Report of Maj. H. J. Williams, Fifth Virginia Infantry, commanding Winder's brigade, of operations September 1-19.
SEPTEMBER 3-20, 1862.-The Maryland Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XIX/1 [S# 27]
JANUARY 15, 1863.
Capt. W. T. TALIAFERRO,
CAPTAIN: In the absence of more competent officers, I have the honor to submit the following notes of the operations of Winder's brigade between September 1 and 19, 1862:
September 1, Winder's brigade, Col. A. J. Grigsby commanding, was thrown into line of battle near Chantilly (the residence of Turberville Stewart, esq.), and marched forward in supporting distance of Starke's brigade to Ox Hill, a densely-wooded crest overlooking the little village of Germantown. At this point the troops in front were moved by the right flank, the First Brigade moving forward to the extreme left of the new line of battle and at right angles with the Little River turnpike. This position it occupied throughout the engagement, nothing occurring worthy of particular note. About 5 p.m. the enemy approached, as well as could be ascertained, to within some 300 yards of our immediate front, apparently with the design of attacking our battery upon the left. After a brisk fire of a few minutes' duration, the enemy retired. The brigade sustained no loss, although subjected for a while to artillery fire and occasional musketry, mostly, however, at long range. Later in the evening, about 20 of the enemy's skirmishers, who seemed bewildered by the thunder, lightning, and rain, which fell in torrents, approached our line, were captured, and sent to the rear. At nightfall the brigade was relieved and marched a mile to the rear for the night.
At 10 a.m. the following morning, the brigade moved to a position in the wood along the dirt road leading from Little River pike to the Leesburg and Alexandria pike, picketing about three-quarters of a mile to the front.
On the morning of September 4, marched in the direction of Leesburg, crossing the Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad at Vienna, and striking the Leesburg and Alexandria pike at Dranesville, encamping for the night 1 mile from the village.
September 5, marched through Leesburg to Big Springs, a mile from the town.
September 6, crossed the Potomac in excellent order and high spirits, following the Monocacy road, crossing the river of the same name, and encamped within 7 miles of Frederick City, Md.
Entered Frederick September 7, and encamped about 2 miles from the city, on the Emmittsburg road. Our short sojourn in the land of promise wrought a salutary change in the general appearance and condition of the troops. The ragged were clad, the shoeless shod, and the inner man rejoiced by a number and variety of delicacies to which it had been a stranger for long, long weary months before.
Broke camp at sunrise September 11, and marched to Boonsborough.
On the 12th, recrossed the Potomac at Williamsport, and encamped near North Mountain Depot, Berkeley County, Virginia.
On the 13th, marched to Martinsburg, halted two hours, and moved toward Harper's Ferry, the Second Regiment, Captain Colston commanding, having been detached as provost guard, remaining in town encamped for the night within sight of the enemy's tents.
On the morning of the 14th, the brigade was ordered to secure a commanding ridge to the left of Bolivar Heights for the effective working of our artillery. Upon our approach the enemy's cavalry retired rapidly, and the hill from which Poague's and Carpenter's batteries did such admirable execution, contributing so largely to the demoralization of the enemy, was secured without difficulty. During the remainder of the day the brigade rested in rear of the batteries under a brisk artillery fire. After dark our lines were advanced to within half a mile of the heights, and dispositions made to forestall the retreat of the garrison.
The alacrity and determination on the part of both officers and men which characterized this forward movement, seemingly to the assault of a position strong by nature, and rendered doubly so by art, was in the highest degree commendable.
On the morning of the 15th the garrison surrendered, to the delight of the soldiers and the disgust of the contrabands, and the First Brigade, with the other brigades of Jackson's division, marched back to their encampment of the night previous, to cook rations and prepare for the march to join General Longstreet's corps, near Sharpsburg, Md. This march was begun at 2 a.m. September 16, crossing the Potomac at Boteler's Mill, below Shepherdstown, thence along the tow-path to the main road to Sharpsburg. On reaching the vicinity of Sharpsburg, the division was halted in a grove to the left, where it remained until 3 p.m., whence we were moved 2 miles northwest of the town, forming line of battle in an open clover field to the left of and perpendicular to the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown turnpike, in extension of General Hood's line, who had occupied the extreme left until our approach. The disposition of the brigades of the division was as follows: Winder's and Jones' brigades occupying the front line, under command of Col. A. J. Grigsby; Taliaferro's and Starke's brigades in the edge of the woods, 100 yards in rear, under command of Brigadier-General Starke; the whole commanded by Brig. Gen. J.R. Jones. Two companies were thrown forward, as skirmishers, about 100 yards, and Poague's battery, of two Parrotts and one Napoleon gun, put in position upon a knoll between the line of skirmishers and front line, supported by both. In a few minutes one of the enemy's batteries, some 500 yards in front, opened fire upon a battery of ours to the right of the brigade, but was silenced in twenty minutes by Poague's well-directed and rapid fire. Shortly after, a number of batteries, about one-fourth of a mile distant, opened upon our lines, and continued firing for some time after dark. The display was grand and comparatively harmless, except to the stragglers in far rear. Throughout the night a desultory fire was kept up by the skirmishers on both sides.
