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Battle of Cross Keys
New York Times Article

The following article is from New York Times, dated June 20, 1862

THE BATTLE OF CROSS KEYS.; The Advance Order of Battle Splendid Conduct of Cluserst's Brigade Fine Artillery Practice Gen.. Fremont Under Fire A Balance Sheet Word from Gen. Shields.


          It is a bright, beautiful Sabbath morning, and we are marching out to our devotions to the music of grander anthems than ever echoed through church aisles. Our organ-pipes are great-ribbed, loud-lunged cannon, and the octaves that issue from their bur- nished throats would probably astonish any of the audiences that on bright Sundays are accustomed to gather around the porches of your City churches, to hear the music within.

          Our army was on the march this morning by 6 o'clock. We advanced slowly and cautiously, our skirmishers meeting the enemy's between 10 and 11, and driving them to the woods. Col. CLUSERET's little brigade, consisting of the Eighth Virginia and Sixtieth Ohio, and the Garibaldi Guard -- the latter to-day detached from Gen. STAHEL's command -- had the extreme advance. After the enemy's advanced posts were driven to the woods, we had leisure to look at the ground of which we found ourselves in possession. The country is too hilly and wooded for what might be termed fair, pretty fighting. Our forces were disposed in the skirting edges of a forest -- Gen. SCHENCK on the right, supporting MILROY and CLUSERET; Gen. STAHEL on the left, supported by Gen. BOLEN; Gen. STEINWAY in command of the reserve. Before us spread an open amphitheatre, not of level ground, however, but of rolling hills, and in the opposite woods we had reason, to believe lay the enemy. Capt. SCHIRMER's Battery put the test question with interrogatory shell, but for some time no answer was elicited. Several horsemen were grouped together on a pleasant little elevation, watching the experiment. I expected a shell every moment, but scarcely expected one to land directly in the centre of the group, sending the horses careering in every direction. The precision of the enemy's fire on this and all subsequent occasions, proves that they have the range of the hills accurately, and are in excellent practice. One of MILROY's batteries was ordered up, and soon silenced the annoyer opposite. Col. CLUSERET, with his brave little Brigade, had, in the

meanwhile, entered the woods on the right, and the rapidly retiring volleys of musketry told that the former occupants were leaving in some haste and confusion. Another Battery then opened on us, and HYMAN's and EWING's Batteries, and finally JOHNSON's -- all of MILROY's Brigade -- were wheeled forward to reply. A very interesting little conversation soon ensued between the confronting hills. Our pieces were admirably served, but justice compels the admission that we met our peers in artillery practice. With Gen. MILROY and his Staff, I rode forward to a position somewhat advanced between our batteries and the enemy's. The diabolical precision with which shot and shell were instantly pitched at us exceeded anything I had before imagined. It was as though a platoon of backwoodsmen were firing at us with squirrel rifles -- that is, so far as accuracy of aim and not the size of projectile is concerned. It was my ardent wish to remove, slowly and unobservedly, but it really did not seem safe to stir, for the dirt was flying around us in all directions. The General didn't seem to mind it much, and only shouted over to JOHNSON to "Give 'em ----- " ----- I'll not say what; it was a rather unchristian command; but had JOHNSON been able to follow it out to the letter, I do not question that he'd soon have driven the enemy from their position, for the fire indicated by it is popularly supposed to be a hot one. But it is noticeable that after a while one comes to entertain a sublime contempt for cannon. There are so many places in the State of Virginia where spheres of iron can strike without hitting you -- they can come so very near and miss -- that after a while one becomes inclined to spit on the fuses and take it coolly. But the moral effect of the institution is immense. The devilish commotion they cause in rushing through the air, causes each man to believe that each one is a special messenger sent for him, and when many come he grows nervous. Yet I question, after all, whether soldiers fear them so much as the sharp whisperings of the Minie bullets, that rush past your ear as though they had something to say to you, and would stop to say it next time. Biz-z-z -- confound the things -- better a hive of bees about your ears.

