Winchester Battle Description


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, October 8, 1864

Welcome to our collection of Harper's Weekly newspapers. These papers, published during the Civil War years, contain incredible reports and analysis of the key events of the war. They also have impressive drawings of the key people and battles in the war.

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General Phil Sheridan

Presidential Race

1864 Presidential Race

Battle of Fisher's Hill

Atlanta, Georgia


Virginia Map

General Russell

General Russell

General Sherman in Camp

Battle of Winchester

Battle of Winchester

Battle of Winchester

Siege of Petersburg

Siege of Petersburg

Peace Cartoon







[OCTOBER 8, 1864.


(Previous Page) of battle in the face of an enemy already prepared and in line. At first the advantage appeared to rest with EARLY, whose fierce cannonade broke SHERIDAN''S first line, and threatened to disturb his second. But this state of affairs changed as soon as the Federal artillery got in position. The line of battle was reformed, and the conflict opened in terrible earnest. The two opposing armies were at some points not more than two hundred yards apart. The slaughter is described to have been truly awful; but the advantage rested now with SHERIDAN'S advancing columns. At a critical point in the fight the cavalry bugle was heard above the din of the strife and the shouts of the contending armies; then followed the charge, led by such soldiers as MERRITT and CUSTER and TORBERT, upon the enemy's right. This decided the fortunes of the day. The movement was in accordance with SHERIDAN'S deep laid plan, and besides being the most magnificent of spectacles was also a most wonderful success. " The stubborn columns of EARLY'S command," says the Tribune correspondent, "were forced to give way, and break before the fierce onslaught which our cavalry made upon them, who, with sabre in hand, rode them down, cutting them right and left, capturing 721 privates and non-commissioned officers, with nine battle-flags and two guns." Thus was fought and won the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864.


THE two sketches on pages 648 and 649 relate to General GRANT'S campaign. The great Cattle Raid made by the rebel cavalry under General HAMPTON on the 16th of September, though not in itself of great importance, was yet, it must be confessed, a very mortifying incident of the campaign. About 2500 beeves were captured. These cattle were intended for the army north of the James especially, and were captured at Harrison's Landing. The attack was very bold, and in such force that our guards could make no efficient resistance. A force was immediately dispatched under GREGG to pursue the saucy "rebs," but did not succeed in overtaking them. The other sketch represents the two armies before Petersburg engaged in an artillery duel at midnight.


THE continuation of this Serial Story is unavoidably postponed until this day fortnight.  


"YES, they are a splendid pair ! There's no discount on that. There ain't a braver man in the Army of the Potomac than Colonel Charley; and as for ' Mother Jane,' as the boys call her (because you see she's like a mother to us although she's only a chick in age compared to some of us), she de-serves a fighting man for a husband, for she's just the gamest woman that ever I see. Tell you what, if you fellows had seen what she done one day when she pulled a party of us Forty-ninth boys out of the tightest place ever I was in (and that's saying some-thing, too), you'd take your oath that she'd ought to be a soldier's wife."

Sergeant Blake was convoying a squad of new recruits for the Forty-ninth. They had got within the lines of the Army of the Potomac, and were making their last halt before joining the regiment at Falmouth. The Sergeant had just been greeted warmly by a noble-looking officer, who rode up while they were boiling their coffee, accompanied by a handsome woman with a pleasant brown face and short, thick, black curls, which made a glossy fringe for a bewitching little jockey-hat, whose jaunty scarlet feather, held in place by a silver eagle, gave her a military air charmingly in keeping with the martial surroundings. The lady had also greeted the Sergeant with great cordiality, while the officer, whose shoulder-straps marked him as a Colonel, 'addressed a hearty " Glad to see you, my lads !" to the admiring squad.

" Sergeant," said one of the men, as the subjects of the former's eulogy cantered off, the lady sitting her spirited bay mare with the greatest ease and grace, " would you mind telling us the story?"

" Well, I don't care if I do. It'll show you fellows what you may have to come to some day your-selves ; and it'll teach you the value of keeping a stiff upper lip when you are hard pushed." And, as the Sergeant took up an easy position against the trunk of a huge pine-tree, the men lit their pipes and gathered around him to hear his story.

