The Battle of Front Royal - from The New York Herald, June 10, 1862
Special Army Correspondence.|
NEW MARKET, June 5, 1862.
How sweet is liberty! It is especially appreciated in circumstances like mine at present. The Union troops have just re-entered this town, which the rebel cavalry evacuated just one hour ago, and their presence has restored me my freedom. Oh! how I prize it. Every Union soldier seems a victor and a guardian angel, and their numbers and dash impart new courage to my depressed spirits. There, too, comes the artillery, and beyond the infantry, bearing along with them the glorious flag of the Union, while the strains of the several bands begin to fall in sweetest, cheerful chorus upon the ear, imparting new patriotism to the bosom. I have had the misfortune to have been a prisoner among the rebels since the memorable battle of the 23d of May at Front Royal. That battle was the Marathon of America and at last I glory in having an opportunity of describing it.
THE BATTLE OF FRONT ROYAL.
Never dreaming that an enemy was in the vicinity, I was musing over the dullness of the war in this department and the scarcity of excitement. This was about two o’clock on the afternoon of the 23d of May. A few cracks of musketry, not many yards distant, soon dispelled my reverie; but still I could scarcely believe that it was more than the pickets discharging their pieces, or that a few of the enemy’s scouts had made a dash at them. Another and another volley followed, and then, looking from the top of the hotel, large masses of the enemy’s cavalry were visible not more than six hundred yards off, while our pickets were retiring before them. My horse was soon mounted, and in the street I perceived Lieut. Devins, one of the division quartermasters, setting fire to his stores and preparing to ride to the headquarters of Col. Kenly’s First Maryland regiment to give the alarm. I followed, and Col. Kenly ordered the battalion out; and it was soon formed in line on the crest of a hill about a mile from the town. Meanwhile the skirmishing went on. One of our two companies engaged in picket duty was cut off, and the other, retiring rapidly, succeeded in rejoining the regiment, with a loss of two men killed, three or four captured, and five or six wounded. Our little force was now in battle array. The infantry consisted of what was left of the First Maryland regiment which could be rallied.
They numbered some six hundred men, and two companies of the Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania engaged in protecting the railroad bridge, two guns of Knapp’s Pennsylvania battery, under Lieutenant Atwell, and a company of the Fifth New York cavalry, under Major Philip G. Vought, which was across the river Shenandoah, about a mile and half in the rear. The enemy, perceiving the show of opposition presented to them, advanced cautiously and slowly. The artillery was placed on the left of the battalion commanding the road, and dropped shell after shell plump among the rebels, often compelling them to halt and change their tactics. Colonel Kenly ordered me to ride over the bridge and hurry up the cavalry. They were thrown out in our front and ordered to hold the enemy in check. Our whole force at this time did not exceed nine hundred men. Company A of the First Maryland, was thrown forward between the infantry and cavalry to act as skirmishers and support the cavalry. The force of the rebels was now apparent. They had twenty-two thousand men under Jackson and Ewell, and between fifty and sixty pieces of cannon, with four thousand dragoons. Part of their cavalry were ordered to flank us on the right, while Major Wheat, with two battalions of Louisiana Tigers and the Sixth Virginia cavalry, were sent out to perform a similar duty on the left. Their artillery was likewise got in position, but, as usual, its effects caused very trifling damage. The First Maryland rebel infantry advanced to attack us in front, while the vast force of the rebels were being rapidly advanced to seal the fate of the heroes of the American Marathon. A person came to Colonel Kenly and said: “Colonel, you cannot hope to withstand the shock of so heavy a force. Would it not be better to try and save your command by a hasty retreat than to risk its destruction?” “There is nothing for it, sir, but fight,” returned the Colonel testily; “It is the only way I can save Banks’ command.” The Colonel then directed me down to the river to cut the rope ferry and prevent the rebels under Wheat from flanking our left. The ferry was about a half a mile off and the rebel cavalry perceiving the movement gave chase to me. They were not in time to prevent the destruction of the ferry, however, and I escaped with no other harm than a bullet hole through my overcoat. The baggage was now ready to move over the bridge by the turnpike; the camp