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Diary of a Soldier

BY 2nd Lieutenant William A. McIlhenny

Transcribed by John Allen Miller 

Submitted by: Mark Dudrow

Sometime after that Colonel Mosby's command of rebel cavalry, knowing that we were somewhat weakened by the capture of so many of our men, concluded he would surprise us and capture our whole camp; there was only one road leading into camp and we had a strong picket on that road and we felt sure they could not get past our pickets without their knowing it and thought there was no other way for them to get into our camp and we felt very safe, but the rebels found a by-path through the mountain where they could lead their horses through and got in the rear of our camp about midnight and charged into out camp while we were all sound asleep, firing into our tents and crying to us to surrender. They had a good many of company A captured but the other companies rushed out of their tents and commenced firing at every man on horseback and crying "shoot everyman on horseback", and the rebels yelling to us to surrender. Finally it got too hot for the rebels and they commenced to retreat and we drove them out of camp. Captain Smith of the rebels was left dead in our command. Lieutenant Colston, an aide of General Lee, was also killed. Our Battalion had six killed and fourteen wounded and was publicly congratulated by General Halleck, General-in-Chief of the army at Washington.

An incident occurred at this fight which I would like to mention. About a year before we had a fight at Leesburg, Virginia, and Samuel McNair of our company was badly wounded through the lung. His brother H.S. McNair, requested a man by the name of Paxton, who lived close by, to give him his wagon for the purpose of taking his wounded brother across the River. Paxton consented to do so if McNair would promise him that he would, under similar circumstances, do a favor for his son, who was in the Confederate Army under Mosby's command.

He promptly promised he would do this and Paxton gave him the wagon and he got his brother away in safety. At this fight on Louden Heights a young man was shot and fell near our tent. Some of our men went to him and ask if Samuel McNair was in camp and we told him that he was. He said he would like to see him. We called him and when he came the young man told him he was the son of Mr. Paxton who gave his wagon to haul him off the Battlefield on a previous occasion. We carried him into a tent and cared for him but he died in a few minutes. We sent word to his parents who came and took his body home and they thanked us very kindly for what we had done.

On February 14th, l864, at the end of two years of service, the government made an offer that if any of the three year soldiers would consent to reenlist for three years more they would receive a furlough of thirty days and a Government Bounty of $400.00 About three-fourths, of our Battalion re-enlisted and came home on a thirty days' furlough. We greatly enjoyed our visit, but the thirty days passed a great deal quicker than they did when in the army. During the thirty days Major N. A. Cole received orders from Governor Bradford of Maryland, to recruit his old Battalion to a full regiment of twelve companies and when we returned to camp at Frederick City, Maryland, we found our old Battalion of four companies increased to twelve, but none of the new companies was mounted and only about one-half of the old Battalion was mounted (I forgot to mention that when we got our thirty days furlough, the Battalion had orders to march from Harper's Ferry to Frederick City, which was the home of Major Cole and most of Company A, so the citizens of Frederick turned out and gave us a grand reception and provided a public dinner for us, to which we did ample justice. Then we left for home.)

After returning from our thirty days furlough we found our officers busy re-organizing the regiment and we expected to stay at Frederick for sometime, but behold, we were in camp only a few days when an order came for every mounted man in camp to get ready to march at once. As I had furnished my own horse I had to go, No one knew where we were going, but behold this was the beginning of the movement up the Shenandoah Valley and was afterwards known as Hunter's raid to Lynchburg, Virginia. We were put under the command of Major Daniels, a new recruit. Captain Wood had command of the company of about two hundred men. Captain A.M. Hunter acted as Quartermaster.

We left camp at Frederick, Maryland, marched to Harper's Ferry and on to Hall town, Virginia, about 25 miles, on the 28th day of April, 1864. On the 29th we were ordered to Join General Seigle at Winchester, Virginia, a march of twenty-five miles.

April 30th. Were attached to 1st Brigade, Colonel Taylor's Division.

May 1st. Was ordered out on a scout, took the advance to Strausberg.

May 2nd. Our Battalion reconnoitered to Strausberg, returned to Winchester at one o'clock at night.

May 3rd. Remained in camp at Winchester short of rations.

May 4th. Still at Winchester, no news of any account.

May 5th. All quiet was detailed for picket.

May 6th. Heard that the Army of Potomac was moving.

May 7th Good news from the Army of the Potomac.

May 8th Detail of 80 men to go on a scout under Colonel Boyd.

