J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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most good. The command devolved upon General G. W.
Smith as next in rank, but before he could thoroughly acquaint
himself with the position of his troops, was conferred b)' ^Ir.
Davis, the President, on General Robert E. Lee, and by his
command the assaulting forces withdrew from the field.

Since crossing the Chickahomin}', the Texas Brigade had
not, as a command, been called into active sers'ice. Its men,
however, did not remain entirely idle. Occasionally, scouting
was ordered ; frequently it was volunteered by individuals, by
couples and by parties large and small. When the Federals
first got foothold on the Richmond side of the Chickahominy,
General Johnston himself called for a detail of one hundred
and fifty men from the brigade, and sent them fonvard into
the swamps to feel of the enemy and ascertain his position.
Going farther and taking greater risks than similar parties
from other commands, the Texas scouts not only engaged in
several heavy skirmishes and inflicted considerable loss on the
Federals, but also secured the only accurate information

It was intended that the brigade sliould bear a prominent
part at Seven Pines ; but although on the ground in proper

John M. Pincknkv
Company G, P'ourth Texas Regiment


place and time, and for the better part of two days exposed
to artillery fire and several times to that of musketry aimed
at compatriot commands in its front, the most diligent efforts
of General Hood failed to secure it an opportunity to meet
the foe, face to face. Nevertheless, eighteen of its men were
wounded more or less seriously.

General Lee was no sooner in command of the army than
he commenced scheming to raise the threatened siege of Rich-
mond before it was fairly under weigh. The plan fixed upon
was to reinforce Stonewall Jackson, who was still in the Shen-
andoah valley, and thus impressing the Federal authorities
with the belief that an attack was contemplated on Washing-
ton city, cause them to withhold reinforcements from Mc-
Clellan. That accomplished, Jackson was to make a sudden
descent, with his whole force, upon McClellan's right flank and
rear in the vicinity of Mechanicsville — his attack to be joined
in by the Confederate troops around Richmond.

The plan Avas brilliant in conception, but was audacious in
the extreme. At the date its execution began, Lee had but
57,000 men. With these he must hold at bay McClellan's
115,000, near 80,000 of whom were then strongly intrenched
on the south side of the Chickahominy, with outposts within
five miles of the Confederate capital, and not only in sight of
the city, but in hearing of its church-bells. But Lee did not
hesitate ; aware that McClellan's bump of caution was of ab-
normal development, and knowing how insistently and per-
sistently he was appealing for reinforcements, Lee felt con-
fident he would make no immediate advance. On the 11th of
June, Whiting's division, composed of his own and the Texas
Brigade — the latter strengthened since Eltham's Landing b}''
the transfer to it of Hampton's South Carolina Legion —
marched into and through the streets of Richmond with ban-
ners flying and drums beating, and boarding trains, set out
by way of Lynchburg for the Shenandoah valle3^, there, as was
proclaimed publicly by officers high in rank, to join Jackson
in an " on to Washington." Federal spies communicated the
tidings to the Federal authorities at once; McClellan knew
them two days in advance, and Jackson, never happier than
when deceiving an enemy, aided the deception by arranging
that Federal surgeons within his lines, but on the eve of de-


parture, should overhear a conversation between certain of
his officers in which they spoke of the reinforcements coming
and of Jackson's desi^ to essay the capture of Washin^on.

Arriving at Lynchburg, Whiting's division remained there
two days. Then boarding the cars again, it went on to Char-
lottesville, where it rested another day, and thence proceeded
by train to Staunton, at the head of the Shenandoah valley.
General Whiting, a brave and capable officer, but with, per-
haps, a rather exaggerated sense of his own importance, went
in person to General Jackson to report the arrival of his
division, receive orders, and incidentally, secure information
as to plans and purposes. " Hold yourself and command, sir,
in readiness to march at six o'clock ^Monday morning," was
the only order given him, and it was given in the curt tone
habitually employed by " Stonewall " when issuing his com-
mands. For two seconds. General Whiting sat silent, waiting
for the information that he thought would surely be vouch-
safed him. Then with an assurance bom of the conscious-
ness that in the old regular army of the United States he
ranked the man in whose presence he was, he asked, " In what
direction will we march, General.'' " " That will be made
known to you, sir, at the proper time," answered Jackson, and
with that. Whiting had, perforce, to be content.

