J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

Hood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements online

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back with them and when they were lost no man knew save him
who had fallen with them. It is perhaps due to myself to
state that when I determined to retire I requested Captain
(U. S.) Connally to give the order upon the right and stepped
to the left to direct Captain Woodward to give the order upon
the left, from which point I moved on to the extreme left, to
discover, if possible, the locahty of the enemy attacking from
that quarter, in order to be prepared to govern the movements
of my regiment, so as to protect it as far as possible from
danger and damage. While I was at the left thus engaged,
the regiment commenced the movement to the rear, and, not
being near the center, I was unable, owing to the density of
the com, to see where the colors were and when they fell.

" Capt. John R. Woodward of Company G acted in the ca-
pacity of major during the engagement, and aided me greatly
in directing the movements of the regiment. Major (Matt)


Dale, acting as lieutenant-colonel, had moved from the right
and was conferring with me as to the propriety of advancing
or at once withdrawing, when he was killed. Feeling that it
was madness to advance with the few men left, I remained for
several minutes after the fall of Major Dale, awaiting orders
and information as to what my movements should be, being
unwilling to withdraw as long as I had the ability to hold ray
then position without orders to do so."

Colonel Work submitted with his report a list of the cas-
ualties in the First Texas, but it is not published. It is known,
however, that the First Texas carried into action on the
morning of the 17th, 226 men, officers and privates, and in
the tabular statement of killed and wounded made by Surgeon
Lafayette Guild, Medical Director of the Army of Northern
Virginia, its losses are given as 45 killed and 141 wounded.

As evidence that the flag of the First Texas was not cap-
tured, but was simply found lying on the ground and picked
up by a Federal soldier, the following excerpt from a letter,
dated December 17, 1908, and written by former Lieutenant
W. E. Barry, of Company G, Fourth Texas, to George A.
Branard, of Company L, First Texas, will be conclusive. At
Eltham's Landing Branard, a member of the color-guard of
his regiment, in the absence of the regular color-bearer, bore
the flag so daringly and gallantly as to deserve and receive an
appointment as color-bearer. Early in the action at Sharps-
burg he was disabled, and handed the flag to one of his guard.
Since the date of the letter he has passed over into the Great
Beyond. Lieutenant Barry sa3's :

I was captured that morning of September 17th, 1862, in a
lane that ran in front of the cornfield in which your regiment
fought so long and desperately, and was delivered by my imme-
diate captors to some cavalry under command of a major. While
standing by the side of a public road, I saw approaching from
the Federal front a party of infantry soldiers, one of whom was
waving a flag that I immediately identified as that of the First
Texas. When the party came up, the major asked what flag it
was and where it had been captured. The reply of the man who
held it was: "I did not capture it. Major — I found it in the
cornfield." The major then asked me if I knew the flag. " Yes/'


said I as the soldier handed it to me, " I know it well; it is
the flag of the First Texas regiment." And kissing it reverently
I returned it to the soldier and asked him where he got it. He
repeated his statement that he had found it in the cornfield, and
then told me that thirteen men lay dead within touch of it, and
that the body of one of the dead lay stretched across it. From
the description he gave of that body, and from subsequent infor-
mation, I have not a doubt that it was the corpse of Lieutenant
R. H. Gaston, a brother of Captain W. H. Gaston, of the First

Writing of the battle of Sharpsburg, and of his observa-
tions and experiences as a member of the Fourth Texas, Com-
rade Vi. R. Hamby says :

" The Librarian of Congress in a recent letter to the Texas
State Librarian, asking for information touching Hood's
Texas Brigade, says : ' The known statistics of these regi-
ments are so remarkable that if missing figvires can be obtained
it will establish a record equaled by few, if any, organiza-
tions in the Civil War, or indeed in modern warfare.'

" When a soldier has been wounded, he has the scar to show
for his wound. When a regiment or brigade claims to have
suffered heavily in battle, you ask for the list of killed and
wounded. Judged by this standard, no brigade in the Con-
federate Army has more bloody laurels or stands higher on
the roll of honor than Hood's Texas Brigade. This article,
however, will only attempt to describe the action of the bri-
gade in the battle fought near Sharpsburg, Md., September
17, 1862.

