Series 1, Volume 5, pp. 200-214
SEPTEMBER 23-25, 1861.--Descent upon Romney, W. Va., including affairs at Mechanicsburg Gap and Hanging Rock Pass.
Reports of Col. Angus W. McDonald, C. S. Army.
Romney Va., October 20, 1861.
GENERAL: Inclosed you have my report of the conflict of the 24th and 25th ultimo. I regret the necessity which compels me to invite your perusal of so long a report of so unimportant an affair. Feeling deeply, however, the importance of holding this post, and anxious that the Department should appreciate the hazard of attempting to do so against greatly superior forces both in numbers and equipments, I have indulged in details combining action and description, that the great extent of my line of defense may be more strikingly manifest.
You will perceive from my report that the two passes through which my position was attacked are distant from each other some 6 miles. Besides these, 2 miles below the Hanging Rock Pass there are three fords and a bridge over the South Branch. The passage over anyone of these would place the enemy within the portals of my line. Nine miles south of Romney is a third gap, through which the valley of the South Branch may be entered and the river forded. If my force stationed at any one of the passes or fords should be opposed by overwhelming numbers of the enemy, re-enforcements from either of the other passes could only be received by a march of from 2 to 7 miles.
This statement is, I am sure, sufficient to show by what a precarious tenure, with the handful of force I have, I now hold this place. The printed slip which I inclose, clipped from a Wheeling paper, is from the pen of one who well understands the subject upon which he has written. I will add to it: From Romney to the mouth of Little Cacapon is 25 miles; to the mouth of the South Branch, 18 miles; to the town of Cumberland, 27 miles; to New Creek Station, 18 miles; to Piedmont and Bloomington, each 25 miles. All of these are points on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and any one of them may be attacked by a day’s march from Romney. The distance from the month of the Little Cacapon to Bloomington is about 60 miles. The mean distance from Romney to the railroad is about 20 miles.
It is, I presume, impossible that either army can winter on the top or at the foot of Cheat Mountain. Jackson’s force added to mine could hold the rich valleys of the South Branch and Patterson’s Creek, and draw from them abundant supplies during the winter, and always have the power to prevent the use--safe use at least--by the enemy of either the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad or Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
If my command is to winter here, it is time to provide quarters for them. In less than fifteen days inclement weather will compel us to strike our tents, if the cowardice of the enemy, now outnumbering us five times, will permit us so long to hold this post. Two-fifths of my regiment are now, by the requirements of the Department, in Berkeley and Jefferson. If I had a regiment of volunteers and three additional pieces of artillery my camp would be defended by them, whilst my mounted men could at any time strike some point on the railroad or canal, and prevent their available use by the enemy.
I beg to be informed if I must prepare winter quarters at Romney.
I have the honor to be, respectfully, yours to command,
ANGUS W. McDONALD,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade, &c.
General S. COOPER.
Romney, Va., October 8, 1861.
GENERAL: On the night of the 23d September last, about 11.30 o’clock, the intelligence was received by me that our picket, stationed 2 miles beyond the Mechanicsburg Pass, on the old road leading to Paddytown (now New Creek Station), had been fired upon and driven in by the advance guard of a large force of the enemy moving upon Romney. I at once sent an order to Major Funsten, commanding that portion of the cavalry regiment under my command at this place, to detach the companies of Captains Sheetz, Bowen, Miller, and Harper to the Mechanicsburg Pass, with orders to occupy it and hold it against the approach of the enemy, and to order Captain Myers company to the Hanging Rock Pass, to co-operate with Col. E. H. McDonald, commanding the Seventy-seventh Regiment of Virginia Militia, in charge of this pass, in holding it against the enemy. At the same time Lieutenant Lionberger was directed to proceed to the Mechanicsburg Pass with the howitzer, under command of Major Funsten.
I learned upon return of my aide, Lieutenant McDonald, that my orders had been anticipated so far as the sending of Captain Myers with his company to the Hanging Rock Pass and Captain Sheetz to the Mechanicsburg Pass. Colonel Monroe, commanding the One hundred and fourteenth Regiment Virginia Militia, was ordered to march his regiment (then reported to be 140 to 150 strong, and encamped at Church Hill, 3 miles east of Romney, on the Northwestern turnpike road) to a point just east of Romney, and, as a reserve, there to await further orders. Captain Jordan was ordered to deploy his company along the eastern base of the mountain in which are the above-named passes, so as to give timely notice should the enemy attempt the passage of the mountain between them. The rifled 6-pounder and the 4-pounder were not removed from camp, retaining them until subsequent events should demonstrate what position for them would be most advantageous. Captains Winfield and Shands’ companies of cavalry were also directed to remain in camp, which is about 200 yards back of and on the inland slope of Cemetery Hill, awaiting orders.