Monday morning came, and to the surprise and mystifica-
tion of officers and men alike, instead of moving down the
Shenandoah valley, the division marched eastward along the
road leading across the Blue Ridge from Staunton to

" Where are we going. Captain ? " asked a Texas private,
sidling up to the commander of his company. " Damfiknow,"
was the repl}' ; " but I'll mosey along up to the head of the
regiment, and ask the colonel." " Where in the mischief and
Tom Walker are we going. Colonel? " queried the captain
of the colonel, as after considerable fast walking he overtook
that mounted officer. " I'll be dumed if I know," answered
the colonel ; " General Hood hasn't told me yet, but I'll let you
know as soon as he does." But when the colonel applied to
Hood for the desired infonnation. Hood said, " I don't know,"
as promptly as did General Wliiting when Hood propounded
tlie now burning question to him. Meanwhile the division


marched on until, high up on the mountain side, a halt was
called. What was said to the regiments of Whiting's Brigade
is not known, but to each of those of the Texas Brigade Gen-
eral Hood made a short speech in which he said that the
division was now subject to the orders of General Jackson,
to whom alone its destination was known, and that to all
questions asked, it was Jackson's order that the men should
answer, " I do not know." " But, fellow-soldiers," said Hood
in conclusion, " while I myself do not know where we are
going, I can assure you that such of you as keep up with your
command, will witness and take part in stirring and glorious

That Hood's words but added to the mystification and in-
creased the curiosity already prevailing, needs not the telling.
All that day, and indeed until the morning of June 26th, an
" I do' know " preceded the answer given to any question
asked, the boys falling into the humor of the thing and mak-
ing a joke of it. As it was the invariable answer they gave
to each other, so it was often that which they gave to officers,
and occasionally it served as a means of evading punishment;
as, for instance, when General Jackson himself discovered one
of them in a tree by the roadside, busily engaged in stuflSng
alternate handfuls " of the fruit thereof " into his mouth and
haversack, and apparently, reckless that such depredations
were forbidden. It is an old and oft-told story of the war, and
readers will remember that growing angry at the " I do'
knows," flippantly uttered in response to each of his ques-
tions, Jackson finally asked why it was he was so answered,
and the impudent fellow replied : " Because them's ole Stone-
wall Jackson's orders, an' I'm goin' to obey 'em, or bust."

Previous to the halt of the Texas Brigade and his speech to
each of its regiments, General Hood had an experience that
was amusing enough to be told by himself. There were many
stills in the secluded nooks of the Blue Ridge, and by 9 a. m.
many of the boys were in a good humor, more than a few
were staggering, and apple-jack brandy could be had out of
dozens of canteens. To prevent any straggling for the pur-
pose of replenishing empty canteens. Hood authorized the
statement, which was industriously circulated and really be-
lieved, that small-pox was raging among the citizens living


along our route. Riding by himself, half a mile in rear of
the brigade, he discovered, lying in the middle of the road and
obviously very drunk, a member of the Fourth Texas.

Checking his horse, the general asked : " Wliat is the mat-
ter with you, sir.'' Why are you not with your company.''"
The stern and peremptory voice brought the culprit to a sit-
ting posture, and looking at the general with drunken gravit}',
he said: " Nussin much, I reckon. General — I jus' feel sorter
weak an' no account." "So I see, sir," said Hood; "get
up at once and rejoin your company." The fellow made sev-
eral ineffectual attempts to obey, but each time fell back on
the ground, and a few sober stragglers coming along just then,
Hood ordered them to take him in charge and conduct him to
his company. But as they approached to carry out the order,
the fellow found voice to say between hiccoughs : " Don't you
fellers that ain't been vaccinated come near me — I've got the
small-pox — tha's wha's the masser with me."

The stragglers shrank back in alarm, and the general,
laughing at the way his own chickens had come home to roost,
said, " Let him alone, then — some of the teamsters will pick
him up," and rode on.

