Report of Lieut. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson of the Battle of Port Republic
HDQRS. SECOND CORPS, ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
April 14, 1863
GENERAL: I have the honor herewith to submit to you a report of the battle of Port Republic, fought on June 8 and 9, 1862:
Having through the blessing of an ever-kind Providence passed Strasburg before the Federal armies under Generals Shields and Fremont effected the contemplated junction in my rear, as referred to in the report of the battle of Winchester, I continued to move up the Valley turnpike, leaving Strasburg on the evening of June 1. The cavalry under Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart brought up the rear.
Fremont's advance, which had been near us during the day, soon ascertained that our retreat had been resumed, and, pursuing after dark, succeeded, when challenged by replying "Ashby's cavalry," in approaching so near our rear guard as to attack it. The Sixth Virginia Cavalry, being nearest the enemy, was thrown into confusion and suffered some loss. Disorder was also to some extent communicated to the Second Virginia Cavalry, but its commander, Colonel Munford, soon reformed it, and gallantly drove back the Federals and captured some of their number.
From information received respecting Shields' movements, and from the fact that he had been in possession of Front Royal for over forty-eight hours and had not succeeded in effecting a junction with Fremont, as originally designed, I became apprehensive that he was moving via Luray for the purpose of reaching New Market, on my line of retreat, before my command should arrive there. To avoid such a result I caused White House Bridge, which was upon his assumed line of march, over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, to New Market, to be burned, and also Columbia Bridge, which was a few miles farther up the river.
On June 2 the enemy's advance came within artillery-range of and commenced shelling our rear guard, which caused most of the cavalry and that part of its artillery nearest the enemy to retreat in disorder. This led General Ashby to one of those acts of personal heroism and prompt resource which strikingly marked his character. Dismounting from his horse, he collected from the road a small body of infantry from those who from fatigue were straggling behind their commands, and posting them in a piece of wood near the turnpike he awaited the advance of the Federal cavalry, now pushing forward to reap the fruits of the panic produced by the shells. As they approached within easy range he poured such an effective fire into their ranks as to empty a number of saddles and check their farther pursuit for that day. Having transferred the Second and Sixth Virginia Cavalry to Ashby, he was placed in command of the rear guard.
On the 3d, after my command had crossed the bridge over the Shenandoah near Mount Jackson, General Ashby was ordered to destroy it, which he barely succeeded in accomplishing before the Federal forces reached the opposite bank of the river. Here his horse was killed by the enemy, and he made a very narrow escape with his life.
We reached Harrisonburg at an early hour on the morning of the 5th, and passing beyond that town turned toward the east in the direction of Port Republic.
On the 6th General Ashby took position on the road between Harrisonburg and Port Republic, and received a spirited charge from a portion of the enemy's cavalry, which resulted in the repulse of the enemy and the capture of Colonel Wyndham and 63 others. Apprehending that the Federals would make a more serious attack, Ashby called for an infantry support. The brigade of Brig. Gen. George H. Steuart was accordingly ordered forward. In a short time the Fifty-eighth Virginia Regiment became engaged with a Pennsylvania regiment called the Bucktails, when Colonel Johnson, of the First, Maryland Regiment, coming up in the hottest period of the fire, charged gallantly into its flank and drove the enemy with heavy loss from the field, capturing Lieutenant-Colonel Kane, commanding.
In this skirmish our infantry loss was 17 killed, 50 wounded, and 3 missing. In this affair General Turner Ashby was killed.
An official report is not an appropriate place for more than a passing notice of the distinguished dead, but the close relation which General Ashby bore to my command for most of the previous twelve month, will justify me in saying that as a partisan officer I never knew his superior; his daring was proverbial; his powers of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.