" After the battle of South Mountain, September 14, we
were the rear guard of the army on the march to Sharpsburg.
On the morning of September 15, with a detail of one hundred
men under Major Sellers, I was with the rear guard of the
rear guard ; and after the army crossed the Antietam, we were
on the skirmish line along the west bank of that stream, until
the 16th. In the meantime the brigade had formed a line of
battle along the Hagerstown and Sharpsburg Turnpike, near
the Dunkard church. This modest and hitherto unknown
church was destined soon to become historical, as it was the
stoi-m center of the great battle fought September 17, 1862,


called Sharpsburg by the Confederates, and Antietam by the
Federals. The church was about a mile north of the town of
Sharpsburg and about a mile west of the Antietam River.
From the church north, along the west side of the pike, the
woods extended about a quarter of a mile to an open field,
extending still farther north several hundred yards. Across
the pike east of the church were open fields, somewhat rocky
and hilly, extending about half a mile north, and intersecting
with a cornfield. East of the fields were woods extending to-
ward the river.

" About sunset, the evening of the 16th, the Federal skir-
mish line was seen advancing through the woods east of us,
closely followed by lines of battle in echelon with banners wav-
ing, drums beating, and bugles blowing. It was a magnificent
spectacle, and looked more like they were on a grand review
than going to battle. Our thin single line presented a striking
contrast. Since leaving Richmond, about one month previous,
we had marched over two hundred miles, and had participated
in engagements at Freeman's Ford, Thoroughfare Gap, Sec-
ond Manassas, and South Mountain, and had lost six hundred
and thirty-eight men, killed and wounded. For the past sev-
eral days, we had subsisted chiefly on apples and green corn.
Many of us were barefooted and ragged, and all of us were
foot-sore, weary, and hungry, but full of patriotic ardor and
inspired faith in the justice of our cause.

" The fight was opened by the artillery on our right, between
us and Law's Brigade, which was composed of the 4th Ala-
bama, 6th North Carolina, 2d Mississippi, and 11th IMissis-
sippi. They were as gallant soldiers, either collectively or in-
dividually, as ever fought a battle. Among the first to enter
the field, they were on the firing line when the last shot was
fired. Both brigades advanced across the field with our skir-
mish line in front, which fell in with the main line as we en-
tered the woods. The action continued for some time after
dark; and when firing ceased, the two lines were so close to-
gether that they could hear each other speak. We knew this
was only a preliminary skirmish, as we could tell from the
sounds in front of us that the Federals were massing their
troops for a desperate battle the following day. In this posi-
tion we remained until far into the night, when we were re-

GeneraIv W1LI.IAM R. Hamby
Company B, Fourth Texas Regiment


lieved by General Lawton's division, and marched a short dis-
tance to the rear. After a long delay, some flour was issued
to us, which was the first ration of any kind we had received
since leaving Hagerstown ; but before the flour could be cooked
and eaten, the battle of Sharpsburg had begun.

" It was scarcely daylight Wednesday morning, September
17, when the Texas Brigade was ordered in line of battle, and
by sunrise it had crossed the pike in front of the Dunkard
church and entered the meadow to take the place of the troops
who had relieved us only a few hours before. The 5th Texas
was on the right of the brigade, and as it entered the field
was ordered into the woods east of the cornfield, where the
fighting had occurred the previous evening. The 4th Texas,
1st Texas, 18th Georgia, and Hampton's Legion entered the
meadow in the order named, and at once encountered a heavy
fire. The troops in front had lost half their numbers, had
exhausted their ammunition, and were retiring, and the smoke
was so dense that the enemy could scarcely be seen to return
his fire. The 4th Texas was ordered by the left flank, to the
left of the brigade, up the side of a hill towards the pike. In
this formation, the 4th Texas, Hampton's Legion, 18th Geor-
gia, and 1st Texas advanced and drove the Union lines out
of the open fields, back upon their reserves across the pike
on the west and beyond the cornfield on the north.

