J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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our approach in his direction in time to evade an attack, but
must also have heard the threatening boasts of his presumedly
blood-thirsty antagonists ; at any rate, when the brigade came
to the place where he was said to be encamped, he was not
there, having beat a hasty retreat to the shelter of gunboats
on the Potomac. The Texas Brigade, therefore, had no re-
course but to return to its camp and await another chance
to show its mettle.

General Magruder, who with about ten thousand Confed-
erates was holding McClellan at bay on the Peninsula, now
began to call for assistance. Magruder's line extended from
the York River at Yorktown, the scene of Comwallis' surrender
to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War,
to the James River on the south, a distance of twelve or fifteen
miles. Because the abandonment of that line would expose
Norfolk to capture, Mr. Davis insisted on holding it. General
Johnston deemed such an attempt inadvisable ; flanked as the
narrow peninsula was by the York and James Rivers, the one
navigable as high up as West Point, and the other all the way
up to Richmond, it would be a trap, he argued, for the Con-
federate army. Heavily fortified as was Yorktown at the
mouth of York River, its guns could not be relied on to block
the way of gunboats into that stream. That way once
opened. Federal troops might be landed at points along the
stream whence by a march of a few miles they could cut the
Confederates off from Richmond. But Mr. Davis was not
only commander-in-chief, but insistent, and obeying his orders,
Johnston moved his army to Yorktown.

The Texas Brigade moved from Fredericksburg on the 8th
day of April, going by railroad to a point near Richmond, and
thence marching to Yorktown. It was the first long tramp it
had been called on to undertake, and as the roads were too


sandy to afford firm footholds, it arrived at its destination on
the 15th, footsore and tired. Fortunately for its comfort,
it was assigned to no specific duty. Troops which had pre-
ceded it had relieved Magruder's weary soldiers. Its ad-
venturous spirits, however, were not content to spend their
time in idleness, and so sought sport and excitement in sharp-
shooting and scouting. Armed as most of the Texans were
with Minnie and Enfield rifles, and accustomed as they were
to the use of fire-arms from their earliest bo3'hood, their marks-
manship proved so superior to that of the Federals that it was
not long before their appearance on the firing line was hailed
with delight by their comrade Confederates, and viewed with
apprehension by the Federals.

About the first of May General Johnston received informa-
tion that his opponent. General INIcClellan, had ordered a gen-
eral advance of his army. Delaying only long enough to
make sure of McClellan's intentions. General Johnston on
the 3rd of May ordered the retreat of the Confederate army.
But since to the Texas Brigade was assigned the honor of being
the rear guard on the road leading from Yorktown to Wil-
liamsburg, twelve miles above, it did not move until daylight
of the 4th. Formed into line then, it made good use of its
legs, and by 10 a. m. overtook the troops under General Long-
street which had halted four miles short of Williamsburg — their
object to check the advance of the enemy and give, time for
the wagon trains to get beyond tiie danger line. But the
Texas Brigade came to no halt; instead, it went steadily on,
and taking a right hand road, left Williamsburg to its left —
its objective point, the York River at or near Elthain's Land-
ing, where, it was believed by General Johnston, ^IcClellan
would make a prompt effort to land a sufficient force to inter-
cept the Confederate retreat and probably capture its wagon
and artillery' trains. The event proved the tiiith of the sur-
mise, for on the moniing of May 7 a large part of P'ranklin's
Federal division landed there.

On the morning of the 6th the Texas Brigade encamped in
the forest, within two miles of the landing. During that day
and the following night General Hood located tlie point at
which the landing would be attempted, and early the next
moniing led the brigade, in advance of all other troops, to-


ward it. His own account of the battle that ensued is to be
found in his book, " Advance and Retreat " :

