On the 12th day of January, 1864, a force of about three hundred infantry, half as many cavalry, and a section of a Rhode Island battery left the Point at 5:30 a.m., under convoy of two gunboats, for a raid into Virginia. This force was made up from the three regiments; the detail from the Twelfth consisting of Captains May and Bedee, Lieutenants Smith and Sanborn, six sergeants, eight corporals, and one hundred privates.
The object of this expedition, which was led by General [Gilman] Marston himself, was to capture a small force of rebels that were stationed, as understood, near the Rappahannock river, and to do such other damage to the material supplies of the enemy as might be found practicable. Although the rebel encampment did not in any way contribute to the success of the Yankee enterprise, its occupants concluding to run rather than fight, yet the raid was not entirely a vain effort, saltworks and tanneries being destroyed, and several rebel soldiers, among whom were a major and captain, who were at home on furloughs, were captured.
Nor was this all that was captured, for when the command returned on the afternoon of the 15th, quartermaster's and commissary's stores were increased by a fresh supply of horses, mules, and cattle, to the number of fifty or more, that had not been raised on the Maryland side of the Potomac; while the company cooks were amply supplied for a few days with fresh meat of various kinds, besides beef, to cook for a rich change of rations for the men. In fact, the whole thing proved to be but little more than an organized foraging expedition, which the officers and men enjoyed so much that they all, who still survive, relish the memory of it even to this day.
Though the infantry marched thirty-five or forty miles from the river and back again in less than three days they were but little fatigued, for every man, for much of the way, was mounted – some on horses, some on mules, some on jacks and jennies, and some on the seats of sundry kinds of two and four wheeled vehicles, drawn by anything of locomotive power, no matter whether it was a brindle steer or a jackass.
This was not quite General Marston's way of conducting a campaign; but he, as presiding officer, had but little power to shape the action of the committee on ways and means, especially when that committee was self-constituted, and comprised his whole command.
In number the gain and loss of this movement was about the same, one man being accidentally killed, and ten or twelve of the "substitutes" deserting; but in rank and worth the exchange was all, excepting the man killed, to the advantage of the raiders; for one rebel soldier was a greater loss to his army than a dozen deserting recruits was to ours, to say nothing about the rebel major and captain.