That day — it was the 16th of June — Whiting's division
marched twenty long miles, halting, shortly' after dark, in the
vicinity of a station on the railroad leading from Staunton, via
Ciiarlottesville, to Gordonvillc, known as ]Meechuam's.
Tlicncc, on trains and on foot — riding ten miles and footing
it twenty, in alternation with other troops — we proceeded b}'
way of Gordonsville to the neighborhood of Frederick's Hall,
distant about ninety miles from Richmond — arriving there in
the afternoon of June 21, and camping in a dense woodland.
By dark every regiment and brigade under Jackson's com-
mand was on hand, and lest infonnation of their presence be
carried to the cnenu', were surrounded b}' a line of cavalry
antl infantry pickets whose orders were to allow the passage
of neither soldier nor citizen beyond their line, unless he had
a pass signed by Jackson himself. In addition, and in aid of
the outside picket line, around each separate command a guard
was stationed whose duty it was to prevent all straying from
camp. Such restrictions upon freedom of movement were not
resented, however; the troops had been constantly on the move


for ten days or more, and rest was not only needed but grate-
lully enjoyed.

At midnight of the 22nd— he would not start sooner lest he
violate the m junction, " Keep the Sabbath day holy "—Jack-
son mounted his horse, and accompanied by a single courier,
rode at a gallop toward Richmond, to report the whereabouts
of his command to General Lee, and to plan for concert of
movement between his own and the troops then near Rich-
mond He reached the city at 2 p. m. of the 23rd, and an
hour later had made his report to General Lee and was in con-
ference with him, Longstreet, A. P. Hill and D. H. Hill The
plan agreed upon was, briefly, this: Jackson was to march
from Ashland at 3 a. m. of June 26th— the date and hour set
by himself— and following the dividing ridges between the
Pamunkey and Chickahominy Rivers, place his command in
rear and flank of the right wing of the Federal army, and turn
and dislodge It; A. P. Hill, upon notification that Jackson
had crossed the Virginia Central Railroad, to move his com-
mand across the upper Cliickahominy, and approaching Me-
chanicsville, attack the enemy there at sound of Jackson's
signal guns; Longstreet and D. H. Hill, when A. P Hill had
driven the enemy from Mechanicsville, to find passage across
the bridge at that place to the north side of the Chickahominy
Longstreet's troops taking position on the right of A P
Hills command, between it and the river, and assistino- it to
drive the Federals down the river— D. H. Hill's forces to
march eastward and find position on Jackson's left. Jackson
was enjoined to bear well to the left, "press forward toward
the \ork River Railroad, close upon the enemy's rear, and
force him down the Chickahominy, and if possible, cut him
oft from his_ base of supplies at the White House on the
Pamunkey River."

General Lee was taking risks that a commander less cour-
ag-eous and less confident of the courage of his army would
not have taken. The passage to the north side of the Chick-
ahominy of A. P. Hill's 11,000 men, D. H. Hill's 10,000, and

^Zf^''f\^f^^' ^'^* °^ *^" ^°^^h ^^^^ °^ that stream but
dO,000 Confederates, under command of Generals Holmes,
Magruder and Huger, to hold in check the nearly 80,000 sol-
diers of the four Federal corps then in line on the Richmond


side of the stream, with their intrenched advance at Fair Oaks
and Seven Pines. However, Lee knew tlie hesitatinf^ disposi-
tion of his opponent, McClellan, and events justified the risks

The mystery with which General Jackson surrounded his
movements was so well-preserved that it was not until June
24< that McClellan suspected he was approaching Richmond.
Greatly perturbed by the suspicion, he wired Stanton, the Fed-
eral Secretary of War, for positive information. On the 25th
Stanton replied that Jackson was either somewhere between
Gordonsville and Luraj', or in the mountains of West Virginia.
On the same day, Banks and Fremont, then in the lower Shen-
andoah valley, were apprehensive that Jackson would descend
on them. McClellan placed no faith in Stanton's informa-
tion, for replying to him, he wired: " I am inclined to tliink
that Jackson will attack my right and rear. The rebel force
is stated at 200,000, including Jackson and Beauregard."

