J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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domination of General Early, a flank movement by Gordon's
command was not only possible but invited and tempted,
which, assisted by Longstreet's bold and successful assault a
little after sunrise, would either have destroyed the Union
army, or forced it into hurried and disorderly retreat. Gen-
eral Gordon further says that when about 5 p. m. General Lee
rode to his left and was informed by himself of the situation
there, he immediately ordered the flank movement made, and
that but for the lateness of the hour, it would even then have
proven a mortal blow to the enemy.

About ten o'clock in the forenoon Hill's troops, now rested,
were again sent to the front. Longstreet sent Mahone, with
four brigades, to turn Hancock's left, which they did. Then,
moving forward, they rolled up that flank, as Hancock him-
self said, " like a wet blanket." By eleven o'clock Hancock's
front and both his flanks were driven back, and by noon the
left of the Federal army was defeated and disorganized.
Seeking to press the advantages gained, Longstreet formed
Kershaw's division in line of battle across the Plank Road, and
led it, in person, in pursuit of the now fleeing enemy. He had
gone but a short distance, though, when, mistaken by Ma-
hone's men, then halted in line and facing the Plank Road, for
a Federal officer accompanied by his staff, he was fired upon
and wounded, and the onset of Kershaw's men was checked.
General Lee rode at once to the front, and restoring order,
sent the division forward again, with a part of Field's di-
vision on its left. These troops followed the Federals to the
Brock Road, which crosses the Plank Road at right angles,
and there were confronted by a wall of fire, made by the
burning of the front line of the enemy's breastworks, and
also by a more dangerous line of artillery and infantry which
poured shot and shell into their ranks from the second and full-
manned line of works.

Nevertheless, the Confederates drove the enemy from that
second line, and planted their flags on the breastworks, but,
owing to the continued terrible artillery fire, soon fell back a
quarter of a mile to a line they held the balance of that
and all the next day. The outcome of the day's battle was


an advance of the Confederate lines, and the placing of the
Union army on the defensive.

Peace and comparatively absolute quiet reigned on the 7th.
That night Grant moved his army southward, to Spottsyl-
vania Court House, but when on the morning of the 8th his
advance, under Warren, arrived there, it found Longstreet's
corps, now commanded by R. H. Anderson, in its front.
Thenceforward, until Grant shifted to the south side of the
James River, there was little cessation of battle between the
two armies ; if not all along the lines, it was on this or that
flank, or in the center, that Grant " hammered."

To follow the movements of the Texas Brigade and relate
them in detail, would be wearisome and unprofitable. It was
one of the component parts of a live machine that, although
guided and directed by General Lee, seemed to move automati-
cally. In light and In darkness, it shared with comrade com-
mands a relentless, ceaseless and ever-present danger. In the
trenches its men looked their perils In the face without blench-
ing, and grew Inured to them ; in camp or on the march, they
swooped down on us unexpectedly — now coming in the guise
of bullets from far-off concealed sharpshooters, and again from
overhead, when shells from the enemy's long-range cannon
burst in the air. Death or wounds came at all hours of
the night and day. Absolute safety was nowhere to be found
within the zone of five miles in width through the center of
which ran the opposing lines of breastworks. Lee's whole
force barely sufficient to man the line confronting the enemy's,
his soldiers could not be allowed, when relieved from service
at the front, to seek resting places beyond the zone, lest, in
case of sudden attack, they fail to reach threatened parts of
the line in time to avert disaster.

Wherever a halt was made on the firing line, breastworks
were immediately erected — the Federals, notwithstanding their
overwhelming preponderance in numbers, being as insistent as
the Confederates on having such protection. The Confeder-
ates soon grew to be experts in the manipulation of the pick
and the spade, and when, as frequently happened, such tools
were not at hand, and the enemy threatened a speedy attack,
resort was had to bayonets — tin-cups and frying-pans and
such few axes and hatchets as were carried by Individual sol-


diers. With these and such logs and rails as could be found
near, fairly safe breastworks were thrown up in an hours

