J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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the Fourth and Fifth Texas, as firm as the rocks which shel-
tered them. I cannot hope to describe the deeds of daring
and heroism that were enacted. Beyond the valley in our
front, on the summit of the practically impregnable ridge that
stretched north toward Gettysburg, stood the enemy's bat-
teries, 200 guns. Of these, about forty were playing in close
range upon the position we occupied. Their fire and that of
our own batteries, and the constant roar and rattle of thou-
sands of muskets, made the earth tremble beneath our feet,
while the fierce, angry shriek of shells, the strident swirl of
grape and canister as they tore hurtling through the air and
broke like a wave from the ocean of death upon that devoted
spot, the hissing bullets, and their ' spat ' as they struck rock,
tree or human flesh — all this, with the shouts and impreca-
tions, the leaping to and fro and from boulder to boulder of
powder-begrimed men, seemingly gone wild with rage and ex-
citement, created a scene of such indescribable, awe-inspiring
confusion that an on-looker might well believe that a stonn
from the Infernal regnons was spending its fury in and around
a spot so fitly named, ' The Devil's Den.' Had it not been
for the protection afforded us by the large rocks and boulders
which lay scattered over the hill-top, no living thing could have
remained on its summit.

" The fearful artillery fire of the enemy was intended to
cover the massing of their infantry, who were now to make
one more grand effort to regain the ground they had lost.
Our boys prepared for this by gathering up all abandoned
muskets within reach, and loading them. Some of us had as
many as five or six lying by us, as we awaited the attack.

" We had not long to wait, for soon the long blue line came
in view, moving in gallant style up the valley. The Federals
were led by splendid officers, and made a noble charge: but
when they met the murderous fire from behind the rocks where
we crouched, they faltered. Only for a moment, though, and
on they came right up to the rocks. Again they faltered, for
now, most of their officers were down. Again it was but for a
second, and cheered on by some of the bravest men I have ever


seen, they rallied in the very face of death, and charged right
up to the muzzles of our guns.

" There was one officer, a major, who won our admiration
by his courage and gallantry. He was a very handsome man,
and rode a beautiful, high-spirited gray horse. The animal
seemed to partake of the spirit of the rider, and as he came on
with a free, graceful stride into that hell of death and car-
nage, head erect and ears pointed, horse and man offered a
picture such as is s'^ldom seen. The two seemed the very im-
personation of heroic courage. As the withering, scathing
volleys from behind' the rocks cut into the ranks of the regi-
ment the major led, and his gallant men went down like grain
before a scjrthe, he followed close at their heels, and when,
time and again, they stopped and would have fled the merciless
fire, each time he rallied them as if his puissant arm alone
could stay the storm. But his efforts were, in the end, un-
availing; the pluck of himself and his men only made the car-
nage the more dreadful, for the Lone Star banner and the
flag of Georgia continued floating from the hill, showing who
stood, defiant and unyielding, beneath their folds.

" In the last and most determined charge they made on us,
the gallant officer made his supreme effort. Riding into our
very midst, seeming to bear a charmed life, he sat proudly on
the noble gray, and still cheered on his men. ' Don't shoot at
him — don't kill him,' our boys shouted to each other ; ' he is
too brave a man to die — shoot his horse and capture the man.'
But it could not be. In a second or two, horse and rider went
down together, pierced by a dozen balls. Thus died a hero —
one of the most gallant men that ever gave up his life on the
red field of carnage. Though it was that of an enemy, we
honored the dead body as if it had been that of one of our
own men. Such courage belongs not to any one army or
country, but to mankind.

" It was about this time that a spectacular display of reck-
less courage was made by a young Texan, Will Barbee, of
the First Texas. Under twenty years old, he was ordinarily
a jolly, whole-souled lad, not at all given to extraordinary
performances. But when a fight was going on, he went wild,
seemed to have no sense of fear whatever, and was a reckless
dare-devil. Although a courier for General Hood, he never


failed to join his regiment, if possible, and go into battle with
it. On the present occasion, when General Hood was wounded,
Barbee hunted us up. In the hottest of the fight, I heard
some one say, * Here comes Barbee,' and looking down from
the rock on which I was lying I saw him coming as fast as his
little sorrel horse could run, and waving his hat as he came.
Just before reaching us, the sorrel fell, but Barbee did not
stop to see what had happened to the brute. He hit the
ground running, and snatching up a gun as he came, was
soon in line.

