Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
"Thunder In The Valley"
Cross Keys/Port Republic
June 10-12, 2016
Cross Keys, Va.
This adventure we have been on has once again taught the soldier of the trials involved in military service. We have had a hard time of late here in the Valley, but have indeed been able to live and tell about it.
Our travels by the cars brought us up the valley, to the south, then to the east to the little place called Cross Keys. We were directed off the road to something of a rally point, and were admonished for our northern accents even by the army logistics officers. We were directed to a wagon park about five miles hence, and then to a rendezvous bivouac location in the opposite direction about three miles back. So, we did as directed.
Transportation from the park to the bivouac was long in coming, so we laid about in the sides of the road, and mingled with the other soldiers from other commands also waiting. Finally we crammed into a wagon and made for the camp location at almost dusk. We arrived way off the road on a beef and horse farm, and took up spots in a hilly meadow above a creek. We were to get some rations cooked, but there was no water there to be had, and the canteens were long dry due to the heavy heat of the day so far. Solders grouse some when water is not available. It was finally pulled in in large barrels, and the boys settled down to cook and sleep early under the stars.
The dawn came again, and a red sun started its march up and over us all. The officers were called out on a reconnaissance of the ground, and a company of pioneers were pushed forward to improve our crossing of the creek. Soon, we were called into formation and moved towards the creek. We crossed it, and moved up hill towards a fence line on the ridge. We did not make it far out of the lower tree line when we were presented with the rebels full line of battle cresting the ridge in our front, and sweeping down upon our ranks. We poured it into them heartily, but were also getting flanked on the left, and so we retreated in that direction, changing front some. But their numbers were too many for our liking, and we were obligated to withdraw and leave the field in their hands. Thus was the Battle of Cross Keys a short but earnest one for us.
We rested a time at the fence line, then made our way to the Widow Pence farm. There we rested once more, and filled our canteens for the third time since dawn. The air was sultry, and the heat was building. We were put in column and marched off once more. We trudged along in the heat, one foot in front of the other, until we turned up a farm lane on the left, and crested the ridge, then made our way cross lots towards a creek with a steep ridge behind it. We put out skirmishers, since that high ridge looked like a great position for the rebels to sweep us from. And, indeed, so it was. They rose from behind breast works along the ridge, and pounded our lines mercilessly. We did work to force the issue, but, once again, the advantage was theirs, and so we withdrew in order once more. We dragged our troops back to the farm stead, rested in the shade, and made plans to get back to the Pence farm, and continue towards the river and the Port Republic coaling.
We all straggled into a camp established directly on the banks of the Shenandoah. Each soldier arriving flopped done his gear along a farm lane next to the tree line along the banks. One by one, then bunch by bunch, these same soldiers in blue became soldiers sans, and with or without bars of soap all ended in the stream and currents of the river. The relief was palpable. Several went in, then out, then in again, giddy at their good fortune. A woman from the area came by and provided roast chicken halfs to the men, and her inventory did not last ten minutes. It was good to have some real rations for once. They restored our energy and our will. The night beside the banks was early, and the snoring from the exertion was enough to keep all varmints away.
The sun rose, and reveille rose the men. The vision of our camp and the river, the valley, and the mountains to our east were sublime. The sky and clouds were tinged orange and red with the rising sun, burning through the mist and humidity of the day. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and for a moment, one might acknowledge that it was indeed the Sabbath morning.
But that did not last, and the orders came to form in column and proceed to the east. We once again moved y the flank, stopped in the shade of the hedge rows, and waited for further orders. There most of us had their morning rations from the haversack. There was the normal trading and sharing that always accompanies such provisions. The Colonel did arrive, and we stepped off into the sunshine, right into the rising sun. We passed the Port Republic road, saw the Coaling location, and passed the quaintest, most inviting, little stone fence enclosed church yard. We turned up a wood road leading up onto the ridges above. When we got to the top, we found artillery arrayed there overlooking the ravines to the south.We were deployed in line facing the same way. Our company was to refuse the left flank, and were warned that the enemy could flock down the ridge line there and sweep us away.
We rested on our arms for some time, until our forward scouts sounded the alarm. Soon enough, the skirmishers opened, and the rebels replied, attacking up hill from the bottom of the ravine. We were called into line and opened upon them coming up the hills. They were pushed back down easily. But they came again, and were repulsed. And they came again. They started to push the guns, but the hand to hand delayed them. Then, it happened. The Louisiana Tigers came from our left, screaming like banshees. They took a round or two, but charged so fast that our lines melted. They were grabbing each man up as prisoner. I also felt their hands on my shoulders as I ran down hill. I turned and clocked the boys with the hilt of my sword, and he let go just enough for me to slip past. My heart was beating all the way to the bottom of the paths. Soldiers were streaming by me on both sides, all in chaos. I found my pards, and we moved away from the threats. We rested briefly in the trees, cleared our weapons, then marched back to the wagon park, shucked our accouterments and cloths, and cooled down, or at least tried to in the noon day heat. We determined to leave this area, and so we did, taking the cars back to the west, to the main valley, then turned for the north once more.
Such is our latest adventure in the Shenandoah Valley. They call these two engagements the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic. I call them a poor excuse for trying to delay Jackson's foot cavalry, and an embarrassment for superior Union numbers against a rabble of a Rebel Army.
Lincoln & Liberty! Hopefully, he can find a commander that can crush this rebellion soon.
You obedient servant,
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Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.