(2nd) Winchester

After Action Reports

 

The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation

of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

 

 

(OR, Vol 27, Part II, pages 86 - 88)

Report of Capt. Frederic W. Alexander, Baltimore Battery, Maryland Light Artillery,

of operations June 13-15.

 

WASHINGTON, D. C.,
June 23, 1863

GENERAL: At your desire, I have the honor to report the following facts connected with the loss of my battery: On Saturday, June 13, Col. A. T. McReynolds, commanding Third Brigade, Second Division, Eighth Army Corps, ordered me to march to Winchester from Berryville, Va., with the rest of his command. One section of the battery, with two squadrons of the First New York Cavalry, formed the rear guard. I remained in person with them two hours after the main body had retired on the road to Harper's Ferry, and thence to the left by Summit Point to Winchester. We shelled the enemy whenever they appeared, and they thought we were in force, and began to envelop us gradually on both flanks. We moved off quietly just in time, and followed the main body. Their advance caught us at the Opequon Creek, 8 miles from Winchester, but, with the help of a portion of the Sixth Maryland Regiment and the First New York Cavalry, we repulsed them so that we saw no more of them.

We reached Winchester at 11 p. m; we were placed in the star fort, a small octangular earthwork about 200 feet in diameter, and flattened toward the east and west, standing northward of the main fort.

Early the next morning one section was ordered to the northern extremity of the elevated ground upon which the fort was built. About 12 m. a second section was ordered to report to General Elliott, commanding First Brigade, for duty.

At 6 p. m. the rebel batteries suddenly opened, and a strong attack was made on the hills southwest of Winchester, where Battery L, Fifth U. S. Artillery, was captured, and Battery D, First West Virginia Artillery, withdrew to the main fort, and the two sections of my battery to the star fort. A heavy fire from three batteries, which we saw taking position on the second range of hills west and northwest of Winchester, opened upon the two forts. After a short time they directed their fire entirely upon us. Fortunately, knowing the range, from 1,500 to 1,700 yards, we were enabled to fire with accuracy, and drove them from their position three times, dismounting at least two guns and blowing up at one time a limber and then a caisson. Not one shot was fired without using the pendulum hausse, and the exact elevation given, the officers and myself frequently sighting the guns. As it became dark, their fire ceased, and we fired the last two shots. Two sections having been engaged nearly all that day and one the day before at Berryville and on the route, and a constant fire being necessary to prevent them from taking a position and holding it, so as to get exact range by trying five or six shots, our ammunition (1,200 rounds the day before, 200 rounds per gun) was reduced to 28 rounds per gun - 168 rounds.

At 9.30 p. m. I received notice from Colonel McReynolds, commanding Third Brigade, that the star fort was expected to be attacked in the next half hour. The Sixth Maryland Regiment was placed inside, the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania Regiment in the rifle-trenches inclosing the work, and all arrangements made-guns loaded with canister-and we awaited the attack confidently. At 1 a. m. Monday, June 15, I received an order from Colonel McReynolds, commanding brigade, to spike my guns, mount the men on the horses, and prepare to retire with the utmost silence with the rest of the command of General Milroy. Not liking this much, I requested, as commandant of artillery, to be permitted to go to General Milroy and ask permission to take my battery with me. Colonel McReynolds consented, and I went to the main fort. I could not find General Milroy, but was referred to his adjutant-general, Major Cravens, who represented him, who declared that the order was most peremptory, and must be obeyed strictly, and that nothing on wheels or that could by any possibility make a noise could be permitted to go, summing up that the great object of this movement was the most perfect silence and secrecy, and that the other guns were all spiked. I immediately returned, spiked the guns, disabled the carriages, destroyed the ammunition, and removed and destroyed the traces and trace-chains, which would rattle. I then formed the men by twos, and marched out with the rest of the troops.

