William B.] [Arnold.

The Fourth Massachusetts cavalry in the closing scenes of the war for the maintenance of the union online

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The

Fourth Massachusetts
Cavalry



IN THE



Closing Scenes of the War

for the Maintenance

of the Union



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From Richmond
to Appomattox

\ I i \'>-r.'\ .Xf> ' '1 'T Tl 1 \ ^U-









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Col. Arnold A. Rand

4th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry



t



The Battle at High Bridge

by
Major Edward T. lUnive, I'. S. \'.

The life of the American Cavah-\- is ahnost coeval with that of
the American people. Laws were passed for the formation of a
mounted furce in lti48. when the colony of Massachusetts Bay had
not yet attained its majority. Twenty-seven years later, in 1675,
when the war with ]vIetacomet ( King Philip) broke out there were
five troops of cavalry, which in point of equipment. (li>ci]iline and
appearance, had received the commendation of European officers
who had' seen them.

Captain Prentice's troop formed a part of Maj(tr-( General
W'inslnw's army, which fought at Xarrangansett I-'ort. It jjartici-
pated in the terrible march and the awful battle which ensued. Of
that battle, the latest and most exhaustive of its historians says:

"This must be classed as one of the most gloritnis victories
ever achieved in our history, and considering con{liti(^ns. as dis-
playing heroism both in stubborn ])atience and dashing intrepidity
never excelled in American warfare."

So much for the first great battle in which Massachusetts
cavalry took an honorable part. I may be pardoned for referring
to it in this paper, on account of the singular coincidence, that in
one of the last, and unquestionably one of the most brilliant actions
ever fought in America — the Battle at High Bridge — Massachu-
setts horsemen accomplished a very difficult thing: they suc-
ceeded in adding a yet deeper lustre to the laurels which have
ever adorned the standards of the American Cavalry.

The story of the fight near High Bridge. X'irginia. is but an
account of an obscure skirmish, if the numbers engaged and its
duration be solely considered; judged., however, by the fierce int'-n-
sitv of the struggle, and the carnage, together with the results,
which alone, yet amply, justified the apparent madness of the at-
tack, it is seen to be one of the most notal)le of the achievements of
these heroic days; for it led to the culmination of the campaign and

5



end (if llic war. at AppinnaUox. It was called by .Mr. lla\ and .Mr.
Xicolav, in their history of .\l)raliain Lincoln, tlic most gallant and
pathetic battle of the war.

The Fourth Regiment of Alassachnsetts Cavalry had been sub-
jected to a training and discii)line which caused it to develop rapidly
into one of the finest cavalry regiments in the army. The officers
were nearly all veteran soldiers, educated in the hard school of
war. .\ large proportion of the men in the ranks had seen service,
and the rank and tile, as a whole, pro\ed to be such as any officer
might be proud to lead.

The cjuality of the regiment is easily accounted f(^r, when it is
considered that its first colonel left the lasting imj^ress of himself
upon it : that colonel was Arnold A. Rand.

I'Vom the very beginning of its service in the field, the regiment
had the hard fortune to be cut up into detachments and details for
special duty. This was probably due to the good opinion enter-
tained of it by the general ; but it was very trying and disappoint-
ing to the colonel, and to all who had hoped to be serving, as earlier
orders — too soon coimtermanded — directed, with Sheridan.

.At the opening of the last campaign, the first and third batta-
lions were in \ irginia. Three scjuadrrns, with the held and stafif,
were attached to the headciuarters of General Ord, commanding the
.\rm}- of the James ; two were at the headquarters of the Twenty-
fourth, and two at those of the Twenty-fifth Army corps. (Jne was
at Fort .Magruder, where it had been for many months, doing nut-
post and picket duty and engaged in scouting and raiding. The
second battalion was in active service in South Carolina and I'dorida.

iJefore the spring campaign opened, the command of the regi-
ment had passed to Francis Washburn of LancastcM*. a member of
a famil}- distinguished for its ])ul)lic services. This young gentle-
man was a patrician in the best sense of the word. With tlie most
brilliant prospects in life. he. like his brother, left all to serve the
Republic, and both drew "the gret prize o' death in battle."

In physical proportions, in personal beauty, in superb daring,
in high-minded devotion to every duty, he was the ideal of a cav-
alr\- leader, and a worthy successor to the lirst regimental com-
mander.