          While the batteries were firing, MILROY's infantry had advanced on the centre, and Gen. STAHEL, with his brigade, supported by Gen. BOLEN, took the woods on the left. If heavy volleys of musketry may be relied on as indications, they had warm work of it. Our left was the weakest, and upon it the enemy concentrated his attack. BOLEN, who had sent some regiments to the support of STAHEL, was obliged to withdraw them to guard against a flank movement, and finding themselves well-nigh surrounded, the two brigades left the woods and fell back to an open position that afforded better advantages for defence. Had the enemy had sufficient artillery on the left, our loss would have been much more severe than it was, for I question whether STAHEL would have been disposed to leave any guns on the field, and it would have required something beside physical force to bring them away. The "Bucktails" did well again to-day, and stood around a section of a battery long after the less fire-seasoned had gone to cover.

          STAHEL fell back at about 3 o'clock, and MILROY somewhat later. CLUSERET maintained his position until recalled. Until 3 o'clock the cannonading and musketry firing was brisk, but from that time it gradually slackened, and by 4 everything was so quiet as to induce the belief that both our gunners and the enemy's had said early vespers and gone to bed. But not so. Gen. FREMONT with his Staff took position on a commanding hill to see how things looked. The General had several times during the day warned the gentlemen not to cluster too thickly, for where even a few were gathered together a shot or shell was certain to be among them. But every one is of course anxious to hear what a General is talking about, and every one gathered around him. It would seem as though the two stars on his shoulder had caught the eye of some ruthless cannoneer opposite, for had the shall that came plunging among the group exploded well the Department of the Mountains would have passed into other hands. But not a sign nor a shadow of flinching on the General's part. But when around shot came and crushed through the ribs of one man's horse, if the truth must be told, the whole group retired. I have never met FREMONT before, and if I never meet him again, I must say that I like him immensely. If you ask me why, now, the reply will be because he looks to splendidly on horseback. He has marched his men well, and managed to keep them in good fighting order without rations; but the campaign, after all, but begins with a battle, and until this is ended I shall not crown any man with a laurel wreath.

          In summing up the results of the day, I can only say that if we have not gained much, I do not think we have lost much. We had every disadvantage of position, unfamilliarity with the ground, and fighting in an enemy's country. JACKSON finds a friend and spy in every farmer, and is enabled to gather the earliest and most accurate intelligence of our forces and movements, while we are forced to remain in utter ignorance of his, or trust to reports that may mislead us. JACKSON has been over ground that we occupy, and knows it thorouhly; of the position we know nothing at all, But this fact is certain; he has chosen the best in the vicinity, and prefers to hold it, waiting on attack, and thus throwing an additional burden upon us. As we retire to-day, he might have pursued with many chance of success. The fact that he did not, proves that he is pattently satisfied with [???] his own; had that his forces [???] to ours [???] gained its ground and recaptured their guns and one more.

          Our loss yesterday was heavy. The Garibaldi Guard, and Eighth New-York, particularly, were cut up terribly. I intended to have sent you with my dispatch a partial list, at least, of the killed and wounded; but, after meeting and staking hands on the field with two or three men reported dead, I thought best to wait for some official confirmation or personal observation. Visiting the hospitals I found that the majority of the wounded were Germans, and that I could not spell their names when they told them me, nor even read them when they wrote them. Great as is the anxiety of friends to see the mortuary list, I think it would be an excellent plan for the military authorities to prevent any list being sent over the wires or by mail, until it is done officially. In their desire to get a "beat," reporters are very apt to make out a list of those who ought to be killed, and forward it as one of those who actually were. If this practice were interfered with, much needless mental suffering would be spared the families of our soldiers.

           So far as describing a battle is concerned, I am certain that no one man in such a country can do it, particularly when we do not remain in possession of the battle field. The infantry fighting to-day has been in the woods, and spread over miles. Even those who were actively engaged in the fight can give little account of it. Trusting to the reports of different individuals and the story becomes a confused one. Each officer says that his men fought like heroes, and rather indicates that he himself performed some deeds of individual heroism. But I hold reputations so dear that I'll neither make nor unmake them except on the best of evidence. I come to record, not to praise. Of each day's work I shall endeavor to give a fair and impartial account C.H.W.

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