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The Battle of New Market
An article posted in the May 2005 Somerset County Historical Society publication that recounts a diary of the Battle (a major engagement of the war and one for the 54th).|
The Fifty-fourth Regiment, recruited principally in the counties of Cambria, Somerset, Dauphin, Northampton, and Lehigh, during the months of August and September, 1861, rendezvoused at Camp Curtin, and was organized by the selection of the following field officers: Jacob M. Campbell, of Cambria county, Colonel; Barnabas M'Dermit, of Cambria county, Lieutenant Colonel; John P. Linton, of Cambria county, Major. Colonel Campbell, and many of the officers and men, had served during the three months' campaign, and Lieutenant Colonel M'Dermitt possessed military experience acquired in the Mexican War. The men were drilled by squads and companies, while in camp, and company F, Captain Davis, for some time performed guard duty at the State Arsenal.
On the 27th of February, 1862, the regiment was ordered to Washington, and, upon its arrival, went into camp near Bladensburg Cemetery. Company and regimental drill was practiced under the strictest discipline. Here the altered flint-lock muskets furnished by the State, were exchanged for the Belgian Rifles. On the 25th of March, the regiment was ordered to report to Brigadier Keim, of Casey's Division; but, on the following day, the order was countermanded, and, on the 29th, it was ordered to proceed to Harper's Ferry, and report to Colonel Miles. Upon his arrival, Colonel Campbell was directed to make the following disposition of his force along the line the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad: Company G, Captain F. B. Long, at Back Creek Bridge, eight miles west of Martinsburg; company F, Captain G. W. P. Davis, at Sleepy Creek Bridge, nine miles further west; company D, Captain Thomas H. Lapsly, at Alpine Station, five miles beyond the Sleepy Creek post; company I, Captain William B. Bonacker, at Sir John's Run, six miles further west; company C, Captain E. D. Yutzy, at Great Cacapon Bridge, five miles west of Sir John's Run; company H, Captain John O. Billheimer, at Rockwell's Run, six miles beyond; company E, Captain Patrick Graham, at No. 12 Water Station; Company B, Captain John H. Hite, at Paw Paw, three or four miles further on; company K, Captain Edmond R. Newhard, at Little Cacapon Bridge, and company A, Captain John P. Suter, at South Branch Bridge, sixteen miles east of Cumberland, and sixty-two miles west of Martinsburg. The distance to be guarded was fifty-six miles. Regimental headquarters were established at first at Great Cacapon, but subsequently at Sir John's Run.
The country through which that portion of the raillroad runs, which the regiment was required to guard, was considered by the rebels as their own territory, and the majority of the population, in the vicinity, was rebel at heart. Numerous guerrilla bands, led by daring and reckless chieftains, roved the country, pillaging and burning the property of Union inhabitants, and watchful for an opportunity to burn the railroad bridges, cut the wires of the telegraph, and destroy the road. To guard this great thoroughfare, of vital importance to the government, to suppress guerrilla warfare, to afford protection to the harassed and helpless people, was the duty which the regiment was assigned to perform. Colonel Campbell at once assumed, as a cardinal principle, that the true way to deal with guerrillas was to assume the offensive, and hunt them, instead of waiting to let them hunt him. Almost daily, from some part of the line, squads were sent out to engage and capture these roving bands, led by such notorious partisans as Edwards, White, Imboden, and M'Neil, and many were brought in. Some of these were sent to Harper's Ferry, others, less guilty, upon taking the oath of allegiance, were released, while the most notorious were sent to Camp Chase, Ohio.
On Sunday morning, the 25th of May, 1862, all the locomotives on the railroad west of Harper's Ferry, were hurried through to Cumberland, the engineers bringing the first intelligence of the retreat of Banks, and the approach of Stonewall Jackson to Martinsburg. At nine o'clock that night Colonel Campbell received the following dispatch from Colonel Miles: -- "Concentrate your regiment at South Branch. General Banks defeated and driven through Martinsburg. Expect an attack here hourly. Mean to fight."
