J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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in the engagement. Remaining at Bean's Station until the
19th, the brigade that day marched down the Holston toward
Morristown, and, arriving there on the afternoon of the 22d,
went into winter-quarters on the top of a wooded hill, a mile
north of the little town. Lacking any assurance of a long
stay in them, the men wasted little strength in the erection of
cabins. A liberal issue of tents, an abundance of wood and a
plentiful and near supply of excellent water, together with a
fairly generous distribution of rations, enabled them to make
themselves as comfortable as their great need of shoes and
clothing peraiitted. Altogether, their lot as soldiers was not
so hard as to warrant special complaint.

Relaxation and more or less of exciting adventure, - experi-
enced and related, was furnished by the many details made for
scouting west of the Holston River and east of the French
Broad. The enemy was held in check on the south by the
cavalry which, while the infantry rested in winter-quarters,
was almost constantly on the go — fighting, as could be told
by the sound of artillery, every day, and aften far into the
night. Early in January of 1864, railroad communication was
secured with Richmond, Va., and the shoes and clothing, and
the mails that came over it to the Texas Brigade, added
largely to its comfort and content.

While his army was encamped around Bean's Station, Gen-
eral Longstreet received a telegram from President Davis giv-
ing him discretionary authority over all Confederate troopS;,
of whatever service, then in East Tennessee. Invested, tem-
porarily at least, with autocratic power, Longstreet took
leisure to do a little pruning among his subordinate com-
manders. General McLaws was the first officer to be relieved
of command, and following him went General Robertson and
General Law. With McLaws' removal we have no concern.


Law was relieved of command, beyond doubt, in order to give
General Jenkins a better chance of securing the commission
of a major-general and the command of Hood's division — it
having become known by this time that Hood would be pro-
moted to a lieutenant-generalcy.

Against General Robertson charges were preferred by Gen-
eral Jenkins by express direction of General Longstreet. These
did not complain that Robertson lacked ability as a brigade
commander, or had been guilty of any unsoldierly conduct on
the field. The gist of his offense was that when Jenkins or-
dered a movement of the Texas Brigade that would entail
upon it a long and hurried march over a rough and moun-
tainous country and great hardship, he (Robertson) had in-
formed his regimental commanders that he was opposed to
the movement, would require written orders for it, and would
obey it under protest; that his men were in no condition for
active campaigning, and that he had no confidence in the
campaign as conducted.

That these charges did not affect the standing of " Aunt
Pollie " with the Texas Brigade, is proven by the fact that
not a member of it ever blamed him for what he did ; on the
contrary, the brigade heartily approved of his course, and
its survivors are yet grateful to him for the firm stand he
took and for the interest and fatherly solicitude he always man-
ifested in the well-being of his men. The truth is, at that
time the Texas Brigade was in worse plight than any brigade
in the division. It could get no supplies from Texas or Ar-
kansas, as could and did the other brigades from their home
States. However, the charges against its commander went up
in smoke. President Davis and the Secretary of War held
them frivolous and utterly insufficient to justify, even if proved
true, the removal of an able and well-liked brigade commander.
Still, rather than remain in a corps with whose commander he
was persona non grata, and in a division of which, as then
appeared probable, Jenkins would be appointed major-general,
Robertson sought and obtained a transfer to Texas, on re-
cruiting service for the army of the Confederacy.

The stay of the Texas Brigade at Morristown was of brief
duration. On the 15th of January, 1864, the enemy con-
fronted our cavalry in such strong force that it called lustily


for reinforcement. Heeding the call, Longstreet ordered his
infantry divisions down to the neighborhood of Strawberry
Plains, Before they reached that point, though, the enemy
retired, and the Texas Brigade halted at Mossy Creek. It
remained there until February 10, and while there the men
composing it were invited to re-enlist, for and during the war,
last as long as it might. As it was enlist or be conscnpted,
not a man declined.

