Sheridan's Battle of Winchester.
ON the morning of the 19th of September, 1864, I was marching at the head of my company along the narrow and wooded gorge through which the Berryville and Winchester pike winds between the Opequan Creek and the town of Winchester. My regiment belonged to the Second Brigade of the First Division of the Nineteenth Army Corps, and formed a fraction of the army of Major-General Philip Sheridan, which, at two o'clock that morning, had quitted its intrenched position near Berryville.
For a month Sheridan had been watching his opportunity. He had advanced to Front Royal, and retreated to Halltown; he had manoeuvred in face of a superior enemy with curious and happy dexterity; he had guarded himself, where it was necessary to make a stand, with miles of field-fortifications; he had parried Early's threatened second raid upon Washington and Pennsylvania; and now, when his antagonist was weakened by the departure of Kershaw's division, he promptly resumed the offensive.
The army at this moment was engaged in the perilous movement of filing through a narrow gorge and deploying in face of a strongly-posted and veteran enemy. The road was crowded with artillery, ammunition-wagons, and ambulances, all hurrying forward. On each side of it a line of infantry in column of march stumbled over the rocky, guttered ground, and struggled through the underbrush. The multitudes of men who belong to an army, yet who do not fight — the cooks, the musicians, the hospital attendants, the quarter-masters and commissaries people, the sick, and the skulkers — sat on every rock and under every bush, watching us pass. Here, too, were jammed the troopers of the cavalry advance, who, for the present, had finished their fighting, having cleared the passage of the Opequan Creek, and opened the way thus far for the infantry and artillery. Presently we met litters loaded with pale sufferers, and passed a hospital-tent, inside of which I saw surgeons surrounding a table, and amputated limbs and pools of blood underneath it. The stern and sad business of the day had evidently begun in front, although the sound of it was not yet audible to us, excepting an occasional boom of cannon, deadened to a dull pum pum by the woods and the distance.
The battle of Winchester was fought on this plan: A narrow ravine, winding among hills so steep and thickly wooded as to be impassable for any troops but light infantry, debouches into an irregular, undulating valley, faced on the south by an amphitheatre of stony heights, laid, with regard to each other, like detached fortifications. The object of Sheridan was to pass through this ravine, deploy in the valley, amuse the enemy's right, fight his centre vigorously, turn and force his left. The object of Early was to allow us to deploy up to a certain extent; then to beat in our attacking columns and throw them back in confusion on our line of advance; lastly, to ruin us by pushing his strong left through our right, and reaching the mouth of the gorge so as to cut off our retreat. To effect this final purpose his army was not drawn up at right angles to the pike, but diagonally to it, so as to bring his left nearer to our vital debouching point. And this fatal stroke he attempted early in the day, with a strong column, pushed with remarkable vigor, and for a time with terrible promise of success.
At about ten o'clock the head of the Sixth Corps emerged from the ravine, took ground rapidly to the left, and advanced in two lines, the first of which presently carried a rifle-pit and wood that formed the outwork of the enemy's right. This right being refused, or held aloof, our extreme left had throughout the day, so far as I could learn, no very serious fighting. The opening struggle of supreme importance came in the centre, where it was necessary, firstly, to gain ground enough to bring up our second line; and, secondly, to hold the approaches to the ravine at no matter what cost of slaughter. I beg the reader to remark that if this was not done our striking right could not be deployed, and our retreat could not be secured; that if this was not done there could be no victory, and there must be — if the enemy pushed us with energy — calamitous defeat. Upon the Nineteenth Corps and upon Rickett's Division of the Sixth Corps devolved this bloody task. They were to sustain the principal burden of the battle during the long hours which would be necessary to let the Eighth Corps sweep around on its more enviable and brilliant mission of turning the hostile position. How the Nineteenth Corps performed its portion of the task is shown by its list of killed and wounded. Swept by musketry and artillery from the front, enfiladed by artillery from the right, pressed violently by the one grand column of attack which Early massed to decide the battle, it bled, but it stood, and, after hours of suffering, advanced.
