Reports of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, U.S. Army, commanding Department of the Shenandoah, of operations May 14-June 16, and including instructions from the President and Secretary of War.
MAY 15--JUNE 17, 1862.--Operations in the Shenandoah Valley.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 15 [S# 15]
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SHENANDOAH,
Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.
Information was received at headquarters on the evening of May 23 that the enemy in very large force had descended upon the guard at Front Royal, Colonel Kenly, First Maryland Regiment, commanding, burning the bridges and driving our troops toward Strasburg with great loss.
Owing to what was deemed an extravagant statement of the enemy's strength these reports were received with some distrust, but a regiment of infantry, with a strong detachment of cavalry and a section of artillery, was immediately sent to re-enforce Colonel Kenly. Later in the evening dispatches from fugitives who had escaped to Winchester informed us that Colonel Kenly's force had been destroyed with but few exceptions, and the enemy, 15,000 or 20,000 strong, were advancing by rapid marches on Winchester. Orders were immediately given to halt the re-enforcements sent to Front Royal, which had moved by different routes, and detachments of troops, under experienced officers, were sent in every direction to explore the roads leading from Front Royal to Strasburg, Middletown, Newtown, and Winchester, and ascertain the force, position, and purpose of this sudden movement of the enemy. It was soon found that his pickets were in possession of every road, and rumors from every quarter represented him in movement in the rear of his pickets in the direction of our camp.
The extraordinary force of the enemy could no longer be doubted. It was apparent also that they had a more extended purpose than the capture of the brave little band at Front Royal. This purpose could be nothing less than the defeat of my own command or its possible capture by occupying Winchester, and by this movement intercepting supplies or re-enforcements, and cutting off all possibility of retreat. It was also apparent from the reports of fugitives, prisoners, Union men, and our reconnoitering parties that the three divisions of the enemy's troops known to be in the valley, and embracing at least 25,000 men, were united, and close upon us in some enterprise not yet developed. The suggestion that had their object been a surprise they would not have given notice of their approach by an attack on Front Royal was answered by the fact that on the only remaining point of assault--the Staunton road---our outposts were 5 miles in advance, and daily reconnaissances made for a distance of 12 miles toward Woodstock. Under this interpretation of the enemy's plans our position demanded instant decision and action. Three courses were open to us: First, a retreat across Little North Mountain to the Potomac River on the west; second, an attack upon the enemy's flank on the Front Royal road; third, a rapid movement direct upon Winchester, with a view to anticipate his occupation of the town by seizing it ourselves, thus placing my command in communication with its original base of operations in the line of re-enforcements by Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg, and securing a safe retreat in case of disaster. To remain at Strasburg was to be surrounded; to move over the mountains was to abandon our train at the outset and subject my command to flank attacks without possibility of succor, and to attack the enemy in such overwhelming force could only result in certain destruction. It was determined, therefore, to enter the lists with the enemy in a race or a battle, as he should choose, for the possession of Winchester, the key of the valley, and for us the position of safety.
At 3 o'clock a.m. the 24th instant the re-enforcements (infantry, artillery, and cavalry) sent to Kenly were recalled; the advance guard, (Colonel Donnelly's brigade) was ordered to return to Strasburg; several hundred disabled men left in our charge by Shields' division were put upon the march, and our wagon train ordered forward to Winchester, under escort of cavalry and infantry. General Hatch, with nearly our whole force of cavalry and six pieces of artillery, was charged with the protection of the rest of the column and the destruction of any stores for which transportation was not provided, with instructions to remain in front of the town as long as possible and hold the enemy in check, our expectations of an attack being in that direction. All these orders were executed with incredible celerity, and soon after 9 o'clock the column was on the march, Colonel Donnelly in front, Colonel Gordon in center, and General Hatch in the rear, the whole under direction of Brigadier-General Williams, commanding division.
