J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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ered, as the disposition of the Eighteenth Georgia was completed,
an open field a little to its right. Holding in reserve the Fourth
Texas, I ordered the advance, and galloped into the open field or
pasture, from which point I could see at a distance of about eight
hundred yards, the position of the Federals. They were heavily
entrenched on the side of an elevated ridge running a little west
and south, and extending to the vicinity of the Chickahominy. At
the foot of the slope ran Powhite creek, which stream, together
with the abatis in front of their works, constituted a formidable
obstruction to our approach, whilst batteries, supported by masses
of infantry, covered the crest of the hill in rear, and long range
guns were posted on the south side of the Chickahominy, in readi-
ness to enfilade our advancing columns. The ground from which
I made these observations was, however, open the entire distance
to their entrenchments.

In a moment I determined to advance from that point, to make
a strenuous effort to pierce the enemy's fortifications, and, if pos-
sible, put him to flight. I therefore marched the Fourth Texas
by the right flank into this open field, halted and dressed the
line whilst under fire of the long range guns, and gave positive
instructions that no man should fire until I gave the order; for
I knew full well that if the men were allowed to fire, they would
halt to load, break the alignment, and, very likely, never reach
the breastworks. I moreover ordered them not only to keep to-
gether, but also in line, and announced to them that I would lead
them in the charge. Forward march was sounded, and we moved
at a rapid but not at a double-quick pace. Meantime, my regi-
ments on the left had advanced some distance to the front through
the wood and swamp.

Onward we marched under a constantly increasing shower of
shot and shell, whilst to our right could be seen some of our
troops making their way to the rear, and others lying down be-
neath a galling fire. Our ranks were thinned at almost every
step forward, and proportionally to the growing fury of the storm
of projectiles. Soon we attained the crest of the bald ridge
within about one hundred and fifty yards of the breastworks.
Here was concentrated upon us, from batteries in front and flank,
a fire of shell and canister, which ploughed through our ranks
with deadly efi"ect. Already the gallant Col. Marshall, together


with many other brave men, had fallen victims to this bloody
onset. At a quickened pace we continued to advance, without
firing a shot, down the slope, over a body of our soldiers lying
on the ground, to and across Powhite creek, when, amidst the
fearful roar of musketry and artillery, I gave the order to fix
bayonets and charge. With a ringing shout we dashed up the
steep hill through the abatis, and over the breastworks, upon the
very heads of the enemy.

The Federals, panic-stricken, rushed precipitately to the rear
upon the infantry in support of the artillery: suddenly the whole
joined in the flight toward the valley beyond. At this juncture
some twenty guns, stationed in rear of the Federal line on a hill
to my left, opened fire upon the Fourth Texas, which changed
front, and charged in their direction. I halted in an orchard be-
yond the works, and dispatched ever}'^ officer of my staff to the
main portion of the brigade in the wood on the left, instructing
them to bear the glad tidings that the Fourth Texas had pierced
the enemy's line, and were moving in his rear, and to deliver
orders to push forward with the utmost haste. At the same mo-
ment I discovered a Federal brigade marching up the slope from
the valley beyond, evidently with the purpose to re-establish the
line. I ran back to the entrenchments, appealed to some of our
troops, who, by this time, had advanced to the breastworks, to
come forward and drive off the small body of Federals. They
remained, however, motionless. Jenkins' command, if I mistake
not, whicli was further to our right, boldly advanced and put the
brigade to rout. Meantime, the long line of blue and steel to
right and left wavered, and, finally, gave way, as the Eighteenth
Georgia, the First and Fifth Texas, and Hampton's Legion gal-
lantly moved forward from right to left, thus completing a grand
left wheel of the brigade into the very heart of the enemy. Simul-
taneously with this movement burst forth a tremendous shout
of victory, which was taken up along the whole Confederate line.

I mounted my horse, rode forward, and found the Fourth Texas
and Eiglitecnth Georgia had captured fourteen pieces of artillery,
whilst the Fifth Texas had charge of a Federal regiment which \
had surrendered to it. Many were the deeds of valor upon that
memorable field.

