Copyright
J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

. (page 5 of 32)
Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 5 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and at them, and how, without another halt, and without
again involuntarily throwing themselves flat upon the ground,
the sons of the Old Dominion swept on and captured the four-
teen guns in advance of any other command. In view of his
admission that his brigade did not charge the enemy until the
sun had set, his claim is an absurdity.

In none of the official reports of Confederate generals com-
manding that day is the time at which the general advance
began given as later than 7 p. m. The sun set on June 27,
1862, in the latitude of Virginia, not earlier than 7.30. This
gave half an hour for the Fourth Texas to pass over the 1320
yards of ground that lay between the ravine in which Hood
first formed it into line and the batteries. Moving leisurely,
at the rate, say, of two miles an hour, one can walk that dis-
tance in 22^ minutes. Pickett's Brigade at 7 p. m. was fully
half a mile to the right of the Fourth Texas, and fully that
distance further than the Fourth from the batteries in ques-
tion, which were, at least, two hundred yards to the left of
the direct line of advance of the Texas regiment. For Pick-
ett's Brigade to have reached the guns first, even had not its
men " involuntarily thrown themselves flat upon the ground "
within " tliirty or forty yards of the first line of intrench-
ments," it must have moved entirely across the front of Whit-
ing's Brigade, and, for two hundred yards, across that of the
Fourth Texas. It was not possible, though, for it to move
across the front of either of those commands, for, after be-
ginning their advance at 7 a. m., half an hour before sunset,
neither of them halted until the Federals had taken refuge in
the lowlands of the Cliickahominy, and the batteries had been
captured by the Fourth Texas and part of the Eighteenth
Georgia. i



54, HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE

It should be remembered that the Fourth Texas did not
move leisurely, when making the charge that da}'. An}' sol-
dier ever in action knows that such a withering, destructive
fire as was poured upon the Confederates that afternoon, puts
speed in the legs of the slowest, the weariest and the bravest.
Save for probably two minutes at the road, and five, at the
farthest, in the peach and pear orchard, the Fourth Texas
made no halt between starting point and the batteries. Pride
and patriotism, esprit de corps, and the dangers threatening,
each enjoined and assisted in securing rapidity of movement.

Hood was as ambitious as he was brave and daring. The
stars and wreath of a major-generalship hung in the near
perspective. Like Henry of the Wynd, in the combat be-
tveen the clans, Chattan and Quhile, he " fought for his own
hand." Not a Texan there, whether by birth or adoption,
but shared his spirit, and resolved to maintain the reputation
for desperate courage won for the " Lone Star State " by the
heroes who at the Alamo fought and died that their com-
patriots might at San Jacinto fight and win. Therefore,
Hood urged speed, and the Fourth Texas made speed — such
speed, indeed, that before sunset they seized and silenced the
batteries which all day long had played such havoc in the
Confederate lines.

Of the half a hundred or more old comrades of the Fourth
Texas whose testimony has been sought, not one of them but
remembers distinctly and declares unhesitatingly that the sun
was yet shining above the tree-tops in the west when his
regiment drove the enemy from these guns. I was wounded
in a narrow lane that led from the road running up and down
the ridge south of Powhite Creek, toward the peach and pear
orchard in which Hood formed the rcnmants of the regiment
for its direct charge upon the guns. I saw the regiment in
hne there, and just behind it, General Hood — liis left hand
raised above his head and grasping the bough of the apple
tree under which he stood — his right hand holding an up-
lifted sword — the fact that he held the sword made evident
to me by the circumstance that its bright blade reflected the
rays of the still shining sun. As the regiment moved down
the hill in its direct charge upon the batteries, Austin Jones,
who was also wounded, and I, went slowly to the rear, and



HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE 55

until we got three-fourths of the way to Powhite Creek, the
sun shone in our eyes. In confirmation of my own recollec-
tion on this question, I have a letter written to me by General
Stephen D. Lee, May 27, 1899, in which he says that just
before sundown on the 27th of June, 1862, he was on top of
the Garnett house, across the Chickahominy from the battle-
field, with field-glasses in his hands, through which he was
watching the progress of the fight; that President Davis was
in the yard below him, and that he (Lee) was reporting his
observations to Mr. Davis ; that he saw the hnes carried by the
Confederates, but did not know by what command they were
first broken until messengers brought the information to Mr.
Davis that ' Hood's Texans had swept everything before
them, piercing the lines and driving the enemy before them
in the greatest disorder.'

