J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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if we do not whip him, he will whip us.' You thought it bet-
ter to await the arrival of Pickett's division— at that time still
in the rear — in order to make the attack ; and you said to me,
subsequently, whilst we were seated together near the trunk of
a tree: * The General is a little nervous, this morning; he
wishes me to attack: I do not wish to do so without Pickett.
I never like to go into battle with one boot off.'


" Thus passed the forenoon of that eventful day, when in
the afternoon — about 3 o'clock — it was decided to no longer
await Pickett's division, but to proceed to our extreme right
and attack up the Emmitsburg road. McLaws moved off, and
I followed with my division. In a short time I was ordered
to quicken the march of my troops, and to pass to the front
of McLaws.

" This movement was accomplished by throwing out an ad-
vanced force to tear down fences and clear the way. The in-
structions I received were to place my division across the Em-
mitsburg road, form line of battle, and attack. Before reach-
ing this road, however, I had sent forward some of my picked
Texas scouts to ascertain the position of the enemy's extreme
left flank. They soon reported to me that it rested upon
Round Top Mountain: that the country was open, and that I
could march through an open woodland pasture around Round
Top, and assault the enemy in flank and rear: that their wagcn
trains were parked in rear of their line, and were badly ex-
posed to our attack in that direction. As soon as I arrived
upon the Emmitsburg road, I placed one or two batteries in
position and opened fire. A reply from the enemy's guns soon
developed his lines. His left rested on or near Round Top,
with line bending back and again forward, forming, as it were,
a concave line, as approached by the Emmitsburg road. A
considerable body of troops was posted in front of their main
line, between the Emmitsburg road and Round Top jMountain.
This force was in line of battle upon an eminence near a peach

" I found that in making the attack according to orders,
viz., up the Emmitsburg road, I should have first to encounter
and drive off this advanced line of battle ; secondly, at the
base and along the slope of the mountain, to confront immense
boulders of stone, so massed together as to form naiTow open-
ings, which would break our ranks and cause the men to scat-
ter whilst climbing up the rock}^ precipice. I found, moreover,
that my division would be exposed to a heavy fire from the main
line of the enemy in position on the crest of the high range, of
which Round. Top was the extreme left, and, by reason of the
concavity of the enemy's main line, that we would be subject to
a destructive fire in flank and rear, as well as in front: and


deemed it almost an impossibility to clamber along the boul-
ders up this steep and rugged mountain, and, under this num-
ber of cross fires, put the enemy to flight. I knew that if the
feat was accomplished, it must be at a most fearful sacri-
fice of as brave and gallant soldiers as ever engaged in

" The reconnoissance of my Texas scouts and the develop-
ment of the Federal lines were effected in a very short space
of time; in truth, shorter than I have taken to recall and jot
down these facts, although the scenes and events of that day
are as clear to my mind as if the great battle had been fought
yesterday. I was in possession of these important facts so
shortly after reaching the Emmitsburg road, that I consid-
ered it my duty to report to you, at once, my opinion that it
was unwise to attack up the Emmitsburg road, as ordered, and
to urge that you allow me to turn Round Top, and attack
the enemy in flank and rear. Accordingly, I dispatched a
staffs oflicer, bearing to you my request to be allowed to make
the proposed movement on account of the above stated reasons.
Your reply was quickly received : ' General Lee's orders are
to attack up the Emmitsburg road.' I sent another oflicer to
say that I feared nothing could be accomplished by such an
attack, and renewed my request to turn Round Top. Again
your answer was, ' General Lee's orders are to attack up the
Emmitsburg road.' During this interim I had continued to
use the batteries upon the enemy, and had become more and
more convinced that the Federal line extended to Round Top,
and that I could not reasonably hope to accomplish much by
the attack as ordered. In fact, it seemed to me that the
enemy occupied a position by nature so strong — I may say
impregnable — that, independently of their flank fire, they
could easily repel our attack by merely throwing and rolling
stones down the mountain side as we approached.

" A third time I dispatched one of my staffs to explain fully
in regard to the situation, and suggest that you had better
come and look for yourself. I selected, in this instance, my
adjutant-general. Colonel Harry Sellers, whom you know to
be not only an officer of great courage, but also of marked
ability. Colonel Sellers returned with the same message,
* General Lee's orders are to attack up the Emmitsburg road.'