*™The rations issued to the Confederates, slender as they were
at its beginning, grew less and less as tl^/^^^^^^P^iP P??"
gressed. Flour became a luxury, corn-bread the staff of lite
Hunger— incessant, never-satisfied hunger— prevailed and
the soldiers grew thin and gaunt. Still, on the pound of corn-
meal to the man, and the less than half a pound of bacon, or as
much of beef which was occasionally issued, Lee's soldiery man-
aged to live and retain the strength and the courage for al-
most continuous battle with a well-fed foe. ,

The Texas Brigade moved, as did the other commands m
the Southern army, always to the right, and only as Grants
army sidled to its left-Lee's constant effort being, and he
seldom failed to accomphsh it, to confront the Federals at all
times and places. Grant's effort seemed to be, not to cru h
the Confederate army, but to evade it. But move as secretly
as Grant might, Lee was either informed of the movement or
divined it in time to meet it; and dangerous as it otten was,
to weaken a part of the Hne then held by him, kept his troops

well in front of Grant's. -o • j 4-1,

In the early hours of May 8 the Texas Brigade threw up
breastworks along the part of the hne assigned to it at bpott-
svlvania. It was not attacked until about sunset of the 10th.
For many hours of the 8th, and all day of the 9th, the dull
but incessant roar of small arms and the wicked boom^ of artil-
lery told of repeated assaults on Ewell's lines on its right, and
behind breastworks for the first time and anxious to learn what
execution it could do from them, it felt slighted At daylight
of the 10th it appeared that its hopes would be gratified.
Fruition, however, was denied until late in the day. ihen,
having failed after repeated trials, beginning ^^ s^Jf ' ^j^
make headway against either Hill's corps, on the le^ « ^ong-
street's, or Ewell's, the enemy as a last resort decided to move
against Field's division. Their heaviest blow was directed
against the Texas Brigade, and, it must be confessed, they

took it by surprise. i- .i • u • /i«c

Giving no notice of their intentions, five of their brigades,
under cover of the heavy timber, crawled close up to the breast-


works. Then, with loud huzzas they sprang forward in a
seemingly reckless charge. Having made up their minds that
they would not be attacked at all that day, the Texas regi-
ments were not as ready as they should have been, and for a
few seconds it looked as if the enemy would win the breast-
works. But when his hope was strongest, a sheet of flame and
a yell of defiance burst from the intrenchments, the bullets
mowing the assailants down by the hundreds, and in front of
the Fourth and Fifth Texas and the Third Arkansas the onset
was soon checked.

The First Texas was not as successful as its comrade regi-
ments in repelling the enemy. About the middle of the part
of the line occupied by it a gap, probably forty feet wide, had,
for some reason, been left unprotected by breastworks, and
into this, a double line of the Union soldiers poured, shoot-
ing right and left, and to some extent, using their bayonets.
But although taken more by surprise than the other regiments,
being habitually more careless, and driven from their works,
the First Texans immediately rallied, and joining in a hand-
to-hand contest with their assailants, soon drove them back
over the works ; and as by this time the balance of the bri-
gade was idle and turned their fire on the Federals still in front
of the First, they were soon compelled to precipitate flight.
But for a while, the aff^air looked ugly to the Confederates,
and troops were hurried to the reinforcement of the Texas
Brigade. By the time they arrived, though, the part of the
line seized was recaptured, and the Union troops in its front
were on the run.

The " Ragged First " was a peculiar regiment in many

respects. Its personnel were as brave and daring as any,
but they were never strong on dress, drill and discipline, as
laid down in Hardee's tactics. Their long stay in the corn-
field at Shai'psburg, and their repulse there of all the Federal
commands that had the nerve to assail them, shows how well
they could stand fire, and how vigorously and eff'ectively they
could deliver it. While in East Tennessee they took a notion
that they could march with greater ease if relieved of the
weight of bayonets, for which they had never had need and
never expected to have, and they threw them away. When
at Spottsylvania quite a number of them felt the points of


bayonets in the hands of the enemy, they " saw the point "
that such weapons were good things to have, and quiet was
no sooner restored than they went in search of them and were
soon well-equipped with them— securing many from the aban-
doned guns of the Federals, and borrowing, "unbeknownst"
to the owners, others from an Alabama brigade of another


In the matter of dress, as above indicated, the First Texans
were neither dudes nor dandies. Their fondness for and fre-
quent indulgence in games of cards, naturally had a disastrous
effect upon the seats of their trousers. One day when the
army was marching from Sharpsburg toward the Rapidan,
General Lee and a distinguished English guest sat on their
horses by the roadside — Lee naming the commands by States
as they passed, and the Englishman observant and critical,
his look, that of admiration. As the First Texas filed by,
though, the look changed to one of derision, and noting it,
General Lee said : " Never mind their raggedness. Colonel—
the enemy never sees the backs of my Texans."

