1st Vermont CavalryBiography
Josiah H. Grout, Jr.
Captain, Co. I, 1st Cavalry
My Part in the Civil War
Reflections upon the Civil War carry us back to the cradle of those well advanced in life.
That period is as interesting to the unborn of its time as to those who took part in it. Actual contact dissipates romance, which remains an enchantment when known only from story. Thus the present generation is as much interested in reminiscences of the Civil War as the old soldier. The assistance I rendered in rescuing the Republic from a great danger, was so insignificant, that I would not dare relate it for the entertainment of those who know, while I might expect to interest the uninitiated.
The most interesting contributions touching war matters are naturally somewhat personal, so if the ego appears occasionally, please indulge.
Immediately following the choice of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, for the presidency, the cotton states began seceding, making his election an excuse, thereby undertaking to practice what they had preached so many years. This work went rapidly on and soon the issue of war was joined between the federal and confederate governments. To show the division of political feeling at that time, it may be interesting to relate that in a little Vermont village the Democrats challenged the Republicans to a lyceum discussion, in which the question was: "Resolved that the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of the United States furnishes the Southern States sufficient reason for seceding." This little affair was only one of the many straws showing the current and counter-current of public feeling.
Had Breckenridge, or some one agreeable to the South, been chose in the place of Lincoln, the war would have been, at least, deferred.
The first patriotic outburst I recall was at Glover, where I was attending school. When the news of the surrender of Sumter reached that place, the post office was crowded with students and residents awaiting the arrival of the mail. When it came one of the fathers read from the Boston Journal that Fort Sumter had surrendered to the Confederacy. Following the reading there was deep silence. Finally one of the party, seized a broom, mounted the counter, and said, "Boys, let us give three cheers for the old flag!" The cheers were given with a zest, repeated with a tiger, and the crowd moved out of doors for a better opportunity to shake off the spell. One of the company said that he could not see why we cheered, that he felt more like crying over such news. The one who wanted to cry did not enlist.
This little outburst brings to mind an occurrence reported in the City of Washington inauguration time. Rumors were in the air and whisperings were on the street. When the new President was finally in the chair of office, all were easier but the seceders, with whom general discontent appeared. Anxiety was however felt, for Mr. Lincoln's safety. A nervous spell of uneasiness prevailed. This painful silence was changed to clappings and shouting, when, inauguration night, from the balcony of one of the hotels a single voice sang the "Star Spangled Banner" as it was never sung before. The streets caught up the refrain and Washington City rang with joyous noise. The spell was broken, the city was filled with joy; a new impulse filled the heart of the great man at the helm.
The "Star Spangled Banner" was again seen waving over "land and home" as of old. The singing of that song, at that time, under those circumstances, the awful silence of that gloomy night, was the dropping into the sea of our national determination a pebble of encouragement, which put in motion the billow of suppression, which rolled on gathering size and power until the rebellion was overwhelmed.
Upon the surrender of Sumter Mr. Lincoln issued the promised proclamation for 75,000 men. This call touched the hearts of the people with a wonderful war spirit. Recruiting became the order of business throughout the North. Every little village raised a liberty pole and ran up a flag. An army began to gather at Washington. A Massachusetts regiment was mobbed in passing through Baltimore. Ellsworth was killed at Alexandria and a small battle was fought at Big Bethel. The 21st of July, 1861, the first battle of Bull Run was fought, disastrously to the Union arms. The news of this defeat somewhat dismayed the North. Vermont had the second regiment in the battle and felt a keen interest in the result. The dead of the battle and hospital began to return and were buried with impressive ceremonies. They came home however for more recruits. The wounded and sick were home on furlough.
Soon after this first real battle of the war, the impression settled down upon the North that it was more than a sixty day affair as some had preached. A very respectable army had gathered about Washington and many regarding the "unpleasantness," a mere summer's campaign, raised the cry, "On To Richmond." This on-ward cry undoubtedly precipitated the engagement, which, if it had been delayed for better preparation, might have borne different fruit.
The battle, though a defeat, had its lesson. It united and strengthened the war sentiment of the country; it thoroughly roused the North and determined all as to the work ahead.