was fired, and with the loss of about twenty men killed and wounded we fell back behind the bridge over the south fork of the river. So far the flanking movements of the enemy had almost totally failed, and Jackson subsequently reprimanded Wheat for not executing his orders more promptly. No sooner were our troops across the bridge than the enemy’s infantry occupied our camp, and expressed their exultation by repeated cheers, which reached us distinctly. The camp was in flames, and little booty was procured in it. The enemy soon approached the bridge. The “Tigers” were in the advance, supported by Ashby cavalry and the First Maryland rebel infantry. Twice were they repulsed by our skirmishers, and Col. Bradly Johnston, of Maryland, was knocked off his horse and wounded in the arm, and Captain Sweets, admittedly the bravest officer in Ashby’s command, was killed. The enemy now became infuriated, rallied the third time, in overwhelming numbers, and drove our forces to the next bridge, about a quarter of a mile beyond. Here the artillery and skirmishers held the enemy in check, while an attempt was made to burn the second bridge, and thus delay the enemy’s advance. About a mile beyond there is a mountain pass where Colonel Kenly determined to make his final stand. Two locomotives, which had tried to run to Strasburg, returned with intelligence that the enemy were in our rear tearing up the railroad track and destroying the telegraph wire. Colonel Kenly now despatched couriers to Gen. Banks by different routes to apprise him of the condition of affairs. Some of these couriers made their way through and were the means of saving Banks’ division from destruction or capture. The attempt of our troops to fire the bridge over the north fork of the Shenandoah failed, and the enemy began now to close in around us. We fell back about a mile further at this juncture, maintaining perfect order, and, by a sudden turn in the mountain road, lost sight of the enemy for a few minutes. Col. Kenly directed me to the rear to order the cavalry to charge upon the enemy when they should appear, and to fall back upon the infantry for support. The artillery ammunition had given out and it was ordered to the front. The rebels shelled us over the hills, but the ground was soft, and most of their shells stuck in it when they fell and never exploded. At last the rebel cavalry again appeared encircling ours on three sides. They then made a charge, and Major Vought, with the greater part of our cavalry, believing further resistance hopeless, fled in dismay. Captain White, however, rallied sixteen of the troopers, and on the narrow road repulsed the enemy in the rear. This little band of heroes had soon to give way, however, and came running pell mell like the rest down through the infantry, the Sixth Virginia cavalry pursuing them in hot haste. Colonel Kenly now ordered the regiment over the fence on the roadside into a wheat field. By the time the rebel cavalry came along the right wing of the battalion had formed, and gave the advance guard of the enemy’s horse a close volley, so murderous that, out of thirty-nine men and officers composing it, only six succeeded in passing. Had our cavalry turned now they could have annihilated these, but their rout was too complete to rally. Colonel Kenly rode along to halt the artillery to give the rebels a round or two of grape. He got mixed up with the enemy’s cavalry, and was shot in the head, the bullet entering at his forehead and passing round his skull, coming out at the back of his head. “Surrender,” cried a rebel, with drawn sabre. Kenly took no notice of the summons, and was instantly killed by a sabre cut.
In the meantime the left wing of the regiment under Major Wilson delivered a scathing volley among the cavalry as they passed down along the battalion, thinning their ranks very perceptibly. The artillery and cavalry were now mingled together, and the infantry completely overpowered and surrounded, while the word […..] passed everywhere. Many officers and men were killed and wounded, and at length all was confusion. With sabres drawn over their heads, most of our force laid down their arms. Adjutant Farr, of the First Maryland, was knocked from his horse by a sabre cut. “Surrender,” cried the man who struck him. “Not yet,” said the Adjutant, as he attempted to draw his sabre. A second cut followed, and three or four rebels collected around him. Still the Adjutant persisted in drawing his sabre. “Kill the damned Yankee,” said one of them, as he drew his pistol to fire at him. A third sabre cut rendered the Adjutant almost senseless. The rebels then rode off, one of them remarking, “That is the bravest young fellow I ever met.” Before this I had doffed my overcoat, and displaying a gray one underneath passed myself repeatedly for a rebel officer, and rode among their cavalry.