I have said this much about the claim of Pickett's Brigade,
simply because not to deny the justice of that claim would be
to acquiesce in it. Especially, should it be denied in a his-
tory whose sole aim is to record the achievements of the
Texas Brigade. That command has never sought to wear
laurels won by other commands, but it insists on keeping those
fairly won by itself, bright and untarnished even by the idle
suspicion cast upon them by the members of Pickett's Brigade.

It was when we first came in view of the Federals that we
suffered our heaviest loss. Whatever their panic later, they
exhibited no lack of steadiness then, and under the accurately
aimed volleys of shot and shell they poured into us, more
than a hundred of our bravest and best fell wounded or dead.
But thinned as the line was by the fearful discharges, the
Texans closed to right or left, as need was, to fill the gaps
made in the line, and pushed swiftly and resolutely on. Of
the courage displayed by both men and officers, I can say no
more than that it was splendid. It is useless to say more,
for it is only brave men that unflinchingly face " the grim
monster. Death " ; the coward shrinks appalled and trembling
from him. When thunder of cannon and roar of musketry,
whistling of bullets and shrieking of larger missiles combine
in one grand volume of sound; when grape and canister,
round shot and fragments of burst shells sweep the bosom
of the earth like a tidal wave from the wide ocean, to say that



56 HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE

men who breast the storm shoulder to shoulder, and seeking
no shelter, press on without halt until victory is won, or death
or wounds lay them low, as did the Texans at Gaines' Mill,
are brave and heroic, is to attribute to them virtues insepar-
able from their deeds."

No one soldier sees all that occurs in the battle in which he
participates ; it is impossible he should. Officers and privates
do not see alike even when observing the same occurrence, for
they look from different angles and standpoints. That being
the case, as between officers and privates on the firing line
and taking active part in the engagement, how can a general
in command of a body of men in action, be expected to know
all the many important and unimportant incidents that tran-
spire while his men are advancing under fire, or are in battle.''

Generals Lee, Jackson, Whiting and Hood give in their
official reports but surface accounts of this or that movement
— it is to the private, and the officer whose duty places him
almost in line with the private, we must go for pai'ticulars,
for the minutiae — all the many incidents that make the story
of a battle interesting. That the accounts they give are
often in conflict with each other, and seldom agree precisely
with those that appear in official reports, should not discredit
them. No two persons, crdinarilj^, exactly agree in their
relation of incidents in daily, peaceful life, and why should
not soldiers differ in their accounts of happenings on fields
of fierce and sanguinary conflict.''

Comrade William R. Hamby, a member of Company B,
Fourth Texas, tells the following story of his experiences and
observations :

" On the morning of the 26th of June, we left our camp
near Ashland, Va., about fifteen miles north of Richmond, as
the advance guard of Stonewall Jackson's corps, marching
toward Cold Harbor, then in the rear of the Federal army.
Nearly all of the afternoon and far into the night we could
hear heavv firing on our right in the direction of Mechanics-
ville. About three o'clock in the afternoon we passed an old
A'irginia farmer sitting on his fence by the roadside. His
negroes were in the field cutting wheat. He was delighted
to see us and waving his hat, said: 'Hurry on, bo3's : the
Yankees have just gone flying over the creek.' While he was



HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE 57

cheering us, Reilley's battery, of our brigade, pulled down
the fence and ran into the field just in the rear of where the
old man was sitting and opened fire upon the enemy, who had
burned the bridge and had taken position on the hill beyond
the creek in front of us. The first shot from Reilley's guns
was a surprise to the old man. He fell backward from the
fence and exclaimed : ' My God ! a battle here on my planta-
tion ! ' and then, turning to his negroes, shouted to them to
get to the woods as fast as their legs could carry them, and
he led the procession. Company B were thrown forward as
skirmishers. The enemy were soon dislodged from their posi-
tion, and we continued to drive them back until we went
into bivouac for the night.

