Battle of Winchester

(2nd Kernstown)

After Action Report

(Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 37, pages 315-319)

Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment,
1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division

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Report of Col. Thomas M, Harris, Tenth West Virginia Infantry, commanding First Brigade, Third Division, of engagement at Kernstown.

HEADQUARTERS TENTH W. VA. VOL. INFANTRY

Camp near Monocacy Junction, August 6, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command, consisting of the Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Maj. H. H. Withers, and the Twenty-third Illinois Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Capt. J. J. Fitzgerald, constituting First Brigade, Third Division, Army of the Kanawha, in the late action at and retreat from Winchester on the 24th and 25th ultimo :

The Third Division, commanded by Col. James A. Mulligan, having bivouacked at Kernstown after the reconnaissance of the 23d, in which the enemy was driven by our skirmishers a distance of two miles, found itself in advance of the First and Second Divisions on the morning of the 24th, when our cavalry that had been sent forward to reconnoiter the enemy’s position was driven back toward our position on the Strasburg road at Kernstown. At about 10 a.m. I was ordered by Colonel Mulligan to go forward with my brigade, and, if possible, to take a position behind a stone fence which our reconnaissance of the previous day enabled him to indicate to me. I went forward at once and reached the fence without opposition, but from this position was able to see the enemy very strong in my front, and at the same time massing a heavy force in a wood on my right, from which he could readily turn my right flank. I at once deployed two companies across the woods on my right, and sent information to the colonel commanding of the position, strength, and movement of the enemy, which rendered my situation untenable, as there was at that time no force on the field to extend our line on my right. In reply the colonel kindly sent me word to exercise my own judgment as to the position I should occupy. Upon the receipt of this order I fell back to a position about 300 yards in rear of the first, but finding upon observation that my line in this position would be exposed to an enfilading fire from the woods, I retired 100 yards farther and took a position behind a board fence and stone wall and then rode to an eminence on my right, that I might inform myself of the enemy’s movement’s in that direction, as also whether our forces were coming forward to extend our line on my right, the Second Brigade, of the Third Division, having now taken position on my left. I had the satisfaction to learn that Colonel Thoburn, commanding the First Division, was directing the formation of his command on my right, but could at the same time see the skirmish line of the enemy extending across a ridge and advancing toward a wood some distance to the right of his line, to which I called his attention, also informing him of the fact that I had seen the enemy massing heavily in the woods that lay a little to the left of his front and opposite to my right. Returning to my command, I was informed by Major Withers that his command was suffering from the enemy’s sharpshooters that were concealed in the woods to his front, our skirmish line, which had been deployed in the woods, having been driven in, and as our position did not allow us to inflict any punishment in return I ordered my command to a position behind a stone fence, the left extending along a board fence, which formed a very obtuse angle with the former. the base presenting to the enemy’s line. This latter fence was occupied by Captain Fitzgerald’s command, and was by him strengthened with rails from a neighboring fence. This position was about 200 yards in rear of the one we had just abandoned, and afforded not only good protection to the men, but at the same time a good opportunity to return the enemy’s fire. Having occupied this position for some time, and assured myself of my connection- with our line on my right, I was notified by Colonel Mulligan that he was about to make an advance and that he desired me to hold my brigade in readiness to follow the movement of the Second Brigade of his command, under Lieutenant-Colonel Linton, Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania. I advanced with this brigade to my former position behind the board fence and stone wall, Captain Fitzgerald advancing his command a little beyond the latter to a stone church, and grave-yard, which was inclosed by a stone fence that afforded good protection to his men, Major Withers’ command, behind the board fence, protecting itself in the mean time by the delivery of a brisk fire into the woods, immediately in front, which for the time had the effect of silencing the enemy s skirmish line in front of him. Having advanced my command thus far I found that the Second Brigade had not only ceased to advance, but had fallen back in some confusion. I held my position waiting for Lieutenant-Colonel Linton to rally and come forward. Here I again received an order from Colonel Mulligan to be in readiness and advance with the Second Brigade, but very soon afterward received an order from him to fall back, and saw that the brigade on my left was falling back in disorder, and was hard pressed by the enemy’s advancing line. I fell back in good order to my old position, from which I opened a brisk fire on the enemy’s now rapidly advancing line, and was here joined by Colonel Mulligan, who commended me in the warmest terms for the good order in which I had gotten my command back and the spirit with which it was holding its position, but we were hindered by the colonel from inflicting punishment upon the enemy to the full extent of our ability, twice ceasing our fire for a short interval by his command on account of uncertainty in his mind, as I understood it, as to the character of the line advancing in front of the right of my command. most of the men being dressed in the Federal uniform. Being finally assured they were enemies, he ordered the firing to be recommenced, and then giving me a charge to look well to my right, rode away toward the left, where a few moments afterward he fell while heroically inciting the men of his own old regiment (the Twenty-third Illinois) to deeds of valor. I very soon after this found the enemy coming rapidly up on my right flank, our line on my right having retired, but without my knowledge, as it was hidden from me by the shape of the ground and by some farm buildings. About the same time also the enemy began to enfilade my left, and I was thus compelled to withdraw without an order to do so, as my brigade was now all that was left of our line and was being rapidly turned on both flanks. I gave the order to fall back and used all the efforts in my power to preserve my line in doing so, but as we were very closely pursued by the enemy, before whose destructive fire we had to ascend a rather steep hill for 200 yards, my line was at once broken and the men became scattered and passed quickly from under the control of their officers. Having become separated from my horse in our last advance, I was unable to keep pace with the larger portion of my command or to make myself heard by them, and it was not until after we had retreated more than a mile that I was able to rally a couple of hundred men around the flag of the Tenth. I had the pleasure however, to find here all the officers of my command that had been in the engagement who had escaped casualties, and that in the men present all the companies of the regiment were represented. The Twenty-third Illinois became separated from me and fell in with Lieutenant-Colonel Linton’s command. It was not found by me until the following day at Martinsburg. Having rallied and formed the Tenth to the extent indicated, I led it in retreat in an orderly manner, making occasional stands to resist the enemy’s pursuit until almost dark, and having received directions from the commanding general through a member of his staff to march in a direction parallel to the Martinsburg road I pursued my course on the left of said road, and about 9 p.m. joined a column under Colonel Thoburn, but shortly afterward became separated from him while passing through a dense woods in the darkness of the night , and upon emerging from the woods into open ground, I found upon riding to the head of the column that it was being led by Colonel Ely, of the Eighteenth Connecticut, commanding Second Brigade, First Division, who, under the guidance of a citizen, led it to a little village in the vicinity of North Mountain, eight miles from Martinsburg, where the command was halted and allowed about three hours for rest and sleep.

