Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18 — Everything was quiet in front until the middle of the afternoon. Then a report reached camp that the Yanks were advancing. We were ordered to pack up as quickly as possible and get ready for action. The enemy advanced rapidly, and we were ordered to Cedar Creek to oppose their onward march. We put our guns in position about half a mile from the creek on the west side of the pike, on a hill which commanded the bridge and its approaches.

The enemy advanced with artillery, cavalry, and infantry. When they came within a mile of our position we opened fire on them with our rifled guns. Their artillery wheeled four guns into battery immediately after we opened and returned our fire. Both sides thundered with a lively exchange for about twenty-five minutes. Then the battery ceased, either to change position or seek a more sheltered one, as the one they occupied was on the exposed face of the hill, and we had the range of their position, and perhaps we hurt somebody on their side of the creek.

When they ceased firing we held our position a few moments, when, in consequence of approaching night, we fell back to Strasburg, which is four miles from Cedar Creek and eighteen from Winchester. We quartered in a house on Main Street till midnight, when a report from the front reached us that the Yanks were advancing. We rolled up our blankets and had everything ready to march at the word “Forward.” We left the house and moved about two hundred yards south of town, and lay there on the roadside until day.

Our men burnt the Cedar Creek bridge to-day before we turned the creek over to the Yanks. The bridge was burning when we were firing on their battery.

The illness which had prostrated some of the strongest men in Washington, including General McClellan himself, developed itself as soon as I ceased to be sustained by the excitement, such as it was, of daily events at the capital, and by expectations of a move; and for some time an attack of typhoid fever confined me to my room, and left me so weak that I was advised not to return to Washington till I had tried change of air. I remained in New York till the end of January, when I proceeded to make a tour in Canada, as it was quite impossible for any operation to take place on the Potomac, where deep mud, alternating with snow and frost, bound the contending armies in winter quarters. On my return to New York, at the end of February, the North was cheered by some signal successes achieved in the West principally by gunboats, operating on the lines of the great rivers. The greatest results have been obtained in the capture of Fort Donaldson and Fort Henry, by Commodore Foote’s flotilla co-operating with the land forces. The possession of an absolute naval supremacy, of course, gives the North United States powerful means of annoyance and inflicting injury and destruction on the enemy; it also secures for them the means of seizing upon bases of operations wherever they please, of breaking up the enemy’s lines, and maintaining communications; but the example of Great Britain in the revolutionary war should prove to the United States that such advantages do not, by any means, enable a belligerent to subjugate a determined people resolved on resistance to the last. The long-threatened encounter between Bragg and Browne has taken place at Pensacola, without effect, and the attempts of the Federals to advance from Port Royal have been successfully resisted. Sporadic skirmishes have sprung up over every border State; but, on the whole, success has inclined to the Federals in Kentucky and Tennessee.

On the 1st March, I arrived in Washington once more, and found things very much as I had left them: the army recovering the effect of the winter’s sickness and losses, animated by the victories of their comrades in Western fields, and by the hope that the ever-coming to-morrow would see them in the field at last. In place of Mr. Cameron, an Ohio lawyer named Stanton has been appointed Secretary of War. He came to Washington, a few years ago, to conduct some legal proceedings for Mr. Daniel Sickles, and by his energy, activity, and a rapid conversion from democratic to republican principles, as well as by his Union sentiments, recommended himself to the President and his Cabinet.

The month of March passed over without any remarkable event in the field. When the army started at last to attack the enemy—a movement which was precipitated by hearing that they were moving away— they went out only to find the Confederates had fallen back by interior lines towards Richmond, and General McClellan was obliged to transport his army from Alexandria to the peninsula of York Town, where his reverses, his sufferings, and his disastrous retreat, are so well known and so recent, that I need only mention them as among the most remarkable events which have yet occurred in this war.

I had looked forward for many weary months to participating in the movement and describing its results. Immediately on my arrival in Washington, I was introduced to Mr. Stanton by Mr. Ashman, formerly member of Congress and Secretary to Mr. Daniel Webster, and the Secretary, without making any positive pledge, used words, in Mr. Ashman’s presence, which led me to believe he would give rne permission to draw rations, and undoubtedly promised to afford me every facility in his power. Subsequently he sent me a private pass to the War Department to enable me to get through the crowd of contractors and jobbers; but on going there to keep my appointment, the Assistant-Secretary of War told me Mr. Stanton had been summoned to a Cabinet Council by the President.

We had some conversation respecting the subject matter of my application, which the Assistant-Secretary seemed to think would be attended with many difficulties, in consequence of the number of correspondents to the American papers who might demand the same privileges, and he intimated to me that Mr. Stanton was little disposed to encourage them in any way whatever. Now this is undoubtedly honest on Mr. Stanton’s part, for he knows he might render himself popular by granting what they ask; but he is excessively vain, and aspires to be considered a rude, rough, vigorous Oliver Cromwell sort of man, mistaking some of the disagreeable attributes and the accidents of the external husk of the Great Protector for the brain and head of a statesman and a soldier.

