J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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found them not so numerous. We got well behind their line,
and into an old saw pit. From this, we began to fire on a
horseman out in the open, and soon had him dodging to beat
the band. But he was too far away to hit except by accident,
and after several shots at him, no accident happened.


"Behind him was a breastwork with troops in it, and a
forted battery. This seemed their main line, and built to
protect their James River pontoon and their lines along Deep
Bottom. We found Major Martin and told him of it. He
said he didn't know where the brigade was. Dansby and I
were in the same fix, but we told the INIajor we knew where we
were, and he was perfectly satisfied.

"Crockett came up just then and suggested to the Major
to charge the Yankees out of the woods, as their fire was
annoying and hurting somebody, now and then. ' I gad, boys,
we'll do it,' said Martin, and yelled out, ' Charge 'cm, which
Crockett emphasized by 'dad blame 'em,' and Dansby and
myself more sulphuriously. ^ _ r ve

"At 'em we went, shooting and yelling like H — ahfax.
They broke and fled, and we followed across the snow-covered
field, close on their heels. Major Martin cried out, ' Go into
the breastworks with 'em,' and go we did!

"Do any of you remember Dansby's smile; a grin rather,
that covered his 'face. When we got breath he turned to Mar-
tin, and with that grin, remarked, 'Major, d^^'^ ^^"^ J^^^*
you?' The Major, dear old soul, laughed and said, VA ell,
nighly.' Here we were in possession of the enemy's breast-
works, and ' slap-dab ' in their rear, as Martin remarked, with
about 40 men, and to put it as Dansby did, ' forty miles from
nowhere.' Martin's query, ' I gosh, where you reckon the bri-
gade is.? ' I can hear to this day. A wandering cavalry man
was sent to find them.

" In a little while ' our friends, the enemy,' came back with
a big force and a battery, and after a sharp fight drove Major
Martin and his 40 Texans back to the woods where we had
'flushed' them just before we took their line.

" Here we hung on. They shelled and shot at us, but the
Major kept us at it. We found big trees, built fires behind
them to keep us wann, and when night fell, the South Caro-
lina brigade found us. General Fields was along and took a
look at the enemy, but under a sharp fire, and concluded it
was now too late.

"Wasn't that a sad word to us all, many and many the
time.? Well, the old Major had done all he could, and as he
remarked, ' I gad, I couldn't whip the whole Yankee army


with forty Texans, but I did carry their works and whip a
whole lot of 'em, by gad.'

" Going back to our huts, miles away, through that dark
and slush and cold, was one of my most trying experiences,;
but when I had warmed up, had supper and a smoke, and
was cozy in my bunk, I heard the horsemen coming along the
Charles City Pike, and remarked to my comrades : ' Well, at
least I wouldn't be a cavalryman.' "


From and after November, 1864, the Southern Confederacy
lay in the throes of fast-approaching death. Its credit, even
at home, was gone — its prestige abroad was lost — its resources
were exhausted. Following the uplifting excitement of the
practically continuous battle which, since early spring, had
wasted the strength of the Confederate armies on the firing
lines in Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee, and especially after
the disastrous ending of Hood's Nashville campaign, a reac-
tion came. The hopes that had sustained and encouraged
people and armies grew faint, and to thinking men whose
pride could humble itself to an abandonment of its dream of
Southern independence and separate nationality, the one and
only thing that seemed desirable, or even possible, was an
honorable peace.

Of the Confederate soldiers then in the field but a scant
fourth were at the front, or, at that late period, could be
brought there. Of the remainder, more than half of them
stood inactive in the Trans-Mississippi department of the Con-
federacy — held there as much by their own reluctance to share
the danger of active service elsewhere as by the presumed
military necessity of securing that section against invasion and
devastation. The residue operated in scattered detachments
in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana, and
along the Atlantic coast, fighting, it is true, bravely and un-
flinchingly, but, save the gain of occasional temporary advan-
tage, unavailingly. In brief, except in those sections of the
South where Lee's and Hood's armies confronted the enemy,
and in Texas, the war, ceasing to be national, had degenerated
into the guerilla stage, in which this or that quasi-independent
band of partisans sought not so much to aid the cause they
espoused as to gratify personal animosities and wreak revenge
on personal enemies.