" About five paces to my left was a large, high rock behind
which several of our wounded were sheltering themselves. To
the top of that, where the very air was alive with missiles of
death, Barbee sprang, and standing there, erect and fearless,
began firing — the wounded men below him passing up loaded
guns as fast as he emptied them. But no living being could
stay unhurt long in such a fire. In a few minutes, Barbee was
knocked off the rock by a ball that struck him in the right leg.
Climbing instantly back, he again commenced shooting. In
less than two minutes, he was tumbled off the rock by a ball
in the other leg. Still unsatisfied, he crawled back a second
time, but was not there more than a minute before, being
wounded in the body, he again fell, this time dropping on his
back between the rock that had been his perch, and that which
was my shelter. Too seriously wounded this time to extricate
himself from the narrow passageway, he called for help, and
the last time I saw him that day, he was lying there, crying
and cursing because the boys would not come to his relief and
help him back on to the rock. _

" There were many in the regiment as brave as Barbee, but
none so reckless. The best blood of Texas was there, and in
the Fourth and Fifth Texas, and General Lee could safely
place the confidence he did in Hood's Texas Brigade. But God
must have ordained our defeat. As was said by one of the
speakers at a reunion of ' the Mountain Remnant Brigade ' :
* At the first roll of the war drum, Texas sent forth her no-
blest and best. She gave the Army of Northern Virginia
Hood's matchless brigade — a band of heroes who bore their
country's flag to victory on every field, until God stopped
them at Little Round Top.' "


Another private, Val C. Giles, of Company B, Fourth Texas,
has placed his observations and experiences as a participant in
the fighting at Gettysburg on record. His view of it is from
a humorous standpoint, and any lightening of the shadows of
war is always acceptable. He writes :

" It was near 5 o'clock when we began the assault against
an enemy strongly fortified behind logs and stones on the
crest of a mountain, in many places perpendicular. It was
more than half a mile from our starting point to the edge of
the timber at the base of the ridge, comparatively open ground
all the way. We started off at quick time, the officers keeping
the column in pretty good line until we passed through the
peach orchard and reached the level ground beyond. We were
now about four hundred yards from the timber and the fire
from the enemy, both artillery and musketry, was fearful.

"In making that long charge our brigade got 'jammed.'
Regiments overlapped each other and when we reached the
woods and climbed the mountains as far as we could go, we
were a badly mixed crowd.

" Confusion reigned supreme everywhere. Nearly all our
field officers were gone. Hood, our major general, had been
shot from his horse. Robertson, our brigadier, had been car-
ried from the field. Colonel Powell of the Fifth Texas was
riddled with bullets. Colonel Van Manning of the Third Ar-
kansas was disabled and Colonel Carter of my regiment lay
dying at the foot of the mountain.

" The sides of the mountain were heavily timbered and cov-
ered with great boulders, that had tumbled from the cliffs
above years before, which afforded great protection to the

" Every tree, rock and stump that gave any protection from
the rain of minie-balls, that was poured down upon us, from
the crest above us, were soon appropriated. John Griffith and
myself pre-empted behind a moss-covered old boulder about the
size of a 500-pound cotton bale.

" By this time order and discipline were gone. Every fel-
low was his own general. Private soldiers gave commands as
loud as the officers — nobody paying any attention to either.
To add to this confusion, our artillery on the hill in our rear


was cutting its fuse too short. The shells were burst-
ing behind us, in the treetops, over our heads, and all around

" Nothing demoralizes troops quicker than to be fired into
by their friends. I saw it occur twice during the war. The
first time we ran, but at Gettysburg we couldn't.

" This mistake was soon corrected and the shells burst high
on a mountain or went over it.

