J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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joined Hood's division, to which it had been previously as-
signed, at the request of General Longstreet. Ranking Gen-
eral Law by seniority. General Jenkins at once relieved that
officer of the command of the division. This was not pleasing
to the Texas regiments. They had been too long associated
with Law's brigade, and too often under Law's command, not



to know and place a high estimate on his courage and ability,
and to regard him as the logical successor of General Hood.
But the right of protest was not theirs, and they fought as
hard and desperately under Jenkins as they would have fought
under Law.

On the morning of the 22nd, Hood's division marched in a
direction that if pursued would have taken it to the Ten-
nessee River some distance above Chattanooga. That night
it bivouacked in the woods, and resuming the march next
morning, had not gone a mile when it filed squarely off to the
left on a road leading toward Lookout Mountain, in the
shadows of which, that afternoon, it found its position in the
line of investment. There, about a mile and a half east of the
northern foot of Lookout Mountain, its camp just in rear of
the first line of breastworks it ever built, the Texas Brigade lay
idle and inactive, save for the picket duty its men did along
Chattanooga Creek, until the afternoon of October 28th —
time hanging as heavily on its hands as the rations on which
it subsisted did to its stomachs. It was not accustomed to an
unvarying diet of corn meal and lean beef, the only rations
issued, and to the muddy and tepid water that alone was ac-
cessible to its camp, and bowel complaints prevailed to an
alarming extent. Even the privilege of scouting, so liberally
extended in the Virginia army, was denied them.

However, the 28th of October brought removal from the
line and relief from an idleness that bred discontent. Two
Federal corps from the Army of the Potomac, under com-
mand of " Fighting Joe " Hooker, having crossed the Ten-
nessee River at Bridgeport, thirty miles below Chattanooga,
were moving to the relief of Rosecrans' partly hemmed-in army,
and were to camp that night in the vicinity of Wauhatchie, a
hamlet just east of Raccoon Mountain, and about two miles
west of Lookout Mountain. It was the opportunity for which
General Jenkins had been praying. Hood was sure to be pro-
moted to higher rank — his old division must have its own ma-
jor-general, and why should it not be Major-General Jenkins?
And to help along such a consummation, Jenkins proposed to
lead Hood's division around Lookout Point, and with it, make
a moonlight attack on Hooker's command. Longstreet was
more than wilhng that Jenkins should win the coveted rank


— Law and he had never been in agreeable accord — and to
make sure of success, promised to order McLaws' division to
support Hood's. He failed to give the order, though, to Mc-
Laws, and so Jenkins went unaided.

The plan of assault was well conceived, but its execution and
success were frustrated by many blunders, the unwillingness of
the veteran troops of the division to engage in a night attack,
and the halt of Jenkins' own brigade at the very crisis of the
affair to plunder the wagon-trains it had captured. Of the
Texas Brigade, only the Fourth Texas was ordered to the
firing line. To it was assigned the duty of protecting General
Law's right flank. But although it took position to do that
effectively, its services were not called into requisition — such
of the Alabamians as went to the front that night not stay-
ing long enough to even smell danger. What happened to the
Fourth Texas is graphically told by one of its members. Be-
fore offering that, however, it is well to say that the affair
of which it is a partial description is known in history as the
battle of Wauhatchie, although always called by the Texas
Brigade the battle of Raccoon Mountain. The Fourth Texan

" I have often boasted that the Fourth Texas never showed
its back to an enemy, but I am more modest since that little
affair of October 28, known as the battle of Raccoon Moun-
tain. There, the regiment not only showed its back, but stam-
peded like a herd of frightened cattle, it being one of those
cases when ' discretion is the better part of valor ' ; and, in-
stead of being ashamed of the performance, we are merry over
it. Raccoon and Lookout Mountains, you must know, are
separated by Lookout Creek. Between the creek and Raccoon
are half a dozen high, parallel ridges, whose tops are open and
level enough for a road-way, and whose thickly timbered sides
slope at angles of forty-five degrees, into deep, lonely hollows.