It is proper, in order to give you an understanding of the ground upon which the main attack was expected, that you should have before you a brief outline of the positions occupied by my command. The town of Romney is situated upon a plateau elevated some 150 feet above the level of the South Branch, which washes the base of a high bluff. The western terminus of the plateau, 1 mile west of Romney, is the South Branch Mountain, in which are the Mechanicsburg and Hanging Rock Passes; the former 3 miles southwest, the latter 4 miles northwest, from Romney. After having made the disposition of my forces as above detailed, I proceeded to the Mechanicsburg Pass. Before arriving there I heard several volleys of musketry, which proceeded from the western entrance. Arriving there, I found the detachment under Major Funsten; a portion of it strongly posted behind a breastwork formed of rock, and a dam across a mill creek, which flows through the pass, whilst another portion of it was deployed as skirmishers upon both sides of the pass. Whilst here sharp firing occurred between the advance of the enemy and our skirmishers.
At about 6 o’clock in the morning, the firing having ceased at the Mechanicsburg Pass, I returned to town. In the mean time we had been quiet at the Hanging Rock Pass. At about 6.30 several volleys of musketry were distinctly heard coming from this pass. I had been confident up to this time that the attack which had been made at the Mechanicsburg Pass was only a feint to mask the main attack, which was to be made at the other. At this time the fog was so dense as to obscure completely every object beyond a distance of 50 yards and so continued until 10 or 10.30 o’clock. Immediately upon hearing the firing from the Hanging Rock Pass I sent an order to Colonel Monroe to leave 50 of his men as a reserve, and with the remainder to move without delay to the support of Col. E. H. McDonald. Captain Myers had deployed his company along the east bank of the river, stationing pickets at the ford at the west end of the pass. As the enemy advanced across the ford the pickets halted them at a distance of 40 yards, so dense was the fog, supposing them to be friends. After parleying for some moments they were fired upon by the enemy. This part of Captain Myers’ company returned the fire, and retired to their reserve station at the east end of the pass. The enemy then advanced between the river and the rocks, which at points overhang the road. When their cavalry had advanced under these rocks, and the position occupied by Col. E. H. McDonald, whose command, owing to the company of Captain Inskeep being upon detached service, consisted of only 27 men, a destructive fire was opened by this force upon them. Without waiting to reload their guns, the men were ordered to throw rocks upon them which had been previously collected for the purpose. This unexpected and novel attack produced the greatest confusion; the cavalry, stampeded, were driven back upon the infantry, many of whom jumped into the river; some managed to escape to the other side by swimming, but many were drowned. Owing, however, to the dense fog which still enshrouded and obscured everything, the effect of this attack, repulsing the enemy and driving him back out of the pass and across the river, was not discovered, and the vedettes of Col. E. H. McDonald, posted in his rear, giving him the incorrect information that the enemy were crossing upon his right in the attempt to outflank him, he returned with his command towards Romney.
About 7 o’clock I received information from Captain Myers that the enemy were advancing with a large force of infantry and cavalry up the river. Lieutenant-Colonel Lupton, who had been left by Colonel Monroe with 50 men as a reserve, was then ordered to support Colonel Monroe, which order was promptly executed.
Waiting anxiously upon a point upon the river bluff, Cemetery Hill, which commanded a view of the valley between the two passes, for the clearing up of the fog, so as to be able to ascertain the position and force of the enemy, at about 8 o’clock I received a second dispatch from Captain Myers, informing me of the advance of the enemy from Hanging Rock Pass in overwhelming force. Confirmed then that the main attack was to come from this point, I immediately dispatched an order to Major Funsten, directing him to withdraw the force under his command from the Mechanicsburg Pass to Cemetery Hill, and there await further orders.
From this time until about 11.30 o’clock there was no appearance of the enemy either above or below us: At about 11.30 o’clock the enemy made their appearance on the mountain side just below the Mechanicsburg Pass. Major Funsten was directed, with the companies of Captains Bowen and Miller, together with the howitzer given in charge of Captain Bowen, to take position in some woods opposite the bridge, so as to command the bridge and ford. The rifled 6-pounder was then put in position on Cemetery Hill, under charge of Lieutenant Lionberger, so as to command additionally the bridge and ford and the road leading from these points to Romney. The enemy, however, instead of attempting the passage of the river at this point, after saluting us with a few harmless rounds from his cannon, directed towards Major Funsten’s command, retired out of sight.
About 12 m. I again received information that the enemy were advancing from the Hanging Rock Gap. Major Funsten was directed to withdraw the detachment under his command from the position commanding the bridge, except Captain Bowen’s company and the howitzer, and with all the force of mounted men, together with the 4-pounder, to go to the support of Captains Myers and Jordan, the latter having previously moved to sustain Captain Myers.
Shortly after this order was given the enemy appeared on the hill about 14 miles north of the town, but seemed to hesitate to attack. At about 3.30 o’clock p. m. a movement was made by the enemy as if he designed to get possession of the Winchester road. This movement was observed also by Major Funsten, who promptly took the steps detailed in his report to prevent it.