Fortunately, Colonel Campbell had detained one engine, and this he immediately dispatched for company G, nearest to Martinsburg, and most exposed to the enemy's advancing columns. It arrived not a moment too soon; for as the company moved away the rebel advance began to swarm in, and soon set fire to the deserted camp, and the railroad bridge which the company had been guarding. A train procured from Cumberland was sent out and the companies were all successively picked up and carried west to South Branch. Here the Potomac was spanned by a substantial iron bridge, the only one left standing by the rebels during their occupation of the road in the preceding summer. The telegraph wires were now severed and all communication with headquarters was cut off. Lieutenant Colonel M'Dermit was sent out with two companies on the 28th to reconnoitre, and on the 31st Colonel Campbell proceeded down the road with two companies as far as Back Creek, without meeting any opposition. The destruction of the bridge at this point prevented further progress, and he returned to camp. On the 1st of June he dispatched two companies under command of Major Linton to the Great Cacapon, for the protection of the bridge. In the meantime, Jackson had been driven from the valley, and on the following day the Colonel received the following order, by telegraph, from Colonel Miles: -- "Colonel Campbell and command will occupy the railroad as before." By nightfall all the companies were at their old posts.
The success of Jackson, and the consequent withdrawal from the road, had inspired his roving bands with new life, and they became more troublesome than ever, wandering up and down the country, pillaging, indiscriminately, from friend and foe. The several companies were kept constantly on the alert, and with an energy and enterprise rarely equalled, the territory was scoured, many of the squads penetrating the interior twenty and thirty miles, capturing and dispersing the guerrillas, restoring stolen property, and successfully protecting and preserving the road. From June 1st, to September 10th, two hundred and thirteen guerrillas and two hundred and seventy-three horses, together with muskets, sabers, pistols and other military trappings, were captured.
The rebel army having defeated M'Clellan upon the Peninsula, and Pope at Bull Run, was now advancing into Maryland on the Antietam campaign. On the 11th of September his advance guard reached Back Creek, where he surprised and captured some of the pickets of company G. Communication with Colonel Miles was again severed, and soon after Harper's Ferry was invested by Jackson, the post, garrison, and immense military stores falling into the hands of the enemy. Colonel Campbell now telegraphed to General Kelly, in command in West Virginia, for orders. Kelly declined to give any, but advised the withdrawal from the road. This the Colonel decided not to follow, and clung to his position, which had now become perilous, his little band of nine hundred men, without artillery or cavalry, being the only Union forces, at that time, in the hostile territory of Virginia.
On the 12th, Colonel Campbell, taking a small detachment from company I, Captain Bonacker, at Sir John's Run, and another from company D, under Lieutenant Gageby, proceeded in open platform cars to Back Creek. There he was joined by Captain Long, with a small force, in all but sixty-six men. Proceeding cautiously towards North Mountain, and awaiting until the main body of the enemy had passed, Colonel Campbell made a bold and impetuous attack upon his rear guard. The rebels, ignorant of the numbers of the attacking force, were thrown into confusion, and precipitately fled. In this spirited sortie two of the enemy were left dead upon the field, seven were wounded, nineteen were taken prisoners, and thirty stands of arms and one caisson were captured. Leaving a small force, with Major Linton in command, at Back Creek, Colonel Campbell returned to headquarters, and immediately re-established telegraphic communication with the advance post. Two days later the enemy again advanced his pickets to the neighborhood of Back Creek. A division of his army was engaged in destroying the railroad, with headquarters at Martinsburg. Learning that the enemy's pickets had advanced, Colonel Campbell, with detachments from companies C, D, and I, hastened to the support of Major Linton. "From their stations," says a correspondent, "the enemy's pickets could see but one side of the Colonel's camp at the bridge, and struck with this fact, he conceived and executed a happy device. Leading in his detachments on the exposed side, he marched them over the hill, out of sight of the enemy, and again and again back to the road and through the camp, thus conveying to the rebel pickets the impression that the post had been strongly reinforced. That night three hollowed logs were mounted upon the wooden breast-works, and with the soldiers' gum blankets wrapped around them, presented the appearance of formidable siege guns. To complete the deception the men bored holes in the stumps with a large auger, and charging them freely with powder, set them off regularly morning and evening."
