign by itself, has acted mostly upon the defensive, in repelling raids and breaking up guerilla bands. When Lee's army retreated across the Potomac in July last, Brig. Gen. Kelly concentrated all his available forces on the enemy's flank, near Clear Spring, ready to co-operate in the proposed attack by Gen. Meade. They also rendered valuable services in the pursuit, after Lee had effected his passage of the river."
The troops were forwarded as rapidly as possible, but arrived too late at Williamsport, Pa., to do any service there, Lee's army having crossed the river and was on its way south. Gen. Averell with his brigade hastily retraced his steps, aiming to reach the valley and attack Lee's forces in that locality. On the 18th we captured a number of prisoners, and on the 19th found the enemy on the Martinsburg road, having some severe skirmishing and driving them before us, capturing many more prisoners. The next day a large force of the confederates attacked us and we were compelled to fall back, with considerable fighting during the night. On the 24th we again advanced and continued our forward movement until we reached Winchester on the 30th, camping and reconnoitering at various intermediate points. During our stay here a great many confederate deserters came to our lines, who were sent to the rear, and a large number of prisoners were paroled. It was a part of the writer's duty in camp to look after paroling of prisoners, care of deserters and to hear the complaints and woes, and request for passes, of the citizens of the surrounding country. At this point the number of exceedingly and obtrusively "loyal" people that annoyed Gen. Averell's headquarters, might have led to the belief that that part of the beautiful valley was the home of all the loyalty of Virginia; but the loyalty was not of the kind to inspire confidence, and the utmost care was required that no advantage was secured by the enemy by means of passes. The command lay here until the 5th of August.
While here, one of those pleasant affairs, so full of good cheer to all concerned, took place, which explains itself'in the following letter:
BUCKHANNON, W. VA., August 3, 1863.
TO THE MEN AND OFFICERS OF COMPANY G:
I have received through your captain a beautiful sword, with "Col. George R. Latham, Second Virginia Volunteer Infantry, from the men and officers of Company G," engraved on the scabbard. I accept this as a token of friendship, and as such regard it above all price. Unexpected and unsolicited, it must be the offering of those whose friendship knows no mercenary motive. I accept it and prize it more highly, as a token of confidence in my public and representative character. Not in pride but in humble thankfulness, I thus highly appreciate your estimate of my public services, coming as it does from those with whom I have longest served and who can best judge of my merits. Finally, I accept it as a most expressive emblem of your appreciation of the situation. All that is good, noble, desirable and praiseworthy - the secret admonitions of heaven; the patriotic promptings of our own hearts; the yearning for freedom by the oppressed of foreign despotisms, and even an ardent desire for the peace of the world - plead for the vigorous prosecution of the existing war, and the final and complete crushing out of the rebellion; and the sword is the most appropriate and expressive emblem of the present purposes of every American patriot. Please accept my best wishes and sincere assurance of high regard. Hoping that your future may be even more brilliant than the past, that you may all live to see our country again happy, in the restoration of an honorable peace, that as citizens you may be beloved of all your fellows and honored by high Heaven, anú! that future generations may rise up and call you blessed,
I remain your most obedient servant,
GEO. R. LATHAM.. Col., 2d Va. M't'd, Inf.