By about 4.30 o’clock the enemy had disappeared. I then supposed they were moving in the direction of the Winchester road, and fearing lest the baggage train of the regiment should be cut off, which I had before understood had been removed some two miles from town, and which by my orders had been further removed through a narrow defile to Church Hill, in order to obtain ground upon which the train could be turned if necessary, I gave the order for the cavalry regiment to retire by the Winchester road, and to the commandants of militia who were in the rear of the cavalry to retire to Hanging Rock, 16 miles east of Romney, on the Winchester road, the latter order being countermanded when the command reached Church, Hill. Before reaching the church, and when about 2 miles from town, we were overtaken by a messenger, informing us that the enemy had retreated and recrossed the river.
Arrived at the church, and having understood that the baggage train was 3 miles farther down the road, at Frenchtown, where it had been removed by order of Major Funsten, in order to secure it against the expected attack at Churchville, it was decided by a council, composed of the captains of the cavalry commanded by Major Funsten and myself, to encamp the cavalry regiment at Frenchtown. Early the next morning I directed the whole force under my command to prepare to return to Romney whilst preparations were being made for the march.
At about 8.30 o’clock a. m. a courier arrived from Romney, bringing the intelligence that the enemy had returned to Romney and were then in possession of the town. I immediately gave orders directing Major Funsten to take the mounted men under his command, together with the howitzer and rifled gun under charge of Lieutenant Lionberger and attack the enemy. I sent orders to Colonel Monroe to move as rapidly as possible the forces under his command to the church, and there await farther orders, holding in reserve the 4-pounder, the gunner of which was directed to follow on with it, to be put in position as events might decide to be best. During the time that the enemy were in town I under- stand that they were fired upon by Private Blue, of the Seventy-seventh Regiment, and by Private Picket, of the cavalry regiment, killing one man and wounding others; by a company of the Seventy-seventh Regiment, under Captain Inskeep, and also that some of the One hundred and fourteenth Regiment fired upon some of their cavalry that were drawn about three-fourths of a mile from town in pursuit of some horsemen. This firing resulted in some loss to the enemy, killing 1 of the cavalry and wounding others. A short time after the cavalry had been fired into, the enemy commenced to retreat from town, where a halt had been called, and some of them were obtaining something to eat whilst preparations were being made for carrying off all the stock--horses, cattle, &c.--convenient to the road.
Whilst thus engaged an immense cloud of dust rising from the Cemetery Hill announced the rapid approach of the mounted men of the command, gallantly led by Major Funsten. Immediately the enemy, startled by apparent numbers, commenced a rapid retreat. Their rear had not proceeded more than 200 yards from the bridge when the column headed by Major Funsten fearlessly and impetuously charged upon them under a heavy fire from their cannon and musketry. Our column coming up within short shot-gun range, successively delivered their fire with telling effect. The rear of our column, as they crossed the river, filing to the left, commenced a raking fire upon the left flank of the enemy as they passed along the road. Lieutenant Lionberger at this time came up with the howitzer, and putting it in position so as to command their left flank, did effective work.
Fearing lest the enemy might have occupied Mechanicsburg Pass, the pursuit of the enemy, stampeded by the charge, was not pressed within it, but Lieutenant Lionberger was ordered by Major Funsten to shell it with the rifled 6-pounder. After this had been done, the companies of Captains Sheetz and Winfield were sent forward as an advance to reconnoiter. At this time I reached the head of the column, and learned of the sending forward of the companies of Captains Sheetz and Winfleld. From one-half to three-quarters of an hour was gained by the enemy in the necessary delay at the pass. The pursuit was now renewed, and at about 6 miles from town the enemy made another short stand, but were immediately put to flight again upon being fired into by the companies of Captains Sheetz and Winfield, and with the loss of several of their number. Such, however, was the character of the country through which the road lay, that the progress of the pursuing column was necessarily cautious, the deep defiles and thick underbrush frequently affording favorable opportunities for successful ambuscade, which had to be provided against by skirmishing and reconnoitering parties.
At Sheetz’s Mill, 9 miles from Romney, the enemy again made a short stand. I directed Lieutenant Lionberger to open upon them with shell from his 6-pounder. A single shot was fired, when, discovering a more favorable position, I directed him to it. Whilst the position of the 6-pounder was being changed our shot was returned by shell from the gun of the enemy, passing to our right. Before our gun could be got into its new position the infantry of the enemy were again in rapid retreat, their cavalry lingering in their rear. Under a heavy fire from the carbines of the cavalry the gun was again got into position. Knowing the direction of the road up which the enemy were retreating, and which was concealed by a low wood ridge, I gave Lieutenant Lionberger the range, and he again opened upon them with shell. Some of the shell falling amid the fleeing mass committed fearful havoc amongst them. In the mean time there had keen a rapid interchange of shots between their cavalry and ours, but, being at long range, without much effect.
Upon the suggestion of Captain Sheetz I directed Major Funsten to send forward the companies of Captains Sheetz, Myers, Winfield, and Miller by a shorter route, with a view to intercept the retreat of the enemy by ambuscade. Owing, however, to the rapid flight of the enemy, and to a mistake having been made as to the point of intersection of the two roads, the main body of the enemy, with their artillery and baggage train, had passed before the detachment got into position to attack them. At this point we captured 4 stragglers, and, night coming on, I sent an order to Major Funsten, directing the pursuit to cease, having pursued them to within 2 miles of New Creek Station, a distance of 15 miles.
