Battle of Leetown
After Action Report
(Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 37, pages 680-696)
Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment,
(Under the Command of Colonel James A. Mulligan)
Report of Major General Franz Sigel, Commanding The Reserve Division.
Shepherdstown, W. Va., July 3, 1864.
(Received 6:30 a. m. July 4.)
At 6 o’clock this morning the enemy attacked our forces at Leetown and Darkesville, on the Winchester pike. Major-General Ransom led the force attacking Colonel Mulligan at Leetown. Rebel cavalry made an assault on our cavalry at Darkesville, and 1,100 cavalry went into our rear at North Mountain and on the Williamsport road. Colonel Mulligan, with his small force, fought the enemy stubbornly the whole day. In order to enable me to concentrate our forces, I ordered Colonel Mulligan to retire, if forced, as slowly as possible to Kearneysville and Shepherdstown. All stores were sent off on cars, and the remainder loaded on wagons. The train was sent to Shepherdstown to cross the river, and subsequently I withdrew the troops from Martinsburg, when Colonel Mulligan was compelled to retire toward Kearneysville all my troops, consisting of two old and two regiments Ohio National Guard, infantry, 1,000 dismounted cavalry, 2 pieces of artillery, and 1,500 cavalry. Colonel Mulligan fought Major-Generals Ransom and Early, unaided, on to Martinsburg. The exact strength of the enemy I have not been able to ascertain. His cavalry is 2,600 strong. If our troops can cross the Potomac tonight I will march to Harper’s Ferry to join General Weber’s forces, and to operate from that place. The railroad being interrupted by the enemy, I could not communicate with General Hunter and General Kelley since about 10 a. m. today.
Excerpt From “Major General Thomas Maley Harris” by H.E. Matheny
“The following day the 10th West Virginia Infantry Regiment, with some cavalrymen, marched to Leetown, three or four miles to the north and camped. By the 30th, Stahel moved 600 cavalry to Darkesville and the same number to Big Springs. A small detachment also moved to Bunker Hill, West Virginia. Colonel James A. Mulligan was given command of the troops at Leetown. Note: Colonel Harris had remained in Beverly as he had been ill since February and was unable to travel.
General Early’s army reached Staunton, Virginia, June 23, and paused to reorganize and consolidate. His four infantry divisions were commanded by Brigadier General John Echols, Major General John Brown Gordon, Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, and Major General Robert Emmett Rodes. The cavalry consisted of the brigades of Brigadier General Bradley Tyler Johnson, Colonel William L. Jackson, Brigadier General John McCausland, and Brigadier General John Daniel Imboden. Brigadier General Armistead Lindsay Long commanded three battalions of artillery. Major General John Cabell Breckinridge was created a command of two divisions from Gordon’s and Echols’ units. This Confederate Army marched north, reaching Winchester July 2, and pushed on toward Leetown.
The Union commanders were justified in being afraid. Colonel Mulligan did not have sufficient men to defend Leetown in the face of such overwhelming odds, having only the 10th West Virginia and 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiments, five pieces of artillery, and 1,000 dismounted cavalrymen. No help could be sent to him as General Stahel was even then preparing to retreat from Martinsburg. He ordered Colonel Mulligan to do the best he could with his small detachment and fall back slowly but only when hard pressed, fighting a rear guard action to cover the retreat of the main army.
By July 1, Colonel Harris was again with his troops and cooperating with Colonel Mulligan, preparing for the attack of the approaching Confederates. He kept his men digging entrenchments at Leetown, but when Mulligan told him of the order to eventually retreat, he advised his men to rest if possible before the arrival of Early’s advance cavalry. Colonel Mulligan was confident of Harris’ ability and recommended he be given his old command, the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division in the new organization, which was done. The brigade still contained only the 10th West Virginia and the 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiments.
Brigadier General George Crook was given command of all United States troops in the Department of West Virginia west of the Alleghenies and south of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on July 3.
The attack of the Confederates against Colonel Harris’ hastily dug trenches was not long in coming. At 6 a.m. on the 3rd, Major General Robert Ransom, in command of the cavalry, Department of Western Virginia, ordered Brigadier General Bradley T. Johnson to attack at Leetown. At the same time another cavalry unit charged the 600 Union cavalry stationed at Darkesville, and 1,100 cavalry under Brigadier General John McCausland swung around the Union detachment at North Mountain and Williamsport Road, capturing the guard at North Mountain Depot.
Colonel Mulligan led his infantry out of the trenches after the initial cavalry charge and by hard fighting drove them back upon Generals Rodes’ and Ramseur’s Divisions, then returned to their trenches. Rodes and Ramseur marched their men twenty miles that day and they were not in a condition to fight. General Early refused to order them to support General Johnson.
It was a losing fight for the gallant defenders at Leetown, although they stubbornly held the attackers at bay the entire day. Major General Franz Sigel, commander of the Reserve Division with headquarters in Martinsburg, planned a general withdrawal and ordered Colonel Mulligan to fall back as slowly as possible to Kearneysville and Shepherdstown, where it was possible for his men to ford the river. Most of the stores and ammunition had been removed from Martinsburg and sent to Harper’s Ferry. General Sigel planned to cross the Potomac River that night at Shepherdstown, join Brigadier General Max Weber’s forces at Harper’s Ferry and operate from there. The telegraph lines had been cut and there was no way to communicate with Generals Hunter and Kelley. The situation looked desperate indeed for the Union. Early’s barefoot and hungry army was beginning to accomplish it’s mission of relieving pressure on Lee at Petersburg.”
Tenth West Virginia Infantry
Battle of Leetown
0 Killed, 7 Wounded, 2 Missing – Total Casualties 9
Updated 28 March 2010