Howard, McHenry. "Closing Scenes of the War About Richmond." Reprint from New Orleans Picayune, October 4-11, 1903. SHSP 31 (1903), pp. 129-135.
Page 129 Closing Scenes of the War about Richmond.
[From the New Orleans, La., Picayune, October 4-11, 1903.]
CLOSING SCENES OF THE WAR ABOUT RICHMOND.
Retreat of Custis Lee's Division and the Battle of Sailor's Creek.
By Captain McHENRY HOWARD, of Baltimore, Assistant Inspector General, C. S. A., General Custis Lee's Division.
Between 10 and 11 o'clock Saturday night, April 1, 1865, just as I was falling asleep on the lines in front of Chaffin's Bluff, on the north side of the James river, and faint red glare illuminated the tent, followed by a low muttering like distant thunder.
The night was very dark and cloudy, the atmosphere damp and heavy, and at another time I might have found it hard to determine whether the sound was the distant roll of musketry or the rumbling of an approaching storm, but under the circumstance there was no difficulty in attributing it to the right cause.
Flash after flash shone through the canvas, and the muttering presently became almost continuous, although very little louder.
There was something particularly awful in these half-suppressed, but deadly, signs of a far-off struggle, when contrasted with the perfect tranquility immediately around us.
Dressing ourselves and mounting the works, we watched and listened for half and hour, but the battle was across the James, and away over to our right all remained quiet along our part of the lines; and the "Richmond defenses" soon came to the conclusion that so far it was no affair of theirs, and like true soldiers went to sleep as fast as they could to make the most of their present exemption.
Sunday morning was cloudless and lovely, and everything continuing quiet in our front and not the slightest intimation of any change in the condition of affairs being received at division headquarters, I saw no reason why I should not ride to Richmond for the purpose of attending church. On reaching the city, I was not a little astonished to find in in great commotion. Fields' Division, which had formed the left of the line of three divisions on the north side of the James had been withdrawn and marched through town early in the morning, being called away in haste to re-enforce the
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south side, where heavy fighting, it was stated, had been and was still going on. Matters were reported to be in a critical condition there, but there were also cheering rumors that Joe Johnston had eluded Sherman and was within a few hours' march of Grant's left flank, and many were buoyant with the expectation that the day would witness a repetition of the scenes of 1862.
The panic in St. Paul's Church, when one after another the principal officers of the government and other leading men were mysteriously summoned away in the middle of the service, has been often described. Many persons simultaneously left the church, and for a time there was great confusion among those who remained, but order was presently restored, and, being communion Sunday, the services were brought to a conclusion without further interruption and with usual solemnity.
By the way, it so happened that the disorder was at its height just before the time for taking up the usual collection, and I afterwards read an account of a Northern correspondent which related how the rector, recognizing the impending end of all things, with happy presence of mind, seized the occasion for reaping a last harvest from his scattering congregation.
At 2 o'clock the Spotswood Hotel and General Ewell's headquarters, corner of Franklin and Seventh streets, were points of greatest interest, and here large crowds blocked the pavements, eagerly discussing the rumors which hourly became more exciting and took more definite shape. It seemed certain that there had been heavy fighting the day before on the extreme right, in which the Confederates had been unable to withstand the attack of overwhelming numbers. I saw one of General Pickett's staff officers, who, reaching Richmond by railroad, after passing all the way around by Barksville Junction, reported that General's command as cut off and in a critical situation, and it was ascertained that the firing which we had listened to the night before was an attack made on the centre of our line, halfway between Petersburg and Chaffin's, where, owing to Pickett's Division having been drawn off to reinforce the extreme right, the works were defended by less than a skirmish line.
This attack had resulted in the capture of the works; a gap was thus made in our centre, through which the Federals poured their troops and massed them, preparatory to sweeping the entire line. It had been reported early in the day that General Ewell had received orders from General Lee to prepare to evacuate Richmond, and the story had been twenty times repeated and denied. By 4
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o'clock, however, the belief was common that the Capital must be abandoned, causing a general activity, though more settled gloom. The scenes that afternoon will never be forgotten. Bundles, trunks and boxes were brought out of houses for transportation from the city, or to be conveyed to places within it which were fancied to be more secure.
Vehicles of every sort and description, and a continuous stream of pedestrians, with knapsacks or bundies, filled the streets which led out from the western side of Richmond, while the forms of a few wounded officers, brought home from the battlefields, were borne along the pavement on litters, their calm, pallid faces in strange contrast with the busy ones around.