Closely following the Sixth Corps — lapping its rear, indeed — Grover's Division emerged from the defile at a little before eleven o'clock, and forming in two lines, each consisting of two brigades, moved promptly forward in superb order. Steep hills and a thick wood, impracticable for artillery until engineered, rendered it necessary for the infantry to open the contest without the support of cannon. In face of a vigorous shelling the column swept over the hills, struggled through the wood, and emerged upon a broad stretch of rolling fields, on the other side of which lay the rebel force, supported by another wood and by a ledge of rocks, which answered the purpose of a fortification, with the semicircular heights of Winchester in the rear, as a final rallying base. As the lines of advance from the gorge were divergent, opening outward like the blades of a fan, General Emory found it necessary, in order to keep up a connection with the Sixth Corps, to hurry Molineux's brigade from the rear to the front. This was
196done at a double-quick, in face of the hostile musketry, without checking the general advance. And now the division quickened its pace into a charge of unusual and unintended impetuosity, the officers being dragged on by the eagerness of the men, the skirmishers firing as they ran, and the brigades following at a right-shoulder-shift, with deafening yells. Birge's men carried the detached wood with a rush: they were ordered to halt there and lie down, but it was impossible to stop them; they hurried on, pellmell, and drove the enemy three hundred yards beyond. The rebel General Rhodes was killed while placing a battery in position. Three colonels taken by Sharpe's Brigade were sent back to Emory as prisoners. Early's first line in the centre was every where thrown back in confusion.
But an advance as vehement as this is liable to sudden reverse when the attacked party has a strong second line well in hand, as was the case on the present occasion. It is possible even that Grover's opening success changed the plans of Early, and forced him quicker than he had intended into decisive action. At all events he suddenly developed at this early stage of the battle the greatest mass of troops that he showed at any period of the day. From the position where it had been lying sheltered a force estimated at two divisions of infantry rose up, poured in a stunning volley, followed by a steady file-fire, and moved forward against the ranks of Grover and Ricketts, already disordered by their rapid push. Artillery on a height near Winchester, firing over the heads of the rebel troops, and other artillery on a height far to our right, enfilading our line, supported the movement with shell, grape, and canister. For a while this powerful and well-timed advance was fearfully successful, and threatened Sheridan with repulse, if not with serious disaster. Rickett's Division was forced, after a bloody though brief struggle, up the Berryville and Winchester pike toward the mouth of that gorge which was so vital to our army. Grover's line fought for a time at close quarters; for instance his extreme left regiment, the One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth New York (Lieutenant-Colonel Neafie), faced a rebel regiment at thirty yards distance; and around the colors of the latter not more than forty men remained, the rest having fled or fallen. But now the One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth, and presently the entire brigade, was exposed to a fatal fire from the left flank as well as from the front. Neafie's loss of one hundred and fifteen men nearly all occurred at this time and within a few minutes. Colonel Sharpe, commanding the brigade, and all the regimental commanders except one, were disabled. To attempt to hold the position longer was to be slaughtered uselessly or to be taken prisoners. The order to retire was given, and passed rapidly down the division line from left to right, being obeyed by each brigade in succession. The bloody but victorious advance was changed into a bloody and ominous retreat.
And here let me beg the reader to conceive the inevitable circumstances of hopeless, unresisting slaughter which attend the withdrawal of troops from the immediate presence of a powerful enemy. There is no inspiriting return of blow for blow; there is no possibility of quelling the hostile fire by an answering fire; the soldier marches gloomily in his file, imagining that his foe is ever gaining on him; the ranks are rapidly thinned, and the organization of the companies shattered; and thus, from both physical and moral causes, the bravest battalions go to pieces. Rarely does it happen, if ever, that a force is extricated from this fearful trial without breaking. Grover's and Rickett's commands reached the base from which they had advanced in a state of confusion which threatened wide-spread disaster. Sixth Corps men and Nineteenth Corps men were crowding together up the line of the Berryville pike, while to the right and left of it the fields were dotted with fugitives, great numbers of them wounded, bursting out of the retiring ranks and rushing toward the cover of the forest. Some regiments disappeared for a time as organizations. Early's veterans advanced steadily, with yells of triumph and a constant roll of murderous musketry, threatening to sweep away our centre and render our struggle a defeat almost before it had becomes battle. It was the bloodiest, the darkest, the most picturesque, the most dramatic, the only desperate moment of the day. General Emory and General Grover, with every brigade commander and every staff officer present, rode hither and thither through the fire, endeavoring by threats, commands, and entreaties to halt and re-form the panic-stricken stragglers.
