150 Years Ago: The Washington Artillery at Beverly’s Ford

150 years ago today (August 23), cannons once again thundered along the Rappahannock River. General James Lonstreet’s wing of the Army of Northern Virginia moved up to Rappahannock Station and Beverly’s Ford to pressure the Federals on the far side of the river at those points. The artillery of both sides dueled at dawn. One of those Confederate batteries was the 3rd Company of the famous Washington Artillery, of Louisiana. Captain Merritt B. Miller, commanding the battery, filed this report of the action:

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that on the morning of August 23 ultimo, pursuant to your orders I proceeded with my battery of four smooth-bore Napoleon 12-pounders to a point on the right of and near the road to Beverly Ford; on the Rappahannock River, and distant about 1,000 yards from the river. My position on a hill sloping toward the river was not such a one as I would have desired, though doubtless the best the locality afforded. At sunrise I discovered a battery of the enemy in position immediately in our front on a hill on the north side of the river, and I opened on it with spherical case. The enemy replied briskly and for half an hour the firing was very spirited. During this time I was considerably annoyed by an enfilading fire of a long-range battery posted to our right and entirely beyond our range. After nearly an hour’s engagement I was gratified to notice that the fire of the battery in our front had perceptibly slackened – indeed, almost entirely ceased. Up to this time but one of my men had been wounded and two horses killed. The batteries supporting me on my left at this juncture retired from the field, subjecting me to a galling cross-fire from the enemy rifle battery in their front. I immediately changed front on the left and replied. The enemy, having our exact range, fired with terrible precision and effect. For some time we maintained this unequal conflict, when, having nearly exhausted my ammunition and agreeably to your orders, I retired by half battery from the field.

I have to mourn the loss of a gallant officer in the person of First Lieut. Isaac W. Brewer, who was killed just as he was taking his section from the field. Throughout the fight he managed his section with consummate ability and fell while cheering his men. The service has lost no braver officer.

My casualties were: Killed, 4; wounded, 10; 21 horses killed; 356 rounds ammunition expended.

I would be pleased to pay a tribute to the coolness and intrepidity of my command, but when [all] acted so well it were invidious to particularize. I should be wanting in my duty, however, were I not to mention Lieutenants [Andrew] Hero, jr., and [Frank] MeElroy, and my non-commissioned officers – Sergeants McNeill, Handy, Collins, Ellis, and Stocker, and Corporals Coyle, Kremmelberg, Pettis, and De Blanc – who by their coolness and close attention to duty contributed not a little to the efficiency of my battery.

Capt., Comdg. Third Company Batt. Washington Artillery.

Captain Miller and the 3rd Company left more than just shell fragments and spent friction primers behind when they withdrew from the field. And at least one of the company remains on the field.

Brandy Station 16 May 09 032