" While in bivouac opposite West Point, General Whiting
infonned me that a large body of the enemy had disembarked
at Eltham's Landing ; that our cavalry was on picket upon the
high ground overlooking the valley of the York River, and
instructed me to move my brigade in that direction, and drive
the enemy back if he attempted to advance from under cover
of his gunboats. Pursuant to imperative orders, the men had
not been allowed to march with loaded guns during the re-
treat. On the 7th, at the head of my command, I proceeded
in the direction of Eltham's, Avith the intention to halt and
load the muskets upon our arrival at the cavalry outpost. I
soon reached the rear of a small cabin upon the crest of the
hill, where I found one of our cavalrymen half asleep. The
head of the column, marching by the right flank, with the
Fourth Texas in the front, was not more than twenty
or thirty paces in my rear, when, simultaneously with my
arrival at the station of this cavalry picket, a skirmish line,
supported by a large body of the enemy, met me face to face.
The slope from the cabin toward the York River was abrupt,
and consequently, I did not discover the Federals till we were
almost close enough to shake hands. I leaped from my horse,
ran to the head of my column, then about fifteen paces in rear,
gave the command, ' Forward into line,' and ordered the men
to load. The Federals immediately opened fire, but halted
as they perceived our long line in rear. Meanwhile, a corporal
of the enemy drew down his musket upon me as I stood in
front of my line. John Deal, a private in Company A, Fourth
Texas, had fortunately, in this instance, but contrary to
orders, charged his rifle before leaving camp ; he instantly
killed the corporal, who fell within a few feet of me. At
the time I ordered the leading regiment to change front for-
ward on the first company, I also sent directions to the troops
in rear to follow up the movement and load their arms, which
was promptly executed. The brigade then gallantly advanced,
and drove the Federals, within the space of about two hours, a
distance of one mile and a half to the cover of their gunboats.
When we struck their main line quite a spirited engagement
took place, which, however, proved to be only a temporar3'


stand before attaining the immediate shelter of their vessels of
war. Hampton's Brigade, near the close of the action, came
to our support, and performed efficient service on the right."

In closing his account, General Hood says : " This affair,
which brought the brigade so suddenly and unexpectedly under
fire for the first time, sensed as a happy introduction to the
enemy." To that statement he might have added that it was
also the first time that he himself commanded in battle a larger
force than a single regiment, and had an opportunity to dis-
play his generalship. To do justice both to himself and the
Texas Brigade, he should have gone more into detail. A pri-
vate of the Fourth Texas gives the following particulars :

" We marched out of camp that morning, at daylight, each
of us wondering where we were going, and not a soul of us
suspecting that an enemy was near. We went about a mile
and a half, and the Fourth Texas in advance, were passing
through a field dotted with pine stumps, and approaching a
house situated on the crest of the hill overlooking York River
valley. Hood and some member of his staff, and perhaps a
courier or two, rode about fifty yards ahead of Company A,
the leading company. To the left of the road, and about
forty yards from the house, sat a cavalryman, apparently fast
asleep on the back of his steed. Hood rode on by him, but
had not gone ten steps when a party of Federals, fifteen or
twenty in number, sprang from behind the house, and fired a
volley at us. For a second, consternation prevailed. Not a
man of us had his gun loaded, and there was a pell-mell scat-
tering to take shelter behind the many stumps. Hood
wheeled his horse, and shouting, ' Fall into line, men — fall into
line,' came dashing back at full speed toward us. Half way
to us, he noticed that nobody was paying any attention to
him, and he shouted, * Get into line, men — get into line. Fourth
Texas! Is my old regiment going to play hell right here?'
Just then a Yankee stepped out from behind the house, and
seeing him, John Deal — the one and only one of us that had
a loaded gun — tlropped to his knees, took careful aim and
laid tlie daring fellow low. In another second every gun in
the connnand was loaded, and the men began moving into line,
and having formed a semblance of one, rushed forward to the
crest of the hill and commenced firing at the Yankees now in


swift retreat across an open field in the valley between us and
heavily timbered land. The other regiments of our brigade
moved quickly up on the right of the Fourth, and within five
minutes such of the Federal skirmishers as were not killed or
wounded had fallen back to the protection of the timber.

