Headquarters Corps of Cadets, July 4, 1864.
In obedience to General Orders No. 21, Headquarters Virginia Military Institute, June 27, 1864, I have the honor to submit the following report of the Corps of Cadets, under my command, in the field, from May 11th to June 25th, inclusive.
In obedience to orders from Major General Breckinridge, communicated through you, at 7 a.m. on the morning of May 11th, the Corps of Cadets, consisting of a battalion of four companies of infantry and a section of 3-inch rifled guns, took up the line of march for Staunton. The march to Staunton was accomplished in two days. I preceded the column on the second day some hours for the purpose of reporting to General Breckinridge, and was ordered by him to put the Cadets in camp one mile south of Staunton.
On the morning of the 13th, I received orders to march at daylight on the road to Harrisonburg, taking position in the column in the rear of Echols's Brigade. We marched eighteen miles and encamped, moved at daylight on the 14th, marched sixteen miles and encamped.
At 1 o'clock on the night of the 14th received orders to prepare to march immediately, without beat of drums and as noiselessly as possible. We moved from camp at 1:30 o'clock, taking position in the general column in rear of Echols's Brigade, being followed by the column of artillery under the command of Major McLaughlin. Having accomplished a distance of six miles, and approached the position of the enemy, as indicated by occasional skirmishing with his pickets in front, a halt was called, and we remained on the side of the road two or three hours in the midst of a heavy fall of rain. The General having determined to receive the attack of the enemy, made his dispositions for battle, posting the Corps in reserve. He informed me that he did not wish to put the cadets in if he could avoid it, but that should occasion require it he would use them very freely. He was also pleased to express his confidence in them, and I am happy to believe that his expectations were not disappointed, for when the tug of battle came they bore themselves gallantly and well.
The enemy not making the attack as was anticipated, and not advancing as rapidly as was desired, the line was deployed into column and the advance resumed. Here I was informed by one of General Breckinridge's aides, that my battalion, together with the battalion of Colonel G. M. Edgar, would constitute the reserve, and was instructed to keep the section of artillery with the column, and to take position, after the deployments should have been made, two hundred and fifty or three hundred yards in the rear of the front line of battle, and to maintain that distance. Having begun a flank movement to the left, about two miles south of New Market, the nature of the ground was such as to render it impossible that the artillery should continue with the infantry column. I ordered Lieutenant Minge to join the general artillery column on the main road and to report to Major McLaughlin. After that I did not see the section of artillery until near the close of the engagement. Major McLaughlin, under whose command they served, was pleased to speak of the section in such complimentary terms that I was satisfied then that they had done their duty.
Continuing the advance on the ground to the left of the main road, and south of New Market, at 12 30 p.m. we came under fire of the enemy's batteries. Having advanced a quarter of a mile under the fire, we were halted, and the column was deployed, the march up to this time having been by flank in column. The ground in front was open, with skirts of woods on the left. Here General Breckinridge sent for me, and gave me in person my instructions. The General's plans seem to have undergone some modification. Instead of one line, with a reserve, he formed his infantry in two, artillery in rear and to the right, the cavalry deployed and guarding the right flank, left flank resting on a stream. Wharton's Brigade of infantry constituted the first line, Echol's brigade the second. The battalion of Cadets, brigaded with Echols, was the last battalion but one from the left of the second line, Edgar's battalion being on the left. The lines having been adjusted, the order to advance was passed. Wharton's line advanced, Echols followed at two hundred and fifty paces in the rear. As Wharton's line ascended a knoll it came in full view of the enemy's batteries, which opened a heavy fire, but not having gotten the range, did but little damage. By the time the second line reached the same ground, the Yankee gunners had gotten the exact range and their fire begun to tell on our line with fearful accuracy. It was here that Captain Hill and others fell. Great gaps were made through the ranks, but the Cadet, true to his discipline, would close in to the center to fill the interval, and push steadily forward. The alignment of the battalion under this terrible fire, which strewed the ground with killed and wounded for more than a mile on open ground, would have been creditable even on a field-day.
The advance was thus continued, until, having passed Bushong's house, a mile or more beyond New Market, and still to the left of the main road, the enemy's batteries, at two hundred and fifty or three hundred yards, opened upon us with canister and case shot, and their long lines of infantry were put into action at the same time. The fire was withering. It seemed impossible that any living creature could escape, and here we sustained our heaviest loss, a great many being wounded and numbers knocked down, stunned, and temporarily disabled. I was here disabled for a time, and the command devolved upon Company A. He gallantly pressed onward. We had before this gotten into the front line. Our line took a position behind a line of fence. A brisk fusillade ensued, a shout, a rush, and the day was won. The enemy fled in confusion, leaving killed, wounded, artillery and prisoners in our hands. Our men pursued in hot haste, until it became necessary to halt, draw ammunition, and reestablish the lines for the purpose of driving them from their last position on Rude's Hill, which they , held with cavalry and artillery, to cover the passage of the river, about a mile in their rear. Our troops charged and took the position without loss. The enemy withdrew, crossed the river, and burnt the bridge.
The engagement closed at 6:30 p.m. The Cadets did their duty, as the long list of casualties will attest. Numerous instances of gallantry might be mentioned, but I have thought it better to refrain from specifying individual cases, for fear of making invidious distinctions, or from want of information withholding praise where it might have been justly merited. It had rained almost incessantly during the battle, and at its termination the Cadets were well-nigh exhausted. Wet, hungry, and many of them shoeless-for they had lost their shoes and socks in the deep mud through which it was necessary to march -they bore their hardships with the uncomplaining resignation which characterizes the true soldier.
The 16th and 17th were devoted to caring for the wounded and the burial of the dead.
On the 17th I received an order from General Breckinridge to report to General Imboden, with the request on the part of General Breckinridge, that the Corps be relieved from further duty and be ordered back to the Institute. The circumstances of General Imboden's situation were such as to render our detention for a time necessary. We were finally ordered by him to proceed to Staunton, without delay, for the purpose of proceeding by rail to Richmond, in obedience to a call from the Secretary of War. Returning, the Corps marched into Staunton on the 21st, took the cars on the 22d, reached Richmond on the 23d, were stationed at Camp Lee until the 28th, were then ordered to report to Major General Ransom, ordered by him to encamp on the intermediate line. On the 28th left Camp Lee, took up camp on Carter's farm, on intermediate line, midway between Brook and Meadow Bridge roads, continued in this camp until June 6th. On the 6th received orders to return to Lexington; reached Lexington the 9th; Yankees approached on the 10th, drove us out on the 11th; we fell back, taking the Lynchburg road, marched to mouth of the North River, and went into camp. Next day (Sunday, the 12th) remained in camp until 1 p.m., scouts reported enemy advancing, fell back two miles and took a position at a strong pass in the mountains to await the enemy. No enemy came. We were then ordered to Lynchburg, went there; ordered to report to General Vaughan; ordered back to Lexington; reached Lexington on the 25th; Corps furloughed on June 27th.
I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant
Scott Ship, Lieutenant Colonel and Commandant.
Major General F.H. Smith, Superintendent.