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Monday, July 8, 2013

Capture of Fitz-Hugh Lee

Taken from the National Tribune, Jan. 21, 1897 edition

Captured Fitz-Hugh Lee.

The General Made Hostage for Three Union Prisoners Condemned to Death.
Editor National Tribune: We broke up May 1, 1863, at Camp Getty, near Portsmouth, Va, and went on board transports with the 11th Pa. Cav. and two regiment of infantry, and steamed out through Hampton roads and up the Pamunkey River as far as White House Landing. We disembarked on the Hanover County side of the River, and marched across country to Hanover Junction. The weather was extremely hot, and many of the men of the infantry died from sunstroke. 
When we arrived at the junction we found a place guarded by a stockade fort and 100 men and four pieces of artillery. After receiving their first fire we were ordered to fall back out of range. Then our Colonel (Spear, 11th Cav.) called for volunteers, to see if there was anyway to approach the fort without being seen by enemy. 
Serg't Star stepped to the front and said if he could have the pick of men he would undertake the hazardous work. The Colonel told him he could. The Sergeant picked 11 men from the regiment and started on, with only revolvers and belts. They took a roundabout way, striking a ravine thick with undergrowth, following it up to the stockade.

At the same time the troops in front for making small charges to the attract rebels' attention the Sergeant and party for devising ways of getting inside the fort. They soon discovered that the spring of water inside was the cause of the ravine, and that there must be an outlet for the water.
The men soon found the place, and by digging with an old saber bayonet, they had picked up on the way, and their hands, they soon made a hole big enough to admit a man.  
After they had all gotten on the inside they made a grand rush, firing their revolvers as signal for the troops to come. The entire rebel force threw down their arms and surrendered, with the loss of two men killed. After the surrender a rebel saw the small force, grabbed a gun and shot one of our men. On the instant he was shot many times. The prisoners were paroled on the same day, and after destroying all Confederate property and tearing up the railroads at the Junction, we went into camp for the night.
On May 3 we started on our return trip to White House Landing, with quite a heavy rear-guard to protect our main force. We met no enemy to break the monotony until the rear guard came across an old colored man. He said that if we would go along a certain road we might capture Fitz-Hugh Lee.
The Colonel on Net the rear guard to go with the old darky as guide, and without any mishap we found the General at his country-seat*. He had been wounded a few days before in the Shenandoah Valley, and was on sick leave for a short time. As his wound was slight, we soon made arrangements for taking the General with us by ordering out his family carriage team and driver. After putting a mattress in the carriage and the General on that, we started for White House Landing, arriving there the same day and went into camp. The General was put on board a transport. The next day, May 4, 1863, we started for Fort Monroe, arriving there on the same date, and reporting to the commandant, Gen. Wool, that we had a prisoner of war.
The old General said we had done the best thing since the war had begun. He said that our cavalry in scouting in the Shenandoah Valley had captured some three guerrillas who had committed a crime on some of their own people that was punishable by death, and they were hung for that offense, and the rebel authorities at Richmond, to retaliate had ordered out 100 men from Libby Prison, all officers of high rank, with Chaplain McCabe with them, to draw lots for three men to be executed in retaliation for the three guerrillas deaths. The drawing was made, and the Chaplain's dear friend, a Colonel was one drawn out. They were taken to the city jail and confined the condemned cells, to be shot or hung the next day.

To save these men Gen. Wool ordered out a flag-of-truce boat to the enemy. After conference with the authorities at Richmond exchange was made, we receiving the three Union officers for the rebel Gen. Lee. I think that expedition resulted in great good for the Union cause, with a small loss of life and no loss of property for the Government. 
W.B. Porter, Troy, Pa.
Via the website

* actually the home of his in-laws.

The Fitz Hugh Lee referred to is William Henry "Rooney" Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee, not Fitz Hugh Lee his cousin.

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