" Major Rogers, then in command of the Fifth Texas regi-
ment, mounted an old log near my boulder and began a Fourth
of July speech. He was a little ahead of time, for that was
about 6-30 o'clock on the evening of the 2d. Of course, no-
body was paying any attention to the oration as he appealed
to the men to ' stand fast.' He and Captain Cussons of the
Fourth Alabama were the only two men I saw standing. The
balance of us had settled down behind rocks, logs and trees.
While the speech was going on, John Haggerty, one of Hood's
couriers, then acting for General Law, dashed up the side of
the mountains, saluted the major and said: 'General Law
presents his compliments and says hold the place at all haz-
ards.' The major checked up, glared down at Haggerty from
his perch and shouted : ' Compliments, hell ! Who wants com-
pliments in such a damned place as this.'* Go back and ask
General Law if he expects me to hold the world in check with
the Fifth Texas regiment.'

" The major evidently thought he had his regiment with
him, while, in fact, these men were from every regiment in the
Texas Brigade all around him.

" But I must back to my boulder at Gettysburg. It was a
ragged line of battle, strung out along the side of Cemetery
Ridge and in front of Little Round Top. Night began set-
tling around us, but the carnage went on. It is of that night
that I started out to speak.

" There seemed to be a viciousness in the very air we
breathed. Things had gone wrong all the day and now pande-
monium came with the darkness.

" Alexander Dumas says the devil gets in a man seven
times a day, and if the average is not over seven times he is
almost a saint.

" At Gettysburg that night it was about seven devils to


each man. Officers were cross to the men, and the men were
equally cross to the officers. It was the same way with the
enemy We could hear the Yankee officer on the crest of
the ridge m front of us cursing the men by platoons, and the
men telling them to go to a country not very far from them
just at that time. If that old satanic dragon has ever been
on earth since he offered our Saviour the world if He would serve
him, he was at Gettysburg that night.

"Every characteristic of the human race was presented
there the cruelty of the Turk, the courage of the Greek (old
style), the endurance of the Arab, the dash of the Cossack,
the fearlessness of the Bashibazouk, the ignorance of the Zulu,
the cunning of the Comanche, the recklessness of the American
volunteers and the wickedness of the devil thrown in to make
the thing complete.

" The advance lines of the two armies in many places were
not more than fifty yards apart. Everything was on the
shoot ; no favors asked, and none offered.

"My gun was so dirty that the ramrod hung in the barrel,
and I could neither get it down nor out. I slammed the rod
against a rock a few times and drove home ramrod, cartridge
and all, laid the gun on a boulder, elevated the muzzle, ducked
my head, halloed 'Look out!' and pulled the trigger. She
roared hke a young cannon and flew over my shoulder, tho
barrel striking John Griffith a smart whack on the left ear
John roared, too, and abused me hke a pickpocket for my
carelessness. It was no trouble to get another gun there. The
mountain side was covered with them.

" Just to our left was a little fellow 'from the Third Arkan-
sas regiment. He was comfortably located behind a bier
stump, loading and firing as fast as he could, and between
bitmg cartridges and taking aim, he was singing at the top
of his voice : o o t

Now, let the wide world wag as it will,
I'll be gay and happy still.' "

, r ^^^r?'^"^ ''''' sagging all right— no mistake about that,

i i.w '^ *° '^! ^^'"'^ *^^ ' S^y and happy ' part came in.

Ihat was a fearful night. There was no sweet music to

soothe the savage beast. The ' tooters ' had left the shooters


to fight it out, and taken ' Home, Sweet Home ' and ' The Girl
I Left Behind Me ' off with them.

" Our spiritual advisers, chaplains of regiments, were in the
rear, caring for the wounded and dying soldiers. With seven
devils to each man, it was no place for a preacher, anyhow.

" A little red paint and a few eagle feathers were all that
was necessary to make that crowd on both sides the most ver-
itable savages on earth. ' White-winged Peace ' didn't roost
at Little Round Top that night. There was not a man there
who cared a snap for the Golden Rule or that could have re-
membered one line of the Lord's Prayer. Both sides were
whipped and all were mad about it."

