Saturday, September 25, 2010

149 Years Ago Today in Lewinsville

Today marks the 149th anniversary of a skirmish in Lewinsville, Virginia.  Although not written about nearly as much as the September 11, 1861 skirmish, this encounter actually involved larger numbers than the earlier one.  (See here.)  Around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, September 25, Union General William "Baldy" Smith deployed about 5,100 infantry, 16 pieces of artillery, and 150 cavalry in positions running from Langley, down Chain Bridge Road towards Lewinsville.  Many of the soldiers doing duty that day were involved in the fight on the 11th, including Captain Charles Griffin's battery, the 19th Indiana, and the 79th New York Highlanders.

General "Baldy" Smith (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Wagon train and Union Army camp (Corbis)

On the morning of the twenty-fifth, Smith surveyed the countryside for Confederates, and seeing no enemy activity, ordered the quartermaster troops to begin foraging.  As the New York Times reported, the wagons were "load[ed] with hay belonging to farmers known to be Secessionists."  According to Smith, the soldiers filled 90 wagons to the brim by three in the afternoon.  Smith then sent the wagons back toward the Union lines and recalled the skirmishers.  As the Union soldiers were being pulled in, the 79th New York captured an Irishman named Burke.  The prisoner claimed to be an aide to Colonel J.E.B. Stuart and warned that the enemy was on the way to Lewinsville.  Before long, the Northern soldiers "could see advancing over the hills from the Falls Church road what seemed to be a large regiment, marching rapidly in close column and others deployed as skirmishers with the apparent intention of turning our flank." (OR, I.V.5, p. 216.)  A Southern gun opened fire, but was too far away to do any damage.  Confederate cavalry soon moved through the corn fields and woods to the Union left, and the Confederates brought up two cannon to fire on the right of the Union line.  An artillery duel ensued between Union and Confederate batteries.  Smith reports that the Northern cannoneers got off thirty rounds before the Confederates retreated to Falls Church.

Captain Charles Griffin, here in a later photo as a general (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

At 5:30, Smith ordered the section of a Union battery to fall back slowly to Langley, and then withdrew the Union forces, which arrived at camp near Chain Bridge by 7 o'clock.  Around dusk, Smith was informed that the Confederates had fired four or five shots into Langley, but by the time a Northern scout arrived, the Southern troops had already left the area.

In his official report of the skirmish, Smith singled out Griffin's battery, noting that "the firing [from his guns] was most excellent."  (OR, I.V.5, p. 216.)  He also praised "[t]he conduct of the troops," which "was all that I could desire, standing with perfect coolness when [the Confederate] shot was falling...." (OR, I.V.5, p. 217.)  In all, it appears that only one Union solider was wounded in this engagement.  The Official Records contain no report from the Confederate side, so Southern casualties are uncertain.  In about two weeks time, the Union would finally occupy Lewinsville and establish winter camp in the vicinity.  (See here and here.)

No comments: