After Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton’s reconnaissance into Stafford County at the end of November, 1862, he directed his scouts to continue to operate among and behind the Union lines. Known as the “Iron Scouts”, this small band had been loosely organized from members of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry earlier in the fall. The nickname came from the Federals for their ability to heal quickly from wounds and to consistently avoid capture. As Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside prepared to launch his army over the Rappahannock in the second week of December, the Iron Scouts reported the movement of an enemy sutler train from the vicinity of Washington to Dumfries, a town in the Union rear. This enticing provender was too much of a target for Hampton to pass up. He determined to march on and capture the town and wagon train.
Similar to his November expedition, Hampton once again assembled a hand picked force for the raid. Approximately 520 from the 1st South Carolina, 2nd South Carolina, 1st North Carolina, Jeff Davis Legion and Cobb Legion followed him north from the Confederate lines on the night of December 10. “The weather was intensely cold” remembered one gray trooper. Once on the north bank of the Rappahannock, Hampton rested briefly then set out again at midnight. The march continued through the eleventh, while miles away, the Army of the Potomac struggled to established a bridgehead at Fredericksburg. In order to increase his flexibility and ease of movement for the impending attack, Hampton divided his men before starting out on the morning of December 12. He assigned the detachments from the 1st North Carolina, 2nd South South Carolina and Cobb Legion to Col. Matthew C. Butler. Lieutenant Colonel Will Martin was given the 1st South Carolina and Jeff Davis Legion.
Hampton covered 16 miles that morning before he reached the vicinity of Dumfries. He elected to keep Martin in reserve and sent Butler around to the north to launch the assault. Stationed in Dumfries was a small contingent from the 10th New York Cavalry. Charging into the village, Butler “found everything and everybody asleep” recalled a South Carolinian. “The wagons were packed in vacant lots with their teams, the teamsters and escort of about twenty-five troopers sound asleep under a large shed, near the principal street.” Butler’s men quickly surrounded their prize and its guards, all without losing a single man.
“We captured 50-odd prisoners, with 1 lieutenant and 24 sutlers’ wagons” Hampton reported. “Of these, I destroyed 2 in the town, as we had no means of bringing them off, and the others we brought away with us.” The Southerners found the wagons loaded down with uniforms and clothing along with “almost every variety of goods, eatables, drinkables [and] confectionaries.” Hampton hoped to continue his march and capture enemy pickets beyond Dumfries but the approach of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps forced him to call off the gambit. Around 8 a.m., he began his return march. Hampton’s dogged troopers covered 40 miles and at nightfall encamped at Morrisville. He leisurely reached the south bank of the Rappahannock on the thirteenth.
“I can again speak in the highest terms of the conduct of my officers and men,” Hampton wrote. “They bore the privations and fatigue of the march—three nights in the snow—without complaint, and were always prompt and ready to carry out my orders. The success of the expedition is mainly attributable to this good conduct on their part.” This latest foray not only left Hampton proud of his men, but with a heightened sense of confidence. Within days, he would be back in the saddle once again on another raid.