NOAA History Banner
gold bar divider
home - takes you to index page
about the site
noaa - takes you to the noaa home page
search this site
white divider
arrow A Nation at War
arrow Civil War


Washington 23rd Nov 1865

J. E. Hilgard, Esq.
Asst in Chge
U.S. Coast Survey

Sir: In compliance with your request to be furnished with a briefPicture of Samuel Gibert circa 1862. sketch of my military history while on leave of absence from the Coast Survey during the rebellion, I have the honor to send you the following.

I was appointed Lt Col O.V.I. [Ohio Volunteer Infantry] 11th June 1861, accompanied my regiment to W Va in the latter part of July, was stationed at Cheat Mountain Summit and detailed for charge of the construction of the defenses there. Participated in the various affairs which resulted from the efforts of the rebels under Gen. R.E. Lee to force our position in September, more especially in the repulse of Col Rust's rebel brigade. Was with my regt in Gen J.J. Reynolds unsuccessful attempt upon the position of the enemy on the Staunton Road twelve miles east of Cheat Mtn in October, known as his "Reconnaissance in Force." On the 14th October 1861 was appointed Colonel of the 44th O.V.I. and on 1st Nov took command of that regt at Camp Piatt on the Kanawha River W. Va. Remained there until 1st May 1862, when moved with regt to Gauley Bridge.

Shortly afterwards having been attached to Crook's brigade of the Kanawha Division served in command of my own & the 47th O.V.I. at Lewisburg W Va. where Col Crook (now Maj Gen) with the 36th O.V.I. soon arrived and assumed command. Accompanied Crook in command of regt on his raid upon Va Cen RR. about the 20th May. In this expedition the infantry marched over eighty miles in sixty hours including all stoppages! Commanded regt in the battle of Lewisburg W Va on 23rd May 1862. Led regt in charge upon rebel left consisting of a battery of four guns supported by about twelve hundred infantry. Routed them and captured the whole battery except two gun limbers. Killed wounded and captured about two hundred of the enemy in addition. Leaving sufficient guard for the guns and prisoners, without waiting swept around upon the flank and rear of the force opposed to Crook's regt. The forces speedily gave way and the victory was ours within a half hour of the time the fight commenced.

Remained in Crook's brigade participating in his advance to Salt-Sulphur Springs and sundry other smaller expeditions until Gen Cox with the bulk of the Kanawha Division was in August ordered to join Gen Pope east of the Blue Ridge, when against my urgent solicitation to the contrary, I was left with my own regt, the 47th O.V.I., the 9th Va Inf., and four Co's 2nd Va Cav. in command of the defenses on the East Side of New River, in the vicinity of Gauley [Mount?] on the 15th August. In reply to Col Crook who also [desired?] my being taken along, Gen Cox is reported to have said that being an Engineer I was the most proper and in fact the only Commanding Officer at his disposal competent to the trust.

In the early part of September, enemy in heavy force, about fifteen thousand under Gen Loring advanced upon our lines but upon the west side of New River. Col Siber 37th O.V.I. commanding our forces at Fayette fought there from noon until after dark and then fell back towards the falls. Col Lightbourn 4th Va Inf. who was left in command of the district when Gen Cox left ordered me to also fall back to the Falls and take positions to cover Col Siber's retreat which we accordingly did and were on hand to take up the fight at daylight next morning when the enemy approached the river in pursuit of Siber's column. A fight ensued which lasted until near noon, when the enemy having effected a crossing above the falls with most of his men were gradually enveloping my small command of only my regt and two pieces of artillery, about six hundred men all told and I gradually withdrew. We skirmished with them all day falling back only when outflanked making but eleven miles to the rear whilst our train made over twenty-five miles. About midnight I was joined by six Cos of the 47th O.V.I. which had been stationed at [Summersville?] and was obliged to destroy their baggage and make their way by a bridle path through the hills intersecting our line of march near [?].

The following day the skirmishing was resumed at daylight and continued throughout the day, we doing all we could to delay their progress by blockading or obstructing the road by falling trees and holding narrow places until outflanked. Our retrograde this day was about twelve miles to the vicinity of Camp Piatt where we made dispositions for a final stand, but Col Siber's force was crossed over to the East Side during the night and I received orders from Col. Lightbourn to continue the retreat to Charleston about ten miles distant the next day which we accordingly did. The enemy not coming up with us until we entered the town, my command being still the rear guard skirmished through the town crossing Elk River about one o'clock P.M. Destroyed the bridge and deployed along the bank of the river (about sixty yards wide). The enemy brought eighteen pieces of artillery to bear upon our position, shelled us vigorously until dark and maneuvered unsuccessfully to cross Elk. After dark in pursuance of orders we resumed our retreat. The enemy did not follow us and thus ended our three days almost constant fighting. The rebel General in speaking of it to prominent citizens of Charleston characterized it as "one of the best-conducted retreats of the war."