May 9th. Broke camp at Winchester, marched to Cedar Creek, 18 miles.

May 10th Remained at Cedar Creek; engineers built a bridge; report that Lee was defeated.

May 11th. Broke camp at 5 P.M.; marched to Woodstock; had a skirmish with the rebels

May 12th, Remained at Woodstock; rained all day; rumors of good news.

May 13th. Still at Woodstock; some of the boys went on a scout; captured one rebel.

May 14th. Still at Woodstock; heard that the men sent out from Winchester under Colonel Boyd were defeated; some of the boys came in pretty near dead; fighting in our front; most of the men that went out with Colonel Boyd were captured.

May 15th, Sunday. Were ordered out early in the morning; marched to New Market were in the advance; were thrown out on the skirmish line North of the town; rebel line of "battle just South of the town, under General Breckenridge; rebels advanced on us; our infantry was away back; shells were dropping all around us and musket balls were whistling. When the rebel line got within gun-shot of our line we were relieved by an infantry regiment; we fell back of our infantry which was in forming line of battle, but before they got in line, the rebels were on us and put the whole force to rout. I with some more of our Battalion and with detachments of other cavalry under Colonel Taylor formed a rear guard and was the last to cross the North Branch of the Shenandoah River. We then burnt the bridge and then retreated all night to Mount Jackson.

May 16th. Retreated back to Cedar Creek in good order; almost dead with fatigue after being almost continuously in the saddle from early Sunday morning to Monday morning with very little to eat.

May 17th. Still at Cedar Creek; rebels did not follow us any farther; 40 men joined us from dismounted camp.

May 18th. Still at Cedar Creek; short of rations and no forage for horses.

May 19th. Still camped at Cedar Creek; short of rations and no forage for horse

May 20th. At Cedar Creek; moved camp; I was one of 20 men detailed to take the mail to Martinsburg; over 50 miles; traveled all night.

May 21st. Arrived at Martinsburg about seven o'clock in the morning; very, very sleepy and tired.

May 22nd. Remained at Martinsburg; had a good rest; met Cousin - -.

May 23rd. Still at Martinsburg; was ordered back to front at 10 o'clock at night to keep out of clutches of Mosby.

May 24th. Arrived at camp at Cedar Creek about 8 o'clock in the forenoon; a hard

night's ride; received three letters,

May 25th. Remained in camp; General Seigle was relieved from command and General Hunter put in command of the army.

May 26th. Broke camp and marched to Woodstock; rumor of good news.

May 27th. Camped at Woodstock; our men were sent on a scout; captured two in a skirmish.

May 28th. Still at Woodstock; no, forage for our horses and short of rations.

May 29th. Got ready to march at 4 o'clock in the morning; marched to New Market; camped at old Battlefield, where we were defeated under General Siegleby rebel General Breckenridge.

May30th. Remained in camp until evening; detailed for picket; remained on picket for two nights.

May 31st. Still on picket; one of bur picket posts was attacked by the rebels.

June 1st. Relieved from picket. Our Battalion was attached to General Hunter's headquarters for special duty; got orders to march next morning. While we camped at New Market we found quite a number of our wounded in some of the houses in the town that were lying there for fifteen days without having their wounds dressed and were in miserable condition.

June 2nd, Left New Market at daylight. We were in the advance; were thrown out as skirmishers on right. Skirmished with the rebels all the way to Harrissonburg. Charged through the town and drove the rebels out; camped at Harrissonburg.

June 3rd. Camped at Harrisonburg. We had some pretty bad boys among us and after we drove the rebs out of town, one of our boys discovered a saloon and he very politely told the proprietor that he would take charge of the place. He soon found a barrel of whiskey and commenced dealing out whiskey over the counter at a lively rate. General Hunter, finding some of the men were coming into camp under the influence of whiskey, made an investigation and the sale of whiskey was soon stopped and the men put under arrest.

June 4th. Marched toward Port Republic; now at Port Republic the rebel army occupied a strong, fortified position, and General Hunter determined to flank the position, took off to the left, crossing the South Branch track of the Shenandoah River; we forded the River; our Battalion was the first to cross and were thrown out on picket until the whole army got safely across, which took nearly all night; we got only half an hour's sleep.