Skirmishing with the enemy's pickets was kept up until the 21st, when company G, which was holding the bridge, was attacked by a considerable force of the enemy. Upon receipt of intelligence of its approach, Colonel Campbell moved his train, with his forces hastily collected, to the support of the menaced detachment; but before he arrived, Major Linton had been attacked with an overwhelming force, and was obliged to fall back, bringing off all his men, but losing his camp and garrison equipage. The enemy advanced and burned the railroad bridge, but hearing the whistle of the locomotive bringing up Colonel Campbell's force, and suspecting an ambuscade, and the arrival of reinforcements, hastily fell back. Colonel Campbell pushed out his pickets again to the bridge, where they arrived before the ruins had been extinguished.
After the battle of Antietam, General M'Clellan, unaware of the presence of any Union troops south of the Potomac, sent a cavalry force to picket the Maryland shore. Seeing soldiers in blue across the river, they regarded Colonel Campbell's men as rebels in disguise, and it was with difficulty that they could be undeceived. Upon the surrender of Miles, the brigade to which the regiment belonged, had disappeared. A report of its position to the General-in-Chief soon brought an order attaching it to General Franklin's command. At daylight on the 4th of October, the rebel General Imboden, with a force of infantry and cavalry, seven hundred strong, attacked company K, Captain Newhard, at Little Cacapon. The men were at roll-call when the enemy, under cover of a dense fog, rushed into their camp, and the first intimation that they had of his presence was a volley fired from their own rifle-pits. They immediately seized their arms, and attempted to drive out the hostile force; but the odds were too great, and they were forced to yield. Thirty-five of the company escaped; but Captain Newhard, and fifty of his men were captured. Seven of the company were wounded. The enemy had two killed and eight wounded. Moving rapidly to Paw Paw, where Captain Hite was stationed with company B, Imboden divided his brigade, and, with one column keeping the Captain amused in front, sent the other to the rear, and before the latter was aware of his situation, he was fast between the two. Bringing up two small guns within easy range of Hite's position, Imboden demanded his surrender. As resistance was sure to entail a useless slaughter, the company yielded. Learning the fate of two of his companies, Colonel Campbell quickly concentrated his force at Sir John's Run. Imboden approached within six miles, and after reconnoitring the position for a day, unwilling to attack, withdrew to Winchester, and the remaining companies of the Fifty-fourth were returned to their old posts.
Soon afterwards the regiment was attached to the command of General Morrell, left for the defence of the Upper Potomac, and subsequently, upon the organization of the Eighth Army Corps, it was assigned to the Third Brigade, of the Second Division, commanded by General Kelly. In December, companies B and K, having been exchanged, returned to the regiment, and the order, relieving it from the onerous and trying duty upon the railroad, which had been earnestly longed for, was received. Concentrating at North Mountain, it moved, on the 6th of January, 1863, to Romney, where, after a fruitless pursuit of Imboden, it remained until the opening of the spring campaign. On the 29th of January, Lieutenant Colonel M'Dermit resigned, and Major Linton succeeded him, Captain Enoch D. Yutzy, of company C, being promoted to Major.