Another member of the Texas Brigade, John C. West, of
Company E, Fourth Texas, relates an interesting story of his
experiences and observations at Gettysburg, saying:

" This was my first experience in a general engagement, and
though we had marched all night of July 1, reaching the
battlefield about 10 o'clock a. m. on the 2d, the interest and
excitement and novelty of the occasion kept me up with my
eyes and ears wide open. Our brigade was on the extreme
right of the Confederate line, with perhaps one other brigade
on our right. We marched and counter-marched and rested
until about three o'clock in the afternoon, when we
came into line in the edge of timber opposite Little
Round Top and Devil's Den. I could see the Federal bat-
teries, or rather the location of them, by the smoke of dis-
charge. They were about half a mile or more from us. This
was the first actual contact and full view of our enemy. We
stood in column of fours, with our faces towards our right,
for some time, during which the batteries commenced to play
on us, and the first shot — which I recognized — seemed to be
a solid shot, which struck the ground about 50 or 60 feet
from the line and passed by on a bound over us, scattering dust
and dirt over our company. The next shot passed about an
equal distance beyond us, tearing up the earth. The third
shot hit our line about eight feet in front of me, knocking off
one soldier's head and cutting another in two, bespattering us
with blood.


" Just then we fronted to the left, facing the battery. There
was a short pause. I saw General Hood on horseback about
300 or 400 yards obliquely to my left, just out of direct range
of the battery fire, in the edge of the timber. He took his hat.
held it above him in his right hand, rose to his full height in
his stirrups, and shouted in a stentorian voice, 'Forward!
steady ; forward ! ' We started across the open field. As we
moved on I heard the word passing down the line, ' Quick, but
not double quick ! ' We went in pretty fair order across the
field. As we entered the timber and brush our line was more
broken. We soon struck a stone fence ; then came a branch.
Lieutenant Joe Smith, Company E, wet his handkerchief,
wrung it out and tied it around his head as he moved up the
slope, which we had now reached. Bullets and grapeshot were
coming thick and fast. A bullet passed through his head ; ex-
amination afterwards showed 11 holes through the folded
handkerchief. I think it made a white mark for a sharp-
shooter. As we advanced up the steep side of the mountain
we encountered boulders from the size of a hogshead to the
size of a small house. Our line at times could hardly be called
a line at all. The battery was taken. The First Texas suf-
fered the brunt of the battle. After we were up on the first
ridge the ground was so rough and broken that it was impos-
sible to form a straight line, but it was quite evident to me
from the sounds on our left that we were in advance of our
center. From this position we made sallies to our front, over
rocks and boulders and timber. It was impossible to make a
united charge. The enemy were pretty thick and well con-
cealed. It was more like Indian fighting than anything that
I experienced during the war. They had sharpshooters in
trees and on high places that made it exceedingly dangerous
to appear in any open place. One bullet passed through my
beard and grazed my left ear. Another missed the top of my
head about an inch. Both stinick the rock against which I
was sitting. I abandoned the position instanter. Just in
front of us, perhaps 50 yards, was a comparatively open space
on rising ground, very small in extent. It seemed almost
certain death to attempt to pass it. Singly and in squads we
made several experiments to test the presence of the enemy
beyond, and every time, night or day, a shower of bullets


greeted us. About 10 o'clock on the night of the 2d Gold-
sticker of Company A ventured out. He was mortally
wounded, and lay there many hours calling for help. I can
hear his plaintive cry, * Water ! water ! Great God, bring me
water!' but there was no truce. Death released him before
the dawn. Poor Goldsticker ! He was a gambler, a Gennan
and a Jew, but he died at the front !

" We held our position among the rocks all night and until
about 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the 3d. Colonel Carter
of the Fourth was severely wounded, aftei*wards captured, and
died in the Federal hospital. Major Winkler was also
wounded. Private Champ Fitzhugh of my company was also
captured, and I saw him no more, until by a strange coinci-
dence I met him in May, 1864, at 12 o'clock at night in the
swamp on the bank of the Mississippi River, each of us at-
tempting to cross the river. We crossed together in a canoe
with Yankee gunboats above and below us. (This by way of

" From 3 to 5 o'clock on the afternoon of the 3d the battle
raged in the centeV on the left of our brigade. We had re-
ceived the notice that the artillery on the whole line would
open about 2 o'clock, and upon cessation of artillery fire the
entire line would move forward. This order was carried out,
and when our artillery opened the enemy answered as promptly
as if a telephone message had said, * Shoot now.'