" The enemy's reinforcements appearing in strong num-
bers on the left, the 4th Texas changed from front to left
flank and took position along the pike near the south edge of
the cornfield. A short distance to the rear were some stone
bowlders, behind which some of our wounded were placed to
protect them as far as possible from further injury; but even
then several were struck the second and some the third time.
Hampton's Legion and the 18th Georgia were farther into
the cornfield, facing a galling fire from infantry and artillery
with a steadiness unsurpassed. The 1st Texas had advanced
some distance beyond the remainder of the brigade toward the
north side of the cornfield, breaking two lines of the enemy and
forcing them to abandon a battery and take shelter in the ra-
vine north of the field. Three times the enemy tried to check
the 5th Texas in the woods east of the cornfield, and each time
broke and fled before their intrepid advance.


" The Texas Brigade was now only a skirmish line ; in fact,
all of the Confederates on this portion of the field scarcely
covered a fourth of the Federal front. It was yet early in
the morning, although the battle had been hot and furious for
some hours. In addition to the infantry and artillery on front
and flanks, the heights above the Antietam were crowned with
long-range batteries that poured a merciless fire; while the
fresh troops of the Union forces seemed inexhaustible as they
were thrown upon the fragments of the Confederate lines. The
earth and sky seemed to be on fire, and it looked like here
would be the Thermopylae of the Texas Brigade. With sub-
lime courage the 1st Texas held their advanced position in the
cornfield against overwhelming numbers, and retired only to
escape annihilation. Unsupported and with both flanks un-
covered, the 4th Texas, Hampton's Legion and the 18th Geor-
gia met the advancing enemy from across the pike and drove
them back and held their line. Many of the men had ex-
hausted their ammunition and supplied themselves from the
cartridge boxes of the dead and wounded around them. They
were holding a position they knew they could not retain ; yet
men never fought better, and they withdrew only to keep from
being surrounded. Falling back slowly below the crest of the
hill, the line moved through the field, crossed the pike and
took position in the woods near the church. The Fourth
Texas was then ordered up through the woods west of the
pike near the edge of the field on the north, where they re-
mained about an hour, defiantly waving their flag over empty
muskets, when they were ordered to rejoin the other regiments
of the brigade. The Fifth Texas, finding their ammunition
exhausted and that they were being flanked, retired and also
rejoined the brigade. By this time the morning was far gone,
and the Federals had advanced down both sides of the pike
within a sliort distance of the line held by the remnants of
Hood's division, who stood facing them almost exhausted and
practically without ammunition.

" At last the long-looked-for reinforcements arrived, and
again the enemy were driven back upon their reserves. The
Texas Brigade was then ordered a short distance to the rear
for a fresh supply of ammunition, and again retunied to the
front about noon and found the woods near the church lately


Company E, Fifth Texas Regiment


occupied by them, in possession of the enemy; but as our line
advanced, the Federals fell back across the pike into the field,
about three hundred yards beyond the church. We steadily
held our line near the pike until about sunset, when we were
moved a short distance to the right, where we remained in line
of battle until the night of the 18th, when the entire army
withdrew and re-crossed the Potomac into Virginia.

" If the reinforcements had reached the firing line before
the Texas Brigade and Law's Brigade were forced to abandon
their advanced positions, the Federals would have been swept
from the field and another triumph would have been added to
the list of Confederate victories. Our dead lay in rows upon
the ground, where they had fought a fruitless fight ; and in-
stead of a Confederate victory, it was an indecisive contest,
giving hope and courage to the Federals and depressing in
its effect upon the Confederates.

" The battle of Sharpsburg was fought with desperate cour-
age by both the gray and the blue, and the 17th of September,
1863, stands out conspicuously as the bloodiest day in Ameri-
can history . . . More men were killed and wounded
that day than on any other one day during the war between
the States, and I doubt if the dead and wounded ever lay
thicker upon any field than was seen from the old Dunkard
church north, for more than half a mile. The action com-
menced about daybreak, and by sunset the bloody work had

" The First Texas went into battle with 226 men, and lost,
in killed and wounded, 186, a loss of eighty-two per cent. As
one flag-bearer would fall, another would seize the flag, until
nine men had fallen beneath their colors. Official records show
that the First Texas lost more men, killed and wounded, in
the battle of Sharpsburg, in proportion to numbers engaged,
than any other regiment engaged, either Federal or Confed-
erate, in any other battle of the war. The Fourth Texas went
into the fight with 200 men, and lost 107; the Fifth Texas
went into the fight with 175 men, and lost 86; the Eighteenth
Georgia went into the fight with 176 men, and lost 85 ; Hamp-
ton's Legion went into the fight with 77 men, and lost 55, in-
cluding four flag-bearers. In the aggregate the Texas Bri-
gade went into the fight with 854, rank and file, and lost 519,


killed and wounded, including sixteen flag-bearers, a loss of
over sixty per cent. This does not include the ' missing,'
many of whom were, no doubt, killed or wounded."