"Halt here, men," Emory cried to group after group. "Here is good cover. Halt and form a line here."
"I am looking for my own regiment," was the usual reply.
"Never mind your own regiments. Never mind if you belong to fifty regiments. Make a regiment here."
Pointing out other groups to this and that officer of his staff, he would say, "My God! look at these men; ride over to them, and bring them up here."
Captain Yorke of the staff seized a regimental flag and bore it forward, shouting, "Men don't desert your colors," when a spent hall struck him in the throat, paralyzing him for a time and causing him to drop his burden. Of the other staff officers Captain Wilkinson had his horse killed under him. Captain Coley had a ballet pass through his coat collar, and Major Walker received a spent shot in the shoulder.
One instance of coolness and discipline, which contrasted curiously with the general panic, was noticed by Captain Bradbury of the First Maine Battery, now Major and Chief of Artillery on General Emory's staff. Through the midst of the confusion came a captain of infantry, Rigby of the Twenty-fourth Iowa, leading a sergeant and twelve men, all marching as composedly as if returning from drill.
"Captain, you are not going to retreat any further, I hope?" said Bradbury. "Certainly not," was the reply. "Halt; front. Three cheers, men; hip, hip, hurrah!"
The little band cheered lustily. It was the first note of defiance that broke the desperate monotony of the panic; it gave heart to every one who heard it, and made an end of retreat in that part of the field. In a few minutes the platoon swelled to a battalion composed of men from half a dozen regiments.
"Bradbury," said General Grover, "you must push a section into that gap. We must show a front there."
Under a heavy fire of musketry and artillery two pieces galloped into the open, under the charge of Bradbury himself, and, unsupported by infantry, commenced a cannonade which assisted greatly in checking the rebel advance and encouraging our men to rally. A Confederate line which attempted to carry these pieces was repulsed in a somewhat singular manner. General Emory had personally aided in rallying the One Hundred and Thirty-first New York, and had posted it in a narrow grove projecting from the wood which now formed Grover's base of resistance. The charging rebels were allowed to pass this point, and then a volley was poured into their backs. As they staggered under the unexpected shock a fire was opened upon their front by another rallied line, and breaking ranks, they fled pell-mell across the fields to cover.
Thus piece by piece our shattered first line was picked up and reunited. The rebel attack was checked, and a large portion of the lost ground recovered. On the left Neafie, now commanding the Third Brigade, made a second charge nearly up to his original position, while on the right Molineux pushed a line to within two hundred yards of the isolated wood which Birge had carried and lost. And now came into action the famous First Division of the Nineteenth Corps — a division that had never been put to shame on any field of battle, the division that under Weitzel had triumphed at Camp Bisland and Port Hudson, that under Emory had prevented defeat at Sabine Cross Roads and Pleasant Hill. From this moment my story of the battle will become to some extent a record of personal observation.
We of the First Division were already out of the defile, and drawn up in two columns behind Grover, when the failure of his attack became evident. The difficulty was, not that we were not in hand, but that, as we had only two brigades present (the Third having been left at Halltown), we were hardly strong enough to face the enemy's left, which far outreached our right, and at the same time make head against the vehement attack which threatened our centre. It had been intended that we should remain in reserve until the time came for us to join the Eighth Corps, in the grand turning movement of the day. Now we must fill up gaps, run from one imperiled point to another, and, in short, be used as the urgency of circumstances required.