The Fifty-fourth was now attached to the Fourth Brigade of the First Division, Department of West Virginia, Colonel Campbell in command of the brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel Linton of the regiment. On the 3d of April, the enemy having attacked a forage train above Burlington, the Fifty-fourth, with a battalion of cavalry, was sent in pursuit. At Purgitsville the rebel cavalry was encountered and driven, and some prisoners taken. The regiment continued here, scouting the country and capturing guerrillas who infested the region, until the 30th of June, when it moved to New Creek in anticipation of an attack upon Grafton. On the 6th of July, General Kelly moved his command, by forced marches, to co-operate with the Army of the Potomac, now driving the enemy from the field of Gettysburg. On the 10th he came upon the rebel pickets, and, upon the withdrawal of the rebel army into Virginia, he followed up the retreat, and on the 19th was heavily engaged. During the night he learned through a scout that the enemy, in force, was moving on his rear, and immediately retreated into Maryland, leaving the Fifty-fourth alone upon the Virginia shore. The enemy approached and threw a few shells into its lines, but soon retired.
The regiment now returned to Romney. On the 15th of August, Colonel Mulligan, in command of the Twenty-third Illinois, was threatened with an attack near Petersburg, and the Fifty-fourth marched to his relief. Here it remained, and for three weeks was engaged in fortifying. On the 6th of November the brigade moved to Springfield, where a re-organization of the command took place, the Fifty-fourth being assigned to the First Brigade of the Second Division, Colonel Campbell in command.
On the 4th of January, 1864, General Kelly apprehending an attack upon Cumberland, Colonel Campbell, with a part of his command was ordered to its defense. A month later, company F, while guarding the railroad bridge at Patterson's Creek, was attacked by a party of the enemy under the notorious Harry Gilmore, in the garb of Union soldiers. By this deception the rebels reached the picket line unsuspected, when they dashed into the camp, and after a short struggle compelled its surrender. Three of the company were killed, and several wounded. After the surrender, Gilmore, with his own hand, shot and instantly killed Corporal Gibbs, an act which should stamp its perpetrator with infamy. Colonel Campbell, at his own request, was relieved from the command of his Brigade, and assumed charge of his Regiment.
About this time General Sigel relieved General Kelly, and immediately commenced preparations for a campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. On the 15th of May, while pushing his columns up the valley, Sigel struck a force of the enemy, unexpectedly large, under General Breckinridge, near New Market, prepared to offer battle. Confident of his ability to drive the opposing force, Sigel disposed his troops for battle. His left flank was protected by cavalry, while three regiments of infantry, the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, First Virginia, and Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, composing the Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Thoburn, and two batteries, were formed for the attack, with the brigade of Moore in support on the right. At the opening of the battle, the cavalry, in passing to the rear, threw the infantry into some confusion, breaking through its lines. Steadily the enemy moved forward to the attack, his long lines overlapping both flanks of Sigel's force. The artillery was plied with excellent effect, but could not stay the rebel columns. Arriving within easy musket range, the infantry of both sides opened, simultaneously, a heavy and mutually destructive fire. For some time the battle raged with great fury, but the enemy's superiority of numbers at length prevailed, and the Union lines were forced back, the Fifty-fourth retiring in good order, returning the fire of the enemy until he ceased to pursue. Sigel retreated to Cedar Creek where he threw up defensive works. The loss of the regiment in this engagement was one hundred and seventy-four killed, wounded, and missing. Captain Geissinger, and Lieutenant Colburn were among the killed, and Lieutenant Colonel Linton, Captains Graham and Bonacker, and Lieutenant Anderson wounded.
