J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 24 of 32)
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into the fort."

Their capture on the 29th of September, of Fort Harrison,
was a distinct gain to the Federals. Holding it. General Lee
had been able to confine the enemy on the north side to the
valley of the James, below Drury's Bluffs ; losing it, he was
compelled to withdraw his forces from the heights north of the
James, and place them within a line of intrenchments encir-
cling Richmond, and, at various points, not over three mile?
from the city. This gave the Federals outlet into the country
north of Richmond. Lee, however, did not withdraw without
an effort to recapture Fort Harrison, and with it, regain pos-
session of the ground lost on the 29th, for on the 30th he or-
dered an assault made on the fort by a portion of the troops
sent over from the south side. But, though well-managed and
made with great vigor and determination, the attack failed of
success, and emboldened by the defeat administered their op-
ponents, the Federal commanders led their troops out of the
river valley on to the heights from which, for the first time,
they caught sight of the high church steeples of the doomed
capital of the Southern Confederacy — Kautz's cavalry, sup-


ported by several brigades of infantry, taking position on,
and building formidable intrenchments and fortifications
across the Darbytown Road, at a point six miles from

Richmond. . . « ,,

The Texas Brigade took no part m the operations of the
30th, and remained unemployed, save in the Performance of
arduous picket duty, until October ^\h- ^n that day at 3
A M., it was called into line, and with the other brigades of
Field's, and several brigades of Hoke's division marched in
the direction of the intrenchments across the Darbytown Road
—General Lee having planned a reconnoissance m force, to de-
termine the position and strength of the enemy north of James
River That he deemed this of great importance, is evident
from the fact that he directed the movement m person.

Kautz's cavalry was easily handled; attacked at early dawn,
from front and flank, by a strong line of skirmishers, it
abandoned its artillery, and lost little time m placing itself
well in rear of its infantry supports. These occupied a Ime
of well-constructed intrenchments, extendmg a ong the crest
of a long ridge, in front of which much timber had been felled
and fashioned into an abatis exceedingly difficult of passage.
Half a mile from and in front of the center of the breastworks
stood an uncompleted fort in which were several of the cannon
captured-its defenders making but a brief stand agamst the
Confederate skirmish line. Passing to the left of this or t and
a little beyond it, the Texas Brigade fell into hne of battle,
and waited for the other troops to march into position on its
riffht and left— General Lee having planned to use the larger
part of the forces he had at hand in a simultaneous advance

and assault. .. , .^ ••• e av.^ v>of

Captain W. T. Hill, of the Fifth Texas, writmg of the bat
tie relates the follo'wing incident: "The Texas Brigade
formed in line about twenty yards from a dim road, on which,
immediately in front of my company, General Lee, unattended
sat on his 'horse, obviously awaiting reports ^-^ -^^^-^f
his staff engaged in fox-ming the troops in line. After quite a
little while? one of his aides approached him and aluted,
and Lee asked if all the commands were ready for the ad-
vance. 'None but the Texas Brigade, General, said the
aide 'The Texas Brigade is always ready,' commented


General Lee. His tone was not loud, but in the still, frosty
air of the early morning, every member of my company could
distinctly hear his words."

Another member of the brigade, a private, says :
" It was a case of ' noblesse oblige ' with the Texas Brigade
— ' a ground hog case,' as one of the boys put it. ' Marse
Robert ' was on the field and had his eye on it, and inspired
by the consciousness of that fact, every man in it went for-
ward with the resolve to do his level best. But luck and the
odds were overwhelmingly with the Yankees that day. Their
position was strong, and every tree of the many lying on the
ground over which we charged, pointed its sharpened branches
at our eyes, faces, bodies and clothing. No sooner was a fel-
low out of the detaining clutch of one, than another presented
itself, and taking hold of flesh or clothing, held him captive
a while. There was no staying in line, and could be none —
it was each one for himself, in the effort to get through, over
or around the abatis. Yet, the brigade moved gallantly on,
by jerks and spurts, until an enfilading fire commenced sweep-
ing down on it from the right, and a look in that direction in-
formed it that Hoke's division had come to a halt. Glancing
then to the left, and noting that small headway was being
made by the Confederates there, the main body of the bri-
gade halted in a depression, about 300 yards short of the
breastworks, in which, to some extent, protection against the
enemy's rapid and withering fire was afforded.

