April 6 in Stoneman's Raid
Although a Michigan officer thought Stoneman had changed his strategy after learning about Richmond’s fall, April 6 looked much like April 5. The division continued to damage the railroad, and they did it with fresh purpose. “Never were troops in better spirits, and never did men work with a heartier will at the labor of destruction,” noted one of Stoneman’s staff officers. “Every stick added to the blazing fires, which were fast contorting the iron rails into all sorts of fantastic shapes, each falling bridge, each flaming storehouse hurried on the destruction of Lee’s army, hastened the day of peace, and the return to the home fireside; so the work went on with shout and cheer, and gladsome song.” It was, the staff officer concluded, “Glory enough for one day.”
As April 6 progressed, the railroad work ended and the units prepared to resume the march. One concern was the division’s ambulances. All ten had broken down by the time they reached Christiansburg, so Stoneman’s medical staff was left scrambling. Other troopers saw to their personal needs. Frank Frankenberry washed his clothes and baked biscuits. The 10th Michigan received orders to stay in its Salem bivouac pending further orders. To ensure readiness, Trowbridge sent men to look for horses, but they returned with far more. “One afternoon I was sitting under a tent fly enjoying the rest, the delicious air and the charming scenery, when I heard a commotion on the road,” Trowbridge recalled. “Looking up, I saw one of my parties returning from their hunt after horses. The party was preceded by an elegant coach, drawn by a pair of cavalry horses, clad in resplendent silver-plated harness and on the driver’s seat sat Corporal Delaney, as happy as a lord.” Behind the coach came an equally amusing sight: a knot of campaign-hardened, dirty cavalrymen carrying ladies’ clothing. The proud troopers claimed the carriage and clothing as legitimate captures, but Trowbridge ordered his men to surrender the loot after explaining that they were not warring against women and children. As the colonel returned the property to its rightful owners, a black man approached and asked if he could have a remnant of bright calico for his wife. “Why should I give that to you? It does not belong to you. It belongs to Mrs. White,” Trowbridge said.
“Now see here, boss,” the man answered. “I think that belongs to me more than it does to them. Fact is, I’se been workin’ for dat family all my life and never got a cent for it and not one of them ever struck a lick of honest work in all their lives. I think I’se earn’t it mor’n they has.” Trowbridge let him have the calico.
The Federals also had more troublesome matters to deal with. At their camp near Salem, a 10th Michigan clerk reported the hard-drinking, rebellious Capt. Archibald Stevenson as absent without leave. Stevenson had apparently escaped from his jailers, gotten drunk, fallen into the hands of some guerillas, and escaped again, but he had not yet reported for duty. During the short pause, the case of the 15th Pennsylvania’s Capt. C.J. Mather also surfaced. Only three days had passed since the Pennsylvanian had failed to capture the Confederate wagon train near Hillsville, but Mather had tired of incarceration and wanted to repair his reputation. Taking out a sheet of paper, the captain offered to personally explain his actions to General Stoneman. Betts endorsed and forwarded the proposal to brigade headquarters, where Palmer pondered it. Because Stoneman was planning to put the command in motion again, Palmer decided not to bother him with it. Instead, Palmer ordered Mather released and restored him to command of his company.
Mather’s opportunity was not long in coming. Division headquarters issued a circular describing their railroad destruction work as a complete success. The rails, trestles, bridges, culverts, and telegraph lines between New River Bridge and Salem would be of no service to the enemy for some time to come. Now fresh objectives beckoned, so division headquarters ordered the men into the saddle. Bugles blew in the darkness, and slowly the column snaked southward along the Jacksonville Road. A long night of mountain marching lay ahead.
To read what happened next, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
Excerpt from Stoneman's Raid, 1865, (c) Chris J. Hartley
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