The order was given, in ringing voice: "Form
fours! draw sabre! charge!" and now the Confederate people pursued at
headlong speed, uttering shouts and yells sufficiently loud to awaken the
seven sleepers! The men were evidently exhilarated by the chase, the enemy
just keeping near enough to make an occasional shot practicable. A
considerable number of the Federal cavalrymen were overtaken and captured,
and these proved to belong to the company in which Colonel Fitz Lee had
formerly been a lieutenant.
The gay chase continued until we reached the
Tottapotamoi, a sluggish stream, dragging its muddy waters slowly between
rush-clad banks, beneath drooping trees; and this was crossed by a small
The line of the stream was entirely
undefended by works; the enemy's right wing was unprotected. The
picket at the bridge had been quickly driven in, and disappeared at a
gallop, and on the high ground beyond, Colonel Lee, who had taken the
front, encountered the enemy. The force appeared to be about a
regiment, and they were drawn up in line of battle in the fields to
receive our attack. It came without delay. Placing himself at the head
of his horsemen, Colonel Lee swept forward at the pas de charge,
and with shouts, the two lines came together. The shock was heavy, and
the enemy stood their ground bravely, meeting the attack with the
sabre. Swords clashed, pistols and carbines banged, yells, shouts,
cheers resounded; then the Federal line was seen to give back, and
take to headlong flight.
Lee immediately pressed on and burst into the camp near Old Church,
where large supplies of boots, pistols, liquors, and other commodities
were found. These were speedily appropriated by the men, and the tents
were set on fire amid loud shouts. The spectacle was animating; but a
report having got abroad that one of the tents contained powder, the
vicinity thereof was evacuated in almost less than no time. We were
now at Old Church.
"I think the quicker
we move now the better," I said, with a laugh.
"Right," was the
reply; "tell the column to move on at a trot."
So at a rapid trot
the column moved.
The gayest portion of the raid now began.
From this moment it was neck or nothing, do or die. We had one chance
of escape against ten of capture or destruction.
Everywhere the ride was crowded with incident. The scouting and flanking
parties constantly picked up stragglers, and overhauled unsuspecting
wagons filled with the most tempting stores. In this manner, a wagon,
stocked with champagne and every variety of wines, belonging to a General
of the Federal army, fell prey to the thirsty gray-backs. Still they
pressed on. Every moment an attack was expected in front or rear.
column was now skirting the Pamunkey, and a detachment hurried off to
seize and burn two or three transports lying in the river. Soon a dense
cloud rose from them, the flames soared up, and the column pushed on.
Everywhere were seen the traces of flight -- for the alarm of "hornets in
the hive" was given. Wagons had turned over, and were abandoned -- from
others the excellent army stores had been hastily thrown. This writer got
a fine red blanket, and an excellent pair of cavalry pantaloons, for which
he still owes the United States.
Other things lay about in tempting array, but
we were approaching Tunstall's, where the column would doubtless make a
charge; and to load down a weary horse was injudicious. The advance guard
was now in sight of the railroad. There was no question about the affair
before us. The column must cut through, whatever force guarded the
railroad; to reach the lower Chickahominy, the guard here must be
overpowered. Now was the time to use the artillery, and every effort was
made to hurry it forward.
Turnstall's was now nearly in sight, and that
good fellow Captain Frayser, came back and reported one or two companies
of infantry at the railroad. Their commander had politely beckoned to him
as he reconnoitered, exclaiming in wheedling accents, full of Teutonic
blandishment, "Koom yay!" But this cordial invitation was disregarded;
Frayser galloped back and reported, and the ringing voice of the leader
ordered "Form platoons! draw sabre! charge!" At the word the sabres
flashed, a thundering shout arose, and sweeping on in column of platoons,
the gray people fell upon their blue adversaries, gobbling them up, almost
without a shot. It was here that my friend Major Foote got the hideous
little wooden pipe he used to smoke afterwards. He had been smoking a
meerschaum when the order to charge was given; and in the rush of the
horsemen, dropped and lost it. He now wished to smoke, and seeing that the
captain of the Federal infantry had just filled his pipe, leaned down from
the saddle, and politely requested him to surrender it.
"I want to smoke!
"growled the Federal captain.
"So do I," retorted Major
"This pipe is my
property," said the captain.
"Oh! what a mistake!"
responded the major politely, as he gently took the small affair and
inserted it between his lips. Anything more hideous than the carved head
upon it I never saw.