From Mossy Creek the Texas Brigade moved down to
Strawberry Plains, and, crossing to the east side of the H'ol-
ston River, took position to support Confederate cavalry then
feeling its way toward Knoxville, against which stronghold of
the enemy General Longstreet was making a demonstration
in hope of bringing troops to its relief, and thus reducing the
pressure on the army so lately commanded by Bragg, but now
by General Joseph E. Johnston. That object accomplished,
and President Davis about that time having ordered all cav-
alry belonging to Johnston's command to be returned to him,
Longstreet wisely withdrew his army from its advanced posi-
tion and marched it back to Bull's Gap. There Hood's divi-
sion found awaiting it a commanding major-general in the
person of General Charles W. Field, a graduate of West Point,
who, as the brigadier-general of a Confederate brigade in Lee's
army, had gained considerable distinction. To the Texas Bri-
gade also came a new commander. General John Gregg.

In their respective spheres, both Field and Gregg proved
themselves competent and efficient officers. That the former
did not win from the division the admiration and confidence it
felt for and in General Hood, and that the latter failed to
secure such a hold on the affection of the Texas Brigade as
Robertson had gained, was due, perhaps, more to lack of
opportunity than to any want of merit in either. Of each of
them it may be said that in character he was almost diamet-
rically the opposite of his predecessor. Field was of phleg-
matic temperament, and seemed indifferent whether the division
liked him or not. Gregg's service on the bench in Texas had
developed in him an austerity of manner and a positiveness
of utterance altogether unlike the free, easy, and somewhat
fussy ways of General Robertson that had won for him the
sobriquet of " Aunt Pollie." Moreover, Gregg held himself


aloof from his inferiors in rank, and so did not afford his men
any opportunity to acquaint themselves with the good qual-
ities he undoubtedly had in abundance. In truth, the stand-
ard of excellence in a commander for whom they would " do
or die," which had been adopted by the members of the Texas
Brigade, was John B. Hood. It was impossible that any officer
could be to them what Percy Gregg, the English historian, says
Hood was ; that is, " a splendid soldier peculiarly suited to the
command of his reckless, daring and indomitable Texans, with
whom he was a special favorite. Commander and men alike
exaggerated the proverbial quality of EngHshmen — they never
knew when they were beaten, or, when they must be."

On the 24th of March, 1864, President Davis wired General
Longstreet to make all needful preparations for the march of
his command to that of General Johnston, to join in a spring
campaign planned by Bragg, who, proven incompetent to con-
duct the operations of a single army, was yet considered ca-
pable of directing the movements of all the armies of the Con-
federacy from an office in Richmond. April 7, though, Bragg
changed his mind, and Longstreet was ordered to rejoin Gen-
eral Lee's army, then holding the line of the Rapidan in Vir-
ginia, with all the troops he had carried from Virginia to
Bragg's army. Thus it came about, that about the 15th of
April the Texas Brigade broke camp at Bull's Gap, and
marching to Bristol, took trains to Lynchburg, Va. Remain-
ing there a few days — for there was neither need nor order for
haste — it boarded a train for Charlottesville, whence, on the
23d, it marched slowly to the eastward, finally halting and
camping near Gordonsville, about twenty-five miles from the
battlefield of the Wilderness.


The Wilderness — Spottsylvania — Cold Haebor — Peters-

On the 1st of May, 1864, the hopes of the Southern Con-
federacy rested upon the two armies of Lee and Johnston —
that of Lee holding the line of the Rapidan in Virginia — that
of Johnston, at Dalton, Ga. General Meade was in command
of the army opposing Lee's, General Sherman of that con-
fronting Johnston's, and each of their armies was largely
superior in numbers and equipment to that of his antagonist.
All Confederate ports were blockaded, and along the Atlantic
and Gulf coasts the Federals held various important positions.
Tennessee, Kentucky, a large part of Mississippi, and parts
of Alabama, Florida and Virginia were in practically unop-
posed possession of the Federal troops. In the Trans-Missis-
sippi department, Arkansas was overrun by them, as well as a
large part of Louisiana. In Texas alone, save at Point Isabel,
they had no holding.