Our train moving in close order occupied about thirteen miles of road. We did not lose any property of any material value. What was abandoned was destroyed as well as all the hay, straw, grain, etc. along our line. I do not remember our loss and have no means of knowing that of the rebels in this prolonged operation. During those three days we received our orders from Col Lightbourn except to retreat. He was generally with the train aiding the Quartermasters in keeping the wagons in motion. The provisions were all pushed ahead, so far and fast, of the fighting department that my men nearly starved, having no regular issue made to them for the five or six days during which the retreat to the Ohio River continued. Within the five months following Col Lightburn was promoted Brig Gen as was reported at the time as a reward for his distinguished service.

In October my regt was ordered to Covington Ky and attached to the army of Central Ky then under the command of Maj Gen Gordon Granger. I was given command of the 2nd Brigade Gillmore's Division which except my own regt was composed of new troops. We marched to Lexington where a camp of instruction was temporarily established and until about the middle of Dec I was diligently engaged in the instruction of my command. About that time it was reported that John Morgan was about to make a raid into Ky, and I was ordered with my brigade to Richmond Ky, remained there ten days in two weeks and received orders to march to Danville, from thence after a sojourn of four or five days, we marched to Frankfurt and went into winter quarters on 1st January 1863.

In Feb having information of the treasonable purposes of certain politicians about assembling in Frankfurt, and considering the wide spread dissatisfaction with the Proclamation of Emancipation on the part of the Citizens of Kentucky, as demonstrated in part by the speeches and acts of members of the Legislature then in session, who although elected by large Union majorities were every day making speeches full of violent denunciations of the President threatening resistance by force etc. The Kentucky troops under my command becoming almost mutinous, I reported to Maj Gen H. G. Wright through Brig Gen Q.A. Gillmore these circumstances and asked for instructions. None were given. And feeling that the responsibility of permitting treason to be openly organized under my nose lay with me, I determined "to nip it in the bud" which I accordingly did by ordering the convention to disperse; an order that their guilty consciences caused them to obey with alacrity.

On the 21st (27th?) Feb. I was ordered with my regt which had been [mounted? reunited?] and the 104 O.V.I. to Danville to aid in checking a raid which was in progress by a party of John Morgan's rebel command under Col. Clarke. I was posted at Danville by order of Gen Gillmore while most of my mounted men went in pursuit of Clarke to the Eastern part of the State. In the early part of March, everything being quiet in that part of the State and having been informed of the destruction by fire of my house and of the death of one of my children, I was relieved from duty for ten days and went home to make arrangements for the comfort of my family. Before this time elapsed Gen Gillmore telegraphed me to return immediately which I did reaching Lexington the day Gen [Porter?] retreated from Danville before Pegram. Gen Gillmore placed me in command of post and troops at Lexington with orders to prepare the place for defence which I proceeded to do but [?] him to let me resume command of the section of my brigade that was with Gen Carter. In a day or two he determined to assume the offensive and I was ordered to gather up such troops as could be spared from Lexington and follow him which I did arriving at Somerset Ky at the close of his victory [?] there over Pegram's forces. Having made a forced march of over seventy miles without a halt of over two hours.

About the middle of March I was ordered with my brigade to take post at Mt. Vernon Ky with instruction to look out for the [frontier?] from the Rock Castle River to the eastward comprising Big Creek and Cumberland Gaps and numerous smaller passes in the Cumberland range of mountains dividing Kentucky from Virginia & Tennessee, then in possession of the enemy. This duty brought portions of my command in almost daily collision with the enemy and required untiring vigilance. We remained there until July when the 23rd Army corps was organized and I was ordered to rendezvous at Camp Nelson with my brigade which became 1st Brigade 3rd Division. In August we moved with Maj Gen [Hartsuff?] into East Tenn where we were joined by Maj Gen Burnside with the Cavalry Division and whole force marched for Knoxville which was reached about the middle of September without any fighting and I was detailed as post commandant. Two days afterward with half of my brigade we moved for Cumberland Gap believing that the rebel garrison there would get away if we did not move rapidly. My command did their best - very much to the satisfaction of Gen Burnside who accompanied us. On our arrival dispositions were made for assault - but before the movement commenced the enemy surrendered about 3200 officers and men. Gen Burnside gave me charge of the [positions?] upon the surrender and I directed the details for taking charge of prisoners, property, etc.,etc., and started the prisoners north and then in pursuance of orders turned over the command to Col [Lemient?] and returned to Knoxville and resumed command of the Post. Some two weeks later the enemy having pushed down from Virginia I with my brigade accompanied Gen Burnside on an expedition to [Watauga?] Bridge about one hundred miles east of Knoxville on the Virginia and East Tennessee R.R. where the enemy being entrenched appeared determined upon a stand. They retreated however during the night of our arrival and we returned to Knoxville.

