Report of Brig. Gen. E. O. C. Ord, U. S. Army
DECEMBER 20, 1861.---Engagement at Dranesville, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 5 [S# 5]
CAMP PEIRPOPOINT, VA., December 21, 1861.
Capt. H. J. BIDDLE,
Assistant Adjutant-General, McCall's Division.
SIR: I have to report that, in obedience to the inclosed order, I at 6 a.m. yesterday started towards Dickey's and Henderson's, about 3 miles this side of Dranesville, on the Leesburg pike, with my brigade, the First Rifles, Lieutenant-Colonel Kane; Easton's battery, and two squadrons of cavalry. I likewise heard that it was probable there was a respectable picket of cavalry at Dranesville, and that the picket supposed by you to be near the river behind Dickey's had left. I then determined to send three companies of the Tenth and 20 cavalry with the foraging party to Gunnell's, between the pike and the river, and with the remainder of the force proceed to Dranesville, satisfied that, though I might be exceeding the letter of my instructions, should I find the enemy and pick up a few you would not object. This I did, though Colonel McCalmout, hearing that there was a large force on our left, remained with his part of a regiment, and that detained the two regiments behind him. I had sent for them, but was obliged to enter Dranesville with my artillery and cavalry and a small advance guard only on the road, the First Rifles and Colonel Jackson's regiment flanking this column in the woods on the right and left. The cavalry picket in town fled and scattered and remained in small squads watching.
While waiting in Dranesville for the regiments in the rear to come up, I posted my artillery and cavalry and Jackson's regiment of infantry and a couple of companies of the First Rifles so as to cover the approaches, and sent for Colonel Kane's regiment to occupy the road in our then rear, my front being towards Centreville. This I did because from the occasional appearance of a few mounted men on a slope behind some woods in a hollow to my left and front, and a broad mass of smoke in that neighborhood, I felt pretty sure there was a force there preparing some mischief. As soon as Colonel McCalmont came up with his regiment (the Tenth), followed by Lieutenant-Colonel Penrose (the Sixth), and Colonel Taggart with the Twelfth, and while preparing to resist any attack and to cover my foraging party, I learned that the enemy in force had approached on the south side of the Leesburg pike with field pieces and infantry, and had driven in my pickets, wounding 2 men. Thinking they would attack on both sides of the turnpike as I returned eastward, I ordered (to meet this expected attack) Colonel McCalmont's regiment on the left or river side of the road in the woods, left in front, and if the enemy showed himself on that side to bring his regiment forward into line; Colonel Jackson's regiment (of which and its gallant colonel I cannot speak in too high terms) I ordered to flank the road in the same way on the right of the road in the woods, and do the same if the enemy showed on that side. Between these flanking regiments I ordered the Kane Rifles to meet the enemy behind us in the road, the cavalry to follow, and the artillery I took with me to post them and answer the enemy's artillery, which had opened fire on our then right (the south), directing the rear guard to cover the column of the Sixth and and Twelfth Regiments of Infantry in the road from cavalry.
The artillery went at a run past the station I selected for them, capsizing one of their pieces. I brought them back, told the captain where to post his guns, and then went to remove the cavalry, then exposed in the road swept by the enemy, whose attack was from a thickly-wooded hill on our right flank (the south). Their force I saw was a very bold one, very well posted, and the artillery was only about 500 yards off, with a large force of infantry on both its flanks and in front, covered and surrounded by woods and thickets. Moving east with the cavalry, which was of no use here, I came to a place in the road covered towards the enemy by a high bluff' and dense thicket, which thicket I intended to occupy with infantry. Here I left the cavalry surrounded by dense forests, wherein they could neither fight nor be hurt. The accompanying sketch will show the ground.
As I had at first thought the enemy would attack on both sides the road and moved my infantry to meet such an attack, and as their attack was confined to the right, it became necessary for me to change my front. As neither McCalmont nor Jackson had had time to come into line under first orders when I discovered this, and were moving by the flank, and as before I placed the artillery and cavalry I had seen the Rifles closely engaging the enemy by a flank movement, covering themselves by. some houses and fences, my right in meeting the attack thus became the village of Dranesville, my left the gorge and woods occupied by my cavalry on the Leesburg pike.
After securing the cavalry, I found by carefully observing the enemy's fire and battery that their guns were in a road which could be enfiladed. I ordered Captain Easton to right the capsized gun and bring it to the spot from which this road could be raked, removed two other guns to this spot, gave the gunners the distance and elevation, observed the result, and finding after a round or two that the enemy's fire slackened and the gunners were raking the road beautifully without being discomposed by the enemy's fire, I told them "to keep at that," and determined to push the infantry forward. I found them (except the Kane Rifles, the Ninth (Jackson's), and the Tenth (McCal-mont's), Regiments, which were, as above stated), in the ditches, under fences, and covering themselves as best they could. I started them forward, Kane at the head of his regiment leading. His and Jackson's regiments required no urging. McCalmont's regiment was kept in excellent order by its colonel--than whom a better officer is not found in my brigade--and acted as a reserve. I put them in the woods, pushed and exhorted them up the hill, having directed the battery to cease firing, and proceeding with my infantry with the bayonet.