On December 1, 1864*, Lee's army held Richmond and Peters-



burg against the hosts under command of Grant; and Hood's,
then marching on Nashville, had just lost its opportunity at
Spring Hill to deal the enemy a crushing blow, but at Frank-
lin, though at immense sacrifice, had driven him out of his
works and into hurried retreat. General Dick Taylor, in com-
mand of a small force of infantry and cavalry, was operating
in the vicinity of Mobile, but doing neither harm to the enemy
nor good to the Confederate cause. Kirby Smith and Ma-
gruder played at soldiering in the Trans-Mississippi depart-
ment, effecting naught save to keep Federal troops out of
Texas. Of the Federal armies, that under Grant confronted
Lee's in Virginia — that under Thomas was at Nashville, await-
ing the coming of Hood's — that under Shennan was well on
its way to Savannah, Ga. — the route over which he had passed
marked by a swath of destruction, thirty miles wide, in which
not a house or a hovel was left standing — and the others were
stationed, in large and small bodies, at points where the}'
might hold the Mississippi River open to navigation, protect
lines of communication between supply depots and armies, op-
press and despoil the non-combatant citizenship, and by occa-
sional threatening activities furnish excuse for thousands of
Confederate soldiers to absent themselves from their commands
in the main Confederate armies, in order, they said, to protect
their families and homes.

The patrol of the Mississippi River by Federal gunboats
had long since prohibited dependence on Texas for beef, cut
that State, Arkansas, Missouri and a large part of Louisiana
out of the Confederacy, and left them " a law unto themselves."
Sherman's march to the sea, and destruction, as he went, of
all railroads, together with the Federal occupation of east
Tennessee, threatened to cut the remainder of the Confederacy
in two. The rolling stock and roadbeds of such lines of rail-
way as led into Richmond were worn beyond even temporary
repair, and although at Lynchburg and Danville in Virginia,
and at different places in North and South Carolina, large
quantities of meat, meal and flour were in storage, they could
not be transported rapidly enough to Richmond to supply the
needs of Lee's army. It was not defeat that threatened the
army — it was famine.

Along about the middle of December came the news that


Hood's army had been disastrously defeated at Nashville, and
was retreating, demoralized and in confusion. Much as the
movement of that army had been condemned by the military
experts in the rank and file of the Army of Northern Virginia,
there had always been the possibility that it might succeed,
and its signal failure was a shock to the most sanguine.
Thenceforward, whatever the desire, hope, and aim of Mr.
Davis and his admiring followers, " Lee's miserables," as the
soldiers around Richmond and Petersburg called themselves,
had at heart only the purpose of securing honorable terms
of surrender and peace ; a peace that would permit them to
return to their homes and begin life anew, not as repentant
criminals, but as men who had fought for the right as they
saw it, and, having failed, were willing, if no disavowal of
their principles were required, to lay down their arms and re-
turn to the Union. As it looked to them, and as in fact it
was, Lee's was the only effective organized Confederate army
left in the field, and on it only could reliance be placed to win
— not the independence of the South, or the continuance of
slavery — vanished dreams both — but such terms of surrender
for the soldiers of the Confederacy as were due to a brave foe
from a magnanimous antagonist.

For this purpose, unacknowledged to others and scarcely to
themselves, the soldiers in Lee's army held their lines, forty
miles in length, with a grip that neither cold nor hunger, nor
shot nor shell, could loosen. There was no complaining against
the grievous condition of affairs that existed, there was no
shirking. Shivering with cold and weak for want of food, they
stood always ready for duty, and when on duty, whether on
field of fierce battle, or of skirmish, on guard, or on picket,
did their devoir as firmly, faithfully, and unshrinkingly as
when their hopes were highest and brightest. Yet, lest it
weaken the resolution of their comrades, they gave no expres-
sion to the thought in their minds that only honorable sur-
render was possible. Apparently, they still fought for inde-
pendence — still believed it was to be won. There was no cessa-
tion of the jest and the laugh, of pranks and practical jokes;
fun and frolic was the order of the day, and sadness of face
or speech was discountenanced and seldom witnessed or heard.