" But although the brigade halted short of the breastworks,
individual members of it went close to them, and while the
fight lasted, the space between brigade and intrenchments was
dotted with such stragglers to the front — some of them, in-
deed, going so far that retreat would have been unwise, and
they surrendered. The loss of the brigade in killed, wounded
and prisoners was greater than in any engagement since the
Wilderness, but there is no record from which exact figures
can be obtained. Its most notable loss was that of General
John Gregg, who was killed while closely following his com-
mand and directing its movements. A brave and capable
officer, he had won its respect and confidence, if not its love,
and his untimely death was sincerely regretted. His remains
were followed by the Texas Brigade to Richmond, and buried


Private, Company F, Fourth Texas Regiment


in Hollywood Cemetery. He was the last oflScer holding the
rank of brigadier-general that commanded the Texas Brigade,
and the battle in which he fell proved the last, worthy of the
name, in which the brigade engaged."

Unsuccessful as was the attack of the 7th on the enemy's
intrenchments, it sufficed to reveal to General Lee the strength
and position of the Federals on the north side, and he did not
order a renewal of the assault. Along toward the middle of
the day Field's division filed to the left and, taking advantage
of protecting hills and hollows, withdrew from in front of the
breastworks. The Texas Brigade marched to and took posi-
tion at the place, four miles from Richmond, where it was des-
tined to remain until the following spring, practically undis-
turbed by the Federals — General Butler's forces wisely, if not
valorously, keeping at long-distance range from its rifles, even
when, on the 27th of October, they essayed to force their way
into Richmond. On that day, for the purpose, it was said, of
strengthening " Lincoln's prospects in the near-at-hand presi-
dential election '' of 1864, by a couple of victories, General
Grant sent a column of 32,000 infantry and 3000 cavalry to
turn Lee's, right at Hatcher's Run, fourteen miles southwest
of Petersburg, and also ordered General Butler to make a dem-
onstration against Richmond. Neither movement was crowned
with success — Hancock, at Hatcher's Run, being not only de-
feated, but losing heavily in men and cannon, and Butler, on
the north side, moving with a caution that defeated his object.

Of the battle of October 27th, Captain W. T. Hill, who was
then commanding the Fifth Texas, writes as follows :

" All of Field's division were then on the north side — the
Texas Brigade holding the left of the infantry line, and Gary's
cavalry being on the left of the Texas Brigade. About the
middle of the afternoon, the advance guard of the Federals
attacked and drove back to the breastworks a portion of
Gary's cavalry, then holding position somewhat in advance of
their comrades. The Texas Brigade was instantly double-
quicked to Gary's relief, and to cover the front of the advanc-
ing Federals, our men stood in single line, about eight feet
apart. Benning's and Anderson's Georgia brigades followed
the movement to the left, and also fell into single line. Just


as the three commands got fairly into line and position, a
Federal battery and two regiments of infantry emerged from
the woods in our front — the artillery taking position on the
north side of the Williamsburg road, and the infantry on the
south side. From their movements, it was evident that they
were somewhat surprised at finding infantry, instead of cavalry
alone, in their front.

" Finally, the Federal infantry moved forward against us.
But they came only about two hundred yards when, met by
our bullets, they lay down. Their battery did effective work,
though, at one time blowing up one of our caissons and com-
pelling our men near it to jump over to the outside of the
breastworks. Two men of each company of the brigade were
at once ordered to concentrate their fire on the battery, and,
if possible, to kill all its horses. Their fire was so accurate
and destructive that fearing they would lose the battery for
want of teams to pull the guns, the Federals hitched up and
galloped away with it, leaving their infantry still recumbent
on the ground. They lay there for an hour. Then W. A.
Traylor, of Company D, Fifth Texas, sprang over the breast-
works and, entirely alone, made for them. I called to him and
ordered him to come back and rejoin his company. Halting
and facing me, he said : ' But, Captain, these slow-going gen-
erals of ours are going to sit still until night comes, and let
those Yankees out yonder get away.' And facing to the front
again, he continued his solitary advance. But he had not gone
thirty yards when, waiting for no orders, the men sprang over
the breastworks, and forming in line with him, proceeded to
the capture of the Federals. Traylor's line of advance led him
to a little gulley quite near our breastworks in which lay, con-
cealed from our view, a brave Federal who had done us much
harm by his constant and generally accurate fire. When Tray-
lor was within forty yards of the gulley, this man fired at him,
but missing his mark, paid for his gallantry with his life —
Traylor firing and killing him. By this unordered advance,
several hundred Federals were captured, the greater part of
the two regiments having crawled back to the woods. It is
but fair to say, that with the Texas Brigade in its unordered
advance, went both the Georgia brigades.''