Both armies were completely exhausted by the fighting
and constant moving to and fro on the 17th, and each wel-
comed the night that came to call a halt on the terrible slaugh-
ter. While his army rested, Lee summoned his corps and
division commanders to meet him. General Stephen D. Lee,
who was present, says : " As each commander came up, Gen-
eral Lee inquired quietly, ' General, how is it on your part of
the line? ' To this inquiry, Longstreet, apparently much de-
pressed, replied to the effect that it was as bad as could be —
that his division had lost terribly, his lines had been barely
held, and there was little better than a good skirmish line along
his front, and he volunteered the advice that General Lee
should cross the Potomac before daylight, D. H, Hill came
next. He said that his division was cut to pieces, that his
losses had been terrible, and that he had no troops to hold his
line against the great odds against him. He, too, suggested
crossing the Potomac before daylight. Next came Jackson.
He quietly said that he had to contend against the greatest
odds he had ever met. He had lost many generals killed and
several division and brigade commanders were wounded, and
his losses in the diff^erent commands had been great. He, too,
suggested crossing the Potomac before daylight. Next came
Hood. He displayed great emotion, seemed completely un-
manned, and replied that he had no division. General Lee,
with more excitement than I ever witnessed him exhibit, ex-
claimed, ' Great God, General Hood, where is the splendid
division you had this morning? ' Hood replied, ' They are 1}^-
ing on the field where you sent them, sir; but few have strag-
gled. My division has been almost wiped out.'

"After the opinion of all had been given, there was an ap-
palling stillness over the group. It seemed to last several
minutes, when General Lee, apparently rising more erect in
his saddle, said: 'Gentlemen, we will not cross the Potomac
to-night. You will go to your respective commands, strengthen
your lines, send two officers from each brigade toward the ford
to collect your stragglers, and get them up. Many others


Albert Sneed
Company F, Fourth Texas Regiment





have already come up. I have had the proper steps taken to
collect all the men who are in the rear. If McClellan wants
to fight in the morning, I will give him battle again ! ' "

McClellan, though, did not want to fight next morning. All
day long of the 18th, Lee's army awaited assault — inviting
it, challenging it, tempting it — but none was made. Then
apprised of large reinforcements to his antagonist, and know-
ing he could hope for none, Lee, during the night, placed his
army on Virginia soil.

On the 21st, General Lee wrote to Senator Wigfall, of
Texas, a letter that furnishes evidence of his high estimate
of the services of the Texas Brigade. In it, he said:

" I have not heard from you in regard to the new Texas
regiments which you promised to raise for the army. I need
them very much. I rely upon those we have in all our tight
places, and fear that I have to call upon them too often. They
have fought grandly and nobly, and we must have more of
them. Please make every possible exertion to get them on for
me. You must help us in this matter. With a few more regi-
ments such as Hood now has, as an example of daring and
bravery, I could feel more confident of the campaign."


Fkedericksbueg and Suffolk

October 1st found the Texas Brigade, its numbers reduced
below that of an average sized regiment, encamped around a
bold and very large spring of clear, cold water, three miles
north of Winchester. Within the next two months a re-
organization of the army was effected, and there was much
shifting about of commands. General Hood was promoted to
a major-generalcy, and given command of a division com-
posed of Law's and the Texas Brigades, and Anderson's and
Benning's Georgia Brigades. Colonel Jerome B. Robertson,
of the Fifth Texas, was made brigadier-general and assigned
to command of the Texas Brigade, and the Eighteenth Georgia
and Hampton's Legion were transferred to other brigades, the
Texas Brigade securing in their stead the Third Arkansas.
This regiment consisted of nine companies of Arkansans and
one of Kentuckians that, like those of the First Texas, had
straggled to Virginia. Meeting at Lynchburg, Va., in July,
1861, these ten companies had organized into a regiment, with

Albert Rust as colonel, Barton as lieutenant-colonel,

and Van H. Manning as major, and began their active service
in West Virginia, and placed then under command of Jackson,
became veteran soldiers.

