MAY 26- JUNE 29, 1864–The Lynchburg Campaign.
No. 22.–Report of Brig. Gen. William W. Averell, U.S. Army, commanding Second Cavalry Division.
HDQRS. SECOND CAV. DIV., DEPT. OF WEST VIRGINIA,
Charleston, W. Va., July 1, 1864.
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the cavalry under my command since the 1st ultimo:
On the 1st of June my division, consisting of the brigades of Brigadier-General Duffié, Colonel Schoonmaker, and Col. J. H. Oley, was encamped at Bunger’s Mills, Greenbrier County, waiting for supplies from Charleston of horses, shoes, clothing, &c. Crook’s division crossed the river on that day, leaving me to bring up my detachments and supplies, which did not arrive.
On the 2d Mr. David Creigh, a citizen of Lewisburg, was tried by a military commission and found guilty of murdering a Union soldier in November last. The proceedings were subsequently approved and Mr. Creigh was hanged at Belleview on Friday, the 10th of June. The detachments and supplies for which we had so long waited failing to arrive, I followed Crook’s division on the 3d to White Sulphur Springs with 3,200 mounted and 1,200 dismounted men; 600 men were without shoes, and many other articles of clothing were much needed. From the 18th of May until this day we had waited near Lewisburg upon half rations, most of the time for necessary supplies of horseshoes, nails, and clothing; but owing to the miserable, inadequate, and insufficient transportation furnished from the Kanawha we were obliged to set out again almost as destitute as when we arrived. The march from Sulphur Springs to Staunton was made in five days via Morris’ Hill, Warm Springs, Goshen, and Middlebrook. My barefooted men suffered terribly, but without complaint on this march. At Staunton the much needed supplies were received.
On the 9th Brigadier-General Duffié was placed in command of the First Cavalry Division and my own was reorganized as follows, viz: First Brigade, Colonel Schoonmaker–Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Eighth Ohio; Second Brigade, Colonel Oley–Seventh West Virginia Cavalry, Thirty-fourth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry, Third West Virginia Cavalry, Fifth West Virginia Cavalry; Third Brigade, Colonel Powell–First West Virginia Cavalry, Second West Virginia Cavalry. The Third West Virginia Cavalry was assigned temporarily to the division of Crook and has remained with it since.
At the request of the major-general commanding the department, on the 9th I submitted a plan of operations the purpose of which was the capture of Lynchburg and the destruction of railroads running from that place in five days. The plan proposed the movement of Sullivan’s, Crook’s, and my own division by different roads up the Valley, while the division of Duffié, after threatening the position of the enemy at Rockfish Gap, was to pass southward along the western base of the Blue Ridge, making demonstrations at the various gaps, sending scouting parties to destroy the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and to arrive at Buena Vista Furnace, on Jackson River, at the close of the second day. On the third day he was to move through White’s Gap to Amherst Court-House, destroying the railroad, sending a detachment of his division toward Lynchburg for that purpose, while he proceeded with his main body across the James River below Lynchburg and destroyed the South Side Railroad east of the city, his entire division forming a junction with the corps of Major-General Hunter south of Lynchburg. The plan was approved and adopted, and orders were issued covering the operation for the first day. By direction of the major-general commanding I gave to Brigadier-General Duffié complete and comprehensive verbal instructions with regard to the route he was to take and the services his division was to render. He was also furnished with memoranda to assist his memory.
On the 10th my division marched via Summerdean to Belleview, on Hays Creek, with little opposition, communicating with Crook at Brownsburg, two and one-half miles to the east. Efforts were made to cut off the rebel force of McCausland, which had attempted to make a stand against Crook on the Brownsburg pike. Taking the route via Cedar Grove, on the 11th my division crossed North River at the Rockbridge Bath and endeavored again to cut off McCausland, who had burned the bridge at Lexington, and was opposing the crossing of Crook. The enemy, however, avoided the danger by a hasty flight and the town of Lexington fell into the hands of my division with little or no resistance.
No communication having been received from General Duffié, I sent scouts to find him during the evening of the 11th and the ensuing day, which time was wasted in waiting to hear from him. Fearing he might fail in the execution of the most important part of his work, I dispatched 200 men, under Lieutenant Grim, First West Virginia Cavalry, and Lieutenant Kerr, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, on the evening of the 12th, from Lexington through White’s Gap, via Amherst Court-House and around Lynchburg, to destroy the railroad. The perilous duty assigned to these officers was most gallantly performed, and they rejoined their regiments on the 15th. The report of Lieutenant Grim is inclosed.