" Early in the morning on Friday, June 27, we were again
on the march through fields, crossing creeks, climbing hills,
and finally wading a swamp about one hundred yards wide
and waist-deep in mud and water. After crossing the swamp,
we climbed another hill and passed through a pine forest
into the edge of an old field, where a conference was held
between Generals Lee, Whiting and Hood, which ended by
Lee and Wliiting riding rapidly away. In a short while Gen-
eral Lee returned, and addressing Lieutenant Walsh of Com-
pany B, inquired for General Hood, who was only a short
distance from us and who heard the inquiry. He at once
saluted General Lee, who said that the efforts to break the
enemy's lines in front of us had been unsuccessful and that
it was of the utmost importance to do so. General Hood
replied : ' We will do it.' As General Lee turned his horse
to ride away, he lifted his hat and said : ' May God be with
you ! '

" Just before we were ordered into battle, and while heavy
firing could be heard in our front and on each flank. Captain
Owens, of our regiment, was talking to some comrades of the
battle in which we expected soon to be engaged, and, drawing
his sword and waving it over his head, repeated the following
lines from Scott's ' Mamiion : '

The war that for a space did fail
Now, trebly thundering, swelled the gale,
"On Stanley! " was the cry:



58 HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE

A light on Marmion's visage spread

And fired his glazing eye;

With dying hand above his head,

He shook the fragment of his blade

And shouted " Victory ! "

" Charge, Chester, charge ! On, Stanley, on ! "

Were the last words of Marmion.'

" While they were the last words of Marmion, they were al-
most the last words of gallant Tom Owens, who fell mortally
wounded in less than half an hour from the time he quoted
them with such prophetic inspiration.

" The other regiments of our brigade — Hampton's Legion of
South Carolinians, the First Texas, the Fifth Texas and the
Eighteenth Grcorgia — were at once ordered forward on our
left. Our regiment, the Fourth Texas, moved b}"^ the right
flank farther into the field, fronting the Federal lines, which
appeared to be about half a mile in front of us. From our
position we could form some idea of what was required of us.
At the farther side of the field the enemy occupied a steep
hill covered with timber; at the foot of the hill was a creek
whose banks afforded protection by abatis and log breast-
works ; at the top of the hill was another line of infantry be-
hind intrenchmcnts and supported by artillery.

" The troops in front of us who had failed to break the
enemy's line were retreating in disorder, and to use the lan-
guage of General Whiting, our division commander, ' some
were skulking from the front in a shameful manner.' The
conditions confronting us vividly recalled the remark Hood
had made when he was colonel of our regiment, that he ' could
double-quick the Fourth Texas to the gates of Hell and never
break their line.'

" About six o'clock in the evening our line was formed un-
der fire from the enemy in front of us and from artillery that
enfiladed us on our right and left. General Hood had as-
sumed personal command of the regiment and ordered us to
dress to the center upon our colors and not to fire until he
ordered us to do so. We started at quick-time march with
our guns at ' right shoulder shift.' The fire from the enemy
was falling upon us like drops of rain from a passing cloud,



HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE 59

and as we advanced their messengers of death grew thicker
until they came in teeming showers, ' while cannon to the right
and cannon to the left volleyed and thundered.' At every step
forward our comrades were falling around us. When we were
within about one hundred and fifty yards of the enemy we
passed over a line of our own troops lying upon the ground.
They had gone that far, but would not go farther. A young
lieutenant of that regiment was pleading with his men to go
forward ; and when they would not do so, he said they had
disgraced their flag, and, throwing away his sword, he seized
a musket and joined our ranks; but the brave boy had gone
only a short distance when he was killed. As we passed this
regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Warwick snatched up their
colors, and, like the standard bearer of the Tenth Legion of
Ancient Rome, told them to follow their flag, but they did not
do so. With that flag in one hand and his sword in the other,
the gallant Warrv^ick fell after he had crossed the second line
of fortifications.

" General Hood was in our front until we were within about
one hundred yards of the creek, when he wheeled his horse to
the right and ordered us to fix bayonets and charge at double-
quick. Here the fire of the enemy was poured into us with
increasing fury, cutting down our ranks like wheat in the
harvest.

