May 19, 1862
We conversed last evening with Lieut. Henry H. Fickel, of Mansfield, Ohio, who is direct from Fremont’s command, and who witnessed the battle at McDowell on the 8th, between Milroy’s and Schenck’s forces and the enemy under Jackson. Mr. Fickel was a Lieutenant in the 32d Ohio, but resigned his position some time since and went home. He returned to his regiment a short time ago, and was with it during the engagement, not as a soldier but as a civilian, and rendered good service by assisting in carrying off and caring for the wounded.
Our forces consisted of nine regiments in all, six under Milroy and three under Schenck, numbering not more than seven thousand men. Those under Milroy were the 75th, 73d, 32d and 25th Ohio, and the 2d and 3d Virginia. Those under Schenck were the 82d and 55th Ohio and the 5th Virginia. It appears that Milroy’s force had advanced from Monterey in the direction of Staunton as far as McDowell, two regiments ten miles beyond and one sixteen. Just before noon on the 8th the pickets of this advanced regiment were driven in, and it fell back to the other two. They all fell back in good order to within a mile and a quarter of McDowell, where they made a stand. Skirmishing continued until a quarter to six in the evening when the main fight began. The enemy were posted along the top of a mountain which terminated abruptly on our left. Milroy’s forces were disposed in front of the mountain some distance along, with the batteries on elevated ground in the rear. There were five of these – Capt. Hymen’s Capt. De Beck’s, Capt. Ewing’s Capt. Johnson’s, and another not remembered by our informant.
Capt. Hymen’s battery in particular, did brilliant execution, being about upon a level with the enemy. His shells all burst at the right time and in the right place, each one clearing a space of about thirty feet in the ranks of the rebels. Our informant relates, as an instance of this officer’s skill, that, seeing a group of rebel officers on an eminence, about two miles distant, he got their range and sent them a shell, which killed two out of four of them. This battery was placed on a height where it took twelve horses and one hundred men to take up each gun. The enemy fired nothing but musketry, apparently being unable to get their guns to the top of the mountain on which they were posted. They, however, rained a perfect shower of musket balls down the side of the mountain, but fortunately, as is nearly always the care in firing down a hill, fired too high. Our informant, who was engaged with others in bearing the killed and wounded to the rear, says the balls whistled around them like hail, and in dangerous proximity.
About seven o’clock in the evening Gen. Schenck brigade came up, having left Franklin at half-past ten in the morning. The fight raged furiously, and lasted till nine o’clock at night. Shortly after dark, the 32d and 82d Ohio made a brilliant bayonet charge up the mountain in the face of the enemy’s fire, and drove them from their position, but much to their surprise found a heavy force in reserve on the other side of the mountain. They fell back, of course. Meanwhile, the enemy had come around the bluff termination of the mountain, and flanked our force. The 25th Ohio was posted on the extreme left, and the weight of this flank movement fell upon them. They fought gallantly and were considerably cut up. Their ammunition gave out, and they stood upon the field and waited like heroes till a fresh supply was brought them. Upon the discovery that the enemy were greatly superior in numbers, our force fell back in good order about 9 o’clock, having given the rebels at least a Roland for their Oliver. Our loss amounted to 37 killed and 160 wounded. That of the enemy was believed to be much larger, from the fact that our men firing up hill, were more accurate in their aim, and on account of the terrible execution of the shells thrown from our batteries. Deserters who came in after the fight, declared that their loss was 400 killed, besides the wounded.
While the battle was going on a couple of companies from the Virginia regiments left at Monterey to guard baggage and provisions, and who had orders to fall back, were attacked with such suddenness that they had to skedaddle on the double quick and leave everything – even their own baggage, clothing, uniforms, etc.; in their trunks. Lieut. Weaver, of the 2d Virginia, left behind a trunk containing valuables to the amount of $150. There was no fighting, as they obeyed the order to fall back as soon as the pickets were driven in, consequently nobody hurt there, but considerable loss of personal effects.
After the fight our forces fell back to Franklin, the capital of Pendleton county, and next day this side. The enemy 14,000 strong followed. There were two or three days skirmishing – our batteries playing on them with shell and keeping them back in spite of their superior force. They camp up and occupied our deserted camp at one time but a well posted battery soon made that too hot for them, and they “fell back.” In this skirmishing three of our pickets were killed, and we killed six of their men in return.
Heavy reinforcements from Fremont had arrived before our informant left Franklin. Blenker’s “Bully Dutchmen” were there eager for a fight. General Fremont was there in person. The General is almost idolized by his troops. It is believed that Jackson was reinforced by Johnson, and that the combined forces between Franklin and Staunton were not less than 40,000. One regiment had been four miles beyond Franklin and reported no enemy in sight. The force directly in front of ours is reported as from 14,000 to 20,000.
Banks’ whole force had fallen back to Strausburg, but this movement, as well as the movement of Fremont is believed to be strategic and in co-operation with the movements of McClellan and Burnside. It seems to us that 40,000 men ahead is a pretty heavy consideration, and might have had a good deal to do with the strategy on the part of Fremont’s command.
Lt. Fickel speaks of the Virginia Regiments engaged in the fight, the 2d and 3d under Cols. Moss and Hewes – in terms of the highest admiration. He did not know the extent of their loss or any of the names. He says they fought gallantly and that there were no better regiments in the fight, though all the regiments acted nobly throughout.
On the evening of their return to Franklin one of our men, a member from the 32d Ohio, from Lima, Allen county, Ohio, was brutally murdered by guerillas. He had stepped aside from the road a short distance to wash. In a few minutes a shot was heard in that direction, and on going to him he was found dead and stabbed in eight places about the face. The miscreants were supposed to have escaped to a cave called Saltpetre Cave, a short distance up the side of the mountain, where they were known to harbor. This cave, which is almost inaccessible, is quite capacious and affords a safe retreat for a gang of bushwhackers.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: May 1862