Returning to Romney, at Sheetz’s Mill we met the militia, to whom I had given orders just before leaving Mechanicsburg Pass to follow the cavalry as fast as possible with a view to supporting them if necessary. From Sheetz’s Mill the whole command returned to Romney, where it arrived about 2 o’clock in the morning.
Great credit is due to Major Funsten and the officers and men under his command for the impetuous and daring charge which was made upon the enemy just beyond the bridge. A panic seems there to have stricken them, from which they were never afterwards permitted to recover during the whole pursuit.
Our loss during the two days was remarkably small--5 wounded (2 by our own men), to which is to be added the killing of 5 horses and the wounding of 2 or 3 others. Of the loss of the enemy I cannot speak with certainty. Five were captured. From information derived from persons I should estimate the killed and wounded at from 50 to 80. Among this number many were drowned on the morning of the 24th, when driven back from the Hanging Rock Pass. Five of the bodies of those drowned have been recovered.
The pursuit would have been much more effective and destructive had any of the companies of the command at this post been armed in addition to their guns with sabers and pistols. The two companies so armed belonging to this regiment are absent on detached service in Jefferson. None of the companies here have either sabers or pistols. I can but regret the necessity which deprives the officers and men of my command of the weapons adapted to a cavalry charge, and which they have shown themselves so well qualified to make daring and effective use of, especially so when they are opposed to an enemy well equipped in all these particulars, and whom if they meet in a hand-to-hand conflict they must oppose with clubbed rifles and shot-guns against revolvers and sabers.
The force under my command was upon the 24th about 300 mounted men and about 250 infantry--the militia of the county and unmounted men of my regiment. On the 25th the infantry was increased by accessions to the militia to about 350. The strength of the enemy in the two days fight could not have fallen short of 1,500, in which are included about 75 cavalry.
Before concluding I am obliged to make acknowledgments of the efficient services rendered by Mr. Crane and Robert A. Tilden, connected with the quartermaster’s department; Mr. James V. Clark, volunteer, and Lieut. Angus W. McDonald, my aide, in bearing my orders with promptitude to the many distant points at which detachments of my command were posted during the 24th and 25th September. Mr. Tilden, bravely joining in the charge of the cavalry on the 25th, was severely wounded, having his arm broken by a Minie ball, from which he is yet in danger of losing his limb, perhaps his life.
Of all the force engaged the statements made in my report sufficiently attest the gallantry and effective conduct of those to whom they pertain.
I have the honor to be, respectfully, yours to command,
ANGUS W. McDONALD,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade, & c.
General S. COOPER.
Report of Col. E. H. McDonald, Seventy-seventh Virginia Militia.
CAMP BUFFALO, October 3, 1861.
SIR: In compliance with your written order of the 2d instant I report the operations of the forces under my command on the 24th and 25th ultimo.
On the morning of the 24th, at 12.30 o’clock, I received your order to hold my command under marching orders. At 1 o’clock I received your order to occupy the lower pass with my available force and cooperate with Captain Myers in its defense. Arriving there at 2 o’clock with 27 infantry and 7 mounted men, I found Captain Myers posted under the rocks. I then took my position with my infantry on the top of the rocks which overhang the road and almost the river, and sent my mounted men to picket a road which ran in the rear of the rocks, known as the Old Ferry Road.
At 4 o’clock a. m. I heard the enemy crossing the ford about one-half mile below, and from the length of time occupied in crossing I supposed them to number 700 infantry and 200 cavalry. As soon as their advance guard had crossed the river Captain Myers pickets fired upon them. They returned the fire by a volley, and advanced, shouting. Captain Myers then fell back beyond my position. When the enemy had advanced up under where we were posted, they commenced to fire upon us, as I suppose, to draw our fire, as it was impossible, owing to the fog which then prevailed, to see us.
I could restrain my men no longer, and we commenced our attack upon them, some discharging their pieces, others rolling stones down on them. This we kept up, under a heavy fire of musketry, until my pickets reported that the enemy were flanking us upon our right. I then ordered my men to fall back to a position upon the mountain. Owing to the heavy fog, we were not aware that we had driven them back across the ford. I hastened to join you at Romney. Arriving there at 12 m., we ascertained the enemy were renewing their attack in the direction of the bridge. We then took our position on the hill in rear of the howitzer, and remained there until the enemy retired.
Returning to Romney at 6 o’clock p. m. I received your order to join you at Church Hill, but my men were so much fatigued that I found it necessary to encamp for the night with a portion of Colonel Monroe’s command upon the outskirts of Romney. During our engagement with the enemy at the rocks our showers of ball and stone threw them into the utmost confusion, their own cavalry riding over their infantry, crowding them into the river, thus drowning many of them--how many we have not been able to ascertain, but we have recovered 5 dead bodies, and learned from our citizens whom they made prisoners that they carried off with them 1 dead and 11 wounded, while on our side no one was hurt. We obtained 5 blankets and 2 muskets, which they threw away on their retreat.
