Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Battle of Winchester

The Cleveland Herald has the following account of the battle of Winchester by an eye witness:


For ten days previous to the fight skirmishing had been going on, and on Sunday afternoon when about three miles from Winchester, the rebel General Jackson ordered his men to attack us on the right, and turn our flank, thus to take Winchester.  At this same time Gen. Shields ordered his men to turn the enemy’s left flank, which movements were executed simultaneously, thereby bringing on a general engagement.  The combatants were not more than two hundred yards apart when the fighting commenced, and as usual the rebels were behind a stone wall, from which they opened a murderous fire on our unprotected men.  After the fight commenced there were but few orders given and it soon turned into a free fight, going on the principle, “every man for himself, and the devil will take the hindmost.”

There were about 6,000 on each side, and it was a fair test of Northern vs. Southern valor the result showing that “mudsills” can fight. – Wishing to dislodge the enemy from their strong position behind the stone fence, which they occupied two hours, Col. Tyler ordered the 7th Ohio to charge.  At the enemy they went giving a most unearthly yell, and away scouted the rebels, coat tails flying and muskets trailing.

They rallied on a slight knoll after running a short distance, when our boys gave them “a hair of the dog that bit them,” which routed them again.  The 7th captured in this second charge, two field pieces, which was presented them for their valor.  They fought splendidly, as steadily as veterans as they are, and Col. Tyler behaved in the most gallant manner.  The officers were cool and collected, and the men intrepid and daring.  Being on the extreme right, they received the first and most destructive fire. – The battle commenced at 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon, and lasted precisely 3 hours and 47 minutes.  The Ohio 5th, 7th, 8th, Indiana 7th and Pennsylvania 110th, bore the brunt of it, with the 1st Virginia; and all fought desperately.  Colonel Daum, the Chief of Artillery, fought with the Ohio 7th.  For two hours it seemed about an even thing, the chances being against up, but the charge of the 7th Ohio, to their honor be it said, won the day.

The retreat of the rebels soon became a rout and our balls did fearful execution as they ran.  Their dead and wounded were scattered from Winchester to Strasburg, every farm house being filled with the wounded and dying. – They carried the dead in wagons, but when too closely followed, they killed their mules and piled the dead on the ground, and left them for our men to bury.  The mortality among them was fearful, over 300 being killed and many wounded.  They fought desperately, but could not resist Northern valor.


(Correspondence of the New York World.)

The enemy fought well, and it is useless and untrue to speak lightly of their bravery. – They fought well and held out long against the superior firing and daring of our forces, as their immense loss makes very evident.

No wonder Stone-wall Jackson thinks it was a desperate fight.  I am informed, by one of the staff of Gen. Shields, who has just returned from the track of their retreat, that, as far as he moved, the enemy’s dead were found strewn along the turnpike.  For twenty-four hours from the beginning of the fight the enemy were burying their dead.  In one barn along the road there had been left fifty, all but eight of whom were buried.  The estimate of their loss is carefully made, and is very nearly accurate without doubt.

The scene of the conflict is terrible.  Civilians are generally prevented from visiting for the present.  It is impossible to describe the scene so as to give a realization of its ghastliness and terror, which any one ought to blush not to perceive while walking amid the remnants of humanity which are scattered about.  Bodies in all the frightful attitudes which a violent and frightful death could produce, stained with blood, mangled and lacerated perhaps, often begrimed and black, lay scattered here and there, sometimes almost in heaps.

Some had crawled away when wounded to a comfortable place to die.  Two men lay almost covered with straw, into which they had scrambled and lay until death released them.  In the woods through which our troops had to pass to charge the rebels lie the largest number of our dead, and beyond on the other side of the wall from behind which they poured their volleys of balls at our men, large numbers of the rebels lie, pierced in the forehead or face as they rose above their hiding place to shoot at the Federals.  There is a peculiar ghastliness in the appearance of the enemy’s dead.  Did not their dress distinguish them, their faces would enable one instantly to tell which were Federals and which not.  One would think they were all Indians so very dark had they become by their exposure, sleeping without tents as they did for a long time at the beginning of the war.

One who has not seen it can not tell what it is to see a battle field.

