The diary entries of one of J.E.B. Stuart’s renowned Horse Artillerymen chronicle the Battle of Brandy Station and the Rebels’ 1863 march into Pennsylvania.
The saber-wielding troopers of Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division supplied their dashing chieftain with plenty of daring and headlines. It was the Rebel commander’s horse artillery, however, that added deadly punch to their celebrated brethren.
Lewis T. Nunnelee was one of Stuart’s gunners, a 41-year-old dry goods store worker who joined Captain Marcellus N. Moorman’s Lynchburg Beauregard Rifles in Lynchburg, Va., on May 10, 1861. That unit was assigned to Stuart’s cavalry division in 1862. When he marched off to war, Nunnelee carried along a small booklet to record his adventures, eventually filling seven volumes during his Confederate service. After the war Nunnelee married and moved on with his life, but 30 years later he compiled those seven volumes into one, retaining the original portions of the diary but adding some reflections and comments.
Nunnelee brought a mature eye to what he saw and experienced. Although he took pride in his unit, his account is not an attempt to magnify its role or claim undeserved credit for its actions. He simply wrote about events as they transpired—in remarkable detail.
In the following excerpts, Nunnelee recounts his battery’s involvement in the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, from just before the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9 to the army’s recrossing of the Potomac River on July 14. During that period, Stuart had five batteries under his command: Moorman’s, Major James Breathed’s, Captain William McGregor’s, Captain Roger Chew’s and Captain James Hart’s. When Stuart began his famous ride around the Army of the Potomac on June 25, he took only Breathed’s Battery and a section of McGregor’s with him. Moorman’s Battery, which was likely armed with two 10-pounder Parrott rifles, a 12-pounder howitzer and a 12-pounder Napoleon, was detailed to accompany Brig. Gen. Beverly Robertson’s cavalry brigade and did not see action at Gettysburg.
Friday, June 5th: Left camp early this morning to pass review before Genl. J.E.B. Stuart. Had considerable more cavalry in line than at our last review. Both Lee’s, Hampton’s, Brig. Gen. Beverly H. Robertson’s, and Brig. Gen. William E. Jones’s Brigades, Capt. Moorman’s, William M. McGregor’s, James F. Hart’s, James Breathed’s, and Roger P. Chew’s batteries of the Stuart Horse Artillery. Went through the regular routine.
Saturday, 6th: Had orders to cook 3 days rations which being done left “Glen Ella” and took up our line of march at 5 p.m. Passed Brandy Station. Took the road in the direction of Beverly Ford. Parked 11⁄2 miles from Rappahannock River.
Sunday, 7th: All quiet.
Monday, 8th: Went out again on review with the cavalry and our artillery. This time, however, before the greatest living man in the world, Genl. Robert E. Lee. Also present Genls Richard S. Ewell, Longstreet and Pendle ton, Chief of Artillery.
Tuesday, 9th: [Battle of Brandy Station]: This morning about day our battalion of artillery was aroused by picket firing only a few hundred yards of our camp, the minié balls whizzing through and passed us. The enemy, having charged across the Rappahannock River at Beverly Ford, came in almost as fast as our pickets.
Our cavalry checked them long enough for our battery to harness up, which was done in double quick time, but so close were the enemy on us that one of our horses was killed before we could move out.
We fell back half a mile on the first hill and took position where we kept the enemy in check in our front, but in a very short time we found that the whole of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman’s cavalry forces was in our rear, having come by the way of Stevensburg and Brandy Station. Then commenced one of the most exciting scenes I ever beheld.
The enemy charging our men and driving them back, then ours doing the same in return and the artillery on both sides keeping a brisk fire all the while.
The enemy was finally driven off in the direction of Stevensburg with the loss of three guns some killed and wounded and many prisoners. We lost in the same way except guns but did not know to what extent. This scene occurred on the Brandy heights. Our artillery then took position on the hill. The enemy made their way around towards Kelly’s Ford and came up again from that direction and occupied the ground that we had in early morning.