Ladies stood in their doorways or wandered restlessly about the streets, interrogating every passerby for the latest news. All formality was laid aside in this supreme calamity, all felt the more closely drawn together, because so soon to be separated.
I did not, however, witness the last and saddest hours of the evacuation, for learning that movements would soon take place in my own command, I mounted at sundown and galloped back to Chaffin's farm.
Here I found more of the confusion which I had left in Richmond, but there was only, instead, the unnatural stillness of stealthy preparations.
Orders had been received at Division Headquarters to move out as soon as the moon went down, which would be at 2 A. M. The hostile lines were very close at this point, Fort Harrison (Burnham) being only four or five hundred yards from Elliott's Hill, while the pickets were almost face to face; at one place two logs thrown across a path, separated by an interval of a few steps only, marked the limits of the respective beats.
An "armed neutrality" had always been strictly observed, however, and this tacid understanding of the pickets could be as well trusted as a safeguard from Lee of Grant together.
It is well known that during the latter part of the war pickets often declared war on each other and made truces independent of the rest of the army, and I have often known a warfare to be carried on between posts at one end of a brigade picket line while peace prevailed at the other; here one might expose himself without slightest apprehension of danger, there the same exposure would be certain to draw a shot.
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Ever since I had been attached to the command at Chaffin's, however, we had kept the truce.
I remember one morning standing in front of and very near to a long line of negro sentinels, endeavoring to recognize the faces of former acquaintances, when the officer of the guard passed along and with his sword beat unmercifully a number, who, true to their nature, were sitting on stumps fast asleep. But to return.
The country for half a mile in the rear of our works was perfectly open, so that the enemy could in daylight observe our slightest movement, or even any unusual activity on the part of couriers. We had, therefore, to exercise the very greatest circumspection. So, while at the different headquarters active but quiet preparations were in progress, every effort was made to preserve along the line its wonted aspect of apathy and Sunday rest.
But as soon as we had the friendly cover of night the work of breaking up camp and packing was begun in earnest.
Unfortunately, owing to the fact that the greater part of Custis Lee's Division had been persistently regarded as attached to the Richmond defenses, it had never been equipped like the rest of the army, and now at this crisis found itself utterly deficient in means of transportation.
The few wretched teams were driven down as close to the line as was prudent, and men carried the cooking utensils, baggage and ordnance on their backs to meet them. Although all the wagons were loaded almost beyond the ability of the miserable animals to start them, still piles of baggage remained lying by the wayside.
There was no help for it, and no time for selection even; and many of officer and man found himself about to start on an indefinite campaign without a single article, except what he wore upon his back, and with a very dim prospect indeed of being able to get a new supply.
But all minor griefs were absorbed int eh one great disaster to the cause; and, according to their different temperaments, officers and men resigned themselves to their private destitution with cheerful resignation or the apathy of despair.
I took some comfort in the reflection that I was tolerably well shod at least, having invested $800 - about six months' pay - in the purchase of a pair of boots a few days before in Richmond.
If night has the effect of covering a military movement to the eye, it nevertheless brings the disadvantage of discovering it to the ear, and, although the greatest possible silence was enjoined, it was
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strange that from the creaking of wagons and noise of removing guns, of which there were about twenty along our front (not to speak of some twenty-four mortars and twenty heavy pieces at Chaffin's, etc., all of which latter were abandoned), the enemy did not get an intimation of what we were about.
Besides, either from the proverbial carelessness of soldiers, or from accident, every now and then a hut or pile of brush at the bluff, or in the woods in the rear, would blaze up, throwing a lurid glare far and wide; and although a staff officer galloped from spot to spot and endeavored to impress upon the men the imminent danger of drawing the enemy's fire, it was impossible to keep those fires down.
Shortly after midnight all was ready for the final and delicate operation of withdrawing the troops.
Fields' Division, as before explained, had been already taken away and there were now but two divisions on the north side of the James - except the cavalry, of the movements of which I am wholly ignorant - Custis Lee's command included, and stretched one mile from Chaffin's Bluff, and was there joined by Kershaw's, which extended away to the left.
Kershaw had already moved out, and marching diagonally from the line and across our rear, had passed the river at Wilton Bridge.
Custis Lee's command now took up the movement, commencing on the left. Generally the companies were marched by the right or left of companies to the rear, and there converging to form their respective battalions, then in turn concentrated still further to the rear into brigades, which finally formed the division line of march.