The march was resumed about 3 a.m. on the morning of the 25th, and the command reached Martinsburg about 8 a.m. The enemy shortly after making his appearance, I put the Tenth in position in connection with other troops under the immediate command of Colonel Duval, of the Ninth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, commanding the Second Division. We remained in position, holding the Winchester road, until 4 p.m. at which time the enemy’s lines were sufficiently advanced to enable him to enfilade that portion of our line held by Colonel Wells, Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, commanding First Brigade, First Division, on my right, and his withdrawal to a new position exposing me to the same inconvenience, I was compelled to follow his movement; but he, being very soon again exposed to the same difficulty as before, withdrew through town to the opposite side, rendering it necessary for me to follow, which I did, notifying Colonel Duval of our altered position, when he shortly afterward followed the movement and was quickly followed by the enemy. In the new disposition of our forces, which resulted in the repulse of the enemy and his being driven back through town and to his original position in the woods on the Winchester road, my command, consisting now again of the Tenth and Twenty-third, which here joined me, fell into the reserve line under Colonel Campbell, of the Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, now commanding the Third Division, and had no active participation in the action. After the repulse of the enemy we were enabled to reach the Potomac at Williamsport and cross without further molestation.

The losses in my command occurred with very trifling exceptions in the fight near Kernstown, and are embraced in the list of casualties accompanying the reports of Major Withers and Captain Fitzgerald. I will only remark in regard to the missing in those reports that it is to be feared that many of them were left on the field among the killed and wounded, as the first 200 yards of our retreat lay up a hill in open ground in face of the enemy’s fire, and was made in such confusion that but few, if any, paid attention to the fate, of their comrades.

In relation to the losses in the Twenty-third Illinois it may be proper for me to remark that they were no doubt greatly augmented by the devotion of the men to their colonel (the lamented Mulligan) and their self-sacrificing efforts to bring him off the field in the face of a murderous fire from the enemy – a fire so destructive as to compel finally the abandonment of their efforts.

I can but bear testimony to the coolness and courage of my command, which throughout the whole action and until our final rout obeyed every command with the utmost alacrity and cheerfulness. My officers of every grade, and so far as I know and believe without exception, did their whole duty in the most satisfactory manner. The regimental commanders are particularly entitled to my thanks and commendation.

I cannot, in justice to my feelings, close this report, without a passing tribute of respect to the memory of the lamented Col. James A. Mulligan, whom my short acquaintance and intercourse with in the capacity of a subordinate had led me to esteem as among the bravest of the brave, and at the same time as possessed of singular personal virtues and great executive abilities. The able and gallant manner in which he repulsed a division of the enemy under General Ransom at Leetown, and again between Kearneysville and Shepherdstown, on his first advance down the Valley, enabling General Sigel to remove his train and withdraw his command in safety from Martinsburg, and his subsequent aid enabling that command to reach Maryland Heights in safety, could not but impress me with respect for his abilities.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T. M. HARRIS,
Colonel Tenth West Virginia.

Col. J. M. CAMPBELL,
Comdg. Third Brig., First Div., Army of Kanawha

Tenth West Virginia Infantry
Battle of Winchester (2nd Kernstown)
14 Killed, 60 Wounded, 15 Missing – Total Casualties 89

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Updated 28 March 2010