The enemy artillery soon commenced a regular artillery duel with us, which was kept up at intervals the remainder of the day.
In this engagement our battery had three men wounded, not seriously, and one mortally at Sergeant Wm. H. Hughes’s 2nd rifle piece viz. Robert Saunders, William D. Nowlin and William M. Shoemaker all wounded slightly in the legs. 3rd Corporal and gunner, Anthony E. Dornin, mortally wounded by a piece of shell entering his groin and passing through him. He lived only a few hours suffering intensely. The loss of no man in our Company would have caused more regrets than Corporal Dornin, for a more cool and brave soldier never fell on a battlefield nor did any soldier ever attend his regular daily routine duties better than he. Always in place and always ready.
Again I have to mourn the loss of my messmate and sleeping companion. He had been this since the death of my dear boy, friend William A. Clopton. After some sharp shooting and excitement on our left Genl. R.E. Lee with Rode’s Division of Infantry made their appearance and the enemy fell back across the river and at sun down all was quiet again. Thus passed one of the most exciting of days.
Stoneman waked Stuart up this morning and kept him wide-awake all day. His flank movement was well executed and the enemy fought well. We lost some of our best officers by sharp shooters and we suffered more that way than the enemy.
At night parked at Brandy Station.
Nunnelee was unaware that Stoneman had been relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry and replaced by Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton shortly before the Battle of Brandy Station.
Wednesday, 10th: Left Brandy Station in the morning in search of a place to camp. Took left hand road in the direction of Jeffersonton and parked on the road in rear of Dr. Harris’s. No sign of the enemy today. At 9 p.m. received orders to cook three days rations and be ready to march at a moment’s warning which was done.
Thursday, 18th: Reveille at daybreak. Kept ourselves in readiness all day. Our cavalry and the enemy had a considerable fight in the morning. Saw about a hundred prisoners pass. In the afternoon the enemy advanced their sharpshooters this side of Middleburg and several of our men were brought wounded. Late in the p.m. firing ceased.
Friday, 19th: Early in the a.m. the enemy were reported advancing. Our battery was put in position, waiting the approach of the enemy. At 9 a.m. our battery, except one piece, fell back to Rector’s X Roads [Cross Roads] to cook our rations. During the time we remained in position picket firing was going on and occasionally cannonading which continued till near 1 p.m. at which time our battery was again ordered to the front and took position and remained till dark when we returned to Rector’s X Roads, not having fired a gun during the day and parked for the night.
Saturday, 20th: Two of our pieces were again ordered to the front. The enemy was one mile in advance of their position yesterday. Took position between Rector’s X Roads and Samuel Rector’s and near Rocky Run. Remained in this position but a short time when we moved front to Alexander Elgin’s and went in position. Remained here till night and returned to Rector’s X Roads all quiet during the day.
Sunday, 21st [Battle of Upperville, Va.]: At 7 a.m. cannonading was heard in front which was being carried on by Hart’s Battery and the enemy. Our battery soon moved forward with McGregor’s. We took the first position of the day before. Our cavalry and Hart’s Battery were soon pressed back by a large force of sharpshooters and infantry. As soon as they made their appearance on the opposite heights we opened fire on them. A small column of infantry charged down to a stone fence and halted there. Their sharpshooters then advanced and drove ours back and we fell back to the next heights at the Crossroads. In a short time they opened on us with a battery of artillery and after a heavy fire on both sides we were again ordered to fall back and in taking our pieces out of position into the Pike a shot struck John T. Edmundson and literally tore him in pieces and at the same time took off the left leg of Charles D. Saunders just above the knee from the effects of which he never rallied and died in a short time.
As is always the case when our numbers are thus lessened a gloom was cast on the whole company. They were two noble youths and good soldiers. We then fell back on the Little River Pike and took position on the heights beyond Goose Creek. Here the cannonading was again heavy on both sides. Again the enemy pressed on us. Their sharpshooters getting in less than a hundred yards of us. Had two horses killed at one of our pieces.