It was on the Williamsburg road that the Texas Brigade


was stationed. But at no time during the day did the Fed-
erals assault the intrenchments it held, their effort on that
part of the line being, seemingly, to frighten the Confederates
into precipitate flight, by a show of immensely superior num-
bers, at a distance never less than a quarter of a mile. Butler
had under his command '30,000 men — Longstreet had only
6000. Grant's army then numbered 110,000 — Lee's, 40,000;
Grant's was well-fed, and well-clothed, and shod — Lee's was
starving, ragged, and barefooted — and, if of spirit and resolu-
tion, if of courage and honest conviction. Grant's army had
possessed a tithe of that which animated Lee's, it could have
marched into Richmond any day it pleased. But it lacked
even that tithe, and knowing it. General Grant allowed it to
remain idle and inactive after October 27th, until the last days
of March, 1865. It was, perhaps, wise that he should; many
in numbers and well-equipped as the Union army was, its
morale was at a low ebb, and had been since his butchery of
his men at Cold Harbor, after which they fought but half-
heartedly. That truth is confessed in Walker's life of Gen-
eral Hancock, in Greeley's work, " The American Conflict,''
and in many contemporaneous writings.

At that time — November 1, 1864 — and thereafter until
April, 1865, Lee's 40,000 Confederates defended and held a
line of intrenchments forty miles in length, and stretching from
Hatcher's Run, south of Petersburg, to the Chickahominy. To
man its entire length they must have stood in single rank, five
feet apart. Of guns and ammunition only, of courage and
determination alone, had they abundant supplies. Even fuel
for the fires needed to warm their shivering bodies was doled
out to them with sparing hand, for there was no forage for
the skeleton teams that hauled it. The quarter of a pound of
bacon and the pound of meal that, under the rules of the War
Department, were the daily assignment to each man were barely
enough to maintain their strength, but even this allowance
failed when the railroads broke down and left immense quan-
tities of such provisions piled up beside their tracks in Georgia
and the Carolinas, and for lack of them the daily ration was
reduced to less than one-half.

Just across the way, beyond the two opposing lines of
pickets and at many places in plain view of the hard-run


Confederates, lay the abundantly-tented winter-quarters of the
well-fed and comfortably-clad Federals. Among the Confed-
erates, and ever present to the end, at Appomattox, famine
stalked, grim, gaunt, unrelenting, and cold penetrated the thin
clothing of the men and chilled them to the marrow — among
the Federals, plenty reigned, no man went hungry and none
cold. Yet, great as were the material differences between the
two armies, it is neither venture nor boast to say that thence-
forward until Appomattox the Union army remained convinced
and could not be shaken in the belief that any one of Lee's
men was equal to any three of its own in fighting ability.
Nor can it be doubted by the dispassionate and unprejudiced
student of the history of those days that both General Grant
and the most able of his subordinate commanders had not only
a profound respect for the generalship of Lee, but, as well, a
wholesome and abiding fear of it.

Grant confessed as much when, at the outset of his cam-
paign, he declined to maneuver, and declared his intention of
exhausting Lee's army by attrition. Its movements, well-di-
rected, there w^as never a day after May 4, 1864, that the
Union army, fighting with spirit, confidence, and obstinacy,
could not have brushed the Confederate army out of its way
and marched into Richmond. Pluck and daring, resolute and
unyielding as it may be, can accomplish little when confronted
by equal pluck and daring on the part of such vastly superior
numbers as Grant had under his command. Weight tells in
any contest.