" Hooker's corps, of the Federal army, coming up from
Bridgeport to reinforce Rosecrans, camped on the night of the
28th, in the vicinity of Raccoon. Imagining that here was an
opportunity to win distinction, General Jenkins proposed to
Longstreet to march Hood's division to the west side of Look-
out Mountain, and by a night attack, capture ' Fighting Joe '
Hooker and his corps. Longstreet, of course, offered no


objections; success would place as brilliant a feather in his
cap as in that of Jenkins, while the blame of defeat would nec-
essarily rest upon the projector of the affair. As for us poor
devils in the ranks, we had no business to be there, if we hesi-
tated to risk our lives in the interest of commanding officers.

" The plan of operations appears to have been for Ben-
ning's, Anderson's, and Jenkins's brigades to cross Lookout
Creek two miles above its mouth, and, forming in line parallel
with the Tennessee River, force the Yankees to surrender, or
drive them into deep water; while the Texas and Law's bri-
gades should occupy positions west of the creek, at right
angles with the river, and prevent them from moving toward
Lookout Mountain, and alarming Bragg's army. What be-
came of the First Texas and Third Arkansas, I cannot say,
every movement being made at night, but the Fifth Texas
guarded the bridge, across which the Fourth marched and
thence proceeded in the direction of Raccoon ]\Iountain, climb-
ing up and sliding down the steep sides of intervening ridges,
until brought to a halt on the moon-lit top of the highest, and
formed in line on the right of an Alabama regiment.

" Here, in blissful ignorance of General Jenkins' plans, and
unwarned by the glimmer of a fire or sound of a snore that
the main body of the enemy lay asleep in the wide and deep
depression between them and Raccoon, the spirits of the gal-
lant Texans rose at once to the elevation of their bodies, and
dropping carelessly on the gi'ound, they proceeded to take
their ease. But not long were they permitted thus to dally
with stem and relentless fate. A gunshot, away off to the
left, suddenly broke upon the stillness of the night, and was
followed by others in rapid succession, until there was borne
to our ears the roar of desperate battle, while the almost simul-
taneous beating of the long roll in the hitherto silent depths
below us, the loud shouts of officers, and all the indescribable
noises and hubbub of a suddenly awakened and alanned host
of men, admonished us that we stood upon the outermost edge
of a human volcano, which might soon burst forth in all its
fury, and overwhelm us.

" The dolcc far niente to which, lulled by fancied security
and the beautiful night, we had surrendered ourselves, van-
ished as quickly as did the dreams of the Yankees. The emer-


gency came unexpectedly, but none the less surely. Scouts dis-
patched to the right, returned with the appalUng intelHgence
that between the regiment and the river, half a mile away, not
a Confederate was on guard; skirmishers sent to the front, re-
ported that the enemy was approaching rapidly and in strong
force. To add to the dismay created by such alarming intel-
ligence, the thrilling whisper came from the left, that the Ala-
bamians had gone ' hunting for tall timber ' in their rear.
Thus deserted in a soHtude soon to be invaded by a ruthless
and devouring horde, the cheerless gloom of an exceeding
great loneliness fell upon us like a pall — grew intense, when,
not twenty feet away, we heard the laborious struggling and
puffing of the Yankees as, on hostile thoughts intent, they
climbed and pulled up the almost precipitous ascent — and be-
came positively unbearable, when a dozen or more bullets from
the left whistled down the Hne, and the mild beams of the full
moon, glinting from what seemed to our agitated minds a
hundred thousand bright gun-barrels, revealed the near and
dangerous presence of the hated foe.

" Then and there — deeming it braver to live than to die, and
moved by thoughts of home and its loved ones — the officers and
privates of the gallant and hitherto invincible Fourth Texas
stood not upon the order of their going, but went with a ce-
lerity and unanimity truly remarkable; in short, they disap-
peared bodily, stampeded nolens volens, and plunged reck-
lessly into the umbrageous and shadowy depths behind them,
their flight hastened by the loud huzzaing of the triumphant
Yankees, and the echoing volleys they poured into the tree-
tops, high above the heads of their retreating antagonists.