" Hood then ordered forward a skirmish line, and following
it, we crossed the open field in the valley and gained the tim-
ber beyond. Then, the Fourth Texas, the only regiment
whose movements I know anything about, began hunting for
the enemy. But although there was an abundance of Yankees
near us, as was evident from the firing on our right and left,
not one of them appeared in front of the Fourth. Its only
loss was from the volley fired at us on top of the hill. By that,
one man was seriously wounded. The same volley, I have al-
ways understood, killed Captain Denny, the commissary of the
Fifth Texas. As to that, I cannot speak positively; I was
having my first experience in being shot at, and was therefore
observant of only what occurred in my own regiment, and
near at hand. In saying that the other regiments of the bri-
gade moved quickly up on the right of the Fourth Texas, I
may be in error, for one or the other of them might have
formed on its left."

As adjutant of the Fifth Texas, Lieutenant Campbell Wood
should be good authority concerning the movements of his
regiment. Writing of the events of the day, he says :

" I am positively certain that the Fifth Texas was assigned
to the duty of opening the battle. I am equally certain that
no other regiment went in with us, or was at any time during
the battle aligned with us. The Fifth was drawn up in line
in an old field or meadow back of a httle village, when, riding
out in front of it. Colonel Archer said: ' Fifth Texas, I have
sought and obtained permission for you to open the ball this
morning.' Then he gave the orders, ' Right face, file left —
Forward ! March ! ' We moved across the opening, and soon
struck the timber, taking a road on each side of which was
a dense thicket of undergrowth in full leaf. No skirmishers
or scouts advanced in front of us, and judging from that fact,
I could not beheve a battle was imminent. I forgot to say
that before giving the command, ' Forward,' Colonel Archer
ordered the men to load their guns, but not to cap them.


" We marched down the road toward West Point in column
of four ranks, Colonel Archer and Captain Dennj' rode at the
head of the regiment, and I trudged along on foot, imme-
diately behind Archer. Archer and Denny rode slowly-, and
the men kept close up, talking a little as was usual on a march.
Just as we approached quite near to an old shack of a house,
a Federal sergeant and eiglit men jumped from behind it and
fired a volley at us. All their bullets excepting one went wild,
but that one struck and killed Captain Denny, and he fell from
his horse. Archer immediately ordered the men to cap their
guns. Many of them, however, had capped theirs when they
loaded them, and tliese men sprang from the ranks and fired
at our assailants, killing and mortally wounding ever}' one
of them.

" Breaking into a double-quick, and following close on the
heels of two or three men Archer had ordered to keep well in
advance of us, we went forward several hundred j^ards and
halted. Here we caught a glimpse of some troops in line to
the left of our front, and some of our men began to fire at
them. Colonel Arclicr put an instant stop to the firing, being
uncertain whether the parties aimed at were friends or foes,
and ordered me to take the first platoon of Company D and
deploy it in skirmish line to the right of the road. He also,
I think, ordered Lieutenant W. T. Hill, or Captain Powell, to
deploy the second platoon of the same company' on the left
of the road. Just at this juncture a couple of young fellows
came running to us from our left, to tell us that it was Hamp-
ton's Legion that was out there. Archer told me that he
thought the First Texas was somewhere on our right, and
cautioned me not to fire on it.

" But the First Texas was not on our right, as I soon ascer-
tained and reported; it was the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania
Bucktails. Archer ordered me to give them h — 11 and the boj's
of my platoon did it, for when fonncd in line of battle the
Fifth was struggling througli the undergrowth, it passed and
counted forty dead bucktails, killed by my platoon in its first
volley. The undcrgrowtli was so thick that Ave could see
but a little way ahead. While the regiment Avas thus ad-
vancing, I located the whereabouts of the Fii-st Texas by the
sound of Colonel Rainey's voice, but whether it came from


the right or left, I am not sure. I did not see him, or the
First Texas, but I heard him call out to his men, in the shrill,
penetrating voice that was so peculiar to him : ' G — d d — n it,
boys ! Swing around there on the right ! The Je-e-e-sus !
Did you hear that bullet? '

" The Fifth continued its advance to the river, where the men
now pretty well exhausted by their long run over and through
the undergrowth, laid down in a cedar thicket, so near the
gunboats that we could see the smoke from their smokestacks,
and hear the puffing of the steam from their boilers. The fire
of their guns, of course, passed over us.