In March, 1864, Lieutenant-General U. S. Grant was in-
vested with command of the armies of the Union. Looking
over the situation, it was apparent to him that the armies
of Lee and Johnston could receive little reinforcement except
from each other. Therefore he planned a campaign against
each that would be so vigorously prosecuted as to keep it
busy, and prevent it from aiding the other — these campaigns
to begin on the same day. Once begun, there was to be no
halt by either. Sherman was to move against Johnston's
army, to break it up, to get into the interior of the South,
and to inflict all the damage he could against its war resources
— his objective points, first, Atlanta, and next. Savannah.
Meade's army was to be under Grant's own immediate super-
vision — his order to Meade being : " Lee's army will be your
objective point; wherever he goes, there will you g6." The
characteristic of the campaign, as stated by Grant in this



order, was "to hammer continuously against the anned forces
of the enemy and his resources, until, by mere attrition, if
nothing else, there shall be nothing left him but submission."
His desire was, he told a friend, "to fight Lee between the
Rapidan and Richmond, if he will stand." As developed in
the field, though, it was to place the Union army between
Lee's and Richmond, and to do the " hammering," not by di-
rect and continuous strokes at the Wilderness and other places
where Lee did stand, but intermittently, while the Federal
army, under his orders, by crab-like sidling, moved southward.
On the 4th day of May, 1864, Meade's army, numbering
fully 125,000 men of all arms, and said by one of its oflScers
to be " the best-clothed and the best-fed army that ever took
the field," crossed the Rapidan and made its way into what
was then, and except to the boldest hunters, still is, a terra
incognita, as impenetrable in many places as the jungles of
Africa — the Wilderness. What ghastly scenes, what thrill-
ing and horrifying incidents, what terrifying sounds throng
to the memories of the survivors of the armies. Confederate
and Union, which, for nearly two months, grappled there in
deadly struggle! The bloody carnage — the moans and
screams of the wounded as they lay helpless on the ground, or
limped painfully to the rear — the piles of the dead and the
dying — the acrid smell of burning gunpowder — the sickening
stench of putrefying corpses — the roaring cannon and the
shrieking shells, round shot, grape and canister — the crack-
ling musketry, and the spat or dull thud of hissing, whistling,
vengeful bullets — the dark, damp, dense, miasma-breeding for-
ests into which sunlight never penetrated, and the tangled un-
dergrowth of swamplands and morasses, are remembrances that
are yet vivid, and at which old soldiers yet shudder.

Strictly, the name. Wilderness, applies to a section of coun-
try, ten or twelve miles square, bounded north and east by
the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers, and lying between
Fredericksburg and Orange Court House. Seams of iron ore
and traces of gold were discovered there at an early day, and
for several generations, more or less mining was done. The
forests then growing were cut down to supply fuel for iron
furnaces — the first built in North America — and to clear the
land for the cultivation of tobacco. The mines finally aban-


doned, the soil robbed of its fertility, the region was left to
nature, and was soon covered with pines, oaks, hickory and
other varieties of timber, beneath which grew vines, brambles
and all sorts of undergrowth in astonishing profusion. The
general surface, while elevated, is undulating, and between
the ridges course sluggish streams and lay swamps, bogs and

But although the Wilderness proper lies as above described,
in 1864 it may be said to have extended to within a few miles
of Richmond, distant from the battle ground of May 6 about
seventy miles on a bee-line, but on the route taken by the
armies, nearly, if not quite, a hundred. Across this extension
of it run the waters of the Mattapony, North Anna, Little
River, South Anna, Chickahominy and other streams of less
size and note — their many uncultivated valle3's, covered with
timber and undergrowth, and often marshy and always

General Lee was neither taken by surprise, nor unprepared
for Meade's passage of the Rapidan and advance into the
Wilderness. Ewell's and Hill's corps were in their places,
and on May 5, in an engagement beginning at daylight and
lasting until after nightfall, gave bloody check to the Federal
army. On the same day, Hood's old division, hereafter to
be designated as Field's, was on the march to find position in
the line held by the Confederates. That night it bivouacked
within eight miles of the line occupied by Hill's corps, and at
3 A. M. on the morning of the 6th, the Texas Brigade leading
the column — moved at a rapid gait to the front. Between
daylight and sunrise, when within two miles of the firing line,
the noises of volleys of musketry and occasional reports of
cannon gave notice that the struggle of the day had com-
menced, and at the sound General Gregg gave the command,
" Double quick ! "

" Breaking instantly into a double quick movement," writes
a member of the Fourth Texas, " we pressed on toward the
Plank Road. Half a mile from it, an order came to Gregg to
report, with the Texas Brigade, as soon as possible to General
Lee. Reacliing the Plank Road, we found it a scene of utter,
and apparently, irremediable confusion, such as we had never
witnessed before in Lee's anny. It was crowded with standing


and moving wagons, horses and mules, and threading their
way through this tangled mass, each with his face to the rear,
were hundreds of the men of Wilcox's and Heth's divisions,
which were being driven from their lines.

