Letter from John E. Lewis, December 25, 1861, related to Dranesville

Dec. 25, 1861

Mr. Editor: As ‘tis Christmas day, and thus a holiday to us in camp as well as to those at home, I thought I would spend a few moments in giving your many readers a brief account of the battle of Drainesville, which was fought and won by a part of the Pennsylvania Reserves on the 20th inst.

On Thursday evening last, at 9 o’clock, we received orders to march the next morning at day light, and to have in our haversacks one day’s rations. At the time mentioned we were all armed, equipped and ready, and in a few moments we took up our line of march toward Drainesville, a small town on the London and Hampshire R.R., and a distance of 14 miles from our camp. After we had started we learned that we were bound on a foraging expedition. The expedition was composed of the third, (Gen. Ord’s brigade), the Bucktail or ‘Kane’s Rifles,’ three squadrons of Col. Bayard’s 1st Cavalry and four guns of Capt. Easton’s battery, all belonging to McCall’s division of Pennsylvania Reserves. Everything passed off pleasantly until we arrived at Drainesville, which we reached at or about noon. We then halted to rest ourselves as we were somewhat tired from the long march and part of it had been made in double quick time.

We had not been there more than ten minutes before our skirmishers discovered a body of rebels in a thick pine woods just at this end of Drainesville; firing then commenced, and soon the rebels opened on us with shot and shell from a battery that they had concealed in the woods. We instantly formed into line of battle and threw ourselves down upon our faces, thereby letting the fire of the rebels pass harmlessly over us. Capt. Easton’s battery was soon in position and then commenced firing upon the concealed rebels. As soon as our artillery their first fire upon them, we gave one loud cheer and started for the woods where the foe was, at a charge bayonet. The Bucktails, sixth and ninth regiments taking the lead, and the tenth and twelfth in our rear. We soon reached the woods and then came the tug of war.

We opened on the rebels with our musketry, telling against fearfully. They then returned the fire, doing us but little damage. In the meantime, Capt. Easton continued his deadly fire of shell until they concluded that it was too hot a place for them, and they retreated further into the woods, we following them at a charge. The fight lasted about one hour, yet the time flew so swiftly that it did not seem ten minutes from the time that the engagement commenced until there was not a rebel to be seen except the dead and wounded. The boys all did well and stood up nobly to the fire of the enemy, so much so that we received the compliments of Gen. McCall and Gen. Ord. The following is a list of killed and wounded in our company.

Daniel Darling, of Prompton, was killed instantly, the ball passing through his heart. He was at the head of the company when he fell. He died nobly and at the post of duty, but we avenged his death. Halsey Lathrop, of Beech Pond, wounded in the breast, seriously. Wm. H. Jayne, of Preston, wounded badly in the thigh. James Surrine, slightly wounded in the leg. The wounded are all getting along finely and are under good care.

A number of the boys have holes through their clothes where bullets passed through them. A great many had hair breadth escapes, and it is a mystery to us that we escaped so well, considering the disadvantages that we labored under and the number of the enemy we killed, which was over 100. We took ten prisoners besides a number of wounded that fell into our hands. In their hurry to escape the Rebels threw their guns, blankets, and overcoats away, and after the fight we picked up more than we could carry home. Most every man has some trophy that was got at the battle of Drainesville.

As near as can be learned the following was the rebel force engaged: The 10th Alabama, the 1st Kentucky, the 6th South Carolina and one North Carolina regiment, besides Cutts’ Alabama battery of four guns and 700 of Stewart’s Virginia Cavalry. Col. Taylor of the 1st Kentucky regiment was killed beside several other rebel officers. The battle field presented a dreadful spectacle. Horses and men were piled up in heaps together, and where the rebels had their battery stationed, I counted nine horses and twenty-five men strewn around the ground, some headless and others with their limbs torn from their bodies. A great many incidents might be mentioned that would be interesting, but I leave them for an abler pen than mine. Suffice to say that it was our first fight, and that we won a great victory.

The boys all fought bravely, and as we have been initiated, we are more than anxious to try them again. Our whole force engaged could not have been over 2500, while theirs amounted to 5000, with a large reserve, but we did not give them time to bring it into action. The remaining part of our Reserve was on the way to re-enforce us, but when they reached us we had done the work.

We started back to camp at sun-down, and did not reach it until after 10 o’clock. We were completely exhausted, and it was with difficulty that some of us could reach camp, for we were foot sore and lame. We had marched over 20 miles and fought a battle, a good day’s work. On Sunday our dead were buried with military honors.1

John E. Lewis.2

  1. Honesdale Democrat, January 9, 1862.
  2. Sergeant John E. Lewis, Honesdale Guards, Company C, 6th PA Reserves.