The Capture of Sir Percy
Wyndham in June, 1862, as Related by Major Edward H. McDonald, of 11th
General Turner Ashby, who commanded in
that engagement, had but recently been made a Brigadier-General, and had
been given the command of all the cavalry operating in the valley. * * *
* On the night of June 5th, the last that Ashby ever saw (as he was
killed next day) many of the men and officers of his command were
gathered around his bivouac fire, discussing the incidents and
skirmishes of the day—the unusual boldness of the enemy's cavalry being
explained by the information gotten from the Federal prisoners, that
their advance had been led by Colonel Wyndham, of the First New Jersey
Cavalry, who had boasted that he would capture Ashby, and rout his men
within a few days.
Early next morning our pickets were
driven in and the enemy came dashing into Harrisonburg. We met their
charge and drove them back, and after some heavy skirmishing we
continued our retreat along the Port Republic road, over which the enemy
had retired. When seven miles from Harrisonburg, Wyndham dashed into our
rear and for a short time cur troops were thrown into confusion, but
they soon rallied and checked the enemy's advance. Our regiment,
commanded at that time by Colonel Funsten, marched near and south of the
Ashby rode up and directed Funsten to
move his regiment to the rear and attack the enemy's flank—which
required crossing several high fences and somewhat confusing the order
of march. We crossed the road and saw the Federal cavalry formed on a
hill about three hundred yards away, and as we charged they broke from
their line and ran, leaving only Wyndham and a few others to occupy the
hill. Dismounting from his horse, Wyndham came toward us saying: "I will
not command such a d d lot of cowards," and unclasping his sword, held
it for surrender.
I asked Holmes Conrad. who was then a
private in my command, to take the sword and carry the prisoner to the
rear, which he did; and he still has the sword, a fine Damascus blade.
So far as my personal recollection goes,
the pursuit of Wyndham's Rangers proved much more eventful than the
charge that broke them.
We picked tip a number of them right
away, but those having good horses, set a hot pace and we went streaming
Having accounted for the Colonel I looked
around for the next in command—the Major—and was soon able to make him
out in the crowd of fugitives. He was a heavy, squat-built fellow, and
was riding, crouched low over his horse's neck. The peculiar manner in
which he held his saber particularly attracted my attention. It stuck
back over his shoulder very much at the angle a trooper would ordinarily
carry his carbine. I didn't know what it meant then—I found out a moment
Now, I had shot the last load out of my
pistol and it was up to me to bluff this Major into surrender or else
whack him over the head. I called to him several times to halt, but he
kept right on, at an even gait, as though he hadn't heard me and while I
did my best to reach him, my horse was badly blown and I couldn't quite
make it. I could see plainly enough that he was watching me out of the
tail of his eye all the time, but he never made a move with his weapon.
At that moment a private, mounted on a
better, or a fresher horse than mine, came rushing up on the other side.
"Surrender, there!" he cried with an oath
and almost immediately getting even with him, made a vicious swing at
the Major's head.
Like a flash the Major rose in his
stirrups and by an astonishingly dextrous twist of his blade tore the
private's saber from his hand and flung it away off down the hill. Then
he made the most terrible swipe at the private which I thought would
surely take his head off and it Would undoubtedly have done so had not
the private been quick enough to dodge. He flung himself away back until
his head almost touched his horse's rump and the Major's sword, in
passing over, struck the vizor of his cap and knocked it off.
I had never before seen such
swordsmanship. The Major then whirled on me.
"Good morning, sir," I said with my
politest bow and keeping beyond his reach, passed on.
In another moment or so one of our boys
came up with a Ioaded pistol and threatening to blow it hole through
him, made the fencing Major surrender. He proved to be a German officer,
Major Borsch, who had served with distinction in the Crimean War, and
had come over to this country to fight the "rebels" for the fun of the
thing, and was expert in all the tricks known to European soldiers.
That night we had both Wyndham and the
German in our tent. They were both good fellows.