June 5th, Sunday. Was wakened up before daylight and ordered to mount; took the advance; our Battalion was deployed as a skirmish line on the right. We advanced but a short distance when the rebel cavalry charged us; we opened fire on them and held them for a short time, but they came on with greater fore. I had charge of a squad of men, following immediately behind the skirmish line, when Captain Wood, who was in command called out "Sergeant McIlhenny, take your men up to the skirmish line and deploy them along a fence that runs in front of you." He also told us to dismount and pick our men. We did so and not a man flinched. We did not occupy this position very long, when we heard command from behind to throw down the fence, we commenced to throw down the fence and on looking back we saw General Stahl, who had command of the reserve cavalry coming on a charge. We hastily mounted and joined in a general charge on the rebs who were put to flight in every direction. One "Johnnie" who had lost his horse was shinning it across a field to get out of the way. I took after him and when he saw me coming he darted into a large hedge fence and hid.

When I came to the place I saw him go in, I called to him to come out or I would send a ball through him. He immediately walked out and I marched him back to the rear. We drove the rebels back to their infantry line about three miles from where the fight opened in the morning. In his cavalry charge Thaddeus Maxwell, of our company, was shot through the head and instantly killed. In following up the retreating cavalry some six or seven of us were on the extreme right of the line and we came to a small cottage occupied by a very nice old lady who came out to inquire where the hated Yankees were, she supposing we belonged to the Confederate Army, I told her she could rest easy for we had driven the Yanks out of the country and she exclaimed "God bless you." I asked her if she had anything good to eat and she ran into the house and brought us some good bread and butter. I often wonder if she found out her mistake. We soon came up to the rebel infantry where they had hastily thrown up breast-works the night before, and were preparing to meet us and give us battle. After considerable artillery fighting, our infantry formed line of battle and advanced on their first line and drove them back behind their breast works. Our line then made several charges against their breast-works, but were driven back each time. Then there was a lull in the fighting for some time while General Hunter was preparing a flank movement on the left. He directed Lieutenant Rivers, of our Battalion, to take about a dozen of us over to the right of the line and charge into a wheat field and make as much noise as we could to draw their attention from the movement on the left. We did so, but got a warm reception and had to get back as quickly as we went. We came back to where General Hunter was standing and about ten minutes later we saw the rebels breaking through the line directly in front and coming toward us. Our first thought was that they were charging us, but we soon discovered they had no arms; they had thrown their arms away and were coming in as prisoners. The rebel army was now in full retreat. We followed on over the Battlefield and saw many distressing sights of the dead and wounded. I saw General Jones, who commanded the rebel army, lying dead on the field with a fragment of shell sticking in his forehead which killed him. One of the boys pulled the piece out and kept it. We went into camp on rebel line of battle and I was sent out with a squad on picket duty.

June 6th. Marched to Staunton. The first Yankee soldiers that ever marched into Staunton captured a lot of stores, two large pieces of artillery. Our Battalion was sent out to the West of Staunton to find General Averil who was to join us at Staunton. We rode all night, came to Buffalo Gap, saw fires burning for miles along the road and we did not know what it meant, but when we got through the Gap about daylight we found that a Brigade of rebels under "Mudwall" Jackson had just passed through the Gap going South; we did not see or hear anything of General Averil. We then returned to camp at Staunton; in the saddle all night and two days; a large furnace was burned in Staunton.

June 8th. Generals Crook and Averil joined us from West Virginia troops in fine spirits; our Brigade was sent out to reconnoiter the enemy; found them in force.

June 9th. Still in camp at Staunton; got orders to march next morning.

June 10th, Friday. Ordered out at one o'clock; the cavalry took a separate road while the main command took the road to Lexington; had some skirmishing with the rebels; camped for the night at Rock Creek Gap; General Duffle had command.

June 11th, Saturday. Passed through Rock Creek Gap; our Battalion was put in the advance; captured two prisoners; got information of a wagon train being some distance ahead and we were ordered forward to capture it. We pushed forward for about 15 miles and captured about twenty wagons and thirty prisoners. I personally captured a Captain of the Quartermaster Department and a Captain of the Commissary Department that had been stationed at Staunton. I have one of the saddles that I brought home with me. We fell back to main force and went into camp and kept our horses saddled and bridled all night to guard against surprise.

June 12th, Sunday. Marched early in the morning, do not know in what direction or where to we had a skirmish with the rebs, who marched all night to cut us off from main force but did not succeed. We had one killed and three wounded and captured thirty prisoners; traveled in the mountains all day and night almost dead for sleep and rest; lost some wagons in the mountains.