In an hour the column moved again. Meanwhile a
little incident had happened which still makes me laugh. There was a lady
living some miles off in the enemy's line whom I wished to visit, but I
could not obtain the General's consent. "It is certain capture," he said;
"send her a note by some citizen, say Dr. Hunt; he lives near here." This
I determined to do, and set off at a gallop through the moonlight for the
house, some half a mile distant, looking out for the scouting parties
which were probably prowling on our flanks. Reaching the lonely house,
outside the pickets, I dismounted, knocked at the front door, then the
back, but received no answer. All at once; however, a dark figure was seen
gliding beneath the trees, and this figure cautiously approached. I
recognized the Doctor, and called to him, whereupon he quickly approached,
and said, "I thought you were a Yankee!" and greeting me cordially, led
the way into the house. Here I wrote my note and entrusted it to him for
delivery -- taking one from him to his wife, within our lines. In half an
hour I rode away, but before doing so asked for some water, which was
brought from the well by a sleepy, sullen, and insolent negro. This
incident was fruitful of woes to Dr. Hunt! A month or two afterwards I met
him looking as thin and white as a ghost.
"What is the matter?", I
"The matter is," he
replied, with a melancholy laugh, "that I have been starving for three
weeks in Fortress Monroe on your account. Do you remember that servant who
brought you the water that night of the raid?"
"Well, the very next day
he went over to the Yankee picket and told them that I had entertained
Confederate officers, and given you all information which enable you to
get off safely. In consequence I was arrested, carried to Old Point, and
am just out! "
At the first streak of
dawn the Chickahominy was in sight, and we were spurring forward to the
It was impassable! The
heavy rains had so swollen the waters that the crossing was utterly
impracticable! Here we were within a few miles of an enraged enemy with a
swollen and impassable stream directly in our front -- the angry waters
roaring around the half-submerged trunks of the trees -- and expecting
every instant to hear the crack of carbines from the rear-guard indicating
the enemy's approach! The situation was not pleasing. I certainly thought
that the enemy would be upon us in about an hour, and death or capture
would be the sure alternative. This view was general.
The scene upon the river's bank was curious,
and under other circumstances would have been laughable. The men lay about
in every attitude, half-overcome with sleep, but holding their bridles,
and ready to mount at the first alarm. Others sat their horses asleep,
with drooping shoulders. Some gnawed crackers; others ate figs, or smoked,
or yawned. Things looked blue, and that colour was figuratively spread
over every countenance.
The column was ordered to
move on down the stream to a spot where an old bridge had formerly stood.
Reaching this point, a strong rear-guard was thrown out, the artillery
placed in position, and we set to work vigorously to rebuild the bridge,
determined to bring out the guns or die trying.
The bridge had been
destroyed, but the stone abutments remained some thirty or forty feet only
apart, for the river here ran deep and narrow between steep banks. Between
these stone sentinels, facing each other, was an "aching void " which it
was necessary to fill. A skiff was procured; this was affixed by a rope to
a tree, in the mid-current just above the abutments, and thus a movable
pier was secured in the middle of the stream. An old barn was then hastily
torn to pieces and robbed of its timbers; these were stretched down to the
boat, and up to the opposite abutment, and a footbridge was thus ready.
Large numbers of the men immediately unsaddled their horses, took their
equipments over, and then returning, drove or rode their horses into the
stream, and swain them over. In this manner a considerable number crossed;
but the process was much too slow. There, besides, was the artillery,
which we had no intention of leaving. A regular bridge must be built
without a moment's delay.
Heavier blows resounded
from the old barn; huge timbers approached, borne on brawny soldiers, and
descending into the boat anchored in the middle of the stream, the men
lifted them across. They were just long enough; the ends rested on the
abutments, and immediately thick planks were hurried forward and laid
crosswise, forming a secure footway for the cavalry and artillery horses.
At last the bridge was finished; the artillery
crossed amid hurrahs from the men, and then the General slowly moved his
cavalry across the shaky footway. A little beyond was another arm of the
river, which was, however, fordable, as I ascertained and reported to the
General; the water just deep enough to swim a small horse; grid through
this, as through the interminable sloughs of the swamp beyond, the head of
the column moved. The prisoners, who were numerous, had been marched over
in advance of everything, and these were now mounted on mules, of which
several hundred had been cut from the captured wagons and brought along.
They were started under an escort across the ford, and into the swamp
beyond. Here, mounted often two on a mule, they had a disagreeable time;
the mules constantly falling in the treacherous mud-holes, and rolling
their riders in the ooze. When a third swamp appeared before them, one of
the Federal prisoners exclaimed, with tremendous indignation, "How many
Chicken-hominies are there, I wonder, in this infernal country!"
The gentlemen of the
county, we afterwards heard, had been electrified by the rumor that "Stuart
was down at the river trying to get across," and had built a hasty bridge
for us lower down. We were over, however, and reaching Mr. Cutter's, the
General and his staff lay down on a carpet spread on the grass in the June
sunshine, and went to sleep. This was Sunday. I had not slept since Friday
night, except by snatches in the saddle, and in going on to Richmond
afterwards fell asleep every few minutes on horseback.
John Estes Cooke, 1862.
of America, updated May, 2017.
The American Civil War