The main body of my command had now reached the vicinity of Port Republic. This village is situated in the angle formed by the junction of the North and South Rivers, tributaries of the South Fork of the Shenandoah. Over the larger and deeper of those two streams, the North River, there was a wooden bridge, connecting the town with the road leading to Harrisonburg. Over the South River there was a passable ford. The troops were immediately under my own eye; were encamped on the high ground north of the village, about a mile from the river. General Ewell was some 4 miles distant, near the road leading from Harrisonburg to Port Republic. General Fremont had arrived with his forces in the vicinity of Harrisonburg, and General Shields was moving up the east side of the South Fork of the Shenandoah, and was then at Conrad's Store, some 15 miles below Port Republic, my position being about equal distance from both hostile armies. To prevent a junction of the two Federal armies I had caused the bridge over the South Fork of the Shenandoah at Conrad's Store to be destroyed. Intelligence having been received that General Shields was advancing farther up the river, Captain Sipe with a small cavalry force was sent down during the night of the 7th to verify the report and gain such other information respecting the enemy as he could. Capt. G. W. Myers, of the cavalry, was subsequently directed to move with his company in the same direction, for the purpose of supporting Captain Sipe, if necessary.
The next morning Captain Myers' company came rushing back in disgraceful disorder, announcing that the Federal forces were in close pursuit. Captain Chipley and his company of cavalry, which was in town, also shamefully fled. The brigades of Generals Taliaferro and Winder were soon under arms and ordered to occupy positions immediately north of the bridge. By this time the Federal cavalry, accompanied by artillery, were in sight, and after directing a few shots toward the bridge they crossed South River, and dashing into the village they planted one of their pieces at the southern entrance of the bridge. In the mean time the batteries of Weeding, Poague, and Carpenter were being placed in position, and General Taliaferro's brigade, having reached the vicinity of the bridge, was ordered to charge across, capture the piece, and occupy the town. While one of Poague's pieces was returning the fire of that of the enemy at the far end of the bridge the Thirty-seventh Virginia Regiment, Colonel Fulkerson, after delivering its fire, gallantly charged over the brigade, captured the gun, and, followed by the other regiments of the brigade, entered the town and dispersed and drove back the Federal cavalry. Another piece of artillery with which the Federal cavalry had advanced was abandoned and subsequently fell into our hands.
About this time a considerable body of infantry was seen advancing up the same road. Our batteries opened with marked effect upon the retreating cavalry and advancing infantry. In a short time the infantry followed the cavalry, falling back to Lewis', 3 miles down the river, pursued for a mile by our batteries on the opposite bank, when the enemy disappeared in the wood around a bend in the road. This attack of General Shields had hardly been repulsed before Ewell was seriously engaged with Fremont, moving on the opposite side of the river. The enemy pushed forward, driving in the Fifteenth Alabama, Colonel Cantey, from their post on picket. This regiment made a gallant resistance, which so far checked the Federal advance as to afford to General Ewell time for the choice of his position at leisure. His ground was well selected, on a commanding ridge, a rivulet and large field of open ground in front, wood on both flanks, and his line intersected near its center by the road leading to Port Republic. General Trimble's brigade was posted on the right, somewhat in advance of his center. The batteries of Courtney, Lusk, Brockenbrough, and Raine in the center; General Steuart's brigade on the left, and General Elzey's brigade in rear of the center, and in position to strengthen either wing. Both wings were in the wood.
About 10 o'clock the enemy threw out his skirmishers and shortly after posted his artillery opposite to our batteries. The artillery fire was kept up with great animation and spirit on both sides for several hours. In the mean time a brigade of Federal forces advanced, under cover, upon the right, occupied by General Trimble, who reserved his fire until they reached the crest of the hill, in easy range of his musketry, when he poured a deadly fire from his whole front, under which they fell back. Observing a battery about being posted on the enemy's left, half a mile in front, General Trimble, now supported by the Thirteenth and Twenty-fifth Virginia Regiments, of Elzey's brigade, pushed forward for the purpose of taking it, but found it withdrawn before he reached the spot, having in the mean time some spirited skirmishing with its infantry supports. General Trimble had now advanced more than a mile, from his original position, while the Federal advance had fallen back to the ground occupied by them in the morning.
General Taylor, of the Eighth Brigade of Louisiana troops, having arrived from the vicinity of the bridge at Port Republic, toward which he had moved in the morning, reported to General Ewell about 2 p.m. and was placed in rear. Colonel Patton, with the 42d and 48th Virginia Regiments and 1st Battalion of Virginia Regulars, also joined, and with the remainder of General Elzey's brigade was added to the center and left, then supposed to be threatened. General Ewell--having been informed by Lieutenant Hinrichs, of the Engineer Corps, who had been sent out to reconnoiter, that the enemy was moving a large column on his left--did not advance at once, but subsequently ascertaining that no attack was designed by the force referred to, he advanced, drove in the enemy's skirmishers, and when night closed was in position on ground previously held by the enemy. During this fighting Brigadier-Generals Elzey and Steuart were wounded and disabled from command.