" More than half of our regiment had fallen upon the field,
although we had not fired a gun. Raising the Rebel yell,
we dashed across the creek (which we found to have steep
banks, in some places twenty feet high, with sides cut to
form a ditch, and climbed over the breastworks, when the
enemy gave way in confusion. The Federal colonel in com-
mand of the line broken by the Fourth Texas says : ' All
along the line our fire was opened on the enemy and main-
tained in a most vigorous manner. Nothing could have been
better done. The eff'ect upon his ranks were perceptible, and
the slope of the hill bore testimony to the steadiness and ac-
curacy of our fire, yet he moved steadily along until up and
onto us. When unable to resist, our line broke.'

" We fired into their retreating ranks as they ran up the
hill, and reloading as fast as we could, we followed them over
their second fortifications, when their entire line gave way in



60 HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE

disorder, but continued to fire as they retreated. A Federal
officer who was on their second line says : ' The enemy made
a final and desperate effort to break through our lines, and
were successful, but not until our weary men were trampled
upon. The attack was desperate, and so was the defense.
The noise of the musketry was not rattling as ordinarily, but
was one intense metallic din.' This position of the Federals
was strong and well-selected, and their double line of defenses
ought to have been held against almost any force that could
have been thrown against them.

" After we crossed their second line of defenses, eighteen
pieces of artillery massed on an elevation in the rear of their
lines on our left opened a heavy fire of grape and canister
upon us. Without halting to re-form our lines, we charged
the batteries, capturing fourteen cannon ; but one battery,
with four guns, succeeded in escaping before we reached them,
which we had the satisfaction of capturing a couple of months
later in the second battle of jNIanassas. We then turned upon
the retreating infantry and drove them through an old
orchard.

" In a short while we felt the ground begin to tremble like
an earthquake and heard a noise like the rumbling of distant
thunder. It was a regiment of United States cavalry charg-
ing us. This regiment was one of the most famous in the
United States army. Albert Sidney Johnston had been the
colonel, Robert E. Lee had been the lieutenant-colonel, and J.
B. Hood had been a lieutenant before resigning to enter the
Confederate service. The captain of Hood's old company- com-
manded the regiment in the charge, and was captured by us.

" To hear the trumpets sounding the charge, to see the
squadrons coming toward us at full speed, and to see their sa-
bers glistening in the sunlight of the dying day like a flame of
fire from heaven was a spectacle grand bej'ond description, and
imparted a feeling of awe in the bravest of licarts. When
they were within about forty 3'ards of us, we poured a volley
into them and prepared to receive them on our bayonets ; but
our one volley liad done dreadful execution. Horses and rid-
ers fell in heaps upon the ground, and the groans of the
wounded and the shrieks of the dying could be heard above the
roar of the battle as the setting sun shed a fading light over




George S. Qualls
Company G, P'ourth Texas Regiment



FACING 60



HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE 61

the battlefield. Captain McArthur, who succeeded to the
command of the regiment after the battle, in his official report
says : ' The regiment charged under a most galling fire until
all the officers but one had been struck down, and, being with-
out officers, wheeled to the right and came off in as good
order as could be expected.'

" After the charge of the cavalry had been repulsed, we
pushed on to the brow of the hill overlooking the valley of the
Chickahominy. Desultory firing continued until it was so
dark we could not distinguish friend from foe a few yards from
us ; in fact we were fired upon by our own troops, resulting
in the killing of Lieutenant Lyons, of Company F, of our
regiment.

" The gentle breezes of that night in June were whispering
requiems for the brave spirits who had fought their last battle
when our regiment was re-formed in line about nine o'clock by
General Hood, who counted only seventy-two present ; but
others reported during the night who had been separated from
us in the darkness in the latter part of the battle.

" The charge of the Fourth Texas at Gaines' Mill was a
dearly bought victory ; but it broke the Federal lines around
Richmond, and for a time, at least, the capital of the Con-
federacy was saved. Out of less than five hundred who went
into the battle, we lost two hundred and fifty-two men and
twenty-three officers, killed and wounded, including Colonel
Marshall, Lieutenant-Colonel Warwick, and Major Key.