The pickets were left out with orders to withdraw just before day and rapidly overtake the main body. To the relief of all, no notice seemed to be taken of our movement by the enemy; it would have produced a fearful scene of confusion had his batteries been opened upon us at such a time.
The different columns united with tolerable regularity, and the command followed the route in the rear of Kershaw, across Wilton bridge, some two miles back of Chaffin's.
The wagon-train meanwhile had passed through Richmond to cross one of the upper fords and meet the troops somewhere about Farmville. We never saw it again.
By daylight we had made several miles on the Amelia Courthouse road. In the early gray of morning, while the command was resting for a few minutes, a sudden bright light drew the attention of
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everyone to the direction of Drewry's Bluff. A magnificent pyramid of fire, shooting hundreds of feet into the dusky air, and a dull explosion, told the tale of the destruction of the last of the Confederate navy, except the Shenandoah, still cruising on the ocean.
Custis Lee's Division, which thus took the field for its first and last campaign, was organized as follows:
Barton's Brigade was composed of five regiments or battalions, some of which were veteran, while others, known as "Richmond Locals," had no experience in the field beyond service in the trenches. Altogether, they numbered about 1,300 for line of battle.
The so-called "Heavy Artillery Brigade" was anomalously constituted, being composed of six battalions, each commanded by a major, with a lieutenant-colonel over two majors. In command of the whole was Colonel S. Crutchfield, formerly Chief of Artillery to General Stonewall Jackson, and who just recovering from a wound received when that hero fell so unhappily.
Only the Georgia Battalion, Major Bassinger, and one or two other companies, had seen field service, and they not a great deal; the rest had, for over two years, manned the guns and works around Richmond and at Chaffin's Bluff.
Most of the companies were heavy artillery by enlistment, but several were light artillery, and one was even properly a cavalry company. They were all armed with the musket, however, and formed a splendid body of men, fine material, excellently officered and disciplined. Their long inactivity had enabled them to keep their uniforms in better plight than usual, and their scarlet caps and trimmings lent a little more of the pomp and circumstance of war than was to be seen elsewhere in the Army of Northern Virginia.
They numbered about 1,400 men in line. Truly, the Confederacy never witnessed such a patched-up organization as the division, but nevertheless each component part was in a high state of efficiency, and the whole worked harmoniously together, deriving from its very peculiarities something of an esprit de corps.
About 6 o'clock the column crossed the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad and pursued the road the Amelia Courthouse, plunging into almost interminable woods, and often passing over bottoms ankle-deep in mud and water, to the great discomfort of the men.
The skirmish line now overtook the command, reporting that they had succeeded in drawing off without molestation or apparent notice.
The division remained halted for about two hours at this point.
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A dense black volume of smoke was observed to rise and hang like a huge pall over the country in the direction of Richmond, some twelve miles distant, and several officers who now joined us, among them Lieutenant Robert Goldsborough, aid-de-camp to General Custis Lee, and afterwards killed on the 6th, gave us an account of the sad circumstances attending the final abandonment of the city.
Marching slowly on, and with frequent vexatious halts, caused by the road being blocked in front, we reached the --- House said to have been, before the war, a well-known resort for fast teams and men from Richmond, which was exactly fifteen miles distant by an excellent straight road.
Here the Major-General and staff managed to get a bread and meat dinner, or supper, which being almost the only mouthful one of them at least had eaten - except hard raw corn - since dinner the day before, was extremely acceptable.
Our horses were equally glad to get some fodder and straw.
By this time the sun had set, and we galloped on to overtake the division. We lost ourselves and got entangled among some strange troops for several hours (and no situation is more bewildering at night), but at last, striking across the country by a pocket map, we came upon the right road, and found the command in bivouac near Tomahawk Church.
It was now after 12 o'clock, and after wandering about perfectly bewildered among the many camp-fires, a half-smothered bark of recognition from under a little mound of blankets, fortunately guided me to my proper place, and at 2 A. M. I wrapped myself in my horse blanket for a few hours' sleep.
Poor Bounce! We lost him at Sailors' Creek, and although advertisement was made in the newspapers afterwards - which he deserved - we never heard of him again, and the supposition is not so improbable that in those starvation times he fell a victim to the necessities of the courier who had him in special charge, or of some others.
Just before dawn, April 4th, a drizzling rain began to fall, and the morning broke dismally enough.
