Series 1, Volume 5,
OCTOBER 26, 1861. Skirmish at South Branch Bridge, West Virginia.
No. 1. - Brig. Gen. C. M. Thruston, U. S. Army.
No. 2. - Col. Thomas Johns, Second Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade.
No. 3. - Col. A. Monroe, One hundred and fourteenth Virginia Militia.
Report of Brig. Gen. C. M. Thruston, U. S. Army.
CUMBERLAND, October 27, 1861.
COLONEL: I have the honor to forward a report from Col. T. Johns, Second Regiment Potomac Home Brigade. Though his expedition did not attain its entire object, yet it served to test the character of his troops. They behaved, to a man, with perfect obedience and entire steadiness. Mr. I. I. Grehan (whom I desire to appoint my aide-de-camp) volunteered on the expedition, and confirms Colonel Johns’ report of Captain Shaw’s gallantry and of the eagerness of all for the contest. Brigadier-General Kelley entered Romney about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon.
With great respect, your obedient servant,
C. M. THRUSTON,
Col. E. D. TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Report of Col. Thomas Johns, Second Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade.
HDQRS. SECOND REGIMENT POTOMAC HOME BRIGADE,
Camp Thomas, Cumberland, October 27, 1861.
GENERAL: In compliance with verbal orders, received after consultation between General Kelley and yourself, on the night of the 25th instant I concentrated 700 of my regiment at the North Branch Bridge, and on the following morning at 5 o’clock marched in the direction of Romney, passing through Frankfort. Upon arriving at a point one and a half miles from Springfield, the rear of my column was fired into by the enemy from the heights of the road, severely wounding 2 men, detaining the column about one hour, which was occupied in clearing the woods of the enemy and dressing the wounded. We marched thence through Springfield, seeing frequent signs of the enemy’s horsemen in retreat towards the bridge over the South Branch of the Potomac. Upon arriving within half a mile of the bridge my flankers and skirmishers on the left and front discovered the enemy on the opposite side of the river, when a brisk fire at once commenced.
About this time the guns of General Kelley’s column in the vicinity of Romney were heard. After skirmishing with the enemy across the river about half an hour I determined to force a way over the bridge. The enemy, numbering, by the best information we could get, from 400 to 600, including cavalry, having beforehand prepared to defend its passage, had arranged covers for his riflemen on an eminence immediately fronting the bridge. Capt. Alexander Shaw, of Company A, who led the advance of the column to this point, was with his company directed to lead the way across the bridge at a double-quick step, supported by the remainder of the regiment. Captain Shaw promptly moved his company as directed, and when about half way across the bridge discovered that a portion of the plank flooring on the farther side had been removed. The enemy, on discovering the movement, opened fire by volley, killing 1 and wounding 6 of my men, causing the company to seek shelter behind the parapets of the bridge.
After skirmishing some time from the parapets of the bridge and an eminence on our left, and not hearing the firing of General Kelley’s column for the previous hour, I concluded he had carried Romney, and the object of my march - to create a diversion in his favor - being accomplished, I determined to retire, which we did in good order, to Old Town, in Maryland, arriving there about 9 o’clock p. m., after a march of 25 miles.
It is with pleasure I speak of the good behavior of all my officers and men, and would call your attention particularly to the gallant charge led by Capt. Alexander Shaw. Captain Firey, of dragoons, with his company rendered very efficient service by drawing the fire of the enemy from my regiment at the bridge. I was much gratified at and indebted to Mr. Grehan, who volunteered to march with me, for his prompt and cheerful assistance. Mr. Grehan was frequently exposed to severe fire of the enemy.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
THOMAS JOHNS, Colonel Second Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade.
Brig. Gen. C. M. THRUSTON.
Report of Col. A. Monroe, One hundred and fourteenth Virginia Militia.
HDQRS. ONE HUNDRED AND FOURTEENTH REG’T VA. M., Hanging Rock, November 22, 1861.
SIR: After a delay which I hope under existing circumstances you will pardon I beg leave to submit the following report, to wit:
On Saturday, the 26th day of October last, at 1 o’clock p. in., information was brought to me at my camp that a large force of the enemy had advanced in the direction of Romney as far as Springfield, a small village 9 miles north of the former place. My camp was on the Old Ferry road, about three-eighths of a mile from the main road, three-quarters of a mile from the suspension bridge, which is 1 1/2 miles from Springfield on the main road to Romney.
On receiving the above intelligence I ordered all the men there under my command to repair to the bridge as fast as possible, all our way being through fields, with the exception of a skirt of woodland surrounding our camp about 20 poles in width.