This enabled me to be near the Adjutant when he fell, but, as I had no arms, I was powerless to assist him. He raised his eyes and recognized me. “Ah! Mr. _______, I am in a bad fix!” said he; but before more could be said the enemy’s cavalry swept me along with them, and I found myself surrounded on all sides by enemies before I was well aware of it. They captured our two guns, passed them, and pursued the cavalry. My object was to escape; so I kept in the front rank as long as possible; but my horse gave signs of fatigue, and I could not pass their fleetest animals. At length the stragglers of our cavalry were overtaken — some of them dropped from their saddles on each side of me, and one was cut down so close to me that the blood spouted on my hat and cheek. Soon after this my horse was slightly wounded, and I had to surrender with the rest, and found myself marched off a prisoner of war, with a pistol at my head, and a threat that if I moved hand or foot for five minutes my brains would strew the road. A rebel officer, Captain Candell, of Ewell's staff came along and I gave myself up to him then. He had already taken charge of the Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel Dushane, and the Major of the First Maryland, while Dr. Mitchell, who was himself slightly wounded, was unremitting in his attendance upon the Colonel and the Adjutant, who were in an ambulance before us.
The battle was now over, after having continued from two P.M. till dark. Our forces lost about 200 killed and wounded, while all we had was either captured or destroyed. A list of the killed and wounded has already been sent through the lines to the friends of the victims. The enemy’s loss before they succeeded in overpowering the regiment was 183 killed and wounded.
This terminated this unequal but heroic struggle, and General Jackson, who commanded the enemy, is reported to have said that what he intended to have accomplished in fifteen minutes took him four hours.
INCIDENTS OF THE BATTLE.
One incident, illustrative of the spirit of the regiment, occurred after it became evident that all was lost. Lieutenant Kemper, perceiving the position of affairs, seized the regimental standard, and tearing it from the flag staff, exclaimed, the rebels shall never have this. He then wrapped the flag around his body, and seizing a riderless horse, galloped off, cutting his way through the rebel cavalry before they had time to discover his movements. This officer was not among the prisoners taken by the rebels, so that he must either have effected his escape, or have been killed. Many other incidents of equal interest might be given, but time and space do not permit of it.
THE BATTLE FIELD AFTER THE BATTLE.
As soon as the thunder and war whoop of the battle terminated, the scene which followed presented a lamentable and striking contrast to that which had preceded it. The road and the fields adjoining it were strewn with corpses of brave men, in whom the blood of life had circulated so shortly before. The moans of the wounded were heard on every side, and night spread her dark pall over this scene of mortality and carnage, while, to add to the sufferings of the wounded, the clouds threatened rain, which actually fell in torrents before long.
CAPTIVITY AMONG THE REBELS.
As I said before, I was among the prisoners after the battle. The place where our little force was overpowered and captured was some seven miles from Front Royal, and it was here our captivity commenced. Colonel Kenly and Adjutant Farr were placed in one of our own ambulances and driven towards Front Royal, while the Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Doctor and myself followed, closely guarded by cavalry on the flanks and rear. Captain Cardell, who had us in charge, repeatedly assured us that we would be well treated, and one of our party at last began to make up his mind to make the most of it and be satisfied with his condition. The ambulance broke down. Colonel Kenly was transferred to a horseback and the Adjutant was moved cautiously along in the broken ambulance.
GENERAL JACKSON AND OUR CORRESPONDENT.
We had not proceeded far before our jailer said: — “Oh there is General Jackson;” and then he rushed to the side of the road along which a middle sized, florid complexioned, active looking officer in the gray uniform of the rebels was riding, and said: —
“General.” The person addressed stopped, and our jailor continued, “I have the Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel and all the field and staff here, and here is the HERALD’S correspondent with the rest.”