On the morning of the 25th ultimo, about 8 o’clock, the enemy was reported approaching Romney in considerable force. We then fell back to a position east of the town, and exchanged shots with them whenever they ventured within reach of our guns. This position we maintained until the enemy was charged upon by Major Funsten with the cavalry, when we followed as far as Sheetz’s Mill, but were unable to come up with them afterward.
The troops spoken of above were commanded by Captain Roberson and Lieutenant Blue, and behaved in a manner which reflected great credit upon themselves and their officers. Lieutenant Blue deserves a special notice for his coolness and bravery. One company of my command, under the charge of Capt. J. V. Inskeep, was stationed at Frankfort, upon special service, whom I could not reach with orders, but as soon as they heard their services were needed, started by a circuitous route for the scene of action. Arriving at Romney on the morning of the 25th, they met the enemy approaching the town. Retiring upon the hills east of them, they fired upon their advance, and thus opened the engagement of that day. They deserve great praise for the promptness and zeal with which they came unbidden to the scene of action.
For the report of that portion of my command detailed to work the artillery I refer you to the report of Lieutenant Lionberger, under whose command they were placed.
E. H. MCDONALD,
Colonel Seventy-seventh Regiment Virginia Infantry.
Col. ANGUS W. MCDONALD, Commanding Brigade.
Report of Col. A. Monroe, One hundred and fourteenth Virginia Militia.
ROMNEY, VA, September 28, 1861.
SIR: After a delay that I hope you will excuse, I have the honor to submit the following report:
At 3 o’clock on the morning of the 24th instant, in obedience to your order, I left my camp at the Branch Mountain, with all the men then there under my command, which, after leaving a small guard at the encampment, amounted about 145 men, but the number was increased during the day to 200. When I reached Romney I heard firing at the Hanging Rock, to which point we started on double-quick. On arriving at the curve in the road south of Colonel Parsons’ I learned from a messenger that the enemy had passed the gap, and that the cavalry was advancing up the road very rapidly, and would meet me but a short distance below Parsons’ house. I then left the road, passing through his upland fields in a direct line, crossing a deep ravine, and took position on the crest of the bluff facing the bottom, my left wing opposite Parsons’ house and within fifty yards of the road, though the fog then was so dense we could scarcely see it.
When the fog had disappeared I discovered that our cavalry had fallen back and were drawn up in line of battle south of the stone house. I also discovered that I could occupy a much more advantageous position a little in advance of the cavalry opposite the house. I then marched my regiment back and took position there. After remaining there a short time I was informed by one of your officers that a large column of the enemy’s infantry was on the ridge between Parsons’ house and Inskeep’s, and moving rapidly towards the mountain. I then divided my command into four detachments, assigning Lieutenant-Colonel Lupton to the command of one, Major Gineven to another, Major Diaver to another, and taking the command of the fourth myself on foot, ordered that all should be deployed as skirmishers as rapidly as possible towards the top of the mountain, following the top of Black’s Ridge. The enemy kept in our sight for about a mile and a half up the mountain, though not within rifle shot. As soon as they discovered we had outflanked them they changed their course toward the branch, falling behind the ridge, and I saw no more of them. On learning that they had retreated through the gap, I returned with my detachment to Romney about 4 o’clock, where I remained till after 10 o’clock p. in., expecting Col. E. H. McDonald to bring on a re-enforcement from Frenchburg.
Having been told that you desired me to meet you at Frenchburg I left my men under the command of Col. Isaac Parsons and reached Frenchburg about midnight, where I found Messrs. Lupton, Gineven, and Diaver with their respective commands, together with about 100 additional troops, belonging to my regiment, on their way to join me.
On the morning of the 25th I received orders from you to return with my regiment to the top of the Branch Mountain, and remain there until further ordered, but before reaching said point I was met by a runner, who informed me that the enemy was in Romney. Forgetting your order entirely, which I hope you will pardon, I advanced as fast as possible to meet them, and just as my advance reached Kercheval’s field I saw the enemy’s cavalry advancing up the road and then retreating. I then dismounted, formed my men on the hill-side in a line parallel with the road and about 30 yards from it, all hands hoping that Mr. Yankee would just come on. We had 4 men on horseback, who were maneuvering to induce their cavalry to pursue them far enough to come within proper range of all our guns.
At about 9 a. m. the enemy made a charge, but when -they had come within about 400 yards of my advance companies they parted and commenced firing on some of the boys, who were so extremely eager to get a shot at them that they would keep constantly exposed to full view. Believing that they would not advance any farther, my men opened a fire, but not more than 100 fired, for it was thought that our guns could not reach them, and we did not wish to waste our fire; but from the most reliable information I have been able to gather we wounded 5 and killed 1, one man receiving three balls. After their cavalry had retreated they commenced firing cannon, and kept it up for some time, but fortunately, though their bullets and grape flew thick, not one of my men received a scratch.
As a just tribute to my men permit me to say that I did not see a cheek blanched or a hand that trembled, and as a further proof of their valor many who, owing to a mistake with our wagons, had not tasted bread for forty-eight hours were in the front ranks in pursuing the enemy to Patterson’s Creek.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Colonel One hundred and fourteenth Reg’t Virginia Militia.