" Well, you see, Colonel Charley was only a Captain then ; that day's work sewed a Major's straps upon his shoulders. Little Williams (' Matches,' the boys used to call him, because his legs looked like a couple o' lucifers), who was appointed Major because he was first cousin or something to some-body that had influence, although he didn't know a ramrod from a cartridge-box when lie joined, got a hint shortly after the circumstance I am going to tell you about that he had better resign, and Captain Charley got the place, and then the Lieutenant-Colonel took sick and resigned, and when poor Clark got his finish at Chancellorsville Captain Charley got to be Colonel. But he was only a Captain then, as I told ye.

"You see, the Captain had been ordered to take two companies of the old Forty-ninth and make a reconnoissance down the railroad (I didn't tell you that we were guarding one of the Potomac fords); for it was said that a gang of Mosby's men had been seen in the neighborhood, and it was thought they were trying to cut the road. We scouted for about six miles down without seeing a sign of a grayback, and had about made up our minds it was a false alarm. About three o'clock in the afternoon we turned and started for camp. We had just halted to rest a bit at a spring that ran out of the side-hill, where the railroad makes a deep cut through a long, narrow ledge, when we heard half a dozen shots in our rear, followed by a loud yell, and then Gus

Lynch, one of our fellows who had lagged a little behind, came kiting 'round the point of the hill as if the old boy had kicked him. Gus sung out as he came up, ' Look out boys, Mosby is after us full chisel !'

" We had barely time to obey Captain Charley's order to fix bayonets and form when the first of the ragamuffins hove in sight around the curve. There were about three hundred of 'em in all ; and mean, dirty, sheep - stealin' looking rascals they were. They didn't charge on us right away, as we expected, but pulled up when they got in sight, probably not knowing how strong we were.

" Now in numbers they greatly overmatched us, for we had only about forty muskets all told. But we had much the best of them in our position. If we had expected them we couldn't have picked out a stronger place to make a stiff fight. Captain Charley saw this at a glance. It was, of course, impossible for us to retreat, for they, being mounted, could have ridden us down in a minute. But we could hold the cut easy enough.

" You see the cut was narrow—just wide enough for the track—and as luck would have it there was a pretty deep drain-way running across the line between us and the rebs, which was uncovered, and about fifteen feet over. It was easy enough to cross it on the trussels, but it was a stumper for a horse. Our rear was open, but we knew well enough that they couldn't get at us there without dismounting or riding several miles around, for the side of the ledge they were on was like a wall almost. But it was an ugly trap, after all ; for if they couldn't get in, we couldn't get out ; and if they could hold us there until night it would be pretty easy for them to swarm up the bank and pop us over from the top, while we couldn't get a sight at them at all. But we stood and made ready for 'em, and made up our minds to trust in Providence, and to charge them five graybacks for every bluejacket they knocked over.

" And let me tell you, boys," said the Sergeant, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, "that this trust in Providence that the dominies tell about is no humbug, as you'll find out when you get under fire. A soldier may get kind of reckless and devil-may-care sometimes, from often looking death in the eye and escaping ; but you may be sure that few men go in where the bullets fly, and the shells howl like blood-thirsty devils, and their comrades are struck down right and left, without feeling that they are in the hams of a merciful God. I tell you, comrades, there are no truer prayers spoken than those which go out from soldiers' hearts, though you may not see a movement of the close-shut lips along the lines of battle."

The Sergeant here paused to fill and light his pipe, while a solemn look fell upon the rough faces around him, and more than one emphatic " That's so !" and "Thrue for you !" went up from the veterans of the circle.

"Well," resumed the Sergeant, " as I was saying, Mosby's men had a bad job before 'em ; worse, a good deal, than they were aware of. It was a good hall'-Hour before they undertook to disturb us, although a couple of the dirty critters did ride to-ward the mouth of the cut as if to reconnoitre ; but a shot or two sent them to the right-about in quick time. It was policy in us not to waste any pow-der, for we only had ten rounds apiece, so. although we might have picked off some of 'em as they stood, we just held our fire and kept our eyes peeled.

