Fitzhugh Lee's Report
From the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
HEADQUARTERS LEE’S CAVALRY BRIGADE,
March 23, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of an encounter on the 17th instant between my brigade and a division of enemy’s cavalry, certainly not less than 3,000 mounted men, with a battery of artillery. My first intimation of their approach was in a telegram received at 11 a.m. on 16th, from headquarters Army of Northern Virginia. At 6 p.m. scouts reported them at Morrisville, a little place 6 miles from Kelly’s Ford. At 1 a.m. another report informed me that the enemy had encamped at that place, coming from three different directions.
I that night re-enforced my picket of 20 sharpshooters by 40 more. I regret to say that only about 11 or 12 of them got into the rifle-pits in time for the attack of the enemy (owing to an unnecessary delay in carrying their horses to the rear), which commenced about 5 a.m. The force in the pits, under Capt. James Breckinridge, of the Second, behaved very gallantly, holding in check a large force of the enemy, mounted and dismounted, for an hour and a half, killing and wounding 30 or 40 of them. I also ordered the remaining sharpshooters of the brigade, under that very efficient officer, Major [W. A.] Morgan, First Virginia, to move from their camps by daybreak to a point on the railroad where the road turns to Kelly’s, half a mile from the railroad bridge and 3½ from Kelly’s, and the rest of the command was ordered to be in readiness to move at the shortest notice. At that time a force was reported to be at Bealeton, supposed to be their advance guard, and it was uncertain whether they would attempt to cross at Kelly’s, the railroad bridge, or move on toward Warrenton.
The report that enemy’s attack was made at Kelly’s never reached me; and the first intimation I received from that point was at 7.30 a.m., to the effect that they had succeeded in crossing, capturing 25 of my sharpshooters, who were unable to reach their horses. I moved my command at once down the railroad, taking up a position to await their approach, ordering my baggage wagons and disabled horses to the rear, toward Rapidan Station. Some time elapsing, and they not advancing, I determined to move upon them, and marched immediately for Kelly’s. First met the enemy half a mile this side of ford, and at once charged them. Their position was a very strong one, sheltered by woods and a long, high stone fence running perpendicular to my advance. My men, unable to cross the fence and ditch in their front, wheeled about, delivering their fire almost in the faces of the enemy, and reformed again, facing about under a heavy fire from their artillery and small-arms. The Third in this charge was in front, and First Lieut. [Bernard] Hill Carter, jr., was very conspicuous in his behavior. From that time it was a succession of gallant charges by the various regiments, and once by the whole brigade in line, whenever the enemy would show their mounted men, they invariably falling back upon their artillery and sheltered dismounted skirmishers. Their total advance was 2 miles from the ford. At that time my artillery arrived, and they were driven back, recrossing the river about 7.30 p.m., with us in close pursuit.
My whole command acted nobly; sabers were frequently crossed and fences charged up to, the leading men dismounting and pulling them down, under a heavy fire of canister, grape, and carbine balls. Had I my command in the order it arrived in this enervating section of country, and not weakened by the absence of four squadrons on picket, guarding a line stretching from Griffinsburg, on the Sperryville turnpike, to Richard’s Ford, and by the large number of horses unfit for duty by exposure to the severe winter, with a very limited supply of forage, I feel confident the defeat of the enemy would have been changed into a disorderly rout, and the whole brigade resupplied with horses, saddles, and bridles.
Commanding officers of the detachments from the various regiments engaged mention in their reports as deserving especial attention–
In the Fifth: Private William J. Haynes, Company F (badly wounded); Private A. R. Harwood, Company E; Private Henry Wooding, Company C (especially commended; seized the colors when the horse of the color-bearer was shot, and carried them bravely through the fight); Sergeants [John W.] Morecocke and [George B.] Ratcliffe, and Private George [W. E.] James, Company H. In the Fourth: Captains [W. B.] Newton and [Charles] Old, Lieutenant [J. D.] Hobson, and Adjutant [Peter] Fontaine (seriously wounded). Sergeant [W. J.] Kimborough, of Company G, deserves particular notice; wounded early in the day, he refused to leave the field. In the last charge he was the first to spring to the ground to open the fence; then dashing on at the head of the column, he was twice sabered over the head, his arm shattered by a bullet, captured and carried over the river, when he escaped, and walked back 12 miles to his camp. Lieutenant-Colonel [William H.] Payne, commanding, also mentions Privates Joseph Gilman, J. R. Gilman, Poindexter, Redd, Sydnor, Terry, and N. Priddy.
