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Chapter 3

CHAPTER III.



 

The dawn of this year found our Company at Yorktown, where it had been on duty the preceding year. The boys, actually almost, “spoiling for a fight.” The brilliant achievements won by the Confederate arms the previous year inspired them with hopes for the result of this year. They felt chagrined that they had not been the honored participants in none of the engagements that had won these brilliant achievements. They were therefore anxious to be led against the enemy, fearing lest the war should close before they could have a chance of fully trying their hands at the tug of war. This fear was shortly afterwards dispelled, as we shall see by tracing events a little further, and a different kind of fear aroused.

After his defeat at Manassas on the 21st of July, 1861, the enemy vigorously engaged in organizing and equipping a powerful army of 120,000 men under the immediate supervision and command of Gen. Geo. B. McClellan, to operate against Richmond the ensuing year. This army was organized at Washington and put in motion on the 8th of March. It was first directed against Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at Manassas, with a force of not over 30,000, all told. This world-renowned strategist and tactician adroitly withdrew this little army and established it near Richmond, thus eluding the threatened crushing blow. This caused Gen. McClellan to change his line of operations. His plan was then to approach Richmond by the Chesapeake Bay, up the Peninsula, using the York River as a base. The Peninsula was at that time defended by Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder, with a force of not over 11,000. To support these, and check the advance of the overwhelming forces of the enemy now moving upon Richmond, up the Peninsula, Gen. Johnston with the skill and strategy of a General indeed, set himself to work. He concentrated his available forces, amounting to about 45,000, at or near Yorktown. By these rapid movements, and manoeuvres of Johnston, together with the inclemency of the weather, and wretched condition of the roads, McClellan’s advance was so retarded that it was not until May that he reached as far as Yorktown. Johnston now evacuated Yorktown and retired before his formidable antagonist. Several encounters took place as Johnston, with consummate strategy continued to retire before his formidable antagonist. The most important of these was at Williamsburg. It occurred on the morning of the 5th of May, just as the sun, with his silver-tinted fingers from behind the eastern horizon had gently lifted the pavilion of darkness, and was looming forth his morning brilliancy with all of its radiant splendor, that a shot from the Confederate artillery announced to the enemy that the ground upon which he pressed his hostile feet were sacred, and would be every inch contested. The missiles of death were soon hurling and plunging furiously through the air, while the earth seemed to quake and tremble beneath the loud thunderings of deep-throated artillery, and a shower of lead fell in torrents all around. Our Company was now, for the first time, fully under the enemy’s fire. The boys stood like heroes. They met the grim monster death as it were, with a chivalry that would have done honor to the Spartan band at Thermopylae. They shrunk not nor faltered , but pressed onward in the cause they had so gallantly espoused. Fortunately, we have no casualties to report. Our Company passed through this terrific scene unscathed.

This, however, was but the precursor to what soon after transpired, as we shall see by tracing events a little further. The advance of the enemy was now considerably checked. He continued however, to advance slowly, swinging his mighty hosts around, pressing hard upon the Conferderate left flank till he reached the right bank of the Chickahominy River. Here on the 31st of May the two armies met in deadly combat and fought the bloody battle known as the battle of the Seven Pines. Our command was placed in position and ordered to make a vigorous assault upon the enemy’s center. The charge had to be made up an acclivity difficult of ascent on account of a dense growth of under-brush. In less time than it takes to pen these lines, ten of our gallant Company lay dead and wounded on the field. The killed were: 5th Sergt. Samuel Felder and Privates Charles H. Coussens and Burwell T. Jordan. The wounded were: Orderly Sergeant Jefferson M. Gray, 2d Sergt. Amos W. Murray, 3d Sergt. Isaac N. Vinson, and Privates Jas. M. Bynum, Ebeneezer W. Turner, Louis D. Rumph and Leonidas P. Sledge. The shock of this terrible battle had the effect to set McClellan back for a time. He, however, resumed the aggressive, and continued to advance up the Chickahominy to within a few miles of Richmond. In the meantime, while Johnston had thus been holding McClellan in check, and thwarting his plans, Gen. Robert E. Lee had been recalled from the Southern sea-coast to assist Johnston in command, and Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson* had been ordered down from the valley of the Shenandoah. He reached the field of action with 15,000 troops just in time to render the