I " By-and-by we could see that they were getting ready for a charge; so it was certain they didn't know any thing of the gully in the road, as it would have been madness to have charged with that in front of 'em. They came ma first at a slow trot in single file, which was the best they could do, on ac-count of the narrow track. Captain Charley had, before this, picked out ten of his best shots, boys that could take the spark out of a squirrel's eye at a hundred yards. This detail he now moved to the front, and on the further side of the gully. As they stood close the rebs couldn't see the ditch. Then says the Cap, `Men, count from right to left, one, two, three, and so on.' They counted up to ten. `Now when these fellows yonder get on the curve they will be out of line, and I want every one of you to cover his man. Number one take the first, number two the second, and so on ; and when I give the word pelt the scoundrels.' So there our fellows stood, ten men to stop three hundred.

" Well, when they got within about three hundred yards of us they set up one of their devilish yells, and came on at hot jump. They thought they could stampede us ; but we belonged to the Army of the Potomac," said the Sergeant, with a gleam of pride in his honest gray eye.

"As soon as they got well strung out around the curve Captain Charley sung out, `Fire!' and those ten pieces cracked pretty much together, and, as I'm a living sinner, six of the Johnnies were tumbled off their horses dead, and two more were badly hurt. That charge was done for. They brought up all standing, and were in a panic in no time, turning tail without stopping to pick up their killed.

" We hoped this would put a finish to their operations ; but it seems they were determined to have one more crack at us; and this time they showed us a trick that I never saw, before, although I've read of something like it in accounts of Injun fights. It was a pretty 'cute dodge, and if it hadn't been for the ditch in front of us it would have fetched us, sure pop. They came on in the same way as they did before, but, just as they got fairly on the wind around the turn, we heard their officer sing out some order, and quick as a flash down went every man's head and the best part of his body be-hind his horse, so that they were pretty well covered by the necks of the animals. The thing was done so sudden and unexpected that it threw our fellows off their sight ; and, although two or three horses were badly hurt, not a man, so far as we could judge, was hit.

" Of course there was no time to pick out another detail. The men had been formed four front, and , the orders were to fire at the word, the front rank to fire and kneel, the second rank the same, and so on.

Captain Charley kept the men in front of the ditch as long as, it was safe, and then gave them the order to fall back, the ranks opening to let them pass to the rear. They all came off safe but one, Reuben Banks, who was shot dead by the rebel Captain. Well, of course as soon as our fellows jumped back the rebs saw the ditch, and the foremost of 'em pulled up sharp with a loud yell. But those in the rear came tearing on, and in a second the cut was jammed full of plunging horses and cursing men—and such cursing I never heard before nor since. It seemed to make the very air thick and blue. Now was our chance, and the way we pelted 'em with cold lead was a caution. 'Twasn't five minutes be-fore the whole pack was running like hounds. Our fellows gave three rousing cheers as they went off; and felt good just then for any number of graybacks Mosby could send along.   1

" We now thought, most of us, that we had whipped them off for good and all, and wondered why Captain Charley didn't give us the order to fall in and march to camp, for we were by this time about used up and as hungry as wolves. But he was wiser than we were. He knew very well that they had got their mad up, and that they would hang on to us now for revenge. The moment we marched out of that cut we were doomed ; our only safety was in that gully, and we must by all means cover that with our pieces.

" But it was certain that something must be done and very quickly. Our camp was only three miles off by the road. Some of us were sure that our firing must have been heard, and would bring out a rescue party ; but Captain Charley thought that most likely the sound being pent up in the cut would prevent its reaching any distance, and the result proved that he was right. A man might be sent round by the road, and it was probable he could slip off without being seen by the Johnnies. But the best he could do he couldn't get to camp and a party get out to us in less than two hours, and it was now five o'clock. By seven it would be dark, and our flints would be fixed. Captain Charley was familiar with the ground, for he had often scouted over it, and he knew that a short cut along the crest of the ridge would carry a man to our lines in half an hour. The mischief of it was that a fellow couldn't get away without the rebs sighting him, and he would have to run for it sure, and trust to luck and his legs for his life. It was a risky thing for any man to attempt, but Cap determined to try it on. He first sent off a man by the road to take advantage of the chances of help coming in time that way ; and then, says he to the boys, `Men,' says he, `I want a volunteer to go to camp along the top of that ridge. It'll be a dangerous job; for the man that does it will have to dodge bullets and to race with some of those rascals yonder : afoot though, for they can't ride up you bank, and it'll be a pretty long start. If he gets off safe this command is saved, and if I can get him made a lieutenant I pledge my word to do it !