The column had passed Cedar Creek, about 3 miles from Strasburg, with the exception of the rear guard, still in front of Strasburg, when information was received from the front that the enemy had attacked the train and was in full possession of the road at Middletown. This report was confirmed by the return of fugitives, refugees, and wagons, which came tumbling to the rear in fearful confusion.
It being apparent now that our immediate danger was in front, the troops were ordered to the head of the column and the train to the rear, and in view of a possible necessity of our return to Strasburg, Capt. James W. Abert, Topographical Corps, who associated with him the Zouaves d'Afrique, Captain Collis, was ordered to prepare Cedar Creek bridge for the flames, in order to prevent a pursuit in that direction by the enemy. In the execution of this order Captain Abert and the Zouaves were cut off from the column, which they joined again at Williamsport. They had at Strasburg a very sharp conflict with the enemy, in which his cavalry suffered severely. An interesting report of this affair will be found in the reports of Captain Abert and Captain Collis.
THE FIRST COMBAT.
The head of the reorganized column, Colonel Donnelly commanding, encountered the enemy in force at Middletown, about 13 miles from Winchester. Three hundred troops had been seen in town, but it soon appeared that larger forces were in the rear. The brigade halted, and the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania, Colonel Knipe, was ordered to penetrate the woods on the right and dislodge the enemy's skirmishers. They were supported by a section of Cothran's New York battery. Five companies of the enemy's cavalry were discovered in an open field in rear of the woods, and our artillery, masked at first by the infantry, opened fire upon them. They stood fire for a while, but at length retreated, pursued by our skirmishers. The Twenty-eighth New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown, was now brought up, and under a heavy fire of infantry and artillery the enemy were driven back more than 2 miles from the pike. Colonel Donnelly being informed at this point by a citizen in great alarm that 4,000 men were in the woods beyond, the men were anxious to continue the fight, but as this would have defeated our object by the loss of valuable time, with the exception of a small guard they were ordered to resume the march. This affair occurred under my own observation, and I have great pleasure in vouching for the admirable conduct of officers and men. We lost I man killed and some wounded. The loss of the enemy could not be ascertained. This episode, with the change of front, occupied nearly an hour, but it saved our column. Had the enemy vigorously attacked our train while <ar15_548> at the head of the column it would have been thrown into such dire confusion as to have made the successful continuation of our march impossible. Pending this contest Colonel Brodhead, of the First Michigan Cavalry, was ordered to advance, and, if possible, to cut his way through and occupy Winchester. It was the report of this energetic officer that gave us the first assurance that our course was yet clear, and he was the first of our column to enter the town.
THE SECOND COMBAT.
When it was first reported that the enemy had pushed between us and Winchester General Hatch was ordered to advance with all available cavalry from Strasburg, leaving Colonel De Forest to cover the rear and destroy stores not provided with transportation.
Major Vought, Fifth New York Cavalry, had been previously ordered to reconnoiter the Front Royal road to ascertain the position of the enemy, whom he encountered in force near Middletown, and was compelled to fall back, immediately followed by the enemy's cavalry, infantry, and artillery. In this affair 5 of our men were killed and some wounded. The loss of the enemy is not known.
After repeated attempts to force a passage through the lines of the enemy, now advanced to the pike, General Hatch, satisfied that this result could not be accomplished without great loss, and supposing our army to have proceeded but a short distance, turned to the left, and moving upon a parallel road, made several ineffectual attempts to effect a junction with the main column. At Newtown, however, he found Colonel Gordon, holding the enemy in check, and joined his brigade. Major Collins, with three companies of cavalry, mistaking the point where the main body of the cavalry left the road, dashed upon the enemy until stopped by a barricade of wagons and a tempestuous fire of infantry and artillery. His loss must have been severe.