" Filing to the right as it came into the road, the Texas Bri-
gade continued at a double-quick down it, toward the sound
of the firing, for nearly a mile. Then called to a halt, it
formed line of battle facing the north side of the road, loaded
its guns, and by a right wheel brought itself into position
fronting the enemy, on an open hill, the highest probably in
the section, and immediately in rear of a battery said to have
been Poague's. Not more than three hundred yards in our
front was a line of Yankee skirmishers, who, but for interven-
ing pine thickets and large timber, might have done us great

" At this juncture. General Lee rode up near our line.
Mounted on the handsome dapple gray horse he bestrode at
Fredericksburg in 1862, and which he always rode on the
battle-field, he was a picture of noble grace that I can never
hope to see again. Having given General Gregg an order
to advance at once and check the on-coming enemy, he added:
' The Texas Brigade always has driven the enemy, and I want
them to do it now. And tell them, General, that they will fight
to-day under my eye — I will watch their conduct. I want
every man of them to know I am here with them ! ' Gregg rode
out in front of us, and told us what General Lee had said,
and then gave the command, ' Forward ! ' The word had
barely passed his lips when General Lee himself came in front
of us, as if intending to lead us. The men shouted to him to
come back, that they would not budge an inch unless he did
so, and to emphasize the demand, twenty or more of them
sprang forward and made an effort to lead or push his horse
to the rear. I was too far from him to join in this attempt,
or, like any other man in the brigade I would have done so.
Exactly what occurred, not even those nearest Lee can tell,
but just as they got 'Traveler' headed to the rear, General
Longstreet rode up and said something, whereupon General
Lee rode silently back through our ranks.

" Then General Gregg again shouted the command to for-
ward, and forward the old brigade went. The enemy's skir-


mishers discovered our approach before we had gone a hundred
yards, and opened a fire on us that killed or wounded many of
our best and bravest before they had fired a shot. Three
hundred yards further, the leaden hail poured upon us by the
skirmishers began to tliin our ranks greatly, and five hun-
dred yards from our starting point, we were confronted by a
line of battle. This could not withstand our assault, and so
fled in confusion. Across the Plank Road was another line,
and against it we moved rapidly. The storm of battle was
now terrific. Our brigade was alone, no support on our right,
none on the left, and an enfilading and terrible fire from the
left. The Plank Road ran diagonally across our line of ad-
vance, and down the road came the fire of a dozen cannon.
But across it we went, and drove the enemy back behind their
breastworks, to within a hundred yards of which we advanced.
Then it was discovered that a column of the enemy was com-
ing at a double-quick down the Plank Road, with the evident
intention of cutting us off, and General Gregg gave the order
to withdraw. But the object of our attack was accomplished,
General Lee's faith in the Texas Brigade justified. The
ground from which two Confederate divisions had been driven,
had been recaptured, but at a terrible sacrifice, for one-half
of our men were killed and wounded. Of the 207 men of the
Fourth Texas that went into the action, 30 were killed or
mortally wounded, and 100 wounded more or less seriously. I
do not know the extent of the losses in either of the other regi-
ments, but they were likely as great in the Fifth Texas as in
the Fourth, both of which regiments crossed the Plank Road.
The First Texas and Third Arkansas, however, although ad-
vancing and keeping in line with the Fourth and Fifth Texas,
did not get to the Plank Road, but fought to the left of it.
" The Fourth and Fifth Texas, the only regiments in dan-
ger of being cut off, fell back hurriedly, but not in confusion,
and the brigade was soon in line, a couple of hundred yards
in front of the battery near Avhich General Lee came to us.
As we were forming, another brigade passed over us on its
way to hold the enemy in the position to which we had driven
him. Ten minutes later we moved to the brow of a hill on
the left, and formed in hne at right angle to the general hne.
Then wheeling to the right, we moved down the hill, across a


morass and to the summit of another elevation, where we en-
countered a heavy Hne of Yankee skirmishers, and in the fight
with them lost quite a number of our men, killed and wounded.
The skirmishers dispersed, other troops took our place, and
we were given a long rest. That evening, though, the bri-
gade drove back a line of skirmishers, and thus held the at-
tention of the enemy until Anderson's and Law's brigades made
a flank movement and captured a part of the enemy's first
line of breastworks. ^

