The Hunter Raid – Review of the Advance and the Retreat – The Fullest Account yet Published.
July 15, 1864
The Hunter Raid – Review of the Advance and the Retreat – The Fullest Account yet Published.
July 10th, 1864.
I have not given you a report of the recent raid by Generals Hunter and Crook on Lynchburg, because I was informed that another had done so, but ascertaining my mistake I now proceed to furnish you all the particulars in a nut shell, and without varnish.
Gen. Crook left Meadow Bluff on the 31st of May, and marching by Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, Callaghans, Hot Springs, Warm Springs and across the Warm Springs Mountain, arriving at Goshen depot on the Virginia Central Railroad – about 40 miles below Jackson river depot, the present terminus of the road on the 5th of June. Here the work of destruction commenced. The track was torn up, and the Calf Pasture Bridge and others, besides a great number of culverts, were destroyed for more than ten miles. – This work fully accomplished, the command moved on over North Mountain through Pond Gap, via Middlebrook, to Staunton, and went into camp on the morning of the 8th of June. There was no regular engagement during the march, but the bushwhacking commands of McCausland and Jackson were out in force, and made every effort to impede our progress by occupying all strong positions. – Gen. Crook would have been up on time to have rendered good service in the battle between Gen. Hunter and the rebel Jones, but for the miserable, stinking, rotten condition of his transportation. Think of mules, one and two years of age, and colts four only, drawing wagons across “mountains without roads, and streams without fords,” and do not wonder that Gen. Crook was not able to join Hunter in time to capture the whole rebel force under Jonos; especially as he was delayed some eleven days at Meadow Bluff for the want even of sucking mules and colts to transport his supplies of provisions and ammunition. – On the 10th the command left Staunton – General Crook’s division taking the Lexington pike by way of Middlebrook, and come upon Gen. McCausland, commanding some 2,000 men, three miles out of the town. The skirmishing was very heavy all day, but we marched 24 miles and camped at Brownsburg. We lost 3 killed and 6 wounded, the rebels losing more than three times as many. At Brownsburg, a wounded rebel was asked where McCausland would make a stand, and he replied that his General said he was leaving, if you can tell me when Crook will stop pursuing I can tell you when I will stop running.
At 10 a.m. on June 11th, the command arrived opposite Lexington, having marched 12 miles since 5 o’clock.
Two miles this side of the town a citizen bushwhacker was executed for shooting a man of the 36th O.V.I.
The rebels opened upon us in a spirited manner with both artillery and musketry, which continued for five hours without the least cessation. But when they observed that the 2nd brigade had succeeded in crossing the river on our right, some distance above the town, the rebels beat a hasty retreat, leaving everything in our hands. Our loss in this engagement was several killed and a number wounded; but the enemy’s loss is unknown. They burnt the bridge over North river on the pike, and fought us from the town, thinking, no doubt, that the “principals of civilized warfare” would prevent us from “throwing shell and canister” amongst them, but we “shot it to them” upon the principles of good gunnery, smashing up their houses, breaking their bones, and driving them from their “own dunghills,” of which we took possession at 5 o’clock p.m., and went into camp in sight of Stonewall Jackson’s tomb, at the head of which stood a pole stripped by traitors hands of the emblem of treason, as we entered the place.
We remained in Lexington on the 12th and engaged a portion of the command in burning the Military Institute, Col. Smith’s Ex-Governor Letcher’s house – the former being familiarly known as “Old Specks,” and the latter as “Honest John,” rendered notorious and loathsome to all honorable people for his endorsement of the Ruffner pamphlet and “his subsequent denial of the act simply for the sake of office. Here too we captured and brought off a number of autograph letters from George Washington. A command, under Captain Blazer, was sent down the river by General Crook, in search of a number of boats reported by a contraband, which were found seven miles from the town, heavily ladened with all kinds of supplies both of provisions and ammunition, besides a number of pieces of artillery, all of which the rebels neglected to destroy in their eager flight.”
On the 13th Averill was ordered to Buchanan with the cavalry, and the next morning at 4 o’clock Hunter and Crook marched for the same place, and arrived at 4 o’clock, P.M., having traveled twenty six miles.