ANGUS W. MCDONALD,
Colonel, Commanding Cavalry, C. S. Army.
P. S.--I had about 350 men on the 25th. Since making the above report I learn that some of the men who fired were stationed on the ridge north of Lanier Cooper’s house and within less than 300 yards of the enemy.
Report of Maj. O. R. Funsten, C. S. Army.
CAMP FUNSTEN, NEAR ROMNEY,
September 28, 1861.
COLONEL: On the night of the 23d instant, about 11.30 o’clock, our pickets on the Sheetz Mill road from Mechanicsburg Pass came to camp, and informed me that they had been fired upon by a body of cavalry about 2 miles beyond the mouth of the pass, and that they believed that a large body of the enemy was advancing towards the pass from that directiom [sic]. I immediately ordered Captain Sheetz to march his company to the vicinity of the point where the enemy was discovered, to ascertain as far as possible their strength and position, and to skirmish them if they were advancing. I also ordered Captain Myers with his company to Hanging Rock Pass, with similar instructions in case the enemy appeared in that direction. I also ordered Lieutenant Lionberger to take his howitzer to Mechanicsburg Pass, and to hold his other guns in readiness to move. At this time you arrived at camp, and directed me to take Captains Bowen’s, Harper’s, and Miller’s companies, in addition to Captain Sheetz’s, and occupy and hold Mechanicsburg Pass.
I proceeded at once to execute this order. Arriving at the head of the pass I met Captain Sheetz, who informed me that the enemy were about half a mile above, but that he was unable, from the nature of the ground, to ascertain with accuracy their strength. I then ordered a strong party of skirmishers on the side of the mountain down the pass, and having dismounted, the whole command occupied a very strong point in the pass, with the howitzer supported by the dismounted riflemen, and awaited the approach of the enemy.
In a short time a squad of the enemy’s cavalry was driven back by our skirmishers at the head of the pass, which was soon followed by volleys fired by the enemy into the side of the mountain, where our skirmishers were safely located behind rocks and trees. After several hundred shots were exchanged the firing of the enemy became irregular and a dense fog having raised in the mean time, it ceased.
The enemy evidently intended to march through the pass. Their loss must have been considerable at this point. Our skirmishers, being well protected, suffered no injury. The men who were supporting the howitzer remained in position all night, expecting an attack and feeling confident of defending the pass against an attack from ten times their number.
At 8.30 a. m. Lieutenant McDonald brought me your order to march my command to a point between the bridge and Romney, and hold myself in readiness to march to Hanging Rock Pass, from which point the enemy was advancing in large numbers, and that you expected the principal attack from that direction. I called in my skirmishers and marched to the positions indicated. In the course of an hour or two the enemy was seen in the road to Mechanicsburg Pass. I then directed Captain Bowen, by your order, to take position with his company and Captain Miller’s, and with the assistance of the howitzer to dispute the passage of the bridge and fort. The enemy then opened fire upon us from a cannon in the road on the mountain side, above the bridge, but without injury to us.
I then received your order to march to the support of Captains Myers and Jordan, against whom were advancing an overwhelming force from the direction of Hanging Rock Pass. I marched the companies of Captains Winfield, Harper, Sheetz, and Shands with the utmost speed. Within half a mile of town I met the 4-pounder cannon, and directed the officer in charge of it to advance and take a position which I would designate. Meeting afterwards Captain Myers, he informed me of the estimated strength of the enemy, who were but a short distance down the road, but concealed by a hill, and although they outnumbered us six or seven times, I determined to give them a fight, and proceeded to select my ground to meet their approach. Having done this to my satisfaction, I awaited them. Reconnoitering parties of the enemy were in the mean time visible on the ridge a mile and a half in front of us.
In a short time the glistening of guns could be seen in the underwood which covered the before-mentioned ridge, moving in the direction of the Winchester road, distant about 3 miles. I saw at once that the object of the movement was either to take possession of the narrow pass or the Winchester road, adjacent to town, or to make a feint in that direction, with a view to drawing off part of our force from the position we held. I ordered Captain Sheetz to move rapidly with his company by the way of the Winchester road, to advance upon them, and to skirmish them in front. I also ordered the train which I understood had been ordered up the Winchester road to the point which was now threatened to move farther up the road. I also ordered Captain Winfield to skirmish on their right flank, and watch and report their movement. Captain Winfield promptly executed my order, and soon commenced skirmishing them.
In a short time Lieutenant Pennybacker rode back rapidly with a message from Captain Winfield, informing me that the enemy were advancing in a large body toward the Winchester road, and would soon reach it if not attacked. I immediately ordered Captains Jordan, Myers, and Harper to the point on the Winchester road at which I expected the enemy would enter it. I also ordered the officer commanding the 4-pounder to march with us with his gun. I marched three companies and the piece of artillery rapidly to the church at the summit of the ridge, and there found Captain Sheetz, who had ordered part of his company to reconnoiter from an intermediate road. I ordered him to take the remainder of his company and reconnoiter in another direction, and report to me at a point below. I then marched the other companies to the point designated, and there awaited Captain Sheetz. In a short time he returned and informed me that he had not found the enemy, and being satisfied that they had changed their line of march when they observed our movement in that direction, I marched back to Romney. At the edge of town I met the companies which I had left marching out, and was informed that you had given orders for the regiment to retire, and that the enemy was not in sight of Romney. I called a halt and proceeded to town, when I met you, and, returning with you, ordered the column to march at the summit of the ridge, 34 miles from town. We ascertained that the train had halted at French’s, 24 miles beyond, where we marched and encamped for the night.
