Report of Capt. W. A. Witcher, Twenty-first Virginia Infantry.
Camp Near Gordonsville, Va.,
August 13, 1862.
Sir: In obedience to order I offer the following report of the Twenty-first Virginia Regiment in the battle of Slaughter Mountain on the 9th instant, which I fear will be an imperfect one, as I only took command after the fight had considerably advanced:
The regiment was posted in line of battle in the woods about 40 paces back of the road to the to the left of the battery in the field and facing to the road, a small party being sent to the road in front of our extreme left to keep watch. In this position the men were ordered to lie down to protect them from the enemy’s cannonading, which was kept up with great vigor. A number of shells exploded in our vicinity, one of which struck and killed Capt. William H. Morgan, of Company F, a young officer of great merit. In about half an hour a volley of musketry was heard on our left, when the party on the road immediately returned and reported that a regiment was advancing along the road and fence. Lieutenant-Colonel Cunningham ordered our regiment forward to the edge of the road, which order was obeyed promptly, all seeming eager for the engagement. Soon after reaching the road and engaging the enemy, another regiment of them emerged from a corn field and arrayed themselves in line of battle to our left oblique. This seemed to heighten the ardor of our men, who fought with all the gallantry and energy that could have been desired, and completely checking the enemy’s advance. The fight was raging fiercely and our men in high spirits, when suddenly and without any warning whatever a murderous fire was poured upon us from the rear, at least a brigade of the enemy having passed through the woods and reached within 20 or 30 paces of us. We had supposed that our rear was protected; why it was not is not for me to say. About this time Lieutenant-Colonel Cunningham appeared at the left of the line and gave some command, which, amid the firing, I could not understand. I ordered those near me, however, to about-face. Some obeyed but many others were so intent upon firing at the enemy before them and so little apprehensive of danger from the rear, that they seemed not to understand the command. Lieutenant-Colonel Cunningham again gave some command, which, owing to the circumstances, I could not distinctly hear. He waved his hand toward the fence rather to the right, and after several times ordering it, I got the men to start in that direction. In making the movement they became somewhat scattered and confused, some going fast, while others would load, turn, and fire as they went. To add to the confusion of the moment, in addition to the many other brave men and officers who fell at this point, our gallant and beloved leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Cunningham, fell mortally wounded. The adjutant was taken by the enemy, though afterward escaped; the sergeant-major was shot down; the flag-bearer was shot dead; a corporal of the color-guard seizing the colors, shared the same fate; and a private who next raised them fell, wounded in three places. Under these unfavorable circumstances a portion of the regiment rallied and formed at the crest of the hill, not more than 150 paces from the road. Here some troops which had fallen back rallied and joined us, and after a spirited contest of ten or fifteen minutes drove the enemy, who had advanced into the road and field, back into the woods. We then turned our fire upon the enemy’s line of battle in the meadow, which soon broke and began to retire. From this on we pushed forward wherever the fight seemed thickest, assisting in the repulse of the cavalry charge and mingling in the fire upon the retreating foe until he had entirely disappeared from the field.
No troops, in my opinion, could have behaved with more daring and obstinacy than those of the Twenty-first. There were instances of individual heroism which I refrain from mentioning lest injustice should be done to others.
Before concluding this report I deem it my duty to bring to your notice a fact which shows the barbarous and brutal manner in which this war is being conducted by our adversaries. Second Lieut. Thomas W. Brown, of Company K, was taken prisoner at the time our regiment left the woods. He was afterward found in the woods mortally wounded, and before dying stated to Lieutenant Roach, of the Twenty-first, and Captain Turner, of the Irish Battalion, that he was taken unhurt, but when the enemy were forced to retreat they knocked him down with their guns and bayoneted him in several places. He was in his proper mind at the time of making this statement, and died the same night. Accompanying this report I forward a list of casualties.*
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. A. WITCHER,
Captain, Commanding Twenty-first Virginia Regiment.
Maj. John Seddon,
Commanding Second Brigade.
Embodied in No. 27.