May 11, 1863, The New York Herald



KELLY’S FORD, Va., May 8, 1863.

We have just returned from the famous cavalry expedition, after having spent ten days in the heart of the rebels’ territory in Virginia.


Among the first acts of General Hooker upon assuming command of the Army of the Potomac was to reorganize and consolidate the cavalry branch of the service, forming it into a separate corps and placing in command of it a general of established reputation and ability, with division and brigade commander under him whose past services had won for them this distinction, and upon whom he could fully rely. The wisdom of this step has demonstrate itself in the past two weeks. Never in the history of warfare, either in ancient or modern times, has a more brilliant, daring and successful raid been made within the lines of an opposing army than has been accomplished by General Stoneman since the 28th of April.


With five thousand cavalry he has made the whole circuit of the rebel army, thoroughly destroying all the bridges of importance, both upon their railroads and post roads, tearing up miles of track, cutting off all means of communication between their army and base of supplies, breaking their canals, destroying millions of dollars worth of stores, capturing prisoners at the very gates of their capital, and returning with the loss of only one man killed, one wounded and some fifty or sixty taken prisoners. That General Stoneman has displayed energy, perseverance and strategic ability of no ordinary character, can be denied by no one who accompanied him upon this expedition; but for a great part of his success he is indebted to Generals Buford and Gregg, who commanded the two divisions under him, and the hearty co-operation of each and every officer and man who accompanied him.


The movement was to have been made some four weeks since, and in fact actually got on its way as far as Kelly’s Ford, on the 13th of April, when a heavy rain storm put a quietus upon a further advance till the 27th, when we left Warrenton Junction, where we had been encamped for two weeks, and started for Dixie.


It was intended to march ten thousand strong; but a division under General Averill, who was to co-operate with us upon our right, failed to get farther than Rapidan Station, where he had a slight skirmish with the enemy, leaving us with two brigades under General Gregg, and four regiments of regulars under General Buford, the Sixth Pennsylvania regiment (Rusk’s Lancers), who acted as escort to General Stoneman, and a selected battery of Second United States Artillery, under Major Robinson, to make the trip alone.


On the morning of the 28th we crossed the Rapahannock at Kelly’s Ford, at the same time that the Eleventh and Twelfth corps of infantry were crossing. General Gregg’s division crossed upon the pontoons, while General Buford’s forces forded the river a short distance above. A good portion of the day was consumed in crossing, and at eleven o’clock at night we bivouacked some five miles from the Rapidan river. Up to this time no one, with the exception of the generals in command, was aware of our destination; but at twelve o’clock that night the colonels of the various regiments were assembled and informed of General Stoneman’s plan and received their instructions. They were ordered to send to the rear every description of wagons, pack mules, led horses, and also such horses as would be unable to march fifty miles a day.


To provide themselves with eight days’ rations and as much grain as each one could carry upon his horse, and to be in readiness to move at four o’clock in the morning. As may be imagined, very little sleep visited our eyelids that night.


Most of the time between that and four o’clock was consumed in drawing and distributing rations, collecting together such of their effects as they were unable to carry with them, and speculating upon the probable result of the expedition. Most every one was jubilant at the prospect before him, while visions of Libby prisons, tobacco warehouses and dungeons of different descriptions weakened the nerves of a few. It was fairly daylight before the first mounted and evidently annoyed at the delay; but to peck and start off several hundred refractory mules is a work of time, and this had all to be seen to before we could leave.


Finally the last mule was off and our march commenced. We were obliged to move cautiously, being ignorant of the exact locality of the enemy, and it was eleven o’clock before we arrived in sight of the Rapidan. We struck the river at Morton’s Ford, which we found quite swollen, but still fordable. General Buford crossed his brigade at this point, while General Stoneman, with the balance of his command, continued on a few miles further up to Raccoon Ford.


Here we learned that the enemy had been encamped the night previous, some sixteen hundred strong, under General W. H. Lee, with one piece of artillery; but in consequence of General Buford crossing below, which they supposed he could not do, they were compelled to skedaddle.

GENERAL BUFORD REACHED RACCOON FORD in time to capture a lieutenant and nine men belonging to the Fauquier county artillery; but the balance of the force escaped. The command of General Gregg had all crossed by dusk, and the whole force bivouacked till two o’clock in the morning.

