FROM WHITE HOUSE LANDING TO THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY
Our arrival at White House Landing, June 20, virually terminated the Trevilian raid, but gave neither the jaded horses nor wearied men any respite whatever from severe service, as there was at that place an immense train of about one thousand wagons, which Sheridan was directed to conduct across the James River with the great est possible dispatch. This was no easy undertaking, as the enemy made strong demonstrations for its capture.
Although for the next ten days our regiment was in no severe engagement, we were almost constantly in our saddles, and at times skirmishing with the aggressive rebels. All that portion of the Peninsula was infested with bushwhackers, who greatly annoyed our pickets by assassinating or capturing them. Our regiment suffered, with others, from this source. Among those captured were Lyman Parshall and Charley Westlake.
As the vast train moved south, crossing the Ohicka hominy at Jones bridge, and moving on to Charles City, Gregg’s division guarding the right, was compelled to fight with great stubbornness. In due time the crossing of the James was effected by ferry at Douthart’s Landing; and on the morning of the 29th, we crossed by transports, and marching in the scorching sun and smothering dust, reached Prince George Courthouse at midnight. Without unsaddling, we fed the horses, made coffee, got an hour’s sleep, and were off for another hard day’s ride.
Reader, do you comprehend what it means to ride day after day, yea, week after week, in all kinds of weather, with only from one to tht·ee hours’ sleep out of the twen ty-four, frequently getting nothing to eat but hardtack and raw pork, and that eaten while on the march, in the burning sun and stifling dust, often with no water to quench our thirst but that gathered from the slimy swamps? Try the experiment for a week or two, and you will conclude that you are not out on a pleasure excursion.
On and on we rushed with scarcely a halt from 3 A. M. until 3 P. M., when we brought up at Reams Station, on the Weldon railroad, nine miles south of Petersburg. Wilson and Kautz had been on a raid and got badly worsted, but had cut their way out, and we could only cover their retreat. Thence, marching via Lee’s Mills, we went into camp at Lighthouse Point on the James River, to rest and recruit both men and horses.
Says Sheridan: “My command was now greatly reduced: it had been marching and fighting for fifty consecutive days, had marched over eight hundred miles exclusive of side issues,- going for rations, going and coming from picket, etc. This fatiguing set·vice had told so fearfully on my animals that the number of dismounted men was large. My losses resulting from these wearing marches of the past two months were so obvious that my needs could no longer be neglected.”Most of the horses were suffering from large saddle sores on their backs, and the prominence of their ribs indicated that an appropriate sign on- their sides would have read, “Oats wanted within.”
We remained at Lighthouse Point from July 2 to 26, enjoying our much-needed and well-earn d rest. Soft bread and occasionally vegetables were furnished to us. Blackberries and harvest apples were obtainable, furnishing a desirable change. The river was nearby, and frequently a thousand men could be seen enjoying a swim.
We seldom had occasion to grumble about Colonel Gibbs, but from an old letter loaned me it seems he gave us some reason to do so once: –
”We have had apple sauce every day of late, and it has been a great treat; but I’m afraid some have got to give it up, for ‘Old Jack of Clubs’ has issued a stringent order forbidding the privates buying any more sugar at the commissary, and what we draw is insufficient for our coffee, and we shall greatly miss our sugar. Pretty how d’ye-do, this! Why that old epicure himself lives like a king; has his roast beef, mutton, or pig, with a thousand little extras, and has a half dozen white men and niggers to provide and cook for him, and now wants to restrict us to the poorest kind of living. But old Jack can’t beat all of us, for we went over to a Rhode Island regiment and secured five pounds for our mess.”
We, however, had but a small reason for complaint from that source.
While here the corps received one thousand five hundred horses, and many of the dismounted men returned. Our much-appreciated rest came to an end on July 26. General Hancock was to make a demonstration north of the James, in which the cavalry corps was to co-operate. We were again in the saddle, and on the afternoon of the 26th crossed the Appomattox at Broadway Landing, and moving north, crossed the James at Deep Bottom early on the morning of the 27th. Here, in the vicinity of New Market and Malvern Hill, we engaged the enemy two days in succession. The fight of the 28th, known as the ” battle of Darbytown,”was one of considerable severity, similar in some respects to the two-days battle at Cold Harbor.
While mounted, we were fiercely attacked by Ker shaw’s division of infantry, together with those of Wilcox and Heath, and were driven back some distance. We were, however, dismounted and ordered to lie down in the line of battle. On came the same troops we so mercilessly encountered in their- attack of June 1, and as on that occasion, hurled them back with great lo s. We lay quiet until the yelling gray-backs were not over six rods away, when, springing to our feet, poured into their ranks from our repeaters such a fire that they gave way in disorder. Our long line of cavalry now advanced with a cheer, chasing the demoralized enemy some distance, capturing over t_wo hundred prisoners and several battle flags.1
From here we were marched to Petersburg, reaching there in time to witness the famous mine explosion, as well as the awful slaughter of our troops at that wretch sadly mismanaged affair.
