Battle of Snicker’s Ferry

(known locally as the Battle of Cool Spring)

After Action Report

(Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 37, pages 290-292, 287-288)

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

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Report of Col. Joseph Thoburn, First West Virginia Infantry, commanding First Infantry Division, of engagement at Snicker’s Ferry

HDQRS. FIRST INFTY. Div., DEPT. OF WEST VIRGINIA,
Halltown, Va., July 29, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of an engagement with the enemy near Snicker’s Ferry on the 18th instant: On passing through Snicker’s Gap about 2 p. m. on the 18th instant, I received orders from General Crook to take command of the First Infantry Division and the Third Brigade of the Second Division, and proceed at once two miles down the river to the Island Ford, and cross over and move up the opposite side and dislodge a force of the enemy, supposed to be cavalry, who were occupying the hills in front of Snicker’s Ferry. In obedience to these instructions I moved the command, under cover of hills and woods, unobserved by the enemy until the fording at the island was reached, when a sharp musketry fire from the opposite bank was opened upon the head of the column as it approached the river. The banks of the river for some distance above and below the fording were well veiled by trees and brushes, behind which the enemy were posted. I ordered two companies as skirmishers to engage the attention of the enemy at the ford, while the command moved a few hundred yards down the river under cover of the woods to a place where the water was shallow, although the banks were steep and difficult for the men to go up or down. Colonel Wells’ brigade, which was in advance, was rapidly pushed across the river at this point and attacked and drove the enemy from his position, capturing a captain and 15 men. The Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, commanded by Captain Thompson, and a battalion of the Fifth New York Heavy Artillery had the advance and performed their duty admirably. Their loss in crossing was 1 man killed and 1 wounded. From the prisoners I learned that there had been two regiments of rebel infantry guarding the ford, and also that the divisions of the rebel Generals Gordon and Rodes were within a mile or two of the ford, and that General Early was present. I at once sent an aide to General Crook with this information, and asked for further instructions. I continued the crossing of the command, and sent out skirmishers to the front and flanks. My aide returned with orders from General Crook not to move up to Snicker’s Ferry as at first directed, but to take as strong a position as possible near the ford and await the arrival of a division of the Sixth Corps, which had been ordered to cross the river to my support. I posted my command in two lines near the riverbank, the Second Brigade, then commanded by myself, on the right, the First Brigade, commanded by Colonel Wells, on the left, and the Third Brigade, commanded by Colonel Frost, in the center. The first line was placed immediately behind and under cover of a bluff that ran parallel to and about seventy-five yards distant from the river. The second line was posted in an old road on the riverbank and behind a low stone fence, which afforded excellent protection for the men. The ground in front of the first line rose irregularly through cleared fields for the distance of about one-third of a mile. After lying in this position about one hour, the enemy advanced a heavy skirmish line upon my front and flanks, at the same time a heavy force was moved forward upon my right flank, moving in two lines of battle at nearly right angles to our lines; the Second Brigade was ordered to change its front to the right to meet this attack, which was gallantly done, but the sharp enfilading fire from skirmishers and sharpshooters upon the high ground in front caused some unsteadiness, and finally the first line gave way and fell back to the second line, which was on the right principally composed of dismounted cavalry, about 1,000 strong, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Young, of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, which in spite of the energetic efforts of Colonel Young to prevent it broke and ran into and across the river, causing something of a panic to spread into the force falling back from the first line, many of whom also followed them across the river. As the first line of the Second Brigade began to give way, Colonel Frost, of the Eleventh West Virginia, commanding the Third Brigade, was directed to oblique his first line to the right and present a front to the advancing foe. But while bravely performing this duty he fell mortally wounded, and his command was thrown into some confusion and followed the first line of the Second Brigade in its retreat, taking with it a battalion of the Fifth New York Heavy Artillery, on the right of the first line of the First Brigade, the latter losing heavily in killed and wounded, and leaving its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Murray, wounded, in the hands of the enemy. By this time the enemy had come within range of the second line, which gave a volley that repelled his farther advance, and drove him out of sight beyond the bluff. But he immediately commenced reforming for another attack upon my right. I had the One hundred and sixteenth Ohio, commanded by Colonel Washburn, detached from the First Brigade and sent to the right, and just as it was getting into line the second attack was made. But the panic was over. The attack was bravely met and the enemy driven back. A third advance was afterward made with similar results, when the enemy retired beyond the hill in our front, leaving us in possession of the field. But night was coming on. The promised division from the Sixth Corps had not been sent to our assistance, and General Crook sent an order to return across the river, which was done in good order. During the crossing of the command, the enemy advanced a battery and commenced shelling the ford, which compelled us to leave many of the worst wounded cases in his hands. On the right of the line the Fourth West Virginia Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Vance, was conspicuous for its firm and gallant conduct, also the One hundred and sixteenth Ohio, commanded by Colonel Washburn. This officer fell severely wounded while bravely leading his men into action. His place was promptly and worthily filled by Lieutenant- Colonel Wildes, of the same regiment. The Twelfth West Virginia, commanded by Colonel Curtis, also stood firm. These regiments, with detachments from the First West Virginia, Second Maryland [Eastern Shore], Eighteenth Connecticut, and Colonel Young, with a few dismounted cavalry, held the right of the line and saved the command from a complete rout. Colonel Wells’ brigade on the left, with the exception of the regiments detached from him, was engaged only with the enemy’s skirmish line. Our loss was 65 killed, 301 wounded, 56 missing; total, 422. The enemy’s loss, at their own estimate, was over 600 killed and wounded. I append a list of casualties.