On the 11th, Grant let his army rest. It needed it httle
less, if any, than Lee's did. On the morning of that day,
Grant wired to Washington:

" We have now ended the sixth day of very heavy fighting, the
result to this time in our favor. But our losses have been heavy,
as well as those of the enemy. We have lost to this time, eleven
general officers, killed, wounded and missing, and probably 20,000
men. ... I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes
all summer. The arrival of reinforcements will be very encour-
aging to the men, and I hope they will be sent as fast as possible
and in as great numbers. ... I am satisfied the enemy are
very shaky, and are only kept up to the mark by the greatest
exertions on the part of their officers, and by keeping them in-
trenched in every position they take."

The statement, " I am satisfied the enemy are very shaky,"
was the outcome of desire they should be, and not of Grant's
six days' experience in trying to drive the Confederates. In
truth, the Army of Northern Virginia was never more en-
thusiastic and sanguine of success than it was on that day.
Grant's insistence that speedy and large reinforcements of his


army would be " very encouraging to the men," is a confession,
that discouraged by their failures and appalled by the butch-
ery to which they had already been subjected, and appeared
doomed, his own men were shaky. His assertion that only by
the greatest efforts on the part of their officers were the Con-
federates kept up to the mark, is not only absolutely untrue,
but is another case where " the wish was father to the
thought." And finally, liis complaint, for it is nothing else,
that the Confederates would fight only from behind their
breastworks, is puerile in view of the great difference in num-
bers of the two armies, and the fact that wherever a Federal
command took position, it hastened to protect itself by in-

On the 12th, although to its right and left the storm of
battle raged continuously all day long, the Texas Brigade was
not attacked. Demonstrations, however, were frequent in its
front, and 'the men were kept busy watching lest one of these
be converted into a real attack, and firing at every Federal
and body of Federals that came in sight and within range of
their rifles. Both for this pui*pose, and to repel an assault,
they had guns and ammunition in superabundance, gathered
from the large supplies left on the 10th by the flying Union
soldiers. It was at the great salient occupied by Edward
Johnson's division that the real battle of the 12th was waged.
The brave, determined assault by the Federals, the courageous
obstinacy of the Confederates as they contested the issue
whether Lee's center should be broken and his army divided,
made the engagement far the bloodiest of the campaign, and
christened the salient as the " bloody angle." It was Grant's
grandest and most hopeful effort to break Lee's center, and
for long hours victory hung in the balance. Success crowned
the initial assault made on the apex of the angle by twenty-
two Federal brigades. Their approach hidden by the thick
woods and a dense fog, these crept up to within a hundred
yards of the breastworks, and then charging, captured John-
son's division, and only by the almost superhuman exertions
of the Confederates was their advance to the base of the angle
stayed, and finally, after the most desperate fighting on both
sides, repulsed.

It is wonderful how rapidly information as to what was


occurring, or had occurred, passed from lip to lip up and down
the Confederate lines. Hancock's assault at the " bloody
angle " was known to the Texas Brigade within three minutes
after it began, and so of every other important happening.
Jokes, jests and accounts of the ludicrous had as swift trans-
mission, and received a most grateful Avelcome, for they took
the minds of the soldier off the tragic. At nightfall of the
12th hardly had the firing ceased when came the comforting
words : " All right on the left," " All right on the right,"
and " We've had a desperate time of it in the center, but
we're not whipped to hurt." While such reports came and
were received exultingly, behind them, in cases where the fight-
ing had been severe, we could hear the groans of the wounded
and dying, and in the light of our own experiences, see the
fast stiffening bodies of the slain. It was war, and it might
be the turn next of any one of us to fall wounded or dead, and
if wounded, to writhe in pain and agony, or, using musket as
a crutch, limp slowly and painfully to the rear. Yet, not a
man of Lee's army lost heart, and ceased to be brave, defiant
and hopeful.