Vermont hurried to the front the third regiment then ready for the field and in Camp Baxter at St. Johnsbury. In quick succession it raised and sent forward the fourth and fifth regiments. The last of September, 1861, the cavalry and sixth infantry were being recruited.
I was then attending school at St. Johnsbury. A war meeting held in the town hall at that place was addressed by Governor Fairbanks and a lieutenant from the regular army, who had only recently returned from the South.
In that meeting I decided to enlist. I told Professor Colby, the principal of the Academy, the next day after the meeting, of my decision, and walked five miles to my home to advise with my father for I was a minor. He at first remonstrated, but finally consented.
The next day I walked to Danville, where Colonel Preston was recruiting for the cavalry, reaching there about noon.
The company he was recruiting was full, and that afternoon I continued my walk to Glover, reaching there about midnight, and found the company there being recruited for the sixth regiment also full. The next day I continued my walk to Barton and found a chance there to enlist with Colonel Sawyer, who was recruiting a company from Orleans and Lamoille Counties for the cavalry.
Thus, after traveling over forty miles, I became a soldier. At Barton, when I enlisted, I saw for the first time Captain Flint and Major Amasa Bartlett, both of whom so nobly gave their lives to the cause before the war closed. A few days later I went to Hyde Park, where Sawyer's recruits were gathering to await the organization of the company. The organization of Co. I, 1st Vt. Cavalry soon took place with Sawyer captain, Flint first lieutenant and myself second lieutenant.
At Burlington the regiment soon gathered men and horses, completing its organization. We remained in Burlington, at Camp Ethan Allen for some weeks, receiving horses and the paraphernalia of war generally. The regiment was an interesting sight when fully equipped and mounted. It was composed of fine men and handsome horses. At that early time it gave full evidence in both man and beast of those qualities which in the four following years carried it triumphantly through seventy-six battles. The regiment attracted much attention during its stay in Burlington. It was visited by many friends from all parts of the state. On the 12th of December, 1861, we left Camp Ethan Allen for the seat of war. We started about noon Saturday, and reached New York at noon the next day, where we remained until Monday, when, after a show off on Broadway, we shipped for Washington, unloading the next morning. Our journey from Burlington to Washington was one continuous ovation. The ladies lunched, the gentlemen cheered and the school children waved us on our way to the front. There we remained a few days, curiously observed by numerous Vermonters who happened to be at the Capital, when we moved to Annapolis, establishing ourselves in winter quarters. Here our stay was comfortable for both soldier and horse. Our stockade tents were commodious and made good living places. The horses were kept in sheds. It was a camp of instruction, and the winter passed away quickly, pleasantly and profitably. Many a meal of oysters fresh from the waters of the Chesapeake grace the eating board of officers and men. The regiment was thoroughly drilled, and well prepared for active service by the middle of March, 1862, when we ground our sabers, broke camp and moved away to the South, joining General Bank's army in the Shenandoah Valley.
We entered Virginia at Harper's Ferry, which was still fresh in ruin occasioned by the destruction of the arsenal a few months before. There we saw the engine house where John Brown quartered his little squad that spread so much consternation through the South in 1859. We of course were curious about many other features of the raid, pointed out by an old gentleman too feeble for military duty, or he would, no doubt, have been in the rebel army. A few miles further to the South we passed through Charles Town where the old patriot was tried and hung.
At this point we began to realize in the midst of what natural beauty we were. One of the loveliest valleys in the country is the Shenandoah. It was at that time a pleasant stretch of well improved farming lands, not yet showing any of the scars of war. This valley follows up the river naming it, southward, between two beautiful mountain ranges only a few miles separated, for two hundred miles into the heart of the state to Charlottesville the home of Jefferson. There are few more charming spots than the Shenandoah Valley.
At this time McClellan was operating against Richmond in the Peninsula, and Stonewall Jackson, it was supposed, had gone to the relief of that city, leaving the valley with very little confederate force. Shields had taken the greater part of the Union forces that had been in the valley, to join McDowell then at Fredericksburg and in conjunction with him, was to join McClellan. This state of things allowed Banks to move without opposition where he would; so he went south as far as Harrisonburg and returned to Fisher's Hill near Strasburg where our whole regiment at last came together as a part of Bank's army.