General Sigel was, soon after the battle, relieved, and Major General David Hunter was assigned to the command of the army which was now designated the Army of the Shenandoah. On the 26th of May, Hunter commenced his advance up the valley, encountering the enemy at New Market, who stubbornly contested his further progress. On the morning of Sunday, June 5th, the First Brigade, Colonel Moore, which had the advance, met the enemy in force near New Hope Church, where he was well posted behind breastworks, and was soon hotly engaged. Three successive charges were made by this gallant brigade, but was as often swept back by a murderous fire. The Fifty-fourth had been ordered, early in the day, to the left of the line, where, from early morn until noon, it was manoeuvered in face of a destructive fire of shot and shell, holding in check the enemy's cavalry, and protecting that wing. At one P. M. the Second Brigade, of only three regiments, was ordered to storm and carry the works, which six regiments, Moore's Brigade, had vainly, but well fought for. These works, substantially built, were situated upon the brow of a hill reached by a gradual ascent. Quickly forming, the line moved rapidly to the foot of the hill, where it halted, while the artillery threw a well directed shower of shells upon his lines. As the fire slackened, the order to charge was given. With shouts, the line moved forward at double-quick, and pausing not for an instant, scaled the breastworks. A single volley was poured in upon the rebel mass, when muskets were clubbed, and a terrible hand-to-hand encounter ensued. With unflinching bravery this small brigade held the ground it had won against the repeated attempts of the enemy to regain it. Finally, the rebel leader, Jones, fell, his brain pierced by a bullet, and the rout of his forces commenced. The loss of the regiment, in this battle, was thirty killed and wounded. Adjutant Rose among the latter.
At Staunton, Hunter was joined by Crook, who had advanced from the Kanawha Valley. The Fifty-fourth was here transferred to Crook's command, and formed part of the Third Brigade of the Second Division, Colonel Campbell taking command of the Brigade, and Major Yutzy, in the absence of Lieutenant Colonel Linton, on account of the wound received at New Market, of the regiment. Hunter now pushed rapidly forward towards Lynchburg, the enemy steadily contesting the way. On the 11th, he defeated the rebel force occupying Lexington, and possessed the town. The Fifty-fourth was engaged, but suffered little loss. On the 17th, Hunter arrived in front of Lynchburg, where the enemy had concentrated in large force. Heavy skirmishing immediately commenced, and the fighting soon became general. During two days the contest was waged with varying success, raging at times with great fury. All this time the men of the Fifty-fourth were without rations, and were worn out with hard service; but they never flinched from the severe duty to which they were subjected. Fifty-four of their number were killed in the engagement in front of the town. Among the wounded was Lieutenant Cole, of company B.
Finding the enemy too strong for him, his ammunition nearly exhausted, Hunter withdrew, and commenced his retreat across the mountains, towards the Kanawha. In a hostile country, short of rations, the hills and the valleys scorched by the summer's sun, and the fountains dry, it would be difficult to give any adequate conception of the sufferings and privations of man and beast in this memorable march. Reaching camp Pyatt, on the Kanawha, on the 29th, after a brief respite, the army was taken by transports to Parkersburg, and thence by the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to Martinsburg, arriving on the 14th of July.
General Early, who had been detached from Lee's army at Petersburg for a diversion in its favor, had advanced into Maryland, had driven Wallace from the Monocacy, and had approached to the very gates of the Capital. The timely arrival of General Wright, with the Sixth and Nineteenth Corps, from Grant's army, turned him back, and, to intercept his retreat, Hunter's forces were ordered forward from Martinsburg. Lieutenant Colonel Linton, having returned, was now in command of the regiment. Crossing the Potomac at Harper's Ferry, and immediately re-crossing at Berlin, the command hastened through Lovettsville to the neighborhood of Snicker's Gap, where, upon its arrival, it was ascertained that the enemy had already passed through. General Crook, who had succeeded General Hunter in the command of the Army of West Virginia, at once joined in the pursuit. On the 18th, three brigades of his command passed the Blue Ridge, and, avoiding the main ford which was strongly defended, by a detour to the right, crossed at an unfrequented ford. Early's entire force was here concentrated; but the three brigades, under command of Colonel Thoburn, immediately attacked. After a spirited engagement, Thoburn, being out-flanked in his position, and vastly outnumbered, was driven back and re-crossed the river. The loss of the Fifty-fourth was seven.
