Page images
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]




cavalry charged fiercely towards the upper part of the town. Three times they came gallantly on, and each time were hurled back by the Thirteenth Massachusetts, under, Captain Screibner. Our troops then fell back steadily into the town; and from behind the houses, in the corn fields adjacent, and wherever shelter could be obtained, poured in ceaseless volleys upon the enemy, who strove in vain to make headway against them. Colonel Geary had sent for reinforcements, and soon Lieutenant Martin, who had been stationed with a rifled cannon to protect the ferry, came up. Dashing through a scourging fire of shot and shell, he galloped into the town, and unlimbering in the street opened on the hights. Our forces now steadily advanced, firing as they moved, when the order to "fix bayonets! " passed along the line. A sharp clatter of steel followed, and then “Charge!” rang on the astonished ears of the enemy. Forward, through the fire, the gallant band moved shoulder to shoulder, and swept the hights with loud cheers. The enemy undertook to rally, but our artillery, firing with the precision of rifle practice, dismounted their guns, and scattered their cavalry. The fight had lasted from eight till one, when the little band, scarce two hundred and fifty strong, encamped on the hights they had so gallantly won, and flinging themselves on the earth rested till midnight. Again summoned to their ranks, they took up the line of march, and retracing their steps, crossed the river unmolested. Our loss was only thirteen, while that of the enemy was over a hundred. Ten days after, General Kelly advanced on Romney, and drove the enemy from it, capturing many prisoners.


It being desirable to ascertain more exactly the position and numbers of the enemy in the vicinity, it was determined



to make a reconnoissance, and at midnight on the twentieth, Colonel Devens of the Fifteenth Massachusetts crossed over from Harrison's Island, at a spot known as Ball's Bluff

, with about three hundred men, intending to take a rebel camp reported to be about á mile from the river; and after making a thorough reconnoissance to return to the river, and, if he thought fit, report, and wait for reinforcements. The méans of transportation furnished him consisted of three miserable boats, capable, all together, of carrying only thirty mén. Hence, it took him nearly four hours to get his little band over.

When he reached the shore, he found no road leading to the high bluff that rose dark and sombre above. The scouts, however, discovered a mere bridle path, which, after winding some sixty rods down the beach led to the top. ' Along this steep, narrow way, the troops marched in dead silence, and at length reached the top, where they halted till daybreak. Many a gallant heart as he looked down on the dark flowing river far below him, and remembered that it had taken four hours to cross it, felt that if met by superior númbers, his fate was sealed. There was no retreat-it was victory, or death, or capture.

About daybreak, Colonel Lee, with a hundred men from the Twentieth Massachusetts joined him, when he moved towards Leesburg, till he came to the spot designated as the rebel encampment; but found that the scouts in the darkness had mistaken corn-shocks for rebel tents. The sun had not yet risen when they came in full view of Leesburg. Seeing no appearance of the enemy, Colonel Tevens determined, instead of returning, to report and wait for reinforcements. He did this without hesitation, because he knew à large scow had been added to the three boats in which he had crossed, capable of carrying sixty men at a time, while the stream was so narrow that a trip could be made in ten



minutes. Soon after, a company of riflemen was reported on his right, and he sent out Captain Philbrick to attaek it. A sharp skirmish followed, and he was about ordering up reinforcements to the captain, when a company of cavalry appearing on his flank, he directed him to fall back to the woods in which the main body was concealed. Here, after waiting for half an hour in expectation of an attack, in vain, he concluded to join Colonel Lee on the bluff. But after remaining with him a short time, and thoroughly scouting the woods, he returned to his first position. About eight o'clock, the messenger he had sent across the river returned with orders to remain where he was, and reinforcements should be sent him. In an hour and a half the remainder of his regiment rejoined him, making in all six hundred and twenty-five men. At noon the enemy was reported in force on his left, and in half an hour the attack commenced. The men resolutely held their ground, but the Colonel seeing that the enemy was making vigorous efforts to outflank him, ordered them to fall back to an open space in the woods, and called in his skirmishers.

After waiting a short time in expectation of an attack, he again fell back to the bluff, where he found Colonel Baker, who had just crossed to take command by order of General Stone. Reinforcements had arrived, but why they were sent when no way of incrcasing the means of transportation had been discovered, instead of recalling the small force already across, is a mystery which no explanation has been able to solve. With every company that crossed, the possibility of a retreat became more hopeless, while the difficulty of furnishing proper assistance, in case, the enemy used the facilities within his reach, of rapidly reinforcing himself, may be gathered from the report of Lieutenant Bramhall, who was ordered to take some light pieces of artillery over with all possible dispatch, "The means," he says, “provided for

« PreviousContinue »