Charging by Fours with the 1st Ohio Cavalry at Kernstown

    The 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry is generally known as a western unit, but for a good portion of its service (until January 1864), two companies (A and C) were assigned to the various Federal armies operating in Virginia, taking part in the battles of Kernstown, Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, and Gettysburg. 

    Bugler Henry G. Burr of Co. C of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry penned the following account a week after the First Battle of Kernstown, Virginia. This battle, fought March 22-23, 1862, represented Stonewall Jackson's only battlefield defeat, an achievement which the men of General James Shields' division proudly reminded folks about after the war. The 1st Ohio Cavalry arrived in Winchester literally as the opening guns were being fired, and was assigned to Colonel Erastus B. Tyler's wing during the ensuing fight. Burr's account was published in the April 5, 1862 of the Daily Toledo Blade

    Burr was discharged for disability in January 1863 and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where he died August 18, 1871; he is buried at Crystal Lake Cemetery in that city. 

Unidentified trooper belonging to the 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

Camp at Strasburg, Virginia

March 30, 1862

    We have just fought a bloody battle and are victorious. The telegraph, with its usual reliability, has informed you of the main particulars so I will confine myself to such details as will probably be overlooked by the Associated Press and will promise that those details shall be straighter than were the dispatches which had the honor of being “struck by lightning.”

    The city of Winchester is situated in the Shenandoah Valley upon an elevated plain very similar to that upon which Tremainsville is built. This plain, to the south and west of Winchester, is broken into numerous irregular knobs and hills, the spurs or points of which slope down to the lower bottoms of the Shenandoah and are intersected with innumerable narrow deep ravines, covered with cedars and limestone rocks. The valley is almost shut in on each side by chains of high steep mountains and in some parts is not more than a mile wide, in other five miles. For the distance of ten miles from Winchester nearly all the plantations are fenced in with limestone rocks very substantially laid up, and springs of wonderful volume being literally everywhere; all the ravines are filled with water and in some places too deep to ford. Cedars are grouped in groves of two or three acres on all the knobs and in many places between Winchester and Kernstown (five miles) there are dense forests of large trees, affording secure and ample shelter for a large army. On this edge of the Winchester plain, among these knobs, ravines, cedars, groves, and forests between Winchester and Kernstown was the field where the terrible battle of Sunday afternoon was fought, and there was hardly a spot upon that triangle of three miles on all sides which was not dabbled with Union or Rebel blood, where, behind the stones, fences and the ravines, the killed and wounded lay in gory heaps.

Although not depicted on the above map of the battle, the two companies of the 1st Ohio Cavalry swept in on the far left of Tyler's battle line as Jackson's line collapsed and gathered in roughly 250 captives during the pursuit. 

    Our two companies (A and C of the 1st Ohio Cavalry) started from Camp Chase on the Potomac on Friday morning and after marching 104 miles, reached Winchester at noon on Sunday. We had hardly reached our camping ground when an order came to dispose of all baggage and report in battle order to General Shields in 25 minutes. Blankets, haversacks, and clothing were dumped in a pile and we started for the field. A tremendous cannonade was going on and when we reached the rising ground beyond Winchester, we could see the shells of the Rebels bursting over our batteries and officers and aides flying over the field. An effort was made by the Rebels, under cover of an eight-gun battery, to run our right flank just as our batteries were getting into position and regiments of infantry going at the double quick into the woods, just as our Ohio squadron came on the field. They had been all morning making feints upon our left to deceive us, while the strength of their force was being deployed to the right. But this movement was forestalled by sending the Third Brigade under Colonel Erastus B. Tyler to the extreme right, and by partially changing our front from a line to a semi-circle.

    We were assigned a position in a woods, drawn up in a line of battle; which line was hardly formed before our right wing (composed of the 84th and 110th Pennsylvania regiments, 4th, 5th, 7th, 29th, and 67th Ohio regiments, the 13th and 14th Indiana regiments, Battery L of the 1st Ohio Artillery, and our squadron) was fired upon from behind a stone fence, which almost protected them from our fire. Three times did our boys waver under this galling storm of balls, which cut down whole lines at each discharge. But a light breeze dispersed the smoke that hung in thick clouds over the Rebel breastworks and then our boys marched forward over the brow of the hill and poured in volley after volley upon the Rebels when they raised their heads to fire. For half an hour neither Union nor Rebel troops faltered, and the scale of victory was vacillating between loyalty and treason with fearful impartiality. This was the most terrible moment of the battle. The whole line was under fire, the center of our army charging on the Rebel battery, our left attempting to turn their right flank and our right sustaining the fire of eight regiments, the flower, according to their general’s boast, of the Rebel army.