Here again we had to fall back, being closely pressed by large numbers of the enemy’s cavalry and infantry. In this engagement William H. Buckhanan was slightly wounded in the hip. Two of our pieces were taken in the direction of Snickers’ Gap below to prevent the enemy from flanking us in that direction which they were at – tempting to do. The enemy was pressing us so hard we could not take another position and had to fall back in disorder. Passed through Upperville and soon reached the village of Paris at Ashby’s Gap and had not proceeded far through the Gap when we met Genl. Longstreet with McLaws’s division of infantry and we breathed free once more. We then returned to the village of Paris, meeting with our other two pieces. They reported having been in some tight places. Corpl. Radford H. Padgett was slightly wounded in the finger. We had only cavalry and had to fight the enemy’s cavalry well supported by infantry. Thus passed one of the most exciting days with us, it being the first retreat we had ever made when we were pursued by an enemy.
Our disorderly retreat will give the enemy cause for a grand flourish of trumpets. As Genl. J.E.B. Stuart was personally in command today, he will have to look to his laurels in the future. Parked for the night at Paris.
Monday, 22nd: All quiet this morning till 7 a.m. when we again started in search of the enemy which was said to be at Upperville. Passed Paris. We made quick march to Upperville but on reaching there found the enemy had been gone for some time. We continued on the same road as yesterday but did not overtake the enemy till near Middleburg, Loudoun Co. Our two rifle pieces and others of the battalion were put in position and commenced to shell them. They returned the fire with two pieces of artillery but soon retired as did their cavalry. We again limbered up continued in pursuit through Middleburg. The enemy was fired on again by McGregor’s Battery without response. This ended the chase for the day it being near night.
Most of our battery remained here on picket. The others returned to Rector’s X Roads and parked for the night.
The citizens along the line of our fight yesterday say the enemy had a large force of cavalry and artillery and two brigades of infantry. From all we could see and learn along the way the enemy’s loss must have exceeded ours though not serious on either side. The citizens saw Charles H. Derr of our battery a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. In passing through Middleburg we saw many pretty ladies who showed us many acts of kindness. We learned at Upperville that Charles D. Saunders, who was wounded yesterday and left there at the house of Rev. George W. Harris, was shown every kindness possible by that gentleman till his death, had his body nicely prepared for burial and his remains were finally sent to his home in Lynchburg Va. His faithful beloved slave, John, remained with him, passing himself as free to prevent the enemy from forcing him away with them. We also found that the mangled remains of poor John T. Edmundson had been interred by the side of the rock wall where he fell.
Wednesday, July 1st [First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg]: We are now on our march to Pennsylvania. Left our camp as above. Passed Martinsburg, Berkeley Co., now W. Va., Hainesville and Falling Waters. Arrived at the Potomac River 2 p.m. opposite Williamsport, Md. Forded the river here into Washington Co. Took the road in the direction of Greencastle, Pa. Passed Millfield Mills on the Conococheague River, Cunningham X Roads, and parked for the night, one-half a mile beyond, on the farm of John Whitmer, 11⁄2 miles from the Pennsylvania line.
Thursday, 2nd: Marched early in the morning soon went into Pennsylvania, Franklin Co. Passed Greencastle. Took the wagon road along Franklin Railroad. Passed Marion when near Chambersburg. A courier reported the enemy in front of us. We hastened on passed through Chambersburg and took the Baltimore Pike; did not advance far before it was ascertained that a squad of the enemy’s cavalry had surprised our pickets and captured some 15 or 20 of them and retired. All soon became quiet. Returned near Chambersburg and parked for the night.
Friday, 3rd: Left Chambersburg, Franklin Co. Pa. at 2 a.m. Took the Baltimore Pike passed Fayetteville, a small town (if the houses were brought together) about 11⁄2 miles long with only a single house on each side of the street or Pike. Passed several other small places but did not get their names.