" While lying in the cedar thicket, some troops came up
within thirty yards of our right flank, and formed in line fac-
ing the river. Thinking they were one of the regiments of
our brigade, I walked up pretty close to them and asked what
regiment it was. ' Eighteenth Ohio,' came the reply, clear-cut
and distinct. I immediately reported the fact to Colonel
Archer, and when he had taken a near enough look at them to
see they wore blue, he ordered the regiment to move as quietly
as possible to the rear, which they did, and an hour later the
Fifth got in line with the other regiments of the brigade."

Lieutenant Wood's account is not so widely at variance
with that of General Hood as to require any effort to recon-
cile them. At best. Hood's is but a partial account, many
things having happened that day which are unmentioned.
General Hood owed Colonel Archer a good turn. At the time
he was promoted to a generalcy. Archer ranked him by senior-
ity, and was thus entitled to the promotion in preference to
Hood. But as Hood gracefully says in his " Advance and
Retreat," when Archer learned of Hood's advancement, he
went immediately to that officer's tent, and warmly congratu-
lating him, expressing his entire willingness to serve under him.
It was in appreciation of this self-abnegation on the part of
Colonel Archer, that Hood gave him, at Eltham's Landing, the
privilege of " opening the ball " with the Fifth Texas.

However, " Man proposes and God disposes." Even if the
Fifth Texas was first to advance, and went further than other
regiments, it was the First Texas that bore the brunt of the
battle of the day ; for it was the only regiment that came
squarely up against a battle line of the Federals, and face to


face with it, struggled for and won the victory. Its greater
loss than any other regiment attests the greater risk it en-
countered, and the courage it exhibited. While the Fourth
Texas lost but one killed and one wounded, and the Fifth
Texas two killed, five wounded and two missing, the First
Texas lost fifteen killed, nineteen wounded — more than three
times as many as both the other Texas regiments. Among its
killed was Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. Black.

What part in the affair the Eigliteenth Georgia took, and
whether it suffered any loss, cannot be stated. It is probable
that it was held in reserve.


Richmond — Seven Pines — Gaines' Mill

Two hours before dawn of the 8th of May, the Texas Bri-
gade was quietly awakened by its officers, and ordered to form
in Hne as quickly and silently as possible, in readiness for
rapid marching. No noise was to be made, for during the
night the Federals had landed in large force and pushed for-
ward to the hill-tops, and only by the stealthiest of movements
could we hope to escape without a fight against overwhelming
numbers. In checking the landing and the advance of the
enemy on the previous day, we had accomplished all that was
desired. Our wagon and artillery trains were far on their
way to Richmond, and the troops under Longstreet, whom we
had passed beyond Wilhamsburg, had held McClellan's main
army at bay long enough to secure their own safe retreat.
The Texas Brigade only was still in danger.

It moved at a lively gait, and by noon overtook the main
army, and passing within the picket lines came to its first halt
during the day in a thicket of laurels, about three miles from
Long Bridge, across the Chickahominy. Here it rested until
about 10 p. M. of the 9th, when under a torrential downpour of
rain, in a darkness that was almost impenetrable, and over a
road knee-deep in mud, and in places waist-deep in water, it
straggled to and across the bridge named — each man, as he
reached the high ground beyond the Chickahominy, dropping
to the ground, and without effort to find his company or regi-
ment, going to sleep. But by 9 a. m. of the next day, order
was restored, each soldier with his command, and late after-
noon found the Texas Brigade in camp about five miles from

The war was now on in good earnest. The over-sanguine,
fire-eating secessionists who at the outset predicted that but
one battle would be needed to conquer a peace and indepen-
dence, had withdrawn from the public gaze, and were now busy


in search of such governmental cmploj'ment in their respective
States, or under the Confederacy, as would exempt them from
military service. Every port in the South was blockaded, and
its communication with Europe cut off. Federal troops were
stationed or in active movement in every State of the Con-
federacy except Texas and Louisiana. Union successes
marked the beginning months of 1862, both in the East and
in the West. Roanoke Island and Fort !\Iacon, in North
Carolina, and Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, Ga., had been
captured ; Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Don-
elson on the Cumberland had both fallen, and with them
Nashville had been lost. The battle of Shiloh had been fought,
but altliough claimed as a victory by the Confederates, ac-
complished but little for the Southern cause. As said by a
Southern historian, " to the Confederates, Shiloh did not seem
to be a defeat, but rather, the disappointment of a hope almost

