BATTLES OF FISHER’S HILL AND WOODSTOCK RACES

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TRUE to his promise, Sheridan was “after them ” the next morning. At daylight, Merritt’s division, our regi­ment in advance, pushed briskly south up the Valley pike through Newtown and Middletown but met no opposing force until reaching Fisher’s Hill, where we found General Early strongly entrenched. During the day the infantry came up and took position confronting the Confederates.

Sheridan’s maneuverings led Early to believe that he contemplated a direct frontal assault, but he had other plans. Learning from a reliable guide that an army could be marched by forest paths behind Little North Mountain, cross over, and strike the enemy’s left flank and rear, he resolved to send Crook’s corps to execute such a movement. So on the 22d, while our infantry made strong demonstrations in front, Crook, with great secrecy and celerity, reached the desired point of attack. The Confederates, busy with our troops at the front, were wholly unconscious of the heavy force of men with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets stealing stealthily up behind them. A volley poured into their backs, a ringing cheer, and a furious charge into their trenches was the first warning the Confederates received of their impending calamity. Taking advantage of the panic in the enemy’s rear, our whole line in front moved forward with a cheer, and again the rebel army was panic-stricken and fleeing without the semblance of organization, leaving fourteen hundred prisoners, sixteen cannon, and most of their wagon train in our hands.

Wilson’s cavalry, and all our division except Devin’s brigade, were sent around through the Luray Valley under Torbert, to cut off Early’s retreat. The chase on the pike was taken up by our brigade, the Dragoons in the lead, and kept up all night and part of the next day until the enemy made a stand at Mt. Jackson, where we charged and routed them. Again darkness had saved the rebel army. We, however, picked up a large number of strag­glers and captured two more pieces of artillery.

Sheridan expected great results from the Luray Valley expedition, but the incompetent and vacillating Torbert made a complete failure. Speaking of this fizzle on the part of Torbert, Sheridan says: ” I was astonished and chagrined. My disappointment was extreme. To this day I have been unable to account for Torbert’s failure.” Neither can we account for the keen and discerning Sheridan’s appointment and retention of a man so wholly unfitted for the position of chief of cavalry. 1

On the morning of the 24th, we moved out early in pursuit of the retreating enemy, the Dragoons in the advance. We soon overtook them, and now commenced a lively and intensely exciting race. 

    (Footnote from Bown) 1 Right at this time General Averell had also failed to meet Sheridan’s expectations and thus Incurred his displeasure. Irritated and angered by these failures, It would seem he sought some object upon which to vent his. spleen: and Instead of removing the really incompetent Torbert, that splen­ did lighter, the gallant Averell, became the victim of his pent-up wrath, and was most unjustly deposed Crom the command he had so highly honored. Having overheard the entire conversation between Sheridan and Averell, It can be stated from positive knowledge that while Averell maintained a calm and civil demeanor, Sheridan manifested unreasonable anger, refusing to listen to any explanations Averell desired to offer. Sheridan may have believed he had some provocation, but there was certainly no excuse for arbitrarily trampling upon all military courtesy and justice, aµd cruelly consigning a gallant officer to Ignominy and disgrace without a hearing.

The regiments of our brigade had been detached for various purposes, and at this time the Ninth New York was off in search of a rebel train, leaving for a time the First New York, the only cavalry in direct pursuit. Before us, we could see the entire infantry of Early’s army. In our immediate rear came our infantry, crowding forward at a rapid gait; but as soon as they came within firing distance, the John­nies would strike a double-quick, and we would charge their rear, annoying them as much as possible. In the meantime, Taylor’s battery behaved splendidly, constantly pouring a red-hot fire into their ranks. Says Sheridan: ” While all this was going on, the open country permitted us a rare and brilliant sight,- the bright sun gleaming from the arms and trappings of the thousands of pursuers and pursued.”

Regarding the battle of New Market, Devin says: “I came up with the enemy’s line of battle in front of New Market. Ordering Taylor’s battery to the front, I opened with shell and spherical case-shot, at the same time advancing the First New York as skirmishers. The enemy at once replied with a battery. I had pressed up to within five hundred yards when the enemy retired precipitously through the town. I charged halfway through the main street, but a hot fire from the enclosures and gardens forced me back. I now dismounted two squad­rons of the First New York, cleared the town, charged through with the rest of the command, and found another line formed three hundred yards beyond, which retired as my skirmishers advanced. The chase continued in this manner for seven miles south of New Market. 1 

    (Footnote Bowen) 1 In one of these charges between New Market and Harrisonburg, the enemy turned a battery upon a group with Colonel Gibbs. I was the orderly bugler and close to the Colonel when a shell struck in front, ricocheted, and burst between old Blue and my horse, disemboweled mine, but did not seriously injure either the Colonel or any of the group.

