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.

October 11, 2013

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

October 11 — The Yankee picket lines along the north bank of the river stole silently away last night, like a ghost when it scents the morning air. Early this morning a brigade of Yankee cavalry crossed the Rapidan at Mitchell’s Ford and drove our pickets back a mile; then General Lomax’s brigade of cavalry and the first piece of our battery hurried to the rescue, and were soon engaged in a spirited fight. We opened fire on their cavalry with one gun, and after an hour’s fighting we drove the enemy back across the river. There they held a strong position, with two pieces of artillery in battery. We advanced our gun to within about a thousand yards of their battery and opened a rapid fire on their position. The Yankee battery had the advantage in position, as it was on higher ground than we, and their shell and shrapnel shot raked the sod and tore the ground around our gun; but at last they were compelled to abandon their position, both by our artillery fire and General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry, which had crossed the river and successfully charged and routed their cavalry support, which rendered their artillery position untenable, and the two Yankee guns struck out for the Rappahannock. After the enemy was dislodged from the banks of the Rapidan they commenced to retreat toward Brandy Station. Then we crossed the Rapidan at Mitchell’s Ford, pursued and fought the retiring foe all day, with cavalry and artillery.

The enemy at a few places retired slowly and fought stubbornly; nevertheless we drove them back ten or twelve miles to-day, sharpshooting and skirmishing nearly all the way. At Brandy Station they made a desperate effort to check and stay our advance, by making a bold stand with dismounted sharpshooters, artillery, and cavalry drawn up on a little elevation in a splendid line of battle. Like a tiger that is pursued too dangerously near its lair and at last turns in desperation on its pursuer and offers deadly combat, so the Yanks that we chased all day at last turned and attacked us with such determined vigor and dashing intrepidity that for a little while it was difficult to see or tell how the spirited little struggle would terminate, and in which camp the bird of victory would roost tonight. When our cavalry first assailed the Yankee line it stood firm and received the fire of our cavalry with undaunted firmness and courage, and very soon afterwards advanced with a bold front on our position. Our cavalry wavered under the vigorous onset and at last gave way in a sort of stampedy, mixed-up, conglomerate style. Our men were falling back rapidly before the Yankee fire, some of them mounted and leading horses, others were dismounted and trying to sharpshoot; but the Yanks still kept coming on in good order and firing as they came, which hastened the ripening of our disordered mixture into that which came very near proving to be a full-fledged stampede. At that critical juncture of affairs Captain Chew, who had gone toward the front, came hurriedly back to where our guns were halted, and said to me: “For God’s sake unlimber your gun quick, and fire; and rally this cavalry, or we are gone.” I had nothing to fire at, as the struggling mass of mixed-up cavalry was right in our front, in a low strip of woods not more than a hundred yards from our guns. However, I unlimbered my gun and fired a few rounds across some pasture fields on our left, where my shell could neither do any good nor harm. Our firing had the desired effect of rallying our cavalry, and the sound of my gun also quenched the ardor and partially checked the vehemency of the blue line in our front, which but a moment before was boldly moving toward an anticipated victory.

When the enemy’s line was checked, and while they paused for a moment in hesitation whether to hold their ground or advance and taste some Rebel canister, our cavalry rallied, took a long breath, assaulted the halting Yankee line, and drove it back whence it came. Just as the fierce conflict was subsiding at that point, it received a fresh impulse from another direction. General Kilpatrick, with a host of Yankee cavalry, came rushing down from the direction of Culpeper Court House, and rather in our rear, with General Stuart at his heels in hot pursuit, driving the Yankee column in whirlwind style toward the Rappahannock.

I saw General Kilpatrick’s troops pass over the fields on our left seeming to move in tolerable good order for a large body, but were traveling at a top speed, without making any endeavors to check or resist the pursuing Rebels that were yelling on their trail; and in order to favor the retreating true blue with timely assistance in keeping up their rapid pace before the flashing sabers of Stuart we fired a few shell into the flying column as it passed us.

Little below Brandy Station Kilpatrick’s command formed a junction with Buford’s, and both together made their last stand for the day. They formed their line along a low ridge and rising ground, with their horse artillery in a strong position on higher ground in rear of their cavalry. After a little reconnoitering and careful maneuvering General Stuart and General Fitzhugh Lee attacked the enemy in their new position. For a little while the fight was severe, and the crash of small arms crept out over the evening air with a similar fierceness and frightful roar of an infantry battle, and the deadly music was well interspersed with a deep hoarse growl of booming cannon on all sides. When our cavalry first attacked the enemy’s position the Yankee batteries opened a rapid fire from the crest of the ridge, to which we promptly replied with a fire of like vigor. When the fight was in full blow General Stuart came up to our battery and requested a rifled gun to follow him to the Barbour house on a prominent hill on the right of the Yankee line, which position afforded an almost enfilade fire on the enemy’s batteries. Consequently the first gun was detached, and we followed the feather to where the great and indomitable Stuart led. As soon as I saw the situation I at once perceived that the position, though a commanding one, was circumstantially hazardous in the extreme, from the fact that we had an enfilade fire with but one gun, on a four gun battery. The position was prominent, the range comparatively short, and an enfilade fire never fails to draw a redoubled fire from an enfiladed battery.

When we put our gun in position right near the Barbour house the Yankee battery was firing on our cavalry and artillery in its immediate front, and paid no attention to us; but when we opened fire the whole Yankee battery turned its fire on my one lonely gun, and before I could make my third shot a thunderbolt from a twelve-pound gun struck my piece and crushed one of the wheels to smithers, and slightly wounded two of my cannoneers. We had just loaded our gun and were ready to fire when the twelve-pound solid shot came crashing through a little house that stood near our position and struck the gun carriage, then whizzed past us at a fearful speed and unhealthily close. When I saw the debris of the little house, such as shivered weather boarding, pieces of window sash, and fractured glass flying at us, and very sensibly felt the concussion of the solid shot, I thought that the hill had exploded.

The Yankee battery fired some six or eight shots at our position after our gun was disabled, but they were wasting their ammunition on a dead gun, for the time being. Soon after the Yankee battery ceased firing at our hill our cavalry made a bold advance on the enemy’s whole line, and successfully charged and captured the battery that disabled my gun.

This last fight occurred just as the sun dipped behind the crest of the distant Blue Ridge, and by the time the twilight changed into the dusky shades of night the last sound of battle had died away and the Yankee cavalrymen were moving once more with their faces turned toward the friendly infantry camps along the banks of the Rappahannock.

We are camped to-night one mile south of Brandy Station.

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