This engagement with Fremont has generally been known as the battle of Cross Keys, in which our troops were commanded by General Ewell. I had remained at Port Republic during the principal part of the 8th, expecting a renewal of the attack. As no movement was made by General Shields to renew the action that day, I determined to take the initiative and attack him the following morning. Accordingly General Ewell was directed to move from his position at an early hour on the morning of the 9th toward Port Republic, leaving General Trimble, with his brigade, supported by Colonel Patton, with the Forty-second Virginia Infantry and the First Battalion of Virginia Regulars, to hold Fremont in check, with instructions, if hard pressed, to retire across the North River and burn the bridge in their rear. Soon after 10 o'clock General Trimble, with the last of our forces, had crossed the North River and the bridge was destroyed.
In the mean time, before 5 in the morning, General Winder's brigade was in Port Republic, and having crossed the South Fork by a temporary wagon bridge placed there for the purpose, was moving down the River road to attack the forces of General Shields. Advancing 1Ѕ miles he encountered the Federal pickets and drove them in. The enemy had judiciously selected his position for defense. Upon a rising ground, near the Lewis house, he had planted six guns, which commanded the road from Port Republic and swept the plateau for a considerable distance in front. As General Winder moved forward his brigade a rapid and severe fire of shell was opened upon it. Captain Poague, with two Parrott guns, was promptly placed in position on the left of the road to engage, and if possible dislodge, the Federal battery. Captain Carpenter was sent to the right to select a position for his battery, but finding it impracticable to drag it through the dense undergrowth, it was brought back and part of it placed near Poague. The artillery fire was well sustained by our batteries, but found unequal to that of the enemy.
In the mean time, Winder being now re-enforced by the Seventh Louisiana Regiment, Colonel Hays, seeing no mode of silencing the Federal battery or escaping its destructive missiles but by a rapid charge and the capture of it, advanced with great boldness for some distance, but encountered such a heavy fire of artillery and small arms as greatly to disorganize his commuted, which fell back in disorder. The enemy advanced across the field, and by a heavy musketry-fire forced back our infantry supports, in consequence of which our guns had to retire. The enemy's advance was checked by a spirited attack upon their flank by the Fifty-eighth and Fifty-fourth Virginia Regiments, directed by General Ewell and led by Colonel Scott, although his command was afterward driven back to the woods with severe loss. The batteries were all safely withdrawn, except one of Captain Poague's 6-pounder guns, which was carried off by the enemy.
While Winder's command was in this critical condition the gallant and successful attack of General Taylor on the Federal left and rear diverted attention from the front, and led to a concentration of their force upon him. Moving to the right along the mountain acclivity through a rough and tangled forest, and much disordered by the rapidity and obstructions of the march, Taylor emerged with his command from the wood just as the loud cheers of the enemy had proclaimed their success in front, and, although assailed by a superior force in front and flank, with their guns in position, within point-blank range, the charge was gallantly made, and the battery, consisting of six guns, fell into our hands. Three times was this battery lost and won in the desperate and determined efforts to capture and recover it. After holding the battery for a short time a fresh brigade of the enemy, advancing upon his flank, made a vigorous and well conducted attack upon him, accompanied by a galling fire of canister from a piece suddenly brought into position at a distance of about 350 yards. Under this combined attack Taylor fell back to the skirt of the wood near which the captured battery was stationed, and from that point continued his fire upon the advancing enemy, who succeeded in recapturing one of the guns, which he carried off, leaving both caisson and limber. The enemy, now occupied with Taylor, halted his advance to the front. Winder made a renewed effort to rally his command, and, succeeding, with the Seventh Louisiana, under Major Penn (the colonel and lieutenant-colonel having been carried from the field wounded), and the Fifth Virginia Regiment, Colonel Funk, he placed part of Poague's battery in the position previously occupied by it, and again opened upon the enemy, who were moving against Taylor's left flank, apparently to surround him in the woods.