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*This appellation, which became so famous, took its origin from a remark made by Gen. Bee a few minutes before he fell in the battle of Manassas, on the 21st July, 1861. While rallying his men, who were wavering and likely to falter, he said: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall.” Gen. Jackson’s proper name was Thomas John.

assistance so much needed and to parry the blow now aimed at the Conferederate Capitol from the enemy’s right. The thunder of his guns on the evening of the 26th of June, on the rear right flank of McClellan’s army, which now stood a-straddle the Chickahominy, was the opening signal of the six day’s terrible life and death struggle which now ensued around the Confederate Capitol. The battles that were fought during this ever-memorable struggle of six days duration, were under the direction of Gen. Lee, who had succeeded to the chief command upon Gen. Johnston being severely wounded at Seven Pines, and were as follows: Mechanicsville and Beaver-Dam Creek, the 26th: in these engagements our Company suffered but one casualty, Private Daniel B. Hutto was wounded. Gaines’ Mill and Cold Harbor the 27th: at Cold Harbor our Company suffered severely. A recital of the casualties is revolting in the extreme. They are as follows: 2d Lieut. Thos. S. Jones; 1st Corpl. Leonidas Brown; and Privates J. W. Avera, Needham Bateman, Louis H. Beddingfield, Thos. N. Clark, John Cooper, John C. Gammage, Hosea Graydon, Benj. F. Hammock, William H. Leadingham, David R. Odom, Mark Sperry and Ichabod N. Scarborough, were all killed: 2d Corpl. Sam’l H. Hiley, 4th Corpl. Reubin A. Kilby, 5th Corpl. Geo. W. Cheeves, and Privates Mathew G. Avera, Thos. Butler, James Clark, Jonnathan F. Coussens, William S. Davis, Drewry M. Jackson, Thos. A. Lowe, William M. McDonald, William Sorrell, Francis M. Stripling and Joseph S. Vinson, were all severly wounded. Private William Sorrell lost his right arm which permanently disabled him from further active service during the war. 1st Sergt. Ulysses M. Gunn, while bearing his country’s flag aloft, fell severely wounded; his wound was so severe as to permanently disable him from further active service during the war. He will probably never fully recover from it. He held at the time, the position of Regimental Ensign. Savage Station, the 29th; in this engagement our Company took no part, not being present. Frayser’s Farm and White Oak Swamp; in these engagements our Company, though terribly exposed to the enemy’s fire during their entire duration, in which the most heroic daring was displayed on both sides, suffered but one casualty worth noting, Private Drewry M. Bateman was killed. Malvern Hill, the 21st of July; in this engagement Private William T. Collins was severely wounded. In this long, and most sanguinary sturggle, McClellan was defeated and his army completely routed. He sought and obtained refuge under cover of the heavy metal of his gun-boats at Harrison’s Landing, on James River. Thus ended the Peninsula campaign as it was called.