On our way down the valley Colonel Holliday, who had been transferred to the command of our regiment from a captaincy in the regular cavalry, shot himself one morning as the regiment was taking up its line of march. He was a good soldier, a fine appearing gentleman and was much respected; but for some reason his life became intolerable.
At Fisher's Hill, Colonel Tompkins, another regular army officer, came to lead us. He was a good officer and a brave man, but he found the Vermonters ready to follow where he led.
Up to this time we had amused ourselves as best we could by gazing at the south bound tracks of Stonewall Jackson's army, calculating the probable number of days before McClellan would enter Richmond, and wondering whether we would have a chance to do any actual fighting before the war closed. Thus it was, until toward the latter part of June, 1862, when one night, Jackson, silently moving up Luray Valley, came into the Shenandoah Valley at Front Royal, five miles to our rear, having along with him twenty thousand fresher tracks than we had yet seen, all of which were bound north. We were more interested in these tracks than we had been in those pointing south, because there were so many of the newer ones, and the circumstance of their appearing were so unexpected. We, however, as expeditiously as possible, put between this north-bound horse and the north pole about five thousand quickly made tracks, being all that Bank's depleted army could muster. We had some hard fighting on the old Cedar Creek battle ground to do this. It is a wonder that so many of us made our way through and around such a superior force, but our anxiety to let them gaze at our tracks, had no doubt not a little to do in accomplishing the result. We succeeded in destroying the military stores we were unable to take with us, and with the loss of comparatively a few men reached Williamsport, Maryland, after marching and fighting day and night for sixty hours. This performance was called "Bank's Retreat."
When we were fairly north of the enemy our principal work was to protect the baggage. Our regiment acted as rear guard, and while we gave some blows, were obliged to take more. It was our first serious experience under fire, and induced many original reflections as to the propriety of war. At Front Royal Jackson's advance was opposed by a regiment of Maryland Infantry and a part of the 5th New York Cavalry. This was all that prevented him from occupying our rear and as it turned out did not amount to any serious delay. It was Friday night that Jackson appeared at Front Royal, and during the next day there was fighting most of the time at Cedar Creek and Middletown, brought on by the efforts of our army to pass the Confederates at these points. About dark Saturday, six companies of our regiment, some of the 5th New York Cavalry and some artillery were still south of Jackson. We withdrew from the pike and moved to the foot of the Alleghenies, and there took a road parallel with the main road occupied by the Confederates, and moved with all the celerity consistent with keeping ourselves together and keeping the artillery with us. With the early dawn of Sunday e reached Winchester, and as we were offering our horses some forage, and eating something ourselves, the first for over thirty hours, we were reminded by the rattle of musketry just outside the town of Jackson's arrival. We went into our saddles quickly, and out to meet the sound of battle, for at last we were on the right side of the enemy, to fight, if such a thing should be deemed advisable. We found long lines of infantry, heavy columns of cavalry, and artillery enough to blow Bank's handful over the Blue Ridge. We kept their attention long enough to allow them to get nicely ready for battle, and our trains well under way toward Martinsburg, when we withdrew under a severe fire with the loss of a few men, but not without returning the compliment. We were sorely crowded by the enemy all day Sunday, were obliged to make occasional stands to save the trains, precipitating cavalry brushes, in which little affairs few were hurt. We felt a deep sense of relief when about noon Monday we found ourselves north of the Potomac. It has been hurrying times since Friday, and we were a hungry, tired set of fellows.
Jackson's movement against Banks was not for the advantage he might gain over him. He had larger game in view. McClellan was pressing hard upon Richmond; McDowell and Shields were expecting to co-operate with them; and Jackson's flying trip into the valley was intended to confuse McClellan's operations, and prevent the co-operation of McDowell, thereby relieving the rebel capital.
Fremont at this time was in West Virginia with quite a force. He was ordered to cross the Alleghenies, enter the valley in the vicinity of Harrisonburg, and intercept Jackson's army. Shields was ordered from near Fredericksburg to return to the valley, reaching it at about the same point as Fremont and co-operate. The plan was plausible, and tardiness of movement in our armies was all that saved Jackson from the trap he had set for himself. Fremont did not move as ordered, but in some indirect way, for some reason, reached the valley further north, at Strasburg, in season to brush Jackson's rear guard on his return south. After discovering Fremont, he retired a few miles further, selected his ground, turned and gave him battle. The result was not very decisive, but enough against Fremont to render him harmless in further pursuit. Jackson then hurried on to the south, passing Port Republic in season to escape Shields, then turned and gave him battle, serving him about as he did Fremont; after which he joined Lee in front of Richmond in season to have a hand in driving McClellan back under the gunboats, on the James River.