( )ne of the worst features of the internal economx' ot our
armies during the civil war. was the detailing of officers and men
individualK- from fi'diting regiments; the otficers to serve on stafl,



ihe men ioy orderlies, wa^cmers. hospilal ser\ice aiul oilier sT)ecial
(luties wliieli redueed the fii^lilinj^' streni^lli lo a miiiiiiimii compared
willi what it should ha\'e heeii. I'rohahK' llu' >ame cu^lom would
rule now.

( )wini;- to this pernicious, altlmui^h al the time una\oidal)le sys-
tem, as well as to the ordinary casualties of the service, the three
squadrons of the I'ourth Cavalry under the immediate conunand
of Colonel Washburn at the begiiining of active >ervice. liad been
reduced to one hundred and hft\- men.

( )r(lers were issued on the 27th of March to l)reak cam]), ])rc-
])aratory to the resumption of movements atjainst the hues of com-
munication between the besieged cities and their sources of supj)ly.
Richmond and Petersburg were evacuated on the third of
April, (General Lee moving swdftly toward Amelia. The I'ederal
armies marched at once in hot pursuit, the .\rm\' of the James tak-
ing the general direction of the Lynchburg railroad, reaching
lUirkesville on the evening of A])ril .Ith. That same evening, Lee
left Amelia Court house, pushing rajjidly in the direction of High
Bridge, a long trestle over the Aj^pomattox near Farmville. Could
he reach this bridge, cross and destroy it, he might hope to succeed
in gaining the mountains beyond Lynchburg.

The Army of the James instantly changed direction in pursuit.
Lee's objective point became evident, and (General ( )rd determined
to destroy the bridge, if it were possible to accomi)lisli this, l)efore
Lee could reach it. To this end, he detached Colonel Washburn,
with the three .squadrons of his own cavalry, now reduced by fur-
ther details to thirteen officers and sixty-seven troojjers, together
with two small regiments cf infantry, and directed him to push on
ra])i(lly and burn the bridge.

Information had been received through scouts that the struc-
ture was not defended bv aii}' fortifications whatever. Re])iM-ts also
came in that the Confederates were l)adly demoralized. In conse-
quence of these stories, which would appear to have been acce])ted
as fullv re1ial)le at liead(|uarters, Washburn was ordered to at-
tack any force which he might meet, as it would certainl\- fall a\\a\
before him.

It was a perilous order to give Washburn, for hi> \alor was
ever the better part of his discretion.

Some of our generals seem to have been strangely misled as to
the spirit of the Confederates remaining in' arms. Never had they



f(Hii;lU ini'i\' tiercel) lliaii in tlio-^f l;i>l days of the stnig-gle. Their
skeleton battalions threw themselves upon otu' heavy lines at Sailor's
Creek as desperately as they char.ixed under Pickett and Edward
Johnson at (lett}sl)ui-^-. and their artillery was never more
superbl}^ served than when they were attacked in flank by
Greo:g:'s brijjade on the sexenth ol Ai)ril, when that g^eneral was
made prisoner and his brigade driven in comi^lete discomfiture
by the famous Washington Artillery of New Orleans.

( )n the morning of tlie sixth, before dawn, Washburn's liltle
detachment took up its route, the infantry, especially, being in poor
condition for the severe and peculiarly dangerous service to which
they were called, for they were exhausted by the forced marches
which had been indispensable during the preceding three days.
The distance was sixteen miles to Farmville. After having- been
two hours or so upon the road, Washburn satisfied himself that
the rebel army, moving diagonally toward the Appomattox, had
closed in upt)n his rear, cutting him otT from the Army of the
James. There were also unmistakable indications that Confeder-
ate columns were moving in front of his command, as well as on
its flank. The detachment was thus marching practically among
divisions of the enemy, who were evidently ignorant of its
proximity.

Meanwhile, General ( )r(l had learned of the movements of the
Confederates, and at once despatched Brevet Ikigadier General
Theodore Read, atljutant general of the Army of the James, to over-
take Washburn and cause him to fall back to the main army. Read,
with one orderly, contrived to elude the various bodies of the enemy
and finally joined Washburn, just before his command reached the
vicinity of the bridge.

L^])on rcconnoitering the countr\' about the bridge, it was tonnd
that the information as to its not being fortified was entirely false.
A strong redoul>t mounting four guns ])rotected it, and the ground
around it was open, with morasses in front rendering it almost im-
possible of access. Washburn considered, however, that a sudden
attack on its rear side by cavalry, might be successful.

In ])ursuance of this plan, he left Read with the infantr\- in a
narrow belt of woodland near the lUirkesville road, and moved away
to make a detour in order to come upon the rear of the fortification.

