Battle of White Sulphur Springs

Extracted From History of the Fifth West Virginia Cavalry, by Frank S. Reader (New Brighton, PA: Daily News, 1890), pp. 203-07.


On the 5th day of August the command moved to Capon Springs, and the next day to picturesque little MooreField, clamoring over the mountains to reach this beautiful little valley. We had a lively bout with some rangers on the 5th, and on the night of the 6th they killed one and wounded four men of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania cavalry. On the 9th we marched to Petersburg, remaining there until the 19th. During our stay here we were annoyed a great deal by the bushwhackers, killing one of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania. The "Swamp Dragons," a company of about fifty union natives, who operated in the mountains, were doing a good work, and were able to meet the guerillas on an equal footing, being more than a match for their foes, August 19th the line of march was resumed, reaching Franklin that day, burning the Saltpetre works, and capturing the men that were operating them. The next day, we marched to Monterey, capturing a few prisoners. We reached Huntersville on the 22d, after a very dangerous and exciting march. We had considerable skirmishing, and our wagon train was attacked on the 21st, two of our men being wounded and several horses killed. The next day one of our command and two of the enemy were killed.

The brigade was joined at this place on the 23d by the Second Virginia and Tenth Virginia and two pieces of Capt. Keeper's battery. The Second Virginia left Buckhannon on the 20th of the month and made the march direct to Huntersville to join their command, meeting with the hidden enemy in the bushes and on the hillsides, not knowing what moment the last call should come to a brave comrade. The march was a hard, dangerous and severe one, but on rejoining their brigade the gallant boys forgot their fatigue and were anxious to meet the enemy now massing in their front under Gen. W. L. Jackson. The command resumed the march on the 24th, reaching Warm Springs shortly after dark, a distance of twenty-five miles. During the day the front of the column was severely bushwhacked, wounding a number of the command. We punished the enemy slightly in the same manner and captured on the march over one hundred saddles and bridles, which we burned, and at Warm Springs we captured a number of sabres, guns, etc. The next day we went about twenty-five miles in the direction of Lewisburg, having considerable skirmishing and making some unimportant captures. On the 26th we advanced thirteen miles, to within three miles of White Sulphur Springs, and at about 8 o'clock found our advance opposed by Gen. Jones at a place called Rocky Gap.

The enemy were strongly entrenched, with a clearing and corn field in their front. The Third and Eighth Virginia were dismounted and thrown out to the left of the road, and our regiment and a portion of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania cavalry, dismounted, moved to the right of the road. Ewing's battery was ordered to take position on a slight elevation to the right of the road. Lieut. Shearer's section dashed into position quickly, followed by Lieut. Howard Morton with the remaining guns. A severe fire of canister greeted them from the enemy's guns, which were unmasked at point blank range, and in the few seconds required to get into action, a number of the battery were disabled, and a few of the horses were killed or disabled. Capt. Ewing, while seeking a better position for the battery was wounded, and carried from the field, leaving the battery in command of Lieut, Morton. Notwithstanding the terrible odds against them, the battery was worked with such telling effect, that the enemy's guns were soon rendered comparatively harmless for the rest of the action. Battery G had an accident happen to one of their pieces, that was out of the usual order. After the fight had begun, the battery was ordered into position, and went on a trot to the place designated. One of the pieces ran off the road alongside another one, and just then the confederates fired vigorously, frightening the horses, which were new to the work. They reared and broke the pole and the limber got fast on a stump, so the men could not unlimber the gun. Sergeant Evans then ordered the drivers to turn and pull the piece down on the road, so as to be on the level. Just as they did this, Charles Arbogast, the middle driver, was shot through the breast and fell from his horse. His brother, George Arbogast, who drove the wheel team, jumped off and caught his brother Charles, pulling him out of the way. As soon as the horses found they were not controlled, they made a jump and landed on the road, with the piece upside down. The lead driver, David R. Yingst, held on to the horses, and they lay in the middle of the road in full view of the enemy. The horses were then raised to their feet, after great difficulty, by the efforts of Sergt. Evans, Yingst and Billy Gibson, while one of their own pieces was firing grape right over them and a confederate battery was firing close to them. There was a rail fence near and the shots from the enemy struck the rails, throwing the pieces all over the men. After they got the horses up, a new pole was put in and the gun was put to work trying to make up for lost time. Gen. Averell was near by and complimented the men on their good work in righting the gun under such difficult conditions. The battery lost heavily in this battle. Capt. Ewing was severely wounded and left in the hands of the enemy, together with the killed and other wounded of the battery. The captain relates that when he found himself outside the protection of the old flag, he could not keep back the unbidden tear, and all the prisoners shared in the feeling. Samuel Lessig and Charles Arbogast were killed and Serg'ts. H. A. Evans, Adam Brown, and S.J.Osborne; W.F. McClure, Lawrence Marshall, John N. Taggart, Fred Rowe, George Hart, Phillip Zeigler, John Fife and James Metcalf were severely wounded. Sergt. Evans was struck on the right side of his head by a piece of shell, which exploded just over him, and all that saved him was it striking the hat band, which turned it out. He was knocked senseless and the bone badly shattered, seventeen pieces being taken out and it now troubles him severely.