Jackson's movement was a success, he not only confused our plans of operation, but he rejoined Lee in season to help in the main fight.
If the forces moving against Richmond had paid no attention to Jackson in the valley, but had gone vigorously about their work while he was away, the seven days' fighting around Richmond might have resulted differently.
In a military sense, Jackson's excursion into the valley was a brilliant affair. He met three armies, and in detail, gave them all the worst of the meeting. He was comparatively unknown before the war, and the armies he met were commanded respectively by a presidential candidate, an ex-United States senator and a former speaker of the national house of representatives.
General Siegal was at Harper's Ferry with a few thousand men, and Siegal, Banks and Fremont ought to have been able to protect Washington from Jackson's movement, allowing McDowell and Shields to have done what they could with McClellan against Lee. Instead of this, Jackson's flurry seemed to paralyze the federal plans, and together with the result of the seven days' fighting, made it possible for Lee, in sixty days, to move his whole army northward against Pope threatening the safety of Washington.
After a short stay at Williamsport, Banks was ordered back into the valley. We returned as far as Winchester, where a brief stop was made. On our way to this place we met General Fremont and his staff going to Washington. It was understood he had been relieved of his command. The General wore a puzzled, disappointed look, feeling, no doubt, that his ride to the capital was a retirement to comparative obscurity; and that what was left of the once high-sounding glory of Fremont and Jesse was declining. We soon moved on southward, camping a few days near Front Royal. From this place we made a reconnoisance down the Luray Valley as far as Luray courthouse, meeting a force of cavalry, which we charged, capturing two and killing a few. We had one man killed, or so badly wounded that he died on our return to camp, and was buried with military honors. The name of our camp was changed to the name of the unfortunate boy, in honor of his bravery. This charge was led by the intrepid Colonel Preston. It was not a great affair, for the numbers were small on both sides. Preston's reason for precipitating the dash was that it would do the men good to practice the work of war. His idea was that even good soldiers realized fear in first engagements, and that practice was the best agency for overcoming the dread of battle; that when accustomed to it, fighting was much like other work. In this respect, the Colonel was probably right, and it accounted for an occasional exposure to the enemy under his gallant leadership.
A few days later we moved across the Blue Ridge eastward into the valley of Virginia, continuing our march until we reached the ancient village of Culpeper Court House. The Vermont cavalry led the movement, and for the last ten miles before reaching the Court House skirmished constantly with a force of rebel cavalry. In this work Captain Grant and Sergeant Mason of Irasburg were both wounded. Our regiment also had two other men wounded that day, which was, all things considered, a hot Sunday in more respects than one.
We remained in camp at Culpeper a few days. From this place we raided south to the Rapidan, where we found the Confederates in force. With three days' rations, we made a five days' observation as far to the southwest as Madison Court House, going well down toward Gordonsville. This was a fruitless movement. We saw nothing but the country, and found nothing but hunger. General Hatch was in charge of the expedition. On returning to camp he was relieved of his command. General Crawford was assigned to the cavalry, and under him we tried the enemy's front as far south as Orange Court House. Here we found quite a respectable force of the enemy. We drove them into the town where the compliments of our meeting were exchanged first with revolvers and carbines and then with the saber. We killed a few, captured a few, lost a few, and hastily withdrew, for it was ascertained we were near a large force of the enemy.