" With a detail of one man from each company in the regi-
ment, I stood picket that night at the corner of the garden
fence of a farmhouse which we were informed had been the
headquarters of General Fitz-John Porter, whose corps we had
fought that day. As the rations issued to us at Ashland on
the 25th had been exhausted, and as our commissary trains
were far in the rear, we went on duty with empty haversacks.
We had been at our post some hours, and could hear the Fed-
eral troops, pushing their retreat across the bridges of the
Chickahominy as fast as possible, while the loneliness of the
night was increased by the wail of the whip-poor-wills that
came to us from the swamps below us. We were recounting
the incidents of the day and of the baptism of fire through
which we had passed, when we heard the tramping of horses



62 HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE

and the clanking of sabers coming toward us from the direc-
tion of our own lines. When they were within a short distance
of us, we halted them and demanded who they were, supposing
them to be a scouting party of our own cavalry. Although
it has been nearly fifty years since then, the answer we re-
ceived will never be forgotten. A pompous voice rang out
clear and distinct, ' Major-General McCall, of the Grand
Arm}' of the Potomac,' which evidently came from one who
had straightened himself up in his stirrups so as to get the
answer out strong and forcible. Our surprise can scarcely be
imagined, as we had heard that General McCall was in com-
mand of the Federal forces the previous day at the battle of
Mechanicsville. We at once demanded their surrender, but
instead of doing so they put spurs to their horses and dashed
by us down the hill towards their own line, followed by a volley
from us.

" General Morell, whose division formed the loft wing of
Porter's corps in the battle of Gaines' Mill, in his final report
says : ' The Confederates made their first attack about twelve
o'clock upon the right, which was handsomely repulsed. The
second attack was made about 2.30 and the third about 5.30
o'clock, each extending along my entire front, and both, like
the first, were gallantly repulsed. The fourth and last came
(about 6.30 p. M.) in irresistible force, and swept us from the
ground.'

" General Seymour, whose division went to the support of
General IMorell's division, in reporting the actions of his ar-
tillery, after we had broken the Federal lines, says : ' The
batteries which had already played an important part now
endeavored to drive back the Confederates and opened with
rapidity and precision, but could not contend successfully
against the bullets of the infantry at short range. Captain
Easton, nobly encouraging and cheering his men, fell, and his
battery (six guns) was lost with him. Captain Kerns was
wounded early in the battle, but in spite of his wound kept the
field ; and when the enemy came upon his battery, he loaded
and fired the last shots himself and brought four of his guns
off the field. Captain De Hart's battery did its best service,
keeping its ground and delivering its fire against the advanc-
ing enemy. Captain De Hart was here wounded. All dis-



HOOD'S TEXAS BRIGADE 63

played the greatest gallantry; but no efforts could repel the
rush of a now successful foe, under whose fire rider and horse
went down and guns lay immovable on the field.'

" General R. E. Lee, in his official report of the battle, in
speakmg of the breaking of the enemy's lines, says- 'The
dead and wounded marked the way of the intrepid advance,
the brave Texans leading, closely followed by their no less
daring comrade, driving the enemy from the ravines to their
first hne of breast-works, over which the impetuous column
dashed up to the intrenchments on the crest of the hill, which
were quickly stoniied and fourteen pieces of artillery captured '

"The day ^ following the battle of Gaines' Mill, General
Jackson, in riding over the ground where the Fourth Texas
had charged, exclaimed, ' The men who carried this position
were soldiers indeed,' and in his official report of the battle
fn'^'iM^? *^'^ charge, in which more than a thousand men
tell, killed and wounded, before the fire of the enemy and in
which fourteen pieces of artillery were captured, the Fourth
Texas, under the lead of General Hood, was the first to pierce
these strongholds and seize the guns. Although swept from
their defenses by this rapid and almost matchless display
ot daring and desperate valor, the well-disciplined Federals
continued to fight with stubborn resistance as thev re-
treated.' "^

"General Whiting, our division commander, in his official
report of the battle, said: ' The battle was severe, hotly con-
tested and gallantly won. I take pleasure in calling special
attention to the Fourth Texas, which was the first to break
the enemy s hne and enter his works. Of the other regiments
in the division, it would be invidious and unjust to mention
one above another.' "

Writing of the part taken by the Fifth Texas in the bat-
tle of Gaines' Mill, Captain W. T. Hill, who was then first
lieutenant of Company D of that regiment, says •



Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 5 of 32)