[JUNE –, 1864.]
GENERAL: I have the honor to make the following report of the engagement which took place Saturday, 25th of June:
I have regularly assigned to duty at this post [Staunton River bridge] six companies of reserves, numbering in all 296 men.
On Thursday, the 23rd instant, 10 p. m., I received a dispatch from General Lee, through you, that a large body of the enemy’s cavalry were moving in this direction; to make every possible preparation immediately. By the trains at 12 o’clock that night I sent off orderlies with circulars, urging the citizens of Halifax, Charlotte, and Mecklenburg to assemble for the defense of this bridge, and ordering all local companies to report immediately.
On Friday, 24th, I had, in addition to my usual details for fatigue, nearly my entire battalion, together with what citizens and negroes I could collect and impress, busily at work on the intrenchments, and on Saturday morning, 25th, about 10 o’clock I had received, citizens and soldiers inclusive, 642 re-enforcements. Of these about 150 were regulars, organized from different commands, my whole command numbering, from the above statement, 938 men. My scouts and pickets, citizens mounted as cavalry, reported the enemy close in this vicinity at 12 m., and I was at this time and up to the hour of their arrival busily engaged in constructing rifle-pits on the north side of the river. My cavalry, numbering seventy-five, I had thrown out at the fords above and below, guarding against and to warn me of a flank movement. The enemy appeared in my front at 3.45 p. m., and immediately on their approaching to place their artillery in position I opened on them with a 3-inch rifled gun (my artillery consisting of this gun, together with two smooth-bore 12-pounders and three iron 6-pounders), but the shot, from some inexplicable defect in the gun, fell far short of the mark. The enemy, then approaching to within a mile of my main redoubt and taking possession of a very commanding hill, immediately opened with rifled Parrotts and 12-pounder Napoleons, and very soon getting exact range of my battery threw their shell and canister into my artillerymen and their supports with great precision. At the same time they formed two regiments of dismounted cavalry on each side of the railroad in line of battle, with a thick line of skirmishers in front, and advanced over the flat toward the mouth of the bridge, my artillery playing vigorously on them all them all the while. At this juncture I had but four small companies on the north side of the river (one each side of the bridge). I immediately
threw across company after company of re-enforcements, notwithstanding the enemy shelling the bridge furiously and a strong line of sharpshooters directing their fire on it, the difficulty of crossing being increased by not having been able to procure plank to floor it, and the only mode of crossing being upon the ties. I had in this manner crossed over in all 500, and placed them in position, when the enemy’s skirmishers having fallen in with their line of battle, and the whole line arriving within close range of my rifle-pits (which I had almost entirely masked), were scattered before a withering fire from my infantry, which was totally unexpected. Falling back several hundred yards they reformed, and adding re-enforcements, which were rapidly sent forward, they again advanced to within about 100 yards of my rifle-pits and were again broken in confusion. This was repeated four times, each time with the same result, and the whole time my artillery firing on them with considerable precision and effect. At night-fall the enemy’s skirmishers were within 150 yards of mine, and desultory skirmishing was kept up until 12 o’clock, when I discovered the enemy withdrawing from my front, and as soon as it was light I opened with my artillery on the rear of their line, then crossing Little Roanoke, causing them to retire from the road to the woods and to have great difficulty in getting off. At daylight I advanced my line of skirmishers half a mile, and discovered that the enemy had left quite a number of their dead on the field. In this advance 8 prisoners were captured. At 8 o’clock the enemy had entirely disappeared from my front, not, however, before they had replied quite briskly to my artillery for half an hour. I afterward ascertained the enemy’s loss was at least 250, most probably 300, in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Of the dead left on the field I buried 42, among them several officers. My loss, 10 killed and 24 wounded.
The inexperienced troops to whom we are indebted for this remarkable victory over the enemy deserve the gratitude of both the army and the people for the gallantry and coolness displayed by them in meeting, with the resolution and unshaken firmness of veterans, the repeated charges of the enemy, so superior in numbers, equipage, and artillery.
I desire to make special mention of Colonel Henry E. Coleman, Twelfth North Carolina Regiment; Captain William W. Fraser, commanding artillery; Captain R. H. Fitzhugh, Corps of Engineers; Captain William C. Marshall, Stribling Artillery, whom I assigned to duty in the most exposed places, and who proved to me by their chivalrous conduct my confidence in their ability was not misplaced.
Colonel H. E. Coleman was at home wounded, but came forward and offered to take any position. I assigned him to one of the most important and responsible positions, which he held, though hotly engaged and severely pressed for four hours, when he was painfully wounded in the knee, and refused to leave even then, until assured of the confidence of his men in their ability to defend the position.
Hoping, general, my report may merit your approval and my command receive due credit for defending against such superior numbers so important a line of communication,
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
B. L. FARINHOLT,
Captain, Commanding Post.
Brigadier General JAMES L. KEMPER.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 764-765 ↩