Cross Keys Part 2
Trimble's First Position
The center of the Confederate line, on the ridge barely visible on the far left - and far right - of this nearly 360 degree photo, was to continue along the same ridgeline further right. This area is visible as the wooded ridge to the right of the white barn and house, the Widow Pence House. The aggressive Marylander, Gen. Trimble, had been ordered to occupy this ridge with his brigade. He thought the position was weak, however, and used the hill to its front, which extends uphill beyond the Widow Pence, to screen a move forward. Since a move directly forward would have exposed him to Union artillery fire, he moved his brigade further right and up a ravine toward a new position.
At about the same time, two regiments under Col. James Walker, a man who, when a student at VMI, had threatened to kill a certain Professor Thomas J. Jackson, was starting to move further right along a perpendicular ridge in order to protect Trimble's right.
Trimble's New Position
This is the view further up the hill from the Widow Pence. Trimble had advanced to the fenceline you can see marked by the diagonal row of trees on the left of the picture. The line faced toward the left of the picture. The area from the Widow Pence to Trimble's line has been preserved by the predecessor to the Civil War Preservation Trust.
The prominent road shown is the Port Republic Road, from which the previous photo, "Trimble's First Position", was taken, and from which the following photo, "Union Advance", was taken a little further north. Toward the center of the picture you can see the ridgeline marking the center of Ewell's position, and on the far right is White Oak Ridge, which Fremont's army had descended that morning in order to face Ewell.
Two Union brigades, those of Stahel followed by Bohlen, with attached artillery batteries, were moving to attack the Confederate right flank. This move was along the axis of the Port Republic road, on the left of the picture and toward the camera across the hills in the center of the picture. On the right of the picture, Trimble's brigade was in line on top of the ridge - hidden behind a fence to the left of the road. Walker's two regiments off of the Union left flank had apparently been discovered by the Yankees, but Trimble's brigade, in its new position, had not.
So the Union troops were preparing for action, but had no idea that the enemy was so near. The Federals were, I believe, on the hills to the left of the prominent white house down the gravel driveway, which, I believe, may be the Polly Haugh House. At the time of the battle, the hills here were wooded on top.
The 8th NY Achieves an Unwanted Immortality
From its forward position at Union Church, the 15th Alabama had fallen back before the Union advance, taking up position on the right flank of Trimble's brigade, making it the far right Ewell's division. With a regiment detached to protect the artillery, Trimble had about 1,350 men available, with the 15th Alabama, 16th Mississippi, and 21st Georgia in a prone position behind this fenceline on high ground, with part of the 21st NC as skirmishers in the ravine to the front. At the time, the fields to their front were open, and some woods were directly to their rear. Now, however, the area to the rear is clear, and you can see back to Trimble's original position and Ewell's center.
The skirmishers returned to the line ahead of an advancing Yankee regiment. On the physical crest, not the military crest, the Confederates lost sight of the advancing Yankees in the ravine, but they emerged a few minutes later about 50 yards from the Confederate position.
The 8th NY, an outfit of mostly German immigrants with a reputation for plundering, was unaware of the presence of the Confederates, and was foolishly advancing without skirmishers. At fifty yards, the Confederate line, three regiments, rose up and delivered a devastating volley, possibly the deadliest single volley of the war up to that time. Many of the Confederates had fired buck and ball, a combination of a musket ball and three small pellets, the ideal weapon for short range combat. They inflicted around 260 casualties on the despised Yankee regiment, a unit of approximately 600 to 700 men. The 8th NY fled in panic, and the Confederates briefly pursued, then returned to their position.
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Continue to Part 3