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

Post image for Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict.

Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict.

May 4, 2013

Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict, 12th Regiment Vermont Volunteers.

Skirmish at Warrenton Junction.

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Union Mills, Va., May 4, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

On Friday morning last, the Twelfth broke camp and moved toward the front. The orders from division headquarters called for a regiment to go out to Warrenton Junction, for the protection of the O. & A. railroad, which has lately been re-opened to the Rappahannock and is soon to be again an important channel of supplies for the army, and the Twelfth was selected for the duty. Officers and men were glad enough to leave Wolf Run Shoals, and to go where there was a prospect of more active service, and took up the line of march in high spirits. The regiment reached Union Mills at about 11 o’clock, and there took cars for Warrenton Junction. It now lies in camp about three miles beyond Warrenton Junction, two companies being stationed at Catlett’s Station.

I paid them a visit yesterday. Taking a seat on the engine of a supply train, in company with Colonel Blunt and several other officers, we whirled away. We soon reached the historic ground of Manassas, its plains seamed with rifle-pits and its low hills crowned with earth-works. Thence to Catlett’s our iron horse picked his way over rails which were torn up by the rebels last summer, and have since been straightened after a fashion and relaid, and along a track which is strewn on each side with car trucks by the hundred and other burnt and blackened remains of the trains destroyed by General Banks, and by the rebels in the famous raid on General Pope’s headquarters before the last Bull Run battles. The country from Bristow’s on to Warrenton Junction and beyond, is a fine, open and comparatively level region, in strong contrast with the barren hills along the Occoquan, the scattered planters’ houses showing evidences of more prosperity and the fields under cultivation to a greater extent than in any portion of Virginia where we have heretofore been stationed.

Near Bristow’s we were stopped by a frightened telegraph operator, on horseback, who said he had just escaped from Warrenton Junction, which place he reported in the hands of the rebel cavalry, who according to his account had come in and captured the whole force of Union cavalry there. We heard his story and pushed on to Catlett’s, where we learned a different one, and hastening to Warrenton Junction we soon had the evidence of our own eyes upon the case. A body of cavalry, in the blue uniforms of Uncle Sam’s boys, held the Junction, and the bodies of a dozen dead horses strewn around the solitary house at the station told of a sharp skirmish on that spot. Springing from the train, I had hardly taken twenty steps before I came upon the body of a dead rebel, stretched stark and cold, face upward, in coat of rusty brown and pantaloons of butternut. They showed me papers taken from his pockets, showing him to be one Templeman, a well known scout and spy of Mosby’s command. Passing on to the house I found lying around it seventeen wounded “butternuts” of all ages, from boys of sixteen to shaggy and grizzled men of fifty years. They lay in their blood, with wounds as yet undressed, for the skirmish ended but a little while before we arrived, some with gaping sabre cuts, some with terrible bullet wounds through face, body or limbs. Four or five rebel prisoners, unhurt, stood by, with downcast faces, but willing to answer civil questions. Close by, covered decently with a blanket, lay the body of a Union cavalryman, shot in cold blood after he had surrendered and given up his arms, by a long haired young rebel, who had received his reward for the dastardly act and lay near his victim, with a bullet wound in his stomach. The floor of the house was strewn with wounded men, among them Major Steele of the First Virginia, mortally wounded, and two of Mosby’s officers. Their wounds had just been dressed, and the surgeons now began to give attention to the wounded rebels outside.

From men engaged on both sides, I learned that Mosby, who has recently been made a major for his activity in the rebel service, with 125 men,[1] made a dash upon the outpost of the First Virginia (union) cavalry, at the Junction, about 9 o’clock that morning. The men of the First Virginia were taken by surprise, dismounted and with their horses unsaddled, and after a short fight surrendered. A few who had taken refuge in the station house kept up the fight by firing from the upper windows, till Mosby filled the house with smoke by setting fire to a pile of hay on the lower floor, when they hung out a white flag. They accounted for their surprise by averring that the front rank of the rebels were clothed in U. S. uniform, and they supposed them to be a friendly force.

Major Mosby was, however, a little too fast for once. A squadron of the Fifth New York cavalry, under Major Hammond, happened to be in camp in a piece of woods near by, and making their appearance on the scene while the rebels were securing their prisoners, charged in on them at once. A running fight followed in which the prisoners were all retaken and twenty-three of their captors killed, wounded and made prisoners. Mosby was chased for ten miles, his force for the most part scattered, himself, as it is reported, wounded in the shoulder, and a number of his men wounded who made out to get into the woods and escape capture. The First Virginia lost their major, mortally wounded, one man killed and nine men wounded, and the Fifth New York a captain and two lieutenants wounded. The result of the operation was, you see, altogether in our favor. Three men of the Twelfth Vermont were taken near the camp, by Mosby’s men, but escaped in the skirmish, one of them bringing in a rebel’s horse with him. The pickets of the Twelfth took a straggler from Mosby’s force. A party of the First Vermont cavalry, which is in camp just beyond the Twelfth, joined the pursuit of the rebels but was not in at the skirmish.

Going on to the camp of the Twelfth Vermont I found the men considerably stirred up by the events of the morning which took place so nearly under their noses, and feeling as if they were pretty well out into the enemy’s country; but if attacked I know that the Twelfth will give a good account of itself.

The health of the regiment is improving. Company C has lost another man in the death of Private Stoughton. He was apparently one of our hardiest men, enduring exposures which many men would sink under, and besides doing his own full share of duty often did that of other men, being always ready to take the place of an ailing comrade. He ran right down with pneumonia, gave up all hope from the start, and gave his life to his country without a murmur.

We are waiting with intense anxiety for news from General Hooker’s army.

The season here is little or no earlier than in Vermont. The fields are just beginning to look green and the leaves of the forest trees are not yet started.

The brigade has orders to be ready to march at an hour’s notice. We look for lively work here if disaster overtakes Hooker.

May 6.

The regiment is ordered forward to Rappahannock Station, to guard the railroad bridge at that point.

Yours, B.

[1] Mosby in his Reminiscences says he had “70 or 80 men.”

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