Almost simultaneously, Colonel Fairfax, of your staff, rode
up and repeated the above orders.

" After this urgent protest against entering the battle of
Gettysburg according to instructions — which protest is the
first and only one I ever made during my entire military ca-
reer — I ordered my line to advance and make the assault.

" As my troops were moving forward, you rode up in per-
son ; a brief conversation passed between us, during which I
again expressed the fears above mentioned, and regret at not
being allowed to attack in flank around Round Top. You
answered to this effect : ' We must obey the orders of Gen-
eral Lee.' I then rode forward with my line, under a heavy
fire. In about twenty minutes, after reaching the peach or-
chard, I was severely wounded in the arm, and borne from the

" With this wound terminated my participation in this great
battle. As I was borne off on a litter to the rear, I could but
experience deep distress of mind and heart at the thought of
the inevitable fate of my brave fellow-soldiers, who formed one
of the grandest divisions of that world-renowned army ; and I
shall ever believe that had I been permitted to turn Round
Top Mountain, we would not only have gained that position,
but have been able finally to rout the enemy."

General J. B. Robertson, commanding the Texas Brigade,
says in his official report:

The division arrived on the ground in front of the position of
the enemy that we were to attack but a few minutes before we
were ordered to advance. I therefore got but a glance at the
field on which we had to operate before we entered it. I was or-
dered to keep my right well closed on Brigadier-General Law's
left, and to let my left rest on the Emmitsburg pike. I had ad-
vanced but a short distance when I discovered that my brigade
would not fill the space between General Law's left and the pike
named, and that I must leave the pike, or disconnect myself from
General Law on my right. Understanding before the action com-
menced that the attack on our part was to be general, and that
the force of General McLaws was to advance simultaneously with
us on my immediate left, seeing at once that a mountain held by
the enemy in heavy force with artillery to the right of General


Law's center was the key to the enemy's left, I abandoned the
pike, and closed on General Law's left. This caused a separa-
tion of my regiments, which was remedied as promptly as the
numerous stone and rail fences would allow.

As we advanced through this field, for half a mile we were
exposed to a heavy and destructive fire of canister, grape, and
shell from six pieces of their artillery on the mountain alluded to
and the same number on a commanding hill but a short distance to
the left of the mountain, and from the enemy's sharpshooters from
behind the numerous rocks, fences and houses in the field

As we approached the base of the mountain. General Law moved
to the right, and I was moving obliquely to the right to close on
him, when my whole line encountered the fire of the enemy's main

™ ^^ ^ """^ '■°'^^' ^"^ ^ '*°"^ f^"^^- The Fourth and

fifth Texas Regiments, under the direction of their gallant com-
manders (Colonels Powell and Key), while returning the fire and
driving the enemy before them, continued to close on General
Law to their right. At the same time, the First Texas and Third

fp rTw"'; "".^^^^^ ^^"^"^ commanders (Lieutenant-Colonel
(F. A.) Work and Colonel Manning), were hotly engaged with a
greatly superior force, while at the same time a heavy force ap-
peared and opened fire on Colonel Manning's left, seriously threat-
enmg his left flank, to meet which he threw two or three com-
panies with their front to his left flank, and protected his left

On discovering this heavy force on my left flank, and seeing
that no attack was being made by any of our forces on my left I
at once sent a courier to Major-General Hood, stating that I was
hard pressed on my left; that General McLaws' forces were not
engaging the enemy to my left (which enabled him to move fresh
troops from that part of his line down on me), and that I must
have reinforcements.