Winter at hand, and the Federals appearing inclined to a
cessation of active hostilities, the men of the Texas Brigade
set about the construction of shelters from the cold. These
were neither imposing nor very comfortable structures. Little
timber had been left standing inside the intrenchments, and
that north of them was so jealously guarded by the enemy
that it could not be counted on as available. The only lumber
accessible was that in deserted buildings, and this, for lack of
teams, had to be carried on the shoulders of the soldiers lucky
enough to be in time to secure shares in such material. Nails
were things of the past — hatchets, saws, and hammers were
few — and axes, seldom more than one to the company, were
the only tools procurable. But with these, hovels were built


which, when roofed with tents, blankets and like makeshifts,
and provided with fireplaces and chimneys made of mud and
sticks, proved desirable dwelling places for men so long inured
to hardship. In them the soldiers cooked, ate and slept, played
cards, checkers, cribbage and chess, laughed, talked, jested
and joked, and, strange to say, were not altogether unhappy.

Not all of their time, by long odds, though, was spent in
the hovels and in idleness. Picketing had to be done against
the Federals in their front. This being but a duty and pre-
caution, offered little of adventure and excitement, and these,
eagerly sought for, not only were details made of organized
and instructed parties of scouts under command of trusted
officers, but permissions to scout were given liberally to indi-
viduals and parties desiring to operate on their own hook.
The organized parties, as a rule, gave little annoyance to the
enemy, but the independent scouts went right in close to his
camps and kept his men in constant alarm ; in fact, during
that winter, not a Federal within five miles of the Texas Bri-
gade dared, after nightfall, stray beyond the guarded limits
of his regiment's camp, or in broad daylight go far from it
alone, lest he be pounced upon by Texan or Arkansan, relieved
of his valuables and led into captivity.

The only movement made by the Texas Brigade as a com-
mand during the winter of 1864-5 was on the 20th of Decem-
ber, 1864. Its objects and incidents are related by Private
J. H. Cosgrove, of Company C, Fourth Texas, as follows :

" The cold, chilly winds of December had stolen all military
ambition from the older officers of ' Lee's Army ' ; the weather,
combined with the seeming hopelessness of our cause, had pro-
duced that lassitude which, to the practiced eye, is a token
of coming dissolution.

" Not so, however, with that indefatigable, red-headed Col-
onel, who, the winter before, had alarmed the enemy at Ply-
mouth, N. C, and under Hoke's command had gained no small
repute as a leader in bold and dashing enterprises. His name
was Anderson. Small of stature, quick spoken, leaving more
to be understood than expressed, and quite nervous in his
movements, he suggested the reconnoissance of the 20th of
December, 1864; the last aggressive movement made by the


Texas Brigade, except such as covered the retreat to the Ap-

" li was a bitter cold day ; a day preceded by times of
heavy snow and a freeze which so hardened the crust that it
bore up the men, though the artillery sunk through and into
the rotten soil, and the cavalry cut it up dreadfully. To add
to this, the day was gloomy. Murky clouds hung low and
depressed the men's spirits.

" In this weather, Colonel Anderson suggested a dash on
the enemy''s lines on the ' North Side,' not so much to achieve
important direct results as to annoy the Yankees, keep them
in the open, and disturb as much as possible their repose. And
then important direct results might develop, which could be
taken advantage of.

*' These did develop, but Anderson with all his dash was not
equal in that regard to the Texas Brigade skirmish line. I
remember that I was acting Clerk to Haywood Brayhan, Lieu-
tenant Co. F, and since Jack Sutherland's disabling, acting
Adjutant, and that as the Brigade moved out to the ' sally
port ' on the Charles City road, I slipped and fell several times,
as I ran along the line of march, delivering the mail to the
regiment. At the ' sally port ' was a Washington artillery
battery which had moved out before us. Some mile or so be-
yond we took a ' woods ' road which led to and intersected
the pike to the ' Pottery ' and to ' Deep Bottom.'

" As we had scouted all through this country, our Brigade
was placed in front, and with Ed Crockett, Dansby, Kay, Ben-
net Wood and others, I went on the skirmish line, which was
made up of Texans and South Carolinians. There were about
sixty or eighty of us under command of Major Martin; and
sixty or eighty men those late days in the war in Virginia
made what was then called a Regiment, in size and front cov-
ering. And then the sixty or eighty men were a survival, not
of the fit, but of those who were at first the fittest. They were
trained, and as Joe Polley would remark, ' tried and true.'

