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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1865 Report
Appendix C

Official Reports

XXV. REPORT OF LIEUT. COL. JOHN W. BENNETT, FIRST VERMONT REGIMENT CAVALRY

Burlington, Vt., November 14, 1864.

Peter T. Washburn,
Adjutant and Inspector General.

General:--I have the honor to submit the following report of engagements of the 1st Vermont Cavalry, in the Shenandoah Valley, Va., from the 25th day of September to the 22nd day of October, 1864.

During the retrograde movement of Gen. Sheridan's army, from Harrisonburg, our Division left Timberville for Columbia Furnace on the morning of the 7th of October, and my regiment was selected to act as rear guard during the march.Nothing worthy of note occurred, beyond the charging of my rear by a small party of the enemy, which was promptly repulsed, until about two p. m., when the wagon train was halted. No sooner had I taken position, when the enemy opened the engagement by two unsuccessful charges, made in quick succession. These repulses compelled the enemy to develop his strength, which I soon discovered and promptly reported to be greatly superior. As the safety of our train necessitated the holding of this position, I was compelled to extend my lines to the utmost my force would allow. I report my situation and requested support, at three different times, but received only a small portion of the 8th New York, and about fifty men of the 1st New Hampshire. By severe skirmishing the lines were held until 3 p. m., when the enemy charge my left, with two regiments. this was checked by the small part of my regiment in reserve, under command of Capt. Watson and Lieut. Mitchell, but an attack following immediately along the entire line, I attempted to fall back upon the support above referred to; but finding this in full retreat, the regiment was swept back to the lines of the 1st Brigade, nearly two miles, without being able to offer any effectual resistance. It will be borne in mind that I had one hundred and fifty recruits in the ranks that never before had drilled a day, or heard a short in earnest.

ENGAGEMENT OF THE 9TH OF OCTOBER, 1846, AT "TOM'S BROOK."

Having withdrawn my pickets in obedience to orders from Colonel Wells, commanding brigade, I joined the column, then moving towards "Mount Olive," at about six a. m. The position of my regiment in column was in the rear of the Eighth New York, which had the advance of the Brigade. At the commencement of the engagement my regiment was ordered to take position on the right of the road, in rear of the First Brigade. I remained in this position only a few moments, when I was directed to move forward one fourth of a mile, and form in rear of the Eighth New York, on the left of the road; but before the execution of the order was completed, the regiment was directed to take position on the right of the road, in rear of the batteries, on a rise of ground overlooking the scene of action. Here we were within range of the enemy's guns. After remaining here about three-fourths of an hour, I was ordered to occupy a position on the left of the batteries. On reaching the point indicated, orders came for the regiment to move rapidly to the front, on the road leading to Mount Olive. Our pace was not slackened until the advance reached the summit of the hill, where a charge was ordered, which was executed by the Third Battalion, under Maj. Grover. At this moment I discovered the enemy preparing to charge my regiment with a heavy column, and while endeavoring to arrange the First and Second Battalions to support Major Grover, the Third was slightly broken; but the First and Second, under Captain Cummings, coming promptly to its support, the enemy were quickly repulsed and our line established.

Here the enemy stubbornly contested our advance for about half an hour, during which little ground was gained; they then commenced giving way, and the regiment promptly charging, they broke and fled in great confusion. In this charge Maj. Grover had command,--as my horse was killed while reforming the line of the 3d battalion. At the point where the enemy made this last stand my regiment became divided, a portion following the enemy to the left, while the other took the direct road leading to Columbia Furnace. From this point it would be impossible to give a detailed account of the operations of the regiment.

The portion which moved t the right, led by Adjt. Gates, mingled with the other regiments in the grand rush, and fruitless attempts to overtake any considerable force of the enemy, the advance halting at Columbia Furnace, a distance of about eight miles. the other part of the regiment, under Major Grover and Capt. Cummings, met more resistance, the enemy forming several times, and on one occasion made an unsuccessful charge upon a portion of their command. By heavy skirmishing they continued to drive a greatly superior force, until recalled by Col. Wells. When the Division retired, my regiment acted as rear guard. Of the conduct of my officers I cannot speak too highly; to mention one would be an injustice to the others. THe conduct of my men exceeded my most sanguine expectations. Among the more conspicuous for bravery, whose conduct fell under my own observation, I desire to mention Sergts. Haswell and Cook, Co. G, Frost, Co. A, and Wright, Co. L,--the two latter Color Sergts. of the regiment. Sergt. Wright actually thrust one of the enemy with the spear of the color staff.

The following is a correct list of the captures made by the regiment:

Two (2) pieces of artillery,
Three (3) ambulances,
Two (2) army wagons,
About twenty-five (25) prisoners, including two (2) commissioned officers

ENGAGEMENT OF THE 19th OF OCTOBER, 1864, AT "CEDAR CREEK."