Lieutenant-Colonel Work, with the First Texas Regiment, hav-
ing pressed forward to the crest of the hill and driven the enemy
from his battery, I ordered him to the left, to the relief and
support of Colonel Manning, directing Major (F. S.) Bass, with
two companies, to hold the hill, while Colonel Work with the rest
of the regiment went to Colonel Manning's relief. With his as-
sistance Colonel Manning drove the enemy back, and entered the
woods after him, when the enemy reoccupied the hill and his bat-
teries in Colonel Work's front, from which Colonel Work a-ain
drove him. *

For an hour and upward these two regiments maintained one
of the hottest contests, against five or six times their number that
1 have witnessed. The moving of Colonel Work to the left to


relieve Colonel Manning while the Fourth and Fifth Texas were
closing to the right on General Law's brigade, separated these two
regiments from the others. They were steadily moving to the
front and right, driving the enemy before them, when they passed
the woods or ravine to my right. After finding that I could not
move the First and Third to the right to join them, I sent to re-
call them, ordering them to move to the left until the left of the
Fourth should rest on the right of the First; but my messenger
found two of General Law's regiments on the left of my two (the
Fourth and Fifth Texas), and did not find these regiments at all.

About this time my aide. Lieutenant Scott, reported my two
regiments (the Fourth and Fifth Texas) in the center of Gen-
eral Law's brigade, and that they could not be moved without
greatly injuring the line. I sent a request to General Law to
look to them.

At this point, my assistant and inspector-general reported from
the Fourth and Fifth that they were hotly engaged, and wanted
reinforcements. My courier, sent to General Hood, returned, and
reported him wounded and carried from the field. I sent a mes-
senger to Lieutenant-General Longstreet for reinforcements, and
at the same time sent to Generals (George T.) Anderson and Ben-
ning, urging them to hurry up to my support. They came up,
joined us, and fought gallantly; but as fast as we would break
one line of the enemy, another fresh one would present itself, the
enemy reinforcing his lines in our front from his reserves at the
base of the mountain to our right and front, and from his lines
to our right and front, and from his lines to our left. Having
no attack from us in his front, he threw his forces from there
on us.

Before the arrivals of Generals Benning and Anderson, Col.
J. C. Key, who gallantly led the Fourth Texas, up to the time
of receiving a severe wound, passed me, being led to the rear.
About the same time, I learned of the fall and dangerous wound-
ing of Col. R. M. Powell, of the Fifth, who fell while gallantly
leading his regiment in one of the impetuous charges of the
Fourth and Fifth Texas on the strongly fortified mountain.

Just after the arrival of General Anderson on my left, I learned
that the gallant Col. Van H. Manning, of the Third Arkansas,
had been wounded and carried from the field, and about the same
time, I received intelligence of the wounding and being carried
from the field of those two able and efficient officers, Lieut. Cols.
K. Bryan, of the Fifth, and B. F. Carter, of the Fourth, both
of whom were wounded while bravely discharging their duty.

Colonel R. M. Powell
Fifth Texas Regiment


Captain (J. R.) Woodward^ acting major of the First Texas, was
wounded near me while gallantly discharging his duty.

The Fourth and Fifth Texas, under the command of Majors
(J. P.) Bane and (J. C.) Rogers, continued to hold the ground
of their original line, leaving the space over which they had made
their successive charges strewn with their dead and wounded com-
rades, many of whom could not be removed, and were left on the
field. The First Texas, under Lieutenant-Colonel Work, with a
portion of Benning's brigade, held the field and batteries taken by
the First Texas. Three of the guns were brought off the field
and secured, the other three, from the nature of the ground and
their proximity to the enemy, were left. The Third Arkansas,
under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel (R. S.) Taylor, ably
assisted by Major (J. W.) Reedy, after Colonel Manning was
borne from the field, sustained well the high character it made
in the earlier part of the action.

When night closed the conflict, late in the evening, I was
struck above the knee, which deprived me of the use of my leg,
and prevented me from getting about the field. I retired some
200 yards to the rear, leaving the immediate command with Lieu-
tenant-Colonel Work, the senior officer present, under whose su-
pervision our wounded were brought out, our guns secured, and
our dead on that part of the field, buried.

About 2 o'clock that night, the First Texas and Third Arkansas
were moved by the right to the position occupied by the Fourth
and Fifth, and formed on their left, where the brigade remained
during the day of the 3rd, keeping up a continuous skirmishing
with the enemy's sharpshooters, in which we had a number of our
men severely wounded. I sent my assistant adjutant-general,
Capt. F. L. Price, at daybreak to examine the position of the
brigade, and report to me as soon as he could, and, while in the
discharge of that duty, he was either killed or fell into the hands
of the enemy, as he has not been seen or heard of since.