Soon after daylight the division was formed along the road. There being no breakfast, little preparation was required, and disentangling ourselves from the artillery and other troops which moved out at the same time, we succeeded in gaining a clear road.
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The men were cheered with the information that there was a possibility of finding provisions at Matoaca (Chula?) Station, but on striking the Danville Railroad at that point, they met with disappointment.
However, an hour's halt was made in the middle of the day, as well for rest as to give those few who were so provident as to have saved a little meat or flour, an opportunity to cook.
So far we had been pursuing the road which crossed the Appomattox over Goode's bridge, but owing to the failure of "someone" to have the pontoons laid at that point, we were compelled to strike further to the north, and with other troops passed over on the railroad bridge.
By 4 o'clock we were within one mile of this point, but as some repairs had to be made, and after that an immense train of artillery was to pass over before us, we halted and cooked a scanty supply of flour which one or two of our wagons had luckily brought us.
At dark we commenced to file by twos across the bridge, the men being cautioned to march in the very middle of the flooring between the rails, or otherwise it might turn over.
It was a long time before the rear guard had passed over, and taking a circuitous route through the woods and fields to find a suitable camping ground, we finally came to a halt a little after midnight.
The men were exhausted from hunger and want of rest, and throwing themselves down under the nearest trees, were soon asleep.
A little before dawn (April 5th), we were aroused again, and speedily took the road, moving parallel with and near the railroad.
I was to fortunate as to get a slice of raw ham during the morning, and presently not only got another, but found time to broil it.
After this I had nothing but hard corn, and very insufficient supply of that.
Such particulars are here mentioned in illustration of the hardships of the retreat, for I suppose everybody fared about as well, or ill - certainly all within my observation did.
When about two miles from Amelia Courthouse we were astonished to receive a report that the enemy's cavalry were on our right flank and destroying the wagon train, which had been moving on a parallel road a short distance in that direction.
We had been under the impression that after having placed the Appomattox in our rear we were perfectly secure from pursuit, but our eyes were now open to a real understanding of the situation.
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The troops of Ewell's Corps were massed together, and Kershaw's Division sent to the reported scene of action, but it appearing that there was no enemy near enough to interfere with our march, the column was moved on.
A short distance from the Courthouse, however, we halted again for a considerable time, while the whole order of march was rearranged and the column disposed as if moving through a hostile country.
Here we learned that a large portion of our wagon train had really been captured, and that the enemy in heavy force menaced our front and flank.
Much of the artillery, ambulances, etc., in our line turned back to take a different road.
At Amelia Courthouse our division received a large and efficient accession, but one which also added yet more to its heterogeneous character.
This consisted, in the first place, of the so-called "Naval Brigade," formed of the officers and men who had been stationed at Drewry's Bluff now organized into something like a regiment, the tars being armed with minie muskets.
They numbered about 1,500 (?) and were commanded by Commodore Tucker.
There were also four or five companies of "Richmond Locals," which were incorporated with Barton's Brigade, and two or three companies of light artillery, armed with muskets, which were added to the heavy artillery brigade. Infantry, cavalry, light and heavy artillery, and sailors, "locals," "Richmond defenses," etc., we had thus in our small division all the elements of a complete army and navy.
During the entire day the retreat had been conducted with an absence of order which caused endless delays and irregularities. Immediately after leaving Amelia Courthouse one of these halts occurred, which made an unnecessary detention of an hour or two, and is an example of what was constantly taking place day and night. Riding ahead, with great difficulty, to ascertain the cause, I found a long train of artillery and wagons almost inextricably entangled, closed up in some places three abreast in the road, so that a horseman even could not pass by.
There seemed to be no one present exercising any authority, and the teamsters appeared to be waiting stolidly for Jove to help them out.
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Had there been an officer of authority present, or had the quartermasters, to whom the train belonged, had their hearts in the discharge of their duties at such a crisis, these and many other instance of disorder and loss of precious time might easily have been avoided. Never was the necessity of a well-organized corps of inspectors, with high rank and well-defined authority, so apparent as in this miserable retreat.
Shortly after we had managed to pass by this obstruction and obtained a tolerably clear road, the enemy were reported on our flank, and skirmishers were thrown out, but no demonstration was made. The men were now becoming exhausted and falling out in numbers, but not a ration could be anywhere procured, nor could any halt be made to give them rest and sleep.
