J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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the morning of July 3rd the attack as first planned. Ac-
cordingl}', Longstreet, reinforced by Pickett's division, which
had come up late in the afternoon of the 2nd, was ordered to
again attack the Federal left — Ewell, at the same time, to
assault the Federal right, and Hill to move simultaneously


and with hJs whole force against its center. But when the
morning of July 3rd dawned, it was discovered that two Fed-
eral corps had taken possession of and fortified the Round
Tops, and as these dominated the Confederate right and pro-
tected the Federal center, General Lee abandoned the plan
and resolved to make a vigorous and well-supported assault
on Cemetery Ridge, hoping thereby to break through the
Union center and take its right in reverse.

It is not within the province of this volume to give an ac-
count of a battle in which the Texas Brigade took no direct
and active part, and of which its members caught but fleeting
ghmpses, and heard only the noises. Beginning about 1 a m
tor an hour or more, 140 Confederate and 70 Federal cannon
belched forth their thunders and dealt destruction to every-
thing living within their range. Flame and smoke rose from
the long lines of the opposing ridges ; the roar of the guns
was deafening to the ears of all within miles of the conflict
and a dense dark cloud of smoke settled down between the
opposing armies and concealed them from each other. Gen-
eral Francis A. Walker, Hancock's chief of staff*, says of the
effect of the Confederate artillery :

The whole space behind Cemetery Ridge was in a moment ren-
dered uninhabitable. General headquarters were broken up; the
supply and reserve ammunition trains were driven out; motley
hordes of camp-followers poured down the Baltimore pike, or
spread oyer the fields to the rear. Upon every side caissons ex-
ploded ; horses were struck down by the hundreds; the air was
filled with flymg missiles; shells tore up the ground and then
bounded for another and, perhaps, more deadly flight, or burst
above the crouching troops and sent their ragged fragments down
m deadly showers. Never had a storm so dreadful burst upon
mortal man. '■

Then began the brave and heroic, the superbly magnificent,
the awe-inspiring charge of Pickett's and Pettigrew's divisions
Language beggared, it would yet remain undescribed and in-
describable. Even those whose fortune it was to witness it
can grasp but a small part of its splendid pluck and daring,
fetill it failed. Resolute, fearless and indomitable as were the
assailants, the assailed were equally so; American valor was


matched against American valor, and having the advantage
in position, the Federals, standing manfully to their guns,
shattered the Confederate columns and drove them back. The
courage manifested that day by the Union soldiers proves that
it was not to their lack of pluck that their failures and defeats
were due — it was to the timidity of their commanders. It has
never been confessed, but in effect and deed, McClellan, Pope,
Bumside, Hooker, Meade, and even Grant, each in his turn
acknowledged Robert E. Lee as his superior in generalship.
Not one of them ever attacked or dared attack him with
equal forces. Each insisted on having as nearly two men to
his one as was possible, and this advantage they respect full}''
held in the days of battle around Richmond, at Second Man-
assas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wil-
derness, and at all the many hard-contested battles after the
Wilderness. The streams of courage and confidence, do not,
as a rule, flow from foot to head — they move do^vnward from
head to foot. The bravery of the rank and file of the army
he commands is not so inspiring to the general as the mani-
festation of his own is to them.

Longstreet's game but unsupported and fruitless battle of
July 2nd ended at sunset of that day. Whether true or not
that he made it unwillingly and directed it half-heartedly, he
stayed on the firing line from its inception to its finish, and
by his presence encouraged his men to their bravest efforts.
Hopeless at last of further assistance from Hill, and none at
all coming from Ewell, it only remained for him to hold as
much of the ground won as he safely could with the shattered
remnants of his command. Quite early in the engagement
General Hood was wounded and carried from the field, and
the command of his division fell upon General E. j\I. Law, its
senior brigadier. The Texas Brigade was withdrawn from
it advanced position, and from the new line formed, pickets
were sent forward to watch the movements of the enemy. It
was not until 2 a. m. of July 3rd, though, that the First Texas
and Third Arkansas, which, during the fighting, had borne
well to the left and thus separated themselves from the Fourth
and Fifth Texas, reached the new position.