The general and the private under liis command view a bat-
tle from quite different standpoints. The one observes the
movcnients of corps, divisions, brigades and regiments, and
takes little note of the units composing these organizations —
the other, himself one of tlic units, observes the conduct of in-


dividuals. The one takes note of general details, the other,
of minute. We will now let the privates tell what they wit-
nessed and heard, what they did and what they suffered. The
evidence they give may be conflicting, but it must be kept in
mind that few persons see, hear and remember alike. A mem-
ber of the Fourth Texas says :

" The forenoon of June 27th, 1862, was well-advanced be-
fore the Texas Brigade left its bivouac. D, H. Hill's division
marched over to Hundley's Comer, that morning, from Me-
chanicsville, and as it was to take position on the left of Jack-
son's line, it and Jackson's troops moved before Whiting's
division did. Once in motion though, to the southwest. Whit-
ing's division made few halts. We had gone but a few miles
when sounds of the battle made by A. P. Hill's division, away
off^ to our right, came to our ears and quickened our steps.
Whiting's orders were to take position on Jackson's right.
Law's brigade led the advance which was made to the music
of a constantly increasing roar of artillery and musketry.

Along about 4 p. m. we came under the fire of the enemy's
heavy artillery, passing, as we moved rapidly forward, the
ordnance trains and the batteries of Confederate commands
then at the front — the batteries awaiting the call to action, but
delayed in receiving it by the difficulty of finding places in the
woods and swamps, from which to do execution. Further on,
squads of prisoners, a few wounded men and many stragglers
commenced passing through our lines. About this time Gen-
eral Hood placed the Fourth Texas in reserve, and led the
other regiments of the brigade toward the front to the as-
sistance of troops already there. They were not long in find-
ing work to do, and did it nobly.

The Fourth Texas had a long wait before it went into ac-
tion. According to my recollection, it was well on to 6.30
p. M. before Hood had his line established and ready for the
general advance that was to be ordered. Law's brigade, it
is likely, had by this time found its place, advanced against
the enemy and met with repulse. Colonel Columbus Upson,
then a volunteer aide on General Whiting's staff, after the
war a member of Congress from West Texas, but now in the
Great Beyond, is authority for this assertion. Generals Hood
and Whiting, said Colonel Upson, met in the open field.


Pointing to the battery, fourteen guns of which were captured
by the Fourth Texas that very day, Whiting said : " That
battery ought to be taken, Hood." " Then, why has it not
been taken?" asked Hood. "Because," replied Whiting,
" the position is too strong. My brigade is composed of vet-
eran troops, but they can do nothing with it," " I have a
regiment that can take it," declared Hood, and scarcely wait-
ing for Whiting's assent to his undertaking the task, galloped
in the direction of the Fourth Texas.

Because it left them to the leadership of a colonel whose
rank had been secured through political pull, and who, though
admitted to be brave to a fault, was not deemed competent
to direct the regiment in battle, both officers and men of the
Fourth Texas deeply regretted the promotion of Hood to the
rank of brigadier-general. Learning of this, Hood promised
that he himself would lead them into their first battle. He had
not done this at Eltham's Landing, no opportunity having
offered. Now the situation was entirely different. For hours
the brave Federals in our front had successfully resisted the
many efforts of the Confederates to dislodge them. Unless
this was done, the battle was lost to the Confederates, and
thousands of lives had been sacrificed in vain. Promotion for
himself was to be won, distinction for the regiment he had so
carefully trained was to be gained. The tide " which, taken
at its flood, leads on to fortune," was in full sweep, and seiz-
ing the golden moment. Hood made good his promise.

Taking command of the Fourth Texas, he moved it fon\'ard
in column to a dry ravine running parallel with the course of
Powhite Creek, on the south bank of which stretched the long
lines of intrenchments occupied by the Federals. Here the
regiment formed in line of battle, and was admonished by
Hood not to fire a gun until he gave the command to do so.
Thence, it went at a quick step toward the front, ascended the
north slope of a ridge — passing, just before reaching the
crest, over a long line of Confederates lying flat on the ground,
and thus sheltering themselves from the enemy's fire. Arrived
at the crest, the Fourth came in sight and range of the Fed-
eral infantry and artillery. These immediately opened fire
on us, and comrades began to halt or sink to the ground,
wounded or dead. Though now within one hundred and fifty