OUR COURSE THE NEXT DAY was in a southeasterly direction, General Buford marching towards Orange Court House, while General Gregg went to Orange Springs. The advance guard, under Major Beaumont, of the First New Jersey cavalry, reached Orange Springs at one o’clock in the afternoon, where they encountered a small force of the enemy. The Major at once charged them, capturing a major and one private, and dispersing the rest in all directions. We here ascertained from contrabands that a large supply train passed there in the morning in great haste, throwing away large quantities of forage and provisions, and that the rebels were falling back from Culpepper Court House towards Spottsylvania Court House, taking with them as much of their movable effects as possible, and driving before them their negroes.


In hopes of overhauling a portion of the train; General Gregg sent Colonel Wyndham, who commands the second brigade of his division, after them with one regiment, with instructions to follow on for five miles, and if he then saw nothing of them to return, as time was too valuable to waste in further pursuit. The Colonel went the five miles in double quick, but saw nothing of the enemy. In the meantime our boys, to amuse themselves, instituted a search of the different houses in the vicinity, and succeeded in bringing to light quite a quantity of


In one house they found several dozen pairs of valuable high top boots and soldiers’ shoes, evidently of Northern manufacture, and probably some of those captured from our sutlers during the winter. In most every house they found muskets, shot guns and rifles, which were destroyed, and in one house a splendid gray uniform belonging to some field officer. At six o’clock we resumed our march in the direction of Louisa Court House, where we arrived about midnight.


This place we expected to find defended, as the Virginia Central Railroad, connecting Fredericksburg with Gordonsville, passes through it. We halted about a mile from the town, and at once made preparations to destroy the railroad. One squadron of the Tenth New York, under Colonel Irwin, was sent five miles above the town, and another squadron, under Major Avery, of the same regiment, five miles below, who were to cut the road, while Colonel Kilpatrick, with the Seventh New York (Harris Light) regiment charged through the town. Col. Kilpatrick charged into the town about two o’clock in the morning, his boys yelling like demons, but not a single […..] did they see. The inhabitants were much terrified at such unusual proceedings, doubtless expecting that the Yankees were about to murder them all in cold blood; but nothing was disturbed in the town. Guards were stationed upon all the avenues leading to the town, and the work of destroying the railroad commenced.

a distance of two miles, the ties burned and the rails so warped by fire as to be useless. The bridges, culverts, switches, water tanks and everything appertaining to the road of a destructive nature were thoroughly destroyed. It was the opinion of our engineers that it would take at least three weeks to get the road in running order with all the force they could put to work.


In order to give our horses some rest after their long march, and the men an opportunity to catch a little sleep, we did not resume our march till two o’clock the next afternoon (Saturday). Intelligence was then received that a large force of rebel cavalry were approaching on the Gordonsville road, and were distant about four hours’ march. General Gregg at once got his division out, passed through the town and formed Colonel Wyndham’s brigade in line of battle on the brow of a hill about half a mile south of the town. Here he posted two guns, supported on either side by the First Maryland and Twelfth Illinois regiments, while the First New Jersey was drawn up behind the hill as a reserve. He waited here till the time had expired when the enemy should have made his appearance, and hearing nothing of him resumed his march, leaving a portion of companies B and I of the First Maine regiment, in all about fifty men, five miles from the Court House, on the Gordonsville road, to watch the movements of the enemy.


Soon after our departure a regiment of the enemy appeared in sight, when the Maine boys gallantly charged them, driving them back some distance; but losing in the charge one man killed, one wounded and twenty-eight taken prisoners. William H. Perkins, of Company I, was killed, and Melville Cook, of Company B, wounded slightly in the foot. The balance of the boys reached their regiment in safety without being pursued by the enemy.

OUR ROUTE STILL CONTINUED in a southeasterly direction, and a few hours brought us to Thompson’s Cross Roads, which point Gen. Stoneman had selected from which to send out expeditions in different directions to destroy bridges, railroads, canals, &c. Upon our arrival we found General Buford, who had taken another road from Louisa Court House, and with him a train of twenty-six wagons, with four mules to each wagon, which he had captured on the route.

