June 17th, 1863: The Battle of Aldie

custer@aldie

While not a large-scale battle, the Battle of Aldie marks an important venture for both sides in the Gettysburg campaign.  Just about two weeks away from the Battle of Gettysburg, cavalry and infantry clashed with the Union forces driving back the confederates before the day was done.  Here is an account (click the link for more primary source records) of the events that unfolded by Major Henry Lee Higginson, 1st Massachusetts  Cavalry:

It had been a hot, tiresome ride. The men came along in pretty good order, although one of the regiments belonging to another brigade galloped about to get water, and acted in a foolish way. Just as we came to the town of Aldie, we heard a little firing, and were ordered to the front. As we rode through the town, we saw a little fighting going on in front of us — a little charge by some men of another regiment. We turned to the right, went up by a little wood, and our regiment was put into a field close by a farmhouse and close by the road. There, Colonel Curtis, in command, left me with two squadrons, and went to attend to something else. I rode up to this farmhouse, and saw one or two soldiers’ jackets hanging at the door, and was looking about, when I saw a regiment coming down at full tilt on the road towards us. I immediately ordered one squadron into the road and we charged these men. They turned straight around and ran away. We came very near their rear, but could not reach them. They went down a hill and at the top I ordered a halt. Captain Sargent, with two or three men, rode straight on down into a valley after a few of the troopers we had been pursuing, and began fighting them. I yelled to him to come back, but he would not do so, and fearing that he would get into trouble, I rode down to give him the order, when right behind us came a whole regiment of Confederate cavalry at full speed. I shouted to Sargent and the two or three men with him to ride for their lives, and we galloped up a hill in front of us, where we lost one man through the balking of his horse. We reached the top of the hill, and the Confederates had stopped, as we were not worth pursuing. Sargent turned around in his saddle and made faces at them with his fingers, whereat they pursued us, and we rode down another very steep hill, and at the bottom they caught us, and we had a little shindy. Sargent was knocked from his horse and shot, as he thought, just above the heart. One of our men was killed, and one lieutenant was shot through the side. In striking a man opposite to me, who was using improper language, I was knocked from my horse, and found myself in the road. Over me was standing a man v/hom I had unhorsed, and who struck at my head. He then proposed to take me prisoner, but I told him Ishould die in a few minutes, for I put my hand under and found a hole in my backbone. He took what he could get of my goods, and rode off, leaving my horse, which had been shot with four bullets.

So in five minutes the shindy was over, and three of us were wounded and one dying. When they were out of sight, I induced Captain Sargent to get up off the ground and come under a tree, where I left him close by a little house. He declared he could go no further and should die in a few minutes. I crawled along to a brook, where I lay down and drank a pailful of water, then crossed the brook and got up into a wood. When I had nearly reached a fence, I heard some noise, and lay down in the leaves and made a little memorandum in my notebook. Just then a solid shot came down close by me. Presently, when all was quiet, I got up again, climbed over the fence, and walked in the direction where fighting was still going on, and presently came in sight of our men, many of whom had been killed or wounded. I lay down on the ground, was presently put on a horse, which I could hardly bear, and taken to the hospital, where Dr. Osborne looked at me, and began to patch me up. He made a little slit in my back to see if he could find the ball, but could not; as a matter of fact, I had a pistol ball in the sacrum, a good slash across the cheek, a punch in the shoulder, which was of little account, and a bad whack on the head, which also turned out to have no results except a sore. Then I was taken down to the village by Colonel Curtis, — some men carrying the litter, — and put in a house with one or two other prisoners, and there left for the night. I heard that my brother had been captured, and a good many of our men had been killed or wounded; in fact, we had lost about half of our regiment. But we had beaten the enemy back. . . .  .

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