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.

July 6, 2013

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

July 6 — This morning we started for Hagerstown, passing through Lighterstown, a small village six miles from our destination. We did not go the direct road to Hagerstown, as the Yanks held the town and were on the principal roads leading to it from the east and north, consequently we flanked, and moved on different by-roads east of town during the fore part of the day, through a rolling country and over some hilly roads.

Late this evening we first sighted the town, and the most interesting object that attracted our earliest attention was a body of blue cavalry, drawn up at the edge of town ready for business, and to give us a warm and lively reception. We unlimbered two of our rifled guns and opened fire on their cavalry, and soon after our cavalry charged into the southern suburbs of town and dislodged the enemy there.

Then we advanced our battery and flanked around the southern outskirts of town and moved to the Williamsport pike. Immediately after we arrived on the pike the Yankees placed a battery of Parrott guns in position in the Female Seminary yard on the outskirts of the town, and opened a rapid fire on us, to which we responded with our battery forthwith, and gave them the best fresh work that our establishment could supply at short notice. For awhile the artillery fire was severe, the range was short, and their ten-pound shrapnel whizzed fearfully and exploded all around us. The artillery duel was hot and lively, yet it was but a prelude to a more severe conflict that raged for several hours along the Williamsport pike, in which the cavalry and some infantry on both sides took a hand.

A body of the enemy’s cavalry — I do not know from whence it came — appeared in our rear and struck the pike between us and Williamsport, and for awhile we were between two fires. Just at dusk the fire of their dismounted sharpshooters in our front was heavy and severe. The bullets zipped around us as thick as hail. At the first volley my lead driver fell fatally wounded.

Night, fight, shell, and bullets at last settled the enemy in our front. Then we moved back just a little distance and quickly turned our guns on the cavalry in our rear and opened fire on them with a few rounds of canister and short-range shell. The Yankees soon wavered under our artillery fire and began to break and retire. We kept up a running fight for about four miles, and at last about ten o’clock to-night they were forced from the road in our rear, and retreated in the direction of Harper’s Ferry, which left the Williamsport road clear of Yanks. After the fight we moved back toward Hagerstown and bivouacked for the remainder of the night.

During the latter part of the fight we were so close to the Potomac that I saw the camp-fires blaze on the Virginia hills not far away, yet the Yanks were between us and the river. No doubt the cavalry we fought this evening and to-night were the same set of gentlemen that destroyed some of our wagons night before last, and were trying the same trick to-night, as a great many of our wagons are parked around Williamsport; but this time the raiders struck another sort of game quite different from defenseless teamsters, a few guards, and Company Q.

Night fighting is a perilous business and full of guesswork; ofttimes it is difficult to distinguish friend from foe in the darkness, and it is resorted to only in cases of extreme emergencies or pressing exigency. The artillery firing to-night was certainly beautiful and grand. The flash from the gun brilliantly illuminated all its immediate environments, and the burning fuses of the shell spun threads of sparkling fire in graceful curves across the somber face of night. The whole scene was a splendid display of dangerous fireworks.

The first position we fired from to-day on the Williamsport pike was right close to a small country house about a mile from Hagerstown. Before we commenced firing there was an old cow grazing quietly and leisurely in sweet contentment in front of the house, which was the only sign of life about the premises. The house was closed and apparently deserted.

The enemy was pressing us, and we opened a rapid fire, which abruptly broke the old cow’s quietude, imbued her with a frenzical war spirit that caused her to run wildly about the yard. Then an old man and an old lady came rushing out of the little house and ran after the cow, trying to drive her in a stable, and they had a lively and exciting race around the house, the cow in the lead and by far the best runner, the old woman next doing her very best on a short heat, and the old man brought up the rear, slow but sure.

After the race had been in progress some four or five minutes the enemy opened fire on us with twelve-pounders at close range, and the shell came shrieking through the evening air, exploding all around us in showers of whizzing fragments and pinging slugs. Yet like a heroine that old lady still pursued her cow amid the storm of shot and shell, perfectly heedless of the danger around her on every side. At last a shell exploded over her head, causing her to fall to the ground, and as she fell she screamed and cried, “Oh, God!” With that the old man gave up the chase and ungallantly left the field and struck a bee-line into the house, without even looking back to see what had happened. We all thought that the old lady was killed, but after she had laid on the ground a moment she jumped up and renewed the race after the cow, determined to succeed in her undertaking. Such bravery and cool courage as that old woman manifested is highly commendable and rarely found among the female sex in any land. No doubt to-day was the first time she ever heard a cannon fired, and certainly the first time that she ever was under an artillery fire hot enough for tried men. An army of such plucky women could be killed, but never conquered.

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