March 6, 1864: Skirmish at Snickersville
Unknown Confederates versus First New York Veteran Cavalry
Report of Major Charles A. Wells, First New York Veteran Cavalry.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST NEW YORK CAVALRY,
Camp Sullivan, Halltown, Va., March 7, 1864.
SIR: In obedience to orders from General Sullivan "to find out whether the enemy were about to cross at the Point of Rocks," I marched to Waterford Saturday afternoon, which place I reached at midnight.
At Hillsborough I left one company, Captain Carter, to guard my rear, which was strengthened at daylight by another company, Captain Cooley's (who had been searching houses in the vicinity of Purcellville during the night for furloughed soldiers, securing 1 of White's battalion, who had been turned over to Captain Leavitt, provost-marshal of Halltown, and 2 horses), making a force of 90 men at that place. I ordered Captain Carter to send a detachment at daylight to Purcellville to remain there until further orders.
I bivouacked at Waterford that night, and in the morning sent a force of 60 men, under Captain Banks, to Leesburg, but was unable to find the enemy in that vicinity, and I then ordered them to proceed down the Leesburg pike to Purcellville, and then cross to Hillsborough, bringing the detachment of 20 men I ordered there with them.
I remained at Waterford until 1 p. m., and then marched to Hillsborough, arriving there at 3 p. m. I there learned that the detachment sent out by Captain Carter to Purcellville had, by mistake, gone to Snickersville, where they had a fight with about 32 of the enemy, who killed and captured the party, the details of which will be found in the accompanying report of Captain Carter; that he had started out with the balance of his men, had joined Captain Banks' company at Purcellville, and gone in pursuit of the enemy. I halted my command until they returned at 8 p. m., sending a party to destroy the distillery as your ordered (a report of which has been forwarded), and then camped for the night, leaving there at 8 o'clock this morning. From all information I could gather, there had been no organized force of the enemy in the vicinity of Leesburg for three weeks.
I wish to bring before you the fact that only a few of our carbines (Starr's) can be relied upon, as shown in Captain Carter's report, and as I have noticed in trying them at target practice, and would respectfully recommend that a change of arm be made too one that can be relied upon and give the men their old confidence.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. A. WELLS,
Major First New York Veteran Cav., Commanding Detachment.
Report of Captain John J. Carter, First New York Veteran Cavalry.
HDQRS. FIRST VETERAN CAV., NEW YORK VOLUNTEERS,
Camp Sullivan, near Halltown, Va., March 7, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor herewith to report that, in obedience to orders received from headquarters First New York Veteran Cavalry, I proceeded with 60 men of my company (D), on the afternoon of the 5th instant, on an expedition through Loudoun Valley, Va., said expedition being commanded by you (Major Wells). Reaching Hillsborough about 10 p. m. on the night of the 5th instant, I received orders from you to hold the town (Hillsborough) with my command that night, the 5th, and that some time before morning I would be re-enforced by the command of Captain Cooley, who was about to start for Purcellville. I was further ordered by you to send 20 good men, under charge of a non-commissioned officer, to Purcellville on the morning of the 6th instant, say at 8 a. m.,
said party to picket the town until the command should return from Waterford, where you (Major Wells) was about to start, unless they saw a force of the enemy, when they were to remain until the object of the expedition would be accomplished. In obedience to those orders, I sent 4 corporals and 17 privates, all under the charge of my orderly sergeant, Alfred H. Cain, with the orders as heretofore mentioned, and giving him directions concerning the roads, &c.
The party started and all seemed well until about 2 p. m. of the 6th instant, when 3 of my men who had gone with the party sent out by you on that morning were either killed or captured except the 3 just returned, and also informed me that this had taken place at Snickersville. I immediately resolved to ascertain the truth of the matter, and at once started with 35 of my company for Snickersville, leaving Captain Cooley's command at Hillsborough to hold it. I had not gone more than 3 to 3 1/2 miles before I met Captain Banks, of this regiment, and a part of your (Major Wells') command, and upon stating to him (Captain Banks) the object of my visit me. I proceeded to Snickersville as fast as possible, nothing having transpired worthy of comment, and meeting but 2 of the enemy, one of which Alfred Crammer, Company B, First New York Veteran Cavalry, shot, and the other succeeded in making good his escape to the mountains.