Lying in a hollow across which the rebel shell screamed harmlessly, I saw our First Brigade disappear over the crest of the hill in our front. Then we of the Second Brigade moved in column to the right, and halted on a lofty slope, where we could discover some parts of the field of battle, and where the earth was occasionally furrowed by the shot of hostile artillery. Far away to the left I saw a part of the Sixth Corps mount an acclivity and charge into a wood on its summit from which the smoke of musketry issued. I distinguished their distant cheer, and rejoiced in their gallantry and triumph. We knew nothing all this while of the disaster which had occurred in our front, and did not doubt that we should have our customary success. Presently we advanced into the wood, on the extreme verge of which Grover's men were rallying and resuming the conflict. We did not see them, but we plainly heard the incessant rattle of their musketry, and, not knowing the rolling nature of the ground, wondered that the bullets did not hum more frequently through our ranks. Soon we turned to the right again, and emerged into an opening from which we obtained our first clear view of the fighting. Nearly a quarter of a mile in advance of us we saw our First Brigade in line behind a rail-fence, the men kneeling or lying down and keeping up a violent file-firing. Two hundred yards beyond them was the wood which Early had retaken from Birge, a smoke of rebel musketry now rising from it, although not a rebel was visible. As we looked our men rose up, formed, faced about and came slowly toward us, the officers running hither and thither to check a momentary confusion in the ranks. The report flew along our line that they were ordered back to the fence where we stood, and that we were to relieve them; but while we watched the unaccomplished movement two of our four regiments, the Twelfth Connecticut and Eighth Vermont, were faced to the left and hurried back through the wood which we had just traversed. The last thing that I saw as I re-entered the covert was the One Hundred and Sixteenth New York facing about with a cheer and charging back to the fence. I afterward learned that the whole brigade followed it; that the line was a second time ordered back, and then again resumed its position. Here it was that the One Hundred and Fourteenth New York offered up its glorious sacrifice of one hundred and eighty-eight men and officers, being three-fifths of the number which it took into battle. After the engagement the position of the brigade was distinguishable by a long, straight line of dead and dying, here and there piled one upon another, the prostrate and bloody ranks telling with matchless eloquence how the American soldier can fight.
While the One Hundred and Sixtieth New York and Forty-seventh Pennsylvania remained to support the First Brigade and share its fatal honors my regiment and the Eighth Vermont moved back to the centre. We were apparently wanted in many places at once. Pressing and
198contradictory orders repeatedly changed our direction and position. It was, "Forward!" and "About face!" "By the right flank!" and "By the left flank!" "Double quick!" and "Halt!" until our heads were half turned by the confusion. At last we came to the outskirt of the wood, and looked out upon Graver's field of battle. No ranks of enemies were visible athwart those undulating fields, but there were long light lines of smoke from musketry and great piles of smoke from batteries, while the rush and crash of shell tore through the forest. Bradbury was putting two of his pieces in position, and we lay down in their rear to support them. General Emory and General Dwight, mounted and surrounded by staff officers, were a little to the front surveying the position. "My God!" remarked the former as he saw men and horses falling around him, "this is a perfect slaughterhouse. It must be held; it is the key of the position. But tell Captain Bradbury to keep his people covered as much as possible."