" I was not with the brigade in that last affair of the day.
Taken sick at noon, I made my way back to the field-hospital,
and was there when at 9 p. m. our division marched toward
Spottsylvania Court House. Too unwell on the 7th to be fit
for duty, I was in the act of leaving the hospital on the 8th
to rejoin my command, when Dr. Jones forbade my going,
detailed me as a nurse and ordered me to remain there until
our wounded were carried back to Richmond. That was not
done until the last of April, and before it was, I visited the
battle-field twice, once on the 12th, and again on the 24th.
At the time of the first visit, its aspect was terrible and sick-
ening. The stench from the putrifying corpses and carcasses
of the thousands of men and horses that lay in every conceiv-
able shape and position on the ground, pervaded the air and
made impossible any long stay in the gloomy shades of the
veritable wilderness in which the battle was waged. All the
Confederate dead that could be found had been buried, but
the Yankees had not buried a tenth of their dead. Vast quan-
tities of clothing, ammunition and arms lay strewn over acres
of ground, the enemy, seemingly, having abandoned the field
in too great haste to remove them. I counted five lines of
breastworks that had been erected for the defense of the
Union army — one, immediately in front of our only line of
intrenchments, and the others in rear of that one, at distances
of from fifty to a hundred yards apart. In front of the first
line the timber had been cleared off for a distance of fifty
yards or more. At places, I saw acres of ground, the trees
on which were riddled with bullets, and on several portions of
the field where small timber and undergrowth only grew, the
trees were actually cut in two, and the undergrowth topped at
about the height of a man's head. The bodies of our Texas


boys, brave fellows all, who had fallen, had been gathered to-
gether and buried under a large tree by the side of the
Plank Road. Although one large opening in the earth re-
ceived them, at the head of each was placed a board with his
name rudely carved on it, while nailed to a tree nearer the road
was another board on which were carved the simple but elo-
quent words, ' Texas Dead.'

" At the date of my second visit, the road and all the path-
ways leading into it were alive with worms, and above them
swarmed myriads of flies. The flesh had rotted from the
corpses and only bones marked the spots where brave spirits
had taken leave of their tenements of clay. Most of the cloth-
ing left on the field had been appropriated by the citizens
living near by, and the arms and ammunition had been hauled
away in wagons sent out by the Confederate Secretary of

To the daring and successful charge of the Texas Brigade
that day, is unquestionably due the check given the enemy
at a moment when, Wilcox's and Heth's divisions driven from
their positions, the Confederate army was in imminent peril
of being cut in two by an unexpectedly early dash forward
against its center of Hancock's always hard-fighting corps.
That the loss of the open and commanding hill from which
it advanced and repulsed the on-coming Federals, would have
wrought disaster to his army, and that General Lee so be-
lieved, is evident from his presence there, the anxiety he mani-
fested, his message to the Texas Brigade, and his effort to lead
it. So, while acknowledging the aid given it by the other
commands of Field's division, and by those of McLaws' which
fought on the right of Field's, the survivors of the Texas Bri-
gade claim now, as always since that day of struggle and
bloodshed, that it saved the Confederate army, and that to it
alone belongs that distinction.

Of the day's battle in general, it may be said that from sun-
rise till 11 A. M., it was fought by Longstreet's corps alone,
neither Hill's nor Ewell's corps taking more than desultory
parts in it. General John B. Gordon is authority for the
statement that had General Jubal Early, at sunrise of the 6th,
been less obstinate in his expressed belief that Sedgewick's


corps was close in rear and support of the Federal right flank
— which it was not — or had General Ewell been less under the

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 21 of 32)