If there is anything more dreadful it is a visit to the hospitals after a battle.

In the Court House are placed a large number of the wounded of our own and the enemy’s without discrimination, and in several places in town, hospitals have been established since the battle.  It is difficult to compel one’s self to dwell long enough upon the scenes witnessed here, of the dying and dead, to give them a faithful description.  Surgeons and attendants have been constantly at labor, without rest, in attending to the unfortunate soldiers in the hospitals.

Yet, after all their efforts, it was long before many of the wounded could be properly cared for and their wounds properly dressed.

The Court room was filled with the sufferers lying upon the floor, so many that it was difficult to pass among them.  Among them was the Confederate Captain Jones, who had both eyes shot out, and whose face, covered thickly with clotted blood, presented the most repulsive and pitiable sight which one could well behold.  Some, from loss of blood were swollen, distorted and discolored.  Some, indeed were cheerful, and rejoicing that while their comrades were many of them so seriously injured their slight wounds [would] soon heal and become honorable scars, testifying their patriotism and loyalty.  But the majority of those which I saw here were dangerous wounds, and some were to suffer amputations, and their fellow soldiers about them, suffering from their own wounds, were obliged to listen to their cries and groans, and to hear the grating of the surgeon’s saw, a premonitory of their own hard fate.  I saw many in the agonies of death. – One, who was seated and raised half upright, haunts me now with his pale sorrowful, countenance.  He was almost dead, and every moment would raise his head, open his eyes, and stare vacantly around as if he would assure himself that he had not yet lost all sense of sight.

Here, also, lay some who had just died, and as I passed through the hall a gray-haired guard, resting upon his musket, with a solemn grave countenance, was standing beside a number of dead, in the attitude of a death struggle, each with a paper pinned to his clothing, stating the name, regiment, etc., of the deceased.

Many ladies of the town were seen visiting all the hospitals.  Must it be said that their anxiety was to find out the Confederate prisoners only, and administer to them the comforts which they did not extend to our own? – Can it be, in such a case, that humanity can so distinguish between friend and foe stricken down by suffering and death?  Yet many have observed the unconcern for Federal sufferers and the anxiety and care for the Confederates which was very generally exhibited at our hospitals.  The people of the place have displayed more sullenness and hatred toward us since this battle, ten times over, than they ever have before, and when the approach of Jackson on Winchester was reported, the people, many of them were exultant and triumphant, thinking that Jackson was immediately about to march in and redeem them

When the rebel prisoners were being sent away to Baltimore, the ladies in town sought to lighten the imprisonment by bringing delicacies to them, and little presents – and their disloyalty was manifested openly, the men assuring the fair ones that they were still for Jeff. Davis.  All who had started for Fairfax Court House have returned to Winchester. – The breaking down of the bridge was the principal event.  One brigade had passed over on the previous (Friday) night, and a few had gone over in the morning, but as the baggage train was crossing the bridge broke under the weight of one of the wagons – fortunately near the commencement of the bridge, however. – This part had not been properly strengthened.  The mules splashed about, and the two leaders were drowned in the rapid current.  The bridge appeared quite frail, but I am informed that except at this end it is quite substantial.  Several boats were fortunately at hand and these were anchored, and beams were thrown across and planks placed upon them, and after about four hour’s delay the whole was placed in good contention.  This was quite fortunate, however, for as they were called back to Winchester it was well that they were saved the advance of four hours and the return over the same route, which they would have made had the bridge been in good order.

People crowded the streets to see the soldiers pass and were wonderfully amazed at a very novel sight, for though they had seen soldiers before, they had never seen such as those.  “Such perfect gentlemen,” said they in [astonishment. Their uniform and appearance was] in such contrast to what they had seen of the Southern army that I found it the general impression that our soldiers were a “very genteel” class of men.  Our cavalry horses, too, impressed them.  At some places the most hearty Union feeling was manifested.  Many a duck, goose, turkey, and chicken disappeared before our troops, yet we were so much more generally well behaved that the people expressed the greatest surprise at the order which was manifested by our soldiers.

But this march was very unexpectedly cut short, and will not probably be resumed at present, as I understand that Strasburg is now the headquarters of Gen. Banks.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, April 5, 1862, p. 3

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