Night came and found us toiling on at a snail's pace. Nothing is so fatiguing and demoralizing to soldiers on the march as an irregular step and uncertain halts. About 9 P. M., just as the head of the division was crossing the railroad through a deep cut, with a wood in front, the column was suddenly fired into. A scene of the most painful confusion ensued.
Most of the men became panic-stricken, broke and sought cover behind trees or fences, while not a few skulked disgracefully to the rear. They began to discharge their pieces at random, in many instances shooting their own comrades, and bullets were flying from and to every direction.
This lasted for a considerable time, and all efforts to restore order were unavailing, only exposing those who made such attempts to imminent danger of being shot down. Finally, the men were induced to cease firing and partially reform their ranks.
It is believed that a small scouting party of the enemy fired into the head of the column and then hastily retired, but it is by no means certain that the panic did not wholly originate among ourselves.
Just as the line was reforming, my horse started violently at seeing Major Frank Smith's dead horse in the road, and this trifling incident caused a second disgraceful panic along that part of the column.
Warned by what had occurred before, the officers cried out earnestly: "Don's shoot; don't shoot, men!" But some fifty or a hundred guns were fired.
With a sickening feeling I saw in the moonlight a number of bright barrels pointed directly at me, and many bullets passed close by. Unable to dismount from my plunging horse, it was certainly
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one of the most dangerous predicaments I was placed in during the war. Finally, however, the firing ceased and order was restored. Some valuable lives were sacrificed in this inexcusable affair, including Major Frank Smith, of Norfolk; H. C. Pennington, of Baltimore, and three or flour others killed (or mortally wounded), and half a dozen wounded.
The latter had to be carried in ambulances until a house was reached, where their wounds were dressed, and the poor fellows then left to the care of the enemy.
The whole division was disheartened by this unhappy occurrence, and for some time marched on, discussing it in subdued but eager tones, presently relapsing into a gloomy silence. We marched on through the might, the men becoming more and more faint from fatigue, want of sleep, and hunger, particularly the latter. Every expedient was resorted to in order to obtain rations, however scanty, with a total disregard of the ordinary rules of discipline and respect for private property.
The regimental commanders were instructed to send out small detachments to scour the country on either flank and bring in whatever they could lay their hands on, if only a pig, a chicken, or a quart of meal. Very little, however was procured in this way, the detachments either returning empty-handed or failing to regain the column at all.
At about an hour before dawn the troops were halted in a dense thicket of old-field pine. Most of the men immediately dropped down in their places and sank to sleep, while some few parched corn or cooked any little provision they were so lucky as to have in their haversacks.
Hunger being most pressing in my own case, I first parched a handful of corn in a frying pan, borrowed with some difficulty, and was then preparing for a nap, when the drum beat the assembly and we took the road once more.
The morning (April 6) was damp, and the ground in bad condition for marching. In disentangling the division from various other commands which blocked the road, the battalion lately commanded by Major Frank Smith became separated and did not join us again.
We soon got ahead of the other troops; but the road was occupied by an immense train of wagons, ambulances, etc., and so we marched by the side of it. By this time the command was fearfully reduced in numbers, and men were falling out continually. They were allowed to shoot from their places in the ranks pigs, chickens,
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or whatever of the sort came in their way, commanding officers and inspectors looking on without rebuke. It was, perhaps, the only instance in my experience during the war when the plea of military, or rather of human, necessity imperatively overruled all consideration due to private property and military discipline. Barton's Brigade now showed not more than 500 men in line, the heavy artillery but few more, and the Naval Brigade was reduced to not over 600.
These calculations, however, are made from memory. But when all the circumstances are taken into consideration, never was exhibited more patient fortitude and fidelity than in this wreck of the Confederacy.
About midday the road, a quarter of a mile in advance of Ewell's column, was suddenly threatened by the enemy's cavalry, which made an effort to strike the wagon train there filing by. On riding to the spot, I found quite a warm skirmish going on. The remnant of Pickett's Division and a portion of Bushrod Johnson's, both together amounting to a wretched handful of men, here formed in line of battle on the left of the road and threw out skirmishers, who kept the enemy back without much difficulty. Just at this point the road divided, one branch keeping a little to the left, the other at the same angle to the right. The wagon train pursued the right hand branch, while the troops took the left, thus covering the train from the enemy, whose attack was made from that side.
