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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2024 7:51 pm 

Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:33 pm
Posts: 320
Location: Old Northwest (Michigan)
Fellow Sharpshooters

The following letter was written by Corporal Frank Cobb (Co. 1st USSS) to his brother, Benjamin ‘Durf’ Cobb. Cobb describes the Sharpshooters assault of the earthworks as a “Charge by Skirmish Line”, the first time I’ve heard this tactic being described.

Using a blunt pencil and lined paper, Cobb described the sharpshooter’s actions at Kelly’s Ford. So intent was Cobb to describe all the details of the fight that when he reached the last page, he flipped the front page upside down to finish the letter by writing (upside down) in the top margin, (obscuring the date and camp). Question marks (??) indicate words I can’t decipher. I’ve kept Frank Cobb’s spelling and punctuation (or lack thereof) as written;

Today finds us all in an entirely different part of Va. I will tell you how we got here and how much it cost. Saturday morning the 7th we were called up at 3 o’clock to march at daylight. We moved from camp and done some fast marching. We brought up to Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock. Stopped for a few moments to get a bite. Then the Gen. calling on the Sharp Shooter get harnessed up and followed him off down towards the ford which was about a half mile away. As we passed through different brigades all could hear them say, “There goes the Sharp Shooters we are going to have a row..they always get us into a scrape” +C,+C. Well we went down almost to the ford and under cover of a hill then deployed the three left companies B, G, + K, the rest in reserve. Then advanced up over the hill with a ‘rush’ as we call it, but properly called a “charge by a skirmish line”. There were some few Rebs on our side of the river which put in a few shot’s wounding one of Co. B. That did not check the Boys any They kept on and took what few there was of the Rebs wounding one. The Boys went to an old Canal Stoped as we were some rods behind.

But as we came to the canal the Rebs across the river poured in the shots right smart, killing a sergeant of Co. E on the left of our company wounding Ed Southworth severely and since lost his right leg above the knee and wounding several others. I went for the surgeon but failed to find him. Then Sim and three others took him back to the rear. We remained a little while in the canal then formed. Then Co. I deployed and went forward to the ford about 10 rods. Co. C close behind but not deployed. One of the Gen aides says Charge across Boys and drive the Rebs from the rifle pits. At the time Co. I went in as they were in front first and the rest followed across they went with Co. C close after the Rebs up in the pits

Then just put us you see pits was full of them and they were not 6-8 rods from the water. About this time all was mixed there was not two of our company together. As soon as the Boys got on the end of a pit-the Rebs sing out “we surrender” and swing their hats, +C, +C. They had sheltered out of the fire and a whole Div. back on the hill commences to cheer. There were three Gen’s a looking on. Our color bearer was one of the first on the pit with the colors. Up in the little town of Kellyville the Boys got three times their number of prisoners and advanced about ??

The Rebs in the works beyond kept up a continuous picket firing and they killed one of my tent mates Townsend, a tip top good fellow and a good soldier, and two Co. F was killed also, ?? When we charged across the river there was five or six of the Regt wounded. A Jewell of Co. I from Medina was mortally wounded.

When I went into the River I jumped about 16 or 15 feet I wanted to get as far across as I could as the fan the Balls felt nearer and nearer were just must cross the river??

Dick (Wirts) went in on his missil which surprised the whole The army advanced to this place (Brandy Station) without much oposition. The last we heard from Ed he was getting along first rate In the NY Herald of the 16th you will find the whole account of what the SS did ? ?

Frank Cobb

“Sim” is Simeon Van Akin Jr. Hudson. Enlisted in Company C, First U.S. Sharpshooters, Aug. 30, 1862, at Hudson for 3 years, age 21. Mustered Sept. 10, 1862. Taken prisoner at the Wilderness, Va., May 7, 1864, while on detached service at Brigade Headquarters. Escaped and joined company Sept. 1, 1864. Discharged Sept. 20, 1864.

“Dick” is Richard H. Wirts. Hudson. Enlisted in Company C, First U.S. Sharpshooters, Aug. 30, 1862, at Hudson, for three years, age 23. Mustered Sept. 10, 1862. Transferred to company H, Fifth Infantry, Dec. 23, 1864. Discharged Washington D.C., May 31, 1865. Richard Wirts was detailed as company bugler, and in 1863, transferred to the brigade band. This probably explains Cobb’s surprise to see him during the assault, armed only with his ‘Missil’ (instrument?)

“Albert” is Elbridge B. Jewell. Hudson. Enlisted in Company I, First U.S. Sharpshooters, Aug. 19, 1862, at Hudson, for three years, age 27. Mustered Sept. 10, 1862. Killed in action at Kelly’s Ford, Va., Nov 7, 1863.

“Townsend” is Henry Townsend. Nankin. Enlisted in Company C, First U.S. Sharpshooters, Aug. 21, 1861, at Detroit, for three years, age 26. Mustered Aug. 26, 1861. Killed at Kelly’s Ford, Va. Nov. 7, 1863.

The attached Robert Sneden map accurately captures the deployment of the Berdan Sharpshooters at Kelly’s Ford. West of Marsh Run, Sneden has written “sharpshooters” just below a piece of ground he identifies as a “plateau”. This would represent the right flank of USSS force that attacked the Mill, out-buildings and “Mud island”. I’ve not been able to locate any terrain feature described by Frank Cobb as a ‘canal’ near the river. Unfortunately, today the plateau and adjacent property is privately owned.

Bill Skillman
Michigan Companies
Berdan Sharpshooters Survivors Association

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