The column Mion reache(l a small stream '^])anne(l by a bridge,
the ]ilanks of which had been torn up. I.ii'Utenant Dax'is with the




Col. Francis Washburn



advanced guard, dashed across the stream and laid the planks umk'r
sharp fire from a force of dismounted cavalry which occupied low-
earthworks on the further side. Washburn soon came up with the
main body, and throwing out a line of skirmishers, attacked so vig-
orously that after a fight of half an hour's duration, the enemy re-
treated toward Farmville. Mere they were reinforced, an, I Wash-
burn soon found their numbers so great and their artillerv fire so
heavy, that they could not be driven. Moreover there was incessant
musketry firing from the place where he had left the infantry, indi-
cating an attack upon them, and he thought best to withdraw and go
to their support.

A sharp ride of a few moments brought the cavalry to the
scene of action. Had the Btirkesville road been followed for a short
distance farther the colunui would have rounded a bend in the road,
and come upon a strong body of Confederate cavalry which was
moving in the direction of the firing; but at a point in rear of where
the fighting was going on. Washburn left the road and led his men
through the woods and along the bed of a ravine, then tip a hill,
where he halted to learn the state of afifairs.

The little line of infantry, outflanked and outmimbered, was
falling back fighting, pushed by a brigade of disiuounted cavalry,
while regiments of horse were galloping up on the flanks and form-
ing for a charge. The infantry were clearly exhausted and their
ammunition was used up. but W'ashburn. after a short consultation
with Read, sent his adjutant to rally tbem. and determined by a
furious attack upon the dismounted troops of the enemy, to throw
them back on their cavalry and thus, supported by the infantry, to
wrest victory from the enemy. He then led the column along the
crest of the slope, and forming line, turned to his men and explained
his purpose, well knowing what he could expect from the splendid
fellows.

Then Washburn ordered "Forward !" The line trotted down
the slope. In a moment came his clear call "Gallop, march ! Charge !"
And to the music from the brazen throats of their own trumpets
chiming with their fierce battle shout, those seventy-eight Massa-
chusetts horsemen hurled theniselves uj:)on the heavy masses of the
foe.

For a few moments the air was bright with the flashing of
sabres, and shattered by the explosion of carbine and pistol, while
screams of rage mingled with the cries of the wounded and all the

11



hideous sounds of a savage hand-to-hand fight. As all this died
away, it was seen that the immediate body of troops which the
Innu'th Cavalry had struck was practically annihilated. Their dead
and wounded were scattered thickly over the field, wdiile the crowd
of prisoners taken was embarrassing to the captors. Driving these
before them back toward the hill, to which they must retire to re-
form for attack upon the enemy's horse (for Washburn's mere
handful of men forbade his leaving any to form the reserve without
which cavalry almost never can charge without great risk) they
were astounded at the sight which presented itself on the Burkes-
ville road. As far as the eye could reach, it was filled with Confed-
erate cavalry, and lines of battle were forming as rapidly as possi-
ble and advancing swiftly to the aid of their defeated van.

All hope of victory or of escape from such a field was now
utterly gone, but the colonel and his men were mad with the fury of
battle, and wild with exultation over the bloody triumph already
achieved. But one thought possessed them. The little battalion
swept down the slo])e once more, pressing close behind their
knightly leader and their blue standard. They crashed through
three lines of their advancing enemies, tearing their formation
asunder as the tornado cuts its way through the forest. But now%
order and coherence were lost, and the troopers mingled with the
Confederates in a bitter hand-to-hand struggle. A few scattered
fighters were rallied from out this fearful melee by the gallant Cap-
tain Hodges, than wdiom a more chivalrous soldier never drew
sabre. He led them in a last furious charge, in which he fell, as he
would have wished, ■"amid the battle's w'ildest tide."

By this time, all was lost. Eight of the officers lay dead or
wounded upon the field. Three were prisoners, their horses having
been kilk'd under tlu-m. The surgeon and chaplain, being non-com-
batants, were captured while in attendance u])on the wounded.

The battle at High Bridge was finished, for (icneral Read
had been mortally wounded at the first fire after the infantry had
rallied in supi)ort of the cavalry attack, and the two small regiments
were overwhelmed and com])elle(l to surrender as soon as the cav-
alry had ceased to be a factor.

