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.
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.