"Once fairly on the run down the steep slope, voluntary
halting became as impossible as it would have been indiscreet.
Dark as it was among the somber shadows into which the flee-
ing men plunged, the larger trees could generally be avoided,
but when encountered, as too frequently for comfort they
were, they wrought disaster to both body and clothing; but
small ones bent before the wild, pell-mell rush, as from the
weight and power of avalanche or hurricane. The speed at
which I traveled, let alone the haunting apprehension of being
gobbled up by a pursuing blue-coat, was not specially favor-
able to close observation of comrades, but, nevertheless, I wit-


nessed three almost contemporaneous accidents. One poor un-
fortunate struck a tree so squarely and with such tremendous
force, as not only to flatten his body against it and draw a
sonorous groan from his lips, but to send his gun clattering
against another tree. As a memento of the collision, he yet
carries a face ragged enough to harmonize admirably with his
tattered garments. Another fellow exclaimed, as, stepping on
a round stone, his feet slipped from under him and he dropped
to the ground with a resounding thud, ' Help, boys — help,'
and then, with legs wide outspread, he went sliding down the
hill, until, in a wholly involuntary attempt to pass upon both
sides of a tree, he was brought to a sudden halt, or, as it
might be called, a sit-still.

" But adventure the third was the most comical of all. The
human actor in it was a Dutchman by the name of Brigger;
a fellow nearly as broad as he is long, who always carries a
huge knapsack on his shoulders. Aided by this load, he struck
a fair-sized sapling with such resistless momentum, that the
little tree bent before him, and, straddling it and exclaiming
in prayerful, not irreverent, accents, ' Jesus Christ and God
Almighty,' with a long-drawn and lingering emphasis on the
first word, he described a parabola in the air, and then drop-
ping to the ground on all-fours, continued his downward career
in that decidedly unmilitary fashion. His was the novelty
and roughness of the ride, but alas, mine was all the loss ; for,
as the sapling tumbled him off and essayed to straighten itself,
an impudent branch of it caught my hat, and flung it at the
man in the moon. Whether it ever reached its destination, I
am unable to say — the time, the inclination and the ability to
stop and see if it did were each sternly prohibited by the exi-
gency of the occasion and the accelerating influence of gravi-
tation. Anyhow, I am now wearing a cap, manufactured by
myself, out of the nethermost extremity of a woolen overshirt,
and having for a frontispiece a generous slice of a stirrup
leather. Colonel Bane well dcsen'es the loss he has sustained;
he is not only careless about his saddle, but, as well, of his
head, on which he still bears a reminder of the battle of Rac-
coon IMountain, in the shape of a very sore and red bump.

" But to return to my story. Altliough I lost my hat, I
neither lost physical balance, nor collided with a tree suffi-


clentlv sturdy to arrest a fearfully swift descent, as did many
of my comrades. Indeed, the scars imprinted -P- /^^ ^S:
mentil physiognomy by large and small monarchs of the for
XareVt nuTneroL, and in some i-tances were at first so
disUisina: that the wearers were recogmzable, for a day or
two only by heir melodious voices. ' Honors ' were so easy
rthat respe t, between the members of the regiment officer
as wel Z privates, that when they at last emerged from the
darlness oF the woods, and talcing pl-es m Ime began to
look at each other and recount experiences, their shouts
lauditer must have reached old Joe Hooker. . . „

"One poor fellow, though, was too sore of body and down-
cast in spirit, and had been too much trampled upon to .pm
in the mh-th hat prevailed. He was a litter-bearer his name
wa Den^ , and he^as six long feet in height, and Falstaffian
Tn abdominal development. His position m the -ar gav him
the start in the stampede, and his avoirdupois enabled him to
brush alide, or bear down, every obstacle encountered m hi
downward plunge. But his judgment was d.a^^^^^^^^^^^
fault Forgetting the ditch-like dram that marked the Imc
where descent of one hill ended and ascent of the other began
he tumbl d, broadcast, into it. The fall knocked all the breath
out oThim and he could only wriggle over on his broad back
Tnd make L pillow for his head of one ^-W tjiej^^^^^^^
resting-place for his number twelve feet, of the other, i^ym
there, his big body looked, in the moon-light, like a rather
short butt cut off of the trunk of a large tree

"The litter-bearer had barely got himself m the com ort-
able position described, when Bill Calhoun came plungmg down
the hill with a velocity that left a good-sized vacuum m his
wake Observant by nature and made the more sojy he
fear that if he came to grief m his passage of the diam the
Yankees would capture him, Bill no sooner saw Dennis re-
cumbent body than, taking it for the log it appeared to be,
and su e that'it spanned the drain, he made a ti.mendous leap
and landed his foremost and heaviest foot right m the middle
:? Dennis' expansive corporosity, and on that particular par
of it for which the owner had the most tender regard. The
udden compression produced .h/. fm^ suddenly i^^^^^^^^^
weight, produced as sudden artificial respiration, and gnmg


vent to a howl of agony, Dennis cried, ' For the Lord Al-
mighty's sake, man, don't make a bridge of me!' Bill was
startled, but did not lose his presence of mind, and shouting
back, * Lie still, old fellow — lie still ! The whole regiment has
to cross yet, and you'll never have another such chance to
serve your beloved country,' continued his flight at a speed
but little abated by the rising ground before him."