yards of the enemy's first line, it was hid from our view by
the tops of the tall trees bordering Powhite Creek. Our pace
accelerated by the incline down which we went, and the mur-
derous fire to which we were exposed, we moved rapidly on
until, looking between the trunks of the trees, we had a view
of the first line of intrenchments. Without halting us, Gen-
eral Hood shouted an order to take aim and fire, and this
obeyed, gave the commands, "Fix bayonets. Charge!" In
an instant, almost, bayonets were fixed, and with a yell that
sounded high above the noise of battle, we sprang forward,
into and across the little creek, into and through the cun-
ningly constructed abatis, and at the enemy holding the first
line of breastworks. The onset was so furious and determined,
that seized with panic, the first line of Federals, taking time
only to fire a few scattering shots, took to precipitate flight.
Their panic communicated itself to the troops in the two lines
behind them, and they, too, fled, pell-mell, and probably with
a prayer that the devil might save the hindmost, up and over
the ridge in their rear.

At this point, if nowhere else along Powhite Creek, the
Federals were protected by three lines of breastworks. The
first hugged the south edge of the narrow skirt of timber,
probably fifty yards wide, which grew in the valley of the
stream ; the second lay fifty steps back of the first,' and the
third the same distance back of the second — the last two
stretching along the side of the ridge south of the creek, each
of theni so elevated that troops in either could, without en-
dangering comrades in their front, join in resisting attack.
The extra care manifested in providing defenses here, was
probably due to the circumstance that it was the only point
on the Federal line where a rush on it was not prevented by
undergrowth or marshes.

The panic into which the coming of the Texans threw the
Federals was not simply comphmentary and encouraging; it
was also inspiring and persuasive, and loading and firing as
they ran, the Texans followed in fast pursuit of their swiftly
retreating antagonists. - Arrived at a road that ran along
the summit of the ridge, and there pausing an instant for
breath, we saw on our left thousands of the Federals fleeing
from the intrenchments which had been assaulted by the First


and Fifth Texas, the Hampton Legion and the left wing of
the Eighteenth Georgia. Casting our glances next to our
right, the same comforting spectacle of wild and confused
flight appeared. A moment later a wild, joyful yell from our
right informed us that the Confederates there, who since noon
had been fighting at long range, or if they attempted any,
had not made a successful charge, were in rapid pursuit of
the now demoralized foe.

It is due the other regiments of the Texas Brigade to say,
that but for the advantage of open ground which the Fourth
Texas had, they would have kept well in line with it, and have
shared the glory it won. As it was, advancing to the assault
over swampland and through densely matted undergrowth, it
was impossible for either regiment as a whole to arrive within
striking distance of the breastworks as soon as the Fourth
Texas did. The right wing of the Eighteenth Georgia, how-
ever, had the advantage of open ground, and it joined with
the Fourth Texas both in the rush upon the breastworks and
in the subsequent capture of artillery. In General Hood's
official report, he places the Eighteenth Georgia as a com-
mand, with the Fourth Texas in the capture of the artillery.
That he is mistaken, and that only a few companies of the
regiment are entitled to share in the glory of that achieve-
ment, is evident from the fact that in the volume of Confeder-
ate Military History which recounts the deeds of Georgia
troops, no hint of such claim is given.

While regaining breath at the road mentioned, an incident
occurred which, trifling as it was, will bear telling. Beyond
tlie road was an acre of land inclosed by a high and strong
fence, and in its center stood an unoccupied log stable. Be-
hind the stable, a Union soldier of a more combative spirit
than was possessed by his tribe, had sought a lurking-place
from which to resist any further advance of the Confederate
army. Desii-ing, apparently, to take a pot shot at the Fourth
Texas, this soldier very carelessly exposed himself to the view
of his enemies. Seen by slow-talking but fast-moving String-
field, that worthy sprang forward, and climbing over the
fence, ran, gun in hand, toward the stable. Presuming that
a mite of encouragement would not be wasted. Lieutenant L.
P. Hughes, a mild-mannered gentleman who never takes the

Company H, Fifth Texas Regiment


name of the Lord in vain, but falls short of it only by a hair's-
breadth, sang out, « Go it, Stringfield— go it ! Kill liim, dod
damn him, kill him ! "