About this time Pope had gathered his army in the vicinity of Culpeper; McClellan had commenced withdrawing from the peninsula; Lee had begun moving northward; and, as a preliminary to the interesting days that followed, the battle of Cedar Mountain was fought. Soon after this Lee continued northward by the left flank, seeking to cross at some of the fords of the Rappahannock. Pope moved by the right flank, guarding the river crossings. These two great armies, after a few days, met in bloody combat and fought the second battle of Bull Run. In this battle Pope was beaten. He had planned well, made his dispositions energetically and expeditiously, was personally active and fearless, but at the moment when the result of the battle depended upon promptness and obedience, these important supports were not given. Yes, Pope was beaten, but not until the army was beaten. He tenaciously and bravely fought all the chances for victory, and at nightfall of the second day of that bloody struggle, as he and the army that stood by him fell back towards Centerville, they were badly beaten and realized it keenly. Yet not so badly off, in any sense, as those who had found a way not to take a helpful part in the battle. While perhaps none wanted the army beaten it was and still is, believed that some from the Army of the Potomac were willing Pope should be defeated. Jealousy and prejudice were stronger than patriotism. Pope was relieved of the command of the army of Virginia, his army blended with that of the Potomac, and the command again given to McClellan.
General McClellan collected the forces that he accumulated around Washington and started on a campaign against Lee, who had made his way north of the Potomac. This campaign resulted in the battle of Antietam repulsing the enemy. After the second Bull Run battle, and before the Maryland victory, the garrison at Harper's Ferry, numbering about ten thousand men, under General Miles, surrendered to the entreaties of Stonewall Jackson.
It was now well into September, 1862, and since June of that year the measure of our military success in the east had not been kept very full. Banks, Fremont, Shields, McClellan, Pope, Milroy and Miles, each having commands more or less independent in position and purpose, had severally met the enemy without advantage to the Union arms. The Generals were not satisfied with what had been done. The army was not satisfied with its work. The authorities at Washington were no better pleased than the Generals and the army. Fourteen months had passed since the first battle of Bull Run, and the army of the Potomac, which had been relief upon to capture Richmond, had made no appreciable headway in its work. Two summers and one winter - more than a full years - with two seasons for military operations, had rolled by and the rebellion was not suppressed.
Thus matters stood in the early fall of 1862, and while the Federal army had not had its own way, it felt fully its ability, and a deep-seated determination, in due time, to enjoy such a pleasure.
The Vermont cavalry did not go with McClellan, and was not at the battle of Antietam. It remained in camp near Fort Scott, one of the fortifications south of the Potomac, for the defense of Washington, and made occasional movements to the south in the interest of protecting the capital from that direction, until after Burnside had moved against Fredericksburg, December, 1862.
It was while here that a detachment of the Regiment reconnoitered to the front as far as Aldie, where, in a charge upon the enemy, the brave Captain Perkins of Company H lost his life. Fearlessly he dashed upon the foe, realizing, however, not the victory but the cold shock of death.
A portion of the regiment was used in the fall of 1862, under Colonel Wyndham, for reconnoitering purposes as far toward the rebel capital as Warrenton. It was on this service that a somewhat ridiculous affair happened. The Colonel had a command of several hundred cavalry, composed of details from different regiments, assisted by a couple of pieces of artillery. When in sight of Warrenton and quite a body of the enemy's cavalry, we stopped on a hill a few hundred rods outside of the village, disposing ourselves in battle array. Between our front and the village there was a small piece of woods in which we posted pickets and threw out skirmishers. Captain Flint had charge of this advance, and in all, we probably numbered about one hundred and fifty men; the rest of our force being about one mile to the rear, under cover of the artillery.
After a while the enemy formed about four or five hundred in a column of platoons and charged us. As they approached, we fired and fell back. After falling back about one-half the distance to our reserve, I rallied a few men in line and met the charging host. The few that stopped to do this had a close race the rest of the way. We knew not where the reserve was, but expected to find it at every jump our horses made. So we kept on in flying suspense, until the foremost boys in gray were mingling with those in blue, when at last we emerged from a small piece of woods, pitched over the crest of a short hill, dropping upon a level piece of cleared ground on which our reserves were drawn up; and the artillery was posted. As the blue coats cleared the brow of the hill our artillery opened, and just over our heads, yelled the grape and canister. It was a welcome sound to us, being preferable to the yell of the rebels. We had a lively run and a narrow escape, many of our men being taken prisoners. The New York papers soon after told us what a cunning trap Colonel Wyndham had drawn the enemy into down in the vicinity of Warrenton. Perhaps it was a trap, but the spindle carrying the bait was too long and the bait was too large. The discomfiture of the bait was more serious to us than the springing of the trap to the enemy.