"The flower of the Rebel army" at Kernstown consisted of men like Corporal Charles Dorma Clarke of Co. F of the 23rd Virginia Infantry. Clarke's regiment was located near the left flank of the Rebel line.

    At this tremendous crisis, the enemy’s left was reinforced and the 110th Pennsylvania fell into confusion, many of its men having fired all their ammunition away in the forenoon. But the officers rallied our infantry that had dispersed behind trees and prepared for a bayonet charge. Captain Nathan D. Menken of my company rode about in the woods between the lines of infantry and by coaxing and upbraiding, sent most of the stragglers back to their lines and ordering our two companies which he commanded to advance carbines and prepare for a charge. He had only just returned to his post before a yell was heard over the hill and the shout went over the field that the enemy’s center was retreating. Just then, a shell and charge of grape raked the stone fence when the Rebels, seeing our boys fix bayonets, fell back out of the woods when a volley from one of the center regiments threw them into confusion. “File off from the right by fours- charge!” roared our captain and charge we did. Like a bolt of hot lightning, our red caps tore through the strip of woods, down over the field, and fell upon that motley army of confused and retreating traitors. Surrender or die was the alternative we gave and in one short hour we returned from the charge with 250 prisoners, six wagons full of wounded officers and hundreds of arms.

    And yet, notwithstanding we stood firm for two of the longest hours I ever lived through, notwithstanding we charged against a force, the number of which or its position we did not know, with 200 men notwithstanding we brought back more than man for man of the Rebels and turned them over to our general- no mention has been made of us; while a few half-armed companies of Virginia cavalry who came upon the field but might as well have been in the Arctic regions hunting Sir John Franklin for all the good they did, received honorable mention in the bulletins. So it was with the Ohio infantry. Though the most heroic courage and bravery was displayed by them, their praise has been second to regiments that did almost nothing; one of them in fact firing into our ranks as we started on the charge, supposing us to be Rebels. This ignoring of our companies has so aroused the indignation of our officers that they have tendered their resignations to General Banks, although I doubt if they will be accepted. At all events I hope this move will have one good result, even though our officers are not permitted to resign: it will teach our General that we are as brave in demanding justice for ourselves as in dispensing it to the traitors. Though we did not come to fight for empty fame, still we do not feel like tamely submitting to such an obliviousness on the part of men who sent us into the most dangerous position on the field, that they forgot there was such a squadron as the 1st Ohio upon the ground.

    After darkness prevented our further pursuit of the Rebels, we returned to Winchester with our prisoners and placed them in a building where, it is said, the Secesh ladies had prepared a banquet for the Rebel officers who were expected to fulfill their boast and take tea in Winchester Sunday evening. The boast was fulfilled by many of them, for they ate supper and slept there that night with Yankee guards behind and around them, instead of their fair entertainers.

The 1859 model .54 caliber Sharps' carbine featured a 22-inch barrel which made this arm easier to handle on horseback. The 1st Ohio Cavalry was issued 658 of these accurate breechloading guns when it mustered into service in late 1861. 

    It is an easy task to describe what one sees in the midst of war’s terrible scenes, but no man can ever tell the sights and emotions he sees and feels upon that field when the bullet and shell have hushed their diabolical songs, when the mantle of night is wrapped around the forms of ghastly men who lay dead or wounded, weltering in pools of gore, when lurid fires are blazing around and upon the hills and in the solemn woods; and pale-faced, silent men with flickering torches in their hands go groping around among brush and along straggling fences after the dead and dying. As we returned to camp, I passed over that part of the field where our right had forced a hard-won victory to perch upon our standard. Such a scene I never wish to behold again; no, not for all the victories ever won. When we were under the Rebel fire with a space not wider than Summit Street between us and six regiments of Rebel soldiers, between whom and ourselves our own infantry were falling like leaves in autumn, I felt proud and glad to have a chance at last to strike a blow for Union and no thought of safety entered my heart- nothing to make my soul sick of war. But coming back with a train of prisoners outnumbering our two companies with consciousness of victory thrilling my veins, my very heart grew sick and I cursed the fiends whose infernal teachings and counsel had covered those grand old forests and verdant slopes with the blood of more than a thousand Americans, who else would have lived and died as brothers instead of foes.


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