Custis Lee's Division now came up and took position just at the fork, connecting with Wise's Brigade, of Bushrod Johnson's command on the right, and with Kershaw on the left. Still further to the left, or in our late rear, was Gordon, who sent several messages stating that he was severely pressed in his task of bringing up the rear of the army.
Having been at this point already some time before our division came up, I informed my general (Custis Lee) that I had distinctly seen large bodies of the enemy mount and pass on to our right, with the evident intention of gaining a position across the road in front of our line of march, while a force still remained to threaten and delay us, and asked if we could not destroy or abandon the remainder of the wagon train and push by that road ourselves; but his orders required him strictly to wait for the passing of the train and to guard it afterwards by taking the lefthand road; and I think I remember his receiving renewed orders to the same effect just at this time. The enemy now opened upon us with two pieces of artillery, shell-
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ing the wagon train more particularly, which was hurried by as fast as possible; but about two hours were so consumed before the last wagon passed. Finally Bushrod Johnson and Pickett moved on, and Custis Lee and Kershaw followed.
Gordon must have taken the righthand road with the wagons, as we heard nothing more of him.
About 3 o'clock we passed over Sailors' Creek and began to ascend the opposite hill, the upper part of the side of which was covered with a growth of pines. Just then a sharp skirmish fire was heard directly in front, followed by the roar of artillery, and we learned to our dismay, but what we ought to have expected, that Pickett had encountered a heavy force of the enemy drawn up across the road immediately before him.
Custis Lee' and Kershaw's Divisions were therefore massed on the hillside, waiting anxiously for Pickett to force the front. Shortly afterwards we were startled to observe a body of men emerge directty in our rear and deliberately occupy a position a few hundred yards back across Sailors' Creek, viz: the very road we had just been marching. We had some lingering doubts at first as to the character of this force, but all uncertainty was soon rudely dispelled.
As we gazed through our glasses we saw them coolly put two pieces of artillery in position on the opposite hill, which soon opened on our unprotected masses from the rear. Under this fire the two divisions were faced about and formed in line of battle, with Kershaw on the (now) right of the road, Custis Lee on the left.
In Custis Lee's Division, Lieutenant Colonel John Atkinson's two battalions, 10th and --- Virginia, the Chaffin's Bluff Battalion, and the 18th Georgia,Major Basinger, all of the heavy artillery brigade, were on the right and a little thrown forward; next on the left was the Naval Brigade, Commmodore Tucker, then Barton's and finally Lieutenant-Colonel James Howard's command, 18th and 20th Virginia. Majors M. D. Hardin and James E. robertson, being the remainder of the heavy artillery brigade, held the extreme left.
By the time this disposition was effected the enemy's fire had become very rapid and severe, being principally a spherical case.
On our side we were compelled to receive it in silence, not having a single piece of artillery to make reply. |The situation was now desperate, as we were entirely surrounded, and re-enforcements were continually pouring in to the enemy before our eyes.
We were fighting back to back with Pickett's Division, and although the latter presently succeeded in forcing its way through,
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we were not informed, and if we had been, were too hard pressed to be able to follow.
Meanwhile our line began to suffer considerably under the enemy's deliberate fire. Almost all the troops were inexperienced in battle, and the shot sometimes plowing the ground, sometimes crashing through the trees,and not unfrequently striking in the line, killing two or more at once, might well have demoralized the oldest veterans.
But although surrounded by such trying circumstances - and there is not test which tries a soldier's fortitude so severely as to stand exposed to fire without the ability to return it - yet they acquitted themselves with a steadiness which could not have been more than equalled by the most veteran troops of the Army of Northern Virginia, and as I passed along the rear I found scarcely a single straggler or skulker to order back. After shelling us with impunity as long as they pleased, the Federals engaged us with musketry, their cavalry being armed with the repeating carbine. Thinking to overwhelm us by numbers, they made a charge which resulted in Chaffin's Bluff and Bassinger's (Georgia) battalions had a desperate hand-to hand encounter with them, in which the Federals were worsted. The assailants thus met with a much more stubborn resistance than they anticipated, and were everywhere driven back in confusion, leaving many dead and wounded on the ground.
Colonel Atkinson's command, and, I believe, the two battalions above-named, even made a spirited counter-charge as far as the creek, driving the enemy sheer across.
It was here that Colonel Crutchfield, commanding the heavy artillery brigade, and formerly chief of artillery to Stonewall Jackson, fell, shot through the head. His inspector, Captain O'Brien, had been previously wounded. This officer, said to be a nephew of Smith O'Brien, had, I believe, lately resigned from the English army in India, to serve our cause.
