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A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America/March down the Valley and Operations in the Lower Valley and Maryland

< A Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence in the Confederate States of America


At Lynchburg, I had received it telegram from General Lee, directing me, after disposing of Hunter, either to return to his army or carry out the original plan, as I might deem most expedient under the circumstance in which I found myself. After the pursuit had ceased, I received another dispatch from him, submitting it to my judgment whether the condition of my troops would permit the expedition across the Potomac to be carried out, and I determined to take the responsibility of continuing it. On the 23rd, the march was resumed and we reached Buchanan that night, where we struck again the route over which Hunter had advanced.[1] Ransom's cavalry moved by Clifton Forge, through the western part of Rockbridge, to keep a lookout for Hunter and ascertain if he should attempt to get into the Valley again.

On the 26th, I reached Staunton in advance of the troops, and the latter came up next day, which was spent in reducing transportation and getting provisions from Waynesboro, to which point they had been sent over the railroad. Some of the guns and a number of the horses belonging to the artillery were now unfit for service, and the best of each were selected, and about a battalion taken from Breckenridge's artillery, under Lt. Col. King, to accompany us, in addition to the two battalions brought with the 2nd Corps. The rest were left behind with a portion of the officers and men in charge of them. The dismounted cavalry had been permitted to send for their horses which had been recruiting, and Col. Bradley T. Johnson, who had joined me at this place with a battalion of Maryland Cavalry, was assigned to the command of Jones' brigade, with the temporary rank of Brigadier-General, that brigade having been reorganized and the two Maryland battalions attached to it. General Breckenridge had accompanied us from Lynchburg, and, to give him a command commensurate with his proper one, and at the same time enable me to control the cavalry more readily, Gordon's division of infantry was assigned to his command in addition to the one under Elzey, and Kansorn, in charge of the cavalry, was ordered to report to me directly. Major-General Elzey was relieved from duty at his own request, and the division under him was left under the temporary command of Brigadier-General Vaughan.

The official reports at this place showed about two thousand mounted men for duty in the cavalry, which was composed of four small brigades, to wit: Imboden's, McCausland's, Jackson's, and Jones' (now Johnson's). Vaughan's had not been mounted but the horses had been sent for from South-western Virginia. The official reports of the infantry showed 10,000 muskets for duty, including Vaughan's dismounted cavalry. Nearly, if not quite half of the company officers and men were barefooted or nearly so, and a dispatch had been sent from Salem by courier, and Lynchburg by telegraph, to Richmond, requesting shoes to be sent to Staunton, but they had not arrived.

Another telegram was received here from General Lee, stating that the circumstances under which my original orders were given had changed, and again submitting it to my judgment, in the altered state of things, whether the movement down the Valley and across the Potomac should be made. The accession to my command from Breckenridge's forces had not been as great as General Lee supposed it would be, on account of the disorganization consequent on Jones' defeat at Piedmont, and the subsequent rapid movement to Lynchburg from Rockfish Gap, but I determined to carry out the original design at all hazards, and telegraphed to General Lee my purpose to continue the movement.

The march was resumed on the 28th with five days' rations in the waggons and two days in haversacks, empty waggons being left to bring the shoes when they arrived. Imboden was sent through Brock's Gap in the Great North Mountain to the Valley of the South Branch of the Potomac, with his brigade of cavalry and a battery of horse artillery, to destroy the railroad bridge over that stream and all the bridges on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad from that point to Martinsburg. The Telegraph line was repaired to New Market as we marched down the Valley, and communication kept up with that point by signal stations. On the 2nd of July we reached Winchester[2] and I here received a dispatch from General Lee directing me to remain in the lower Valley until everything was in readiness to cross the Potomac, and to destroy the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal as far as possible. This was in accordance with my previous determination, and its policy was obvious. My provisions were nearly exhausted and if I had moved through London, it would have been necessary for me to halt and thresh wheat and have it ground, as neither bread nor flour could be otherwise obtained; which would have caused much greater delay than was required on the other route, where we could take provisions from the enemy. Moreover unless the Baltimore and Ohio railroad was torn up, the enemy would have been able to move troops from the West over that road to Washington.

