Letter from William H. Jayne, December 20, 1861, related to Dranesville.

Friday morning, Dec. 20th, the 10th, 12th, 9th and 6th Pa. Reserves and Kane’s Rifle regiment (Bucktails), five Companies of the 1st regiment Pa. Cavalry, with four pieces of Easton’s Battery, took up our line of march up the Leesburg turnpike, accompanied by a long train of wagons, on a foraging expedition. We arrived at Dranesville about noon, having passed our wagons which were being filled with hay and grain. We were halted in the road just at the edge of town.

While standing there we heard a fire opened between some of our skirmishers and the enemy. Our Lt. Col., [William M. Penrose] who had taken command thus far, seemed to forget that he was an officer, and gave no commands whatever, so our Adjutant [Lt. Henry B. McKean] (there being no other regimental officer along) told us to fix bayonets and load our pieces, then about face, double quick march. On the south-west side of the pike is an oak ridge running parallel with the road about forty rods from where the rebels were drawn up line of battle, and commenced a brisk fire on us as we got in position to suit them, but did us no harm save to slightly wound one man. We were then ordered to lie down in a ditch while Capt. Easton and Brig. Gen. Ord planted the cannon on a smooth rise of ground on the south-west side of the road at our left, where the rebel battery was throwing balls and shells across the road, but without effect on us. It required but a few rounds from our battery to silence that of the enemy, after blowing up one of their ammunition wagons and having killed eleven artillery horses and hitting one gun square in the muzzle and bursting it, the ball being too large to fit in the rebel gun.

We laid in the ditch but a moment or two before we were commanded to charge bayonets. We had advanced but a short distance when the enemy retired over the ridge out of sight. When we had passed over the top of the ridge we came to a long open field not more than twenty-five rods wide, back of which was a dense pine thicket – the ground facing us. There the enemy were drawn up in line of battle, nearly concealed in a thicket, while we were fully exposed. The 9th regiment had taken a position on our right, and four or five companies of the Bucktails on our left. Here a general engagement ensued; the rebels generally only injured the timber over our heads, while every round from our side brought down a dozen or more from each company of the enemy, or about as many as dare come in sight. On of our prisoners says that they thought they would try it Yankee fashion and lie down, but when they did so our boys would shoot them in the head and shoulders so that they did not make much by that operation.

In a few moments our regiment was commanded to charge again when the enemy fled in disorder, our boys following at the double quick, shooting only when they came in sight of a few of the shortest legged ones, but I could not accompany them in their pursuit as I got wounded in the early part of the engagement. Our brave boys followed about two miles and seeing no prospect of overtaking the enemy, the boys, with the assistance of the cavalry, (which, by the bye, could be of no service in the fight on such ground), gathered up a wagon load of guns and a large quantity of blankets. The rebels knew our numbers and sent their picked regiments and thought of taking us in the rear and driving us the other way, and kill or take the whole load of us, but they were gloriously defeated. We returned to our camp in the evening with more than we started after. Our wounded are well cared for, and doing well, and will be able to take the field again before the winter is over.

The loss on our side was eight killed and about twenty-five wounded, three of whom have since died. Our regiment lost three killed and died of wounds, and have ten in the Hospital and three very slightly wounded, all doing well and none thought to be dangerous. Some of our Cavalry have been out to the battlefield, who, with the assistance of the citizens had (our brave Adjutant told me this morning) found and buried one hundred and seventy-two dead rebels and were still finding more at last accounts. So you see the difference in the way the men fight.

As a specimen of our pluck, one boy in our regiment, some eighteen years of age, after being shot in the cheek, the ball coming out of the lower part of his nose and carrying away a portion of the jaw and front teeth, actually fired again and asked another to tear his cartridge for him. My own wound is not of a serious character, though a deep flesh wound, between the point of the hip and the socket joint on the left side, received while in the act of firing with my left foot ahead. Can help myself up and down to day for the first. Our boys received some luxuries from Wayne county for Christmas, which they sent to the Hospital for the wounded and we had as merry a Christmas as ever such a lot of cripples enjoyed.1

Wm. H. Jayne2

  1. Honesdale Democrat: January 9, 1861
  2. William H. Jayne, Honesdale Guards, Co. C, 6th PA Reserves