After catching a few winks at their camp north of Culpeper, Va. on Aug. 9, 1862, the gunners of the 4th Maine Battery got up and tended to their horses, cannons, and equipment. Led by Capt. O’Neil W. Robinson Jr. of Bethel, the Maine artillerymen expected to “see the elephant” (experience their first battle) on this hot Saturday.
The battery belonged to the 2nd Brigade (Brig. Gen. Henry Prince) of the 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. Christopher C. Augur) of the II Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. The 4th Maine gunners had hitched up their horses around 7:30-8 a.m. As the rising sun beat down on the suffering animals, Robinson sent a lieutenant to ask Henry Prince for orders.
“When I have orders for Captain Robinson, I will send them,” Prince snarled in response.
Angered by the brusque response, Robinson ordered his “horses … unharnessed and taken by the drivers to a field some distance away to graze” around 9 a.m., said Corp. Judson Ames of Foxcroft. Then, quietly spreading his one-star peacock’s fan, Prince suddenly sent a courier to Robinson with orders to limber up. The 4th Maine’s drivers hustled the hungry horses back to camp and re-harnessed them.
Prince took his brigade toward Cedar Mountain shortly before noon. Robinson took the 4th Maine Battery “through Culpeper … at a trot,” according to Ames. With artillery fire thudding in the distance, the gunners maneuvered their caissons, cannons, limbers, and wagons along the Culpeper Road, “crowded with troops of all kinds with their ammunition and baggage wagons hurrying to the front.”
“The day was intensely hot,” Ames realized. “The dust was so thick and suffocating that at times it was difficult to get our breath.” The gunners (many of whom walked) passed many Union soldiers “lying by the road completely prostrated and others suffering from sun stroke.”
The 4th Maine Battery “halted in a piece of woods nearly a mile in the rear of our line” skirmishing with Confederates near Cedar Mountain, Ames exhaled in the slightly cooler air beneath the trees.
Relaxing in the shade, Prince’s men filled their canteens in the North Branch of Cedar Run.
Then Henry Prince “placed Captain Robinson under arrest for some reason, the exact nature of which was never clearly understood,” the stunned Ames learned.
The 4th Maine Battery had not “seen the elephant” since arriving in Virginia four months past. But now the elephant, as represented by “Stonewall” Jackson and his Confederate troops, approached from the Rapidan River, and the 4th Maine boys had just lost their captain.
Confederate artillery thudded intermittently in the distance as Prince pondered the punishment he should inflict on Robinson. Echoing hostile thunder reminded the petulant general of the close proximity of his 2nd Brigade to enemy soldiers; 30 minutes after arresting Robinson, Prince inexplicably released him.
Then up rode a courier on a sweating, wild-eyed horse; handing a folded paper to Prince, the courier saluted and rode away. Christopher Augur wanted the 4th Maine Battery sent “to relieve … the battery on the hill nearby,” according to Prince.
Robinson steered his battery “across an open field about a half mile” to pull up “behind some hay stacks at the [Robert] Hudson house on the north side of the Mitchell Station road,” said Judson Ames. From its intersection with the Culpeper Road, the Mitchell Station Road ran southeast past Cedar Mountain.
Near the two-story, wood-framed Hudson House rose a slight hill occupied by Union artillery. Throughout the morning the gunners of Pennsylvania Independent Battery E of 1st Lt. Joseph Knap) had dueled with Confederate gunners hidden in trees on the northern slope of Cedar Mountain, about a mile due south.
Next week: Charged up to fight: 4th Maine Battery “sees the elephant” at Cedar Mountain — Part III
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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.