On the morning of the 19th of October the command was aroused by an attack on the right of the picket lines, which was held by our Division. It was soon ascertained that our line had been forced, and a lodgement effected by the enemy on the north bank of Cedar Creek. I was ordered to "move out" with my regiment, select and occupy a position covering camp, and also feel the lines of the enemy. The latter was promptly and successfully accomplished by the 1st battalion, under Capt. Cummings. I was then ordered to return to camp, on my arrival was almost immediately directed to reoccupy the position, but ere this could be executed, it was superseded by another to withdraw promptly, and join the Division then moving in the direction of the infantry lines, whose heavy firing was now heard. No sooner had I joined the column, than I was directed to move again to the extreme right, and ascertain if any flanking column of the enemy was moving in that direction. A short distance brought me in sight of a strong column, which fact I promptly reported, and selection a position so as to check their advance, I awaited the attack. Having received orders from Col. Wells to fall back and keep connection with the infantry, I slowly withdrew; the enemy followed, skirmishing sharply. After retiring about one mile, information was received that the infantry were making strenuous efforts to check the further advance of the enemy. I therefore halted, and by severe skirmishing succeeded in holding my lines, for more than two hours. Gen. Custer now returning from the left, with the 1st Brigade and battery, ordered a charge, in which we drove the enemy and regained my former position. This we held until about 4 p. m., when the whole division was moved rapidly to the left and front, dividing the enemy's infantry from his cavalry; and while the 1st Brigade engaged his cavalry, gen. Custer, taking my regiment, moved rapidly down across the battlefield, where the 6th Corps in the morning most gallantly,but vainly, endeavored to check the tide of battle, which was sweeping back the broken and scattered 8th and 19th Corps. Here mingled lay the dead and wounded of both armies and as our men gazed upon the naked forms of their dead and wounded comrades,--the former entirely, the latter partially stripped by our inhuman foe,--the deep murmurs that ran along the ranks foreshadowed the impetuosity of the coming charge.

At this juncture the lines of both armies were a short distance to the left and front, in full view, and our infantry driving the enemy in fine style. All these circumstances combined awakened an enthusiasm and determination needing only the guiding hand to render terrible. At this time the lines of the enemy rested along our old breastworks, on the north bank of Cedar Creek. The order given by Gen. Custer was to charge the breastworks, swing to the left, and secure what we could Before this could be executed, so rapid was the movement of the enemy to the rear, nearly all were over the creek; only a few were secured.

Down a narrow winding footpath, which led through the thick wood covering the bluff on this bank of the creek, we dashed across the creek, skirmishing until the advance reached a heavy stone wall, about sixty (60) rods from the crossing; here it was halted until the entire regiment could arrive. Just as I had completed the re-forming of the regiment, Gen. Custer came up with the 5th New York Cavalry, which formed upon my left. No a moment was to be lost; ten thousand veteran infantry, within one-fourth of a mile, and near a grove of heavy timber, although broken, might in a moment's time prepare to successfully resist a much heavier force. With the order "attention," I leaped my horse over the stones, where the wall has been thrown down, and ordered the regiment "forward." Headed by the color bearer, with shouts, the presage of victory, they obeyed. For a moment the air seemed freighted with the missiles of death, but a moment only,--confused and terrified, the enemy threw down their arms, and trampled upon each other in their frantic attempts to escape. My men rushed upon them as though they were the appointed avengers of their comrades slain. Considering our numbers, the slaughter was fearful. The enemy, dividing to the right and left, let my command through his centre on to his artillery and trains. Some we captured in good order with cannoniers in their places, drivers on their horses, others entangled, upset and abandoned, and again ambulances with their loads of wounded, horses with their riders, cannoniers with pieces, as if hurled together by some all powerful agency, lay a mass of ruins.

Having received assurances from Gen. Custer, before starting, of prompt support, I threw my entire command into the charge, and, with care that no organized body of the enemy was near my flanks, my advance was not halted until we reached a small creek one half mile south of Strasburg, where several upset wagons had completely blockaded the passage, leaving the pike this side crowded with trains. Here, with only about twenty men, four miles from any organized support, surrounded with prisoners thrice our number, and constantly augmenting, I was compelled to sent captured ambulances and wagons without change of drivers, accompanied by small parties of prisoners, unguarded, to the rear.

Support came, and midnight found my regiment again on the north bank of Cedar Creek, and daylight on the morning of the 20th found me still guarding the prisoners and captured property.

Of the gallant conduct of my officers and men no language is too strong. Sir, allow me to say, that every officer and man under my command, who participated in that charge, conducted himself with such gallantry as to merit special mention.

The following is a correct copy of the receipt given by the Provost Marshal, for the prisoners and property captured during the engagement by my regiment:

Head Quarters, 2d Brig., 3rd Cav. Div., Mid. Military Div.
October 22, 1864

Received of 1st Vermont Cavalry, Lieut. Col. Bennett commanding, the following amount of property, and number of prisoners, captured on the 19th inst., at the Battle of Cedar Creek:

161 prisoners, among which was one General officer *
One (1) Colonel. One (1) Lieut. Colonel.
Three (3) Battle Flags.
Twenty-three (23) pieces of Artillery.
Fourteen (14)Caissons.
Seventeen (17) Army Wagons.
Six (6) Spring Wagons and Ambulances.
Eighty-three (83) sets Artillery Harness.
Seventy-five (75) sets Wagon Harness.
Ninety-eight (98) Horses.
Sixty-nine (69) Mules.

(sgd.)

G. H. ROGERS,
Lieut. and Provost Marshal,
2d Brig. 3d Cav. div.

Approved.
(Signed) C. M. Lee
Provost Marshal, 3d Cav. Div.

In addition to the above engagements my regiment participated in the skirmishes of the 27th and 29th of September, at Waynesboro', and also on the 13th of October, on the right of the picket line, at Cedar Creek, and some others of little importance.

I am, General, very respectfully,
Your obdt. servt.,
J. W. BENNETT.

(* This was Maj. Gen. Ramseur.)