On the 15th we crossed the Blue Ridge, reaching Fancy farm, at the foot of the Peaks of Otter, at 2 P.M. Here it was reported that Breckinridge was marching on our flank with a large force, and Gen. Crook halted his division to give the balance of the command time to come up. In passing over the Blue Ridge we killed a citizen bushwhacker.
On the 16th, having ascertained that there was nothing serious to be apprehended from Breckinridge just then, we set out at 5 A.M. and arrived at Liberty at 10 o’clock, where we found three hospitals filled with Lee’s sick and wounded. Here we pitched into the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and tore up the track for 12 miles, piling the rails on and across the ties, and burning them when they were worth burning. We burnt a number of culverts and pieces of trestle work, besides several bridges, one of which was upwards of 700 feet long, and camped that night on Wilks’ farm, eleven miles from Liberty, on the Fount road, in the direction of Lynchburg. This work of destruction was all done by Crook’s division. The rebels destroyed the bridges on every road and built barricades without number, but on we moved.
On the 17th at 5 o’clock Crook’s division started, and travelling the Forrest road, came into the main road about 8 miles from Lynchburg precisely at 10:25, hated for the rear to come up. I must here remark, not altogether incidentally, that Crook has the faculty of marching troops more rapidly than any other general within my knowledge. On this march we burnt Forrest depot and committed some other acts of “vandalism” perfectly monstrous in the minds of the rebs. Gen. Hunter came up at 3 p.m. and the command moved off within an hour after his arrival. Here we may say the fighting commenced, for the skirmishing was very heavy indeed. – Crook’s division drew the enemy from point to point – from position to position, until he reached his ranks, and from there he was driven after a fierce resistance leaving in our hands 4 pieces of artillery. But just while things were going along, night come upon us and thus Lynchburg, we all feel, was lost – for all night along the trains were coming in with reinforcements to the enemy, and next morning found us not confronted with 10 or 12 thousand men, made up of granddads and babies, and the mother of Grachi, but with an army of veterans from 30,000 to 40,000 strong.
The next morning we fought them, but it was really in self defence. The day before our last rations were issued, our ammunition was getting scant. The enemy was reported to be missing on our flanks; our supplies were exhausted; and since the hour for the capture of Lynchburg had passed, and there being no equivalent for the risk of a battle with a very largely superior force, General Hunter and Crook thought it proper to retire.
Shortly after dark the command commenced retreating, and marching until 1 a.m. of the 19th arrived in 5 miles of Liberty. Here Lieut. Torrence died from injuries received by a fall from his horse, some days before. Left camp at 9 a.m. on the 19th, and halted at 2 p.m. 3 miles south west of Liberty on the Salem road. The rebels followed us up, and the skirmishing was continually heavy. At 6 p.m. we were again on the march, reaching Bonsack’s depot at 10 a.m. of the 20th, and halted for a rest. The enemy was still close upon our rear, and at 8 o’clock p.m. we marched via Buford’s Gap for Salem, and arrived at 5 next morning. June the 21st found us very tired and hungry, and the lousy rebs still hot on our track.
We traveled the New Castle road, fighting the rebs and their bushwhacking assistants, all day, and encamped at the west base of Canterbury mountain, blockaded more or less from the bottom to the top. Just before getting to this mountain, at a deep gap, 150 bushwhackers dashed upon a battery and captured ten pieces of artillery, caissons and ammunition. This we all regard as a most shameful affair. No support was left with the battery. No five thousand rebel bushwhackers could have taken a battery of Crook’s division from Meadow Bluff back to Gauley. We succeeded after a little struggle in recapturing six pieces, but the others were destroyed, and the caissons and ammunition all blown up. The Brigadier General in command of the division in which this affair happened will doubtless be more on his guard hereafter. Here we rested all night for the first time since leaving Lynchburg. Crook had led the advance from Staunton to the very gates of Lynchburg, and had guarded and defended the rear from Lynchburg to our encampment of this date; and here, it being reported that the enemy was marching in force to cut us off via Fincastle, and the situation being regarded as extremely trying and dangerous by the General commanding, Gen. Crook was again ordered to the most dangerous and responsible, but at the same time most honorable and complimentary position; he has sent to the front; proudly he went; more proudly and haughtily still his brave boys followed him. But the enemy made not his appearance.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: May 1864