Series 1, Volume 5, pp. 197-199
SEPTEMBER 15, 1861.--Skirmish at Pritchard’s Mill, Va., near Antietam Ford, Md.
POINT OF ROCKS, MARYLAND,
September 17, 1861.
SIR: On the night of the 13th instant I received reliable information that about 2,200 rebels were stationed in an offensive attitude between the Shenandoah and Shepherdstown, on the Virginia shore of the Potomac. This force was composed of infantry (the greater portion of them being in the neighborhood of the Old Furnace and Pritchard’s Mill. The number of them actually engaged is variously estimated at from 500 to 600, while they had a reserve of 1,500 or 1,600 within a short distance behind the hills and along the railroad in the direction of Martinsburg), cavalry, and artillery, with four pieces of cannon. Their object seemed to be to attack the right of my command, resting about 3 miles above Harper’s Ferry, on the Maryland side of the river, and threatened that they would turn that position, gain the rear of my pickets, and capture a considerable portion of my command, consisting of two companies of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment. This information reached me at 11 o’clock at night; and one hour after I proceeded from my camp at this place with three companies of riflemen (B, I, and L) of my regiment, a section of the New York Ninth Battery, with two rifled cannon, commanded by Lieut. J. W. Martin. After a very rapid and, owing to the extreme [heat] of the weather, fatiguing march of 12 miles I reached Harper’s Ferry about daylight on the morning of the 14th. I found the rebels then engaged in making an attack upon the troops stationed above my command near Sharpsburg. Those troops made a handsome defense, and before I could proceed to their assistance the rebels retired, under pretense of having received orders to report at once at Manassas.
On the morning of the 15th I acquired considerable knowledge of the position of the enemy, and, desiring to assure myself more particularly with regard to their movements, I detailed scouting parties to such points as the rebels were said to be, to ascertain the truth. One of these parties, consisting of an officer (Lieutenant Brown), 1 sergeant, and 6 privates, all of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, mounted, by my direction pushed forward as far as Antietam Ford; this party, returning, while opposite Pritchard’s Mill, were fired upon suddenly from the Virginia side of the river by a volley of about 50 muskets from a body of men perfectly concealed. One man of the party was instantly killed on the spot, and, owing to a continuous fire kept [up] on the remaining portion of the party, it was impossible for them to move from the position to which they had taken themselves to prevent further losses as the enemy deployed down the river.
About the same time a number of the enemy made their appearance on the apex brow of the Loudoun Heights, also on the road leading around its base to Harper’s Ferry, and commenced firing. At the same [time] a considerable number of them opened fire from the heights back of Harper’s Ferry and from all parts of the railroad along the river up to Pritchard’s Mill. The latter were deployed, well covered behind the embankments of the railroad and bushes, and secreted in houses, barns, and lime quarries.
I stationed Company L, under command of Captain Barr, of my regiment, upon that portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad below the abutment of the burnt bridge, in the direction of Sandy Hook, with instructions to clear the Loudoun Heights and the road at their base, which they did, causing the enemy quickly to retire, leaving 5 or 6 killed and wounded on the ground. I stationed a company and a half of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Major Gould, from the bridge upward to the first lock on the canal, a distance of about 1 1/2 miles, to defend against attacks from the town and surrounding heights. I also left one piece of artillery with Major Gould’s detachment in such position as to sweep the several streets of Harper’s Ferry. I placed Company B, Captain Warden, of my regiment, above the lock, where the right of Major Gould’s command rested, and deployed it along the river about 1 mile. This company rendered very efficient service by its good marksmen at long range and seriously galled the enemy. I then advanced with one piece of artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Martin; half of Company I, Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Captain Shriber; and Company I, commanded by Captain McDonough, Twenty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers. The combined advance, numbering about 130 men, took possession of several dry basins along the canal and a point known as Maryland Ore Banks, which afforded an excellent shelter to my men. Thus situated, a very spirited fire was maintained for something over two hours, the fire of the enemy gradually slackening as they were dislodged by our artillery and sharpshooters, until about 6 o’clock the firing entirely ceased. (The enemy were driven from every point they occupied and sullenly retired beyond the range of our guns toward the interior). During this affair considerable damage was done to the mill, houses, and barns in which the rebels had taken shelter within reach of our cannon.
As far as can be ascertained through Virginia sources deemed reliable there were 18 of the rebels killed and about 25 wounded. It is impossible to ascertain exactly what the casualties of the enemy were, from the fact [that] the river divided us from them, and we have partly to rely upon the Virginians themselves for our information. Our loss was 1 killed and 3 slightly wounded. The wounds all occurred from fragments detached from the bands around the James shell, discharged by our own artillery.
The efficiency and long range of our Enfield rifles has been fully proved in this affair, and I am pleased to state they have verified our fullest expectations. Their superior accuracy and length of range over those of the enemy account in part for the small number of casualties on our side.
I am much gratified to be able to state that the troops under my command, without exception, behaved with the most admirable bravery and coolness. And I would be derelict of duty if I did not state that the highest meed of praise is due to the company officers for the gallant manner in which they carried out every order issued and the noble emulation which animated them during the action. Several small skirmishes have occurred since, but owing to the smallness of the numbers engaged would not justify a detailed statement.
A skirmish occurred this evening near Harper’s Ferry between the rebels and a portion of troops, resulting successfully to our arms. Several of the enemy are reported killed and wounded.
A small skirmish occurred above this place, in which, it is said, one of the rebels was killed.
[JOHN W. GEARY,
Colonel Twenty-eighth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers.]
Capt. ROBERT WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Casualties of the enemy: 18 killed and 25 wounded.
Casualties of my command: 1 killed; 3 slightly wounded.
Articles captured: 2 iron cannon (12-pounders); 2 fine bay mules; 2 small brass mortars; 1 wagon; 1 prisoner, William S. Engles, second lieutenant Company K, Second Virginia Volunteers.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: September 1861