While on the 3rd the gallant Confederates under Pickett
and Pettigrew were so heroically battling against no less gal-


lant Federals — the one, to break, the other, to hold fast the
Union center, the regiments of the Texas Brigade were neither
idle nor unexposed to danger. Hood's division was the right
flank of the Southern army ; Law's brigade guarded the right
flank of the division, and next in line to Law's but on its left,
all that day stood the Texans and Arkansans, most of the
time in line of battle, and all the time ready, at a moment's
notice, to move to right or left, or fon\'ard, as the exigency
might require. For while such a large part of Lee's army
engaged, or was held ready to engage, in the tragic struggle
far to the left, the time was opportune for a movement from
the Round Tops on our right flank, and several tentative ones
were made, both by infantry and cavalry. None succeeded,
though, and after the loss his army suff'ered in repulsing the
assault upon his center, Meade had little stomach for further
battle, big or little. Still, activity on the skinnish lines con-
tinued during the whole of that day, and was not entirely lack-
ing on the next.

Nor was General Lee inclined to renew the struggle. In
his official report, he says : " The severe loss sustained b}"^
the army, and the reduction of its ammunition, rendered an-
other attempt to dislodge the enemy unadvisable, and it was
therefore determined to withdraw." Yet he did not withdraw
in such haste as to endanger the safety either of the amny or
its long wagon trains. All day of the 4th he held his army
in line waiting for such attack as Meade with his remaining
72,000 men might dare make on the 38,000 Confederates left.
But Meade made none ; lofty and difficulty of ascent as were
Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops, and skilfully and cour-
ageously as they were defended, he had lost 23,000 to Lee's
20,000, and on each day of battle had barely held his ground ;
if while fighting " on his own dung-hill " strictly in defense,
he had so nearly suff'ered defeat, it would be, he must have
thought, suicidal to take the off'ensive.

In a letter written April 15, 1868, which may be read in full
in Volume VII of Southern Historical Papers, beginning on
page 445, General Lee wrote:

As to the battle of Gettysburg, I must again refer you to the
official accounts. It was commenced in the absence of correct


intelligence. It was continued in the effort to overcome the diffi-
culties by which we were surrounded, and it would have been
gained could one determined and united blow have been delivered
by our whole line. As it was, victory trembed in the balance for
three days, and the battle resulted in the infliction of as great
an amount of injury as was received and in frustrating the Fed-
eral campaign for the season.

On the 4th of July, 1864, save during the hours devoted to
caring for the wounded and burying the dead, the two armies
rested. Only occasional shots on the picket lines broke a still-
ness grateful and comforting to Confederates and Federals
alike. In the afternoon it commenced raining, at first gently,
but as night approached, very heavily — the down-pour con-
tinuing all night, and making the march the Texas Brigade
began at daylight of the 5th, toward the Potomac at Wil-
liamsport, exceedingly difficult and wearisome. But there was
no grumbling, no depression of spirits, notwithstanding the
fact that with the assurance of their own defeat came the un-
welcome news of Pemberton's surrender of Vicksburg and its
defending army. For that surrender, the Army of Northern
Virginia was in no way to blame, and with troubles of their
own at hand, they had neither time nor inclination to bewail
it as the great misfortune it really was.

For their repulse on the 2nd, — the first they had ever en-
countered — the members of the Texas Brigade found comfort
in the reflection that it was due, not to the superior bravery
of their antagonists, or to any lack of effort on their part, but
to the insurmountable physical obstacle with which nature had
strewn their line of advance. As said by one of them and
endorsed by all within hearing : " Even if we didn't have
wings to fly up on top of those steep bluffs and put the
Yankees there to making tracks for tall timber, we crippled
and slaughtered without mercy or let-up those we met in the
lowlands. We whipped them to a frazzle, and good Lord,
didn't we put speed in the legs of such of them as tried to get
away ! Fact is, boys, we won a big and glorious victory before
we got to those high, precipitous cliffs and bluffs. There, we
butted up against God Almighty's everlasting and immovable
handiworks, and we just had to stop."

