About 10 o'clock p. m. Lieutenant Howe, regimental quartermaster Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, reported to me that Captain Philbrick had returned to the island after proceeding to within about a mile of Leesburg, and that he had there discovered, in the edge of a wood, an encampment of about thirty tents, which he had approached to within 25 rods without being challenged, the camp having no pickets out any distance in the direction of the river. I at once sent order to Colonel Devens to cross four companies of his regiment to the Virginia shore, march silently, under cover of night, to the position of the camp referred to, to attack and destroyed it at daybreak, pursue the enemy lodged there as far s would be prudent with his small force, and return rapidly to the island, his return to be covered by a company of the massachusetts Twentieth, which was directed to be posted on the bluff directly over the landing place..
Colonel Devens was ordered to use this opportunity to observe the approaches to Leesburg and the position and force of any enemy in the vicinity, and in case he found no enemy or found him only weak, and a position where he could observe well be secure until his party could be strengthened sufficiently to make a valuable reconnaissance which should safely ascertain the position and force of the enemy, to hold on and report.
Orders were dispatched to Colonel Baker to send the First California regiment to Conrad's Ferry, to rive there at sunrise, and to have the remainder of his brigade in a state of readiness to move after an early breakfast. Also to Lieutenant-Colonel Ward, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts, to move with a battalion of the regiment to the river bank, opposite Harrison's Island, to arrive there by daybreak. Lieutenant French, of Ricketts' battery, was detached with two mountain howitzers, and ordered to the tow-path of the canal opposite Harrison's Island.
Colonel Devens, in pursuance of his orders, crossed the river and proceeded to the point indicated by the scouting party, Colonel Lee remaining on the bluff with 100 men to cover his return.
In order to distract attention from Colonel Devens' movement and at the same time to effect a reconnaissance in the direction of Leesburg from Edwards Ferry, I directed General Gorman to throw across the river at that point two companies of the First Minnesota Volunteers under the cover of a fire from Ricketts' battery, and send out a party of 31 Van Alen Cavalry, under Major Mix, accompanied by Captain Charles Stewart, assistant adjutant-general, Captain Murphy, Lieutenants Pierce and Gourand, with orders to advance along the Leesburg road until they should come to the vicinity of a battery which was known to be on that road and then turn to the left, and examine the heights between that and Goose Creek, see if any of the enemy were posted in the vicinity, ascertain as nearly as possible their number and disposition, examine the country with reference to the passage of troops to the Leesburg and Georgetown turnpike, and return rapidly to cover behind the skirmishers of the Minnesota Forst.
This reconnaissance was most gallantry conducted by all in the party, which proceeded along the leesburg road nearly or quite 2 miles from the ferry, and when near the position of the hidden battery came suddenly upon a Mississippi regiment, about 35 yards distant, received its fire, and returned it with their pistols. The fire of the enemy killed 1 horse, but Lieutenant Gourand seized the dismounted man, and, drawing him on his horse behind him, carried him unhurt from the field. One private of the Fourth Virginia Cavalry was brought off by the party a prisoners. This prisoner being well mounted and armed, his