The American officers with whom I was intimate gave me to understand that I could accompany them, in case I received permission from the Government; but they were obviously unwilling to encounter the abuse and calumny which would be heaped upon their heads by American papers, unless they could show the authorities did not disapprove of my presence in their camp. Several invitations sent to me were accompanied by the phrase, “You will of course get a written permission from the War Department, and then there will be no difficulty.'” On the evening of the private theatricals by which Lord Lyons enlivened the ineffable dullness of Washington, I saw Mr. Stanton at the Legation, and he conversed with me for some time. I mentioned the difficulty connected with passes. He asked me what I wanted. I said, “An order to go with the army to Manassas.” At his request I procured a sheet of paper, and he wrote me a pass, took a copy of it, which he put in his pocket, and then handed the other to me. On looking at it, I perceived that it was a permission for me to go to Manassas and back, and that all officers, soldiers, and others, in the United States service, were to give me every assistance and show me every courtesy; but the hasty return of the army to Alexandria rendered it useless.

The Merrimac and Monitor encounter produced the profoundest impression in Washington, and unusual strictness was observed respecting passes to Fortress Monroe.

Cloud’s Mills, March 18, 1862.

Dear Father, — I think we are going up Pocosin [Poquoson?] River, a small river just behind Fort Monroe. This is confidential.

Tuesday March 18th

News from Genl Burnside today. He has taken Newbern N.C. after a severe battle, 100 killed & 400 wounded, rebel loss not known, the Victory decisive. No news today from Comd Foot, only that he was bombarding Island No 10. Julia is selling tickets for the Church Festival, Pres[byteria]n 4th (Doct Smiths). I gave the Ladies committee $2.00 to assist in getting it up, the church is in debt.


The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.

March 18th.—All quiet yet; no embarkation; no move

MARCH 18TH.—A Mr. MacCubbin, of Maryland, has been appointed by Gen. Winder the Chief of Police. He is wholly illiterate, like the rest of the policemen under his command.

Tuesday, 18th—We left the boats and marched out about two miles from Savannah. We pitched our tents near a big orchard. Details of men went to the timber with teams to get firewood for our camp.

To Mrs. Lyon

Cairo, March 18, 1862.—They are fighting like fun at Island No. 10. No infantry engaged. It is a naval battle.

18th. Ruled the blank abstract provision return book—nineteen pages. Wrote to Ella Clark.

Tuesday, March 18. — A. M., very cold but looks as if the storm was at an end and bright weather come again. P. M., a lovely day. Rode with Avery on the Logan Road three miles to Evans’ and Cook’s. Drilled the regiment. Adjutant Avery drilled skirmish drill. P. M., drilled sergeants in bayonet exercise, and regiment in marching and squares. Spent the evening jollying with the doctors and reading Scott.

A queer prisoner brought in from New River by Richmond. Richmond, a resolute Union citizen was taken a prisoner at his house by three Rebels — two dragoons and a bushwhacker. One of the dragoons took Richmond up behind him and off they went. On the way they told Richmond that he would have to ––– ––– –––. Thereupon Richmond on the first opportunity drew his pocket-knife slyly from his pocket, caught the dragoon before him by his hair behind and cut his throat and stabbed him. Both fell from the horse together. Richmond cut the strap holding the dragoon’s rifle; took it and killed a second. The third escaped, and Richmond ran to our camp.

Jesse Reese brought in as a spy by Richmond, says he is a tailor; was going to Greenbrier to collect money due him. Says he married when he was about fifty; they got married because they were both orphans and alone in the world!

[Dr. J. T. Webb, in a letter, of March 12, to his sister (Mrs. Hayes), tells the story of Richmond’s feat in the following graphic recital:

“About thirty miles from here, on New River, lives an old man (Richmond) and several sons. His boys are all grown and living to themselves, some four and five miles from the old man. They have lived out there many years and for this country are all rich. Besides being wealthy they are all very powerful (physically) and are the leaders, as it were, of society. They have the best horses, cattle, etc. of any one out here. They are noted for their fine horses. They are all strong Union men, and have been very much angered by the Rebels taking their cattle, sheep, etc. — stealing them. A few days since some Rebel cavalry concluded they would arrest the squire and take his horses. Accordingly day before yesterday, just at daybreak, three Rebel cavalry called at the squire’s and took him prisoner. They also took three of his fine horses. They put the squire on a horse behind one of the cavalrymen, and started off with him. After they had gone some ten miles, they came to a noted Rebel’s house, and all cheered at the capture of the squire. This was too much for him, and he determined to make his escape. They had gone but a short distance when the Rebel behind whom he was riding fell back behind the other two some distance. Now was the time for the squire. So drawing a long knife from his pocket, he caught the Rebel by his hair, drew him back, and cut his throat. Both fell off the horse together. As they fell he plunged the knife into the Rebel’s bowels. Then he took the Rebel’s gun, and got behind a tree when one of the others returned, and the squire shot him dead. The third took to his heels and left the squire victor of the field. There is no mistake about this; he came to camp with their two guns. His knife and coat-sleeve is covered with blood. Richmond is a trump and two hundred such men would clean out this country of Rebels.”]