The brilliant achievement won by the Confederate arms in this series of engagements, lost to Gen. McClellan for a time, the command of the Grand Army of the Potomac. He was removed and Maj. Gen. John Pope put in command. This most sanguine officer, after recruiting his army for a time, to use his own language, established his “headquarters in the saddle” and set out against Richmond overland, by way of Manassas, where the Federal army had been so signally defeated under Gen. Irwin McDowell, in July of the previous year. To meet and repel this threatened invasion, Gen. Lee put his army in motion on the 18th of August. The two armies met on the 30th on the rolling grounds of Manassas, and fought the second great battle which take their name after that place. In this battle our Company took no part, our Brigade having been held in reserve. The result of this was another brilliant achievement. The Army of Virginia, as it was now styled, was, with its most sanguine commander, Gen. Pope, completely routed and driven to his fortifications near Washington. This result not being satisfactory with the Federal authorities at Washington, Gen. Pope was displaced and Gen. McClellan again placed in command. Elated by his success at Manassas, and for the purpose of provisioning his army, Lee now made an aggressive movement into Maryland. McClellan followed him. En route several engagements ensued between detachments of the two armies. The most important of these were Boonesboro’, or South Mountain, on the 14th of September, and Harper’s Ferry on the 15th. In each of these engagements our Company took an active part, but fortune so ordered it that we suffered no casualties. Two days afterwards, on the 17th, the two entire armies became terribly engaged at early dawn of day, in deadly conflict at Sharpsburg, and fought the bloody battle which takes its name after that place. This is known as the great drawn battle between Lee and McClellan, each holding his ground without any decisive result on either side. In this battle our Company suffered most terribly as we shall see. To our Brigade was assigned the onerous duty of defending a narrow pass in one of the ranges of South Mountain, through which, if McClellan’s army was permitted to pass, the result would be the utter annihilation of Lee’s army. This, of course, was well known to each commander. We boldly stood to the task, while wave after wave, from a vast ocean of living human soldiery, presenting as it were, an unbroken forest of glittering steel, rolled against us with the force and vehemence of a sliding avalanche down a mountain side. The battle soon grows furious, everything is stilled in the very silence of death, except the fierce battle-cry, the din and clash of arms and the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying; the elements are enveloped in a cloud of smoke ascending the mid heavens, friends and comrades are falling on every hand, but no relief for us, our position must be held or all is lost, we nobly stand to it, gallantly repulsing charge after charge from an infuriated enemy, grown well-nigh frantic over his fruitless efforts to expel us from this coveted stronghold. Fortunately, nightfall puts an end to this dreadful conflict and we are relieved, carrying with us the proud cognomen of having held our position in the face of all the force and fury that could be brought against us. Our casualties in this terrible conflict were: Privates James W. Giles, William M. Hartley, Andrew J. Mills and William H. Lightfoot, killed; and Privates Louis F. Anderson, Henry T. Brookins, Willis T. Odom, John J. Rumph, William F. McGehee, Corpl. Richard H. Powell, 1st Lieut. James M. Culpepper and 2d Lieut. Jonnathan D. Cowart, wounded. Capt. Charles D. Anderson was wounded and taken prisoner, as was also private William F. McGehee taken prisoner, who was soon after paroled.

We stop for a moment to relate a little incident that occurred with Capt. Anderson while a prisoner at Fort Delaware. He was permitted to address a letter to William Bryce & Co., Hardware Merchants, N.Y., and Louis B. Brown & Co., Clothing Merchants, of the same city, with all of whom he dealt extensively before the war, and between whom and himself an undisturbed friendship existed; setting forth his destitute condition and asking them to afford him some temporary relief. These generous hearted merchants responded promptly. Bryce & Co., sent him fifty dollars in cash and Brown & Co., sent about fifty dollars worth of clothing. After taking a bare sufficiency to meet his own actual necessities, Capt. Anderson promptly distributed the remainder among his destitute comrades. We have simply adverted to this circumstance to show the generous hearted disposition that has ever characterized this noble hearted man in every department of life.

We will again resume the subject. On the morning after the battle it was found by inspection that out of our entire Brigade there were not over 200 men able to report for duty. It was on this occasion that Gen. Colquitt shed tears at seeing the extent of the suffering of his gallant Brigade in the previous day’s action.

On the 22d, five days after this battle, President Lincoln issued his celebrated Emancipation Proclamation. This gave a new turn to the war, and stimulated quite an impetus to its more vgorous prosecution. Especially upon the part of the Confederates who now resorted to every available means to push the war forward on a more gigantic scale than ever before. Shortly after the issuing of this proclamation McClellan was again displaced and Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, supposed at the time to be in full sympathy with the emancipationists, was placed at the head of the Grand Army of the Potomac. This new chief immediately set himself to work and inaugurated another grand campaign against Richmond. His chosen line of approach to that much coveted city, was a long over-land route by the way of Fredericksburg. Now, under the ever active and untiring “Stonewall” Jackson, we were put on a forced march of ten days’ duration, marching on an average of twenty each day. We started on this march from Strasburg on the morning of the 26th of November, in the midst of a violent snow-storm. Burnside reached Fredericksburg about the 6th of December, and found himself confronted by Gen. Lee from the opposite banks of the Rappanhannock River. He crossed the river about the 10th and gave battle on the 13th. This is known as the battle of Fredericksburg. The two entire armies became engaged in this terrible onflict. The contest was heroic on both sides. Our Company, though exposed to the enemy's fire during the entire battle of two days’ duration, was so fortunate as to pass through unharmed. The result of the battle was the complete routing of Burnside, and driving back his army with great loss across the Rappahannock. All further active operations on both sides now ceqased for this year, and the two armies here went into winter quarters. (The result of the battle at Fredericksburg not being satisfactory with the authorities at Washington, Burnside was removed and Gen. Joseph Hooker was put in command.) Here the curtain of time dropped upon the closing scene of this year.


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