Six companies of the Fifth New York, Colonel De Forest, and six companies of the First Vermont, Colonel Tompkins, after repeated and desperate efforts to effect a junction with the main body, the road now being filled with infantry, artillery, and cavalry, fell back to Strasburg, where they found the Zouaves d'Afrique. The Fifth New York, failing to effect a junction at Winchester, and also at Martinsburg, came in at Clear Spring with a train of 32 wagons and many stragglers. The First Vermont, Colonel Tompkins, joined in at Winchester with six pieces of artillery, and participated in the fight of the next morning. Nothing could surpass the celerity and spirit with which the various companies of cavalry executed their movements and their intrepid charges upon the enemy.
General Hatch deserves great credit for the manner in which he discharged his duties as chief of cavalry in this part of our march as well as at the fight at Winchester and in covering the rear of our column to the river, but especially for the spirit infused into his troops during the brief period of his command, which, by confession of friend and foe, had been made equal, if not superior, to the best of the enemy's long-trained mounted troops. From this point the protection of the rear of the column devolved upon the forces under Colonel Gordon.
THE THIRD COMBAT.
The rear guard having been separated from the column, and the rear of the train attacked by an increased force near the bridge between Newtown and Kernstown, Colonel Gordon was directed by General Williams to send back the Second Massachusetts, Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews commanding; the Twenty-seventh Indiana, Colonel Colgrove, and the Twenty-eighth New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown, to rescue the rear of the train and hold the enemy in check. They found him at Newtown with a strong force of infantry, artillery, and cavalry. The Second Massachusetts was deployed in the field, supported by the Twenty-eighth New York and Twenty-seventh Indiana, and ordered to drive the enemy from the town, and the battery was at the same time so placed as to silence the guns of the enemy. Both these objects were quickly accomplished. They found it impossible to reach Middletown, so as to enable the cavalry under General Hatch to join the column or to cover entirely the rear of the train. Large bodies of the enemy's cavalry pressed upon our right and left, and the increased vigor of his movements demonstrated the rapid advance of the main body. A cavalry charge made upon our troops was received in squares on the right and on the road and in line on the left, which repelled his assault and gained time to reform the train, to cover its rear, and to burn the disabled wagons. This affair occupied several hours, the regiments having been moved to the rear about 6 o'clock, and not reaching the town until after 12. A full report by Colonel Gordon, who commanded in person, is inclosed herewith. The principal loss of the Second Massachusetts occurred in this action.
THE FIGHT AT WINCHESTER.
The strength and purpose of the enemy were to us unknown when we reached Winchester, except upon surmise and vague rumors from Front Royal. These rumors were strengthened by the vigor with which the enemy had pressed our main column and defeated at every point efforts of detached forces to effect a junction with the main body. At Winchester, however, all suspense was relieved on that subject. All classes--secessionists, Union men, refugees, fugitives, and prisoners---agreed that the enemy's force at or near Winchester was overwhelming, ranging from 25,000 to 30,000. Rebel officers who came into our camp with entire unconcern, supposing that their own troops occupied the town as a matter of course and were captured, confirmed these statements, and added that an attack would be made upon us at daybreak. I determined to test the substance and strength of the enemy by actual collision, and measures were promptly taken to prepare our troops to meet them. They had taken up their positions on entering the town after dark without expectations of battle, and were at disadvantage as compared with the enemy. The rattling of musketry was heard during the latter part of the night, and before the break of day a sharp engagement occurred at the outposts.
Soon after 4 o'clock the artillery opened its fire, which was continued without cessation till the close of the engagement. The right of our line was occupied by the Third Brigade, Col. George H. Gordon commanding. The regiments were strongly posted, and near the center covered by stone walls from the fire of the enemy. Their infantry opened on the right, and soon both lines were under heavy fire. The left was occupied by the First Brigade, Colonel Donnelley, Twenty-eighth New York, commanding. The line was weak compared with that of the enemy, but the troops were well posted and patiently waited, as they nobly improved their coming opportunity.
The earliest movements of the enemy were on our left, two regiments being seen to move as with the purpose of occupying a position in flank or rear. General Hatch sent a detachment of cavalry to intercept this movement, when it was apparently abandoned.