On the 13th quiet prevailed. On the afternoon of the 14th
it was discovered that the enemy had again sidled to the south-
ward, and that night the Texas Brigade was again on the
march, this time to the North Anna River. The tramp, how-
ever, was interrupted at several points where it halted to con-
front the threatening enemy, and to build the short line of
breastworks that was to be its shield should an assault come.
On the 21st it reached the North Anna, marching thence on
the 27th, and on June 1st taking position and throwing up
breastworks on the identical ridge north of the Chickahominy,
from which, in June, 1862, it had helped drive Fitz-John Por-
ter's command, of McClellan's army, to the south side of that
stream. Then it faced and moved southeast — now, it faced
northwest — the positions of the contending armies being ex-
actly the reverse of what they were in 1862.

The Federal breastworks were too close to those occupied
by the Texas Brigade to permit a picket line, and June 2nd
was spent in an almost continuous exchange of rifle shots from
the main lines. The morning of June 3rd dawned clear and
hot, not a breath of air stirring. A day of comparative quiet


in prospect, the men were no sooner awake than they com-
menced reading the morning papers, just out from Richmond,
then but seven miles distant, breakfasting as they read on
clammy corn-bread and raw bacon — the latter too precious
then to be wasted by cooking. Such as had neither paper
to read nor rations to eat, strolled up and down the trench,
casting occasional watchful glances across the breastworks.
Not a man dreamed that an attack would be made by the
Union army ; our position was too strong.

But the improbable, the wholly unlooked for, happened nev-
ertheless. Grant made preparations for an assault on the 2nd,
and Lee, alert to every threat, took steps to defend against
it. Half a mile to the left of the Texas Brigade, Kershaw's
division guarded a salient, the weak place on the Confederate
line, and in front of this Grant massed the half of his immense
army, and made his last desperate effort to break through
Lee's line and gain a direct " on to Richmond." In the
trenches between Kershaw's right and the Texas Brigade stood
Anderson's and Law's brigades. These and Kershaw's troops
bore the brunt of the assault. Against the Texas Brigade
there was scarcely the threat of attack, but, as in their ad-
vance the Federals exposed their left flank to its fire, they got
it as fast as experienced soldiers could load, aim and pull

The charge of the Federals was gallant enough to deserve
success. They came forward in four lines, about fifty yards
apart, and thus presented the fairest of targets for Texas
and Arkansas markmanship. But they essayed the impos-
sible ; men could not live in the fire poured on them from front
and flanks, and although in the first rush a few came within
seventy yards of our lines, they halted, about-faced, and fled
as fast as legs could carry them. The slaughter was terrible ;
in the fifteen minutes their struggle lasted, 10,000 Union sol-
diers were killed and wounded. This assault on the Confeder-
ate center was supported by one made at the same hour, a
mile or more to the right of the Texas Brigade, by Hancock's
corps, which, though fruitless, cost it the loss of '3000 men.
The Confederate loss during the day was less than 1300.

At nine o'clock of the same morning Grant ordered the
assault renewed. But not a man in the Union ranks moved


forward, for not a man of them but knew it was suicidal to
undertake the task ordered. Swinton, the Northern historian,
is candid enough to say : " The order was issued through
these officers to their subordinate commanders, and from them
descended through the wonted channels, but no man stirred
and the immobile lines pronounced a verdict, silent, yet em-
phatic, against further slaughter."