As offsets to these reverses to, or failures to win on the
part of the Confederates, Stonewall Jackson in the Shenan-
doah valley of Virginia had been keeping the Federal forces
there, under Banks, ]Milroy, Fremont and Siegel, constantly
on the go — winning battle after battle from them, and cap-
turing large stores of military supplies much needed by the
Southern armies. Jackson's victories, though, were not on
a sufficiently large scale to inspire the thoughtful mind of that
day with any great confidence. Indeed, much of the con-
fidence inspired by them was lost when it was known that
General Johnston was retreating from the peninsula. This
retrograde movement insured the loss to the Confederacy of
Newport and the navy yard there, and thus put an end to any
sanguine hope of building a Confederate navy, for by it the
nucleus of that navy would be hemmed up in James River.

Tliere . was no corresponding loss of confidence, though,
among the (Confederates actually in the field in Virginia.
They were " built of sterner stuff " than were the many who
sought either exemption from any military service or such
service only as could be performed in places where the missiles
of war were not likely to reach them. Having enlisted as
soldiers in a cause they believed just, and having implicit faith
in the generals then in command of them, they let no reverses


discourage them and remained not only firm and unshaken in
detemiination, but optimistic. As for the Texas Brigade, it
had come altogether too far in search of a fight to allow itself
to be discouraged. It had tested its mettle at Eltham's Land-
ing, had smelled the smoke of battle, and heard the screech of
shells and the hissing of bullets, and had shrunk from none of
the dangers, and with Hood in command of it, and Joe John-
ston, of the army, why should it fear disaster .?

General Johnston placed his army in position south of the
Chickahominy to guard all the approaches to Richmond on
the north side of James River. McClellan advanced with
cautious and seemingly timid deliberation to the north bank
of the Chickahominy, and in a few days set his pioneer corps
to work repairing the partially destroyed bridges across that
stream — ^in the meantime calling insistently for reinforce-
ments. He then had a force of over 100,000, but Johnston,
he claimed, had still more men. He particularly insisted that
the large force of Federals at Fredericksburg, under com-
mand of McDowell, should be ordered to move over and take
position on his right flank. But Mr. Lincoln and his ad-
visers at Washington, although promising much, did little.
Least of all would they, for quite a while, consent that Mc-
Dowell should go farther from Washington than he then was.
To let him do so would be to expose the Federal capital to
capture by Stonewall Jackson.

Over one of the bridges across the Chickahominy, at last
in tolerable repair, McClellan threw two corps of his army
which immediately took position at Seven Pines and Fair
Oaks station, points east and about eight miles from
Richmond. About the same time he extended his right to
Mechanicsville, a hamlet about northeast from Richmond,
placing it under command of Fitz-John Porter, and protect-
ing it by earth and timber works, abatis and fallen timber.
This was about the 24th of May. Learning of it, and also
of Jackson's retirement toward Staunton in the Shenandoah
valley, Mr. Lincoln consented that McDowell should march
to the assistance of McClellan. Informed of the state of
affairs. General Johnston decided to attack McClellan before
McDowell could arrive, and therefore planned an attack on
the Federal right at Mechanicsville by a flank movement. The


troops were marching to their positions when intcllip^ence came
that Stonewall Jackson had won a great victory at Winches-
ter, and that McDowell was already marching north and away
from Richmond, and Johnston abandoned the flanking

Then Johnston planned the battle of Seven Pines — an at-
tack on the two Federal corps then on the Richmond side of
the Chickahominy. His orders obeyed in letter and spirit and
with proper concert of action, the success promised would
undoubtedly have been achieved. But they were not so
obeyed. The scene of operations was a wilderness of swampy,
heavil^'-timbered pine land, made almost impenetrable by
tangled undergrowth, and traversed by dim roads of which
there were no maps accessible; the guides secured were in-
competent ; jealousy was rife among connnanding officers of
brigades and divisions, and there was no concert of action ;
and the upshot was a victory fruitful only in the loss of life.
General Johnston needlessly exposed himself, and was wounded
just when his presence on the field might have accomplished

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 2 of 32)