Monday, October 3, 2011

The Battle of Greenbrier River

150 years ago today the Battle of Greenbrier River was fought in West Virginia. Here is a letter an Indiana soldier wrote the next day recounting their attack on the Confederate camp.
Army of Occupation Camp, On Cheat Mountain, Oct. 4, 1861.

Friend Greene: Thursday noon we were ordered to prepare two days' rations and bold ourselves in readiness to march at midnight. Up to 9 o'clock camp fires burned brightly; around them groups of soldiers gathered singing, laughing, "speculating" on The coming fight. There was a constant jingle, jingle of iron ram-rods, snapping of caps, and sputtering of hot grease in sundry frying pans-notes of preparation for The morrow; 'tattoo" rolled off at 10 o'clock, one hour later than usual, and "taps" at a quarter past, when camp fires were put out; all lights except in officers' tents extinguished, and the soldiers retiring to their quarters and blankets, sought two hours' repose. At 12 o'clock all were aroused,the companies forming into Their respective quarters, were visited each in turn by our gallant Colonel, who spoke a few words of encouragement and bade them all stand by him, and remember They were from Indiana and belonged to the 14th regiment; then came the order to form in line, which movement was promptly executed. Right, face! Forward march! and the 14th taking The "route steps," moved quickly but silently down the moantam eastward, past several regiments in the dense fog, the boys shouting to each other as they filed rapidly by at Cheat River Bridge; overtook the artillery; passed it; were soon beyond our picket line, and hurrying np the opposite mountain, through the dark and silent night, without a moment's rest till the first faint streaks of light appeared in the East, when the regiment was halted, and muskets and rifles loaded; in motion again pretty soon; passed the ambulances belonging to the 9th Indiana and our own; then descending the mountain, approached The Greenbriar Bridge, when the sharp report of half-a-dozen muskets rang out on the still morning air, immediately followed by a crashing volley; then pop! pop! pop! and all was silent: on went the 14th, cheering as they rushed "double quick," over the bridge and down through the Greenbriar Valley; soon we Came in sight of The 9th Indiana boys, drawn up in line of battle, across a meadow, thdr skirmishers hastening down from the surrounding mountains to join The regiment. The 14th closed in behind, when the two regiments moved steadily forward till we came in sight of the enemy's tents, when the advance halted and the artillery moved to the front, taking up a position on a slight devation to the left of the pike, Other regiments now came up, and the 7th, 9th, and 17th Indiana boys filed across the valley, and as the right wing deploying their skirmishers advanced at "double quick" through the tall grass and bushes skirting the river and rneadows. The 14th now marched forward along the pike for a few hundred yards, when the companies comprising our left wing, including Company C, were ordered to deploy and drive The rebels out of the woods to the left, while the remainder of the regiment marched along The pike to protect the batteries.

Soon we were climbing through The tanglewood and laurel up the steep mountain sides, when bang! goes a big gun from our battery of rifled cannon, and whiz! comes a shell over our heads, falling plump into the enemy's trenches, where it burst, killing three horses and doing other damage. A roar from the rebel camp answered, and a round shot whistled through the air in reply, tearing up the ground in rear of our artillery. The ball was flow opened-roar after in quick succession from The big guns on both sides-the storm of shot and shell traversing mid air not more than fifty feet from our heads, was at once terribly grand and terrific. The fierce music of "grim war," such as had fallen npon the ears of but few of our brave fellows, who all unheeding, cheered lustily and pushed forward rapidly to the front.

The rebel skirmishers, 600 in number, were speedily rousted from cover, and the musketry now opened along our entire line on the retreating foe. To your correspondent the rapid "file firing" of the companies and the rebel shots in reply, intermingled with the deafening roar of artillery sounded like 10,000 packs of fire-crackers set off at once.

Our batteries now took up a position in front, and for three hours poured shot and shell into the enemy's camp, doing great execution. He had eleven guns (one and 18-pounder) and one mortar; seven of these were silenced, when he was reinforced with both then and guns, and reopened fire again. Our ammunition for the artillery running short, the gras were withdrawn, and at 4 o'clock we began our march back to camp. As we came out of the woods into the open space to form into line The round shot ploughed up the ground around us. Every moment bang would go a gun, whiz! boom and a shell would make The earth fly, filling the boys' eyes with gravel; but the brave fellows stood their gronnd without flinching, as formed in four ranks without a rnurmnr They cooly awaited the order to march.

The Hoosiers are too much for Secesh-fire too rapidly and with aim too accurat-nothing in rebel shape can resist their impetuosity. Silence their batteries, Mr. Big Guns, and the infantry will soon complete the job.

The loss on our side trifling-eleven killed and fifteen wounded-three of the killed and four of the wounded belonged to the 14th-none from either of the Vincennes companies. We captured 13 prisoner-our regiment, 7[,] the Invincibles 5 Bully!

A fine drove of beeves were driven off by our boys, and 15 head of horses.

Our brave Colonel Kimball asked permission to storm their works Gen. Reynolds would not grant the request, remarking that he merely came out to reconnostre the rebel positioin and draw him out, which having been accomplished to his entire satisfaction, he ordered a retreat.

Incidents in my next.

The battle did not go as well for the Union side as their soldier recounted. At the end of the day they retreated back to where they had come, unable to take the Confederate position.


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