WE WERE NOW IN THE HEART OF THE ENEMY’S COUNTRY, and what was to be done must be done quickly, as the enemy were known to be concentrating all the force they could scrape together to effect our capture and prevent the accomplishment of our plans.


On Sunday morning, May 3, Colonel Wyndham, with two regiments of his brigade — the First New Jersey and First Maryland — was directed by General Stoneman to proceed to Columbia, on the James river, cut the canal and destroy as much as possible everything that could give aid and comfort to the enemy. The party got off in high spirits at two o’clock in the morning, having had only two hours rest, with an intelligent negro boy for a guide, and was expected to go there, a distance of twenty-five miles, accomplish their mission and return by three o’clock in the afternoon.


The country through which we passed was inhabited mostly by wealthy farmers, who had never before had the pleasure of seeing any of the detested Yankee army, and as they were totally ignorant of our presence in that vicinity their looks of wonderment and surprise can be better imagined than described. As many of our horses had given out, and the best of them were in but a sorry condition, the Colonel detailed a squad of men to scour the country and take every horse fit for service, and to leave in its place one of ours, provided they could not get it any further. Very many valuable horses were obtained in this way, and as General Stuart set the example and established the precedent when he made his raid into Pennsylvania, they can find no fault; but still it did seem rather hard to go into a man’s yard, take his horses before his eyes and ride off without as much as I thank you for it.

WE ARRIVED IN THE VICINITY OF COLUMBIA about nine o’clock. As we approached the town horsemen were seen hovering about, watching our movements, and one of our videttes reported a large force of cavalry about a mile ahead. Captain W. R. Robbins, of the First New Jersey, was sent out with six men to ascertain the facts in the case. He scoured the country for a distance of five or six miles, capturing two prisoners, but discovered no force of the enemy. Colonel Wyndham now made a disposition of his forces. He stationed the First Maryland outside of the town and charged through it with the First New Jersey, under Lieutenant Colonel Broderick. As we entered the town the rebels could be seen leaving on the opposite side in great haste. Chase was immediately given them by Captains Kester, Lucas, Gray, Boyd and others, but they only succeeded in capturing a few of them.


Parties were at once detailed to cut the canal, destroy the locks, burn the bridges, towboats, &c. In ten minutes after we entered the town flames were issuing from five bridges, three canal boats loaded with forage, bacon, whiskey and other stores, and two parties under the supervision of Major Russell, of the First Maryland, and Lieutenant Colonel Broderick were engaged in cutting down the bank of the canal and destroying the locks. While this was being accomplished at the canal, another party, under Captains Thomas and Hick, of Colonel Wyndham’s staff, were in the town destroying an immense storehouse filled with supplies of every description for the rebel army. A large quantity of whiskey, nicely bottled, labelled and boxed, from the medical purveyor’s office in Richmond, and what we could not carry away was demolished and thrown into the canal.


Immense numbers of contrabands flocked around, shouting, clapping their hands, and fairly crazed with joy at our arrival. We allowed them to help themselves to as much sugar and other stores as they could carry, and all those who could raise an animal of any description accompanied us when we left. The town contains a white population of some four or five hundred, and has the same dead and shiftless appearance so characteristic of all Southern towns. Colonel Wyndham was fortunate enough to capture a very valuable imported horse called “Southerner,” which was the property of a lieutenant in the rebel artillery service. The horse is valued at two thousand dollars.

THE INHABITANTS WERE MUCH TERRIFIED at our presence. One lady came running out of her house as I was passing up the street, and asked if we would be kind enough not to murder the women and children. I assured her that the only object of the expedition was to destroy government property. As far as I saw, no house was entered, or citizen insulted or molested in any way, and the object of the expedition having been accomplished, the troops quietly left the town. The only part of the expedition which they were unable to accomplish, was the destruction of the aqueduct where the canal crosses the Rivanna river. This is built of solid masonry and is of immense strength, and we had no means of destroying it. After leaving the town Major Beaumont volunteered to return with a company and again attempt its destruction, and was permitted to do so by Colonel Wyndham. He succeeded in finding powder and fuse in Columbia, but in consequence of the short time in which he had to work, was unable to accomplish it. This James river canal runs from Lynchburg to Richmond, and nearly one-half of their supplies are transported over it. I think they succeeded in damaging it sufficiently to stop all transportation for three or four weeks. The command reached Stoneman’s headquarters in safety about dusk, having marched between fifty and sixty miles.