At 2 a.m. on the 13th my division moved toward Buchanan, driving McCausland in disorder across the James River. He was pursued the last eight miles to Buchanan at a gallop, my advance endeavoring to save the bridge at that place, but the flying forces of McCausland set it on fire before he himself had crossed, obliging him to ford the river to escape capture. Two brigades were immediately thrown across to a fruitless pursuit. Several bateaux, loaded with provisions and stores, were captured near this town. Two of my scouts who had been sent to Duffié the day previous returned, having fallen in with a reconnoitering party of the enemy ten miles from Lexington, from the commanding officer of which they received a dispatch to bear to Breckinridge, a copy of which is inclosed.(*) A spy from the enemy who came into my camp soon after my arrival was killed by my order. I soon received a notification from the major-general commanding that he should remain that day at Lexington, and instructions to wait for his arrival at Buchanan.
The 14th was occupied in destroying some important iron furnaces in the neighborhood of Fincastle. On the 15th my division followed Crook’s over the Blue Ridge between the Peaks of Otter to Fancy Farm, where General Crook, having received information that Breckinridge was at Balcony Falls, desired me to wait until the arrival of the main body, as our left flank would be too much exposed. The brigade of Colonel Powell was sent forward to Liberty, and the country in that direction was most thoroughly scouted by him that evening. Scouts were sent to Lynchburg and every other direction.
The following morning my command pushed on through Liberty, rebuilt the bridge over Little Otter River, forded Big Otter, and attacked McCausland at New London about dark. He had been re-enforced by Imboden with 400 men and two guns, but relinquished his position after a short action, in which he lost about a dozen men.
At sunrise on the 17th my command moved by the old road toward Lynchburg, some two miles to the right of Crook, who moved on the direct road from New London. The enemy resisted our advance at every step after arriving within eight miles of the city, but it was not until we came in sight of the stone church, four miles from Lynchburg, that he seemed determined to give battle. I constantly advised General Crook of my progress, and after a brief reconnaissance of the position, opened the attack. The ground was difficult for cavalry, and its peculiar formation made the following disposition necessary: Schoonmaker’s brigade furnished a strong skirmish line, mounted, across the open ground, supported by squadrons with intervals in columns of fours, open order, ready to charge or dismount to fight: Oley’s brigade on the right in column, Powell’s on the left, in the same order. The enemy retired as the attack was developed, with very little skirmishing, but as it approached the crest of the hill upon which the church stands a rapid artillery fire was opened upon us, and their small-arms became unmasked. Schoonmaker’s and Oley’s brigades dismounted and ran to the front; the section of artillery with my division galloped up to the church, supported by Powell, and opened its fire. The enemy signally failed in his ruse to draw us into a position from which he expected to drive us. After a short but sharp contest he was driven nearly a mile toward Lynchburg. Crook brought up two brigades, which were soon deployed and advanced to the support of my line, and two of his batteries also arrived at the front. The enemy, driven to his field-works, received re-enforcements, and confidently advanced to charge my line. Had the infantry support been in position, to have carried on our success, then we might have achieved some important advantages. As it was my line had a hard struggle to maintain its position until the infantry arrived, but with it came the dusk of evening, and although the boldness of the enemy was severely punished, our attack was delayed until the morning.
During the night, by the direction of the major-general commanding, efforts were made to communicate with Duffié, who had lost himself on the extreme left. Scouting parties were also sent to obtain information from the city. Re-enforcements continually arrived to the enemy. On the following morning Duffié was found and ordered to attack on the Forest road. Two hundred men under Captain Duncan, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, were sent to the enemy’s extreme left to harass him, and, if possible, destroy the railroad. Later Powell’s brigade was sent to attack the enemy at the Campbell Court-House road.
The enemy busied himself with throwing up earth-works during the night of the 17th and the day of the 18th, until 4 p.m., when he advanced from his works, making an attack, which was quickly repulsed. Schoonmaker’s brigade was placed in position during the action, but was not called upon to enter it. Oley was looking out for the rear and left. It was evident that too many lives must be expended to carry the enemy’s position. The morrow would find him in a condition to assume the offensive, if not already so. The delay at Lexington, rendered necessary by the deviation of the First Cavalry Division from the course ordered for it, and the change of place made by ordering it to join the main body, instead of going around Lynchburg, had proved fatal to the successful execution of the original project.