Later in the winter of 1863, a part of our regiment was stationed on picket duty at Dranesville. Here we were annoyed by the rebel guerrilla, Mosby. He carried on quite a business for several weeks, in capturing and killing pickets and otherwise raiding our outposts. It was though that Dranesville was too much exposed as a picket post, that more protection would be afforded Washington by retiring a few miles, and greater security would be given the picket line. So on the 30th day of March, 1863, we fell back from Dranesville about eight miles, and established ourselves in camp at Ball's church on the Dranesville pike. About midnight the last day of March, a detail was called for from the regiment, of about one hundred and twenty men. We were to go to Dranesville and capture Mosby. We had information that he entered the place the night before with about sixty men. Our force consisted of details from six companies. It was commanded by Captain Flint. Lieutenant Holden of Company C, Lieutenant Woodbury of Company B, Captain Bean of Company G and Lieutenant Grout of Company I were the other officers. It had snowed the day before, and toward morning was quite cold. We started on our expedition, moving as rapidly as possible and reached Dranesville about daybreak. We divided and disposed of the detail, so as to move into the village on the different roads entering it, and upon a carbine signal, the different detachments charged into the town, finding Mosby gone. He had been there the night before, and taking the Leesburg pike, had moved away in that direction. His trail was visible in the snow, and we followed about three miles along the pike, finding it turned at Broad Run leading toward the Potomac. From our proximity to the river, we knew that the enemy could not be far away. On leaving the pike we passed over a very poor, muddy road, that led through a dwarf growth of timber. In doing this our formation was by twos. After a distance of about one hundred rods, we came to an open field which was fenced and on the further or river side of which were the Miskel farm buildings. In the barnyard of these buildings, enclosed by a strong fence, was the object of our pursuit in full readiness to receive us. It was no optical illusion; there, in the full light of that bright April-fool morning, we saw Mosby's force, larger than we expected, one hundred and fifty strong,--vaulting into their saddles. The tug of war had come.
Our men had been riding some six hours in the cols of a cool morning and were chilly. Our horses had moved at a quick walk for nearly twelve miles, over muddy roads and were somewhat tired. Our men all had on their overcoats. Mosby, his men and horses, were fresh and warm from a night's rest and an early breakfast.
His men were all in line in the barnyard, and our men were strung along the dirt road, back to the pike, in column of twos. The advantage of formation for a cavalry combat was decidedly in favor of the enemy. The physical condition of the two bodies of troops was also in their favor. In leaving the woods through which we had scatteringly made our way, we entered the cleared field through a gate that was so hung as to do its own shouting; and which, upon entering the field, we fastened open. We were armed with pistols and sabres, all but those from the detail, from Companies I and D, who carried pistols, sabres and carbines. The enemy carried only pistols. Thus equipped, arrayed and conditioned, a collision was imminent. Mosby was cornered. To his north was the Potomac; to his west, Broad Run; and we occupied to his south. It was an interesting position, suggestive of a fight, which, from the nature of the case, would be short, sharp and decisive. Up to this time the Vermont cavalry had met the enemy on sixteen different occasions, but none of those meetings had worn quite as desperate an appearance.
