91st PA: reconnaissance, 16-17 October 1862

Report of reconnaissance on 16-17 October 1862

Reports of Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, U.S. Army, commanding Third Division, Fifth Army Corps.

COLONEL: I have to report, for the information of the major-general commanding the Fifth Corps, that, in compliance with instructions received on the evening of the 15th instant, the command detailed for the reconnaissance in the direction of Kearneysville, Leetown, and Smithfield, moved from the camp, near Sharpsburg, at daylight on the 16th. It consisted of 500 cavalry, under the command of Maj. G. S. Curtis, First Massachusetts Cavalry; two sections (four rifled guns) of Battery D, Fifth U. S. Artillery, and a section (Napoleans) of the Fifth Massachusetts Battery, the whole commanded by First Lieut. Charles E. Hazlett, Fifth U.S. Artillery; Buchanan's brigade of United States Infantry, [p.85] Sykes' division, 1,250 strong, commanded by Maj. Charles S. Lovell, Fifth U.S. Infantry; Tyler's brigade, Third Division, 2,500 strong, commanded by Col. E. M. Gregory, Ninety-first Pennsylvania Volunteers ; Griffin's brigade; Morell's division, 2,250 strong, commanded by Col. C. M. Alexander, District of Columbia Volunteers, the whole constituting a force of 500 cavalry, six pieces of artillery, and 6,000 infantry.

The difficult crossing of the canal and river, watched by the enemy, occupied much time. The command marched in the order stated, the advance guard of the cavalry, 150 of the Fifth U.S. Cavalry, being commanded by Lieut. J. P. Ash, of that regiment. Two miles beyond Shepherdstown our advance was resisted by four regiments of Lee's cavalry brigade and two pieces of artillery, commanded by Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart. An attempt to draw them into ambuscade failing, they were driven from position to position, the ground being highly favorable to defensive operations, to half a mile beyond Kearneysville (6 1/2 miles beyond Shepherdstown). Here they were re-enforced by the remainder of Lee's brigade of cavalry, two regiments, four pieces of artillery, and a brigade of infantry (formerly Jackson's), five regiments strong, commanded by Col. Charles A. Ronald. Our six pieces of artillery were rapidly placed in position; the skirmishers of the United States infantry advanced in open ground upon theirs, posted in the wood, and in fifteen minutes, or less time, their force was driven from this position. This took place about sunset.

I have subsequently learned that the enemy's infantry advanced from Bunker Hill the night before, had reached Kearneysville about 3 p.m., and were engaged in destroying the railroad in that vicinity when our approach interrupted them. One regiment of this brigade (Fifth Virginia Infantry) had been occupied for three days previous in breaking up the Winchester Railroad, at Thompson's [Stephenson's] Station, 6 miles beyond Smithfield.

In selecting a position to encamp for the night I was governed by the following considerations, viz: Information, believed to be worthy of confidence, had been obtained during the day that there was a camp of infantry (a brigade) on the Opequon, at Strider's Mill, 3 miles from Kearneysville; the cavalry detachment, of 150 men, commanded by Captain Crowninshield, sent on the road from Shepherdstown to Martinsburg, reported a large cavalry force, with two pieces of artillery, at Williamstown, 3 miles to my right; two vedette parties, sent by me in the direction of Charlestown, to communicate with General Hancock, had not returned, and I was thus left in doubt whether I was not open to the enemy on the left as well as on the right and in front. Accordingly, I encamped for the night at the cross-roads leading to Martinsburg and to Charlestown, retracing my steps 1 mile toward Shepherdstown.

The vedette party sent out from Shepherdstown returned at night, just as the troops had encamped, and reported that a force of at least 300 of the enemy's cavalry, with one piece of artillery, occupied the crossing of the railroad, on the Shepherdstown and Halltown road, but that he had eluded them, and delivered my dispatch to General Hancock: who occupied Charlestown. In returning, he saw their camp-fires near the same ground.

The next morning, at daylight, the march was resumed in the same order as the previous day, the cavalry in advance, throwing out detachments of about 25 men on the roads leading toward Martinsburg and the Martinsburg pike, with instructions to report from time to time; the United States infantry next (with two pieces of artillery), throwing [page 87] out a line of skirmishers; then Gregory's infantry, Alexander's infantry forming the rear of the column and furnishing the rear guard of infantry. A squadron of cavalry brought up the rear of all. Two pieces of artillery were at the head of Gregory's column, and two at that of Alexander's.

A mile and a half beyond Kearneysville the enemy's cavalry, supported by artillery, appeared in very strong force in our front and on our right flank, their skirmishers exchanging shots with ours, and their artillery opening upon us. It had now been ascertained, with tolerable certainty, that their cavalry force in that vicinity was not less than 7,000 strong (two brigades, of six regiments each--Lee's and Ashby's), with at least six pieces of artillery.

