HISTORY OF THE NINTH VIRGINIA CAVALRY
IN THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES
Chapter I. Chapter II. Chapter III. Chapter IV. Chapter V. Chapter VI. Chapter VII. Chapter VIII. Chapter IX. Chapter X. Chapter XI. Chapter XII. Chapter XIII. Chapter XIV. Rosters
In the Van of Stonewall Jackson's Troops -- The Battle of Cold Harbor -- Bringing in Prisoners -- Capture of the White House -- Expedition to New Kent Courthouse -- Marching Under a Mistake -- Malvern Hill -- Picketing on the James -- Resting in Hanover.
On Wednesday, the 25th of June, rations were cooked, and that night the regiment marched, taking the road leading to Ashland. We had, along with other regiments, a few days previously received the Confederate battle-flag. At a late hour of the night, after breaking our camp, we came in sight of the camp-fires of Major-General T. J. Jackson's command. They were surrounded by men busily engaged in cooking rations.
At early dawn next morning we advanced upon the road running towards Mechanicsville, and as we progressed the line of march deflected to the left. In the afternoon the sound of heavy volleys of small arms, accompanied by the roar of artillery on our right-front, told of the general advance of our lines, and the terrible conflict at hand. Later in the afternoon our movement was very much impeded by broken bridges and trees felled across the road, which told us the enemy was retreating. A few sutler's carts were the only captures we saw. It was soon understood that General "Stonewall" Jackson commanded in person the force of which our cavalry was the van.
We lay at night upon the road, bridles in hand, near Pole Green meeting-house, a few miles east of Mechanicsville. The firing upon our right-front was resumed in the morning, and, from the sound, seemed to be crossing our front to the left. We moved forward at an early hour. Upon reaching the stage-road east of Mechanicsville our march was down that road in the direction of Old Church to a mill, where we halted, fed our horses, and ate our dinner. On leaving the mill our line of march diverged from the main road along by-roads to the south. We halted about three o'clock P. M. in the immediate vicinity of Cold Harbor. We had encountered no enemy, and, after leaving the stage-road, had not seen our infantry.
At thirty minutes past three o'clock the fight commenced with deafening volleys of musketry, so continuous that the intervals were scarcely perceptible. The artillery fire was heavy, but seemed light compared with the sound of the small arms. We could see only the clouds of smoke, though shells continually shrieked and exploded over our heads. We were ordered by General Jackson late in the evening to move to a position less exposed. A squadron under Captain Thomas WaIler was placed in position to charge a battery, but, for some cause, was ordered back. The battle lasted without the slightest abatement in the fire of small arms for four hours. When it ceased we marched rapidly on the road leading to the White House, but, finding the enemy was not retreating in that direction, returned and bivouacked on the edge of the field of battle.
This fight was among the hardest of the war, and upon no other field in Virginia, perhaps, was the continuous fire of musketry so long sustained. The enemy was routed at all points, and, driven from his entrenchment’s, retired during the night across the Chickahominy, leaving the air in places sickening with the smell of blood and large numbers of his dead upon the field.
We were in the saddle by light next morning. Captain WaIler was detached, with orders to report with his squadron to General Ewell. Before we left Cold Harbor Waller sent in over one hundred prisoners.
Our march led us to Dispatch Station, on the York-River railroad, very near the bridge over the Chickahominy. We passed near a large hospital filled with sick and wounded men. On approaching the station we saw a squad of the enemy's cavalry. They fled as soon as we were seen. After a long halt we followed the line of the railroad in the direction of the Pamunkey. Beyond Tunstall's Station the enemy seemed prepared to dispute our passage across a run on the road leading to the White House. We were ordered, in company with the command of Colonel T. R. R. Cobb, to support a North Carolina regiment in its charge. In order to get the proper interval it was necessary to move the regiment back, and the order was given to wheel about. Just at that moment the rear squadron, which was on the crest of the hill, saw the Carolina regiment and, supposing them to be the enemy, wheeled and retreated in double-quick time. They were soon halted and good order restored. No charge was made; whether because of this sudden panic or not, we never knew. The men were dismounted and lay in the road while a section of artillery under Captain John Pelham, from an elevated point on our left, cannonaded the enemy until night. In moving off to bivouac the accidental discharge of a comrade's gun inflicted a serious flesh-wound upon young Robert J. Washington, of Company C.