Jackson reached his hand and caught mine, remarking he was glad to see any one connected with the American Thunderer.
“I am very glad to see you under the circumstances, General,” said I, “I hope you will be good enough to pass me out of your lines as soon as possible.”
At this the General’s face changed slightly. He remarked he had not time to attend to that just then, and rode off.
THE REBEL PLANS.
The rebel officers collected around us now as we proceeded towards Front Royal. They stated what they were about to accomplish. Banks and his whole command was to be captured next day. Jackson was to be in Maryland on Sunday, where he was to be joined by forty thousand men. Kirby Smith was to be in Hagerstown on Sunday night, and march thence the following day to Frederick, where he would form a junction with Jackson and the Maryland malcontents, and the next day commence a grand movement on Washington and Baltimore simultaneously. And thus were we consoled as we were driven prisoners to Front Royal.
THE OBJECTS OF THE ATTACK.
Now here let me state what were the chief objects of Jackson’s great movement, as I have learned them from the rebel officers.
FIRST — To capture supplies.
SECONDLY — To destroy Banks’ command and produce trouble in Maryland; and,
THIRDLY — To make a demonstration on Washington, for the purpose of drawing McClellan off from Richmond.
In all these objects he totally failed.
OUR QUARTERS AT FRONT ROYAL.
At Front Royal the quarters given to us consisted of the Court House. One room up stairs was allotted to the officers, and the rest of the building was given to the men. Wounded and well used the floor for a bed. For refreshments they sent us up some bread and cheese, taken from one of our own sutlers, while they sent crackers to the men. They gave us as much water as we required. That night was one of anxiety to every one of us. Next day we were sent biscuits for breakfast, which was all we received that day.
During the day we could hear the sound of cannon in the direction of Strasburg, which told us that Banks was attacked, and who could attempt to describe our feelings then of hope and fear for the safety of the forces at Strasburg. The cannonade gradually became more indistinct, and we knew that Banks was retreating; but the rebels reported that he was cut off and most certainly surrender with his whole force. None of us believed this report, however, and what was our joy to learn that he had made good his retreat in order and without serious loss. No more rations were given us that day. Sunday came, and we were served with one meal of crackers and salt beef, and Monday morning it was announced to us that we would be
MARCHED TO WINCHESTER.
Each man had a few crackers served out to him to prepare him for the march. At noon we set out for Winchester, elated with the hope that we could only be sent there for release, as there was a rumor previously that we were to go to Lynchburg. The announcement that we were to march to Winchester, therefore was received with joy. The officers sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the men took up the chorus and made the music resound through the village. The march of twenty miles from Front Royal to Winchester fell severely on many of us, who had never marched before. Our escort consisted of the Second Virginia cavalry, Twenty-first Virginia infantry and part of the Louisiana Tigers. While at Front Royal, as well as to the end of my prison experience, we were closely guarded and not allowed to go anywhere for any purpose without a sentry.
We were given the railroad depot for quarters. This was filthy and entirely too small. There was not room enough for the men to lie on the floor, however closely packed. The officers were in a similar predicament. They were quartered in a little ticket office, where they had not room enough to lie even on the floor, and many had to remain in sitting postures all night. Next day the officers were paroled, and there was then room enough for all that were left to lie on the floor. Thus were we kept at Winchester till Saturday, June 1, when we were marched off to Cedar creek.
THE RATIONS ALLOWED us daily were four crackers, and two days while at Winchester we had about one ounce of fat pork, which many were glad to devour uncooked. Through mud we marched to Cedar creek, and slept out in the rain that night in a muddy field. Next morning we marched to Woodstock, being allowed one ration of the usual kind and most inferior quality. On Monday, the 3d inst., we were marched to Mount Jackson, and Tuesday we were marched two miles beyond New Market. It rained on us nearly all the time.