("olonel Washburn had been shot in the mouth and sabred as
he fell from his horse. He was found on the field with the other
dead and wounded the next day, when the advance of the Army of
the James eanie u]). I le wa^ taken to the ho>])ilal at Point of Rock.s

12



l)ut insisted u])i>n hcins^- scni to his home in .M;iss;ichu - c'tls, where hiC
(hed in the arms of his mother. I'.el'ore his death, lie \\a>, at ( iranfs
rc(|ucst, brevettod as 15riga(Her General.

(?i the other officers, Lieutenant Colonel Jenkins was se\eiely
wounded, as were Captain Caldwell and Lieutenants jieleher and
Thompson. Captains 1 lodges and (Joddard were killed, and Lieu-
tenant Davis shot after having been made a ])risoner. for resenting
an insult offered him by a rebel ofhcer. The adjutant. Lieutenant
Lathrop, after his hor-e had been killed under him. was taken into
the woods to be shot. ])eeause his eaptor as.serted that he had slain
his brother in the fight. Fortunately a Confederate staff-officer
observeil the proceechng. and rescued him from his woukLbe
murderer.

Idappily. the casualties aiuong the enlisted men were much less
in proportictn than among the officers. They had to a man fougln
with the most des])erate valor, keeping up the struggle after all the
officers were down, until absolutely ingulfed in the masses of the
enemy.

In telling of the practical annihilation of a body of troops, the
statement that their standard was saved from capture seems almo.st
incredible ; yet such was the case in this instance. The color ser-
geant, a gallant soldier from Hingham bv the name of Thomas
Hickey. had carried the standard tli rough the iKHtest of the l)attle.
At the last moment, seeing that it was im]>ossible to save it from
capture except by destroying it. he managtxl to elude the enemies
who were closing in upon him. and ])utting spurs to his horse, flew
towardi a hut which he had (observed in the woods, and threw h.im-
self from his charger just as he reacheil it, with his foes close upon
him. Rushing it, he thrust his precious battle flag into a fire which
was blazing on the hearth. The painted silk flashed u\) in flame, and
by the time that his pursuers broke in. it was ashes !

His life was spared in consideration of his devoted bravery,
and he subsequently received a commission from the Governor of
the Commonwealth, in recognition oi his heroic det'd.

The losses of the Confederates in this action were at least a
half greater in number than Washburn's whole force. By their own
report, there were a hundred killed and wounded, among them a
general, one colonel, three majors and a lunuber of officers of lower
grade.

13



Tin.' r.attlc al llii^li I'.ridyc was at rtrst thou^ln to have been a
useless sacritice. It was a sacrifice indeed, but it unquestionably
hastened the termination of the war, by days, and perhaps weeks.

After the surrender, Lee's Inspector General said to Ord,

"To the sharpness of that fight, the cutting off of Lee's army
at Appomattox was ])robably owing. So fierce were the charges of
Colonel Washburn and his men, and so determined their fighting,
that General Lee received the impression that they must be sup-
ix^rted by a large part of the army, and that his retrea*^ was cut ofif.''

Lee consec|uently halted and began to intrench ; and this delay
gave time for Ord to come u]i. and enabled Sheridan to intercept the
enemy at Sailor's Creek.

The Confederate General Rosser said to a member of the regi-
ment whom he met after the war :

"You belonged to the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry? Give
me your hand ! I have been many a day in hot fights. I never saw
anything approaching that at Migh Bridge. While your colonel
kept his saddle, everything went down before him!"

The Confederate troops at High Bridge were Rosser's and a
])art of b^itz Hugh Lee's divisions.

"Was \()ur colonel drunk or crazy this morning, that he at-
tacked witli less than one hundred men the best fighting division of
the Confederate cavalry?" asked a rebel officer of a wounded cap-
tain of the Fourth ; "We have seen hard fighting, but we never
heard of anything like this before!"

The Confederate officers had at first utterly refused to credit
the stories of their ])risoners, insisting that the small force would
never have fought so fiercely unless it had been the advance of a
strong column.

Grant says in his memoirs.

"The Confederates took this to be only the advance of a larger
column which had headed them off. and so stopped to intrench ; so
that this gallant band had checked the ])rogress of a strong detach-
ment of the Confederate army. This stoppage of Lee's column no
doubt saved to us the trains following."



14




Major Atherton H. Stevens

4th Mass. Volunteer Cavalry



The First United States Flag Raised
In Richmond After the War.

By Mrs. Lasalle Corbell Pickett,

Wife of Major-General George L. Pickett, C. -S. A.

Thp: first knell of the evacuation of liichmond sounded on
Sunday morning while we were on our knees in St. Paul's
Church, invoking God's protecting care for our absent loved
ones, and blessings on our cause.