At early morn the march was resumed to the White House, the private property and home of our Colonel. On reaching the run behind which the enemy was posted on the previous evening, we discovered the sills of the bridge had been so weakened that any charging party, must have broken them in attempting to cross. The night's delay seemed to have lost us the opportunity to capture a very large quantity of commissary supplies and sutlers' stores. The great mass of them had been set on fire the night before, and the place hastily evacuated. Gunboats lying in the river fired a few shots, and the enemy's cavalry retreated on the road to New Kent Courthouse. To the latter place our regiment was sent in pursuit, and, returning in the evening, we joined the command at the White House.
The evidence of the immense resources of the United States Government was displayed at this point. The accumulation of commissary supplies seemed endless. We saw a small lake of vinegar, which, bursting from huge piles of barrels, had extinguished the fire, and covered the ground for some feet beyond the charred mass of staves and hoops. The houghs of hams and shoulders were still discernable over a surface of a thousand feet of charred bacon and smouldering ashes. Eggs packed in salt were here - some raw, some partly cooked, some cooked hard, and some burnt - in numbers larger than we had ever seen before. Many barrels of salted fish remained unscathed by the fire.
The sutlers' encampment, the canvas of which only had burned, showed evidences of a hurried evacuation. Cheeses, crackers, lard, butter, cakes, oranges, lemons, raisins, dry goods (embracing even hooped skirts), stationery, tobacco, and, in a few instances, trunks containing money, watches, and jewelry, fell into the hands of our troopers. Riding in early twilight among the blackened poles of the tents, the writer of this account saw many chickens roosting and our troopers gently lifting them from their roosts, and, following their example, he bore away two, to furnish him the first meal for that day. Immense piles of muskets we found burned, and many wagons had been backed over the bank into the river. Many also remained as they stood before the evacuation. The hospital tents remained intact, and in the distance resembled a village of painted cottages. The embalming office, a small, neat, wooden structure, was located in a ravine, which made into the river above the bridge. A sign giving the embalmer's name, painted in large letters upon a piece of cotton duck, attracted the writer's attention. Dismounting, he entered the small room, and found in a costly coffin of walnut the lifeless body of a man, noble in features, of manly form, and covered with a winding-sheet, its sole tenant. A ball from a rifle or bursting shell had penetrated the forehead near the hair, and freed the spirit once animating this body. The approach of our forces had frightened the embalmer away, and denied to his relatives the mournful satisfaction of a farewell look upon that noble brow of the sleeping warrior. Nothing was left to indicate his name.
The encampment here was extremely uncleanly; indeed, vermin might be seen crawling on the ground, a result probably of the crowds of negroes who had sought its shelter.
Having remained at the White House during the night, we marched next morning to Forge Bridge on the Chickahominy. Beyond the river the enemy had an outpost, sustained by a few pieces of artillery. Captain Pelham, galloping with several of his pieces down to the river's side, by his bold and effective gunnery dispersed them, with considerable loss, and we lost the opportunity to charge. Camping near the bridge, a squadron under Lieutenant John W. Hungerford was sent to picket the road about New Kent Courthouse. The night was very dark, and near the Courthouse this squadron encountered the enemy's pickets and drove them back. It joined us early in the morning in time to make a forced march to Gaines’ Mill to witness, as we were informed, the surrender of McClellan's army. We were mistaken, and, retracing our steps wearily back to Forge Bridge, we crossed it, and directed our line of march towards Malvern Hill, and halted at a late hour, and slept in the falling rain by the roadside. It seemed a singular fact that as we marched this evening we could see plainly the flashes of light from the guns at Malvern Hill, but heard no sound of artillery from the terrible conflict enacted there. Early in the morning we reached the scene of the fight, and were drawn up in line, and remained so until near night, the rain falling heavily all day. About nightfall we bivouacked with the trees for our shelter. Being without rations, an officer with a detail of men was sent out to scour the country and purchase beeves. Proceeding a short distance, this detail found seven fine bullocks left by the enemy, and, having driven them to camp, the men were soon busily engaged in butchering them and cutting off steaks, which they cooked on sticks set in the ground in front of the fires.
