Thursday, March 30, 1865, dawned with the cavalry division camped around the small town of Wilkesboro. The torrential spring rain continued, soaking everything. Water trickled inside Colonel Trowbridge’s rubber cloth coat and awoke him, so he began making breakfast. This did not ease his misery. “If you would have a picture of some of the minor discomforts of a cavalry raid,” Trowbridge wrote, “imagine … sitting on a log in the woods, near a sputtering fire, with a tin plate on [your] knees, a tin cup of coffee … on a stump …, making a breakfast of fried bacon and corn pone, while the breakfast was fast being cooled and the coffee rapidly diluted by the incessant rain.” Fortunately, an officer appeared and rescued him. “Why, Colonel, what are you doing here? They have a good warm breakfast for you down at that farm house. There are about thirty of the fellows there and they are keeping a place for you,” the man said. The grateful Trowbridge wondered if the man was an angel.
After breakfast, the 10th Michigan stayed put on the north side of the Yadkin. Besides staying dry, Trowbridge’s main objective for the day was to collect the men who were still missing from the previous night. Lt. Col. Charles M. Betts’ 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry exerted only slightly more effort. Despite the storm, the troopers marched at about 8:00 a.m. “Raining and roads very heavy,” read Company A’s morning report. Three or four miles down the road they approached the Reddies, a tributary of the Yadkin. Finding a very deep ford, the troopers waded across. Betts ordered his men to camp on the other side, still north of the Yadkin at a point roughly opposite Wilkesboro.
Stoneman’s objective that Thursday was to reunite his part of the division with the 15th Pennsylvania and 10th Michigan north of the Yadkin. Once joined, the division could resume its journey toward Christiansburg. Col. William J. Palmer took the lead and ordered his brigade’s last regiment, the 12th Ohio Cavalry, across the river to join the other two regiments. Palmer marched with the 12th as it headed for the nearest ford. Trooper Howard Buzby, astride Camelback, followed Palmer. Buzby had campaigned with Palmer often and knew him well. When deep in thought, Palmer would press one or both heels in toward his horse’s flanks, as if he were trying to squeeze out an idea or a plan, yet without touching the horse. As the column passed through Wilkesboro – Buzby called it “quite a village” – he saw Palmer doing just that, with both heels; something apparently disturbed his boss. Soon he understood. The Yadkin River, Buzby said, was “running wild,” and was fast becoming a dangerous obstacle. As the Ohioans braved the river, Palmer ordered Buzby to stay on the south bank and guide the other two brigades to the ford.
Buzby watched the Ohioans struggle across. It was still early; the column stretched back into Wilkesboro. The rain showed no signs of letting up. Pvt. Joseph Banks, who described the storm as “powerful,” noted with alarm that the river was rising fast. Soon the crossing became a ford in name only, forcing some men to swim their horses. That was no easy task. “Almost any horse can swim, but you must let him have his head, ease up off the saddle and swim a little yourself,” wrote Buzby. “Some never reached the other side…. It was a fearful sight.” A few men may have drowned in the attempt, but the 12th made it across. Once on the north bank, the exhausted Ohioans bivouacked and searched for forage.
For more, see Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
Excerpt from Stoneman's Raid, 1865, (c) Chris J. Hartley