LEAVE THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC FOR SHENANDOAH VALLEY
Ang. 1, 1864, found us aboard a transport, moving out from City Point for Washington. Our trip down the James was made increasingly interesting by having pointed out to us many places of great historic interest in the earlier settlements of Virginia, as well as those connected with the Civil war.
(footnote from Bowen Needs Punctuation) 1 The old proverb, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, “was true In my case at Darbytown. Up to that time, I had ridden a slow. contrary gray pony. Here I secured from a wounded Co. I man a splendid n.nlmal. A certain officer Insisted on my giving him up, but Colonel Gibbs urged that his buglers, as couriers, needed fleet horses, and ordered me to keep him. Ori two occasions bis speed saved me from capture. He would bound over any ordinary fence or ditch like a deer. He was finally killed, In the Valley, by the same shell which burst under Old Blue, as I was within a few feet ·of Gibbs at the time, as his orderly bugler.
In a letter dated “Giesboro Point, near Washington, Aug. 3, 1864,”I find this incident, which illustrates the effect of such thorough discipline as we had so long been under: ” As we were coming up the Chesapeake Bay last night, our boat caught fire. We had all gone to sleep in the lower part of the boat, but it was very warm, and a couple of us went out on the deck where it was cooler. We at once discovered the fire and ran up to notify the pilot. An officer of the boat was there, and all the thanks we received were a good damning. I told him the boat was on fire all the same. We hurried down and waked up Colonel Gibbs, who told me to blow ‘boots and saddles.’ In an instant, the men were in line and directed by the colonel to water their horses. He then informed them of the fire. By this time all the crew was moving. The captain came down and requested the colonel to assist the crew. Buckets were passed, and the men went at the work as coolly as if it was an everyday affair, and the flames were soon subdued. The captain remarked that if it had been a miscellaneous company there would have surely been panic and the boat burned.”
Our next field of labor was to be the Shenandoah Valley. Leaving Washington on the 6th, we marched via Georgetown, Rockville, Clarksburg, Monocacy Bridge, Sandy Hook, and Harper’s Ferry, camping under the lee of Maryland Heights.
From a letter dated “Harper’s Ferry, August 8, “we get this bit of experience: –
“Our march from Washington was wearisome, mak ing forty miles yesterday; but the wearisomeness was greatly mitigated by the hearty greetings we received all through Maryland. All along the journey the people greeted us with waving handkerchiefs and cheers, women and girls were by the roadside with pails of cool water, and one man had several large baskets of harvest apples which he tossed to us. The best of all was to see white women with smiling faces, something we had not seen for months. Where we have been of late we were looked upon as worthless. invaders, and treated with ill-concealed bitterness. Now, my dear, don’t consider me sentimental when I tell you that the sight of these well-dressed and smiling ladies so reminded me of home that I could scarcely refrain from weeping as I realized that my own dear ones were so far away; and I am not alone in my experience. Of course, we cheered in turn. Our bands played, and we sang our patriotic songs with renewed zest.
“A female spy was just captured here, she is only about sixteen years of age, and quite pretty, even in her soldier uniform. She was sitting under an apple tree when a club, thrown at an apple, fell upon her head, causing her to give a woman’s squeal. She was arrested and examined by the doctor, who declared, ‘he bears unmistakable evidences of being a woman.'”
A detailed history of previous military transactions in the Shenandoah Valley will not be within the province of this volume, and only an epitome can be given.
From the beginning of the war, it had been the great thoroughfare, our favorite route, of the southern armies in their raids and invasions of the North. The possession of this wonderfully fertile valley was also of vast importance as the granary, or storehouse of supplies, for the Confederate armies. Naturally, it became a bone of contention, but heretofore, in the majority of instances the Confederacy came out ahead in the struggle for supremacy. Our forces operating on the Upper Potomac and in the Shenandoah had either been so inadequate as to numbers or through incompetency of commanders, that the enemy had inflicted defeat on the Union troops nearly every time the two armies came in contact. But this lovely stretch of country, the scene of so many disasters to the Union side, was to enter upon a new history. Though from the very opening of the war it had been a sort of parade ground, or race track, for both armies, the people had suffered comparatively little from the destruction of property. Nine-tenths of them were in sympathy with the Confederacy and cheerfully gave to it their surplus, while the Union troops had paid for what they needed. Seldom had a region lying in the pathway of hostile armies suffered so little. All of this was now to be changed.
The incursion by General Early, approaching the very gates of Washington and Baltimore, together with the dash of McCausland through Maryland into Pennsylvania, and the burning of Chambersburg, caused consternation in the North and made it apparent that these dangers could only be averted by potting a sufficient force, under a competent commander, to operate in the valley.
Grant at once fixed upon Sheridan as the man most suitable for the place, but his choice met with opposition from the war department, and even from the president, on the ground of Sheridan’s youth, he being bat thirty-two years of age. Fortunately, however, Grant was permitted to give his man the opportunity of testing his qualifications to fill the position. Knowing these objections, Sheridan- was fired with the determination to prove that though young in years, he was old in the qualities that go to make up a successful soldier.