The great battles around Richmond were over, and McClellan’s shattered army lay toilworn and beaten upon the James, resting under shelter of the guns of the fleet. The losses upon our side had been great. The private soldier saw that the plan of our commander had been marred in its execution, and the fights and losses of the first and last of these bloody fields were fearful blunders. A demonstration in front of Mechanicsville on Thursday whilst Jackson was reaching the rear was all that needed to be done at the time. And the occupation on Sunday of the roads leading to the James by the right wing of our troops would have saved us the disastrous battle of Malvern Hill, and cost the United States their splendid army. At least, thus we thought at the time, drawing our conclusions from the limited range of facts within our observation.
The infantry had won a full measure of glory, the artillery had achieved its laurels, while the cavalry in its flank marches, its scouting parties, its lonely picket posts, had not attracted any special attention, or gained any new reputation. A feeling not wholly exempt from contempt was entertained by many towards the trooper. Evils, too, were now developed, from which this arm of the service was never afterwards wholly free. No adequate supply of rations for man or horse was provided. The trooper rode his own horse, and if lost, he alone had to replace it. The quartermaster rarely had funds to pay the valuation. The trooper’s roving for food for his horse, and his trespass upon private property were put upon that universal scapegrace Necessity, and winked at.
The regiment remained near Malvern Hill for about two weeks picketing the country on the James river below the enemy; and supporting artillery, which was sometimes ambushed near the banks of the river, and fired at transports going up. Whilst thus employed a very gallant act was performed by four young men from Company C - Privates Beale, Turner, Wheelwright, and Wright. Our picket was posted behind a barricade across the main road leading down the river. The enemy advanced a column of infantry upon this road, preceded by a few cavalry in the fields as skirmishers. Leaving the barricade, these four youths formed in the field to the right, then full of shocks of wheat recently cut, and boldly advanced to meet a squad of the mounted men. Their fire was reserved till within good range, and then so well delivered as to cause the mounted men to retreat precipitately. Their retreat was followed by that of the infantry.
Company H rejoined us here. Captain B. B. Douglas had been promoted as major, and assigned to the Fifth Regiment, Virginia Cavalry, commanded by Colonel T. L. Rosser, and Lieutenant Thomas W. Haynes became captain of Company H.
About the middle of July the regiment was moved up and camped near Atlee's Station on the Central railroad, where we remained several weeks, taking our tours of picket duty near our old ground at Malvern Hill. A squadron under Major Lewis was engaged in a skirmish while on picket, and a private of Company A was killed, and the squadron complimented in orders for gallantry.
Colonels Fitzhugh Lee and Wade Hampton, commanding the First Virginia and the Hampton Legion Cavalry, were promoted to the rank of brigadier-general, and the regiments formed into brigades. One of these, composed of the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth regiments, was commanded by General Fitz. Lee. Our camp was now moved to the banks of the Pamunkey, near Hanover Courthouse. Here we had regular daily drills, and some progress was made in learning regimental evolutions. Private W. Schley, of Company D, a good musician, who had been detailed for the purpose, instructed the buglers in the use of their instruments, and familiarized the men with the various calls. While at this camp Captain J. R. Jeffries, threatened with blindness, resigned, and Lieutenant R. H. Pratt succeeded him in the captaincy of Company K.