About dark on the evening of the 3rd, the brigade, with the divi-
sion, fell back to the hill, and formed in line, where it remained
during the 4th.

In this, the hardest fought battle of the war, in which I have
been engaged, all, both men and officers, as far as my observa-
tion extended, fully sustained the high character they have here-
tofore made. Where all behaved so nobly, individual distinction
cannot with propriety be made.


Gettysbukg — (Continued)

To know what a battle is, one must be in the thick of it —
must one's self feel the consciousness of danger, the stern re-
solve to brave that danger, and the delight of giving play to
that instinct of the human being to kill and destroy whoever
and whatever bars his way. It is not like coming face to face
with " the grim monster. Death," by accident, or under the
impulse which bids one to do all he may to save the life of
another, for in neither of these cases is the risk taken delib-
erately as the soldier takes that assumed when he moves for-
ward to the firing line.

Hitherto, the Texans had fought on ground over which
they could move rapidly in line, and where the enemy was ac-
cessible — where the terror caused by their daring rush and
swift on-coming counted large. Here at Gettysburg the foe
lay concealed behind stone fences at the base of the ridge and
mountains, or flat on the ground on the crest of ridge or
mountain. If, when the line of Federals under General Sickles
was routed, the Texans obeyed orders and held their left on
the Emmitsburg road, thus moving up the valley between the
road and Cemetery Ridge, the enemy's fire came down their
line from right to left, from one flank to the other; if, obeying
the natural impulse to face the Federals opposing them, they
disobeyed orders and moved toward and against these, they
went into a bend of the Federal line, and subjected themselves
to a fire from both artillery and musketry, from the front and
on both flanks.

Either movement was a forlorn hope, and desperate; neither
off'ered immunity from annihilation — neither promised success.
But while such volunteer soldiers as the Texans and Arkan-
sans, while in camp or on the march, willingly obeyed such
orders as were given, when they came in contact with the en-
emy, and the fight was on and their blood grew warm, each
man of them fought " for his own hand," and in his own way.



General Robertson's orders were to keep the left flank of the
brigade on the Emmitsburg road, and its right flank in touch
with the left of Law's brigade. The distance from the road to
Law's left made this impracticable. Law's brigade soon found
that by moving north, up the Emmitsburg road, it would have
the enemy on its right flank ; therefore, it abandoned the effort,
and, facing to the east, began an attack on the enemy posted
at the base and on the crests of Cemetery Ridge and the
Round Top, thus leaving the right flank of the Fifth Texas,
if it continued its advance northward, exposed to a flank fire.
Noting this, and also fearing that if it continued northward,
the enemy would drop down on its rear, between it and Law's
brigade, the Fifth Texas also faced east, and the Fourth Texas
followed its lead.

The Third Arkansas, however, as will be seen from Colonel
Manning's report, hereafter given, clung to the Emmitsburg
road, and the First Texas stayed with it. Of the movements
of the First Texas, we will let a private, James O. Bradfield,
of Company E of that regiment, speak in advance of its com-
mander. The incidents that make a battle memorable and are
most thrilling are seldom mentioned and never narrated in de-
tail by field oflicers of a regiment.

" Hood's division held the right flank of our army. . .
We began forming our line of battle on a wide plateau leading
back to the rear, while in front about 200 yards distant was
a skirt of timber on the brow of a hill which led down to the
valley below. In this timber, our batteries were posted, and as
the Texas Brigade was forming immediately in their rear, we
were in direct range of the enemy's guns on the mountain
beyond. As our artillery began feehng for their batteries, the
answering shells struck our lines with cruel eff"ect. The Fourth
Texas suffered most severely. As they were passing this zone
of fire, one shell killed and wounded fifteen men. It certainly
tries a man's nerve to have to stand still and receive such a
fire without being able to return it.

