from The Worcester Daily Spy, October 29, 1861(Volume 16 #255),
| From the Chaplain of the 15th Regiment
Poolesville, Md. Oct. 23, 1861
Harrison’s Island, which we had possession of when you were here, was the starting point of our expedition. On Sunday night the four companies on picket were thrown upon the island with Capt. "Philbrick's, and during the night passed on to the Virginia shore. But before they moved from the island Capt. Philbrick's, the quartermaster, and twenty men, went over to reconnoiter, and went within one mile or so of Leesburg without meeting any opposition.
By daylight Col. Devens and the above named officers went out some distance over the same ground, retired again to the vicinity of their ascent, for they went up over a steep bank some 75 feet high. The scouts were thrown out and soon reported the approach of a rifle company from the direction of Conrad’s Ferry. Captain Philbrick’s company were detailed to look out for them. He advanced to meet them, drew his men across the road, which they no sooner discovered than they changed their direction and retreated, followed on the double quick by Capt. P.
The fellows soon tumbled into a long ditch or rifle pit, and opened a galling fire. Thirteen poor fellows fell wounded and four died. Our men held their positions until they drove the rebels from their pit to the corn stacks in the neighboring field. Here with their rifles they fought with every advantage, and a body of some one hundred cavalry making their appearance for the purpose of cutting them off, led them to retire to the other companies. Col. Devens directing their movements in person.
Having fallen into their selected position, they remained quiet, waiting for the enemy to advance. About 10 a.m. they approached with a large force, probably somewhere in the vicinity of three times our numbers. They opened fire, which was briskly returned, until the approach of cavalry in large numbers compelled the withdrawal of our men to the corner of the bluff on the banks of the Potomac. The quartermaster was now dispatched to Gen. Stone, with a report from Col. Devens of the state of affairs, and returned from Edwards Ferry with orders for Lieut. Col. Ward to reinforce Col. Devens with the rest of the regiment, ( we having left Poolesville at 12 o’clock Sunday night, and had been awaiting orders to cross from 4 a. m. on Monday morning. )
When Lieut. Col. Ward arrived, Col. Devens advanced to his previous position, which he held until Gen. Baker arrived with seven hundred of the California regiment and some three hundred of Col. Lee’s Massachusetts twentieth. Gen. Baker on taking command, ordered Col. Devens to occupy the right and make the advance. The heaviest of the firing commenced at about half pat two p. m., and lasted until half past five. Gen. Baker fell pierced by five bullets. Col. Coggswell of the New York Tammany took the command, the overwhelming numbers of the enemy made it evident that the field could not be much longer contested. He gave the order to retire just after one or two companies of his own regiment charged furiously over the enemy, and received a deadly fire from them.
Here we were completely at their mercy. They fired down the embankment upon us in perfect storms, sending two or three volleys among our wounded on the island and those who were caring for them. The forces engaged there, numbering in all some sixteen hundred men on our side, were repulsed. But men nowhere or ever fought more bravely. They held there own until half past five against some five thousand men, and rather than surrender, ( a word not entering into the vocabulary of the fifteenth, ) they breasted the Potomac against merciless volleys of musketry.
We were repulsed, but what did we accomplish? Enabled Gen. Stone to throw the main body of his division over at Edwards ferry, unmolested. Our skirmishing in the morning led them to expect the main body of the army in that vicinity, and their forces were centered at that point to repulse. but we think that our conflict purchased the possession for the others of the ford below where thousands are snugly entrenched, and I know not but near the doomed locality of Leesburg.
The colonel has drawn the men to him by a bond never to be severed, has shown himself a man fit to command. He led them. It was the same with Lieut. Col. Ward, who was born from the field grasping the sword he had shown the fitness to wield. May the loss of his foot prove no loss to the military demand of his country; for we cannot spare him from our midst. The major was manly and true to his position, roaring out his commands so as to be distinctly heard over the island. In fact Col Devens says he saw no officer or man throughout that whole day who did not do his whole duty in a fearless, manly way.
I pause but for a moment, to give you the sad number of our loss. But before doing that I must say that we have written in characters of blood our need of the rifles we used every honorable effort to obtain. Had we possessed them, our men need not have been exposed near as much as they were. in the morning, Capt. Philbrick’s company had to go within deadly range of theirs, ere he could drive them from their pits with his smooth bores.
Friends, be hopeful for those that are missing. Many are no doubt prisoners, and will again be permitted to meet you. But I must close, as I expect to leave soon for Washington, in command of some rebel officers.
Yours, with deepest sympathy to the sorrowing hearts of our commonwealth.