Colonel Law was also made brigadier-general, and assigned
to the command of the brigade heretofore mentioned as
Whiting's or Law's and sometimes as the Third Brigade.
That brigade lost in the all-round shuffle of regiments, the
Second and Eleventh Mississippi, getting in their places the
Forty-fourth Alabama and the Fifty-fourtli North Carolina.
Subsequently, it lost the Sixth and Fifty-fourth North Caro-
lina and secured in their places the Fifteenth and Forty-sev-
enth Alabama Regiments.

A law having been enacted by the Confederate Congress
creating that rank, Longstreet and Jackson were made lieu-



tenant-generals and assigned to duty under General Lee, who
divided his army into two corps — the First, under Longstrect,
embracing the divisions of McLaws', R. H. Anderson, Pickett,
Ransom and Hood, and the First Corps of Artillery— this
artillery consisting of the Washington (Louisiana) Artillery,
under Colonel J. B. Walton, and Alexander's Battahon, under
Lieutenant-Colonel E. P. Alexander. The Second Corps, un-
der Jackson, was composed of the divisions of D, H. Hill,
A. P. Hill, Ewell, Jackson's old division, and numerous bat-
teries of light artillery. The Reserve Artillery was placed
under command of Brigadier-General W. N. Pentleton, and
the cavalry, under that of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart.

The stay of the Texas Brigade in camp near Winchester
was long and restful. Barring the guard and fatigue duty
necessary to preserve order and keep the camp cleanly, and
occasional short drills, the men had little to do. Access to
the most fertile and productive section of Virginia, and unin-
terrupted communication with Richmond by two routes, en-
abled the quartermaster and commissary departments to sup-
ply large quantities of needed clothing and shoes, and ample,
if not abundant, rations. Here, too, came to the army the
mails withheld from it since its departure from Richmond.

October 26th, Longstreet's Corps broke camp, and falling
into hne, marched to the southeast, keeping within striking
distance of the Federal army, which about this time came
south of the Potomac and moved out toward Richmond. Our
movement was unhurried, and although we had the Blue Ridge
to ascend and descend, was not fatiguing; the roads were in
excellent condition; water, that great need of marching in-
fantry, plentiful, cold and clear; the weather propitious, and
the air cool and bracing. Our destination was Culpeper Court
House, and Jackson, with his corps, being assigned the duty
of guarding the passes of the Blue Ridge, we marched slowly
on — Hood's division by way of Manassas Gap, where Ben-
ning's Brigade had a brisk skirmish with a large body of Fed-
eral cavalry. On the 7th of November Longstreet's Corps
was in position behind Robertson River, near Culpeper Court


McClellan remained in command of the Federal army but
a few days after it came south of the Potomac, General Bum-


side being assigned to the command on November 5, and re-
lieAang McClellan on the 9th. Bumside was far more suc-
cessful in fixing a fashion in which to wear whiskers than in
conducting the operations of a large army. He planned a
demonstration with a large force in the direction of Gordon-
ville, calculating that while General Lee guarded against that,
the Federal army could reach Fredericksburg in advance of
the Confederates, and place itself between the latter army and
Richmond. But, though left in doubt for a day or two, Lee
penetrated the designs of the Federal commander, with the
result that when Bumside's advance reached Fredericksburg, it
found the south side of the Rappahannock well-protected.
Moving on down from the upper Rappahannock, Burnside
soon had his army in line on Stafford Heights, the line of hills
at the south foot of which the river runs. Thither marched
also Lee's army — Longstreet's Corps taking position along the
range of hills on the south side of the stream, its left extending
around the city and for a mile or two above it, its right, to
within a mile of Hamilton's crossing, a little railroad station
five miles below Fredericksburg — Jackson's corps on the right
of Longstreet's.

Hood's division held the right of Longstreet's corps — the
Texas Brigade, the center of the division, being stretched out
in line in the open valley. The main fighting was done by Mc-
Laws' division at Marye's Hill, and by Jackson's troops in the

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 12 of 32)