Jackson's command marched from Frederick's Hall on Mon-
day, the 23rd, but owing to the excessive heat, tlie lack of
water along the route traveled, and the necessity of repairing
bridges destroyed by the Federals in a movement against Han-
over Court House ordered by McClellan, did not make the rapid
headway expected. It did not reach Ashland until tlie night
of the 2oth. Resuming its tramp at early dawn of tlie 26th,
it crossed the Virginia Central Railroad about 9 a. m. Thence,
the Texas Brigade, preceded by a strong line of skirmishers,
deployed on each side of the road, began a march which, if
undelayed, would have brouglit it by the middle of the after-
noon in contact with the main body of tlie enemy. The Fed-
eral commander, though, had not been idle, for not only had
he obstructed the roads by felling large trees across them and
destroying bridges, but had posted cavalry north of the Toto-
potomoy Creek to give notice of the approach of Confederates
and to delay it. This cavalry fled in such haste before our
skirmish line as to abandon large quantities of supplies, and
even the food that was cooking. But they set fire to the
bridge over the bogg}^ little Totopotomoy Creek, and the re-
pair of that occupied so much time that it was after dark
before the head of Jackson's column reached Hundley's Cor-
ner, about six miles east of Mechanicsville.

Company D, Fifth Texas Regiment


Jackson's failure to arrive sooner at Hundley's Comer pro-
duced its embarrassments. On receiving notice that he was
crossing the Virginia Central Railroad, A. P. Hill led his com-
mand to the north side of the Chickahominy, and placed them
in position to make an assault on the enemy at Mechanicsville
as soon as Jackson's signal guns should be heard. These
not sounding by 3 p. m., the hour when it was calculated Jack-
son would begin the attack, and fearing that longer delay
might " hazard the failure of the whole plan," Hill ordered an
assault by his troops. This attack uncovered the Mechanics-
ville bridge, and across it D. H. Hill and Longstreet led their
respective commands, and joined in the fray with such spirit
and determination as to force the Federals back on Beaver-
dam Creek behind almost impregnable intrenchments. These
tliey held against repeated furious assaults by the Confeder-
ates until night brought cessation of battle. But during the
night McClellan received positive information that Jackson
was coming down on the rear of his army, and at early dawn
of the 27th he abandoned his position at Beaver Dam, to con-
centrate all his forces along the previously intrenched crest
and side of the ridge lying between the Chickahominy on its
south, and Powhite Creek on its north or northeast.

Powhite Creek empties into the Chickahominy, and is a nar-
row, deep-channeled and brisk-flowing little stream fed by the
swamps and morasses hidden in dense, thickly undergrown for-
ests which begin about two miles from its mouth, and extend
far to the east. Emerging from these tangled woods, it runs
for half a mile between undulating meadows, its course marked
by a narrow skirt of trees and passing the meadows, hides itself
again in the recesses of a forest that continues to its outlet.
On the highest point of the ridge south of it, and almost ex-
actly opposite the upper end of the meadow land north of it,
the Federals, on the morning of the 27th, massed twenty pieces
of heavy field artillery.


Gaines' INIill

The troops at Hundley's Coraer were early astir on the
fateful morning of June 27tli, 1862, and were no sooner astir
than they commenced inquiring as to tlie result of the battle at
Mechanicsville and Beaver Dam, away off on tlicir riglit. But
little positive information was to be had, 3'et that little was en-
couraging and inspiring; although at great sacrifice of life,
the Federals had been driven from their strongholds, but were
still standing defiant behind intrenchments lower down the
Chickahominy to which they had fallen back and from which it
needed only the appearance of Jackson's command in their rear
to compel them to retreat. But eager as were both command-
ing officers and their men to move forward and test conclusions,
A. P. Hill's unauthorized and premature attack on the 26th
caused many delays.

Moving at an early hour, D. H. Hill led his forces over from
Mechanicsville toward Hundley's Corner — his orders and ob-
ject, to lead the advance down the Chickahominy toward the
York River Railroad. By 9 a. m. his coluum had passed the
corner, and following close on its trail, went Ewell's command.
By this time it was past midday. About 1 p. m. Whiting's
division moved from the corner, and bearing to the right, late
in the afternoon formed in line confronting that of the enemy
— the position taken, opposite the high point of the ridge south
of the little creek upon which the Federals had massed their
twenty pieces of heav^- field artillery — the center of tlie Texas
Brigade exactly opposite these guns — the First Texas, Fifth
Texas, Hampton's Legion and all but two companies of the
Eighteenth Georgia, in the forest where lay the swamps and
morasses, and the Fourth Texas in reserve, on the right of tlie
Eighteenth Georgia. On the riglit of the Texas stood Whit-
ing's Brigade, under command of Colonel E. M. Law. Next
on the right was Pickett's Brigade.