The march from Gettysburg was unmarked, as far as the


Texas Brigade was concerned, by any incident worthy of note.
General Meade was too glad of Lee's withdrawal from Gettys-
burg to make any determined effort to hold him north of the
Potomac, or, when finding that river impassable, Lee halted,
to attack him at once. Instead, he waited till the 14th, and
then advanced to discover that the Confederate army was
across the Potomac and beyond his reach.

From the Potomac, Hood's division moved by way of Cul-
peper Court House to Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock,
halting and staying at first one point and then another on the
route, for periods of from two to ten days — its longest stop
being at Culpeper. That its marching was slow is evident
from the fact that it was not until August '3rd that it reached
and camped on the south side of the Rapidan, near Raccoon
ford. Thence, it proceeded to Fredericksburg, where, for
three weeks, it rested undisturbed by any call to active duty.
Along the Rapidan and the upper waters of the Rappahan-
nock, but too far away for Hood's men to hear even the echoes
of the guns fired, there was much marching and countermarch-
ing, and many skirmishes, but knowing that the corps of Hill
and Ewell, and Stuart's cavalry, were the only troops engaged,
they stood indifferent. " Let 'em fight, let 'em fight," said a
Texan ; " it's high time they were doin' it, durn 'em. If the
cavalry had kept its place on our right, and if Hill and Ewell's
men had come half-way up to the scratch over yonder at
Gettysburg, we'd be feasting to-day on brotherly love at Phila-
delphia, or on terrapin and canvas-back ducks at Baltimore
instead of being down here in old Virginia nibbling carefully
at our rations lest they run short. Let 'em fight — it's not our

While neither the fall of Vicksburg nor the reverse with
which the Army of Northern Virginia met at Gettysburg
weakened its confidence in the final success of the Confeder-
acy, the former event had the effect of curtailing rations. Up
to that time the hunger with which it had suffered was due to
the failures of commissary trains to keep in touch with the
troops they supplied — now it was due to the inability of the
Commissary Department to supply the rations needed ; up to
that date the soldiers stayed hungry only until the wagons
came up — now they stayed so all the time, the ration issued


having been reduced so largely in quantity. Texas could no
longer be depended on for herds of beeves, and economy be-
came the rule enforced by the Commissary-General.

September 3rd Hood's division moved down the river to
Bowling Green, a little town on the south side of the Rappa-
hannock, twenty miles below Fredericksburg. Here it re-
mained a few days, when it and McLaws' division was ordered
south to reinforce the army commanded by General Bragg,
then somewhere in the vicinity of Chattanooga, Tenn. The
situation in September, 1863, was not comforting to the South,
and many viewed it with grave apprehension. The fall of
Vicksburg and the unrestrained possession and control it gave
the Federals of the Mississippi River, divided the Confederacy
into two distinct theaters of war, neither of which could aid
the other in men, material or food supplies. It was now pro-
posed by the military authorities of the North to cut in twain
that part of the South east of the Mississippi, and a large and
well-appointed Union army, under command of General Rose-
crans, was now moving toward the northern borders of Georgia
— its aim a march through that State to the sea — its objective
point. Savannah, Ga. From west of the Mississippi, the
Trans-]Mississippi Department, so-called, no aid to the Con-
federate armies east of that stream could be expected ; Ten-
nessee and a large part of Mississippi were in the possession of
the Union forces ; the Confederate States lying along the At-
lantic and Gulf of Mexico were largely exhausted of supplies,
and altogether, the situation was one for serious concern.

To drive the advancing Federal armies out of Tennessee,
Mississippi, and perhaps, Kentucky, was the need of the hour,
and to aid in the accomplishment of that purpose, two divisions
of Longstreet's corps were detached from the Army of
Northern Virginia and ordered to the reinforcement of Bragg's
army. jMore was hoped for from the movement than in rea-
son should have been expected. General Braxton Bragg did
not prove capable of profiting by the aid given himself and his
army. The successes gained were not followed up as they
should have been.