The feeling that prevailed among them is well illustrated


by a story told by General Gordon, in his " Reminiscences of
the Civil War.'' A prayer meeting was in progress, but fer-
vent and uplifting as were the petitions to God, there was a
touch of humor in the proceedings that was irresistibly amus-
ing. Brother Jones, in behalf of himself and his comrades,
was praying fervently for more courage. Not content with
asking for it once, he repeated the supplication with even
greater fervency. Then he was interrupted by a middle-aged
private whose resolute bearing, scarred face and maimed hand
gave evidence that he had often heard the bullets whistle ; to
him it seemed a waste of time to be asking for a virtue already
possessed, and springing to his feet, he cried : " Hold on
there. Brother Jones ! Hold on ! There's no sense in asking
God for more courage, for He knows we have got plenty of
it. Ask Him for more grub — that's what we need most of all,"
That the old fellow had touched the sore spot, was evident
from the amens that escaped on all sides.

In February, 1865, came the Hampton Roads conference
between commissioners appointed by Mr. Davis, on the part of
the Confederacy, and Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, represent-
ing the Union. That it should fail to settle the questions at
issue, was a foregone conclusion in the minds of thinking men.
Mr. Lincoln had no right to consent to a dissolution of the
Union as it existed at the beginning of the war — Mr. Davis,
none that would justify him in consenting to a peace based
upon the return of the seceding States to the Union. Follow-
ing the conference, or, to be exact, on the 5th day of Feb-
ruary, 1865, Mr. Davis appointed General Robert E. Lee
commander-in-chief of all the Confederate armies. Had he
done this in February of 1864 much good might have been
acconiphshed. Now it was too late; the Confederacy was
gasping for breath, its armies were scattered, disorganized,
and, practically, commanderless, and there was no time to
gather together and weld the fragments into fighting ma-
chines. But Lee accepted the trust and did his best, by in-
stantly calHng General Joseph E, Johnston to the command
of all the troops in Georgia and the CaroHnas, and thereby
rebuking Mr, Davis for his failure to retain that officer in
command at Atlanta, and for not appointing him as successor
to General Hood, immediately after the Nashville disaster.


In the meantime Sherman had accomplished his march to the
sea, captured the cities of Savannah and Charleston, and was
moving up the coast into North Carolina— his object, to come
within such range of Grant's army as would enable that and
his own to co-operate against the forces under Lee and such
as might follow Johnston. Gripped by famine and tortured
by cold as Lee knew his army to be, he yet felt it his duty,
in deference to the obstinate insistence of Mr. Davis, to hold
it in line as long as possible at Richmond and Petersburg.
Untrammeled by the Confederate executive and commander-
in-chief, in 1864, he would undoubtedly have abandoned those
cities to their fate, and, falling back, as he then might easily
and safely have done at any time prior to September, to the
mountainous regions of Virginia, in their fastnesses have tried
conclusions with his opponent. That it would have been good
generalship and the wisest course to pursue, is too far beyond
question for argument. Now, but alas, too late, he contem-
plated that move and began planning for it.

On the 27th of March there was hard fighting in the vicm-
ity of Dinwiddie Court House, in which the Federals gained
the advantage. Grant had at this time, in his immediate com-
mand, 124,700 men, 13,000 of whom were well-mounted cav-
alry. To oppose these, Lee had about 45,000, less than 5000
of whom were cavalry, under Fitz Lee, mounted on mere skele-
tons of poorly fed horses. On the 30th, at Five Forks, Pick-
ett, with a force of 10,000 infantry and cavalry, drove Sheri-
dan from Five Forks back to Dinwiddie Court House ; but on
the 1st of April, having retired to Five Forks, his command
was attacked, front and flanks, and routed. On the morning
of the 2d the Federals broke through Lee's attenuated hne at
a point four miles southwest of Petersburg, then made a gen-
eral attack, and, unable to stay or withstand it, Lee's army
began its first compulsory retreat, as a body, before an eagerly
pursuing Federal army. Its retreat, though, was neither pre-
cipitate nor disorderly — it was organized and well-conducted,
the evacuation of Petersburg not beginning until after night-
fall. By that time every Confederate command in position
along the forty-mile line of intrenchments had received explicit
directions what route to pursue in order to join the mam
column. Among these was the Texas Brigade, which was still


occupying its winter-quarters on the Williamsburg road, north-
east of Richmond. The story of its retreat, its surrender at
Appomattox, and its return to Texas, is told by Captain W.
T. Hill, as follows:

" The Texas Brigade held position north of the James
River from the 29th of July, 1864, until April 2d, 1865.
During the fall of 1864, it found active and almost contin-
uous employment in watching the enemy and fighting him
when occasion permitted or demanded, and because it so often
supported General Gary's mounted command, soon won the
sobriquet of ' Gary's foot cavalry.' About the middle of Oc-
tober, affairs quieted on the Northside, and settling down the
brigade built huts and hovels and went into so-called winter-
quarters. With no duty to perform save that of picketing
our front, time hung heavily on our hands, and to make it
lighter, the men sought recreation and profit in scouting —
the government offering $1500 for every horse captured from
the enemy. This munificent offer tempted many that would
otherwise have remained idle, to active enterprise, and competi-
tion for the privilege of going on a scout became so eager that
when scouting parties were called for from the different regi-
ments, four times as many persons volunteered as were called
for, and, quite often, there was difficulty in settling the ques-
tion of who got there first.

" On Saturday night, April 2d, 1865, the brigade received
orders to be in readiness to march at daylight next morning.
Starting at the appointed hour, it marched into Richmond,
there boarded cars, and about noon reached the north side of
the Appomattox, opposite Petersburg. The regiments com-
posing it were commanded as follows : the Third Arkansas, by
Colonel R. C. Taylor; the First Texas, by Colonel F. S. Bass;
the Fourth Texas, by Lieutenant-Colonel C. M. Winkler, and
the Fifth Texas, by myself. Captain W. T. Hill. Colonel R.
M. Powell, of the Fifth Texas, commanded the brigade. Our
orders were to take position at the fords and crossings of the
Appomattox, and prevent the passage of the enemy to its
north bank. That our army on the south side of the stream
had abandoned its intrenchments, and was now in full retreat,
was evident, for we could see long lines of Federals marching

Captain W. T. Hill
Company D, Fifth Texas Regiment


westward from Petersburg. They made no effort to cross the
Appomattox, though, and we had httle to do. About 11
o'clock that night the brigade commenced its march westward,
bringing up the rear of Lee's army. Fires lighted up the
heavens in every direction, the Confederates seeming deter-
mined to destroy everything that would be of service to the
enemy. Near where the Fifth Texas was stationed on the
Appomattox, a house stored with bacon was burned, and as
we were without food and hungry, we felt it a hardship not
to be allowed to fill our haversacks with bacon before it was

" Our march that night and next day was uninterrupted
by attack from the enemy. We moved along the railroad lead-
ing from Petersburg to Lynchburg, and, like the balance of
our army, expected to find a supply of rations at Ameha Court
House, where General Lee had ordered provisions to be sent,
and where he had been officially infonned they had been sent.
But it was a mistake, and a fatal one at that; not a pound
of the supplies ordered had arrived, but from the store of
provisions kept on hand there, the Texas Brigade managed to
secure a little meal, which the men made into gruel and ate
without salt, none of that having been issued.

" In the hope of the arrival of supplies at Ameha Court
House, General Lee held his army there one entire day. ^ This
loss of time allowed Sheridan, with his cavalry, to cut him off
from Danville, his objective point. Baffled in the attempt, by
this route, to join forces with General Johnston, he moved
toward Lynchburg. During the day, the Federal cavalry
made several assaults on our wagon-trains, and did much dam-
age, but were finally driven off by our infantry. The Federal
infantry overtook the Texas Brigade, then the rear-guard of
the rear-guard of our army, on the evening of the 5th, after
we left Rice's station, and the brigade skirmish hne had a hot
fight with them — so hot that it had to be heavily reinforced
before it drove the enemy back. The battle ended at night-
fall, by which time all of our army had crossed the Appo-
mattox excepting our brigade.