There had been ample time to bring up additional infantry from Bunker Hill, not more than 11 miles from us. The last road leading to Charlestown (8 miles distant), before reaching Leetown, branched at this place. For a time it appeared to me doubtful whether it was not better to halt my infantry at this point, and endeavor to advance my small force of cavalry, with two pieces of artillery (the gunners mounted for the occasion on cavalry horses), to Smithfield, and allow them to return by way of Charlestown and Harper's Ferry; but, upon further consideration, I determined to advance with my whole force to Leetown, if possible, since I could best learn in that way whether heavy infantry re-enforcements had been thrown forward from Bunker Hill; and should it prove to be so, the fact would be positively ascertained that the enemy's army still occupied its old position, or, at least, had not fallen back. With a small force of cavalry as skirmishers in front, followed by a line of infantry skirmishers, the regular brigade in the order of battle (two pieces of artillery in its center), the rest of the command in the order heretofore stated, and the main body of cavalry on the flank, near the column of infantry, we advanced without further opposition to Leestown, the enemy falling back as we advanced. Here, establishing the infantry and artillery in the fine position which the ground afforded, I accepted the proposition of Major Curtis to take 25 of his men and proceed rapidly to Smithfield, between 4 and 5 miles distant. I did this because I deemed it injudicious to attempt to send forward the whole body of cavalry in the face of the enemy's powerful force of that arm. Major Curtis accomplished the undertaking in a handsome manner. Avoiding the road until within 2 miles of Smithfield, he escaped the observation of the enemy's cavalry, who watched the main body of troops. He drove a party of cavalry into Smithfield, and returned within the time promised--two hours. My instructions had now been fulfilled, and the objects of the reconnaissance had been accomplished. It had been ascertained that the enemy's cavalry, under command of General Stuart, occupy Martinsburg and the crossing of the Opequon by the roads to that town from Shepherdstown and Leetown, having strong outposts close up to Shepherdstown; that there is probably some infantry at Strider's Mill (Leetown crossing of the Opequon), and that the left of the left wing of the enemy's army, commanded by General Longstreet, rests on Bunker Hill.

Half an hour before the return of Major Curtis, I received directions to return to my camp, near Sharpsburg, the object of the reconnaissance having, it was understood, been accomplished. I was also instructed to fall back simultaneously with General Hancock. I had been in communication with him that day, and had already informed him of the hour (2 p.m.) when I should commence the return march, and, soon [page 88] after I had dispatched this information, I received a communication from him, stating that his return march would commence about the same hour.

The troops marched back in the same order in which they had halted, the regular infantry forming the rear of the column of that arm; the cavalry, with two pieces of artillery, bringing up the rear, and its rear guard commanded by Lieutenant Ash. The enemy opened his artillery upon us as the march began, and, with his cavalry skirmishers, followed us to Shepherdstown. Two and a half miles from that place two of his regiments of cavalry charged the rear guard of ours, which, at 40 paces, fired upon them, emptying many saddles of the first platoon, throwing the head of the column into some confusion, and bringing it to a temporary halt. Our cavalry then moved from the road into the fields, and Hazlett's artillery, in battery, on the road, opened upon the enemy's column as it charged over the crest of the hill, and drove it back in disorder. Their loss at this encounter is unknown to me. Their artillery now replied, first directing fire at our guns, and wounding a gunner seriously; then, with solid shot, at our columns of cavalry and the infantry of the rear, but without effect. Here their artillery fire ceased, but their cavalry followed us into Shepherdstown, and made a show of charging, but were rapidly driven back by Lieutenant Ash. We were not again molested by them, and had crossed the river by 11 p.m.

I regret to be obliged to report the loss of 1 man killed, 9 wounded (2 mortally, who have since died), and 3 missing. A list of them is appended. (*) The loss of the enemy, so far as positively known, was 4 killed (1 captain, 1 lieutenant, and 2 privates) and 3 wounded. From the number of Enfield rifles found scattered upon the ground where their infantry was posted, in the wood near Kearneysville, the number of wounded there must have been 12 or 15. The above-named loss must have been more than doubled at the attempted cavalry charge. We have 8 prisoners, a list of whom is appended.(*)

It gratified me highly to notice the admirable bearing of all the troops, some of whom have only recently entered the service. I wish particularly to acknowledge the assistance I received from Major Lovell, commanding the brigade of regulars, Major Curtis, commanding the cavalry; Captain McClellan, my assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenant Ash, commanding detachment of Fifth U.S. Cavalry, and Lieutenant Hazlett, commanding the artillery.

I have already reported the accomplishment by Major Curtis of the difficult and dangerous duty of advancing, with a small detachment of his cavalry, to Smithfield, and desire likewise to notice the active, enterprising, and energetic conduct of Lieutenants Hazlett and Ash.

My warm acknowledgments are due to the officers of my staff, Capt. Carswell McClellan, assistant adjutant- general, and my two volunteer aides, Captain Hopkins, aide to General Briggs, and Mr. H. H. Humphreys, for the zealous and intelligent discharge of the duties imposed upon them.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Reconnaissance.

Lieut. Col. FRED. T. LOCKE,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Army Corps.

Respectfully forwarded, for the information of the major-general commanding the Army of the Potomac.

General Humphreys accomplished in a most satisfactory manner the object of the expedition, and carried out most judiciously the instructions of the commanding general, and was ably seconded by every officer of his command. F. J. PORTER, Major-General, Commanding

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revised 29 Jan 02
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