Our troops came back to their original position, and both artillery and musketry opened a deadly fire again. The Naval Brigade, which had been standing firm as a rock, began at once time to fall back under a misconception of orders, but on being informed of this mistake, promptly faced to the front and marched back to their original position, without a single skulker remaining behind. I have very seldom seen this done as well during the war.
When men are once started towards the rear under a heavy fire, it is difficult to halt and bring them back.
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By this time our killed, and wounded were many - among the former one of the Generals's aids, the gallant and amiable Goldsborough.
There were no facilities for taking off the wounded, and indeed we had no rear to carry them to, so they were directed, when able, to crawl behind trees and into gullies. It is probable many were shot a second time or oftener while thus lying on the field.
The appeals of some poor fellows to their comrades and officers to put them in a place of safety were piteous, especially in the Naval Brigade, where the sailors seemed to look up to their officers like children, and one such scene in particular between the Commodore and a wounded sailor still dwells painfully and vividly in my memory.
The heavy artillery brigade had not a medical officer present, and there were not more than two or three in the whole division.
My observation of the latter part of the battle was chiefly limited to the center of the line, my horse, one which had belonged to General J. F. Reynolds, and which I had ridden ever since his capture at Gaines' Mill in 1862, having been struck by a musket ball. I had also been struck, but not hurt, by splinters in the face, and by a ball, nearly spent, on the shoulder, while another had passed through my coat, which will serve to show how severe and accurate the fire was.
I saw a number of men in blue uniform, where Kershaw's line had been, but supposing them to be prisoners, no attention was paid to their appearance.
I presume now they were engaged in receiving the surrender of his men. Along Custis Lee's line the firing was still continued, and we had no idea the battle was so nearly ended.
I thought we were endeavoring to hold our ground until night might enable us to draw off, but from what I saw afterwards we were so surrounded that escape was impossible, and to have prolonged the contest would have been a useless sacrifice of life.
There being an intermission in the fire presently, I passed along the line toward the left to inspect the condition of affairs.
The line was at every point unbroken and the men in excellent spirits, exulting in their success so far, and confident of their ability to hold out. But, alas! there was nohing to hold out for.
It was now reported in one of Barton's regiments that we had surrendered, and although this was contradicted at first and refused to be credited, still so many and such various rumors passed along the line that the men soon were uncertain what to think.
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Many of them continued to reject the report with indignation, and almost with tears in their eyes, protested their ability to whip the enemy yet.
Some supposed there was only a truce for the purpose of removing the wounded who lay between the hostile lines.
At this moment it was observed that the enemy was advancing once more in our front, and we were just discussing the propriety of opening fire again, when about half a dozen of them came riding in on our left rear, who assured us positively that our generals were prisoners themselves and had surrendered their forces. After a short altercation we were compelled to accept this statement as true.
It is probable that this was the last portion of the line to give up the contest.
It was now a little after sunset, and by the time the prisoners were gathered together near General Custer's headquarters night had set in. The men were much depressed, but consoled themselves with the consciousness of having made a good fight.
Our two divisions did not number more than 4,000 in line, while against us had been the Cavalry Corps and the Sixth and Second Infantry Corps, which, during our stubborn resistance, successively came up.
And when we surrendered, the Fifth Corps had also reached the field, and - so my captors informed me - was just preparing with their artillery to sweep us from the ground.
We must have been surrounded by not less than 40,000 men, and although, of course, but a portion of these were actually engaged, yet we were only overwhelmed by superior numbers.
Our loss was heavy, but cannot be correctly estimated.
That of the enemy was confessed to be very large. Generals Sheridan and Custer stated that about a thousand cavalrymen were killed or wounded, and I was informed General Wright put the whole loss, including that inflicted by Pickett, at about 6,000. These generals and others passed the warmest encomiums upon the obstinate valor of the Confederates, and treated our higher officers with soldierlike courtesy.
The enemy were greatly astonished at the miscellaneous uniforms in our small division, and under other circumstances we would have found amusement in listening to their comments.
One of them, when the naval uniform was pointed out, dropped his jaw with an expression of perfect stupefaction and exclaimed: "Good heavens! have you gunboats way up here, too?"
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This may be looked on as the last regular battle of the Army of Northern Virginia, and in it the Confederates, although at the point of physical exhaustion, conducted themselves in a manner that would have reflected honor on any troops on any former field.