At the fifth mile-stone from Winchester on the Martinsburg road, the column of which we were the rear, excepting the First New York Cavalry (the Third Brigade formed the rear), was attacked in front by the rebels with infantry and artillery. As my men were totally unarmed, and many riding the off saddles without stirrups, I thought the best plan was to make a dash through the woods on the right and left of the rebel line, and join at Harper's Ferry. Forty went to the right with Lieutenant Evans, of the battery, and myself, and reached Harper's Ferry. I turned over, by order of the commanding general there, to the quartermaster 33 horses and equipments, nearly complete. The balance had given out on the road, and were forced to be left. About 40 men went to the left with Lieutenant Alexander, of the battery, and were forced to cross the Potomac as high up as Sir John's Run. Most of their horses gave out at Sir John's Run. The remainder of the battery who escaped broke through in small detachments, and those who have come in report their horses as having given out, and having been left with (of course) the harness, &c., which was on them.

Whether I could have brought off my guns safely is a question which, of course, I cannot determine, though I think it is doubtful now. I had to obey the orders of my commanding general, and certainly cannot be blamed for so doing. Had the issue rested with myself, I should, of course, have prepared to bring the guns off at all hazards, as I could not be worse off than losing them, and might save them. How far that course would have influenced the safety of the remainder of the command, was a question for the commanding general (who must regard the welfare of the whole) to determine.

I have the honor to remain, your obedient servant,

F. W. ALEXANDER,
Captain Baltimore Battery, Light Artillery.

General W. F. BARRY,
Inspector of Artillery.

 

(OR, Vol 27, Part II, pages 71 - 73)

Report of Lieut. Jonathan B. Hanson, First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery,

of operations June 10-15.

 

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MD.,
June 23, 1863.

SIR: Company I, Fourteenth [First] Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Capt. William F. Martins commanding, left the 30-pounder battery on Maryland Heights for Winchester, via Martinsburg, Wednesday, June 10, pursuant to orders from department headquarters. The journey was by rail as far as Martinsburg, where the company encamped the same night.

Thursday, the 11th, it marched from Martinsburg to Winchester, a distance of 22 miles, the road passing through Darkesville and Bunker Hill.

Arriving at Winchester Thursday evening, and reporting to Major-General Milroy, the company was assigned to garrison the principal fortification there, known as the flag fort, Captain Martins being under the orders of Capt. W. Angelo Powell, engineer-in-chief. The armament consisted of four 20-pounder Parrott rifled cannon and two 24-pounder brass howitzers, of which Company I at once took charge.

Friday, June 12, Captain Martins was ordered to report to Brigadier-General Elliott.

Saturday, June 13, early in the morning, the enemy appeared between the Front Royal road and the Strasburg road, and an engagement took place between them and our forces, lasting the greater part of the day. A part of the time the enemy was in sight of the fort, distant about 5,000 yards, and some 70 shell were fired at them from the fort, with the effect, according to Captain Powell's statement, of dismounting two of the enemy's pieces and throwing his infantry into disorder.

During Saturday night, the 13th instant, General Milroy disposed his main force around and in the fortifications, and at daybreak of Sunday, June 14, took up his headquarters in the flag fort.

During Sunday, the enemy gradually encircled the town and fortifications, skirmishing going on all the time. Company I took a more active part in the engagement than before, shelling the enemy in his rifle-pits and other places of concealment all day.

In the afternoon, Lieutenant Hanson, with two detachments, in charge of a 24-pounder howitzer, took part in a skirmish and reconnaissance in the open plain below the fort, the party, which also included a regiment of infantry and a squadron of cavalry, being under the command of Colonel Ely, of the Eighteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers. The result of this reconnaissance was the killing of 1 rebel captain, wounding several, and capturing 11 prisoners.

About 5 p. m. on the 14th, the enemy, having gained the rear of General Milroy, opened his batteries upon the fortifications, and a heavy cannonading, which lasted two hours and a half, followed. The enemy made an assault upon the flag fort, which was repelled.