At what date the Texas Brigade took train at Richmond
cannot be stated. It started, and made the journey down to
Georgia, in unseated flat and box cars — slept on the floors and


tops of these as best It could — and subsisted on hard-tack and
uncooked bacon. Save at Wilmington, N, C, where it stayed
a day and night and made its only change of train, it had
no relief between Richmond and Atlanta from the constant
joltings of springless freight cars running over roadbeds
made rough by constant usage, and seldom repaired. It ar-
rived at Atlanta on the morning of September 17, and on the
18th boarded a train that carried it to Ringgold, Ga., to the
near vicinity of wliich General Bragg had suffered his army
driven. Thence, about mid-day, it marched westward, toward
the Chickamauga River and the enemy. Late in the afternoon
a body of Federal cavalry appeared in its front, but was soon
put to flight by Forrest's Confederate cavalry. The brigade,
however, was called into line of battle. While thus formed.
General Hood, last seen by it at Gettysburg where he was
crippled in the arm, rode from the front, mounted on the
sturdy roan horse, " Jeff^ Davis," that he usually rode in bat-
tle. It was with difficulty that a shout of welcome was re-
pressed lest it give notice to the enemy that Confederate in-
fantry was at hand. But every hat was lifted in acknowledg-
ment of Hood's presence as he passed through the line to take
his place in its rear.

A few minutes later the Terry Rangers — Eighth Texas cav-
alry — passed along in the rear of the brigade. It was the first
Texas command we had met since the beginning of the war,
and as many of them were personally known to us, salutations
were exchanged by the lifting of hats and the waving of

Next to the Fourth and Fifth Texas — the First Texas, it
must be remembered, straggled to Virginia — the Rangers were
the first Texas command to volunteer for service east of the
Mississippi River. Its ranks filled by the flower of the Lone
Star State, it was not long in gaining a reputation for daring
that, while seemingly reckless, was too resolute to bring dis-
aster. Its victories many, its defeats few, we Texans of the
Virginia army watched its career Avith an interest not felt in
any other troops from our State. In sober truth, it was the
only body of Texas cavalry which, emulating the bravery
and heroism of Bonham, Travis, Crockett and their com-
patriots in the Alamo, had won distinction, and for that rea-


son the members of the First, Fourth and Fifth Texas recog-
nized and hailed its members as kindred spirits.

The Federal cavalry dispersed, the Texas Brigade again
moved forward, and about midnight crossed the Chickamauga
on Reid's bridge, and filing to the left a short distance beyond
the stream, bivouacked for the night. The march from Ring-
gold had been long and fatiguing, and nobody had the heart
to blame the boys of the Third Arkansas infantry for surrep-
titiously impressing into their service the fifty odd horses of
the Third Arkansas cavalry, of Harrison's cavalry brigade,
whose riders had carelessly tied them in fence corners by the
road-side. The victims of the joke, however, found compensa-
tion for it when they accepted the invitation extended in the
following lines, written on a scrap of paper that was tacked
to a tree:

" Tired of long walking and needing a rest.
Your steeds we have gratefully seized and impressed,
Feeling it but fair you should do a little walking,
And put yourself where you can do a lot of talking
With the Third Arkansas infantry, your old friends and neigh-
Who have come from Virginia to share in your labors.
And, the Lord being willing, the Yankees to smite
And set them to running with all of their might.
We'll camp, beyond doubt, after a while,
Though you may have to foot it, mile after mile;
But come till you find us — it will give you exercise.
As well as a heart for gallant enterprise
When, the Yanks on the run, we follow them close.
And of bullets and steel, give them a dose."

Because of his loss of a leg at Chickamauga, General Hood
made no official report of the part taken by his division in that
bloody engagement. If General Robertson or the regimental
commanders of the Texas Brigade made reports they have
been lost, and at any rate, are not accessible. The only ac-
count Hood gave of the battle appears in his book, " Advance
and Retreat." This is in the nature of a reminiscence, and
as such, comes well within the province of a narrative in which
military technicalities are eschewed as far as they may be
without risk of inaccuracies. He writes :

John D. Murray
Company F, Fourth Texas Regiment



I arrived at Ringgold, Georgia, on the afternoon of September
18th, 1863, and there received an order from General Bragg to
proceed on the road to Reid's bridge, and assume command of the
column then advancing on the Federals. I had my horse to leap
from the train, mounted with one arm in a sling, and, about 3
p. M., joined our forces, then under the direction of General Bush-
rod Johnson and in line of battle. A small body of Federal cav-
alry was posted upon an eminence a short distance beyond. On
my arrival upon the field I met for the first time after the charge
at Gettysburg a portion of my old troops, who received me with a
touching welcome. After a few words of greeting exchanged with
General Johnson, I assumed command in accordance with the in-
structions I had received, ordered the line to be broken by filing
into the road, sent a few picked men to the front in support
of Forrest's cavalry, and began to drive the enemy at a rapid

