Site Logo

Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1864 Report

Appendix F

September 13, 1861.

Brig. Gen. Smith,
Commanding Brigade,
Camp Advance.

SIR: -- In command of a force consisting of the 79th Regiment N. Y. State Militia; four companies of the 1st Regiment U.S. Chasseurs, Lieut.-Col. Shaler commanding; two companies of the 2d Vermont Regiment, Lieut.-Col. Stannard; five companies of the 19th Indiana, Col. Meredith; four guns of Griffin's battery, Capt. Griffin; a detachment of 50 regular cavalry, Lieut. McLean commanding, and one of 40 volunteer cavalry, Capt. Robinson commanding, constituting an aggregate force of about 1,800 men, I started from your headquarters on the 11th inst, about 7.30 o'clock, with instructions to cover and protect a reconnaissance of the village of Lewinsville and vicinity, to determine all the facts that would be required for its permanent occupation and defense. In execution of this duty I proceeded quietly and steadily with my command, throwing out skirmishers in advance, and exploring the ground on both flanks to the distance of a mile, entered the village about 10 o'clock, and examined in person the several approaches to it. At Langley I sent forward twenty of Robinson's cavalry, under command of Lieut. __________ on the road to Leesburg, and to proceed to Lewinsville by a cross-road. This duty he performed, and reported that, judging from the appearance of the road, a force of from 100 to 200 of the enemy's cavalry had occupied it on the preceding night.

There are five roads which concentrate at --one on which we approached, a second coming from the north and connecting the pike from camp to Leesburg with the village, a third coming from Falls Church on the south, a fourth coming from Vienna on the west, the four making the cross-roads of the village, and a fifth road about parallel to and southward of the Vienna road, known as the new road to Vienna, and having its junction with the road to Falls Church about 800 yards from the village.

I caused to be placed in position to cover the reconnaissance the guns of Griffin's battery, with proper infantry supports and with skirmishers well thrown out on all the assailable points. One gun was placed on a commanding point west of the road leading to the Leesburg pike on the north, supported by the Nineteenth Indiana, disposed as skirmishers and in reserve. A second gun was placed on a commanding point on the road leading directly from the cross-roads of the village to Vienna, and controlling also the approaches on the new road to Vienna and the intervening country. A third gun was placed on the road leading directly to Falls Church, and the fourth was held in reserve. The approaches on the two roads from Vienna and the road from Falls Church were covered by skirmishers from the Vermont Third and one company of the Indiana Nineteenth, besides which a heavy body of skirmishers was placed in the wood between the road to Falls Church and the New road to Vienna, as well as in the road eastward to our rear and northward to the road running north. In fact, the whole position for more than a mile was thoroughly enveloped and watched by skirmishers, who were well thrown out to the number of some 500 men. The two companies of the Vermont 2d were specially held as a central reserve to Griffin's battery. The Chasseurs and Highlanders were halted about one-third of a mile from the village, and a heavy body of the latter were thrown out as skirmishers to cover the country towards Falls Church, and they were actually extended to the road leading directly from Lewinsville to Falls Church, and made a perfect connection with the pickets in that quarter.

These dispositions were early made, and the reconnaissance of the position went on entirely uninterrupted. I was most vigilant in seeing that the approaches were well watched, and was ably seconded by all the commanders. Single individuals and small bodies of men were seen to be observing us at safe distances. A picket of 50 cavalry was driven in by Lieut. McLean, of the regular cavalry. All the information possible was gained as to the position of the enemy. The reconnaissance was completed about 2.15 o'clock. The skirmishers were now recalled, and the order was given to form the column for a return to Camp Advance.