About this time, between 3 and 4 o'clock (the action began at 2.30), General McCall, I was informed, arrived on the field. As I was very busy urging the men forward, and they required all my attention to keep them to their work, I did not at once report, but when we reached the ground occupied by the enemy's battery I reported to him. He was so kind as to direct me to continue the pursuit in the same order and to continue my dispositions, which I did. The enemy were put. sued fully half a mile farther, but they had left the neighborhood in great haste, leaving their arms, a portion of their dead and wounded, clothing, 10 horses, and a quantity of artillery equipments, with 2 caissons and a limber, scattered along the road towards Centreville and in the woods on both sides.
I beg to mention the coolness and courage of my aides, Captain Painter, assistant quartermaster; First Lieut. S. B. Smith, Tenth Regi-merit Pennsylvania Reserve Corps; First Lieut. S.S. Seward, New York Artillery, and Second Lieut. A. B. Sharpe. They not only carried orders promptly, but in instances requiring it exacted obedience. They deserve a more exalted rank than that they now hold.
The medical officers (especially the brigade surgeon, Dr. Lowman) were prompt and cool, leaving none unattended. The enemy, left 2I of their most desperately wounded on the field, who were taken up, carried to houses, and their wounds dressed by our surgeons; but they will nearly all die. Their dead left on the field is variously estimated from 50 to 75.
Our artillery did terrible havoc, exploding one ammunition wagon, and some of their men whom we brought in say the slaughter was terrible. Several dead lay around the exploded caisson, 3 of whose blackened corpses were headless. The prisoners further state that Colonel Taylor was doubtless killed. Two of their officers were left on the ground, and how many were carried off it is difficult to say. After the affair we built our bivouac fires in Dranesville.
Thus, sir, we, on returning to camp, had marched 24 miles, beaten the enemy, loaded our wagons with forage, bringing in (12 miles) our killed (7) and wounded (60), among whom are 4 captains. Some of our wounded had to be brought the whole distance on stretchers, while I am informed the Pennsylvania ambulances for this division are lying empty at Washington. Lists of killed and wounded and reports of regimental commanders are herewith inclosed.
It is impossible to remember all who were conspicuous, especially as the fighting occurred in thickets and was scattered over much ground. Captain Easton was very efficient and his battery well served.
The wounded officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Kane and Captain Niles, of the Kane Rifles; Captain Bradbury, of the Sixth, and Captains Dick and Galway, of the Ninth, Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, were conspicuous, leading their men when wounded. Others there were, as you can well imagine, equally brave, but it would be inviduous to attempt to select them.
The prisoners report that the brigade engaged against us was composed of the Kentucky Rifles, an Alabama, a South Carolina, and a Virginia regiment, with a 6-gun battery, all under the command of General Stuart.
I must not forget the prompt manner in which General Reynolds came up from Difficult Creek, some 4 miles off, as soon as he heard the can-nonading. He arrived too late, it is true, to take part in the affair, but the certainty that he would come with his brigade insured a victory, and stimulated our men to earn it.
With respect, sir, your obedient servant,
E. O. C. ORD,
HEADQUARTERS MCCALL'S DIVISION,
Camp Pierpoint, Va., December 19, 1861.
Brig. Gen. E. O. C. ORD,
Commanding Third Brigade.
GENERAL: You will please move in command of your brigade at 6 a.m. to-morrow, on the Leesburg pike, in the direction of Dranesville. The First Rifles, Pennsylvania Reserves, Lieutenant-Colonel Kane, have been ordered to form right in front on the pike near Commodore Jones' house and await your arrival, when the commanding officer will report to you for further orders.
Captain Easton's battery has been directed to form on the left of the Rifles. The captain will report to you for orders.
Two squadrons of cavalry will also be placed under your command. The senior officer will report to you this evening for orders. Sherman, the guide, will likewise report to you for duty.
The object of this expedition is twofold: In the first place, to drive back the enemy's pickets, which have recently advanced within 4 or 5 miles of our lines (leaving a force of about 70 cavalry at Henderson's), and carried off two good Union men, and threatened others; and, secondly, to procure a supply of forage.
It has to-day been reported to me that there is a force of about 100 cavalry lying between Dranesville and the river. This force might be captured or routed by sending a regiment of infantry up the pike beyond their position, to strike their rear by a flank movement to the right, while your disposable cavalry, after picketing the cross-roads near Dickey's, might move near the river, and attack them in front or on the left. Should you not arrive at Dickey's in time to make this movement and leave the ground on you return before nightfall, it must not be undertaken, as I do not wish any part of your command to remain out over night.
The forage will be procured at Gunnell's or at some other rank secessionist's in the neighborhood of Dickey's. Direct your quartermaster to confine the selection of forage to corn and hay. Captain Hall will have charge of the wagon train. The regiment intended to move forward from Dickey's (if you think proper, Jackson's) might ride in the wagons as far as Dickey's, and then be fresh for the forward movement..
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. A. McCALL,
Brigadier-General General, Commanding-Division.
Source: "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion"
This page last updated 03/24/05
RETURN TO ENGAGEMENT AT DRANESVILLE PAGE