The intense excitement, the tolling of the bells, the hasty
parting, the knowledge that all communication would be cut
off between us and our loved ones, and the dread, undefined
fear in our helplessness and desertion, make a nightmare mem-
ory.

General Ewell had orders for the destruction of the public
buildings, which orders our Secretary of War, Gen. .J. C. Breck-
enridge, strove earnestly but without avail to have counter-
manded. The order, alas! was obeyed beyond the "letter of
the law."

The terrible conflagration was kindled by the Confederate
authorities, who applied the torch to the Shockoe warehouse,
it, too, being classed among the public buildings because of the
tobacco belonging to France and England stored in it. A fresh
breeze was blowing from the south ; the fire swept on in its
haste and fury over a great area in an almost incredibly short
time, and by noon the flames had transformed into a desert
waste all the city bounded by Seventh and Fifteenth Streets,
and Main Street and the river. One thousand houses were
destroyed. The streets were filled with furniture and every
description of wares, dashed down to be trampled in the mud or
buried where they lay.

• 19



At iiiglit a satuniHlia began. About dark, tbe Government
eoniniissary began the destruction of its stores. Soldiers and
citizens gathered in front, catching the liciuor in basins and
pitchers; some with their hats and some with tlieir boots. It
took but a short time for this to make a manifestation as dread
as the flames. Tlie ert)\vd became a liowling mob, so frenzied
that the officers of the law had to ilee for their lives, reviving
memories of 17S1, when tlie Brittisli under Arnold rode down
Kiehmond llilh and, invading tlie city, broke open tlie stores
and emptied the provisions and liijuors into the gutters, making
even the uninitiated cows and hogs drunk for days.

All through the night, crowds of men, women, and children
traversed the streets, loading themselves with supplies and
plunder. At midnight, soldiers drunk with vile liquor, followed
by a reckless crowd as drunk as themselves, dashed in the
plate-glass windows of the stores, and made a wreck of every-
thing.

About nine o'clock on Monday morning, terrific shell explo-
sions, rapid and continuous, added to the terror of the scene,
and gave the impression that the city was being shelled by the
retreating Confederate army from the south side. But the
explosions were soon found to {)roceed from the Government
arsenal and laboratory, then in flames. Later in the morning,
a merciful Providence caused a lull in tlie breeze. The terrific
explosion of the laboratory and of the arsenal caused every
window in our home to break. The old plate-glass mirrors, built
in the walls, were cracked and shattered.

Fort Darling was blown up, and later on the rams. It was
eight o'clock when the Federal troo})s entered the city. It
required the greatest effort to tame down the riotous, crazed
mob, and induce them to take part in the struggle to save their
own. Tlie firemen, afraid of the soldiers who had obeyed the
orders to light the torch, would not listen to any appeals or
entreaties, and so the llames were under full headway, fanned
by a southern breeze, when the Tnion soldiers came to the
rescue.

The llonring nulls caught fire from the tobacco houses, com-
iiiunicatiiig it to Cnvy ami Nhiin streets. Fvery bank was

2(1



destroyed. The War Departinont was a mass ol' ruins; the
Enquirer and Dispatch offices were in aslies ; and tlie county
court-house, the American Hotel, and most of the finest stores
of the city were ruined.

Libhy Prison and the I^-esbyterian church escaped. Sucli a
reign of terror and pillage, fire and flame, fear and despair!
The yelling and howling and swearing and weeping and wailing
beggar description. Families houseless and liomeless under the
open sky!

I shall never forget General Weitzel's command, composed
exclusively of colored troops, as I saw them through the dense
black columns of smoke. General Weitzel had for some time
been stationed on the north side of the James River, but a few
miles from Richmond, and he had only to march in and take
possession. He despatched Major A. H. Stevens of the Fourth
Massachusetts cavalry, and Major E. E. Graves of his staff,
with about a hundred mounted men, to reconnoitre the roads
and works leading to Richmond. They had gone but a little
distance into the Confederate lines, when they saw a shabby,
old-fashioned carriage, drawn by a pair of lean, lank horses, the
occupants waving a white flag. They met this flag-of-truce
party at the line of fortifications, just beyond the junction of
the Osborne turnpike and New Market road. The carriage
contained the mayor of Richmond — Colonel Mayo — Judge Mere-
dith of the Supreme Court, and Judge Lyons. The fourth


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Online LibraryWilliam B.] [ArnoldThe Fourth Massachusetts cavalry in the closing scenes of the war for the maintenance of the union → online text (page 1 of 2)