Early the next morning I received your order to have the train ready to move in the direction of Romney. The quartermaster was preparing to execute this order when a messenger arrived from Romney, between 8.30 and 9 o’clock, informing us that the enemy had returned and was then in Romney. I then received your order to take command of the regiment and march against the enemy. I did so without delay. Arriving in sight of the enemy as they were marching across the bridge, I ordered the column to charge, which was responded to in the most gallant manner. The enemy commenced retreating rapidly and in confusion up the mountain by the northwestern road. Passing under the bridge we received the fire of their rear guard, but dashed on until we came within pistol and shotgun range, when we returned their fire with coolness and precision. The rear of our column filed to the left and opened fire upon their flank. In the mean time the enemy fired canister from their cannon. Fortunately for us nineteen out of twenty of their balls passed high above our heads.
The fight lasted fifteen or twenty minutes, when the enemy were again put in motion. Lieutenant Lionberger, who had been detained by one of the wheels of his rifled cannon coming off, came up at the time with the howitzer and opened a spirited fire on the retreating enemy, and with a telling effect, as I have since learned. In this engagement our loss was trifling, in consequence of their bad aiming, amounting to the wounding of 2 men and the killing and wounding of 5 or 6 horses.
I then ordered the officer in charge of the rifled cannon to move his gun to an eminence in front of Mechanicsbnrg Pass and to shell the enemy from it. This order was handsomely executed by Lieutenant Lionberger, who came up in the mean time, and a few well-directed shells opened the pass to us, and broke the line which the enemy had formed above its mouth, when we again commenced the pursuit. I then sent Captains Winfield and Sheetz forward with their companies to skirmish the enemy and bring them to a fight. At Gilbert’s, about 3 miles beyond the pass, these companies came up with the rear of the enemy and opened a spirited fire on it, but had not the effect of checking the speed of the flight of their main body. The fight continued for some minutes, when they again got out of our sight. At Sheetz’s Mill, 2 miles beyond, we again came in reach of them, and fired on their rear and flank and gave them two or three shells from the rifled cannon.
At this point Captain Sheetz rode up and informed me that he was well acquainted with the surrounding country, and would cut off their retreat by taking a shorter road, provided he could be aided by two or three companies. All of the companies, excepting Captains Jordan’s and Powers’ and a part of Captain Shands’, received orders to move in that direction, and I continued the pursuit with the last-named companies and two pieces of artillery. About 5 miles beyond Sheetz’s Mill, when I believed we were only a few hundred yards in rear of the enemy, the head of our column was fired into from a dense thicket on our right, and instantly an order was given in a loud voice, to cease firing, as they were firing on their friends, and soon two of the companies which took the nearer route advanced from the bushes. No blame should attach to the officers of these companies, as the gap between the enemy and ourselves was small, and the mistake was a natural one.
By this unfortunate occurrence we had 2 of our regiment slightly wounded and 1 of the artillerymen badly but not mortally wounded. The delay occasioned by this accident enabled the enemy to increase the distance between us. The pursuit was continued to the base of the Knobly Mountain, within 2 miles of New Creek, from which point the rear of the enemy was seen crossing the summit of the mountain. It was then twilight, and deeming an attack on New Creek at that time imprudent, I discontinued the pursuit and returned to this camp, where we arrived about 2 o’clock at night, after having been thirty-three out of the fifty hours in the saddle.
The aggregate strength of this regiment engaged in the service was 328. The strength of the enemy was not less than 1,300 and probably reached 1,500 men, including artillery and 75 cavalry, the whole command being armed in the best manner. So completely were they demoralized by our first charge, that they must have been cut to pieces had the country been favorable to the operations of cavalry, the road by which they retreated being through mountain passes and deep defiles.
The loss of the enemy in killed and wounded was not less than 50, besides 5 prisoners, 9 horses, and some arms captured. Our loss was trifling, considering the intrepidity of our charges and the very unfavorable ground for attack; it amounted to only 2 wounded and some 10 or 12 horses killed and wounded.
The conduct of the officers and men deserves great praise, and I might cite instances of individual daring deserving especial notice, but as all were disposed to do their duty, I will make no distinctions.
Very respectfully, yours,
O. R. FUNSTEN,
Col. ANGUS W. McDONALD.
Report of Lieut. J. H. Lionberger, C. S. Army.
CAMP FUNSTEN, NEAR ROMNEY, VA., October 4, 1861.
