On the 27th of February, 1865, General [Wesley] Merritt was appointed Chief of Cavalry, and General [Thomas] Devin was assigned to the command of the First Cavalry Division, and we set out upon a campaign to wipe out [Confederate general Jubal A.] Early's rebel force in the [Shenandoah] valley, the regiment being under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Briggs. That night we bivouacked at Woodstock, and
— page 77 —on the 28th reached Lacey's Springs. The 1st of March [Confederate general Thomas L.] Rosser was encountered at Mount Crawford and defeated. Staunton was entered the morning of March 2d, whence the command moved toward Waynesboro, where Early's force was met and, except a few officers and men with Early himself, was captured after a sharp engagement. Sixteen hundred prisoners, seventeen battle flags, and eleven pieces of artillery were secured.
The morning of the 3d of March the column was on the march for Charlottesville, which was entered late in the afternoon. Some cavalry and three pieces of artillery were captured. We remained here two days resting, enjoying the hospitalities of the citizens, and destroying the railroad in the direction of Lynchburg.
The brief rest of the command at Charlottesville will always be remembered by those who took part in this short but arduous campaign. For several days we had been marching over the rain-soaked roads of red Virginia clay, churned into thin mortar by the hoofs of many thousands of horses, who, at every step, would splash sheets of the red mixture over each other and over the riders until for once, at least, our uniforms all corresponded, though not of the regulation blue. Mud-covered and water-soaked, hungry and sleepy, we reached the dry and solid pike leading into the town. The sun, which had been hidden behind the rainclouds for days, now shone out warm and bright to cheer our discouraged spirits. The General
— page 78 —assigned us quarters in and about the residences formerly occupied by the officers and professors of the University of Virginia. These residences were large and commodious, and were situated on a dry and sandy knoll, forming extensive grounds for picket lines and tents. As tents had been generally left behind, many of the men betook themselves to the numerous, but now unoccupied rooms once used by the University students, each soldier having a room to himself. His bearing for that day was so high-toned and exclusive that an interview with him could hardly be had without first apprising him by card of a desire for communication.
The surrounding country had thus far escaped the ravages of either army and was rich in forage and food. Foraging parties soon returned with an abundance of beef, hams, poultry, bread, cakes, butter, honey, preserves, pickles, cheese, eggs, milk, etc., to say nothing of the wet goods, such as applejack ad wine, and last, but not least, with generous quantities of that sweet and deceptive beverage, methylin, the unhappy effects of which were felt by some for a day or two after drinking. But
- Pleasures are like poppies spread,
- You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
- Or like the snowflake in the river—
- A moment white, then melts forever.
All too soon the bugles sounded "Boots and Saddles," with the "General" attached, and we again took up
— page 79 —our line of march, not over but through the muddy roads of the James River valley.
March 5th, 1865, we reached Scottsville on the James river, the Seventh Michigan having the advance. Here we captured a fleet of canal boats loaded with supplies for Richmond. The fact that the Union forces were near at hand caused the Rebel officer in charge to call on the citizens of the town to carry away all the flour and meat they could, so that we found many houses filled with these commodities, which were either destroyed by us or issued in smaller quantities to the negroes and poor whites, who were in a starving condition. Many queer experiences came from searching the houses for concealed goods. One healthy woman was apparently at the point of death on a bed made on top of seven barrels of flour. In tender sympathy for the soldiers who had been so long soaked in mud and water, General Sheridan ordered an issue of a canteen of applejack to every man who brought an order from his company commander. Filling these orders consumed several barrels of applejack.