Combined with Stringfield's ardor and the reckless im-
petuosity of his onset, this adjuration came near inviting dis-
aster to him. For when he came within twenty feet of the
stable, the Federal behind it decided it was time for him to
exercise the right of self-defense, and accordingly, stepped out
from behind the stable, and pointed a capped, cocked and
loaded gun at the bold Confederate. But time was not
vouchsafed him to pull trigger. WolfF, a German, who stood
near Lieutenant Hughes, realized the peril in which his com-
patriot stood, and raising his rifle from the hollow of the arm
in which its barrel rested, shot the rash Federal through the

The pause at the road lasted hardly one minute. The ar-
tillery at whose capture we aimed, had withheld its fire while
the timber on the creek and the ridge south of it hid us from
view. But as the Fourth Texas came into sight on the road,
it reopened, hurling shot, shell and canister at us with a rap-
idity and in a volume that warned us we had yet much to ac-
complish ere we laid just claim to victorv. Heeding the hint,
the Texans and such Georgians as had joined them, formed
into line of battle m a peach or pear orchard, about three hun-
dred yards beyond the road, called to that point by General
Hood, who, it should be mentioned, had left his horse in the
ravine where we had first formed into line, and was still afoot.
It should also be stated that the artillery we were after
stood on a high hill slightly to the left of our line of advance
trom the ravine, and that we now faced almost at a right ano-le
to that line, the batteries, about three hundred yards distant,
with a deep hollow down the middle of which ran a steep-
banked, tortuous gully, almost impassable except at a few
places, between us and them.

In the rush down and up the slopes, across the creek and
through abatis, companies had scattered and lost their places
and probably five minutes elapsed ere the regiment was in
battle array, and during these the batteries got its range and
poured upon it a withering and deadly fire under which many
brave men fell. Cool and sylvan as the orchard might have


felt and appeared under other circumstances, it was not now
a spot on which to linger, and therefore, no sooner was the
line reformed than Hood gave the command to charge. As
in stentorian voice he called, "Attention!" Major Warwick,
who at daylight that morning, against the protest of his
physician, had left a sick bed and galloped out to join his
command, and who like Hood was on foot, cried, " Wait a sec-
ond, General — let me lead the charge ! " and sprang in front
of the regiment. As the command " Charge t " fell from
Hood's lips, the line surged forward for the race down the
slope. But the gallant Warwick took scarcely a dozen strides
before a fragment of a shell struck and mortally wounded him,
and he fell to the ground.

Never did a regiment make better time than the Fourth
Texas did, down to and into and across the gully in the
middle of the hollow ; there was need for speed, for only when
there could the men hope to escape, for a second or two, the
storm of lead and iron that fast depleted their ranks — it being
impossible, they knew, for the guns to be sufficiently depressed
to bear on them. Falling again into a semblance of a line as
they scrambled out of the gully, and moving at their best
speed up the hill on the crest of which the guns were posted,
they gained half-way ground before again coming under fire,
and then only under that of two pieces. These, however, were
denied the time to fire a third shot, for before the second left
their muzzles, the Tcxans won the crest, the artillerists fled
and the guns were ours.

Halting on this crest a minute to regain formation, the
Fourth Texas pushed rapidly on toward the Chickahominy.
A couple of hundred yards from the artillery, it encountered
a squadron or more of cavalr}'. United States dragoons, they
called themselves. These charged gallantly, but unavailingly.
Met with bullet and bayonet, many steeds soon galloped rider-
less, many bi'ave cavalrymen lay on the ground, wounded or
dead. That scrimmage over, ]Major Townsend, then in com-
mand — General Hood had come no further than tlie battery —
decided that the regiments had gone far enough, and so called
a halt. It was then in the timber bordering the Chickahominy.
It was fast growing dark, and he did not care to assmne the
responsibility of going further. While he waited for orders


and instructions the First Texas approached within near
range of the Fourth, and in the darkness mistaking it for a
Federal command, commenced firing at it. " Lie down — lie
down," was shouted along our line by both men and officers,
while others sought to inform the First Texas who they were.
Before it could be made to understand, though. Lieutenant L.
P. Lyons, of Company F of the Fourth Texas, in his anxiety
to see that all of his company obeyed the order to lie down,
stood for a moment on his feet, and was mortally