" Having crossed the Appomattox, the brigade went into
bivouac on the first hills near the stream. The next morning,
the 6th, it marched up the river to a high railroad bridge,


its purpose to hold the enemy in check till the bridge could be
effectually destroyed. It remained in position near the bridge
until noon ; then a courier came to Colonel Powell, command-
ing the brigade, with the information that the command was
about to be cut off from the main army, and an order for
instant and hurried retreat. No time was lost in obeying the
order, and marching west along a blind road running parallel
with the railroad, we succeeded in eluding the enemy and mak-
ing our way safely to the wagon-bridge spanning the river.
Over that we passed, and moving to the north of Farmville,
ascended the high hills in Cumberland County, and on one of
them halted. On our way from the High Bridge to the wagon-
bridge, we had been compelled to march through the front yard
of Colonel Hilary Richardson's residence. There, meeting a
citizen of the country, I dispatched a message to Dr. Wood,
of Farmville, requesting him to buy all the bread in the town
and hold it for my regiment, the Fifth Texas. But, alas, there
was not a loaf of bread in the town, and the Fifth had to
remain hungry, for when, late in the afternoon, a little meat
and corn-meal was issued to it along with the other regiments,
its march was resumed before any cooking could be done.

" When we had marched a couple of miles further, one of
the Georgia brigades of our division (Field's) was attacked by
a brigade of Federal cavalry under General Gregg. The at-
tack was most gallantly repulsed — the Federals losing heavily
in killed and wounded, and their commander, Gregg, being cap-
tured. While the fight was in progress, the Texas Brigade
held position on a hill, overlooking the country for miles
around. For the time we could spare to observation, the
larger part of both armies was in view : Lee's men, moving
rapidly but in the most admirable order, to the west, seeking
to avoid attack, not because of fear of it, but lest the delay it
caused interfere with the plans of General Lee ; Grant's, mov-
ing steadily in pursuit, his purpose, seemingly, to get around
Lee's right flank. But we had little leisure for watching other
movements than those immediately in our front and directed
at ourselves. Perched on a high and perfectly open hill as
our brigade was, the enemy hidden in the dark at the foot of
the hill, and his sharpshooters behind trees, they could see all
we did and we could see nothing they did. To escape bullets


they could not return in kind, our men, while digging little
holes in the ground and building fires of twigs in them, over
which to cook their corn-meal gruel, crawled around Uke so
many lizards.

" We held position on the hillside until about 10 p. m. that
day, then resuming the march westward, went into bivouac on
the night of the 8th, at a point two miles east of Appomattox.
During this march, evidences of rapid retreat and fast pur-
suit began to appear. Cannons, wagons and ambulances in
large numbers had been abandoned by the troops ahead of us,
for lack of teams strong enough to pull them. Horses already
dead, and many others fast dying from exhaustion and for
lack of feed, lay in the mud, in and by the side of the road.

"On the morning of the 9th, the Texas Brigade made its
last march as a Confederate command. This took it to within
a mile of Appomattox, where, after facing, in turn, east, west
and north in the effort to meet the threatened but never-coming
attacks, we formed in a semi-circle across a road, and began
building a breastwork of such material as was at hand — the
Fifth Texas, I remember, appropriating a rail fence for the

" Up to this point. General Gordon, with his corps, led the
advance. On the 7th, he had dnven before him such of the
enemy as sought to stay the retreat. But on the evening of
the 8th, he failed to drive them, and on the morning of the
9th, again failed. Lee's hne of retreat was blocked, the shat-
tered remnants of his once matchless army were surrounded
on all sides. Premonition of the inevitable swept through the
air, and a death-like stillness prevailed. Work ceased, hunger
stayed its gnawing, and expectant of evil tidings, but yet un-
prepared for the worst, faces grew grave and serious, and
men when they talked at all spoke in whispers. Then, in the
afternoon, some of our teamsters came from the front and re-
ported that General Lee had surrendered the army. It could
not be, and sure the report was false, the men gi-ew indignant,
and for a while the teamsters stood in jeopardy. But their
statements were soon confirmed by intelhgence of the same
purport from other sources, and the men of the brigade, sub-
mitting to the inevitable, began to wonder what terms General
Lee had obtained for his army, and when and how they would


return to their homes. There was no hasty disbandment of
company, regiment or brigade. The morale of the men had
never weakened, and if Lee had but asked it, there was not
a man but would have continued to fight as gamely as ever
he had.

" During the afternoon and following night, we learned
what terms General Lee had obtained. On the next day, the
10th, his farewell address to the army was read on the color
line, the men listening to it in silence, but with tears in their
eyes. All felt that he had done his best, all that could be

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 25 of 32)