Nothing could surpass the gallantry with which my little force, less than four hundred men, continued to press the enemy’s lines, though at times two miles from support:” September 25 we followed up the retreating enemy to Harrisonburg, where we found some four hundred wounded Johnnies. Turning to the left, we followed on to Keezle­ town, and the next day to the Port Republic, picking up small squads of prisoners. About this time General Merritt came up with the balance of the division, and we drove the enemy to the mouth of Brown’s Gap just in time to meet Kershaw’s division of infantry on its way to join Early. They at once attacked us, and a very lively battle occurred, in which the Dragoons lost three killed and some wounded; among them Major Scott, but he remained on the field until the fight was over.

While in this vicinity we encamped for the night near Weyer’s Cave, and many of us paid a visit to this remarkable cavern and were fascinated by its features of natural beauty and grandeur. We were told that it ranked next to the Mammoth Cave, of Kentucky.

Quoting from Devin: “September 28 the First New York Dragoons were sent to Mcgaughey Town, and drove the enemy’s cavalry out of that place. On the 29th the brigade swung around by the Port Republic, Pied­ mont, and Valley Pike, to Mt. Crawford, burning eighty­ two barns containing hay and grain, seventy-two stacks of hay and grain, five flouring mills, two sawmills, an iron furnace, and drove in three hundred and twenty-one cattle and two hundred sheep, encamping at Cross Keys on the 30th.”

After several days of sco11ting and skirmishing, we began moving down the valley, driving all stock before us, and leaving desolation in our wake. Again quoting from Devin: “October 8, marched to Tom’s Brook. The Ninth New York were deployed to the right, and tl1e First New York Dragoons to the left, for the purpose of destroying grain, etc. These two regiments burnt one hundred and fifteen barns filled with hay and grain, two hundred and six stacks of grain, eighteen flouring and grist mills, eighteen thousand bushels of wheat, with woolen mills and sawmills. Also drove in two hundred and ninety cattle, three hundred and nineteen sheep, and seventy-five hogs.”

Reader, you can imagine something of the awful desolation when all the other regiments, deployed across the entire valley, were as destructive as ours. From Mt. Jackson, the writer counted, from just one standpoint, one hundred and sixty-seven barns in flames at one time. October 3, between Harrisonburg and Dayton, Sheri­ dan’s chief engineer officer was treacherously murdered not far from headquarters.    The murderers had been secretly harbored by residents and in this vicinity, the dwelling-houses were also burned.

On the 8th, as we moved down the valley on our work of destruction, the rebel cavalry saw fit to follow us up. We were well out on the left flank, and when near Tom’s Brook, were suddenly attacked from the rear, and in Southern parlance, “hit was a right smart scrimmage.” The advantages gained were decidedly in our favor, the enemy being chased back several miles.

“WOODSTOCK RACES”

The rebuff we gave them failed to check their audacity, for we had scarcely halted for the night where their entire cavalry force, under Rosser, suddenly appeared in our immediate rear, halting on a rise of ground and within hailing distance of our camp. Had they at that time charged, they would have taken us at a great disadvantage, as we were unsaddled, and were getting our supper.1 Of course we were quickly in an attitude of defense, but no demonstrations were made on either side that night. Sheridan’s voluntary retreat down the valley had given the enemy the false impression that they were driving him.

General Roeser, with a fresh brigade of veteran cav­alry, had just come from Richmond, and with a great flourish of trumpets proclaimed himself the ” savior of the valley.” Angered at our work of destruction, he was “spoiling for a fight,” in which he might wreak ven­geance upon the barn burning Yankees.

Sheridan, tired of these annoyances, concluded to give the cheeky and boastful Confederate a lesson that would open his eyes. So he instructed Merritt and Custer to go out the next morning and whip those fellows, or get whipped themselves; also stating that he should ride up to Round Top Mountain and watch the battle.

