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The Battle of Piedmont – An After Action Account of the Tragic Sights of the Battlefield

The Battle at Staunton, Va.—The Fifteenth Cavalry in the Reserve.
The following is a copy of a private letter to Hon. R. Woolworth, from his son-in-law, a member of the Fifteenth Cavalry, who is detailed upon Gen. Stahl’s staff.
IN THE FIELD, STAUNTON, VA.,
June 8, 1864.

We came along our route very comfortably and with but little opposition, until we reached Piedmont, about twelve miles north of this, on Sunday last, (5th inst.,) in the morning about seven o’clock. Met the enemy in full force, and they pitched in, expecting another New Market affair. Very soon the ball commenced with artillery, and very soon the whole army on both sides were hard at it; and continued so until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when the battle was ended by some of the rebels throwing down their arms and others running away, leaving their killed and a portion of their wounded on the field. Among the killed was the rebel Gen. W. E. Jones, a brother-in-law of Dr. Brown, at Saltville. I went to see him, and sure enough, it was him, with a rifle-ball through his head, entering at the corner of his right eye. He is a horrible looking sight. The battle-field I visited, and never wish to visit another, as it was the worst looking place I ever saw. The part occupied by the rebels was literally covered with the dead; officers and privates lying side by side, and not a bit of difference between them then—one as good as another. Their loss was immense, and their killed alone must have been certainly three or four hundred, and possibly more, and their wounded, no one knows how many, as they took with them all they could and left a large number on the field. Every house and barn between the battle-field and Staunton is a hospital.

Our troops entered this place and took possession of it without firing a gun. We captured in the fight about nine hundred rebels, and have them yet (many commissioned officers) in a large yard that they had just prepared (I have been told) with a high fence for the purpose of keeping us in, but we are not there yet. They are a curious looking set of beings, hardly two in the whole lot dressed alike, old and young mixed together, and all in all, they are a miscellaneous looking set.
This town is very finely situated in a valley, and a person can hardly see it until he gets to it, but the majority of the residences are of the first- class and are very tasty, and the grounds, which are large, are laid put with much taste.

The General Hospital of the Confederate States is located here and is a beautiful building, very large and spacious, and the grounds, they say, are magnificent; but I have not visited it, and probably shall not. The railroad and its buildings, bridges, and all the freight stored in them, have been burned by our folks, and all the Government stores here have been destroyed that could not be transported. The cars left here the night before we came, with a large train of supplies, but a very large amount was left behind and is destroyed. They have not been in regular running order for two or three weeks, but occasionally making a trip for stores. They run from here to Lynchburg and then to Richmond, but their direct route is from here to Gordonsville, and then direct by the Virginia Central Railroad, but they do not, I suppose, consider it safe just now.

During the engagement on Sunday, General Stahl was slightly wounded in the shoulder, but is improving rapidly, and soon, I hope, will be able to take his saddle again. You need not think, by any means, that in the fight our men all escaped; but our loss, I do not think, is near as large as the rebels, and in fact I know it is not, but as yet the result is not ascertained.
The 15th Cavalry was not engaged that day, being on duty as rear guard to the train, so they all escaped.

I write this on rebel paper so you can see it, but don’t think that we have no other, as we have a plenty.

Yours, A. W. D

For more on the Battle of Piedmont and Hunter’s Raid on Staunton see:

 

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First Review of the Battle of Piedmont

Thanks to Andrew Wagenhoffer over at Civil War Books and Authors.

http://cwba.blogspot.com/2011/04/patchan-battle-of-piedmont-and-hunters.html

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Colonel Augustus Moor and The Battle of Piedmont

Colonel Augustus Moor

Colonel Augustus Moor has long intrigued me as a Civil War officer.  When I look at his picture, I see a man who would seem more at home relaxing on a stool at a beer garden in my hometown of Parma, Ohio after another loss by the Cleveland Indians than leading troops in battle in 1864.  Parma, for those not familiar with it, is noted for its strong Germanic and Slavic ethnic roots (read polkas, beer, sauerkraut, and kielbasa).  Moor certainly does not look the part of the prototypical “dashing and gallant” officer of either side with his stout build and clean shaven face.

However, looks can be deceiving and they certainly were for Colonel Moor.   Major Theodore F. Lang of Hunter’s staff observed that Moor was “an intelligent and efficient officer and gallant soldier who was well liked by officers and men.”  He had received military training at the Royal Academy of Forestry in his native Germany and was actively involved in revolutionary plotting against the monarchy. The latter activities resulted in an eight-month prison sentence and two-year banishment from the Fatherland.  Upon release from prison, Moor immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadephia to begin a new life. During the Second Seminole Indian in Florida, he served as an officer in a Philadelphia Dragoon Company.  He ultimately settled in Cincinnati where he opened “Moor’s Garden,” a popular bakery, coffeehouse and tavern.  He also joined the local militia and founded the city’s German Democratic Club, gaining prominence among Cincinnati’s burgeoning German population.  When the Mexican War broke out, he organized a company for the 4th Ohio Infantry and saw action under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, rising to the rank of colonel.  After the war, Moor returned to to his family and prosperous business in Cincinnati until the outbreak of the Civil War.