" Just beyond the New Market Pike we struck the enemy's
pickets, and with a rush and a yell, ran in on the reserves
at the heels of the videttes. Just then it began to snow lightly,
and the sight at that moment was indescribably grand.

" At the Yankee reserves' bivouac, fires made from rails


burning their entire length, cast a crimson glow ; the snow
was lazily drifting in huge flakes ; the red flash of the small
arms against a white background ; the flying enemy — dark
from their blue uniforms — and the pursuing Confederates, have
left with me a lasting impression. At the moment, I called
Crockett's, Wood's and Dansby's attention to the picture, and
began to dilate on its sublimity, when some smart-alex of a
staffs officer, as unpoetic as a mummy, remarked : ' We'll defer
your fancies, young man, to a season less serious.' General
Fields, riding near, retorted, ' You're right, my Texas friend.
It is beautiful. Something like Moscow.' To which I replied,
' General, I hope not in results.' And forward we pushed.

" The ' bitterness ' of the cold that day came with a thaw
which ' slushed ' the snow, and from then on it was to keep
feet from frost bite. Mine became so cold at times that, find-
ing an open, unfrozen spring stream, I would bathe them in
its icy water to find relief from the cruel pain. All my dry
socks went, as did those of all the boys.

" Always moving to the left and obliquely forward, we
came, towards the noon of that short winter day, to the
broken holly-grown lands, through which deep worn gulleys
debouch into the James River's second-bottom land, a plateau
following that stream to the coastlands below. I had been all
day with Major Martin, Ed Crockett and Dansby, practically,
as the last two were nearly always my camp and scouting
companions. But in this broken and thickety country I be-
came separated from them. Coming up a deep ravine-side to
the crest of a hill covered by scrub pine and holly, with no
openings except the stock trail I followed, I came suddenly
upon a Yankee skinnisher. We were face to face and not ten
feet apart. He was in a stooping position, looking at me
from over a large and, as I afterwards found, rotten log. My
gun was at an easy trail, and I fired quickly from the hip.

" I hit that log, and the rotten dust flew like a cloud. I
knew my best chance was to charge him, and as there was no
return fire I was sure I had my man. A step or two and I
was at the log, but that Yankee had rolled down the hill and
was clean gone. I never touched him ; but he was at least
worse scared than I was, and that was enough.

" I could hear firing at the hill's foot, and going down its


steep sides I found a South Carolina crowd trying to go
through an open apple orchard which the enemy defended from
the other side. I clambered over the fence, but a sharp fire
drove me to an apple tree, where I heard Dansby's voice:

' Jim, you fool,' he cried, ' what in h are you doing in

there? ' My reply, I remember, was, ' Nothing just now, but
you fellows can get me out alive if you'll go around and flank
this patch.'

" And go around they did, to my great pleasure, for I
thought, for some time, that I was a goner. The Yankees
were about 200 yards away, and that apple tree felt so small
to me when they would clip all around it. As far as my
movements were concerned, I hugged the earth and let them
do the shooting. After that, I got with Dansby, and we kept
together, all along, till the finish.

" You remember the Dutchman who was so brave and so
bad.'* Well, that day he was with us. He had lately returned
from Saulsbury, N. C, where he had served a term for ' mug-
ging ' a comrade and robbing him of his money. After his
pardon and return Colonel Winker had him marching along
the breastworks, two hours on and four hours off, with a
placard tacked to his back containing this legend in large
letters : ' Stole his comrade's rations ' — an offense deadly se-
rious when 6 ounces of flour or meal, and 4 ounces of meat
daily, was all we got — except cow peas. But he would fight,
and fight as bravely as the best of us. On that cold day, his
legs became so swollen he could not drag himself along. The
heavy ball and chain he had worn in North Carolina had done
him up.

" Doctor Terrell advised him to go to the rear, but he said :
' Doc, I can't do that. My honor as a soldier won't permit it.'
Terrell turned to me, with the peculiar smile that wrinkled his
nose, and said : ' Well, I'm damned ! Cosgrove, how is that
for a psychologic phenomenon ? ' I gave it up.

" Dansby and myself scouted around the enemy's right, and

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 24 of 32)