Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11, 1861 (Thursday): Lewinsville-"Not A Scratch to Man or Horse"

General William F. Smith and Staff

Report of Col. James E. B. Stuart, First Virginia Cavalry.

HEADQUARTERS, MUNSON’S HILL, September 11, 1861.
   GENERAL:  I started about 12 o’clock with the Thirteenth Virginia Volunteers, commanded by Major Terrill (306 men), one section of Rosser’s battery, Washington Artillery, and a detachment of the First Cavalry, under Captain Patrick, for Lewinsville, where I learned from my cavalry pickets the enemy were posted with some force.  My intention was to surprise them, and I succeeded entirely, approaching Lewinsville by the enemy’s left and rear, taking care to keep my small force an entire secret from their observation.  I at the same time carefully provided against the disaster to myself which I was striving to inflict upon the enemy, and felt sure that, if necessary, I could fall back successfully before any force the enemy might have, for the country was favorable to retreat and ambuscade.
   At a point nicely screened by the woods from Lewinsville, and a few hundred yards from the place, I sent forward, under Major Terrill, a portion of his command stealthily to reach the woods at a turn of the road and reconnoiter beyond.  This was admirably done, and the major soon reported to me that the enemy had a piece of artillery in position in the road just at Lewinsville, commanding our road.  I directed him immediately to post his riflemen so as to render it impossible for the cannoneers to serve the piece, and, if possible, capture it.  During subsequent operations the cannoneers tried ineffectually to serve the piece, and finally, after one was shot through the head, the piece was taken off.
   While this was going on a few shots from Rosser’s section at a cluster of the enemy a quarter of a mile off put the entire force on the enemy in full retreat, exposing their entire column to flank fire from our piece.  Some wagons and a large body of cavalry first passed in hasty flight, the rifled pie and howitzer firing as they passed.  Then came flying a battery, eight piece of artillery (Griffin’s), which soon took position about 600 yards to our front and right, and rained shot and shell upon us during the entire engagement, but with harmless effect, although striking very near.  Then passed three regiments of infantry at double-quick, receiving in succession as they passed Rosser’s unerring salutation, his shells bursting directly over their heads, and creating the greatest havoc and confusion in their ranks.  The last infantry regiment was followed by a column of cavalry, which at one time rode over the rear of the infantry in great confusion.  The field, general, and staff officers were seen exerting every effort to restore order in their broken ranks, and my cavalry vedettes, observing their flight, reported that they finally rallied a mile and a half below and took position there, firing round after round of artillery from that position up the road where they supposed our columns would be pursuing them.
   Captain Rosser, having no enemy left to contend with, at his own request was permitted to view the ground of the enemy’s flight, and found the road plowed up by his solid shot and strewn with fragments of shells, 2 men left dead in the road, 1 mortally wounded, and 1 not hurt taken prisoner.  The prisoners said the havoc in their ranks was fearful, justifying what I saw myself of the confusion.  Major Terrill’s sharpshooters were by no means idle, firing wherever a straggling Yankee showed his head, and caputuring a lieutenant (captured by Major Terrill himself), 1 sergeant, and 1 private, all belonging to the Nineteenth Indiana, Colonel Meredith.  The prisoners reported to me that General McClellan himself was present, and the enemy gave it out publicly that the occupancy of Lewinsville was to be permanent.  Alas for human expectations!
…Our loss was not a scratch to man or horse…..
     Most respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                                                    J. E. B. STUART,
                                                                                    Colonel, Commanding.

General James Longstreet.

Official Records, Series I, Vol. 5, Page 184.

The accounts of the skirmish at Lewinsville are very instructive, in terms of seeing how differently the two sides viewed the same events.  McClellan considered it a successful reconnaissance (“We shall have no more Bull Run affairs.”) and Johnston thought it a rousing Southern success.  Both were true to a degree.  William French Smith’s 2000 men had gone out the Chain Bridge Road as far as Lewinsville and stayed long enough to make observations of the countryside with views over the plain toward Vienna.  J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry with a small contingent of infantry from Longstreet did, in fact, surprise the Union troops and cause some excitement (but no where near that in Confederate reports).  The skirmish was noteworthy as well for the return to action of Griffin’s 5th U. S. Artillery, which took the worse of things at Bull Run.  It also become the rationale for appointing Stuart a Brigadier-General.  Johnston and Longstreet were effusive in their praise for Stuart, with Longstreet even suggesting Stuart had been better off for not having received his (Longstreet’s) instructions and, instead, acting on his own initiative.

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