The enemy suffered very serious loss from the fire of our infantry on the left. One regiment is represented by persons present during the action and after the field was evacuated as nearly destroyed.
The main body of the enemy was hidden during the early part of the action by the crest of the hill and the woods in the rear. Their force was massed apparently upon' our right, and their maneuvers indicated a purpose to turn us upon the Berryville road, where, it appeared subsequently, they had placed a considerable force, with a view of preventing re-enforcements from Harper's Ferry; but the steady fire of our lines held them in check until a small portion of the troops on the right of our line made a movement to the rear. It is but just to add that this was done under the erroneous impression that an order to withdraw had been given. No sooner was this observed by the enemy than its regiments swarmed upon the crest of the hill, advancing from the woods upon our right, which, still continuing its fire, steadily withdrew toward the town. The overwhelming force of the enemy now suddenly showing itself, making further resistance unwise, orders were sent to the left by Captain d'Hauteville to withdraw, which was done reluctantly, but in order, the enemy having greatly suffered on that wing. A portion of the troops passed through the town in some confusion, but the column was soon reformed, and continued its march in order.
This engagement held the enemy in check nearly five hours. The forces engaged were greatly unequal. Indisposed to accept the early rumors concerning the enemy's strength, I reported to the Department that it was about 15,000.
It is now conclusively shown that not less than 25,000 men were in position and could have been brought into action. On the right and left their great superiority of numbers was plainly felt and seen, and the signal officers from elevated positions were enabled to count the regimental standards, indicating a strength equal to that I have stated.
My own command consisted of two brigades, of less than 4,000 men all told, with 900 cavalry, ten Parrott guns, and one battery of 6-pounder smooth-bore cannon. To this should be added the Tenth Maine Regiment of infantry and five companies of Maryland Cavalry, stationed at Winchester, which were engaged in the action. In all, about 5,000 men.
The loss of the enemy was treble that of ours in killed and wounded. In prisoners ours greatly exceeds theirs. Officers whose word I cannot doubt have stated as the result of their own observation that our men were fired upon from private dwellings in passing through Winchester, but I am credibly informed and gladly believe that the atrocities said to have been perpetrated upon our wounded soldiers by the rebels are greatly exaggerated or entirely untrue.
Our march was turned in the direction of Martinsburg, hoping there to meet re-enforcements, the troops moving in three parallel columns, each protected by an efficient rear guard. The pursuit of the enemy was prompt and vigorous, but our movements rapid and without loss. A few miles from Winchester the sound of the steam-whistle heard in the direction of Martinsburg strengthened the hope of re-enforcements and stirred the blood of the men like a trumpet. Soon after two squadrons of cavalry came dashing down the road with wild hurrahs. They were thought to be the advance of the anticipated supports, and were received with deafening cheers. Every man felt like turning back upon the enemy. It proved to be the First Maryland Cavalry, Colonel Wetschky, sent out in the morning as train guard. Hearing the guns, they had returned to participate in the fight. Advantage was taken of this stirring incident to reorganize our column, and the march was continued with renewed spirit and order.
At Martinsburg the column halted two and a half hours, the rear guard remaining until 7 in the evening in rear of the town, and arrived at the river at sundown, forty-eight hours after the first news of the attack on Front Royal. It was a march of 53 miles, 35 of which were performed in one day. The scene at the river when the rear guard arrived was of the most animating and exciting description. A thousand camp-fires were burning on the hill-side, a thousand carriages of every description were crowded upon the banks, and the broad river lay between the exhausted troops and their coveted rest. The ford was too deep for the teams to cross in regular succession. Only the strongest horses, after a few experiments, were allowed to essay the river before morning. The single ferry was occupied by ammunition trains, the ford by the wagons. The cavalry was secure in its own power of crossing. The troops only had no transportation. Fortunately the train we had so sedulously guarded served us in turn. Several boats belonging to the pontoon train, which we had brought from Strasburg, were launched, and devoted exclusively to their service.