Chew's battery now reported and was placed in position, and did good service. Soon after guns from the batteries of Brockenbrough, Courtney, and Rains were brought forward and placed in position. While these movements were in progress on the left and front Colonel Scott, having rallied his command, led them, under the orders of General Ewell, to the support of General Taylor, who, pushing forward with the re-enforcements just received, and assisted by the well-directed fire of our artillery, forced the enemy to fall back, which was soon followed by his precipitate retreat, leaving many killed and wounded upon the field.
General Taliaferro, who the previous day had occupied the town, was directed to continue to do so with part of his troops, and with the remainder to hold the elevated position on the north side of the river, for the purpose of co-operating, if necessary, with General Trimble and preventing his being cut off from the main body of the army by the destruction of the bridge in his rear; but, finding the resistance more obstinate than I anticipated, orders were sent to Taliaferro and Trimble to join the main body. Taliaferro came up in time to discharge an effective volley into the ranks of the wavering and retreating enemy. The pursuit was continued some 5 miles beyond the battle-field by Generals Taliaferro and Winder with their brigades and portions of the batteries of Wooding and Caskie. Colonel Munford, with cavalry and some artillery, advanced about 3 miles beyond the other troops.
Our forces captured in the pursuit about 450 prisoners, some wagons, one piece of abandoned artillery, and about 800 muskets. Some 275 wounded were paroled in the hospitals near Port Republic.
While the forces of Shields were in full retreat and our troops in pursuit Fremont appeared on the opposite bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah with his army, and opened his artillery upon our ambulances and parties engaged in the humane labors of attending to our dead and wounded and the dead and wounded of the enemy. The next day withdrawing his forces, he retreated down the valley. On the morning of the 12th, Munford entered Harrisonburg, where, in addition to wagons, medical stores, and camp equipage, he captured some 200 small-arms. At that point there also fell into our hands about 200 of Fremont's men, many of them severely wounded on the 8th, and most of the others had been left behind as sick. The Federal surgeons attending them were released and those under their care paroled. The official reports of the casualties of the battle show a loss of 16 officers killed, 67 wounded, and 2 missing; 117 non-commissioned officers and privates killed, 862 wounded, and 32 missing, making a total lossof 1,096, including skirmishes on the 6th. Since evacuation of Winchester, 1,167; also one piece of artillery. If we add to the prisoners captured on the 6th and 9th those who were paroled at Harrisonburg and in the hospitals in the vicinity of Port Republic it will make the number of the enemy who fell into our possession about 975, exclusive of his killed and such of his wounded as he removed. The small-arms taken on the 9th and at Harrisonburg numbered about 1,000. We captured seven pieces of artillery, with their caissons, and all of their limbers except one.
The conduct of officers and men during the action merits high praise. During the battle I received valuable assistance in the transmission of orders from the following members of my staff: Col. Abner Smead, assistant inspector-general; Maj. R. L. Dabney, assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. A. S. Pendleton, aide-de-camp; First Lieut. H. K. Douglas, assistant inspector-general; First Lieut. J. K. Boswell, chief engineer, and Col. William L. Jackson, volunteer aide-de-camp. The medical director of the army, Dr. Hunter McGuire, gave special attention to the comfort and treatment of the wounded. Maj. W. J. Hawks, chief commissary, and Maj. J. A. Harman, chief quartermaster, had their departments in good condition.
For further information respecting the conduct of officers and men who distinguished themselves, as well as for a more detailed account of the movements of the troops, I would respectfully refer you to the accompanying official reports of other officers.
I forward herewith two maps by Mr. J. Hotchkiss, one giving the route of the enemy during the retreat from Strasburg to Port Republic and the other of the battle-field.
On the 12th the troops recrossed South River and encamped near Weyer's Cave.
For the purpose of rendering thanks to God for having crowned our arms with success, and to implore his continued favor, divine service was held in the army on the 14th.
The army remained near Weyer's Cave until the 17th, when, in obedience to instructions from the commanding general of the department, it moved toward Richmond.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. J. JACKSON,
Brig. Gen. R. H. CHILTON,