" Now, boys, there were just as brave fellows in that party as ever bit a cartridge, and yet for a minute there wasn't a foot budged. I tell you what, it's one thing to face death in company with other good men—the touch of the elbow is a wonderful thing to brace a man's heart—but when you are asked to cut loose from your comrades and make a target of yourself for you don't know how many bullets, it's no use talking; not many men would jump to do it. You'll read a good deal in the news-papers about `gallant actions' and `daring deeds' of individuals; but I tell you, boys—and it's no disgrace in an old soldier like me to own it—life is just as, precious to a soldier as to any man, and he is no more eager to expose himself in cool blood to the danger of death than if he had I ever smelt gun-powder. I've seen things done in action that you would talk about as long as you live ; but in a fight I hold that a man isn't himself. There is a kind of intoxication in the smell of burnt powder, the banging of the guns, the shout and tumult around, and, more than all else, a sense of power that comes over a man in the mere handling and sighting of that cold, hard, bright thing that can kill—that carry men on to do great things in spite almost of them-selves.

" But I must get on with my story. As I was a saying, at first not a man budged ; but just as we all began to feel so cruelly ashamed of ourselves that, I think, in another minute we should have been ready to fight for the honor of going, out steps a young fellow belonging to Company H, and said he was ready to go.

" This lad was called Mark Wilson. He was a slim, good-looking chap, who had never been `considered of much account in the regiment. The truth was that the boys suspected that he considered himself too genteel to be a soldier. Camp is a poor place to put on airs or play gentility, and Mark wasn't popular in his company. But he rather seemed to like to be avoided, and was in the habit of keeping to himself as much as possible, and never joining in the sports of the boys. We all noticed that he never got any letters nor wrote any ; never spoke of home or friends ; in fact, didn't seem to have any, or any body to care for him. Sometimes the boys would be curious, and try to pump him; but they never got any satisfaction; and once or twice, when they pressed him pretty hard, he actually burst out crying. The theory about him was that he was some rich man's son who had run away from home, and was too proud to let his folks know where he was.

" Well, when Mark stepped out, I suppose at least a score of vets jumped to the front and wanted to go ; but, to every body's surprise, Mark wouldn't back down. He insisted that, as he was first to volunteer, it was his right to go. The Cap says to him : ' Well, Mark, you're a plucky boy, and you certainly shall go if you wish it ; but it seems to me you had better let me pick out a stronger and tougher man.' But the little chap wouldn't yield. He said, `No, Captain. If I am killed I have nobody to grieve for me ; and I suppose I am the only one in the regiment who hasn't got some friend.' The poor little fellow looked as if he was going to cry, and some of us felt like crying too.

"`Well, Mark,' said Captain Charley, ' go you shall; but you mustn't say you haven't got any friends. A brave boy like you will make friends every where, and if we come out of this safe you shall never want a friend as long as Charley Heming is alive.'

" There was a tree growing out of the side of the cut just a little ways back, and its top reached above the top of the bank. Captain Charley gave Mark a few directions, and handed him his revolver, and told him to be off as quick as he could. We all of us stared to see Mark, as the Captain put out his hand to shake hands, seize it, and press it to his heart, and kiss it, turning as red at the same time as a ripe strawberry. Then the little fellow ran to the tree, climbed it like a monkey, and jumped off on to the bank. Captain Charley, after a couple of minutes, couldn't keep quiet any longer, so he shinned up the tree too to take observations. They haven't seen him yet,' he sung out to us below. `Ah! there come three of the scoundrels up the bank, and put after him. By George ! the boy runs like a deer. He has got a fine start too ; but one of the graybacked villains has got the longest legs, and gains on him. There, the leading man halts and fires his carbine. Curse it, he's hit ; he's down. No, he only tripped, or fell on purpose. He's up and off again. But Long Legs is coming to close quarters. Ha ! Mark wheels and gives Mr. Reb a barrel of his revolver ; another. By Jove, he has tumbled him ! And he don't get up. I guess he's done for, thank God! The other two have come up and stopped. The Captain now said nothing for another minute, and then he flung down his cap with a yell of delight, which was answered right heartily by us fellows below, for we knew before he said it that Mark had got off safe. The two graybacks didn't chase him any further, and soon returned to their command carrying the dead man with them.