While this was in progress, another party under Capt. R. S. C. Lord, commanding the First regiment of regulars, was sent to Tolersville to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad at that point. Tolersville is situated about six miles from Louisa Court House. They tore up the track for miles, burned the ties, destroyed switches, bridges, culverts, &c., — rendering the road impassable for weeks. A portion of the command, under Captain Eugene Baker, then went six miles further, to Frederick Hall, and cut the railroad at that point. They also destroyed the telegraph instrument, cut the wire and destroyed government property. At sunset Captain John Feelner, of the same regiment, with thirty men, proceeded on the road toward Fredericksburg some six miles, where a bridge eighty or ninety yards long crosses the North Anna river. This bridge was guarded by rebel infantry. The Captain charged across it, driving the enemy from it, and succeeded in burning it, without the loss of a man, and captured five prisoners.


The length of time the regiment was absent caused much uneasiness at headquarters, and General Stoneman, fearing they were in trouble, sent out a squadron of the Sixth regulars, under Captain J. W. Claflin, to communicate with them, which he did, and returned with the command.


Captain Lord, who commanded the expedition, is one of the youngest captains in command of a regiment in the army. He was highly complimented by both Generals Stoneman and Buford on the success of the expedition, as it was considered by them one of the most hazardous and import of the whole.


Captain Harrison, commanding the Fifth regulars, was sent with his regiment to destroy a bridge over the James river at Cartersville, some twelve miles south of Columbia. He started late on Sunday night, and arrived at Shannon, or, as the inhabitants call it, “Flemming’s Crossroads,” at two o’clock and bivouacked till daylight. Two hundred picked men were then selected and placed under the command of Captain Drummond, with instructions to proceed to Cartersville and destroy the bridge at all hazards. Captain Harrison, with the balance of his command, remained at Flemming’s Crossroads to protect him from attack in that direction.


Shortly after sunrise, as Lieutenant Hastings, with fifteen men, was patrolling the road in the direction of Gordonsville, he discovered a large party of rebel cavalry approaching. He at once perceived that the safety of Captain Harrison depended upon his prompt action. He immediately charged the advance guard, driving them pell mell back upon their main column, thus gaining sufficient time to rally upon his reserves. Captain Harrison only had thirty men all told, the remainder being stationed on the various roads as pickets. He drew them up across the road, prepared to resist to the best of his ability the charge of the rebels, who were seen approaching in solid column. He stood their charge, checking them, and escaped with all his men.


The rebels captured the pickets, consisting of Captain Own, Lieutenant Buford (a nephew of the General), and fifteen men. Word was at once sent to General Stoneman of the proximity of the rebels, and he came down with General Buford’s command at a double quick, with six pieces of artillery, but did not arrive in time to meet the enemy. I ascertained from the inhabitants who witnessed the skirmish, that quite a number of rebels were wounded. The enemy’s force consisted of the Ninth and Thirteenth Virginia and a portion of the First and Second.


While these events were in progress two other very important expeditions were being carried out under General Gregg and Colonel Kilpatrick. General Gregg, with the Tenth New York and First Maine, and two pieces of artillery, was to proceed to Ashland, and, if possible, destroy the railroad bridge at that point, which Colonel Kilpatrick, with the Harris Light and Twelfth Illinois, was to go between Ashland and Richmond, destroying bridges, railroads, &c.


General Gregg destroyed the bridge across the South Anna, on the road from Columbia to Spottsylvania Court House; then struck east and destroyed the road to Beaver Dam Station; then, turning north, struck the Richmond and Gordonsville pike. From there he sent a detachment and burned the Ground Squirrel bridge. The column then marched up the pike to within eight miles of Ashland, where they bivouacked Monday night.


From here he sent a detachment of the First Maine cavalry, under Lieut. Colonel Smith, to Ashland, to burn the bridge and destroy the track. The bridge was defended by infantry, and could not be destroyed, but he succeeded in destroying the track for a number of miles.