In the Third: Captain [William] Collins, Company H; Lieuts. [Bernard] Hill Carter, jr., and John Lamb, of Company D; Lieutenant [H. W.] Stamper, of Company F; Lieut. R. T. Hubbard, jr., Company G, and First Lieutenant [J. W.] Hall, of Company C (was twice wounded before he desisted from the charge, and when retiring received a third and still more severe wound, and was unable to leave the field). Adjt. H. B. McClellan is also particularly commended for his gallantry; also Acting Sergt. Maj. E. W. Price, Company K; Private [C. A.] Keech, Company I, and Bugler Drilling. Sergeant [G. M.] Betts, of Company C; Privates [W. W.] Young, Company B; [F. S.] Fowler, Company G, and [J. T.] Wilkins, of Company C, died as became brave men–in the front of the charge, at the head of the column.
In the Second, the commanding officer reports that where so many behaved themselves with so much gallantry he does not like to discriminate.
In the First: Captain [C. F.] Jordan, Company C, and Lieutenant [R.] Cecil, Company K, specially commended for reckless daring without a parallel.
As coming under my own observation, I particularly noticed Col. T. L. Rosser, of the Fifth, with his habitual coolness and daring, charging at the head of his regiment; Col. James [H.] Drake, of the First, always ready at the right time and place; Col. T. H. Owen, of the Third, begging to be allowed to charge again and again; Lieut. Col. W. H. Payne, of the Fourth, unmindful of his former dreadful wound, using his saber with effect in a hand-to-hand conflict, and the imperturbable, self-possessed Major Breckinridge, of the Second, whose boldness led him so far that he was captured, his horse being shot. Col. T. T. Munford, of the Second, I regret to say, was president of a court-martial in Culpeper Court-House, and did not know of the action in time to join his command until the fight was nearly over. I also commend for their behavior Captain [W. W.] Tebbs, of the Second, and Captain [C. T.] Litchfield and Lieutenant [G. W.] Dorsey, of the First; also Maj. W. A. Morgan, of the First.
My personal staff–Major [R. F.] Mason, Captains [J. D.] Ferguson and [S.] Bolling, Dr. J. B. Fontaine, and Lieutenants [H C]Lee, [G. M.] Ryals, and [Charles] Minnigerode–rendered great service by their accurate and quick transmission of orders and by their conduct under fire. Surgeon Fontaine’s horse was killed under him, and my own was also shot, but through the generosity of Private John H. Owings, Company K, First Virginia Cavalry, attached to my headquarters, was quickly replaced by his.
The conduct of Couriers Owings, Lee, Nightengale, and Henry Shackelford deserves the highest praise.
The enemy’s loss was heavy. Besides leaving a number of his dead and wounded on the field, he carried off a large number on horses and in ambulances. We captured 29 prisoners–1 captain, 2 lieutenants, and 26 privates. My own loss was 11 killed, 88 wounded, and 34 taken prisoners, making an aggregate of 133. In horses, 71 killed, 87 wounded, 12 captured, making aggregate loss of horses 170.
Among the killed I deeply regret to report Major [J. W.] Puller, of the Fifth, and Lieutenant [C. S.] Harris, of the Fourth, both gallant and highly efficient officers–a heavy loss to their regiments and country.
In conclusion, I desire especially to state that Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart joined me before the fight commenced; was on the field the whole day; assisted immensely by his sagacious counsels, large experience, and by his usual daring and conspicuous example in turning the fortunes of the day in our favor. We share with him the anguish and deep grief felt at the loss of the noble Pelham, of his staff, an officer of the brightest promise for the future.
Major [Lewis F.] Terrell, of General Stuart’s staff, beside being active on the field, assisted the gallant [Captain James] Breathed in the management of the artillery. Captain [Harry W.] Gilmer, Twelfth Virginia Cavalry, a volunteer for the occasion on the major general’s staff, I also commend for his marked bravery and cool courage. I append a recapitulation of my loss.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,