Monday, October 1, 2012

October 1, 1862: Lt. Charles Butts at the Blackwater River

On October 1, 1862, Lieutenant Charles W. Butts and the Belvidere boys of Company I, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, went into their first battle. 
The company adjutant sent the following dispatch to The Belvidere Intelligencer, "On the first instant, company I was sent out on a scout toward the Blackwater River, it having been rumored that the enemy was crossing in strong force.  As the company neared Carrsville, a little village about half way between Suffolk and Franklin, on the Blackwater, Lieut. C. W. Butts was ordered to proceed with the advance guard through Carrsville. On doing so, he came up on the enemy's pickets in the village, who fired upon Lieut. Butts and his men and then fled; Lieut. charged upon them, wounding several, when he found himself in front of two or three hundred cavalry drawn up in a line of battle. He wheeled his men as soon as possible, and retraced his steps at full speed but not until the rebels had fired a volley into his ranks.  The balls whizzed over and through them, but fortunately not one was struck.  Lieut. Butts hurried back to the main body of the Company, informed the captain of the strength of the enemy, and erelong all were safely out of the reach of the rebel force.  But their retreat was ascertained afterward to have been necessary, for the rebels as soon as they recovered from their surprise at the approach of Lieut. Butts, started off toward Franklin as fast as their horses could carry them.
"Captain [John] Herr, commanding the company, dispatched a message immediately to camp, with the facts, and awaited further orders. Colonel [Samuel Perkins] Spear, on receiving the message, ordered Lt. Colonel Stetzel to take three companies, overtake Company I, and then proceed, if possible, to the Blackwater, and find out the strength of the enemy and then learn his intentions.  He proceeded as far as the Sommerton Creek, about three miles this side of the Blackwater, and on learning from the contrabands [slaves] that the enemy had crossed it the night previous and afterward destroyed the bridge; he sent Lieut. Basset, of Company A, to ascertain if the report was true, and if so, whether it would be possible to ford the creek.  Lieut. Basset found the enemy's pickets on the other side, in pretty large numbers, and soon returned with the report of one    of his horses killed and exhibited a wound in his waist.  Lt. Col. Stetzel then came forward himself, with a body of troops under his command, and satisfied himself the rebels were too strong for him to attempt to cross.   He, therefore, fell back to within ten miles of Suffolk and sent information to Col. Spear of the strength of the enemy, and waited further orders.  On reception of the dispatch, Col. Spear referred the matter to Major General [John James] Peck, commanding this post, who immediately ordered out three regiments of infantry, the remainder of the 11th Penna. Cavalry, and a section of Captain [Frederick M.] Follett's battery.  Thus with seven companies of cavalry, two howitzers, two rifled cannon, and three regiments of infantry, all under the command of Col. Spear, acting Brigadier, we felt strong enough to drive the enemy before us and over the Blackwater, should he make a stand on this side.
"We marched all of Thursday night and reached Franklin about 3 o'clock P.M. the next day.  On nearing it, Lieut. Butts was sent out to reconnoiter and see what had become of the enemy, whose pickets had been driven in at our approach.  He was found posted in a pretty strong force, on both sides of the river; and as we neared it, he soon let us know where he was posted by firing a few shells, which fell in the woods on our right.  No sooner was the challenge given that it was accepted by our Colonel, or rather acting General.  He immediately assigned the battery and howitzers their positions, overlooking the river, supported them by the regiments of infantry, and drew up the cavalry on the edge of the woods, on the right, to be in readiness to co-operate at a moment's notice.  We did not have to wait long to ascertain the strength and position of the enemy.  The balls and shells soon began to whiz and buzz around and over us, here and there cutting down the infantry and frequently making the cavalry change their positions.  We drove him over the river, and then our little howitzers and pet rifled cannon got their range, grape and shells poured profusely into their midst.  We riddled all the buildings in the village, which they were going to occupy as winter quarters, and must have scattered death and destruction far and wide.  The shore was shelled for a mile up and down, with terrible effect.  After having pretty well silenced their guns and accomplished our object, we calmly withdrew, bringing our dead and wounded with us.  WE lost one killed from the 13th Indiana, two wounded from the 103rd Penna., and one from the 9th New York.  We heard the next day that the enemy had lost 30 killed and 60 wounded.  Our boys behaved in a most soldierly-like manner.  They rushed into the engagement with a simultaneous yell...I take pleasure in speaking of the conduct of the Belvidere boys.  All were intent on the great object of their visit to the place, namely: cleaning this side of the Blackwater of the foe, who had been pestering us day and night, ever since we occupied Suffolk.  I cannot speak too highly of the valor of Lieut, Butts, who was  in command of Company I.  The utmost confidence is placed in him by his superior officers, and was evinced particularly on this occasion by the hazardous duties assigned to him, at three different times, in finding out the strength and position of the enemy.  We have not a cooler officer and one of better judgement in our ranks than Lieut. Charles W. Butts."
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards  

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