On reaching Snickersville I fund that 4 of my men were shot dead, 2 wounded, and that 10 were taken prisoners, while there were 3 missing whom I could not receive any account of, as they had taken the Leesburg pike, followed by a party of the enemy's cavalry, who at the latest accounts had not succeeded in capturing them. I found the orderly sergeant (he who commanded the party) at one of the houses badly wounded in the left hip and breast. I made such inquiries as was possible of him, and afterwards of the citizens, and all agreed to the following.
About 11. 30 a. m. a party of cavalry (my men) came into Snickersville and immediately threw out pickets on the various approaches leading to the town. Then one-half of the party fed their horses while the rest remained ready to act. After remaining here about one-half hour, the picket in the gap (Snicker's) gave the alarm that a party of rebels, about 18 or 20, were coming, upon which information the whole command was drawn up in line to await their coming, taking care that everything was in readiness to give them a good reception.
They remained in this manner some ten minutes, when a party (afterward
ascertained to number 17 men) came charging down the road from the gap on the
men drawn up in line. The sergeant in charge let them come within good carbine
shot, when he gave the men orders to fire and immediately ordered a charge with
drawn sabers, by which he succeeded in driving the enemy back into the gap; but
hardly had he reached the rise of the hill when he found that another party
(afterward ascertained to be 6 men) charged his rear, and on finding himself
assailed both in front and rear he at once determined to cut his way through
those in his rear and, if possible, reach Hillsborough; but on driving the party
of 6 men through town the party who first came from the gap once more
charged him, and a third party (afterward ascertained 8 men) came from the right of the town, and all concentrated their fire on the little party, who now became reduced by the loss of 2 killed in the first and second charges, but determined to either die or conquer (say the citizens of Snickersville). they fought on with nothing but the saber, while the enemy had 2 to their 1 man each man being armed with two revolvers and many with carbines. Then, to recapitulate, 22 of my men were assailed (according to the best information) by 32 of the enemy armed with two revolvers and a saber each, while to complete their armament quite a number were armed with good carbines, while my men had but two revolvers in the whole command and without a carbine that was good for anything. To illustrate, in the first volley out of seventeen carbines that there were in line and tried to be fired only four went off, although they were carefully loaded on the ground while awaiting the attack.
Starr .54 Percussion Carbine
The casualties by these four shots to the enemy were as follows: Three saddles were emptied and 1 horse shot. My informants (the inhabitants) could or would not tell me whether the men were killed or not who were thus thrown from their saddles, but I afterward ascertained from a negro that 3 men were carried up the mountain, he thought dead. One was carried into a house badly, if not mortally, wounded, thus making a loss to the enemy of 3 (supposed to be) killed and 1 wounded, while the loss sustained by my men was 4 killed (1 of whom was said to have ben killed after surrendering), 2 wounded, 10 prisoners, and 3 missing, making in all 19 men, horses, and equipments complete. Two horses and equipments were afterward picked up by command of Captain Banks and turned over to me, making the total loss of horses and horse equipments 17, 3 of which horses were killed in the streets of Snickersville and 3 or 4 others badly wounded, which were taken off by the enemy. I lost otherwise 19 sabers and belts, 19 carbines complete, and 3 revolvers, which my men borrowed before starting out.
After gaining all the information possible, and providing for the wounded of my company, I took the bodies of my men who were killed and returned to Hillsborough, where I reported to you (Major Wells) on the night of the 6th instant at 10 p. m., nothing having transpired more than is herein mentioned.
To conclude, I would commend to you notice Orderly Sergt. Alfred H. Cain, who, although going contrary to orders (in my opinion not intentionally, however, for on reaching the Leesburg pike he did not find a sufficient collection of houses him, he says, that was Purcellville), yet behaved himself so well and handled his men with such skill and confidence all through the action, overpowered by numbers and badly wounded himself, that he deserves the commendation of his commanding officers, and I would
respectfully request that he be mentioned in your report as one who acted particularly gallant and handled his men with the ability of an officer higher in rank. In short, I would commend all the brave men who so nobly fought and nobly died while in the performance of their duty. The following is the list* of casualties.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN J. CARTER,
Captain, Commanding Company D.
Major CHARLES A. WELLS,
First New York Veteran Cavalry.
HDQRS. FIRST DIV., DEPT. OF WEST VIRGINIA,
March 10, 1864.
The within report is respectfully forwarded.
Attention is called to the facts that the enemy were but little stronger than our own forces; that from reliable information our men were at their meals when first surprised, and that their being at Snickersville was in direct violation of orders.
J. C. SULLIVAN, Brigadier-General, Commanding.
-OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE WAR OF THE REBELLION
— Chapter XLV. p. 233-236.