At daybreak the movement commenced, soon to become famous under the name of “Woodstock Races,” a title facetiously originated by Colonel Gibbs. The contending forces were about equal. Out swept the two boy generals, Merritt and Custer, at the head of their respective divisions, to meet the boastful Rosser and Lomax. Merritt’s left moved on the- valley pike, while Custer’s right moved on the backroad, running parallel with the pike, but three miles distant. Across this inter­vening space of three miles, together with the overlap on the pike, was a line of battle nearly four miles in length.

    (Footnote from Bowen) 1 I never understood how the enemy was permitted to make so near an approach without warning from a roar guard. unless such a guard bad care­lessly been omitted.

Our brigade, headed by “Uncle Tommy,” otherwise nicknamed “The Old War-Horse,” was near the center, from which point, looking, either way, could be seen the splendid line of battle advancing to meet them, over-confi­ dent enemy. It was a magnificent place for a cavalry fight, with the smooth ground and free from fences. Both sides deployed in full view of each other, the skirmishes opening with their carbines.

It is said that as our line approached, Rosser triumphantly remarked to his staff: “Gentlemen, I intend to give those Yanks the worst whipping today they ever got. See if I don’t.”

The engagement soon became general across the valley, and for nearly two hours both sides struggled for the mastery, with numerous charges, and counter-charges being made. But the opportune moment came, when, as at Winchester, there rang out those stirring commands: “Forward! Draw sabers! Charge!” and the long line, with irresistible momentum, crushed upon the Confeder­ates like an avalanche. In the center there was stubborn resistance; but before they realized what had happened, Merritt and Custer had curled around their right and left flanks with such impetuosity that the entire line broke in the wildest confusion. Says Sheridan: “The result was a general smash-up, the retreat degenerating into a rout! the like of which was never before seen. For twenty-six miles this wild stampede was kept up, with our troopers close at the enemy’s heels, and the ludicrous incidents of the chase never ceased to be amusing topics around the campfires of Merritt and Custer. Our captures were eleven pieces of artillery with their caissons, all their wagon trains, and ambulances, also three hundred, prisoners, while our loss was small. . . . There could hardly have been a more complete victory, the cavalry totally covering themselves with glory, and adding to their long list of victories the most brilliant of them all.”

On our return from the chase, there occurred one of the most ludicrous incidents of our experience. The great victory had put our staid old colonel into a sportive mood, and he sent his orderlies along the marching column directing the men, as they passed through Eden­ burg or Woodstock in the darkness, to set up the greatest racket possible. The boys needed only a hint, and bedlam was let loose. Such a conglomeration of sounds was never before heard. Everyone tried to outdo the others in hideous and demoniacal yells, screechings, and cat-yawls. They bleated, bellowed, cackled, and crowded, while the buglers and Jackson’s band produced unearthly discords by tooting each instrument in a different• key, and the drummers beating out of time. The hubbub was contagious, spreading to other regiments until the inhab­itants must have imagined themselves in a veritable pandemonium.

We had now captured most of Early’s artillery, and a fresh supply was sent from Richmond. Some humorists attached this label to the guns: ” General Sheri­ dan, Care of Jubal Early.”

A DARING DEED

In the fall of 1864, as the army was moving up the valley, the Dragoons in advance, two of the regiment performed a deed of valor which for presumptuous audac­ity and perfect success was unsurpassed during the war. Lieut. Wm. W. Tadder and his company bugler, Adelbert Brown, were sent through a piece of woods to ascertain if the enemy occupied certain crossroads. Before emerging from the timber they discovered a four-mule team hauling an army wagon containing nineteen Johnnies, each with a loaded gun. The boys promptly decided to make a desperate attempt to capture the entire outfit. Said the lieutenant: “Deb, go to the edge of the woods, and sound the ‘ charge’ for all that’s in you; and when I give he order, ‘Forward,’ we will yell like a pack of devils, and go for them.” Tadder began shouting his commands to what the rebs supposed to be a large com­pany of Yanks, and as the two surrounded the wagon, he ordered the driver, in as forcible language as he could command, to “whip up them mules and get out right smart.” The rebs were so thoroughly frightened that they made no resistance, and were driven first to Devin’s headquarters, then to Merritt’s, both generals highly com­plimenting the boys for their gallantry. The Johnnies, learning the facts of their capture, declared it was that “dod-blasted bugle” that fooled them.