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Home > Civil War Sesquicentennial > William O. Howe Transcript

William O. Howe Transcript

“I wish to call attention to the part I played at the Aldie Battle at the time of the fall of Colonel Doughty of the 1st Maine Cavalry ---- when that famous charge was made up the road towards the heights of Aldie, Col. Doughty kept to the right and in the open field while the Regt. charged up the road close at the heels of the enemy and midst such a storm of dust that it was impossible to tell the dividing point between friends and foes. To add still more to the confusion and bewilderment of the situation, the storm of shot and shell which came pouring down into the road and spreading devastation to our troopers, rendering it quite out of the power of the Colonel to have anything like control over the infuriated old 1st Maine, who at that particular moment knew no officers and who like a wild horse with the furor of a tornado plunged upward and onward with but one object – i.e. to reach the heights or die .... The Col., for the purpose of a more advantageous position of command charged up on his old white horse in the open field; along side and as near to the troops as was advisable considering the blinding clouds of dust which completely absorbed the troops therein. I know these facts because when the charge was ordered, the enemy was pouring down upon us and in both field and road the fight for a few moments became a hand to hand conflict – and when the enemy could no longer stand the keen edge of the old Pine Tree Statesmens’ sword and turned to flee before their pursuers, I found myself in deadly conflict with an enemy which had led me far to the right of the main force, but when I discerned my position and that the Regiment had taken to the road I fired a shot at my antagonist which sent him reeling away on his horse and struck a bee line for the main force.

There were a few scattering men still in the open field but they soon found their way into the cloud of dust, and no one was then individually visible but a lone horseman charging up the line leaping fences and every obstacle that lay in his path: as I followed closely in his wake I saw that it was Col. Doughty. The line of smoke and dust was one long line stretching from the summit of the hill to the base and no man could tell where the dividing front between friend and foe ended, but the column charged on and up the slope and I followed, believing the while that it was our columns all along the line. The cannonading from the heights had ceased in large measure and when the Col. had reached the terminus of the field and at the point where the road turned in a right angle to the left, he espied me in his wake and with his sword uplifted he shouted Where is the head of the Regt? I pointed ahead, believing the Regt. was in possession of the hill. The Colonel plunged on through the opening in the fence over a pair of bars and through a dugout road in the side of the hill and skirted on the right by a heavy stone wall.  This dugout was literally filled with dead and dying men and horses, and about twenty rods from the right angle the stone wall ended, or rather was intersected by another which joined at right angles and ran over the brow of the hill leaving the field open beyond the intersection.

Here it was at this corner as the Colonel was turning to the right to go into the open field beyond, with his sword hand raised that I last saw him alive. Just then a volley came from behind the stone walls and the Colonel fell, my horse was wounded and I received a slight wound in the right ankle, I ran as if my life depended upon my speedy flight – and jumping my horse over the fence on the other side I just escaped another volley from the stone wall down I went into the canyon until I began to ascend towards the woods on the high ground at the other side.  Here arranged under command of Lt. Col. Boothby was the regt, awaiting orders and as I ascended the slope, Boothby came forward and asked if I knew where was the Colonel. I told him he was yonder on the heights dead I believed, and then the second charge and the most irreversible ever known was made by the old First Maine Cavalry.  Inside of two minutes the life of this indomitable hero was avenged, the heights captured, and Colonel Doughty’s body recovered from that point where I last saw him in life.  His wound was two buckshots under the right armpit which must have entered the heart. I will here show you a diagram of the situation.

[Howe’s hand-drawn diagram can be seen on page 10 of the original manuscript]

This is about the lay of the ground and the history of Doughty’s fall, which has been misquoted as a general thing, but which more forcibly expressed the terrible hell hole we captured single handedly and alone as a regiment. It further conveys the awful disadvantages to which the Colonel was subjected in this particular fight - but the truth robs the Colonel of no laurels which are so justly due to him as a brave man, for it shows that his great anxiety was to be in a position where he might see as well as lead and thus guard his regiment against a reckless plunge to their deaths, but all this desire to be cautious and still lead cost him his life; for the very thought that the regiment had surpassed his lead fired his brave heart with a recklessness that knew no restraint – If the historian thinks it advisable to make note of this event I am ready to verify it under oath any time in honor of the bravery of my old and much esteemed Colonel.

I might add that when I made the high leap over the fence (a leap for life) and went sailing down the canyon I believe it was the largest leap ever made by man or beast, for my horse’s feet did not strike ground for several rods, but when they did I was so severely thrust upon the horn of my saddle that the injury has ever since been a serious disability and bar against physical exertion or manual labor.”