Randolf H. McKim about the Battles of Cross Keys & Port Republic
| ...I need not describe the battle that ensued. That has been done with admirable accuracy by Lieut.-Col. Henderson in his "Life of Stonewall Jackson," and by various other writers.
Ewell, with 6,000 infantry, 5 batteries, and a small cavalry force, defeated
Fremont, with over 10,000 infantry, 12 batteries, and 2,000 cavalry. It is amusing now to read Fremont's despatch to
Shields, who was just across the mountain. "The enemy need only a movement on the flank to panic-strike them. No man has had such a chance since the war commenced. You are within thirty miles of a broken, retreating army." In two days that "broken army" was to smash up the two armies of Shields and Fremont, numbering 25,000 men! |
As the battle progressed, I was sent by General Steuart with a despatch to Major-General Ewell, who was in active command. I found him surrounded by his staff of young officers, well mounted and handsomely equipped. He gave me an order to take back to General Steuart, but when I turned to go, Major Kyle's horse positively refused to face the very heavy artillery fire directly in front. In vain I dug my heels into his side. Whereupon General Ewell laughed aloud and said, "Ha! Ha! a courier without any spurs!"1 This, in the presence of his staff, was too much to bear patiently. I was very angry and felt the blood suffuse my face. To call me a "courier" when I was a "First Lieut. and A. D. C.," with pay of 135 Confederate dollars per month and allowances,--almost enough by 1864 to purchase a pair of cavalry boots! And to do this before his whole staff on the field of battle! However, I could only swallow the affront and obey the general's suggestion, "Young man, you will have to go back another way."
So I started back "another way," but before long struck a Virginia regiment lying down in the long grass in support of our batteries which were hotly engaged just in front. I reined up and asked if there was any officer who would lend me a spur, as I was bearing an important despatch and my horse would not "face the music" of the Parrots. Then up rose an officer, who, I afterwards learned, was Major John Ross. He kept rising till his stalwart figure was six feet three inches in the air, then he stooped and unbuckled one of his spurs and handed it to me. I dismounted, buckled it on, remounted, and thanking the major, rode off, not by the "other way round," but the direct way, across the bare horseshoe knoll, right in front, where, I think, all of our artillery was concentrated, and upon which the enemy's cannon were directed from several different points, like the spokes of the section of a wheel converging on the hub. It was a very hot place indeed, and the hottest spot was a little in rear of our batteries, where the lines of artillery fire met and crossed. I noted it in my diary as "a perfect hail of shell, cannon-balls, and bullets." My beautiful black was not to be blamed for not wishing to spoil his beauty in such a terrible place! But now, with the sharp spur plunged into his side, he had no option but to obey his rider; so away we went full speed across the infernal spot. Well, just in the middle of it, a round shot tore up the ground underneath us and passed harmlessly to us on its deadly path, and at that moment my little infantry cap flew off my head. Then ensued in my mind a brief but fierce battle (it lasted just about one second) between Pride and Fear. Fear said, "If you get off this horse to pick up that cap, you are a dead man!" But Pride promptly replied, "You won't ride up to the general's staff with no cap on your head!" Well, Pride conquered, and I was fool enough to rein up, dismount, and pick up my worthless cap,--but I enjoyed that immunity which the proverb says is given to children and fools, for neither my noble horse nor I was touched just then by any of the flying missiles of death.
In that battle I saw two men absolutely overcome by "panic fear"--and I do not recall any other examples through the whole war. One of these was an artillery man who had taken refuge under the caisson, where he crouched trembling like a leaf. I saw a sergeant ride up and point a pistol at his head, saying, "Come out from under there and do your duty, and you'll have some chance of your life, but if you stay there, by the Eternal, I'll blow your brains out." I didn't stay to see what the result was. Then, shortly after, I saw another soldier crouching in terror behind a tree. The next moment came a round shot, which went through the tree and absolutely decapitated the man! Major Stiles tells a story of a little army dog named "Bob Lee," who became demoralized at the battle of Chancellorsville and took shelter behind a tree, "crouching and squatting as a demoralized man might have done." He, however, escaped with his life!
I suppose these two men might, under other circumstances and on other occasions, have stood up to their duty as good soldiers. He who, on one particular day and under certain mental or physical conditions, may play the coward, may be steady and true on another day in face of danger. It is certainly a familiar fact that the bravest troops are sometimes for some unaccountable reason seized with panic. I may here say that I never felt inclined to dodge when a shell came shrieking through the air--simply because I always said to myself, "Why, you are just as liable to dodge your head into the shell as away from it--for you don't know at what point it will pass."
Another thing I saw that day, which is, I think, unusual, was this: a Parrott shell leaped into the midst of a group of men and exploded, killing and wounding several. It was close to me, and I saw the shell as it dropped. That was the unusual circumstance,--to see the shell come. Later in the battle my beautiful black was shot under me. The ball went right through his head. I heard the "thud" as it struck, and then the noble animal tumbled and fell, but I quickly withdrew my feet from the stirrups and as he fell over on one side, I sprang off on the other. My first thought as he lay there before me was, "How shall I ever pay Major Kyle for that horse?"
I left the field instantly to procure another horse, but before I returned, my chief, Gen. Geo. H. Steuart, had been shot by a canister ball, which pierced the upper part of the chest and lodged in the back.
It was then my duty, as of his personal staff, to procure an ambulance and carry him off the field, and after that to find quarters for him in some safe place within the lines.
The battle ended, as all know, in victory for Ewell. Jackson was on the field, but did not interfere with his subordinate. No officer contributed more to the success than our gallant Marylander, General Trimble. During the beginning of the battle of Cross Keys a sharp encounter took place on the other side of the mountain at Port Republic between some of Jackson's force and the advance brigade and cavalry of General Shields. The latter were driven back in confusion and with serious loss.
I find the following entry in my little diary on June 15th at the University of Virginia:
"Here I have been since Wednesday morning with General Steuart, who was wounded on Sunday in that terrible battle with Fremont's forces. This campaign with Jackson from May 23d to June 9th has been a most eventful one, fraught with danger and hardship beyond anything I have ever experienced. Yet God has brought me safely through it all. I have been in three pitched battles and numerous skirmishes. Last Sunday I had a horse shot under me, but my life has been graciously spared, and to-day I am a monument of God's merciful protection. . . . Last Sabbath, while riding backwards and forwards in a perfect hail of shell, cannon-balls, and bullets, I was deeply impressed with my entire dependence on God's care, and in gratitude for my preservation, I inwardly resolved to devote myself more perfectly to his service, and especially to urge my fellow men to repent and turn to God."
The battle of Port Republic was fought the next day, and Shields' army was hurled back down the Luray valley in confusion, with heavy loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners.
By these operations of Stonewall Jackson, McDowell's army of 40,000 men and 100 guns, which should have gone to McClellan's aid in his advance against Richmond, were held back, and thus Richmond was saved.
Taken from: A SOLDIER'S RECOLLECTIONS: LEAVES FROM THE DIARY OF A YOUNG CONFEDERATE, WITH AN ORATION ON THE MOTIVES AND AIMS OF THE SOLDIERS OF THE SOUTH, by Randolph Harrison McKim