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Cosby Johnston Semple

July 19, 1861-Affair on the Back River Road, Va.

Report of Col. Robert Johnston, C. S. Army.

Cockletown, Va., July 20, 1861.

MAJOR: I regret to have to report the loss of the horses of the picket on the Back River road last evening just before the time for the picket to fall back to the position assigned it for the night. No blame is to be attached to the private in charge or to any person connected with it. This picket has orders to dismount, and, leaving their horses, to take a position in advance of them during the day. The position occupied by them can be approached to within a short distance through the woods between the Back River and the Sawyer Swamp road. It was in this way that the horses were taken. A large party of the enemy came through the woods from a point on Sawyer Swamp road to within a short distance of where the picket was stationed, and then approached the horses by file from the rear under cover of a ditch brush fence and got over the fence just where the horses were. Fortunately they were seen by our picket as they cleared the fence, who were thus enabled to make their escape by the river side. Had they attempted to escape on the other side in the direction of the woods they would have been taken, as the enemy seemed to have expected their escape on that side and searched for them there.

The enemy were in force, probably 300 strong, and came out to avenge the death of Captain Jenkins, who they supposed had been killed yesterday. They visited Dr. [Possibly G. W.] Semple's farm, but committed no depredations, and have returned. I have felt constrained to draw the picket back to near Dr. Semple's, whence an occasional vedette will move down the road. The enemy is well provided with guides, and can learn the road as well as we can. If this picket were cut off an infantry force could cross the Bethel Creek on the mill-dam below the bridge, and come direct to my camp through the woods without being discovered. I sent out two small parties last night, Captain Curtis with thirty infantry to near Lee's store, and a detachment of thirty dragoons to light camp-fires in the woods at Bethel and to lie in ambush below on the Sawyer Swamp road. As soon as I can I should like to confer with the general in relation to my commaud.

I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel, Commanding.

Maj. G. B. COSBY
A.A.A.G., Headquarters Army of Yorktown.

SOURCE: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 2, pgs. 575-576

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