From what State hailed the troops over whom the Fourth
Texas passed on the crest of the ridge where it first came
under direct fire, was a question as much discussed during the
war as since. When asked, as we came to them, who they
were, the majority who spoke at all, answered, " Alabamians."
Not knowing then on what part of the field Law's brigade was,
many of us jumped at once to the conclusion that we had
caught the Fourth Alabama regiment " showing the white
feather." The Fourth Alabama, however, denied the harsh
impeachment, and their negative being proven beyond dispute,
the matter remained one of doubt and speculation. The first
Hght on the subject came in 1905, forty years after the close
of the war. Governor Wilham C. Gates, of Alabama, in his
book entitled, " The War between the Union and the Con-
federacy, and its Lost Opportunities," admits that the Fif-
teenth Alabama regiment was the sinner. As he was then
a lieutenant in one of the companies, his acknowledgment " of
the corn " must be held as conclusive, and none the less so be-
cause he relegated to a comrade the task of relating the in-
cident. That comrade, after telling that the Fifteenth took
position on the crest of the hill where we found it, at about 2
p. M., and while there the men lay flat on the ground, and that
finally, details sent back for ammunition returned and the
men began to fill their cartridge-boxes, says : " About the
time we got through, we looked down the hill in our rear, and
there came the Fourth Texas, half-bent, as if looking for a
turkey." Being against himself, that statement will not be
disputed. Other assertions made by the comrade, however,
are not only challenged, but positively denied. The Fourth
Texas made no halt at the line of the Fifteenth Alabama to


rectify their own line, to fire a volley, and to reload and fix
bayonets. Nor did the Fifteenth Alabama, as an organized
body, advance with the Fourth Texas. As to these matters,
the comrade has mistaken a lively imagination for a poor

Justly proud of the achievements of the Fourth Texas at
Gaines' Mill, survivors of Hood's Texas Brigade were as-
tounded when, in 1898, their title to the laurels won by that
regiment in that battle was questioned. That Hood and
Whiting, Jackson and Lee, and Jefferson Davis, the president
of the Confederacy, had erred in crediting the Fourth Texas
with being the first to penetrate the lines of the enemy, and
to capture, unassisted save by the Eighteenth Georgia, the
fourteen pieces of artillery, was too incredible for belief. A
lively tilt, with the pen, at once began in the columns of the
Confederate Veteran in the October number, 1898, in wliich
had appeared an article over the signature of Adjutant
Cooper, formerly of Pickett's Brigade, in which the claim of
the Texans was assailed, and the laurels awarded them cred-
ited, exclusively, to Pickett's Brigade.

Fortunately for the Texans, the evidence on which they re-
lied was of record in official reports and in history ; unfortu-
nately for the Virginians, Adjutant Cooper, at the vcr\' out-
set, blundered into details concerning the movements of Pick-
ett's Brigade that shatter his contention beyond repair, phys-
ical facts as well as oral and written testimony of unimpeach-
able character, showing that, if he tells the truth, his claim in
behalf of Pickett's Brigade is absolutely baseless. In that
October number of the Veteran he says :

" The sun shone briglitly and the atmosphere was clear, and
every move that Lee's troops made could be plainly seen by
the enemy. Pryor's line advanced to the attack, and in a
short time were almost annihilated. Pickett with his five regi-
ments went in on a double-quick, and being hid by tlie smoke
of battle, approached to within thirty or forty ^^ards of the
first line of intrenchment, where in the intense heat and the
dense smoke, they involuntarily threic themselves flat upon the
ground and commenced firing. The roar of musketry was so
terrific that it was impossible to hear anything else. The men
knew, however, that heavy work was intended, as each man


had his eighty rounds of ammunition. This continuous firing
was kept up, neither side knowing the proximity of the other,
on account of the smoke. Finally, the "firing of the enemy some-
what slackened and the sun set, as it were, in blood, with
neither side having gained any advantage. At the slight lull
in the enemy's fire. General Pickett ordered a charge, to which
his brigade responded promptly."

Following this paragraph, Adjutant Cooper tells how the
Union troops melted away as the Virginians rushed forward

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 4 of 32)