McClellan's withdrawal from Beaver Dam In the early morn-
ing necessitated a readjustment of the lines of Longstreet and
A. P. Hill, and it was 11 a. m. before the troops of either were
in position to begin another assault. But though they fought
well and gallantly, and made charge after charge, each was
repulsed with terrible loss to the assailants, the twenty pieces
of massed artillery doing most effective service for the Fed-
erals against every attack upon them over the high plateau of
open meadow land, and the swamps and undergrowth else-
where in the Federal front, making rapid advance through
them possible. Brigade after brigade of the Confederates
that essayed to move forward across the meadow was halted
by the murderous fire of the artillery, and, save Trimble's Bri-
gade, driven to retreat. But although that command did not
fall back, it went no further than a depression on the near
side of the ridge immediately north of Powhite Creek. There
taking shelter from both bullets and shells, it kept up, for two
long hours, an ineffective fire from smooth-bore muskets loaded
with buck and ball.

" Long before we moved forward that morning," writes a
member of the Fourth Texas, " we began to hear the noises of
the fierce battle that was raging far away on our right front.
We were but three miles on our way to it when evidences of its
severity presented themselves in the persons of wounded men,
these increasing in numbers as we went nearer and nearer to
the firing line. When close in rear of A. P. Hill's command,
we not only saw individual stragglers by the score, but regi-
ments of them that were seemingly beyond the control of their
officers. Still further on, the signs of battle, and of failure
and perhaps defeat, became more numerous, and more than
one of the boys expressed the opinion that we had come too
late to do any good. But Whiting and Hood urged us on
with what speed could be made over roads obstructed by ar-
tillery and wagon trains, a constantly increasing press from
the front of the skulking and the wounded, and large and small
squads of prisoners."

In his report of the battle of Gaines' Mill, which is dated
July 19, 1862, and is to be found in Vol. XI, Part II, page
568, of War of the Rebellion records, published by the United
States government, General Hood says:


" Arriving on the field between 4 and 5 p. m., I was informed
by Colonel J. M. Jones, of General Ewell's staff, that his
troops were hard pressed and required assistance. Line of
battle was fonned at once with the Hampton Legion, Lieuten-
ant-Colonel M. W. Gary commanding, on the left, with orders
to gain the crest of the hill in the woods and hold it, which
they did, the Fifth Texas, Colonel J. B. Robertson command-
ing, engaging the enemy on the right of the Legion, and the
First Texas, Colonel A. T. Rainey commanding, on the right
of the Fifth Texas. The brigade moved gallantly forward,
soon becoming engaged from left to right. The battle raged
with great fury all along the line as these noble troops pressed
steadily on, forcing the enemy to gradually give way.

" Directing in person the Fourth Texas regiment. Colonel
John Marshall commanding, on the right of my line, they were
the first troops to pierce the strong line of breastworks oc-
cupied by the enem}^, which caused great confusion in their
ranks. Here the Eighteenth Georgia, Lieutenant-Colonel S.
Z. RufF commanding, came to the support of the Fourth
Texas, and these regiments pressed on over a hotly contested
field, inclining from right to left, with the Fifth Texas on
their left, taking a large number of prisoners and capturing
fourteen pieces of artiller}', when night came on and farther
pursuit of the enemy ceased. The guns were captured b}' the
Fourth Texas and Eighteenth Georgia, and a regiment was
taken prisoners by the Fifth Texas regiment."

In his book, " Advance and Retreat," General Hood gives a
more detailed account of the battle. In that he sa^^s :

I moved on with all possible speed, through field and forest, in
tlie direction of the firinc;, and arrived, about 4. SO p. M., at a
point on the telegraph road, I should think not far distant from
the center of our attacking force. Here I found Gen. Lee, seated
upon his horse. He rode forward to meet me, and extending his
usual greeting, announced to me that our troops had been fighting
gallantly, but had not succeeded in dislodging the enemy: he
added, "This must be done. Can you break his line?" I re-
plied tliat I would try. I immediately formed my brigade in line
of battle Mith Hampton's Legion on the left.

In front was a dense woods and ugly marsh, which totally con-
cealed the enemy from us, but the terrible roar of artillery and


musketry plainly revealed, however, that thousands and thousands
of living souls were struggling in most deadly conflict for the
mastery of that field, and I might say, almost under the shadow
of the Capitol of the infant Confederacy. My line was estab-
lished, and moved forward, regiment by regiment, when I discov-

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 3 of 32)