At 1 a. m. Monday, June 15, General Milroy ordered a retreat. By his order, Company I remained last in the fort, to spike the guns after the others had left. This was successfully done. All the company property and all the knapsacks and baggage were necessarily abandoned, and are supposed to have fallen into the hands of the enemy. Company I marched in the rear of the column directly behind the Sixth Maryland Regiment. About 4 miles from Winchester we were attacked by a strong force of the enemy. General Milroy, with the head of the column, pushed his way through. Company I, with the Sixth Maryland Regiment, found themselves cut off from the rest, but under the able direction of the field officers of the Sixth Maryland made their way to Harper's Ferry by a very severe march, avoiding the towns of Berryville, Smithfield, and Charlestown, and taking country roads and striking through the woods until they came to the Shenandoah, 10 miles above the Ferry. In this march Capt. William F. Martins and 44 enlisted men fell behind, and have not since been heard from.

In Sunday's fight, Private James F. Hodgdon was very seriously wounded by the premature discharge of a cannon, and left in the hospital at Winchester. In the fight at daybreak, Monday, June 15, Private Timothy Sheehan was wounded by a piece of shell in the forehead. Private James Drysdale is reported to have been wounded by a musket-ball at the same time.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. B. HANSON,
First Lieut, Comdg. Company I, 14th Mass. Heavy Artillery.

Adjutant-General THOMAS.

 

 

(OR, Vol 27, Part II, pages 150 - 152)

Record of a Court of Inquiry,

convened to investigate the evacuation of Winchester and Martinsburg.

 

Lient. Col. W. A. MCKELLIP, Sixth Maryland Infantry, a witness called by the court, being duly sworn, says:

By the JUDGE-ADVOCATE:

Question. What regiment do you belong to? Were you present with your regiment during the retreat from Winchester?

Answer. I belong to the Sixth Maryland Infantry. I was present.

Question. To your knowledge, were any regiments of the Third Brigade engaged in the fight on Monday morning, June 15, 1863?

Answer. No, sir; they were not. They were under fire from two guns placed on the right side of the Martinsburg road, about 600 yards in front of us. We were in rear of the division in marching out of the forts. The brigade consisted of the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania Infantry and my own regiment, and the First New York Cavalry. We filed off the Martinsburg road about 3 miles from Winchester. At that time we were up with the rest of the column. Colonel McReynolds was with the brigade at that time. I heard and repeated the order to "file right," and the men were cautioned to keep closed, and step off promptly. We moved, then, to a stone wall, that was running from the road, and facing toward the battery that was firing on us. In forming line of battle there, the men had closed up too much, and there was a little confusion; that is, it was necessary to take ground to the left. While in the act of dressing the left wing of the regiment, the command was given, "By the right flank, march!" We moved on, then, in quick time, and in perfect order, until we reached the Winchester railroad, and there a battery opened on us. We moved to the railroad and halted, the battery in the meantime playing on us. From there we passed through the tunnel or arch, and down by a ravine, that protected us from the enemy's battery. When we got to the house that stands on the left-hand side, a great many of the regiment in advance of us went into the yard and buildings, and when my regiment came up I posted myself at the gate, and gave orders that none of our men should go inside, and none were allowed to go in. From that point the regiment in advance of us (the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania) ceased to be an organized regiment. In front of that house we filed right some 200 yards into a field. The colonel went in front of the regiment, and gave the command, "By the left flank, guide center." We moved up the crest of that hill in line of battle. There we found the enemy in position, with artillery, and too strong for us to cope with. We passed away by the right flank, and fell back almost in a direct line toward the main fort at Winchester, to a point where there was a heavily wooded ridge. At the time we left the crest of the hill, the colonel, major, and myself considered that our case was a hope-less one, as far as getting away from that battle-field in good order was concerned, left, as we were, by ourselves. We did come off, though, as a regiment, with every company organized, and with every commissioned officer that went to Winchester, save one. Then we passed up this heavily wooded ridge, where we found a great many men from other regiments of our division, the great majority of them belonging to the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania. I asked them to what regiments they belonged, and where they were going, and where their officers were. To all of which they answered they did not know (except as to their regiments). I think there were several hundred of these men. I ordered them to fall into column with us, and they generally rallied into my regiment. Company I, Fourteenth Massachusetts Artillery (Captain Martins), had joined us, and had officers with it; they behaved well, and marched through in good order. From that point we crossed the Opequon, at the "burned factory," and then took the road to Harper's Ferry. We flanked Charlestown, leaving it on the left, and represented ourselves from there on as the advance guard of Hooker's army, and inquired for Berryville, instead of Harper's Ferry. Our regiment arrived at Harper's Ferry at 8 or 9 o'clock that night.