Passed Caledonia Iron works belonging to that vile old sinner and Southern hater Thaddeus Stephens. Went into Adams Co., Pa. Passed Graftonsburg Springs, Cashtown and through South Mountain Gap, which commenced a short distance from the Caledonia works and extended nearly to Cashtown.
Received intelligence of several fights between our army and the enemy in the last two or three days past in which we got the better of them each time. Soon after passing Cashtown halted and grazed our horses.
While here a most terrific cannonading was heard in the direction of Gettysburg the county seat of Adams Co., Pa., which continued for several hours, indicating that a desperate battle was being fought. While here we received intelligence that the enemy was advancing on our right. We limbered to the rear and returned to Cashtown taking the left and after marching five miles came up with our cavalry who had engaged the enemy and taken over 300 prisoners and killed and wounded several more out of a squadron of about 400. We did not arrive in time to take any part in the fight. Parked here for the night.
Republican Senator Thaddeus Stephens was known for his vitriolic anti-Southern rhetoric. Not surprisingly, Con – federate troops destroyed his ironworks.
Saturday, 4th: Marched in the morning towards the Maryland line, passed Fairfield and Oak Grove Inn. Halted a short distance beyond at the fork of the road. Late in the afternoon the enemy’s cavalry were reported advancing. Our battery was put in position so as to command both roads the Emmitsburg etc. Soon picket firing was heard in the distance. The enemy, advancing slowly, drove in our pickets and approached our line of sharpshooters and attempted to charge them. A volley and many a saddle is emptied and many prisoners taken. This closed the fight for the day. George W. McDonnell of our battery went sharpshooting and came in with a horse and watch, having killed a Yankee.
A portion of our army today met with a most disastrous defeat and will have to fall back. We limbered to the rear and parked a short distance from Oak Grove Inn.
Sunday, 5th: Our army was falling back last night after the desperate battle yesterday, taking the right hand road just above us in the direction of Hagerstown, Maryland. The enemy was again reported advancing this morning but saw nothing of them. Our army was passing all day, taking both roads to Hagerstown Md.
About night we were also ordered to march taking the left hand road. Continued our march till late at night when we parked on the mountain near the Monterey Springs (still in Adams Co., Pa.). About six thousand of the enemy’s prisoners were along with us.
Monday, 6th: Marched at dawn of day, passing Monterey Springs. Descended the mountain to Waynes borough, Pa. A little beyond Waynes borough halted and grazed our horses. We were then ordered in the direction of Hagerstown, Md. Returning to Waynesborough, took right hand road. Passed Ringgold and Leitersburg, Md. Crossed the Antietam Creek from which the great Battle at Sharpsburg derived its name. Soon after received intelligence of the advance of the enemy’s cavalry beyond Hagerstown. Just as we arrived at Hagerstown the enemy cavalry made a charge through the town but retreated immediately, losing some prisoners. A skirmish then commenced with sharp – shooters and our battery went immediately in action and commenced firing on their cavalry and sharpshooters.
They only used one piece of artillery and that on our cavalry on the left.
The enemy were soon driven back and we limbered to the front and started in pursuit. Passed through Hagers – town and went into position again outside of town and fired on their cavalry. They soon fell back again when we took another position, the enemy retreating the while in the direction of Williamsport. Here they brought in two pieces of artillery but after a few shots retired again. Here the scene became very exciting, our cavalry charging them back until night closed the scene near Williamsport, the enemy escaping in the direction of Harper’s Ferry. The enemy’s loss in killed and wounded was ten to one on our side but not very serious on either for so much fighting. We then parked for the night near Williamsport with nobody hurt in our battery.
Tuesday, 7th: Marched again early in the morning passed Hagerstown. Took road in the direction of Funkstown, two miles distant. When just at the Antietam, we parked and remained till next morning.
Wednesday, 8th: The heavy rains keep the Potomac River high, so there is no fording it. All our army wagons are at Williamsport for the purpose of crossing.