June 13th, Monday. Making our way toward General Hunter's main force which we joined at Lexington; the Military Institution was burned of which General Lee was President. A wagon train arrived from Martinsburg with supplies received mail from home; saw General Stonewall Jackson's grave; went into camp at Lexington.

June 14th. Tuesday. Marched to Buchanan on the James River and did not get into camp until 12 o'clock at night; passed within three miles of the Natural Bridge.

June 15th. Wednesday. Crossed the James River; left Buchanan at 1 o'clock; traveled all day and night in the mountains. A rebel spy was discovered along with our cavalry; he had been with us for several days. General Averil ordered him to be shot. I saw him lying along the road after he was shot.

June l6th. Thursday. Still on the march toward Lynchburg; passed through the town of Liberty; heard cannonading in front; camped on road to Lynchburg almost tired to death.

June l7th. Friday. Moved on toward Lynchburg, Our Division was on the extreme left of the battle; had a skirmish in a swamp; fighting all along the line; halted and held our horses in line all night,

June 18th. Saturday. Fighting was renewed. We were advanced some and ordered to dismount left our horses behind, then we were advanced to the firing line on foot, Newton Gilson, of our company, who was left with the horses, was struck with a piece of shell and died afterward in a Confederate Hospital; three of our horses were killed; we held our ground all day; Confederates constantly receiving reinforcements from Richmond; orders were quietly passed along the line to fall back after dark; I was ordered to take three men besides myself and advance to the edge of the woods and keep up a constant fire until dark while the rest of our company was to commence the retreat. We were then to fall back and get our horses at a certain point agreed upon. We did as we were ordered and when dark we fell back and found our horses all right; recreate all night; no rations; almost dead for sleep and rest.

June 19th, Sunday. Still retreating; rebels pursuing; passed through Liberty; procured a light breakfast for myself and a comrade by giving a lady a ten dollar confederate note; halted about two hours; crossed the Blue Ridge Mountain on road to Salem; rested a couple of hours.

June 20th. Monday. Still retreating; a small body of rebels in front; burnt a large cotton factory; tore up a railroad track; burnt a large depot of supply at Big Lick; rested a couple of hours at Salem.

June 21st. Tuesday. Still retreating; passed through Gap in Allegheny Mountains; rebels in front had the Gap barricaded by cutting down trees and logs; rebels following close on our rear; captured a few pieces of our artillery; General Duffle's Division of Cavalry was pushed forward to New Castle to hold a pass in the mountain; marched all night.

June 22nd. Wednesday. Holding a pass in the mountains until the army passed by; our company on picket.

June 23rd. Thursday. Still retreating; our division in the rear; rebels did not follow us; all day and night crossing; slept about two hours at a spring; lost a great many wagons and horses; no rations; many of the infantry died from starvation and fatigue.

June 24th,Friday. Marched to White Sulphur Springs, a beautiful place; our division brought up the rear. Marched all night.

June 29th. Saturday. Took up the march at four o'clock in the evening; marched all night crossed the Green Briar River; passed through Newburg; almost starved to death.

June 26th. Went into camp about daylight; went out to get something to eat; took up inarch again in afternoon; on road to Charleston, West Virginia; 100 miles yet to march without rations of any kind.

June 27th, Monday. Marched at daylight; crossed over several mountains; traveled all day in the mountains; almost starved to death when a wagon train met us with rations; procured a half day's rations at 12 o'clock at night.

June 28th. Again on the march; horses starved to death; met more wagons with crackers; got two days' rations from them; passed Meadow Bluff; crossed Ganly Mountain; passed the Crow's Nest on the New River; camped on Thompson's fields where rebel General Wise was whipped by Rosencrans.

June 29th. Wednesday. Remained in camp in Thompson's fields in the forks of the New and Ganly Rivers waiting for wagon train to cross.

June 30th. Thursday. Crossed the Ganly River at Loop Creek on the Kanawah River. The head of navigation at High Water.

July 1st. Friday. Marched at five o'clock on road to Charleston; camped at head of steam navigation on Kanawah River; passed the salt wells; saw the first steamboat I had ever seen.

July 2nd. Saturday. Marched to Charleston, West Virginia; went into camp; going to rest and recruit on streets for a few days.

July 3rd. Sunday. Resting in camp and drawing new clothing; 30 dismounted men left for dismounted camp.

July 4th. Monday. Still in camp at Charleston; infantry took boats for Parkersburg; received a letter from M ; not feeling well. Artillery fired a National salute.