The orders of the major-general commanding to withdraw westward along the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad left me as rear guard of the column, which position was maintained until our arrival at Liberty. Between the Big
and Little Otter Rivers I received orders from the major-general commanding to make a movement upon the Danville railroad, which were suspended soon after at Liberty. Upon the arrival of the army at the latter place it halted to rest west of the town. I had requested that a brigade of infantry be left to support me, anticipating an attack from the indications in rear; but my request was not granted, and unaided my division stood the brunt of a severe attack for two hours. Schoonmaker’s brigade especially distinguished itself by its obstinate resistance. My ammunition failing, the division was withdrawn behind Crook’s, which had been formed in line of battle a mile in the rear. My loss in this severe engagement was 122.
At 3 a.m. the 20th the march was resumed in the direction of Buford’s Gap. Scouts had informed us that a heavy force of cavalry had passed the night before to the northward in the direction of the Peaks of Otter. Arrived west of the gap, my division was placed in position in connection with Crook’s to enable the troops to rest and refresh themselves. At sundown the column was again in motion toward Salem, Duffié division in advance of the trains, and my own in rear, with the exception of Powell’s brigade, which was left with General Crook in rear. Staff officers were sent forward to direct General Duffié to picket strongly all the side reads until the column had passed. At Bonsack’s Station no picket was found on the road to Fincastle, and scouts sent by me upon that road reported a cavalry force of the enemy moving in the direction of Salem. An officer was dispatched to General Duffié with directions to take a strong position near that place, and patrol a distance of four miles upon every road leading to it.
I received during the night an order from the major-general commanding to send the train on at once from Salem upon the road to New Castle, but not feeling assured that the road indicated had been properly patroled, I postponed the execution of the order until my arrival at Salem, to which place I hastened, finding the division of Duffié asleep among the wagons at daylight, with one brigade in the village and pickets only just outside. Without leaving my saddle I roused one of his regiments and sent it at once upon the New Castle road, with orders to attain the summit of Catawba Mountain, seven miles from Salem, and await further orders. Immediately after it I sent one of his brigades to support it. I directed the two brigades of my division with me to be posted opposite the Fincastle road to await the attack of the approaching enemy. It was soon reported from Duffié’s advance that the New Castle road was blockaded. I directed him to take his entire division present and proceed to clean out the gap and hold it until the column had passed, placing a regiment upon the summit of Catawba Mountain to hold that position. The wagon train followed him. The cavalry of the enemy at this time attacked my brigades on the Fincastle road, but were repulsed. The action could have been made much more decisive in our favor had General Sullivan granted assistance, for which he was vainly importuned, although he had a brigade within a few hundred yards of the scene. Meeting the major-general commanding upon my return from the flank, I represented to him the necessity for resting and refreshing the troops, explaining to him the arrangements which had been made and the positions taken, all of which he approved, directing provisions to be cooked in the town, and the artillery and troops to bivouack. Shortly after it was reported that the enemy had attacked our trains in the gap, and later that he had captured some pieces of artillery. Who had started the artillery upon the road or who knew that it was not in camp as had been directed, I am unable to say. With the brigades of Colonel Schoonmaker and Oley the enemy was soon routed in a brilliant manner, the guns retaken and several of the enemy killed and captured. It was found upon proceeding through the gap that General Duffié had neglected to observe any of the instructions he had received. Not a single precaution had been taken by him to prevent the attack which had occurred, and not a regiment nor a man had been left by him upon the summit of Catawba Mountain, but pushing northward he was only halted by a staff officer sent by me. During the night of the 21st my division followed the First to New Castle, guarding the roads leading to the east and west until the main body had passed. The march thence to this place via Sweet Springs White Sulphur Springs, and Lewisburg was made without incident. The officers and men suffered greatly from hunger, but no complaint was heard. From White Sulphur Springs the Eighth Ohio Cavalry was sent to overtake and accompany a train to Beverly which had left us on the 16th at Liberty.
I beg leave to commend for enterprise and activity, for an intelligent and faithful execution of orders, Lieutenant Grim, First West Virginia Cavalry, and Lieutenant Kerr, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Captain Winger, Eighth Ohio Cavalry, elicited the admiration and encomiums of his comrades by his daring gallantry in the attack in front of Lynchburg. Colonels Schoonmaker and Moore in front of Liberty behaved with great credit. Colonel Powell proved himself at all times a capable brigade commander.
WM. W. AVERELL.
Lieut. Col. CHARLES G. HALPINE,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Department of West Virginia.
For more on Averell and the 1864 Valley Campaign see: