"Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

December 29, 1862. What happened last night.

"It subsequently appeared that the rebels had dashed through our pickets, made a dash twelve miles inside our lines captured the telegraph operator, substituted one of their own at Burke’s Station only three miles east of us and Stuart was reading all dispatches and having all about our strength at the station as Fairfax and elsewhere. Just as he was leaving he sent an audacious message to Washington and then cut the wire.

"It further appeared that he was intending to divide his force at Burke’s Station and with one half destroy and capture everything at Fairfax Station while with the other he would make a detour to the east and both divisions would meet at Fairfax Court House and complete the job, by capturing general and staff officers. What he learned at Burke’s had him but then unknown to us to change his plans. 

"I was up looking for him or someone else profiting by his diversion all night; my horse was not unsaddled for 18 hours nor was I out of the saddle two hours in the time. I had my men strongly posted and pickets out in every direction that cavalry could come a mile and a half. I knew that we could give him a warm reception while we could not suffer much loss, as infantry can empty saddles to just so well do find themselves with the bayonet that cavalry cannot do much with them. But they let us alone and I missed a grand opportunity for an advantageous scrimmage. I had received orders to hold the post at all hazard and we could all of us them have down it against 5,000 cavalry.

"Stuart foiled in this swept around to the east and came dashing up the Alexandria and Fairfax Courthouse pike to within a mile and a half of the village. But here he found a regiment of infantry on each side of the road concealed in old rifle pits and 2 cannon and a like number of howitzers in the road. He got one volley from two companies of infantry and half a dozen shells which probably killed nobody except a horse, yet blood was distinctly visible in some spots in large pools in a great many places. Quite a number of men must have been severely wounded. Stuart beat a hasty retreat and swept around to the north of the place towards Vienna and Chantilly ...Both Stuart and Lee are natives of this county, several of their soldiers are from this town.

"Col. D’Utassy, who is with a brigade at Union Mills, came down this morning to render assistance, but finding none needed went back. One of our regiments is out all the time, each four days in succession picketing near Centerville about two miles on Bull Run. D’Utassy is below and Sir Percy Wyndham is above at Chantilly (where Israel was captured.)

"Finding all present danger of attack over, I was ordered back this afternoon. I arrived in camp sleepy enough and if this letter is stupid, you will ascribe it to my first preparation for an engagement.

"By the way, Stuart captured Liet. Cummings of Co. D, Vermont cavalry from Barnet. In return he lost several of his own men as prisoners one of whom I send to the provost Marshall at Washington in the morning.

"Heath excellent, and spirits good. You need feel no apprehension about my needlessly exposing myself but I will never come back with reputation of cowardice that some of the Colonels of the Vermont regiments have in the army.

"Veazey is getting better so the major: bilious attack of week’s duration is what’s the matter.” ~ Lt. Col. Charles Cummings, Sixteenth Regiment, Letter No. 13, December 29, 1862. VHS.

"One special object of this raid was, no doubt, to capture the Government stores at Fairfax Station, and in this respect it was a most signal failure. He did not succeed in capturing or destroying a dollar's worth of Government property, except what the 20 cavalrymen captured by him had with them, and all he obtained was a few sutlers' teams. These, however, were just from Washington, and were well loaded with all kinds of delicacies. The wagons were burned on the road near Occoquan, and the contents were disposed of by the rebel soldiers on the spot. A man who passed over the little pike road this morning, says he saw a fine assortment of old boots and empty bottles lining the roadside for miles." ~ Letter from Dumfries,NYT, December 29, 1862

"The affair was a trifling one; but as the first actual collision with the enemy it made no little stir in the brigade, and on other accounts it had prominent mention in the newspapers and reports. It had also the effect to inspire officers and men with mutual confidence; for the former, from their young general down, were seen to be firm and cool in the prospect of a sharp encounter; and the men were willing and even eager to fight." ~ 2 G.G. Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War 424

Farnham (of the 12th)'s account of the raid is here.

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