On the night of the 2nd, McCausland was sent across North Mountain, to move down Back Creek, and burn the railroad bridge at its mouth, and then to move by North Mountain depot to Hainesville, on the road from Martinsburg to Williamsport; and, early on the morning of the 3rd, Bradley Johnson was sent by Smithfield and Leetown, to cross the railroad at Kearneysville, east of Martinsburg, and unite with McCausland at Hainesville, so as to cut off the retreat of Sigel, who was at Martinsburg with a considerable force. Breckenridge moved, on the same morning, direct for Martinsburg, with his command preceded by Gilmor's battalion of cavalry, while I moved, with Rodes' and Ramseur's divisions, over the route taken by Johnson, to Leetown. On the approach of Breckenridge, Sigel, after very slight skirmishing, evacuated Martinsburg, leaving behind considerable stores, which fell into our hands. McCausland burned the bridge over Back Creek, captured the guard at North Mountain depot, and succeeded in reaching Hainesville; but Johnson encountered a force at Leetown, under Mulligan, which, after hard fighting, he drove across the railroad, when, Sigel, having united with Mulligan, Johnson's command was forced back, just before night, on Rodes' and Ramseur's divisions, which had arrived at Leetown, after a march of twenty-four miles. It was too late, and these divisions were too much exhausted, to go after the enemy; and, during the night, Sigel retreated across the Potomac, at Shepherdstown, to Maryland Heights.

On the 4th, Shepherdstown was occupied by a part of Ransom's cavalry. Rodes' and Ramseur's divisions moved to Harper's Ferry, and the enemy was driven from Bolivar Heights, and the Village of Bolivar, to an inner line of works under the cover of the guns from Maryland Heights. Breckenridge, after burning the railroad bridges at Martinsburg, and across the Opequon, moved to Duffield's depot, five miles from Harper's Ferry, destroying the road us he moved. During the night of the 4th, the enemy evacuated Harper's Ferry, burning the railroad and pontoon bridges across the Potomac.

It was not possible to occupy the town of Harper's Ferry, except with skirmishers, as it was thoroughly commanded by the heavy guns on Maryland Heights; and the 5th was spent by Rodes' and Ramseur's divisions in demonstrating at that place. In the afternoon, Breckenridge's command crossed the river at Shepherdstown, and Gordon's division was advanced over the Antietam, towards Maryland Heights. At night, considerable stores, which had been abandoned at Harper's Ferry, were secured; and, before day, Rodes' and Ramsenr's divisions moved to Shepherdstown, and crossed the Potomac early on the 6th, Lewis' brigade, of Ramseur's division, being left to occupy Harper's Ferry with skirmishers.

On this day (the 6th) Gordon's division advanced towards Maryland Heights, and drove the enemy into his works. Working parties were employed in destroying the aqueduct of the canal over the Antietam, and the locks and canal boats.

On the 7th, Rodes moved through Rohersville, on the road to Crampton's Gap in South Mountain, and skirmished with a small force of the enemy, while Breckenridge demonstrated against Maryland Heights, with Gordon's division, supported by his other division, now under Brigadier-General Echols, who had reported for duty.

While these operations were going on, McCausland had occupied Hagerstown, and levied a contribution of $20,000, and Boonsboro' had been occupied by Johnson's cavalry. On the 6th I received a letter from General Lee, by special courier, informing me that, on the 12th, an effort would be made to release the prisoners at Point Lookout, and directing me to take steps to unite them with my command, if the attempt was successful; but I was not informed of the manner in which the attempt would be made—General Lee stating that he was not, himself, advised of the particulars.

My desire had been to manoeuvre the enemy out of Maryland Heights, so as to enable me to move directly from Harper's Ferry for Washington; but he had taken refuge in his strongly-fortified works, and, as they could not be approached without great difficulty, and an attempt to carry them by assault would have resulted in greater loss than the advantage to be gained would justify, I determined to move through the gaps of South Mountain to the north of the Heights. On the 7th, the greater portion of the cavalry was sent across the mountain in the direction of Frederick; and, that night, the expected shoes having arrived and .been distributed, orders were given for a general move next morning; and an officer (Lieut.-Col. Goodwin, of a Louisiana Regiment,) was ordered back to Winchester, with a small guard, to collect the stragglers at that place, and prevent them from following.

