Confederate Calamity: The 9th Virginia Cavalry in York County
Colonel Richard L. T. Beale commanded the 9th Virginia Cavalry during the Gettysburg Campaign. The veteran regiment was a part of Chambliss’s Brigade in J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division.
In his memoirs, he wrote an interesting account of the regiment’s time in York County, Pennsylvania, beginning with the march to Hanover northward from Union Mills in Carroll County, Maryland.
“The march was resumed at dawn next morning. An order detailing a squad of men and an officer from each regiment to collect horses for our dismounted men satisfied us that we had passed from Maryland, and had entered the State of William Penn, whose armed sons we had so often seen upon the soil of our native Virginia. The time had come to pay back in some measure the misdeeds of men who, with sword and fire, had made our homesteads heaps of ruin, and, in many instances, left our wives and children not a horse, nor cow, nor sheep, nor hog, nor living fowl of any kind.
Soon a country store was reached and trooper after trooper escaping from the ranks quickly filled it with Confederates, who, without asking the price, were proceeding to help themselves to any and every article they needed or fancied. The first field officer, however, who discovered what was going on, rode quietly up and cleared the store, compelling the men to put back what they had taken, and posted a guard to remain until the command had passed.”
The identification of the shopkeeper is unknown, but he was likely in business somewhere along the Westminster Pike.
Colonel Beale then described the Battle of Hanover from his perspective.
“Our march was towards Hanover, but before reaching it we learned the enemy in large force occupied the place. On nearing the town the column halted for some time before attacking. Close beside the road was a house, and our attention was attracted by the screams of children. The Colonel of the regiment rode in, and found a little boy and girl clinging to their mother’s skirts, who seemed herself to think that death was upon her. He assured her that she was safe and need not fear, and, taking from his saddle pocket a knife and fork, gave them to the little boy, leaving him quiet, and the family seemingly astonished at any words of kindness from a “rebel.”
Our ranks were now closed up. and, descending from the hills, we moved in column of fours along the plain directly upon the town. The Thirteenth Regiment was in front, followed by two squadrons of the Ninth. We were on the main ‘pike. The Second North Carolina moved upon a road to our left, which we supposed entered the town on the side opposite to us. We could see none of our other troops. When getting within about three hundred yards of the edge of the town a squadron of the enemy advanced slowly up the road in our front. The Major commanding the Thirteenth Regiment [Joseph E. Gillette], seeming to hesitate. Lieutenant [James] Pollard was ordered to the front with his squadron to charge the enemy. This was gallantly done, and the Federals, breaking, ran back into Hanover, followed by our whole force. The enemy’s troops must have been raw levies, as the side of the ‘pike was strewn with splendid pistols dropped by them as they ran. The author dismounted and picked up two, and leisurely surveyed the scene, supposing the town captured.
Some of our men in charge of ambulances and prisoners, were soon met, however, and then the whole body of them came retreating, some through the fields and others on the road. The enemy followed our retreating troops — a body in the road, and several squadrons on our right. Those in the road advanced in column of sections. Some of our men, rallying, charged clown the road, driving these back. We could see no organized force of Confederates in the field to our right as we returned. General Stuart was in this field as the enemy swept over it. Our men in the road opened fire on them, and as soon as the fence could be broken down, a small party charged with the sabre. The mounted Federals retreated behind a line of dismounted men, who now advanced, extending across our front and as far to the right as we could see.
The author’s command had now dwindled to a handful, and he rode back to collect the scattered men. General [Colonel at the time] Chambliss, commanding the brigade, was met and told that General Stuart had been seen surrounded, and was probably captured. He then ordered the writer to go rapidly to the wagons on the hills and to collect all the men that could be found, reform them, and march them back. To our great joy, we met General Stuart, smiling as ever, and found a line of dismounted skirmishers was forming to meet that of the enemy. Company I, of the Ninth Regiment, under Captain [John A.] Billingsley, formed the left of this line, and a heavy skirmish fire was maintained across the fields, our men yielding only as they were forced back by a fire on their flanks. We at length occupied a fine position on the hills, and our troops were posted to contest seriously any attack by the enemy. As our skirmishers approached this line of hills, the enemy’s pursuit was less vigorously pressed, however, and before sunset we were marching northward on roads leading to the right of Hanover.
The loss of our three squadrons in the engagement at Hanover was about twenty, including Captain Billingsley. Most of this loss was in prisoners.
We again marched all night, halting once for an hour or more at Dover, to catch a little rest, and to parole our prisoners, now numbering about six hundred. The march continued the following day, and a good many prisoners were taken, being chiefly men going to rejoin their regiments. Among them was a young surgeon, travelling with a span of line horses, handsome buggy, and colored servant. His surprise at being halted by our picket was manifest. His handsome buggy was brought to Virginia.
Nightfall found us in the vicinity of Carlisle, where we expected to find our infantry, behind whose sheltering muskets we hoped to find one night of sweet sleep. Painful was the intelligence that this hope must be deferred to some more convenient time and place, as our infantry had retired to Gettysburg, and the enemy occupied Carlisle.”
Source: Beale, Richard L. T., History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the war between the states.(Richmond: B. F. Johnson Publishing Company, 1899), pp. 82-84.