"Well, the rebs stuck to us as long as they dared; but about six o'clock a rattle of musketry and a Union cheer told us that our men had come up and taken the rascals in the rear. There was a round or two, and then the cavalry skedaddled in. every direction. Several were killed and wounded, and about forty taken prisoners. We got back to camp in high spirits about eight o'clock.

"And now, boys, I come to the most curious part of the story. As soon as we got in Captain Charley was told that Mark was in the hospital badly wound-ed. He had really been hit when the Captain saw him fall, the ball breaking his left arm badly ; but the plucky chap had kept right on, although he fainted dead away the minute he had given Captain Charley's message to the Colonel. And when they came to dress his arm they found that they had a woman on their hands !"

" Sho !" " You don't say so !" " Holy Mother'." " Soh!" " Bully gal !" A chorus of ejaculations of astonishment arose from the many-blooded group as the Sergeant came to this denouement.

"Yes, a woman ; and, what's more, dead in love with Captain Charley. You see I heard the rest of the story from Jake Downing, who was nursing in the hospital at the time. It seems that when she came to, and saw she was found out, she cried fit to break any one's heart, and begged them not to ex-pose her, and, above all, not to tell Captain Heming. They comforted the poor thing as well as they could, and promised to keep her secret for her. Before we got in she was delirious from the pain and excitement. It was while she was out of her head this way that they found out that she thought so much of the Captain. When he came in the surgeon thought best under all the circumstances to give him a hint of how matters stood, and he had the girl taken to a private house in the neighbor-hood, and nursed until she got well. It came out that she was the daughter of a farmer in Erie County, New York, and had a step-mother who was a perfect she-devil. Jane—for that was her name—and a brother, a little younger than herself, led the life of niXXers. Finally, the boy ran away, enlisted, and was shot at Pea Ridge. The girl then had nobody left to care for, but she stood her step mother's bad treatment as long as she could, until one night the old termagant beat her like a dog for what she called her `impudence,' and actually shut her up in an outhouse, and kept her there all night. The next night Jane dressed herself in a suit of her brother's clothes, cut off her hair, and slipping out of the house, ran away. How she got into the Forty-ninth I never heard, but I know she did serve with us two years, and we never suspected her. Well, the upshot was that when Captain Charley found the plucky little girl had taken a fancy to him, and no blame to her—you saw him a bit ago--and when he found, too, that she was, when her natural self, a right pretty girl, and a good girl, too, it was natural enough that he should fall in love with her, and he did. I tell you, boys, we had a bully time when they got married, which they did in camp as soon as Jane got about again. We fixed up a bower of evergreens, and made it gay with flags; then we took the drums of the regimental corps, and built up an altar for the chaplain ; and every body said they never saw a handsomer couple than our chaplain tied that day. Old General H— gave away the bride, and he gave her a buss when it was over that the boys swore was like the crack of a 6-pounder rifle. Then we had the brigade band for music, and the jolliest spread and dance that ever you saw. We had lots of ladies down from Washington, and several officers' wives and daughters, and our Jane was just as much of a lady as any of 'ern.

"That was the Colonel and his wife you saw a bit ago. They've got a nice place near Alexandria, and it's a regular soldiers' hotel. No fellow in the Union blue ever passes there without being hailed to stop in; and if one of the Forty-ninth gets astray in that neighborhood his own mother couldn't use him better than does Mother Jane. She can't keep away from camp long, though ; and her boy, the pet of the regiment, has learned to sleep under fire. The boys would rather see her pretty face than the paymaster's any day. Fall in ! March!"




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