In 1861, Moor organized the 2nd German Regiment or 28th Ohio Infantry and led it through the 1861 West Virginia campaigns.  He rose to brigade command in 1862, but was captured while leading an advance patrol during the Battle of South Mountain.  After returning to West Virginia, Moor experienced his greatest tactical success of the war leading his small brigade in a victorious charge in November 1863 at the Battle of Droop Mountain, the largest ever fought in West Virginia.

Battle Flag of the 28th Ohio

In the spring of 1864, Moor arrived in the Shenandoah Valley and soon found his brigade broken up by Sigel in the midst of the campaign.  Sigel then sent Moor twenty miles in advance of the main army, a “great mistake” to Moor who dutifully followed orders.  Moor advanced and drove Imboden out of New Market (See Charlie Knight’s Valley Thunder) and held the ground, waiting for Sigel to arrive.  When finally showed up, he posted his main force beyond supporting distance of Moor.  The Confederates attacked and drove his outnumbered force from the field in confusion.  Although Sigel was a fellow German, Moor mockingly described Sigel’s efforts as a case of “butiful management.”

During the battle of Piedmont, Moor led his brigade against the Confederate infantry in several attacks.  The first drove back the advance Confederate line.  Moor attempted to follow up his success, but was stopped by Confederate infantry entrenched behind a rail fence.  Hunter ordered a third attack, and Moor complied expecting to be supported on his left by Colonel Joseph Thoburn’s brigade.  Thoburn concluded that his flank was exposed and did not advance in conjunction with Moor, whose brigade was again repulsed.  This time the Confederates counterattacked, but fortunately, Moor’s veteran regiment, the 28th Ohio, held its ground in the center of the battle line.  Moor’s Germans laid down behind the brow of a hill and opened fire at the attacking rebels.  Supported by Captain Alfred Von Kleiser’s artillery on the right, Moor repulsed the rebel effort.  Thoburn’s brigade withdrew to the support of the United States artillery until ordered by Hunter to conduct a flank attack.  This time the assault came off as planned, and Moor’s brigade joined in the attack that routed the rebels from the battlefield, with the 28th Ohio making a bayonet charge against the entrenched Southerners.  In this battle, Moor’s brigade bore the brunt of the fighting losing nearly 500 men killed and wounded.  Moor’s old regiment, the 28th Ohio lost 138 of those casualties and counted 72 bullet holes in its battle flag at the end of the day.

After the battle, Hunter’s army occupied Staunton. Moor, whose enlistment was expiring was tasked with escorting the 1,000 Confederate captives to the Camp Morton POW Camp in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Hunter was disappointed that Moor was leaving the service, but expressed “. . . his high appreciation of your [Moor’s]  soldierly qualities and services, and his regret at losing you from this command.  The masterly management of your brigade at the recent battle of Piedmont on the 5th instant, did no more than sustain the creditable character given of you by your former commanders.”  Hunter’s adjutant also informed Moor that Hunter “. . . trusts that the service may not permanently lose so good an officer at a time so critical and to this end has written a letter to the Hon. Secretary of War.”  Nevertheless, Moor and the 28th Ohio escorted the prisoners to Indiana and after a short stay there were mustered out of the service.  The Germans were welcomed Indiana as conquering heroes and greeted by bands and a lengthy speech by Governor Morton.  Fortunately, Lieutenant Henry Ocker noted that Colonel Moor halted the 28th Ohio at a German beer garden and treated his men “to a few glasses of beer.”

Moor returned home to his family and business, living in Cincinnati until his death in 1883. He was buried in Cincinnati’s  Spring Grove Cemetery a prominent resting place for veterans of the War of the Rebellion.  Also buried there is his son-in-law, Major General Godfrey Weitzel who married Moor’s daughter

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The Battle of Piedmont, June 5, 1864

Today is the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Piedmont, Virginia.  It is a much forgotten battle although in terms of killed and wounded, it exceeds all of the Valley Battles save Opequon and Cedar Creeks which were fought by armies many times larger.  The infantry portion of the nearly day long battle lasted for three hours of almost continuous combat.  By the end of the day, the Union forces had lost 875 men killed and wound, while the Confederates lost at least 500 killed and wounded and more than 1,000 captured, of whom 988 made it to Camp Morton POW Camp in Indiana.  The most significant casualty was Southern Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones who was killed leading a last ditch counter attack.  Major General David Hunter’s victory at Piedmont opened the door for the occupation of Staunton by the United States Army on the following day.  In honor of the anniversary of the battle, I am posting another letter from the 34th Massachusetts, which participated in the final U.S. attack that won the battle.

