With Gibbons Brigade
Near Orange Court House, Virginia
26 July 1862
I have sent this on ahead in hopes that it may reach the Tribune in a timely fashion.
Weve been preparing to move once again, on a return march tinged with some disappointment. For we have made a raid on the railroad junction and telegraph here only to be unable to secure the place and complete its destruction.
Despite repeated efforts yesterday, amid some heavy skirmishing with significant numbers of the enemy, we could get no nearer to the place itself than a mile, perhaps more. General Gibbon has been in command and he and a mixed force of infantry, cavalry and a battery of artillery moved from their camp around Falmouth on the morning of the 24th. When I arrived, the men were already assembled in marching order on a large plain around Lacy House. Our column descended the hills surrounding the camps and we crossed the Rapahannock at Fredericksburg, just opposite. The people of the town were not happy to see us yet I dont suppose I blame them.
Fredericksburg is a lovely river town with a good many inhabitants. The fact that the town has already changed hands several times has greatly interfered with business.
And, our presence seemed to leave the people indifferent, grimly resigned to the continued disruption of their daily life.
After leaving the town we soon found ourselves marching briskly, despite the heat of the day, down a dusty road which I was informed was the Orange Plank. About midday, we halted at a small country crossroads dominated by an imposing manor like home.
Both servants and two lovely young women of the house ventured out to the road to offer the officers around me as well as myself some cool water and fresh bread. Despite having Southern sympathies, the Chancellor family, whose property this was, extended every courtesy.
The column resumed the march about one Oclock. General Gibbon was most anxious that we not be further delayed and we set off again at an even more rapid pace than before.
The men responded enthusiastically as they have had little to do for many weeks and only now have they been given the opportunity to strike a blow. I rode for much of the morning with a Major of the 6th Wisconsin, Rufus Dawes. Major Dawes was as determined as the rest that they give a good account of themselves. "We want to be more than mere ornamental file closers," the Major explained. It was pointed out to me that these men, primarily from communities across
Wisconsin, will prove to be excellent soldiers. There were remarkably few stragglers. We stopped for the night along the Orange Plank Road far from the crossroads clearing of Chancellorsville, then with little ceremony resumed our march the following morning.
The country all about us is filled with rolling hills and dense bushy undergrowth, making it difficult to see very much from the roads on which we traveled.
As we made our way westward, we began to hear scattered musketry from somewhere up ahead. Having the freedom to see what I wished, I rode further ahead and alongside another Wisconsin regiment, the 2nd. When informed I was a reporter, some of the soldiers in the ranks called out their names and home towns; places with obscure names such as Sauk City or Fox Lake. An aide carrying a dispatch rode hurriedly down the road in the opposite direction, pausing just long enough to tell me that rebel cavalry had been encountered up ahead but that we had brushed them aside with little trouble.
The scattered firing we heard grew louder as we came up to the scene of the action, a forest clearing where the road we had been on intersected with another that appeared not much more than a cow path. General Gibbon was now on the scene and he promptly directed Colonel OConnor of the 2nd to get his men into line of battle and to drive in the enemy pickets to our front. This they promptly did. Yet, as the regiment advanced they encountered still another body of the enemy. What had been a line of dismounted cavalry now appeared to be a more significant body of rebel infantry.
An artillery battery was brought forward and it quickly unlimbered and began firing with good effect upon the enemy. I went still further forward and stationed myself amongst the limbers and caissons where I might better observe the fight with my glass. The enemy had taken cover and was revealed only by the puffs of smoke coming from their muskets, Occasionally a head or a portion of a body would be visible followed by a puff of smoke.
From time to time the buzz of a musket ball could be heard and quickly two of the cannoneers serving the gun in front of me were down. I helped a corporal carry one of the men to a position of greater safety and helped him to some water from his canteen.
He had a serious belly wound and was in great distress. Just as the fight was about to become a full scale affair, orders were received to withdraw. Many of the men were thoroughly disappointed. However, the degree of surprise required of a raid of this kind was clearly lacking and it was explained to me that orders had been given not to seek a general engagement but to merely probe for the enemy, destroy the telegraph at Orange Court House if practicable, and return.
It is nearly dawn now and the men are being awakened after little sleep to resume the return march. I have since learned that the wounded cannoneer I ministered to has died. He was only in his teens. His name was Chad Grzyb and I wonder what was accomplished at the purchase of still another young mans life.