Battery Heights and Return

Walk 30 yards south along the service road to the guns. You are in the area of Snows Maryland Battery. Carlin's West Virginia Battery occupied the ground to the east, midway to the single tree and the gun symbolizing von Kleiser's position. The guns were set up about 14 feet from each other. To the south is the Field of Lost Shoes, behind which you can see the Bushong farm. Elements of the 26th and 51st Virginia charged across the field immediately to the front and left, capturing two of Carlin's guns left on the field. The VMI cadets charged farther to the left on a line from the farmhouse to von Kleiser's position. Farther east, north along US 11, Capt. Henry A. DuPont made the deployments mentioned earlier that eventually slowed the Confederate pursuit. As he related,

On the east side of that highway, the Union forces were in total rout and making for the rear in the wildest confusion—infantry and cavalry mingled with what was left of von Kleiser's battery.

No general officer was in sight, but I was at once pounced upon by a number of young and inexperienced staff officers who proceeded to give me (upon their own initiative but in the names of Generals Sigel or Stahel) the most absurd and contradictory orders with respect to putting the battery in position . . . but common sense, reinforced by eight years of continuous military instruction and military discipline, made it easy to reach an instant decision as to what ought to be done, and, although under fire for the first time in my life, I then and there made up my mind to ignore the conflicting instructions and to take such measures as seemed right and proper. In brief, I was compelled to act, and did act, upon my own judgment and of course assumed all responsibility. This was the last that was seen of the staff officers in question, who evidently went promptly to the rear with the rest of Sigel's forces. . . . The battery was in the open and entirely without support, but the curtain of smoke which hung over the field prevented the Confederates from discovering this fact, and it seemed necessary to risk the loss of some of my guns in order to cover and protect the retreat of the Union troops. The leading platoon (two guns) under Second Lieutenant Charles Holman, was at once put in position close to the turnpike and on its right, or west side, and instantly opened fire. Taking advantage of this, I ordered the other four pieces to the rear, and riding back, put the center platoon, under First Sergeant S. D. Southworth, in position some 500 or 600 yards farther to the rear and in immediate proximity to the east side of the turnpike, with orders to open fire as soon as he was unmasked by Holman. Indicating a slight swell of the ground some 500 or 600 yards still farther to the rear, I also instructed Second Lieutenant B. F. Nash, commanding the left platoon, to go into position at that point. These dispositions, known in the tactics of that day as "retiring by echelon of platoons" consumed but a very few moments, when I galloped back to the front and remained with Lieutenant Holman's pieces which continued to fire with great rapidity and precision until we found ourselves entirely alone, with not a single Federal soldier in sight save the members of our own battery. Telling Holman that he had "to get out of this" and ordering him to go back at a gallop and take the best position he could find some 500 or 600 yards behind Nash's platoon.

From the guns, walk south along the service road; follow it west of the Bushong barn to its junction with another farm lane, turn east and walk past the Bushong House to the parking lot (.3 mile). As you walk along the road, notice the sharp drop of the ground to the west. This configuration protected the 26th Virginia Battalion and five companies of the 51st Virginia from the brunt of the Federal fire. Members of the 26th Virginia Battalion edged forward sufficiently to bring a withering fire on the Federal artillerymen and their teams from behind the ridge along which you are walking.

The 26th Virginia Battalion, 51st Virginia and 30th Virginia Battalion had become quite mixed by the time of the final charge. Major Peter Otey of the 30th, for example, commanded the three easternmost companies of the 51st Virginia as they moved across the boggy field.

If you have not done so earlier, drive .3 mile from the Bushong House to the museum to see it before completing your tour. We hope that this tour has clarified the events of the battle for you and that it has heightened your appreciation of the sacrifices made by the brave men and boys who fought here for the causes important to them. This is, indeed, a field of honor.

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page created 20 December 1999

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