AT MOUNT JACKSON, However, we were quartered in the hospital buildings. Meantime, the case of every one was miserable. All were treated alike. No communication was allowed between our officers and men, and citizens were treated as common soldiers. Jackson carried off all the Northern men he could lay hands on, and made prisoners of them with the rest. It was reported, the morning I was released, that one of our men the day before had tried to end his life by throwing himself under the wheels of the artillery wagon on which he rode, and that failing in this he knocked out his brains against a stone fence.
GEN. JACKSON HAS ANOTHER CONVERSATION WITH OUR CORRESPONDENT.
I wrote a letter to Jackson a few days before this stating who I was and the business in which I was engaged, and asking to be liberated. On the morning of Wednesday last I received an answer, and an order for my release and to see General Jackson. The prisoners were about to be marched off to Harrisonburg, and many of them before starting gave me a letter to mail to their friends. I went to Jackson’s headquarters, as directed, without loss of time. This time he wore a blue military overcoat. When I was introduced to him I could perceive that his hazel eye, peeping out from his full bearded face, was eyeing me attentively. The following is an account of the interview I then had with this celebrated character of the great rebellion: —
Having shaken hands with me, Jackson said: — “Be seated, sir; […..] you have a glass of water?” I accepted both, and, after some commonplace civilities, observed: —
“General, I suppose you will restore me my horse and my clothes?”
“Oh!” replied he, […..] was taken in the camp and must be considered contraband of war.”
“But as I was supposed to be a non-combatant I stand as a neutral, and you know it to be a law of nations that a neutral flag covers neutral goods”
“Yes,” returned the rebel chieftain; “the Southern confederacy is not recognized by neutral nations, and, consequently, cannot be bound by neutral laws.”
“Do you then mean to make war on all neutrals by seizing their property, General?”
Jackson did not reply to this, but twisted his beard, and, after some pause, directed me to see him next day at nine A.M. Next day I was there to the moment; but, to my great surprise, was informed that Jackson had left at three o’clock in the morning, and that I was then without the lines of his army.
THE UNION TROOPS entered the town the same afternoon, and the scenes which followed have already been described in the beginning of this communication.
CONDITION OF THE REBEL ARMY.
The rebels are in a state of destitution. It is but justice to say that when they fed their prisoners so badly they were on short allowance themselves. Their clothes are in tatters, and they have no semblance of uniform. Their drill is very bad, but they are very submissive to their officers. Their arms are generally good, but in some cases very inferior. They are mostly confident of winning what they call their independence. I met two or three avowed Union men among them, however, who long for the time when they can stand once more in favor of the old flag, instead of against it, to do battle. Everything is enormously high. A pair of boots among the rebels costs $25 for instance, which could be had anywhere else for one quarter of the money. It is much the same with every other article of manufactured goods of whatever description. There is not one rebel soldier or officer whom I met who is not heartily sick and tired of the war. A large proportion of Jackson’s army are citizens who rally to his standard when he goes to fight, and return to their homes and usual occupations as soon as the strife is over. This and the absence of uniform in the rebel army makes it difficult often to tell who are prisoners of war and who are not.
OUR RESCUERS SEEN.
During our march from Strasburg to New Market the sound of the artillery was frequently audible in our rear. Every gun told us our friends were near in force and that the enemy was running for fear of them. Once we were actually in sight of the Union military corps at Mount Jackson, drawn up in line of battle, about two miles from where we were. How every prisoner’s heart beat at that moment! But a column of smoke in our rear proclaimed the bridge between the Union troops and the rebels in flames, and all our fondly cherished hopes of immediate rescue were quickly dispelled, and gloomily as ever we pursued our way, marching under a burning sun, many of our men dropping out of the ranks from exhaustion.
THE WOUNDED ON THE FIELD.
The greater part of our wounded lay where they fell for at least twelve hours before anything was done to relieve them. They were removed finally to different houses in the vicinity, and some were taken to Front Royal. The Union dead were buried by the rebels on Saturday, May 24, the day after the battle.