Mosby had recently come into prominence as a leader of guerrilla bands. It was only a few weeks before this that he had raided that he had raided the headquarters of the second Vermont brigade at Fairfax Court House, capturing and carrying away its commander, General Stoughton. He had made several predatory ventures during the winter of 1863, with annoying results. Some of them had fallen upon Vermonters, and so with our Regiment he and his operations had been frequently under discussion. On our way to this danger spot we had been instructed to use the saber. Captain Flint believed in cold steel for the rebels. It was his notion that hey would not stand in a fight where the saber was foremost, so his orders were to use freely the saber blades we had so carefully sharpened about a year before, on leaving Annapolis. From the gate into the field up to the barn-yard the distance was probably about fifty rods. I was ordered, while passing the gate, to move quickly up toward the yard and engage the enemy with the carabineers who were in front. With all possible celerity this order was obeyed. In executing the movement, an effort was made to create a new formation as near in line as possible, from the formation in column of twos we had kept from the pike to the field, without coming to a halt. In traveling over the soft field and forming anew in this way, some confusion showed itself, which, when in line, had brought us too near the enemy for the best results from carbines against pistols, being within pistol range. Probably forty of the detail had reached this position, and were giving the best fire possible, and taking patiently a lively return. It was a hot place. The enemy, using pistols, had more shots than we. We were in close proximity, separated not more than six or eight rods from each other. Our men endeavored to tear down the barnyard fence, two falling dead in the attempt. At this point Captain Flint rode past me crying out, "Tear down the fence, boys, and get at them with the saber." He did not know that we had just offered two lives in essaying to comply with his daring request, and that others had retired before the storm of bullets and splinters in undertaking the same thing. Captain Flint rode probably ten feet nearer the enemy than the rest of us, swinging his saber and crying," Come on," when he fell dead, pierced through neck and body by five bullets. Up to this time the men who went into the field and took part in this desperate attack, had behaved with a coolness and deliberation born of the dress parade. Company C, under Lieutenant Holden, and Company B under Lieutenant Woodbury, had come out from the woods on their own account and joined the work at the front. Probably not more than one-half of our detail came out of the woods into the field where the fighting was done. About the time Captain Flint fell the barnyard gate swung open, and Mosby poured his whole force out thereat (sic) upon our right flank and into our rear. The greatest possible effort was made to change the position of our men so as to meet this new movement of the enemy. At first it seemed we would succeed, but the enemy were soon behind, around, and all amongst us, and it was impossible to longer maintain formation or order; and the brave men, after meeting such desperate odds, and facing so long such a destructive fire, fell reluctantly back toward the gate through which we passed into the field. This gate had been closed, and against it our men were pressing for escape. It seemed but a moment after they broke up before those who came forward into the field were nearly all cornered and captured. After almost every one had retired from the vicinity of the engagement near the yard, Holden, Woodbury, and perhaps half a dozen men gathered asking what should be done. I said that we would charge the enemy, who were needlessly firing into our men cornered at the gate. We started to carry out this plan and while moving back to execute it a smooth faced rebel boy spoke me good-morning with pistol well aimed and ordered a surrender. He, however, disappeared as quickly as he appeared, the spur having found Little Sorrel in the right spot, and my saber threatening his head. It is fresh in memory, even after the lapse of so many years, what a concerned, disappointed look this boyish face wore as his pistol lost its aim and he his game.
By the time the boy was disposed of the gate corner had been reached. The ever faithful Little Sorrel carried me into the presence of a dozen or more graybacks, one of whom, quick as a flash, was complimented with a full saber cut square on the head. While delivering this cut a pistol shot in my right side, suspended further action. The faithful blade, that had always been so companionable, was dropped where it found its mark, and my hands flew involuntarily up in recognition of the fact that I was his and we were whipped. Instead of capturing Mosby, he captured us.
No sooner were the hands up than a half dozen on the ground rushed around, demanding a surrender. They were told that any boy, under the circumstances, could make such a demand. They very thoughtfully said, "You no business riding round here this way, and get off your horse, quick!" They were told it was impossible to get down from the horse, and saying they would help, one gave me a rough push for that purpose. Except for falling upon Little Sorrel's neck and swinging down under it in front, a fall to the ground would have been the result. At this point, some of our boys who had surrendered, caught and carried me away a few steps under a tree. At my request, Mosby left two of our men to care for the wounded; and at his own instance, as hurriedly as possible gathered up the fruits of his capture and moved away. We had fourteen killed and wounded. The enemy had three killed, and some that rode away were badly wounded; how many I never knew. In noting the escapes, I found seven bullet holes in my clothes, one in my body, and knew that Little Sorrel arrested three of that morning's busy messengers. It was close, sharp, hot, spiteful work, and best described by an old lady who lived a the road corner where we left the pike. She said the firing sounded like popping corn. Soon after Mosby left, the occupant of the farm house, with an ox team, drew to the house the wounded, and to the barn the dead. That afternoon our regiment came out and removed the dead and those of the wounded who were able to ride in an ambulance. Four of our men were left in the house, and one rebel. Three of this number and the rebel died before morning.