On the night of the 23d of September last, about a quarter before 12 o’clock, shortly after the information of the approach of the enemy had reached the camp, I received orders from Major Funsten to repair with the howitzer under my charge at once to the Mechanicsburg Pass, which I did, and remained there until about 8.30 o’clock, when I was directed by Major Funsten to withdraw the howitzer from the pass and take position upon the Cemetery Hill, there to await further orders. Upon arriving at the Cemetery Hill I found my rifled 6-pounder in position upon the hill so as to command the bridge and the ford and the road leading from these points to Romney. By your order my howitzer was sent, under charge of Captain Bowen, to the hill opposite the bridge, so as additionally to command the bridge and the ford, while the 4-pounder, through your order (as I have understood), was sent and placed in position by the gunner upon an eminence north of the town, commanding the road leading from the Hanging Rock Pass to Romney.
About 4.30 o’clock I received your order to retire with the guns in my charge, in company with the whole command, by the Winchester road, which I did, and encamped with the command at Frenchburg.
Early in the morning of the 24th I received your order to prepare to return to Romney with all of the guns under my charge. About 8.30 o’clock I received your order to repair at once to Romney with the howitzer and the rifled 6-pounder, leaving behind the 4-pounder. Without any delay I proceeded to execute this order. Arriving in Romney we learned that the enemy was at the bridge. Whilst passing through the town one of the wheels of the 6-pounder came off. Without waiting for it to be put on again, I proceeded as rapidly as possible to the bridge with the howitzer. Arriving at the bridge I discovered that the enemy had made a stand beyond it. Getting the howitzer into position on the island to do effective service, I was prevented from firing by the charge of our own cavalry.
Changing the position of the gun to a field opposite the enemy and within 300 yards of them, I opened fire. The first shot was too high; the second broke their lines, and produced the greatest confusion, which was soon followed by a retreat. I immediately crossed the river, when I was informed by Major Funsten that he had sent the rifled gun to a hill opposite the mouth of the Mechanicsburg Pass, and directing me to take charge of it and shell the pass, selecting a position which commanded a view of the whole pass, and from which I could see the enemy’s line of battle across the upper end of the pass. Before the gun could be used, however, the canister with which it was charged had to be withdrawn and a shell inserted.
In the mean time the enemy had broken line and were in retreat, but again formed higher up the pass. Having fired at them with a shell, which, exploding amongst them, again broke their line and scattered them in great confusion, I continued to shell them from this point until they had passed, as I thought, entirely out of range, when I hastened with the gun to join Major Funsten, changing horses at the mill a mile east of the pass. I afterwards joined the column in the pass. At Patterson’s Creek we again came in sight of the enemy, and turning by your order into a field on the right, fired one shot at them, when I received your order to change the position of the gun (the rifled) to one about three-fourths of a mile in advance upon a hill. Here the gun was aimed by you in the direction of the road over which the enemy were retreating, and several shots were fired, and, as I have since learned, with great effect.
Continuing the pursuit, about 3 miles from this point we were fired upon by our own men from the woods by the road-side. Supposing it to be the enemy, I at once ordered my men to unlimber and get ready for action, which order was quickly and bravely responded to; but before firing, the mistake was discovered, but not too soon to show the coolness and courage of the men at this gun. By this unfortunate mistake one of my men was wounded in the arm.
From this point we continued the pursuit about 2 miles, but saw nothing more of the enemy, when your order was received to cease the pursuit. Thence we returned by Sheetz’s Mill to Romney, where we arrived about 2 o’clock. Since the chase the guns, carriages, & c., have undergone a thorough cleansing and repairing, and are now ready for use.
Respectfully submitted. J. H. LIONBERGER,
Lieutenant, and Acting Captain of Artillery.
Col. ANGUS W. MCDONALD,
Commanding C. S. Forces at Romney.
October 4, 1861
For the past few days we have had a variety of rumors as to the movements of the enemy across the Potomac, as well as in Hampshire. It is believed, however, that a division of Banks’ command, 5,000 strong, has again returned to the upper Potomac, extending their lines from opposite Shepherdstown to Williamsport.
Brigadier General Carson has gone forth to meet them, and should they attempt to cross the Potomac another glorious victory will be won by our invincible troops. Gen. Carson will, for the present, establish his headquarters in Martinsburg. It is believed by some that he will pass the Rubicon, and cross into Maryland; but we do not credit the report. From Hampshire we have the exciting rumor that Col. McDonald and his entire command was surrounded a few miles west of Romney and captured. This news, however, we can scarcely credit, and trust to be able to give reliable information of his successful resistance of the Federalists before going to press.
P.S.—Late and reliable news direct from Col. McDonald’s camp, gives the lie to the exaggerated rumors of the capture of his command with his death, and that of Captains Wingfield [sic], Sheets and Jordan.
On Tuesday morning the enemy appeared in overwhelming numbers, near Romney, and opened fire upon his camp. Finding that his cavalry could not be made available, owing to the peculiar locality of the country, Col McDonald fell back six miles this side of Romney. On Wednesday morning, with a considerable force of militia, together with his cavalry, he returned to drive the enemy from their position. The result of this expedition we have not yet learned.---Winchester Rep.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: September 1861