Hood's division did not again occupy any part of the line
of investment — military operations were in contemplation in
which it was to take part. On the day after the Wauhatchie,
or Raccoon Mountain affair, the Texas Brigade hid itself
from the prying eyes of the enemy in the shady recesses of the
timber that grew along the west side of Lookout Mountain,
and there the Fourth Texas spent the hours of daylight in
ascertaining and repairing the damages to persons and cloth-
ing received during the stampede of the night before. The
other brigades of Hood's division occupied the front along
Lookout Creek — their object, to check any attack which the
two Federal corps under General Hooker might be induced to

On the afternoon of the 30th, some alarm occurring, the
Texas Brigade climbed up the side of Lookout and took posi-
tion in line under the frowning cliffs by which the level land
on its top is encircled. Why it went so high was a question
much discussed by the boys. A Fifth Texas man said to one
of the Fourth Texas : " It's Aunt Pollie that's done it. He
has heard of the speed you fellows made night before last in
that stampede down-hill, and he has got an idea from it that
he wants to test. If the Yankees line up anywhere below us,
he is going to order the brigade to charge them. He calcu-
lates, I reckon, that the force of gravity and the momentum
we acquire will combine with our bravery to make the down-
set — it'll be no onset, you know — absolutely irresistible, and
that we'll knock the Yankees, guns and all, into Lookout
Creek, and there let the last one of 'em drown."

That night we bivouacked in line on ground so steep and so
loosely covered with small shingle and rock that only by
bracing our feet against trees could we avoid rolling down-
hill. Indeed, many who were careless in lying down, or whose

Company I), Fourth Texas Reoinient

Facing 220


slumbers were restless because of the roughness of their
couches, did roll until brought to a halt by some obstacle
firmly fixed in the ground ; and as such obstacles often proved
to be the bodies of comrades, the air was occasionally sul-
phurous. The next day we marched around Lookout Point,
and went into camp east of Lookout Mountain ; for about this
time General Bragg decided that it was time for him to do

General Grant had arrived at Chattanooga, and superseded
Rosecrans in the command of the Federal army. Hooker had
reinforced it with two army corps from Virginia, and Sher-
man, with a large force, from Memphis, was due to arrive
about the 15th of November. Yet, although to his own army
had not and could not come any additions. General Bragg
reduced its strength by ordering Longstreet, with Hood's and
McLaws' divisions and a large force of cavalry, up to Knox-
ville, to capture or drive out of that portion of Tennessee the
Federal forces there, under command of General Burnside.
Such a campaign if begun immediately after the battle of
Chickamauga would have been not only wise and feasible, but
also, a commendable effort to harvest a part of the fruits of
victorious battle ; now, prohibited by every consideration for
the safety of the army Bragg was still allowed to command,
it was suicidal.

While protesting that to send his two divisions of infantry
and the larger part of the Confederate cavalry on such a
mission at such a critical stage of affairs was unwise and fool-
ish, Longstreet, nevertheless, obeyed the order, and at once set
about making preparations for the movement. It offered him
a practically independent command, and a fine field for mili-
tary operations, which, if successful, would likely insure him
the rank of a full general. Believing, as he said, that if
haste was made, Knoxville could be captured and Hood's and
McLaws' divisions returned to his army in time to resist any
attack on it by the Federals then at and coming to Chatta-
nooga, General Bragg promised ample and speedy transpor-
tation and all that was needed in the matter of food supplies.
But the promise was not performed, and the troops detached
for the expedition did not reach Sweetwater until November
12. There more delay occurred. Wagon- trains were lack-


ing, subsistence stores had not been foin\'arded, and as a re-
sult, Longstreet was compelled to abandon his plan of ap-
proaching Knoxville from the east, by way of Maryville, and
to cross the Tennessee at Loudon and march directly on
Knoxville by way of Campbell's Station.