At early dawn of the morning of September 17, the terrible struggle began in earnest, and the direction of their fire indicated plainly the design of the enemy to turn our left flank. Their heaviest field pieces were brought to bear upon us with wonderful rapidity and fearful precision, front and enfilading fires. Their infantry, advancing, compelled Raine's howitzers and Poague's Napoleon, under command of Lieutenant Brown, to withdraw to our rear, and soon our skirmishers became hotly engaged.
About 6 a.m. the advance column of the enemy approached our front, and the front line (Winder's and Jones' brigades), which had been ordered to lie down for concealment and protection, rose at the command of their intrepid leader and poured in a staggering volley, which stopped his advance. For three-quarters of an hour the front line, numbering less than 400 men, maintained the unequal contest, holding their ground and doing good work. Heavy re-enforcements advancing to the enemy's support, the front line was ordered to retire to the edge of the wood above indicated, where, in conjunction with the reserve brigade of the division, it remained for half an hour exposed to a terrific storm of grape, canister, and shell. At the end of this time, our line advanced into the open field and encountered the enemy upon the ground which we had previously held. The firing was fierce and incessant, the enemy standing firm for a time. Unable to withstand the resolute valor of our troops, he retired in considerable disorder.
It was during this severe contest that the chivalrous Starke, who had succeeded to the command of the division, in consequence of General Jones being disabled, fell, while cheering his men in the discharge of their duty. The command fell to no unworthy successor in the dauntless Grigsby, who took the reins with a fearless spirit and held them with a firm hand, the command of the brigade devolving upon Lieutenant-Colo-nel Gardner, Fourth Virginia. The heavy losses sustained, the confusion unavoidably arising from the change of commanders, and the protracted nature of the contest, rendered necessary the withdrawal of our weary troops to the wood from which they had advanced. Here the efforts of our active leader, assisted by regimental and company officers, availed to restore order and reform the commands. General Early coming up with his brigade at this juncture, we formed upon his right and advanced again into the open field for a short distance, when we were transferred to his left, forming a diagonal line, the left occupying a hollow in the edge of a wood, maintaining a desultory firing throughout the whole time. From this position, the division, in line with Early's brigade, retired 100 yards to a barn and stack-yard and along a ledge of rocks, where we held a large force of the enemy in check for upward of an hour, inflicting heavy loss upon him, with little damage to ourselves. The long looked for re-enforcements coming to our aid at this point, the enemy was handsomely charged and driven in confusion for a half mile, leaving scores of killed, wounded, and prisoners in our hands.
Returning to the barn above referred to, about the middle of the day the brigade was relieved and ordered to a grove to supply themselves with ammunition and provisions, by this time entirely exhausted. Here we remained until 5 p.m., when we marched to the support of a battery on a hill in rear of our late line. Night put an end to one of the most sanguinary conflicts which history will have to record, and the tired soldiers sank to rest.
The brigade went into the fight with about 250 muskets, and nobly sustained the reputation for heroism and devotion accorded to it by the country.
When the extraordinary march from the Rappahannock to Sharps-burg, with its attendant circumstances, its sleepless nights and harassing marches, its bloody battles and heavy losses, in all of which the "Old Stonewall" bore a conspicuous part, is carefully considered, the melancholy decrease in number will not appear surprising.
The regiments of the brigade were commanded, respectively, by Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner, Fourth Virginia; Maj. H. J. Williams, Fifth Virginia; Capt. Frank C. Wilson, Twenty-seventh Virginia, and Captain Golladay, and afterward Adjutant Walton, Thirty-third Virginia, the Second (Captain Colston) being on detached duty at Martinsburg.
It is impossible, from the length of time which has elapsed, even if it were appropriate for me, to mention the individual acts of gallantry which marked the progress of the fight.
Lieut. James M. Garnett, brigade ordnance officer and acting aide-de-camp, and Orderlies Cox and Stickley, the latter of whom was severely wounded early in the day, rendered indispensable services to Colonel Grigsby throughout the whole trying time.
The full list of casualties, as found in the reports of the regimental and battery commanders, accompanies this report.
H. J. WILLIAMS,
Major, Commanding Fifth Virginia Infantry.
Killed Wounded Total Officers 1 6 7 Privates 10 71 81 Total 11 77 88
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