In a short time we arrived at Reid's bridge across the Chicka-
mauga, and discovered the Federals drawn up in battle array be-
yond the bridge, which they had partially destroyed. I ordered
forward some pieces of artillery, opened fire, and, at the same
time, threw out flankers to effect a crossing above and below and
join in the attack. Our opponents quickly retreated. We repaired
the bridge, and continued to advance till darkness closed in on us,
when we bivouacked in line, near a beautiful residence which had
been fired by the enemy, and was then almost burned to the
ground. We had driven the Federals back a distance of six or
seven miles. Meantime, the main body of army crossed the Chick-
amauga at different points, and concentrated that night in the vi-
cinity of my command.

General Bragg having formed the plan of attack next morning,
I was given, in addition to my own division, the direction of Ker-
shaw's and Johnson's divisions, with orders to continue the ad-
vance. We soon encountered the enemy in strong force, and a
heavy engagement ensued. All that day we fought, slowly but
steadily gaining ground. Fierce and desperate grew the conflict,
as the foe stubbornly yielded before our repeated assaults; we
drove him, step by step, a distance of fully one mile, when night-
fall brought about a cessation of hostilities, and the men slept
upon their arms.

In the evening, according to my custom in Virginia under Gen-
eral Lee, I rode back to army headquarters to report to the
commander-in-chief the result of the day upon my part of the
line. I there met for the first time several of the principal officers
of the Army of Tennessee, and, to my surprise, not one spoke in


a sanguine tone regarding the result of the battle in which we
were then engaged. I found the gallant Breekenridge, whom I
had known from early youth, seated by the root of a tree, with
a heavy slouch hat upon his head. When in the course of a brief
conversation, I stated that Ave would rout the enemy the following
day, he sprang to his feet, exclaiming, " My dear Hood, I am
delighted to hear you say so. You give me renewed hope; God
grant it may be so ! "

After receiving orders from General Bragg to advance the
next morning as soon as the troops on my right moved to the at-
tack, I returned to the position occupied by my forces, and camped
the remainder of the night with General Buckner, as I had noth-
ing with me save that which I had brought from the train upon
my horse. Nor did my men have a single wagon, or even ambu-
lance in which to convey the wounded. They were destitute of
almost everything, I might say, except pride, spirit, and forty
rounds of ammunition to the man.

During that night, after a hard day's fight by his old and
trusty troops. General Longstreet joined the army. He reported
to General Bragg after I had left army headquarters, and, the
next morning, when I had arranged my columns for the attack
and was awaiting the signal on the right to advance, he rode up,
and joined me. He inquired concerning the formation of my
lines, the spirit of our troops, and the effect produced upon the
enemy by our assault. I informed him that the feeling of officers
and men was never better, that we had driven the enem}'^ fully
one mile the day before, and that we would rout him bfore sun-
set. This distinguished general instantly responded with the con-
fidence that had so often contributed to his extraordinary success,
that we would of course whip and drive him from the field. I
could but exclaim that I was rejoiced to hear him so express him-
self, as he was the first general I had met since my arrival who
talked of victory.

He was assigned to the direction of the left wing, and placed
me in command of five divisions: Kershaw's, A. P. Stewart's,
Bushrod Johnson's, and Hindman's, together with my own. The
latter formed the center of my line, Avith Hindman upon my left,
Johnson and Stewart on the right, and Kershaw in reserve. About
9 A. M. the firing on the right commenced ; we immediately ad-
vanced and engaged the enemy, when followed a terrible roar of
musketry from right to left. Onward we moved, nerved with a
determination to become masters of that hotly contested field. We
wrestled with the resolute foe till about 2.30 p. m., when, from a
skirt of timber to our left, a body of Federals rushed down upon


the immediate flank and rear of the Texas Brigade, which was
forced to suddenly change front.

Some confusion necessarily arose. I was at the time on my

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 18 of 32)