While the battery was doing such effective work, the rest of the brigade were gallantly charging all along the line. Our regiment, supported on the left flank by one-half of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, advanced through the cornfield, meeting with a murderous fire from the enemy, safely posted behind their breastworks. We pressed onward, however, almost up to the fortifications, but were there met with such a withering fire that human endurance could stand it no longer, and we fell back a short distance, taking position in a gully, or dry creek bed, where we were partially sheltered. In that severe charge some of our bravest officers and men fell. Among the rest, the brave McNally, of our regiment, foremost in the line, waving his sword and cheering his men. The major had taken hold of one of the confederates and captured him, when they both fell at once, the confederate being instantly killed by his own men. The position of our regiment in the gulley was a very exposed one now, being far in advance of our line. Gen. Averell, who was directing movements from the center of the line, near Ewing's battery, ordered the part of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry that was mounted, to made a diversion by charging down the road toward the enemy's fortifications. This brave body of men made one of the most daring charges of the war, not only facing a murderous storm of leaden hail from the front but also, to their surprise, received an enfilading fire along their flank from a large body of infantry concealed in a cornfield to the left of the road. On they dashed, regardless of death and danger, and reached the breastworks of felled trees and fence rails thrown across the road. While endeavoring to force their way through, they were surrounded by the force upon their flanks and were nearly all killed, wounded or captured. During the excitement of this heroic charge, the survivors of the Second were withdrawn from their exposed position in the gulley to a safer position on the ridge in their rear. The Third and Eighth Virginia had also met a largely superior force of the enemy posted in their front, and although they struggled gallantly, were unable to dislodge them. After the heroic charge of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania down the road, had disclosed the presence of the enemy hid in the cornfield to the left of the road, Lieut. Morton, of battery G, changed front with four guns and swept the cornfield with canister, causing the enemy who were massed there, a greater loss in men than from any other source during the battle. Night put an end to the conflict, and both armies rested during the night.

Upon the approach of daylight the battle was resumed, and General Averell .tried his best to break the enemy's line, but in vain. About 10:30 A. M. he discovered that the ammunition of both the battery and other troops was almost exhausted, and he reluctantly gave the order to withdraw, retiring in good order, traveling all day, that night, and the next day until 3 P. M., when we arrived at Huntersville, a distance of fifty miles. It was a fearful march, without rest, and constantly harassed by the bushwhackers, who seemed to be in every wooded place, whence they sent into our columns the death dealing bullets. There was not the slightest opportunity to defend ourselves, and it was warfare that was devoid of the excitement of the battle field, hence the harder to bear. The same evening we marched to Marlan's Bottoms, where we rested for the night.

A great deal of execution was done by parties of sharpshooters of our command that gained advantageous positions and struck the enemy at every opportunity. As an instance of this, there was one party composed of Charley Hixenbaugh, John N. Crow, Hiram Qualk, T. Dwyer and Silas J. Clendaniel, of Company I, with Jacob Simon of Company C, and some others, that gained the top of the ridge and there did good work. A singular thing is related by one of the boys relative to the three wounded men of Company I and their horses. The men were W. H. Billingsley, T. Dwyer and Lemuel Howe, who were also captured. Their horses, supposed to be in a comparatively safe place, were wounded and had to be shot.

The corps of pioneers plied their axes with good effect upon many large trees near the road, cutting them nearly in two. As the troops were withdrawn, battery G, with their guns double shotted with the last canister they had, grimly waited the expected advance of the exultant foe. As they came on with their usual yell, the battery boys let them have it red hot, and then limbering up their guns, with the new horses they had procured during the night, pulled out in a trot. The pioneers made their final cuts and the trees fell across the road, completely blocking it, as the confederate cavalry dashed up they were greeted with a volley from the rear guard lying behind the fallen trees, and who then galloped after the retreating column. Company C formed part of the rearguard, and on the morning of the 28th, in going around a steep hill, were fired upon by the enemy, who were concealed in the rocks above Lorenz Turk was killed and Henry Myer was severely wounded. The company was then about two miles behind the column, and immediately put spurs to their horses to regain our forces. The road in some places only about ten feet wide, with a deep ravine below. It was with difficulty that the horses could be ridden past and over the fallen body of Turk and of the horses that were also killed, and when Sergt. Graebe's horse came to the place he shied and went over the side of the road into a deep wash-out, striking on his head, with the sergeant beneath him. His comrades supposed he was killed and passed on. Though bruised considerably, the horse was able to get up after awhile, when Graebe mounted him and soon rejoined the company, to their great surprise. We continued our march on the 29th, arriving at Big Springs by evening, but did not stop, marching all night and the next day until evening, when we reached Huttonville, a distance of forty-five miles. It was a hard, trying march, and we were mercilessly bushwhacked, going into camp weary and sore, but with hope and courage for the future. In a little over three days we had marched over one hundred miles, about fifty hours of which were in line of march. On the 31st we returned to Beverly, where we went into camp and remained until November.

The confederate papers in their comments on the battle, said: "The Yankees, under the great raider Averell, took a summer jaunt to the White Sulphur Springs for the benefit of their health, and met with such a warm and cordial reception that many of them concluded to remain and take up their bounty land, but were satisfied with six feet of ground instead of a quarter section." They had little to boast of, however, for the retreat was a most orderly and well conducted one,we bringing off all our guns, wagons and ambulance, leaving behind our dead and those so badly wounded that they could not be moved, while the loss of the enemy was very great.

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