" This cannonade was the grandest and most sublime cir-
cumstance I ever saw or heard. I can conceive of nothing
grander, more portentous, or awful. An earthquake, a cy-
clone, a thunderstorm, a hurricane, all in one, coulrl not be
more terrific. It sounded veritably as if hell had broken loose
and the unchained demons and furies were shrieking in the air.
It was grand, sublime and glorious. The anticipation of the
assault which was impending at the close of this fearful storm
inspired the hearts of men with the joy of liattle, which so
filled us that there was no room for fear. While the earth
quivered the storm ceased and the forward movement began.
Our end of the line, crooked and curved bv the broken condi-
tion of the ground, made no progress. We were already in
advance of the troops on our left, ^^^len the contest seemed
hot on our left and towards the center we moved to the front,


hoping to find a weak place or an opening for flank movement,
but the enemy evidently recognized the importance of that
position, and we could gain no advantage there, but the fight
grew fast and furious on our left. We could see nothing, but
the Confederate yell and the Yankee huzzah alternated back
and forth with such regularity for nearly an hour as to satisfy
us that a critical moment was approaching at that point and
that we were in danger of being flanked. Soon the ' huzzah '
advanced so far as to create uneasiness in our part of the line,
and directly notice came from our left to ' get out of here as
quickly as you can.' We did not consider the order of our
going, but rushed down the slope with better speed than we
had been able to make coming in. As we had obliqued to the
right coming up the mountain, and now obliqued to the left
coming out, we struck the open field several hundred yards to
the right of the stone fence and branch which we had crossed,
and looking to our right, saw the Yanks in full line in the
open field. We went across the field under fire without regard
to tactics. Bullets were pretty thick and hit about us with
that peculiar searching ' zip-zip ' which suggests rapid loco-

" Mr. H. Van Dusen of Company C, Fourth Texas, was
just in front of me about 10 feet. I heard a bullet hit him
and saw him tumble over. I thought he was dead, and I so
reported when our regiment got together after dark. Some
man said, ' No ; he is over there by a tree.' I went to the
place and found Van Dusen with head bound with a white
cloth. The bullet had struck him in the head, but failed to
penetrate. He went to the field hospital, was afterwards cap-
tured and got among Dutch kinsfolk in Pennsylvania. It was
said that they off'ered him every inducement to abandon the
Confederacy, which he declined, went to prison, and was after-
wards exchanged. He survived the war and returned to

Of what the Third Arkansas did on that 2nd day of July
is officially told by Colonel Van H. Manning, as follows :

" About four o'clock on the evening of July 2, I was or-
dered to move against the enemy, keeping my right well con-
nected with the left of the First Texas Regiment, and hold


my left on the Emmitsburg Road, then some 200 yards in my
front and out of view.

" Upon reaching this road, I discovered, from the direction
the directing regiment was taking, that I could not with the
length of my line carry out the latter order ; hence I decided
to keep my line on a prolongation of the line formed by the
troops on my right. After marching in line of battle at a
brisk gait (part of the way at a double-quick) for about 100
yards, all the time exposed to a destructive fire from artillery,
we engaged the enemy at short range, strongly posted behind
a rock fence at the edge of the woods. We drove him back
with but a little loss, for a distance of 150 yards, when I as-
certained that I was suffering from a fire to my left and rear.
Thereupon, I ordered a change of front to the rear on first
company, but the noise consequent upon the heavy firing then
going on swallowed up my command, ^nd I contented myself
with the irregular drawing back of the left wing, giving it an
excellent fire, which pressed the enemy back in a very short
while, whereupon the whole line advanced, the enemy fighting
stubbornly, but retiring.

" Soon I was again admonished that my left was seriously
threatened, when I ordered the command back fifty to seventy-
five yards, to meet this contingency. He was again driven
back, and I stretched out my front to twice its legitimate
length, guarding well my left, and advanced to the ledge of
rocks from which we had previously been dislodged by the
enemy's movement on my flank. I experienced some annoyance
from the exposure of this flank up to this moment, when the
Eleventh Georgia Regiment joined to my left. The Fifty-
ninth Georgia Regiment, coming also at this time, occupied
the hne with my command. Some little time after this I was
disabled by concussion and wound on my nose and forehead.
The command then devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Taylor,
who will report his operations subsequent to this time.

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 16 of 32)