Amidst the thunder of the guns, a cool-thinking young artillery officer from Stockton Springs outfought the best horse artillery that J.E.B. Stuart could spare.
December 1862 found Stuart’s experienced Confederate cavalry raising havoc with Union convoys traveling along the Telegraph Road in Tidewater Virginia’s Prince William County. Convoys crossed Occoquan Creek at Occoquan and rolled south to Dumfries, a town north of the Stafford County line — Stafford County being where the Union lost 12,500 men at Fredericksburg that month.
“What shall I say of Dumfries?” asked 1st Lt. John Mead Gould of Portland after seeing Dumfries for the first time on January 20, 1863. “It looked like a place built for some tribe of ancient hob-goblins and that Virginia had expelled the hob-goblins … and had then sent the state paupers to live in the vacant houses,” he said.
That night, wind-driven rain knocked down his tent that night. Gould and two tent mates awakened in “a puddle of water.”
By the time they bid Dumfries “adieu,” the Maine boys called the place “Dam-freeze.”
Confederate Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton raided Dumfries on December 12 and attacked Occoquan six days later. Taking 1,800 cavalrymen on what would become the “Christmas Raid,” Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart left camp on Friday, December 26 to raid into Prince William County.
Sweeping north along the Telegraph Road on December 27, “about 2,500 cavalry” commanded by Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee (a Stuart subordinate) captured Union pickets south of Dumfries. Riding up to the village (such as it was), Lee “opened with shell on the town” at 11:30 a.m., noted Col. Charles Candy, holding Dumfries with his 61st Ohio Infantry and the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, XII Corps.
Assigned to the brigade were 2nd Lt. William H. Rogers and a two-gun section of the 6th Maine Battery. Upon receiving a scribbled order from Candy, Rogers deployed his two 3-inch ordnance rifles near the local courthouse about 12:30 p.m. “and directed my fire upon the enemies Batteries and cavalry at a distance” of approximately 800 yards.
The Confederate artillery, a two-gun section like Rogers’, belonged to a Stuart’s Horse Artillery battery commanded by Capt. James Breathed. Long experienced in combat, the Southerners were very, very good at working their guns.
So were the 6th Maine lads. They held the position until 4 p.m., when enemy troopers suddenly tried to outflank the Dumfries defenders; Rogers “changed the position of one gun to the right about one half mile and opened fire on the Rebel cavalry” about 1,000 yards away.
When “the enemy opened fire with one gun” at 5 p.m., “I directed my fire upon it” for the next 30 minutes,” Rogers reported. The Confederate cannon was about 1,000 yards distant.
The Confederate cavalry broke off the attack at sunset and vanished into the Virginia darkness.
Rogers was ecstatic with his section’s performance. Suffering “no losses of men or horses” and “no guns lost or damaged,” he reported that his two ordnance rifles had fired 185 rounds altogether.
Candy watched the 6th Maine gunners at work. “The section … was well handled, and did good execution,” he noted. With Rogers in command, “the men … worked the guns admirably, silencing four guns of the enemy, and the shots were sent with great precision.” Confederate cannons briefly caught the Maine gunners in a crossfire, and “I am happy to report no casualties in that arm,” Candy said.
Rogers had “obeyed every order and executed every movement … with great promptness and coolness,” said Candy, describing the capable lieutenant “as an officer well worthy to bear the commission that has been entrusted to him.”
Freeman McGilvery expected nothing different from the 6th Maine Battery, “always … as ready to fight after as before a battle.” The outfit “has gained as commendable a reputation as any battery in the service, in an unusually short space of time.”
Sources: William B. Jordan, The Civil War Journals of John Mead Gould 1861-1866; Col. Charles Candy and Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 21, Chapter XXXIII; William H. Rogers to Col. Charles Candy and Extract from Col. Candy’s report, Rogers to Candy, Maine State Archives; Maine Adjutant General’s Report 1863, p. 109
The Zouave Element
The Zouaves were hard-fighting soldiers who adopted the colorful turbans and uniforms worn by French colonial troops in North Africa. From First Manassas to well into the Civil War, Zouaves fought ferociously for both North and South.
Join Maine humorist Robert “Maynard” Kuprovich as he dons the Zouave uniform of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment and speaks at the Isaac Farrar Mansion, 166 Union Street, Bangor, at 6 p.m., April 20. Maynard will talk about “The Zouave Element” in this Civil War Lecture Series presented by the Bangor Historical Society.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.