On our way to the fight Captain Flint informed me that I would have charge of the carbineers and lead the advance; that Captain Bean of Company G was to have charge of the balance of the command, acting as a support. Captain Bean did not come out of the woods into the field and took no part in the fight. His part of the detail rendered no service. It was when Mosby saw that our supports were failing us that he swung out of the yard. He we been supported the day might have gone differently. It was said that Captain Bean was the first to reach camp, and that he rode in bareheaded, shouting "The rebels are upon us!" he was soon after dismissed from the service for his conduct that morning. Lieutenant Woodbury was killed while rallying the men after reaching the pike, for refusing to surrender. I did not see him after our separation at the barnyard.
Captain Flint was one of the senior of the line. He was thought highly of by all in the regiment, and was considered first in order for promotion. He was kind, quiet and brave. He had the responsibility of the morning upon him. He was earnest and determined, and considering all the surroundings and circumstances of the affair, it is not strange that his zeal approached excitement. It would seem when the numbers, readiness and position of the enemy were discovered, and we cold no longer except to surprise them, that a different course on our part might have been wise, but cowardice was not anticipated. It, when Bean failed, Flint could have brought up the waiting men it would have been a timely arrival. It is not, however, an occasion for criticism. Captain Flint patriotically, conscientiously and fearlessly gave a generous, noble life to the cause. He died in the noisy rattle of a sharp little battle, foremost in the desperate struggle. Few of the old soldiers rest more honorably among the green hills of Vermont.
Flint and Woodbury were from Orleans County, and one sleeps in the quiet cemetery near Irasburg Common, the other in the cemetery on Craftsbury Common. They enlisted together, were mustered in together, endured the hardships of the service together, breasted the dangers of battle together, and finally, they were mustered out, on that beautiful April morning together. May love and peace hallow their slumbers until the last old soldier of the Vermont cavalry has crossed the river.
Additional to the foregoing could be given accounts of many other less significance. Such as marches, camp life, skirmishes, encounters, battles, hospital life, that the soldier finds in the course of a two years, service in the field.
The Broad Run or Miskel Farm engagement with Mosby ended my service in the 1st Vermont Cavalry. The wound I received was severe. My condition was such that the correspondents reported me killed in action. It was several days before this report was corrected at my home in Vermont. The ball entered the body between the 8th and 9th ribs on the right side and passed down and back so as to injure the sciatic nerve of the right leg, lodging where it remains. The pain was in the right foot and intense for a long time, traces of which at time, recur.
Four months after, Governor Holbrook sent me a captain's commission on Colonel Preston's recommendation on which I was mustered, but could not pass physical examination for duty. Six months after the wound I was again examined but did not pass for duty, when I asked to be discharged and was discharged, as it happened, an even two years from the day I enlisted.
This two year period of service was the grandest section of my life. I would not exchange its experiences, hardships, dangers and sufferings for the joys, pleasures and triumphs of the balance of my earthly allotment.
It is good, it is great, it is grand, to serve one's country; and the young, unmarried man should esteem it the opportunity of his existence, to meet and conquer any war dangers threatening his country.
I have used a great many words to relate the part I took in the Civil War and really have omitted as many or more interesting happenings of one kind and another, during that two-years period, than I have related; and so I will in a more comprehensive form of expression give you my part in the Civil War by just simply telling you that - I WAS THERE - in all two years and a half.
The 26th N. Y. Cavalry
The 26th N.Y. Cavalry was occasioned by the St. Albans raid. This raid was made by about 20 daring Southerners who radiated from Montreal, for the purpose of intimidation and plunder. The raid was accomplished in open day, about noon, by the men appearing on all the principal streets simultaneously demonstrating revolvers and entering and robbing the banks and disappearing upon horses seized from the livery stables. In the twinkle of an eye the whole was over and the robbers were mounted and on their way back into Canada.
The whole Northern Frontier was at once guarded; and the 26th N.Y. Cavalry, composed of companies from New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, was organized to do the guarding. I enlisted in one of the two Vermont companies and was made captain from which I was soon promoted to major; and for about six months prior to the close of the war was in command of the Post at St. Albans.
All the practices of war were observed in camp and that portion of the regiment under my command became proficient soldiers.
This service was not fraught with danger and hardship; but none the less, required discipline and the general work of a soldier's life.
Source: Josiah Grout, Memoir of Gen'l William Wallace Grout and Autobiography of Josiah Grout, (The Bullock Press, Newport, Vt., 1919), 218-241.
See also: Ullery's biography of Josiah Grout.