Wright, with his two corps, now came up, and crossed in force, the enemy falling back as he advanced until he reached Winchester. Here the pursuit was stayed, and Wright, with his forces, returned to Washington, leaving Crook in command. The brigade was here transferred to the division commanded by Colonel Mulligan, of the Twenty-third Illinois. Apprised of the withdrawal of Wright, Early, on the 23d, faced about, and commenced skirmishing with Crook's advance, which lasted during the entire day, the Fifty-fourth participating. Early on the following morning, the enemy made a vigorous attack, which increased in fury as the day wore on. The fighting, in the vicinity of Kernstown, in Colonel Mulligan's front, was very severe, and, at first, was favorable to the Union arms; but, aware of his inferiority in numbers, and that his position was liable to be turned Crook ordered Mulligan to withdraw. At the moment that the retrograde movement commenced, the enemy charged, and the movement had to be executed under a terrific fire of infantry and artillery. The Fifty-fourth, which had fought its way up to, and beyond Kernstown, full of courage and confidence, heard the order to retreat with evident dissatisfaction, but executed it in excellent order, twice facing about and delivering a well-directed fire into the faces of the pursuing host. At the moment the retreat commenced, Colonel Mulligan fell, mortally wounded, and the command of the division devolved on Colonel Campbell, that of the brigade on Captain John P. Suter, Lieutenant Colonel Linton having been disabled during the engagement, and of the regiment, on Captain F. B. Long. Crook now withdrew his forces across the Potomac.
During the remaining summer months the regiment participated in the marches and counter-marches of the command, the exact object of which was probably best known to its leader. Upon the assumption of the chief command, by General Sheridan, the army was re-organized and prepared for an active campaign. The Fifty-fourth marched with the command to Cedar Creek, participating in a series of heavy skirmishes, and with it fell back to Halltown. Here it remained until August 28th, when the enemy having disappeared from its front, the whole force marched to Charlestown, and on the 3d of September to Berryville. On the day of its arrival, a severe engagement occurred, lasting far into the night, and ending in the complete repulse of the enemy. For four days the Army of West Virginia, now known as the Eighth Corps, bivouacked near Berryville, and was then transferred, from the extreme left of the infantry line, to the extreme right, at Summit Point. Here the Fifty-fourth remained until the 19th, repairing, as far as possible, the ravages of the campaign, distributing supplies, and assigning recruits, convalescents, and veterans returned from furlough.
At two o'clock on the morning of the 19th of September, Sheridan advanced to drive the enemy from his strongly fortified position near Winchester. Crook's Corps reached the railroad crossing of the Opequan, at eleven A. M., and was here held in reserve until two P. M., the sound of battle, fiercely raging beyond the small stream, distinctly audible, when it was ordered to advance. Crossing to the right of the Winchester pike, the regiment was formed in rear of a wood, through which it advanced in line, relieving a portion of the Nineteenth Corps. Here Crook's entire line lay for some time in comparative quiet, responding at brief intervals with random shots to the skirmish firing of the enemy. Suddenly, to the right, was heard a loud shout. It was the charging of Torbert's Cavalry. Simultaneously, Crook received the order to charge, and with shouts and cheers the whole line rushed forward into the open field, and though many fell, unbroken it moved forward with irresistible force, pushing the enemy, and allowing him no time to rally, until he was flying in complete rout and confusion far beyond Winchester, and the victory was complete.
Two days after the battle of Winchester, the Fifty-fourth, under command of Major Yutzy, formed part of the force, which, moving quietly along the rough and precipitous sides of North Mountain, turned the left of the enemy, stationed at Fisher's Hill, and, with an irresistible charge, swept down on his flank, driving him from his guns, and almost annihilating his command. Joining in the pursuit, the regiment followed his scattered and demoralized forces beyond Harrisonburg, whence it returned, with the army, to the north side of Cedar Creek.