It is seldom that a river-crossing of such magnitude is achieved with greater success. There were never more grateful hearts in the same number of men than when at midday of the 26th we stood on the opposite shore. My command had not suffered an attack and rout, but had accomplished a premeditated march of near 60 miles in the face of the enemy, defeating his plans and giving him battle wherever he was found.
Our loss is stated in detail, with the names of the killed, wounded, and missing, in the full report of Brigadier General Williams, commanding division, to which reference is made. The number of killed is 38; wounded, 155; missing, 711. Total loss, 904. It is undoubtedly true that many of the missing will yet return, and the entire loss may be assumed as not exceeding 700. It is also probable that the number of killed and wounded may be larger than that above stated, but the aggregate loss will not be changed thereby. All our guns were saved.
Our wagon train consisted of nearly 500 wagons. Of this number 55 were lost. They were not, with but very few exceptions, abandoned to the enemy, but were burned upon the road. Nearly all our supplies were thus saved. The stores at Front Royal, of which I had no knowledge until my visit to that post on the 21st instant, and those at Winchester, of which a considerable portion was destroyed by our troops, are not embraced in this statement.
The number of sick men in the hospital at Strasburg belonging to General Williams' division was 189, 125 of whom were left in the hospitals at Winchester, under charge of Surg. Lincoln R. Stone, Second Massachusetts. Sixty-four were left in the hospitals at Strasburg, including attendants, under charge of Surgeon Gillespie, Seventh Indiana, and Assistant-Surgeon Porter, U.S. Army. Eight of the surgeons of this division voluntarily surrendered themselves to the enemy, in the hospitals and on the field, for the care of the sick and wounded placed under their charge. They include, in addition to those above named, Brigade Surgeon Peale, at Winchester; Surgeon Mitchell, First Maryland, at Front Royal; Surgeon Adolphus, Best's battery, U.S. Army; Surgeon Johnson, Sixteenth Indiana, and Surg. Francis Leland, Second Massachusetts, on the field. It is seldom that men are called upon to make a greater sacrifice of comfort, health, and liberty for the benefit of those intrusted to their charge. Services and sacrifices like these ought to entitle them to some more important recognition of their devotion to public duty than the mere historical record of the fact. The report of the medical director, Surg. W. S. King, exhibits the disposition of nearly 1,000 sick and disabled men left at Strasburg by General Shields' division upon its removal to the Rappahannock Valley.
My warmest thanks are due to the officers and men of my command for their unflinching courage and unyielding spirit exhibited on the march and its attendant combats; especially to Brig. Gen. A. S. Williams, commanding the division, General George S. Greene, and General S. W. Crawford, who had reported for duty, but were yet unassigned to separate commands. They all accompanied the column throughout the march and rendered me most valuable assistance. My thanks are also due to the gentlemen of my staff--Maj. D. D. Perkins, chief of staff; Capt. James W. Abert, of the Topographical Corps; Capt. William Scheffler, Captain Munther, and Capt. Frederick d' Hauteville--for their assiduous labors. It gives me pleasure also to commend the conduct of Colonel Donnelly and Colonel Gordon, commanding the two brigades of Williams' division. I would also respectfully ask the attention of the Department to the reports of the several officers commanding detachments separated from the main column, and to the officers named in the report of General Williams, as worthy commendation for meritorious conduct.
The Signal Corps, Lieut. W. W. Rowley commanding, rendered most valuable assistance on the field and on the march. There should be some provision for the prompt promotion of officers and men so brave and useful as those composing this corps.
The safety of the train and supplies is in a great degree due to the discretion, experience, and unfailing energy of Capt. S. B. Holabird and Capt. E.G. Beck with, U.S. Army.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
N. P. BANKS,
Major-General, Commanding, &c.
RETURN TO BANKS' OR PART I
RETURN TO VALLEY CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE