Report of Captain John D. Imboden of the “Staunton Artillery”
THE REBELLION RECORD; A DIARY OF AMERICAN EVENTS – VOL. II, Documents, pp. 43-45
Manassas Junction, Virginia
July 22, 1861
I submit the following summary report of the part taken in the engagement of yesterday, by the battery of the brigade – the Staunton Artillery – under my command. The battery arrived at Camp Walker, below the Junction, at 11.30 o’clock the night before the battle, with men and horses greatly fatigued by a forced march of thirty-two miles, commenced at daybreak over an extremely rough and steep, hilly road. Having had but four hours’ sleep, and that on the ground without shelter, on a rainy night, since the preceding Wednesday night at Winchester, and no food on Saturday except breakfast, which was kindly furnished us by some ladies at Salem, in Fauquier, my men were so tired on getting into camp that they threw themselves upon the ground to snatch a few hours’ rest.
A little after sunrise on Sunday morning, the lamented General Bee sent for me to his quarters, and informed me of the approach of the enemy, and that he was ordered to “the stone bridge” with his brigade and a battery, not so much exhausted as mine, and asked me if we would “stand that?” I replied, “Not if we can help it.” He then ordered me to put the battery in motion immediately, and let my wagons remain, and bring our rations and forage after us to the field. In about twenty minutes we were in motion, very much stimulated by a cannonade which had been opened so near Camp Walker that one of the balls came whizzing over us just as we started. After a rapid march of about five miles we met the infantry of the brigade, who had gone by a nearer route. General Bee, in person, then joined the battery, and rode with us about a mile and selected the ground we were to occupy, remaining till after the firing commenced on both sides. To his consummate judgment in choosing our ground, we are indebted for our almost miraculous escape from utter destruction. We were placed on the slope of a hill facing to the West, with a slight depression or ravine, running almost parallel with the base of the hill. We came “into battery” and unlimbered in this depression, being thus sheltered by a swell in the ground to our front five or six feet high. Our position commanded a beautiful open farm, which rose gently from the valley in front of us, back to the woods about 1,500 yards distant. In the edge of these woods a heavy column of the enemy was marching to the southward, while we were descending the hill to our position. At the moment we wheeled into line, I observed one of their batteries of six guns do the same thing, and they unlimbered simultaneously with us. We immediately loaded with spherical-case shot, with the fuze cut for 1,500 yards. General Bee ordered me not to fire till they opened on me, as he had sent the Fourth Alabama Regiment, Colonel Jones, across the valley to our right to occupy a piece of woods about 500 yards nearer to the enemy, and he wished this regiment, together with one 6-pounder they had along with them, to get fairly into position before we fired. He had hardly uttered the order, however, when the enemy’s battery – six long-rifle 10-pounder Parrott guns, afterwards captured by our troops – within 150 yards of our first position, opened on us with elongated cylindrical shells. They passed a few feet over our heads, and very near the General and his staff in our rear, and exploded near the top of the hill. We instantly returned the compliment. General Bee then directed me to hold my position till further orders and observe the enemy’s movements towards our left, and report to him anything I might discover of importance. This was the last time my gallant, heroic General ever spoke to me. Seeing us fairly engaged, he rode off to take charge of his regiments. The firing of both batteries now became very rapid – they at first over-shot us and burst their shells to our rear, but at every round improved their aim and shortened their fuze. In about fifteen minutes we received our first injury. A shell passed between two of our guns and exploded amongst the caissons, mangling the arm of Private J. J. Points with a fragment in a most shocking manner. I ordered him to be carried off the field to the surgeon at once. He was scarcely gone when another shell exploded at the same place and killed a horse. About this time the enemy began to fire too low, striking the knoll in our front, from ten to twenty steps, from which the ricochet was sufficient to carry the projectiles over us; they discovered this, and again began to fire over us. After we had been engaged for perhaps a half hour, the enemy brought another battery of four guns into position about 400 yards south of the first, and a little nearer to us, and commenced a very brisk fire upon us. A shell from this last battery soon plunged into our midst, instantly killing a horse and nearly cutting off the leg of Private W. A. Siders, just below the knee. He was immediately taken to the surgeon. A few minutes afterwards another shell did its work by wounding 2nd Lieut. A. W. Garber so severely in the wrist that I ordered him off the field for surgical aid. We now had ten guns at work upon us, with no artillery to aid us for more than an hour except, I believe, three rounds fired by the gun with the Alabama Regiment. It ceased fire, I have heard, because the horses ran off with the limber and left the gun without ammunition. During this time the enemy’s infantry was assembling behind, between and to the right (our left) of their battery in immense numbers, but beyond our reach, as we could only see their bayonets over the top of the hill. Two or three times they ventured in sight when the Alabamians turned them back on their left by a well-directed fire, and we gave them a few shot and shells on their right with the same result, as they invariably dropped back over the hill when we fired at them, as almost every shot made a gap in their ranks.
After we had been engaged for, I suppose, nearly two hours, a detachement of some other battery (the New Orleans Washington Battalion, I believe,) of two guns, formed upon our right and commenced a well-directed fire, much to our aid and relief. My men by this time were so overcomewith the intense heat and excessive labor, that half of them fell upon the ground completely exhausted. The guns were so hot that it was dangerous to load them – one was temporarily spiked by the priming wire hanging out of it, the vent having become foul. My teams were cut to pieces, five of the horses were killed out of one single piece, and other teams partially destroyed, so that, alone, we could not much longerhave replied to the enemy’s batteries as briskly as was necessary.
We were now serving the guns with diminished numbers – Lieuts. Harman and Imboden working at them as privates; the latter had the handspike in his hand directing his piece, when one of the rings was shot off the trail by a piece of a shell. After our friends on the right commenced firing, the enemy advanced a third battery of four pieces down the hill, directly in front of and about six hundred yards distant from us, upon which we opened fire immediately and crippled one of their guns by cutting off its trail, compelling them to dismount and send the piece away without its carriage. While this last battery was forming in our front, a vast column of thousands of infantry marched down in close order, about two hundred yards to its right. I did not then know where the several regiments of our brigade were posted. We heard firing upon our right and left, but too far off to protect us from a sudden charge, as we were in the middle of an open field, and not a single company of infantry visible to us on the right, left or rear. At the moment the enemy’s main column came down the hill, we observed the head of another column advancing down the valley from our left, and therefore concealed by a hill, and not over 350 or 400 yards distant. At first I took them for friends and ordered the men not to fire on them. To ascertain certainly who they were, I sprang upon my horse and galloped to the top of the hill to our left, when I had a nearer and better view. There were two regiments of them. They halted about three hundred yards in front of their own battery on the hill-side, wheeled into line, with their backs towards us, and fired a volley, apparently at their battery. This deceived me, and I shouted to my men to fire upon the battery, that these were friends who would charge and take it in a moment. Fortunately, my order was not heard, or not obeyed by all the gunners, for some of them commenced firing into this line, which brought them to the right-about, and they commenced advancing towards us, when their uniform disclosed fully their character. I instantly ordered the second section of my battery to limber up and come on the hill where I was, intending to open upon them with canister. Anticipating this movement, and intending to make the hill to the left too hot for us, or seeing me out there alone, where I could observe their movements and report them, their nearest battery directed and fired all its guns at me at once but without hitting me or my horse. I galloped back to my guns, and found that the two guns on our right had left the field, and we were alone again. My order to limber up the second section was understood as applying to the whole battery, so that the drivers had equalled the teams sufficiently to move all the guns and caissons, and the pieces were all limbered. On riding back a short distance, where I could see over the hill again, I discovered the enemy approaching rapidly, and so near that I doubted our ability to save the battery; but by a very rapid movement up the ravine, we avoided the shells of the three batteries that were now directed at us, sufficient to escape with three guns and all the caissons. The fourth gun, I think, was struck under the axle by an exploding shell, as it broke right in the middle and dropped the gun in the field. We saved the team. Their advance fired a volley of musketry at us, without effect, when we got over the hill out of their reach, and a few moments afterwards heard the infantry engage them from the woods some distance to the south of us. Seeing no troops where we first crossed the hill amongst whom we could fall in with and prepare for the battle again, and having had no communication with or from any human being for, I suppose, three hours, and not knowing where to find our brigade or any part of it, I determined to retire to the next hill, some 400 yards distant, and there form the remnant of my battery, and await the opportunity for further service.
Just as we were ascending this second hill we met General T. J. Jackson with the First Virginia Brigade, hastening on to the field of battle. I reported to him my condition and perplexity. He directed me to fall in between two of his regiments and return to the first hill again and fight with him. I did so with a remnant of my men and guns. The caissons, except one, were empty, and many of the men were ready to faint from sheer exhaustion. We got into position 300 or 400 yards north of the ground we at first occupied, within full view of the enemy’s heavy column of divisions advancing towards us. We opened fire at once, but slowly, as we had not over four or five men left able to work the guns, respectively, and ammunition had to be brought from a caisson, left two hundred yards in the rear because we were unable to get it up with the guns. Every shot here told with terrible effect, as we could see a lane opened through the enemy after almost every fire. Our first gun was worked, during this part of the action, by the Captain, First Lieutenant, and two privates. In the course of three-quarters of an hour, our supply of shot and shells was exhausted – the men could no longer work – we had nothing but some canister left, which was useless at so great a distance. A fresh battery came upon the field, and General Jackson ordered me to retire with my men and guns to a place of safety, which I did, and had no further part in the fight.
We were the first battery of the left wing of the army engaged. We were in the fight till near its close, having been engaged altogether upwards of four hours. We fired about 460 rounds of ball and case-shot, our whole supply, during the action. The only serious damage to my men I have mentioned above. Privates Points and Siders will doubtless get well, but will lose their wounded limbs. Lieut. Garber may save his hand.
Several others were slightly touched with fragments of shells without injury. I had 71 horses on Sunday morning, before the battle commenced; 10 of those are killed and missing, and 21 more variously injured and at present wholly unserviceable, leaving me but 40 horses fit for work. My harness is half destroyed and lost. One piece is dismounted, but will be as good as ever when remounted on a new carriage. All my officers behaved throughout with heroic coolness and bravery, and the conduct of the men was that of veterans.
No company in the army was more exposed, and none, I believe, so long a time, and yet no man quailed. There were instances of individual heroism worthy of special notice; but where all did so well, it would seem almost invidious to single out individuals.
J. D. Imboden,
Captain, Battery, Third Brigade, C. S. A.
Brigadier-General W. H. C. Whiting,
Commanding, Third Brigade, Army of the Shenandoah
[An abridgement of this report appeared in the Charleston Daily Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, July 29, 1861. That article appears in the Supplement to the Official Records, Vol. I, Addendum to Series 1, Vol 2, pp. 174-179]