Here fell one of the best and bravest gentlemen in the service, the only field-officer present with our regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Peck. He had just given the command, "Officers rectify the alignment," as we were about to move forward, when a shell burst among us, one piece of it shattering his knee and mortally mangling the arteries. A moment afterward the Eighth and Twelfth were ordered to move into the open, wheel to the right, and relieve a portion of Molineux's brigade, which lay about two hundred yards from the isolated wood. At a double quick we went nearly a quarter of a mile over gently-rolling fields, pulling up occasionally from pure lack of breath, and then hurrying on again, until we flung ourselves on the ground among the Fourteenth New Hampshire and One Hundred and Thirty-first New York. As the enemy were firing low we suffered very little in our advance; but we had not been in position five minutes before we felt how coolly and surely Lee's veterans could aim; for, stretched at full length as we all were, and completely concealed by tall grass, the bullets searched out our covert with fatal certainty. A groan here, a shriek of agony there, a dying convulsion, a plunge of some wounded wretch to the rear, showed from instant to instant how rapidly our men were being disabled. We lay on a gentle, very gentle slope, and aimed upward, so that our fire was probably even more fatal than that of our adversaries, an ascending range being more sure of its mark than a descending one. After a quarter of an hour here (what a Frenchman would call a mauvais quart d'heure), our commander, Captain Clarke, ordered a volley. With the usual cautionary commands from the officers of "Steady men!" "Wait for the word!" "Aim low!" the regiment rose up, closed its ranks, and poured in a splendid crash of musketry, dropping immediately that it was delivered. For a few minutes our antagonists were silenced. Perhaps we had slaughtered them; perhaps the-venomous flight of hissing Minies had frightened them into taking cover; perhaps they simply saved, their powder because they supposed that we were about to charge. But presently the steady file-firing was resumed. On each side the men fired low, fired slowly, fired calmly, knowing full well the hostile position, although able to discover no hostile sign except the light opposing line of musketry smoke. For two or more hours this tranquil, changeless, mortal contest continued. For two or more hours the bullets whizzed through the grass which scarcely concealed us, striking into our prostrate ranks so frequently that every one occasionally searched the branches of the trees in our front to discover the forms of hostile sharp-shooters. It seemed impossible that they could strike so many of us, and yet not see us. Of the seventy men and officers whom our regiment lost during the day, at least sixty must have been hit on this line. But the enemy fired much more rapidly and continuously than we did. The word was repeatedly passed along our ranks to spare the cartridges, for we were a long way from our supports, or from any chance of replenishing ammunition, and it was necessary to save shots enough to repulse the rebels in case they should charge us with the bayonet. "Fire down to ten cartridges a piece, and then stop," was the order of our commander.
A curious change came over our men during this long trial. At first they were grave and anxious, but this passed away as they became accustomed to the position; at the last they laughed, jested, and recklessly exposed themselves. Corporal Gray, of Company C, dashed to the front, and with his shelter-tent beat out a flame which was kindling in the autumn grass, returning unhurt out of a frightful peril. "Here's one for Corporal Gray!" shouted several men, leaping up and pulling trigger. Then followed, "Here's one for Sheridan!" and "Here's one for Lincoln!" and " Here's one for M'Clellan, who'll pay us off in gold!" and "Here's one for Jeff Davis!" until the grim joke was played out for lack of cartridges.
All this time our dead and wounded lay among us, with the exception of a few of the latter who crawled a little to the rear, and found shelter in a ditch. Among us, too, were the dead and wounded of the regiments which we had relieved; and the ground in front of us was strewn with other sufferers who had fallen there when Birge met his reverse. The position of these last was horrible; the musketry of both sides passed over them in a constant stream; the balls of friend and foe added to their agony, or closed it in death. One of our men, Private Brown, of Company C, was mortally wounded while giving a drink of water to an officer of an Iowa regiment who lay within ten paces of us, pierced by three bullets. We could not carry away these children of suffering, not even our own, until the battle should be over. It was forbidden by orders; it was contrary to the regulations of the United States Army; it would have been simply an act of well-meant folly and
199cruelty. We could not spare the men who would surely be killed or wounded in the attempt; or who, reaching the shelter of the rear with their dangerous burdens, would not find their way back again.
I have been thus minute in describing this experience of our regiment in close line-fighting, because it was a picture of what passed in every part of the field daring the central period of the battle. Along the entire front each side clung to its own positions, too exhausted or too cautious to advance, and too obstinate to recede. The duty of the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps now was to hold the enemy desperately occupied until the Eighth Corps could execute the turning movement with which Sheridan meant to decide the combat.
At three o'clock the hour of defeat for Early struck. To our right, where precisely I could not see because of the rolling nature of the ground, but in the direction of the spot where our First Brigade was forming those prostrate and bloody ranks which I have previously mentioned, we heard a, mighty battle-yell, which never ceased for ten minutes, telling us that Crook and his men were advancing. To meet this yell there arose from the farthest sweep of the isolated wood, where it rounded away toward the rebel rear, the most terrific, continuous wail of musketry that I ever heard. It was not a volley, nor a succession of volleys, but an uninterrupted explosion without a single break or tremor. As I listened to it I despaired of the success of the attack, for it did not seem to me possible that any troops could endure such a fire. The captain of our right company, who was so placed that he could see the advance, afterward described it to me as magnificent in its steadiness; the division which accomplished it moving across the open fields in a single line without visible supports, the ranks kept well dressed, in spite of the stream of dead and wounded which dropped to the rear, the pace being the ordinary quick-step, and the men firing at will, but coolly and rarely.