When we had reached the cleared land I saw that the advance of the enemy had reached Cain’s Hill, south of Springfield, and deeming it best to send a part of my command to the ford, which is below the bridge some 300 yards, I accordingly ordered Company F, commanded by Lieut. Jacob Baker, and Company K, commanded by Lieutenant Wilbert, consisting in all of about 40 men, to take position there, directing them on their way to deploy in single file, exposing themselves to the full view of the enemy, which was then about a mile off. Companies A, B, and E, consisting of about 80 men, commanded respectively by Captain Hardy, Lieutenant Pownell, and Captain Higby, I led in person on foot down a small hollow, concealed from the observation of the enemy. This I did hoping to make the enemy believe that our entire force was at the ford, and in this I am happy to inform you that I completely succeeded. In order that you may the better understand our position I will give you a brief description of the ground. At this point the South Branch, which is a little more than 100 yards wide, cuts a ridge at right angles, which bears about north 40 [degrees] east. On the north side there is a perpendicular wall of rock about 1150 feet high. On the south side which points down more gradually, we had erected a breastwork directly opposite the south end of the bridge, about 150 yards from it, and at an elevation of about 20 [degrees]. The gap from our breastwork to the top of the rocks on the opposite side is from 250 to 300 yards wide.
The enemy first appeared on the top of the rocks, and opened a fire on my men at the ford, which was kept up by both parties for 30 minutes. The three companies with me kept close behind our fortification, unobserved by the enemy. After becoming fully satisfied that our whole force was at the ford the enemy left the rocks and fell in line, four deep, and started at double-quick across the bridge. When they had advanced to a point on the bridge I had marked out I fired my rifle at them, which by previous arrangement was the signal for my men to fire, which they did with the utmost regularity. As soon as we fired they retreated from off the bridge, leaving 30 muskets, 3 Mississippi rifles, 40 hats, and one big Yankee they could not drag off. A portion returned again to the rocks and opened a most terrific fire upon us, which we returned, with considerable effect, whenever a good opportunity offered. They kept up a continual fire for about two and a half hours, but I am happy to inform you that not one of my men received as much as a scratch from them. They then commenced a general retreat, and did not stop till they reached Maryland, a distance of some 12 miles. They advanced in two columns - one from Cumberland, via Frankfort, consisting of one company of cavalry, and infantry, amounting in all to 600 men; the other from Old Town, via Green Spring, consisting of 600 infantry. I am not prepared to say with certainty how many we killed, but from the most reliable information I have, by the time they had reached Cumberland their loss in killed was 60, besides a great many wounded. I had forgotten to remark that I had taken the precaution to place Lieutenant-Colonel Lupton and Adjt. J. Monroe on an eminence to give me timely information in the event of the enemy attempting to place cannon on the rocks. I will further add that the enemy left a very good sword on the bridge, which we got. The guns are now in the hands of my men, and are greatly superior to the ones they had. On hearing that the enemy had completely routed Colonel McDonald and taken possession of Romney I fell back to North River Mills, a distance of 16 miles. I have subsequently, in obedience to the order of General Jackson, encamped at Hanging Rock, 15 miles east of Romney.
A. MONROE, Colonel One hundred and fourteenth Reg’t Virginia Militia.
The SECRETARY OF WAR, Confederate States of America.
October 30, 1861
[Correspondence of the Richmond Enquirer.]
WINCHESTER, VA. October, 27, 1861.
An engagement took place yesterday (Saturday) between Col. Angus McDonald’s Cavalry, about two hundred in number, and about two hundred militia, under Col. Monroe, and a body of Yankee troops, variously estimated at from three thousand to five thousand. Our little force was obliged to retreat before superior numbers. The fight commenced three or four miles from Romney, whither our troops had gone to meet the enemy. After fighting some time, it was found that they could not keep back the Hessians, and a retreat towards Romney followed, the enemy pursuing.--Our army wagons blocked up the road, and the artillery could not pass, and it was consequently captured, with wagons, tents baggage, & c; and we regret to add that Col. McDonald, it is believed, fell into the hands of the pursuers. When last seen, he was on horseback, with the enemy but a short distance in the rear. Some of his friends fear that he has been killed, as the Hessians, it has been stated, exhibited no disposition to take prisoners, but rode up to teamsters and killed them with their sabres. Maj. O. R. Funsten escaped. He was thrown from a horse but was carried off in a carriage, and has reached this place, in a bruised condition. Some 20 or 30 of the cavalry have reached Winchester, from whom we obtain these particulars.
Although directly from the scene of the engagement, they bring reports containing discrepancies as to details. I aim to give what I believe to be the most reliable. It is believed we had about 20 men killed and a number wounded. A large number of the enemy were killed, the artillery making roads through them. Some of the escaped cavalry fear that the greater part of the cavalry and also the militia force fell into the hands of the enemy, before the pursuit was abandoned, while others think that but few except the wounded were taken prisoners. I am of the opinion that the latter will prove correct. The enemy had about 300 cavalry.
The Yankees came from New Creek, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, where reports says, they were reinforced a few days ago by two or three regiments from Cumberland or from some point in that direction.
The enemy are, no doubt, once more in Romney, and some of our citizens fear they may extend their visit to Winchester—forty tow mile being the distance—but I have no such fears.
A militia force left here this morning in the direction of Romney, to check them if they should have the temerity to advance in this direction. The cars have gone to Charlestown to bring some troops from that place to go also towards Romney. Of course, our people regret that the enemy have, for once, “stolen a march on our men,” and given the invaders some cause to “crow;” but, I predict, that when we shall be in possession of full details, it will be found that they have but little to rejoice over.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: October 1861