"Just here occurred one of the little incidents that, hap-
pening at times like this, are never forgotten. In our com-
pany was a tall, robust young fellow named Dick Childers,
who was noted for the energy and talent he displayed in pro-


curing rations. On this occasion Dick's haversack was well
stocked with nice biscuits which a kind Dutch lady had given
him. As we were marching by the right flank, our left sides
were turned towards the enemy. A shell from the mountain
in front struck the ground near our batteries, and came
bouncing along across the field, and as Dick happened to be
just in the line of fire, it struck him, or rather, his haversack,
fairly, and scattered biscuits all over that end of Pennsyl-
vania. But the strange part of it is, that it did not knock
the man down, but so paralyzed him that he fell, after it had
passed, and lay there unable to move a muscle. The litter
bearers picked him up and laid him on a stretcher, as if he had
been a log. The boys all contended, however, that it was the
destruction of Dick's rations, and not any shock the shell gave,
that paralyzed him.

" We marched onward by the right flank, about a quarter
of a mile, moving parallel with the enemy's lines, and halting,
left-faced and formed for work. We were on the brow of a
liill which here sloped quite abruptly down into the narrow
valley. We could see the enemy's lines of battle — the first on
the level space below us, behind a heavy rock fence ; the sec-
ond, at the top of a ridge a hundred or two yards further on,
while still further, and entirely out of our reach, at the sum-
mit of the higher range, their batteries were posted so as to
sweep the whole space over which we were to advance. Their
battle flags floated proudly in the breeze, above the almost
perfect natural breastworks formed by the fence and the large
rocks that crowned the low ridge upon which they stood.
There were but two small cannon on the lower ridge, and these
were captured and pulled off" the hill by the First Texas regi-

" About 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the order was given to
advance all along the line. We moved quietly forward do^^^l
the steep decline, gaining impetus as we reached the more level
ground below. The enemy had already opened fire on us, but
we did not stop to return it. ' Forward — double quick,' rang
out, and then Texas turned loose. Across the valley and over
the little stream that ran through it, they swept, every man
for himself. The first man down was my right file man; Wil-
liam Langley, a noble, brave boy, with a minie-ball straight


through the brain. I caught him as he fell against me, and
laid him down, dead. As I straightened up to move on, that
same familiar ' spat ' which always means something, sounded
near, and looking around, I saw Bose Perry double over and
catch on his gun. He did not fall, however, but came on,
dragging his wounded leg, and firing as he advanced. But it
was getting too hot, now, to pay attention to details.

" The enemy stood their ground bravely, until we were close
on them, but did not await the bayonet. They broke away
from the rock fence as we closed in with a rush and a wild
rebel yell, and fell back to the top of the ridge, where they
halted and formed on their second line. Having passed the
rock fence, and as we were moving on up the hill, an order
came to halt. No one seemed to know whence it came, nor
from whom. It cost us dearly, for as we lay in close range
of their now double lines, the enemy poured a hail of bullets
on us, and in a few minutes a number of our men were killed
or wounded. We saw that this would never do, and so, with-
out awaiting orders, every man became his own commander
and sprang forward toward the top of the hill at full speed.

" By this time, Benning's brigade, which had been held in
reserve, joined us and together we swept on to where the Blue
Coats stood behind the sheltering rocks to receive us. Just
here, and to our right, in a little cove called the ' Devil's
Den,' which was covered by the Fourth and Fifth Texas,
Law's Alabama and Anderson's Georgia brigades, occurred
one of the wildest, fiercest struggles of the war — a struggle
such as it is given to few men to pass through and live.

" The opposing lines stood with only the sheltering rocks
between them — breast to breast, and so close that the clothing
of many of the enemy was set on fire by the blaze from the
Confederate rifles. This continued for some time, but finally,
our fire grew so hot that brave as they were, the Federals
could no longer endure it, but gave way and fled down the
slope, leaving us in possession of the field. The Lone Star
flag crowned the hill, and Texas was there to stay. Not
alone, however, for just to our right stood Benning — ' Old
Rock ' — that peerless old hero than whom no braver man ever
lived. Striding back and forth in front of his line, he was
calling to his gallant Georgians : ' Give them h — 11, boys —


give them h — 11,' and the ' boys ' were giving it to them
according to instructions.

" On the right of Benning stood Anderson and Law, and

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 15 of 32)