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

Post image for Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

January 3, 2013

Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

January 3 — Three o’clock this morning found us on the road down South Fork toward Moorefield. We forded the Fork some six or eight times before day.

Little after daylight we drew in sight of Moorefield, and about the first thing of moment that I noticed in particular was a skirmish line of Yankee infantry advancing through the frosty fields. Then the maneuvering commenced for taking the town, and no one knew what the day would bring forth. Our battery was ordered to the northwest of town on a hill partly timbered and about two miles from the Yankee encampment. The Baltimore Light Artillery went into position southwest of town, and the cavalry was bunched in various places ranging from the south to the northwest of Moorefield, all looking with a sort of “Oh, how near and yet so far!” spirit at the nice little group of infantry tents, with a battery of artillery in position in front, on a hill just east of town. Moorefield is situated near the South Branch in a beautiful level bottom nearly two miles in width.

To gain the position we were ordered to occupy we had to pass over the bottom and ford the river in sight of the Yankee battery, and it opened fire on us before we reached the river.

The Baltimore Lights replied to the Yankee fire and drew it from us until we gained our position, when we opened with two guns on the Yankee battery and infantry encampment, which was right in rear of their battery. We fired about thirty rounds, but the distance was nearly two miles, a little too great to do much damage.

The Yankee battery at first attempted to return our fire, but they soon found that we were beyond the range and reach of their guns, and they quit firing usward and turned their fire on the Baltimore Lights. Our line of fire was right across Moorefield, and I suppose that to-day was the first time that the citizens of the quiet little mountain town heard the war dogs growl.

Just after we ceased firing and were wondering what would be next on the programme, boom! went a cannon right in our rear, and opened the second act, scene the first.

A Yankee battery of artillery and about six hundred infantry came down from Petersburg to reinforce their comrades at Moorefield, and the first we knew of any Yanks being in that direction was when they were closing in our rear, and had already cut us off from the ford.

The Sixth and Seventh regiments of cavalry were on our side of the river and in the same fix we were — cut off from the ford. At first it looked to me as if we had another Poolesville affair on hand, only worse and more of it, as we had infantry in our rear this time, and at Poolesville it was cavalry alone.

The first thing proposed by our cavalry officers was to cut our way through the infantry. That would have been a very dangerous operation, as their infantry would have killed half of us and captured the rest. Preparations were already made for the daring, desperate charge in the face of six hundred infantrymen and a battery of artillery all waiting for us close by. Fortunately Captain Harness, of the Seventh Regiment of Virginia Cavalry, was with us, who knows every by-way and hog-path in that portion of Hardy County. He said that he could pilot us by crossing a mountain that was rough, steep, and rugged, and a little difficult for artillery passage, yet preferable to Yankee bullets and bayonets under a great disadvantage.

His proposition was accepted at once, and we struck out through the woods westward toward the mountain of deliverance, which was some four or five miles west of Moorefield. After winding through the woods a couple of hours we struck the mountain, which was rough and steep, sure enough, equally up to the full standard of Captain Harness’ representations. However, we tried the ascent. At first we followed an old wood road that was washed in gullies, and troughy, but toward the top of the mountain the road was nothing but a wide horse path, which had never been crossed by anything with wheels.

The declivities were so steep and rough that it was impossible for our horses to get the guns up without a goodly portion of extra force, consequently we fastened a long rope to the gun carriage and, with the aid of about thirty cavalrymen pulling at the rope, and as many of us pushing as could get to the wheels, we tugged up the rugged steeps a little on the Napoleon order when he crossed the Alps. Just as the sun slipped behind the Alleghanies we stood on the summit of the mountain, while the cannon were still booming at Moorefield.

We rapidly descended the mountain, which was rough and steep. The shadows of night were gathering fast, and it was dark before we reached the little valley of Luney’s Creek, stretching along the western base of the mountain.

Luney’s Creek is a small stream draining some high pasture lands, and then winds through a beautiful little valley of fertile land and empties into the South Branch a few miles below Petersburg. We crossed Luney’s Creek and soon after struck the New Creek pike seven miles from Petersburg. After we got to the pike we moved rapidly until we arrived within a mile of Petersburg, when we halted to await developments in front, as there was still danger ahead. We were not entirely on the sure side of safety yet, for we had to pass through Petersburg, which was still occupied by the enemy. Petersburg is a small and old-looking village situated on the left side of the South Branch eleven miles above Moorefield. It is situated along the New Creek pike, which is its main and only street, and runs at right angles to the river.

From the general deportment and the caution of our cavalry, I think that our cavalry officers were entirely at a loss even to guess or conjecture at the number or strength of the force that held the little village in our immediate front and right on our highway back to Dixie.

After a little careful reconnoitering our cavalry demanded the surrender of the town, which demand was granted without the least sign of resistance. There were about forty Yankee infantrymen in the place. They were left there to guard some commissary supplies. Thirty of them were made prisoners, but the rest either hid in the town or made their escape through the darkness, though not before they applied the torch to the commissary supplies which were stored in the Presbyterian church on a hill at the north end of the town.

When we entered the town with the battery the church was burning. A member of our company went to the church door to see what could be seen. He spied a large cheese a little ways up the aisle and rushed into the burning church with the intention of snatching the coveted toothsome prize from the destroying flames. He reached it, but just as he stooped to grasp it some unprincipled Union citizen that was standing near the church shouted “Powder!” and our man hastened out of the church without the cheese. The Union citizen lied, for there was no explosion. It was just natural meanness that caused him to do as he did; or perhaps he thought if our man got that cheese it would permanently establish the Southern Confederacy and destroy the Union forever.

We remained in the village about half an hour, then crossed the South Branch and moved about a mile south of town and fed our horses. It is now nearly midnight and so freezingly cold that I can hardly write. We have not eaten anything since two o’clock last night, and have nothing in that line now, but are subsisting on pure imagination, which is a slim diet in the winter time when vegetables are scarce, anyhow. The Yankee force that cut us off near Moorefield to-day left Petersburg this forenoon, under the command, I think, of General Mulligan.

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