COLONEL KILPATRICK, OF THE NEW YORK CAVALRY, AND COLONEL DAVIS, OF THE TWELFTH ILLINOIS, left the command at this point, and as they have not since rejoined it, the only account of their doings has already been published.


From citizens who left Richmond in the morning, and unwittingly came within our lines, we learned that a perfect panic existed in Richmond in consequence of our close proximity; that all the stores were closed, and hasty preparation in progress for leaving the city by many of the citizens and office holders under […..] government; that there were no guns mounted on the fortifications guarding the approaches to the city, and that all the soldiers capable of bearing arms had been sent to Fredericksburg to join Lee army. There is hardly a doubt but that General Stoneman could have walked into Richmond, with little or no resistance, and perhaps captured Jeff. Davis himself, had he known the state of the case, and had had his whole force down there. As it was he gave them a big scare, and one which they will long remember.

ON TUESDAY, MAY 5, GEN. GREGG REJOINED STONEMAN, making a forced march of about seventy miles. General Stoneman having accomplished the object of his raid made his arrangements for returning. He ascertained that two brigades of rebel cavalry, under General W. H. Lee and Hampton, were within two miles of him, but evidently afraid to attack him in his present position, but would doubtless pounce upon his rear column at the first opportunity. Gen. Stoneman now displayed his generalship. His object was to throw the enemy off his track, and, by forced marches, get beyond his reach before he discovered his absence. On Tuesday he had the whole of Gregg division that remained stationed at Yanceyville to guard the bridge over the South Anna river, and everything in readiness to apply the torch as soon as the column should have passed over. Gen. Buford’s brigade was still stationed at Shannon, awaiting the action of Captain Drummond.

CAPTAIN DRUMMOND REPORTED during the afternoon, having successfully performed his mission, and everything was at once got in readiness for our march homeward. The train of mules and horses which we had accumulated on the trip, and which extended a distance of three miles or more, were placed in the centre of General Gregg’s division. General Buford was sent to make a demonstration on Gordonsville, and by dark the division of General Gregg had safely crossed the South Anna river, and the bridge burned. The weather, which up to this time had been warm and pleasant, suddenly changed to a cold northeast storm, rendering the prospect of a night’s march over execrable roads anything but agreeable or charming.

BOTH MEN AND HORSES WERE WORN DOWN with fatigue and loss of sleep, and our rations had been exhausted for some days, rendering it imperative for us to forage upon the country. A small loaf of corn bread would command most any price, and a chicken a small fortune.


Nothing of interest occurred during the night. The mule train and contrabands became separated at one time from the head of the column, taking a wrong road and going some miles on it before they were missed, the rear guard of course following in their wake. This caused a delay of some hours or more; but by the almost superhuman efforts of the energetic officers comprising General Stoneman’s and Gregg’s staff, the long column got once more in motion, and did not halt again until nine o’clock in the morning. In the morning we found General Buford waiting for us, he having gone within three miles of Gordonsville, but meeting no enemy.


It still continued wet and cold, and the roads in a terrible condition. On the afternoon of Wednesday we again moved on, marching without halting all night, and reached Racoon Ford at daylight. Many of the men became so utterly exhausted from want of sleep that they laid down in the mud, and could not be aroused either by persuasion or force.


On Friday morning, at daylight, we reached Kelly’s Ford, and found the stream so much swollen as to render it necessary to swim the horses across.

THE COUNTRY THROUGH WHICH WE PASSED was the finest I ever saw in Virginia. It has not been afflicted by the visitation of troops of either army until we passed through, and I am convinced that it is the earnest prayer of the inhabitants that they may never be so afflicted again. The whole State looks like one vast field of grain, every acre susceptible of cultivation having been either sown with wheat or planted with corn. If it is the policy of the administration to starve them out it will certainly have to be done before the next crop is harvested, for they will then have gain enough to feed the world.

THE INHABITANTS are heartily tired and sick of the war, and many of them would gladly have peace upon any terms. The female portion of the community are by far the most bitter in their hatred to the Yankees, and will be the last to yield. Very much valuable information was obtained by General Stoneman from the contrabands, who acted as guides and informed of the whereabouts of rebels in the neighborhood. The prisoners we captured will more than outnumber those taken from us. Among our captures was a major on Stuart’s staff and a lieutenant on Jackson’s staff.


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