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

J. THOBURN,
Colonel First West Virginia, Commanding.

Capt. J. L. BOTSFORD,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of West Virginia.

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HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF WEST VIRGINIA,
Near Cedar Creek, Va., October 12, 1864

MAJOR: I have the honor to report that in accordance with paragraph 6, Special Orders, No. 126, current Series, headquarters Department of West Virginia, I proceeded on the 16th day of July, 1864, to Hillsborough, Va., and assumed command of our forces there, under Brig. Gen. J. C. Sullivan, U. S. Volunteers. Upon my arrival there, between the hours of 11 and 12 a.m., I ascertained that our forces had no scouting parties out, and that nothing definite was known of the whereabouts of the enemy. I at once sent scouting parties out from the cavalry in different directions, and directed one party of 1,500 men to move to my right toward Aldie and ascertain if the enemy were retreating in that direction. This party encountered the rear of the enemy’s column retreating toward Snicker’s Gap, attacked their train and captured part of it and some prisoners. Before I could get my infantry over on the Snicker’s Gap road the rear of their column had passed some time, and I lost this opportunity of attacking them in flank. I struck this road at Purcellville, Colonel Wells, with his brigade, moving by way of Waterford, and reported to Major-General Wright, in accordance with orders received from Maj. Gen. D. Hunter, commanding Department of West Virginia. Next morning I was ordered by General Wright to send a cavalry force to Snickersville, supported by infantry, to push the rear of the enemy’s column, and ascertain if possible what route they had taken. I accordingly sent General Duffie with his cavalry, and Colonel Mulligan’s brigade of infantry. They found the enemy had crossed the Shenandoah River at Snicker’s Ferry, and was holding the ford. The following morning, agreeably to orders, I proceeded with the remainder of my command to Snicker’s Ford. On arriving at this point I found the enemy still holding the ford. I ordered General Duffie with his cavalry to pass through Ashby’s Gap and attack the enemy’s train in flank, but the enemy were also holding that gap, and he could not effect the passage. Believing that only the enemy s cavalry were holding Snicker’s Ford, I ordered three brigades, under Col. J. Thoburn, some mile and a half below to cross the river and compel the enemy to evacuate the ford. Colonel Thoburn in crossing the river captured some prisoners, who stated that General Early’s entire forces were encamped in the vicinity. Upon this information being communicated to the major-general commanding, the Sixth Army Corps was ordered up to support my men. Previous to the Sixth Corps reaching the river, the enemy made assaults on my lines, being repulsed with heavy slaughter each time, notwithstanding that the greater portion of the “odds and ends” of dismounted cavalry, &c., that composed a part of my command, fled ingloriously across the river at the first assault of the enemy. The head of the column of the Sixth Corps had reached the crossing of the river by this time, and as General Ricketts, commanding the corps, did not think it prudent under the circumstances to cross his men, and as the enemy were preparing for another attack on my lines, I gave the order to fall back, which was done in good order by the remaining troops. As an evidence of the punishment the enemy received, they did not follow my men down the river until after dark. For the behavior of my troops I respectfully refer you to Colonel Thoburn’s report, who, with those who fought until the last with him, deserve particular mention for their gallantry. Our loss on this occasion was 65 killed, 301 wounded, and 56 missing. I had no correct means of ascertaining the enemy’s loss, but it is reasonable to suppose that it was heavier than ours.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEORGE CROOK,
Brevet Major-General

Maj. C. A. WHITTIER,
Assistant Adjutant-General

Tenth West Virginia Infantry
Battle of Snicker’s Ferry
1 Killed, 5 Wounded, 1 Missing – Total Casualties 7

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Updated 28 March 2010