It will be well here to mention that early notice was given to each body of skirmishers, through a commissioned officer, that they must be ready to obey promptly the recall which would be given when the reconnaissance was finished. The skirmishers, however, thrown out from the regiment of Highlanders towards Falls Church were not recalled till time enough had elapsed to collect and bring in the skirmishers covering the approach on the other roads. They were considered by me to occupy the critical point of the position, and I had given great attention to impress vigilance upon the skirmishers in that quarter. Considerable delay occurred in collecting the skirmishers thrown forward in the new road to Vienna and advanced into the wood between that road and the road to Falls Church. Indeed, skirmishers from the Indiana regiment, seeing the approach of the enemy's infantry, allowed themselves to be drawn forward to fire at them, and forgot their office of sending back information of the approach of the enemy. Three men of this body--Lieut. Hancock, Sergeant Goodwin, and Private Hubbell--were surrounded and cut off. Some forty minutes elapsed between sounding the recall and getting together those skirmishers. In the mean time some progress was made in withdrawing the skirmishers covering the approach through the open glade extending from the Falls Church road to our rear, when the enemy's skirmishers crept up, fired upon the pickets of the High-landers, still near Gilbert's house, planted a battery, and opened its fire upon our rear. Simultaneously another body of their skirmishers advanced from the new Vienna road through the woods, which we had watched all day, and fired upon our withdrawing skirmishers in the village. At this juncture all the commands were formed, nearly all the skirmishers had fallen in, and each command was about taking its place in column.

Immediately on the opening of the enemy's fire from the position occupied by the skirmishers of the Highlanders, I ordered Capt. Griffin to advance a section of his battery as soon as possible, place it in position, and open fire upon the enemy. I sent Lieut. Poe, of the Topographical Engineers, and Lieut. Borrowe, of Griffin's battery, to make the necessary arrangements to protect the rear, and went in person to the point immediately threatened by the enemy and upon which he had opened his artillery. Our troops were in fine spirits, and obeyed their orders with alacrity. Meanwhile the whole command was withdrawn from the village in perfect order, although exposed to a heavy fire of artillery, and placed in suitable position either to continue the march to Camp Advance, which the firing of the enemy had interrupted, or to advance upon and attack him in the event of his offering battle, or to receive in good order his attack, according to circumstances. Griffin's battery fired with great spirit and rapidity, and soon both silenced the enemy's guns and drove his infantry from their position. Moving to the head of the column, I had indicated new positions for the two sections of Griffin's battery-- one at Cook's place, the other on the opposite side of the road--and had given the necessary orders, the position being an admirable battle-field for the command, when you arrived upon the ground and assumed command. I now assumed command of the Seventy-ninth Regiment, which had up to this time been acting with the Chasseurs, the whole under the command of Lieut.-Col. Shaler, and placed it as a support to the battery of Capt. Mott, just stationed at Cook's place. On Mott's change of position to the hill on the other side of the road, I stationed the Highlanders in the road, and remained there till it was with. drawn, when the Highlanders became the rear guard of the column. I was then directed by you to cross into the fields to the right, and make for a cross-road which led from Falls Church to Langley, and in which it was feared the enemy might advance to annoy our flank. This duty was executed by the Highlanders in most excellent spirit and most of the time on the double-quick. No enemy was found in the cross-road. The Seventy-ninth was then marched to your headquarters and thence conducted to the camp with the Chasseurs, both under the command of Lieut.-Col. Shaler, as they were marched out.

The reports from commanders accompanying this will best explain the details of the affair. The steadiness and good conduct of the troops under fire and throughout the day were most gratifying, and is an earnest of the good service their country has to expect from them. Every order was obeyed with alacrity. There was no flinching from fire. I felt throughout the day the most perfect confidence in the troops, and believe they could have been easily handled against a greatly superior force of the enemy. The arrangements of the pickets and skirmishers left nothing to be desired in the way of covering the reconnaissance. I myself served as an officer of Engineers in the second conquest of Mexico, and I present the operations of the 11th as a beautiful specimen of a reconnaissance in presence of the enemy. The operations of Lieut. Poe showed me that the Engineers had lost none of their ancient skill. Griffin was most gallant and prompt in the conduct of his battery. I examined with him and Lieut. Poe the entire position of Lewinsville. It has great natural advantages, is easily defensible, will require but a small amount of ordnance, and should be permanently occupied without delay.

In returning my special thanks to commanders, officers, and men I will be pardoned if I present my particular obligations to Capt. Griffin and Lieut. Borrowe. The latter acted as my aide throughout the day, made the reconnaissance of the village before I advanced the troops, and placed in position the skirmishers on the south and west of the village. I call particular attention to his report, herewith submitted. Lieut.-Col. Cameron and Lieut. Poe, of the Engineers, afforded me most valuable assistance.

Appended to this are the reports by commanders, &c.,

I am, sir,
very respectfully,
your most obedient servant,

Col., Commanding.

Return to theIndex to Appendix F, Reports of Engagements