Until nightfall of June 7th the Texas Brigade remained at
Cold Harbor without change of position, the stench of the un-
buried, rotting corpses of the Federals slain on the 3rd con-
stantly in its nostrils — Grant having delayed asking leave to
bury his dead until the 5th, lest the request be construed as an
admission of defeat, and when given permission, having failed
to bury the half of them. Relieved then by other troops, it
was given a day's rest in a camp in the woods, whence it went
over to Totopotomy Creek to hold a position from which
Ewell's troops were retiring, against Federal cavalry with
which it had a rumpus from which the cavalry emerged con-
siderably the worse for wear. Thence, on the 13th, along
with the other commands of Field's division, it went to the
south side of James River, crossing that stream on a pontoon
bridge above Drury's Bluff, and on the morning of the 16th,
taking position in an old line of earthworks at Bermuda Hun-
dreds. Grant, hopeless of forcing his way into Richmond by
the route originally chosen by him, was transferring his army
to the south side — his aim to capture Petersburg and move
against Richmond from that point — and Lee was hurrying his
to the support of Beauregard, then commanding an insignifi-
cant force at Petersburg.

On the crest of the hill at the foot of which the Texas
Brigade lay, stretched a short line of intrenchments from
which, a day or two before, the Federals had driven Beaure-
gard's troops. They were now occupied by the enemy in
heavy force. For a while an effort to recapture them was in
contemplation. At noon all thought of such an attack was
abandoned, and the men of the Texas Brigade settled them-
selves down for a good rest. At 5 p. m., though, Pickett's
division was ordered forward to make a reconnoissance in force
and discover the strengh and position of the enemy in its im-
mediate front. The gallant Virginians soon converted the re-


connoissance into a real attack, and unwilling to meet this,
the Federals broke in confusion and fled. The ground open
and the Texas Brigade not half a mile from the right of
Pickett's men, it witnessed every movement made, and when
the Federals broke, a Texas private — who it was, has never
been known — shouted : " Now's our time, boys ! " The eff^ect
of the call seemed magical, for the words had scarce passed the
speaker's lips when every member of the brigade sprang to his
feet, gun in hand, and leaping over the breastworks, joined in
a wild, reckless charge up the slope of the hill on the enemy.

No order was given by any officer; none was needed. Each
man wanted to do, just then, while the enemy were in confusion,
what he felt sure he would be ordered to do, perhaps an hour
later, when the Federals had recovered from their panic, and
probably, received reinforcements. There was no alignment,
no attempt at any, and such a yell as resounded was never,
before or since, heard between Richmond and Petersburg.
Company, regimental and brigade officers, followed the lead
of their men, and the other brigades of the division joined with
a yell in the movement. The outcome was that the Union
soldiers in front of the Texas Brigade took to their heels, and
it gained the breastworks unopposed — to find them half torn
down, and to discover that just over the crest beyond them
the enemy had built a strong line of intrenchments, along
which were two heavy-gunned and well-manned forts that had
the exact range, and poured a brisk but ineff^ective fire on
the dismantled works behind whose low walls the Confederates
crouched. The cannonading ceasing when darkness came, the
brigade worked all night to reconstruct the captured works.
But it was not allowed to enjoy the fruits of its bold, unor-
dered charge and its subsequent labor, for shortly after sunrise
it moved to the right, and an hour later was on the cars,
speeding toward Petersburg, which but the day before had
barely escaped seizure by the Federals.

The siege of Petersburg — it was really the siege of Rich-
mond — commenced on the 18th day of June, 1864. Then it
was that the Federal armies of the Potomac and the James.
and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under their
respective commanders, confronted each other south of James
River in the positions they were respectively to occupy until


the opening days of April, 1865. Grant wrote to General
Meade on the 18th, saymg: "Now we will rest the men and
use the spade for their protection, until a vein can be struck."
That kind of resting suggests the story of the plantation and
slave-owner, who, one hot summer's day in the fifties, said to
his darkeys when they came from the cotton-field at noon:
" Now, boys, while you are resting, you may as well hoe out
that five-acre garden patch." It was not a new kind of rest,
though, to the soldiers in the Army of the Potomac who had
constructed a line of intrenchments which stretched from the
Rapidan to James River.

Until the 19th the Texas Brigade moved from place to
place in the strip of country, a mile and a half wide, that lay
between Petersburg and the semi-circle of intrenchments on
the east and south that held the enemy at bay — halting an
hour or two here, a day there, or a night at another point.
The position then assigned it lay east of the city, far down on
the eastern and untimbered side of a long ridge — its left flank
south and within five hundred yards of the " crater," the yet

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 22 of 32)