Passage of the river was effected on the 14th, and daylight
had barely dawned on the 15th when Hood's division formed
into line of march and hastened in pursuit of the enemy, then
known to be in full retreat toward Knoxville. Between him
and McLaws' division there was a foot-race — McLaws' effort
being to reach Campbell's Station first. But fear lent wings
to the Federals, and they won, and gave the Confederates a
hot fight at the Station — holding their ground until late in
the afternoon, then continuing their retreat, and in the early
forenoon of the 16th taking refuge behind their defensive
works at Knoxville. Thither followed the Confederates, and
by niglit the town was surrounded by their infantry, cavalry,
and artillery.

To the Texas Brigade was assigned a position east of the
Holston and below the town — its mission, to assist Wheeler's
cavalry in preventing the escape of the enemy in that direc-
tion. From that date until the siege was abandoned, it re-
mained under fire, and, perhaps, under a more constant and
vigorous one than any other command. Burnside's army was
composed almost entirely of men from the Western States,
and in them the Texans and Arkansans found foemen as dar-
ing, as courageous and as accurate of aim as themselves. It
was a kind of hide-and-seek game both sides played ; to be
seen was to be shot at, and many a poor fellow fell dead
or wounded at the moment he felt himself most safe.

But with the time and force at his command, Longstreet
had undertaken the impossible. His infantry numbered scarce
12,000, and his cavalry could do no effective work against the
fortifications surrounding Knoxville. Bumside, his opponent,
had fully 20,000 infantry, and held an interior line that was
both naturall}' and artificially strong. The Confederate com-
mander, however, was determined to make one desperate strug-
gle to gain entrance into the town. Receiving on the 28th a
reinforcement of two brigades, Bushrod Johnson's and Gracic's,
he ordered a night assault upon Fort Sanders, the key to the


Federal position. It failed to succeed, the troops engaged in
it being repulsed with great slaughter.

Half an hour after the fighting ceased, General Longstreet
received positive information that the battle of Missionary
Ridge had been fought and won by the Federals, then under
command of General Grant, and that Bragg's army was in
retreat. With this information came an order directing him
to rejoin Bragg. As a march to the south and to Bragg's
army would not only be over a mountainous and extremely
rugged country, but also expose him to pursuit by Bumside
and a Federal force then approaching Knoxville from Cumber-
land Gap, he decided to move north, up the Holston River,
into a field offering admirable opportunities for the maneu-
vering of a small army and soldierly enterprise ; moreover, it
would take him beyond the reach of Bragg's authority.

To mask the withdrawal of the Texas and Law's brigades
from the east side of the H'olston, they and the cavalry on
their right, on the morning of December 3, made a vigorous
demonstration against the Federals in their front. These
stood their ground well until about noon ; then they abandoned
their first line of intrenchments, and took cover in another
nearer the river. Night coming on, the two brigades quietly
marched to the ferry over the Holston, crossed the river, and,
moving around the city, went northward toward Strawberry
Plains, as the advance guard of their little army. Silence pre-
vailed and the utmost caution was observed among the Texans
and Arkansans until they were well beyond sight and hearing
of the Union soldiers they had so long helped to hold in prac-
tical captivity. Then, giving expression to their feelings, they
made the woods ring and resound with loud and unchecked
rejoicings that they were on their way to rejoin " Marse
Robert's " army. Some enthusiastic broke into song, and as
the opening words of the old melody, " Carry me back to ole
Virginny," floated in musical cadence from his lips, a shout
went up that made the welkin ring, and there was not a man
" with music in his soul" but joined hopefully in the chorus:

" Oh, carry me back to ole Virginny, to ole Virginny 's shore."
Crossing the Holston River at Strawberry Plains about


noon, the Texas Brigade bivouacked that night on the open
level ground east of the stream. Resuming the march next
morning at sunrise, and still the advance guard of Longstreet's
command, it moved rapidly on to Rogersville, arriving there
on the 8th. On the 9th it went to Bean's Station to support
Wheeler's cavalry, then in contention with a pursuing column
of cavalry dispatched by Bumside from Knoxville. But, al-
though under artillery fire for a while, it took no active part

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 20 of 32)