At this moment our whole army assumed the offensive. Looking back I saw General Emory's reserves emerging from the wood in our rear. And now occurred one of those happy dashes, almost spontaneous in their character, which so frequently aid in deciding a battle. At the first yell of Crook's charge our men reopened fire violently, exhausting their ammunition in five minutes; and then Colonel Thomas, of the Eighth Vermont, regardless of unloaded muskets and empty cartridge-boxes, led on his command at a double quick with the bayonet. General officers and staff officers, misunderstanding the orders of General Emory, which were to advance, came up at a gallop, telling us that we were to be relieved by the One Hundred and Sixtieth New York, warning us to wait for our supports, and shouting, "Halt! Lie down!" But it was impossible to cheek the crowd of yelling, running madmen; a few would hesitate, and stare around at their advancing comrades, then they would dash on with renewed speed to make up the lost distance. While the regiment thus wavered between discipline and impulse, a mounted officer belonging, as I afterward heard, to Sheridan's staff — a florid, dashing young fellow, in a gayly-embroidered blue shirt, with trowsers tucked into his long boots — galloped in front of us from the direction of the Eighth Corps, and pointed to the wood with his drawn sabre. It was the most chivalrous, the most picturesque equestrianism of battle that I ever saw. It was as fine as a painting of Horace Vernet or of Wouvermans. As a contrasting picture, let me introduce an infantry officer whom I noticed at the same moment, running breathless, twenty feet in advance of the line, his blanket-roll over his shoulders, and his sword sheathed, but waving his men forward with a large brier-wood pipe, for he was smoking when the charge was ordered. From the instant that that American St. George in the embroidered shirt appeared all hope of stopping us vanished. The men sprang out with a yell like wild beasts, and the wood was carried on a full run, while the rebels rushed out of it at the top of their speed, many of them throwing away their guns and accoutrements. As we came in from one side Crook's troops entered from another, the two commands converging, and for a moment mingling together in the tumultuous triumph.
Thus passed the crisis of the battle. Early had used up at least two divisions of infantry in retaking and endeavoring to hold this wood, which was so essential to him; firstly, as covering his centre, and secondly, as being his most favorable base whence to launch an attack against our course of retreat, the Berryville and Winchester Pike. The slaughter in and around the grove proved the importance which each party attached to the possession of it. Looking down the gentle slopes over which our troops had advanced, retreated, and again advanced, we saw piles and lines of dead and wounded which could hardly be estimated at less than fifteen hundred men. In the wood lay the slaughtered skirmishers of Birge's brigade, mingled with the dead and severely wounded of the rebels, who also dotted the fields beyond. I noticed that most of our slain here had been stripped of their clothing, probably to cover the backs of Early's ragged soldiers. Colonel Thomas observed one of our officers propped against a tree with a wounded rebel on each side of him.
"Courage, my friend," said he. "We will take care of you soon; but first we want to finish the enemy."
The sufferer waved his hand feebly, and answered in a low voice, "Colonel, you are doing it gloriously."
Thomas started, for he now recognized in this mortally wounded man his old companion in arms, the brave Lieutenant-Colonel Babcock, of the Seventy-fifth New York, formerly of our brigade.
"Don't trouble yourself about me now," said Babcock. "But when you have done your
200fighting, will you spare me a couple of men to carry me away?"
Thomas promised, and followed his regiment. Colonel Babcock's watch and money had been taken by a rebel officer, probably with the intention of preserving them for him; but he had also been plundered in cruel earnest by the soldiers, who roughly dragged off his boots although one of his thighs was shattered by a musket-ball.