By the COURT: Question. Who gave the order which caused the infantry of your brigade to file to the right off the Martinsburg road?

Answer. I cannot answer positively.

Question. When the disorganization of the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania became apparent to you, (did you see any of the officers attempting to restore order and reform the regiment? Answer. The disorganization of their regiment seemed to be caused by the great thirst of the men, who were seeking water. I did not; I was otherwise engaged.

Question. What persons other than citizens of Winchester were left there by the division of Major-General Milroy when it evacuated that place?

Answer. I do not know.

Question. At what time and place did you last see Colonel McReynolds on the morning of the retreat?

Answer. The last time I saw him was after we crossed the Opequon, when he with several others came up, and passed near our regiment. This was about 7 o'clock in the morning, I think, and after the fighting that morning was over.

Question. Did Colonel McReynolds stop to give any orders, or was any communication had with him by any officer of your regiment? State what occurred.

Answer. There was no communication, excepting that I think he was hailed by us. There was nothing else occurred. He was riding rapidly up the Harpers Ferry road.

Question. When and where did you last see him on or near the battlefield?

Answer. I have a distinct recollection of seeing him when we filed out of the Martinsburg road, and afterward my impression is that he was in the rear of the brigade. I do not know how far; in the direction of a chimney; this was while my regiment was behind the stone wall.

Lieut. Col. Doun Piatt, U. S. Volunteers, chief of General Scheuck's staff, appeared before the court with the following message from Maj. Gen. R. C. Scheuck, U. S. Volunteers: "Mr. PRESIDENT: I am instructed by Major-General Scheuck to inform the court that, although he received a summons to appear as a witness some days since, being prevented by an accident from attending promptly in response, he never received a copy of the order convening the court until last night. He was surprised to find, on reading the order, that he is a party whose conduct is to be investigated, and, under the circumstances, proposes, without disrespect to the court, to occupy the time between this and noon tomorrow in preparing for the extraordinary position in which he is placed."

To this message the court returned the following reply:

"COURT OF INQUIRY, "Washington, September 1, 1863-1:30 p. m.

"Maj. Gen. R. C. SCHENCK, U. S. Volunteers:

"SIR: I am directed by the court of inquiry to inform you that you have been duly summoned before them as a witness; that they are now waiting to receive your testimony, and that your presence is required without delay. "I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant, "ROBERT N. SCOTT, "Captain Fourth U. S. Infantry, Judge-Advocate." At 2:30 p. m. no response had been received from General Schenck, (who was in the city), and the court adjourned, for want of witnesses, to meet at 11 a. m. September 2, 1863.

TWENTY-THIRD DAY.

SEPTEMBER 2, 1863.

Court met pursuant to adjournment. Present, all the members and the judge-advocate. The testimony given yesterday by Lieutenant-Colonel McKellip was read over to him, corrected, and he made the following explanation: In addition to the loss of 1 commissioned officer, as stated, I will add, that our chaplain and assistant surgeon were captured. In reference to the disorganization of the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania Regiment, I mean to say, that they had dwindled down very much, for the reason I afterward stated. In explanation of the loss in our regiment, I wish to state that it was owing to the march on Saturday from Berryville, which was very severe; we marched that day some 30 miles. The loss of sleep on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, and the hard march of Monday, completely exhausted my men, and those who fell out of the ranks from exhaustion were picked up by rebel cavalry, and that was our principal loss in the retreat, and amounted to some 130 men, including our loss at the Opequon.

 

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