Imboden had reached the railroad, at the South Branch of the Potomac, and partially destroyed the bridge, but had not succeeded in dislodging the guard from the block-house at that place. He had been taken sick, and very little had been accomplished by the expedition; and his brigade, now under the command of Colonel George H. Smith, had returned.

Early on the morning of the 8th, the whole force moved; Rodes, through Crampton's Gap, to Jefferson; Breckenridge, through Fox's Gap; and Ramseur, with the trains, through Boonsboro' Gap, followed by Lewis' brigade, which had started from Harper's Ferry the night before, after burning the trestle-work on the railroad, and the stores which had not been brought off. Breckenridge and Ramseur encamped near Middletown, and Rodes near Jefferson. Ransom had occupied Catoctan Mountain, between Middletown and Frederick, with his cavalry, and had skirmished heavily with a body of the enemy at the latter place. McCausland was ordered to move to the right, in the afternoon, and the next day cut the telegraph and railroad between Maryland Heights and Washington and Baltimore cross the Monocacy, and, if possible, occupy the railroad bridge over that stream, at the Junction near Frederick.

Early on the 9th, Johnson with his brigade of cavalry, and a battery of horse artillery, moved to the north of Frederick, with orders to strike the railroads from Baltimore to Harrisburg and Philadelphia, burn the bridges over the Gunpowder, also to cut the railroad between Washington and Baltimore, and threaten the latter place: and then to move towards Point Lookout for the purpose of releasing the prisoners, if we should succeed in getting into Washington. The other troops also moved forward towards Monocacy Junction, and Ramseurs division parsed through Frederick, driving a force of skirmishers before it.


  1. The scenes on Hunter's route from Lynchburg had been truly heart-rending. Houses had been burned, and helpless women and children left without shelter. The country had been stripped of provisions and many families without a morsel to eat. Furniture and bedding had been cut to pieces and old men and women and children robbed of all the clothing they had except that on their backs. Ladies trunks had been rifled and their dresses torn to pieces in mere wantonness. Even the negro girls had lost their little finery. We now had renewed evidences of the outrages committed by Hunter's orders in burning and plundering private houses. We saw the ruins of a number of houses to which the torch had been applied by his orders. At Lexington he had burned the Military Institute, with all of its contents, including its library and scientific apparatus; and Washington College had been plundered and the statue of Washington stolen. The residence of Ex-Governor Letcher at that place had been burned by orders, and but a few minutes given Mrs Letcher and her family to leave the house. In the same county a most excellent christian gentleman, a Mr Creigh, had been hung, because, on a former occasion, he had killed a straggling and marauding Federal soldier while in the set of insulting and outraging the ladies of his family. These are but some of the outrages committed by Hunter or his orders, and I will not insult the memory of the ancient barbarians of the North by calling them "acts of Vandalism." If those old barbarians were savage and cruel, they at least had the manliness and daring of rude soldiers, with occasional traits of magnanimity. Hunter's deed were those of a malignant and cowardly fanatic, who was better qualified to make war upon helpless women and children than upon armed soldiers. The time consumed in the perpetration of those deeds, was the salvation of Lynchburg, with its stores, foundries, and factories, which were so necessary to our army at Richmond.
  2. On this day we passed through Newtown where where several houses including that of a Methodist minister, had been burned by Hunter's orders, because a part of Mosby's command had attacked a train of supplies for Sigel's force at this place. The original order was to burn the whole town,but the officer sent to execute it had revolted at the cruel mandate of his superior, and another had been sent who but partially executed it, after having forced the people to take an oath of allegiance to the United States to save their houses. Mosby's battalion, though called "guerillas" by the enemy, was a regular organization in the Confederate Army, and was merely serving on detached duty under General Lee's orders. The attack on the train was an act of legitimate warfare, and the order to burn Newton, and the burning of the houses mentioned were most wanton, cruel, unjustifiable, and cowardly.