July 5th. Tuesday. Still in camp; was on guard duty; I was detailed on detached duty as Forage Master with a New York Infantry Brigade.

July 6th. Wednesday. Still in camp; delivered rations; got orders to march in the morning.

July 7th. Thursday. Took up the march for Parkersburg on the Ohio River; I had charge of Headquarters' wagons; marched about l6 miles; went into camp.

July 8th. Friday. Took up the march at three o'clock in the morning; traveled all night; had some trouble with the wagons; marched about thirty miles.

July 9th. Saturday. Stopped to feed; still on the march all day very hot; went into camp 10 miles from Parkersburg.

July 10th. Sunday. Marched at daylight; arrived at Parkersburg about seven o'clock; went into camp.

July 11th. Monday. Camped at Parkersburg; 2nd Brigade of Infantry embarked on

cars for Martinsburg.

July 12th. Tuesday. Still in camp; our brigade (to which I was attached as Forage Master) embarked on the cars for Martinsburg, Virginia; I was left back with the wagon train; could not get transportation.

July 13th. Wednesday. Still at Parkersburg; nothing to do; a show came to town; went' to see the show at night.

July 14th. Thursday. Still at Parkersburg.

July 15th. Friday. Still in camp; drew forage for the horses; crossed the" Ohio River on a ferry boat; was in the state of Ohio.

July 16th. Saturday. At Parkersburg; was over to Ohio for some horses.

July 17th. Sunday. Dressed up and went to Trinitarian Church and to Presbyterian Church at night.

July l8th. Monday. Got orders to move; loaded our wagon train on the cars; Left Parkersburg at 10 o'clock; traveled all night; passed through Clarksburg and Grafton.

July 19th. Tuesday. On road to Martinsburg; passed through Cumberland; arrived in Martinsburg at sundown; remained on cars all night.

July 20th. Wednesday. Unloaded our wagon train and parked near town; saw Lieutenant Horner of my old company; heard that Lieutenant Lott was killed in  front of Petersburg.

July 21st. Thursday. Still at Martinsburg; Generals Crook and Averil whipped he rebels near Winchester, Virginia; 150 prisoners and 4 pieces of artillery were captured and arrived here.

July 22nd. Still at Martinsburg; good news from the front.

July 23rd. Still at Martinsburg; more good news from the front,

July 24th. Hard fighting at front; still good news.

July 25th. Monday. Our forces were defeated at Winchester; were driven back to Bunker Hill with considerable loss.

July 26th. "Tuesday; "Started with the wagon train for Williamsport. Got to the River about three o'clock; crossed the River.

July 27th. Wednesday. Passed through Hagerstown. Camped near Sharpsburg.

July 28th. Thursday. Marched to Maryland Heights. Passed Harper's Ferry. Camped at Pleasant Valley. I was very sick.

July 29th. Friday.Still in Pleasant Valley. Still sick.

July 30th. Saturday. Moved to Halltown, Virginia. Still very sick.

July 31st. Sunday. Got a pass to go to Pennsylvania. Moved back over the River. I rode in an ambulance. Was all night crossing.

August 1st. Took the Middletown road toward Pennsylvania. Camped at --- town.

August 2nd. Moved a little farther toward Hagerstown. Camped some little time.

August 3rd. Moved through Hagerstown and marched to Clear Springs.

August 4th. Thursday. Moved toward Hancock. Camped near Millstone Point.

August 5th. Friday. Moved to Hancock and camped. Short of rations.

August 6th. Saturday. Still at Hancock, Maryland.

August 7th. Sunday. Rebels crossing at Williamsport. We moved to McConnellasburg, Pennsylvania. We were then under General Duffie; sent after the rebels that burned Chambersburg.

August 8th. Monday. We moved back to Hancock, Maryland.

August 9th. Tuesday. Stayed at Hancock, Maryland.

August 10th. Wednesday. Moved to Williamsport, Maryland.

August 11th. Thursday. Moved to Harper's Perry. Camped at Halltown.

August 12th. Lay at Halltown.

August 13th. Friday. Marched within a few miles of Winchester.

August 14th. Marched through Winchester to Newtown and camped. After the re-organization of the Regiment Lieutenant O. A. Horner was promoted to 1st Major of Regiment; Sergt. Buckingham of Company C was promoted to Captain of Company C; Sergt. O. D.McMillan of Company C was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Company C, and Sergeant W.A. McLlhenny to second Lieutenant of Company C.