The Eighth Corps now moved against the heights, where Early made his final stand. The Eighth Vermont and One Hundred and Sixtieth New York, in conjunction with Upton's men of the Sixth Corps, followed the troops who had been forced out of the wood, and, flanking them with a heavy enfilading fire, drove them successively from a rail-fence and a stone-wall, where they attempted to rally. Lieutenant - Colonel Van Petten, of the One Hundred and Sixtieth, already had a bullet through the thigh, but refused to give up the command of his regiment until the fighting was over. As he led off at the head of it General Emory said to him, "Colonel, you are going into a hot fire; you had better dismount."
"Can't walk, Sir," replied Van Petten, pointing to his bandaged thigh, and rode onward.
Our regiment halted in the grove, and waited for ammunition. Twice it wheeled into column of companies to give passage to Birge's and Molineux's brigades of Grover's Division, which were now pushed up as supports to the general advance. I could not see that these commands bore any trace of the repulse of the morning; the ranks moved steadily, and the air of the men was composed and resolute. It must be observed, however, that up to this time I did not know that our line had suffered any disaster. They had just passed when a mounted officer, followed by a single orderly, galloped up to us. As he reined in his horse a rebel shell, one of the many which were now tearing through, the wood, burst within a few feet of him, actually seeming to crown his head with its deadly halo of smoke and humming fragments.
"That's all right, boys," he said, with a careless laugh. "No matter; we can lick them."
The men laughed; then a whisper ran along the ranks that it was Sheridan; then they burst into a spontaneous cheer.
"What regiment is this?" he asked, and dashed off toward the firing.
Presently we advanced, in support of a battery of artillery, over high ground lately occupied by Early's centre. Our close fighting was over, and for the rest of the day we were spectators. At the distance of half a mile from us, too far away to distinguish the heroism of individuals, but near enough to observe all the grand movements and results, the last scene of the victorious drama was acted out. Crook's column carried the heights and the fort which crowned them. We could see the long, dark lines moving up the stony slopes; we could see and hear the smoke and clatter of musketry on the deadly summit; then we could hear our comrades cheer of victory. Early's battle was rapidly reduced to a simple struggle to save himself from utter rout. His mounted force had been beaten as usual by Averill, Torbert, and Custer. His infantry, dreadfully weakened by killed, wounded, prisoners, and stragglers, was retreating in confusion, presenting no reliable line of resistance. And now, just in the nick of time, our cavalry formed its connection with the extreme right of our infantry, so that Sheridan was able to use it promptly to complete his victory. I saw a brigade of these gallant troopers gallop in a long, straight line along the crest of the hill, rush upon Early's rear, and break up and sweep away his disorganized regiments as easily, to all appearance, as a billow tosses its light burden of sea-weed. Seven hundred prisoners and two guns were the results of this well-timed and brilliant onslaught. It was, I believe; the most effective cavalry charge that has been delivered during the war; and it was certainly one of the most spirit-stirring and magnificent spectacles conceivable.
The victory was now won, and our infantry quietly bivouacked two miles beyond the field of battle, while the cavalry pushed on picking up materiel and prisoners.
The fruits of the battle, gathered on the spot or during the pursuit of the next day, were five cannon, fifteen flags, six or seven thousand small arms, and three thousand prisoners, besides two thousand wounded who were left on the field, or in the town of Winchester, or on the road between there and Strasburg. The entire loss of the enemy in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and in stragglers who did not again rejoin him could not have been less than seven thousand men. But the results of this bloody and successful combat did not stop here. It thoroughly demoralized Early's remaining troops, thus rendering possible, indeed rendering easy, the extraordinary victory of Strasburg, which was but the sequel, the moral consequence, of that of Winchester.
Of the loss of our own army I can not speak with certainty for lack of official information. But the heaviest slaughter must have fallen, I think, upon the Nineteenth Corps, which had nineteen hundred and forty killed and wounded, besides losing some prisoners, most of whom, however, were recaptured.
It was the first battle of our corps in Virginia; and I must say that Lee's veterans somewhat disappointed us. They made desperate fighting, but not more desperate than we had been accustomed to see. They were neither better nor worse soldiers than the Texans, Louisianians, Arkansans, and Alabarnians, whom we had met. and had beaten too, in the Department of the Gulf.