On the 19th of October, in the absence of General Sheridan, Early passed silently from his camp at midnight, and dividing his command into two columns, gained a position undiscovered, in dangerous proximity to the Union force, whence, in the mist of the early morn, he fell, with crushing force, upon the Union troops, reposing unsuspicious of danger. Crook's Corps in advance was first attacked, and before it could form in line, or offer any resistance, was driven back. When the rout of our forces was complete, and the enemy was in full possession of our camps, artillery, and many prisoners, Sheridan arrived upon the field, and, with remarkable coolness and assurance, collected his scattered forces, formed his lines of battle, and when well in hand and inspired with the spirit of their leader, he fell upon the enemy, rioting in the captured camps, and before night-fall had retrieved all that was lost, and was glorying in his captures of artillery, small arms, and a great crowd of prisoners, the exultant enemy reduced to a flying mob. In this engagement, made ever memorable in song, the Fifty-fourth suffered severely, being posted in advance, and the first to feel the enemy's blow. Among the killed was Lieutenant Joseph Peck, of company B. This ended the campaign of the Shenandoah, and the enemy never afterwards made his appearance in the valley in force.
On the 19th of December, the main body of Sheridan's army marched from the valley to join Grant in front of Petersburg. The Fifty-fourth moved to Washington and thence to City Point, arriving on the 23d, and encamped on Chapin's Farm. It was assigned to duty in the Army of the James.
Upon the muster out of service of the Third and Fourth Reserve Regiments, in May, 1864, the veterans and recruits were at first organized into an independent battalion, which was subsequently united to the Fifty-fourth. On the 7th of February, 1865, the term of original enlistments having expired, an order from the War Department directed that the two organizations should be consolidated under the name of the Fifty-fourth Regiment. This was effected, and the following field officers were commissioned, the original officers of the Fifty-fourth having been mustered out at the expiration of their terms of service: Albert P. Moulton, Colonel, William A. M'Dermit, Lieutenant Colonel, and Nathan Davis, Major. It was assigned to the Second Brigade, Independent Division of the Army of the James, commanded by General Ord.
On the morning of the 2d of April the regiment was ordered to join in the general forward movement of the army, and proceeding with the brigade, crossed the rebel works, near the Boydton Plank Road, now abandoned, and approached Fort Gregg. Here a spirited resistance was offered, and it was not until a hot fire of infantry and artillery had been brought to bear upon the enemy, that he yielded. In this brief engagement the regiment lost twenty killed and wounded. Major Davis and Lieutenant Cyrus Patton, of company G, were among the killed, Captain John L. Decker, of company A, succeeded Davis as major of the regiment.
The rebel army, having been routed from its works about Petersburg, was retreating rapidly towards the North Carolina border. On the 5th of April, two regiments, the Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, and the One Hundred and Twenty-third Ohio, Colonel Kellogg, with two companies of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, Colonel Washburn, were ordered to make a forced march to High Bridge, and effect its destruction, for the purpose of cutting the enemy's way of retreat, and delaying his columns. Arrived at Rice's station, General Read, of Ord's staff, took command, and when within sight of the bridge made his dispositions for the attack. Before the column could be formed, word was brought that the videttes, at Rice's had been driven; nothing daunted, the little force promptly attacked. But the enemy had taken ample precautions for the safety of this, their main avenue of escape, and after a desperate struggle, in which General Read was killed, Colonels Kellogg and Washburn wounded and taken prisoners, and a large proportion of the command killed or prisoners, surrounded on all sides by the main columns of the enemy's infantry and cavalry, it was forced to surrender. The loss of the Fifty-fourth was twenty-one killed and wounded. The captives were taken back to Rice's, where, to their astonishment, they beheld Longstreet's Corps intrenched, having come up but a few moments after Read's column had passed in the morning.
The attack, though failing in its immediate purpose, subserved the main end; for Lee's columns were thereby delayed several hours, enabling Sheridan to sweep around the enemy's rear, and complete the destruction and capture of that once proud and defiant army. For four days, without rations, the captives marched with the retreating rebel army, when, to their great joy, they were released from their captivity, and their starving condition, by Grant's victorious columns. From Appomattox Court House the regiment was sent to Camp Parole, at Annapolis, Maryland, and, on the 15th of July, was mustered out of service at Harrisburg.
|Source: Bates, Samuel P., History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5 (Harrisburg: B. Singerly, State Printer. 1871)|