Thursday, 9th: Marched early this morning. Crossed the Antietam. Passed Funkstown. Took the Baltimore Pike. Soon learned the enemy was advancing on this road. Came to our outpost and put our battery in position. A few shots were exchanged by another battery and the enemy. Our battery taking no part. After this all became quiet and we withdrew and returned near Funkstown and parked for the night.
Friday, 10th: Cannonading in our front and we were ordered up. We took our position near our camp and commenced firing on the enemy’s batteries. It was soon ascertained they were making a flank movement on our right with infantry and artillery. We fell back to Funkstown again taking position and held it till our ammunition was nearly exhausted and our men also. We were then relieved by another battery and we returned by Funkstown. Crossed the Antietam. Passed our old camp on the farm of Jonathan Hager.
Passed Hagerstown and took the Pike to Williamsport and parked, 11⁄2 miles therefrom.
In the battle today Augustine Leftwich was mortally wounded. Thomas J. White badly wounded in the arm. James W. Griffin and Ephraim Parker both slightly in the leg. Samuel T. Preston struck by a spent ball, not painfully. While in Pennsylvania our worthy quartermaster Sergeant Charles W. Morris was sent in search of our wagons and is supposed to have fallen into the hands of the enemy.
Saturday, 11th: Again ordered to the front with Napoleon and Howitzer pieces, they having some ammunition left. Visited Williamsport today. Our army has all fallen back across the Antietam. All quiet today.
Sunday, 12th: Our army fallen back and our right resting on the Potomac and the left on Hagerstown. Here another battle is expected. The enemy has taken possession of Hagerstown. Cannonading in that direction which continued till dark.
Monday, 13th: It would appear that the enemy was making a demonstration which indicates another attack on our army, which is now hemmed in by the enemy on one side and the swollen Potomac and should the enemy make a successful attack on it the result would be deplorable.
There is no possible means now of our escape unless a pontoon bridge can be built immediately. This I suppose is now being built.
Slight cannonading for a short time this morning. The river has fallen enough to commence crossing. By 4 p.m. an immense number of wagons and ambulances had disappeared across the river. We were also ordered to cross and were soon on the march, all hands wishing again to reach the Virginia side of the river. When across we all breathed free once more. Parked for the night, 11⁄2 miles from the river in Berkeley Co.
Tuesday, 14th: Marched again early this morning. Met the other half of our battery at our pontoon bridge some three miles below and where large numbers of our army were crossing, being superintended personally by Gen. R.E. Lee. The detachment of our battery met with no disaster on yesterday. Robert T. Sherman, however, was captured but made his escape.
Halted here to feed and rest our horses. While here heard cannonading, the enemy firing on our retreating rear across the river. Before night our army had crossed the river with but few casualties, a few killed and wounded and a loss of some mules and cattle.
Thus ends our second attempt at invading the enemy’s soil, which has in most part proved failures.
The fight at Gettysburg, Pa. will go down in history perhaps as one of the greatest battles ever fought. I will not attempt here to give anything like a history of it for it will be a grand theme for historians in the future. The charge of Picket’s [sic] men up Cemetery Hill was never surpassed and is doubtful whether it will ever be equaled.
While we succeeded in capturing the enemy’s position our loss was so great and having no support they could not hold it and in falling back our loss was again terrible. Altogether the Battle of Gettysburg must have been as disastrous to the enemy as we lay near Hagerstown, Funkstown and Williamsport for a week or more in our crippled condition and the enemy’s infantry made no attack on ours. Only the cavalry of the two armies were doing any fighting. The Potomac was full from the heavy rains and we had to build a pontoon bridge before we could cross our infantry. Our condition was doubtless well known to the enemy yet they let us cross the river at our leisure and barely made a feint at attack.
Genl. Lee’s army, I much fear, will never recover from their terrible loss at Gettysburg….we have nowhere to recruit from while the enemy has the whole world.
Adapted from Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion: Moorman’s and Hart’s Batteries, edited by Robert J. Trout, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2008. For more on horse artillery and Trout’s book, go to “Resources,” P. 71.
Originally published in the June 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.