My health had become quite precarious. I had not recovered entirely from a cold contracted in my march from Frankfurt to Danville Ky in February which settled upon my right lung, and about the 1st of Nov I broke down completely and on advice of the Medical Director Dr. Jackson was relieved from duty and given a leave for thirty days and soon after started for home in Ohio. About the 20th Nov I heard of the advance of the enemy under Longstreet upon Knoxville and started back to my command not being able to join it by reason of its being shut up in Knoxville. I reported for duty to Maj Gen J.G. Foster at Tazewell Tenn and was temporarily assigned to duty as Engineer on his staff and was actively engaged in reconnaissance in the direction of Knoxville and Bulls Gap until the retreat of Longstreet which enabled me to resume command of my brigade which was at that time with the force under the immediate command of Maj Gen Parke following up Longstreet's retreat. The privations suffered by that army during the two months succeeding the raising of the siege of Knoxville from insufficient food, clothing, and shelter rendered almost unendurable by the inclemency of the weather probably has no parallel in the whole history of the war or the country.

About the 1st of January 1864 my regt reenlisted as veterans and on the 10th in pursuance of orders started on its return march to Ohio shoeless, hatless, ragged tatterdemalions, without blankets or overcoats and but three days half rations of meat and corn meal only. We started from Strawberry Plains during a violent snow storm. We had to ford Clinch River then full of running ice which was only effected by felling a large number of over hanging trees at a narrow place, thus creating a temporary [gorge?] below which we effected our crossing with the aid of a foraging train which was fortunately in that vicinity. We passed the Cumberland Mountains at the Big Creek Gap and crossed the Cumberland River at Williamsburg upon the ice. Supplies of food met us some twelve miles beyond this place and from that time our hunger was appeased. We reached Camp Nelson Ky on the 15th of January having been less than six days marching on foot over ice, snow and frozen ground over a high range of mountains across two considerable rivers a distance of about one hundred and forty miles!

Upon an order of the War Dept my regt was reorganized as the 8th Ohio Cavalry and [?] to the maximum number allowed, to wit twelve companies numbering in the aggregate twelve hundred and fifty men.

The condition of my health having become worse by reason of the privations and exposures endured in common with my command and being advised by the surgeon of the regt and my family physician at home that I would certainly not be able to remain on active duty in command of troops, particularly cavalry, and having no way to retain my position without a reasonable prospect of being able to perform its duties, I reluctantly tendered my resignation which being accepted on the 20th of April 1864, I quietly settled down at home for a year, during which by careful nursing I was enabled to so far regain my health as to be able to resume my duties as an assistant of the U.S. Coast Survey.

In conclusion allow me to say that my career although not very notorious or leading through battles of great magnitude was of a kind which draws upon a man's resources and energies very prodigally and offers no return but slight award in the way of fame or promotion.

That I was not of the killed, wounded or missing in any of the great or decisive conflicts is probably due to the fact that circumstances not under my control prevented my engaging in them.

The only fair opportunity I ever had was at Lewisburg Va where the orders for battle were verbal about as follows. Enemy deploying into line on opposite side of valley in plain sight about three fourths of a mile distant displaying more than double our numbers. The space between our forces and the enemy occupied by the long straggling town. Col Crook and myself riding from the town to where our men were bivouaced. I asked "What are you going to do?" He answered, "Fight them." "How will we do it?" "You take the right and I'll take the left of the town and we'll go for them." "All right." The enemy opened upon us as we were forming with shell killing one and wounding two of my men as they commenced moving towards us. We met about half-way in an open field neither party having any cover. We reserved our fire until within about a hundred yards and then charged their battery which consisted of one twelve pdr field howitzer, two three-inch rifled cannon, and one twelve pdr smooth bore all of which we captured except two gun limbers. Their infantry ran away leaving forty or fifty killed and about eighty wounded and over one hundred prisoners in our hands leaving a guard over these we pushed forward in pursuit until [checked?] by the [?] bridge over Greenbriar River. This is one of the few instances where the rebel journals of the day admitted a square defeat.

This sketch being written from memory I am unable to recall with strict certainty dates and numbers but - in the main - it is correct.

I have the honor to be very respectfully,

S.A. Gilbert,
Asst. U.S. Coast Survey

- Top of Page -


Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

Privacy Policy | Disclaimer