My latest New York Times Disunion post tells the story of a Union guard’s doubt about a messenger’s frantic request, which resulted in fateful consequences for Lt. Lester D. Phelps and his comrades in the Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry during a skirmish at Virginia’s Rappahannock River. An excerpt:
A lone Union cavalryman sped away from the front lines through the Virginia countryside towards Warrenton on the afternoon of Oct. 12, 1863. He soon encountered federal provost guards, who ordered him to halt. The cavalryman relayed an urgent request: He and his fellow troopers had come under heavy attack by the enemy and, low on ammunition, they needed help immediately.
The provost guards doubted the veracity of the request. They had heard the same story repeatedly that day told by stragglers fleeing advancing Confederates. The provost had turned all of these shirkers away, and they were not going to make an exception now. They denied the request and sent the cavalryman back to the front.