Company D, 34th Massachusetts Regiment

Staunton, Va., June 8, 1864.

Brig. Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones

The 34th had the left of the line.  We moved steadily up the hill towards the enemy’s flank; the right of our line got in sight of the Rebs and commenced firing before we did, so that as soon as our heads showed above the brow of the hill the Johnnies were ready for us.  They gave us a volley that killed four, shot down our color-bearer, and wounded several others.  Two men fell dead right in front of me; one of the color-corporals threw away his gun and caught the colors before they reached the ground.  The Colonel gave the order, and with a cheer that would have been heard a mile, our boys rushed forward.  When within less than 20 yards of the edge of the woods, we delivered a volley that sent many a poor Reb to his long home, and loading as we ran, we pushed on into the woods.

I expect we made enough noise for 5,000 men, at least so the boys say who were behind.  We drove them about six rods through the woods when they rallied and poured the lead into us like hail stones.  It was just the prettiest fighting you ever saw, give and take. During this time one of our batteries was brought into position and poured in an awful raking fire along their barricade.  For about 10 or 15 minutes it was nip and tuck with us in the woods.

I saw a great six foot Reb behind a tree about six rods in front of us, loading as fast as he could.  I dodged through the line, flanked him and had just got the b est bead on him you ever saw when the scamp saw me and threw down his gun and surrendered to some one on the other side,.  I felt quite disappointed to be cheated out of my shot for I was sure of him.  Just then the Adjutant got a messenger through his left shoulder, but as he was able to walk I did not go back with him.

About this time the Rebs were reinforced on our left and came crawling down side of a short piece of fence to flank us.  We were firing from two directions as you will see.  Their fire from the fence was very hot, as you may imagine when I tell you that Companies B and D which were on the left lost 50 killed and wounded  within a few moments — as many as all the other companies together.

I ran and reported the situation of affairs to the Colonel, who was on the right and then ran back to get another shot at them; found that I had used up all the cartridges in my pocket, and so picked up a cartridge box beside a wounded boy.  The Colonel brought some men from the right and we held them at bay.  Captain Thompson had just picked up a musket that one of our wounded had dropped.  I pointed out to him a “Gray Back” kneeling side of a large pine tree about 15 rods in front of us and told him that I’d just bet I could spoil his aim for him.  He was just bringing his gun to his shoulder in our direction; the captain said he didn’t believe I could hit him.  I took good aim and fired.  The Johnny fell over backwards.  About that time the Rebs concluded that they had enough of it, and began to give ground a little.  Our boys seeing it, advanced cheering and drove them completely out of the wood and on the road to Staunton.  They were completely routed.  We captured 900 prisoners, and amongst them 60 commissioned officers.

We found Major General H.E. Jones who commanded the rebel forces dead in front of our line, shot through the head.  As we passed the big pine tree, I saw my Reb lying there with a bullet through his head.  I felt sorry for the poor fellow and to ease my conscience as much as possible, and went to work and did all in my power to relive the sufferings of the poor fellows who laid wounded around among the trees.

As we came through the woods I found a handsome field glass that some of their officers had dropped in their hurry to get away.  You never saw such a sight as the field presented.  Everywhere were strewed clothes, blankets, provisions, arms and equipments.  We gathered together and burnt over 1600 stand of arms.

After the battle I went up along the barricade where our battery had poured in its fire.  There were within the space of 30- rods over 50 dead rebels, mangled in every conceivable manner.  At one time during the forenoon while we were lying in the woods, the rebels got one of their brass bands up by the barricade, where it played “Southern Rights” and The Bonny Blue Flag.”  In our charge we captured the leader of the band and the instruments but thy broke them up before leaving them.

We moved toward Staunton Monday morning expecting to have an engagement before advancing far, but the rebs were too thoroughly whipped — we marched into Staunton with colors flying and bands playing — stopped over night, burnt any amount of good property — destroyed the railroad buildings and burnt a large amount of arms and equipments stored here which the rebs were unable to take away.  We captured about 200 stragglers on our way here from the battle field; we also found in hospitals here some 400 wounded from Lee’s army, whom we paroled.

Tuesday morning wee started on the Salem road to effect a junction with Gens. Averill and Crook — after marching about 5 miles our signal corps reached Averill’s signals so we cam back into town and this morning they cam marching in.  They have torn up any quantity of railroad along this route.

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