J. B. (Joseph Benjamin) Polley.

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

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"On the night of June 26, 1862, the Fifth Texas bivouacked
with its comrade regiments of the Texas Brigade at Hundley's
Comer, several miles from the battlefield of next day. The
sleep we got might have been more restful but for the excite-
ment caused by the carelessness of advance cavalry scouts
Ihey let a bunch of their horses stampede, and as the animals


came directly toward us, and from the front, they were thought
to be a body of the enemy's cavalry charging down upon our
camp, and the regiment was hurriedly called to arms. On the
morning of the 27th the Texas Brigade resumed the march,
the Fifth Texas in the advance,

" Shortly before noon. General Jackson rode b}' us, on his
way to the front. At the head of the regiment he found Gen-
eral Hood, who, tired of motonous marching and impatient
to get to fighting, said to him: ' General Jackson, the enemy
keeps well out of my way — what shall I do? ' ' Press on, sir —
press on,' replied Jackson. But although we did press on, it
was not until about 4.30 p. m. that the brigade reached a
point on the telegraph road near the firing line, then occupied
by troops under command of General Longstreet. They and
the troops under General A. P. Hill had begun their terrible
fighting on the 26th and were still at it. Here, the brigade
was formed into line of battle such that from right to left the
regiments, excepting the Fourth Texas, stood, the Eighteenth
Georgia, First Texas, Fifth Texas and Hampton's Legion.
The Fourth Texas was being held in resen^e, and later, led by
General Hood himself, went into action on the right of the
Eighteenth Georgia. Between the four regiments then in line
of battle was quite a wide space, the Fifth Texas taking posi-
tion at least a third of a mile from the ground over which the
Fourth made its grand charge.

" Line of battle was formed in comparatively open ground,
but in front of us was a forest of heavy timber. Just before
we entered that timber many members of a Georgia regiment
came running in great disorder from the front, and right
into us, calling out as they came near, ' Don't go any fur-
ther, men — you'll all be killed if you do.' Our men de-
nounced them as cowards, thinking thus to shame them, and
this failing, sought to hold them back by a show of bayonets.
But no effort availed to halt their mad flight, and rushing be-
tween the baj'onets they fled to the rear. Continuing our ad-
vance under a heavy artillery fire, we entered the boggy
marshes in which Powhite Creek had its source, and beyond
it came to a ridge occupied by the braver comrades of the
cowards we had met. Halting here to give time to the slow-
movers of the regiment to catch up with their companies, we


fired about three rounds in the direction of the enemy in our
front, who were concealed from view by the timber.

" While thus halted, we saw, some distance in front of us,
a lone Georgian whom a shot in the head crazed, and who,
standing upright, was making the wildest and oddest gesticu-
lations imaginable, with his arms. Two of our men ran out
to him, and brought him back to a place of safety. Just
after crossing the marsh a cannon ball came rolling slowly
down the hill. Nobody feared it — it was moving, apparently,
with too little momentum to be at all dangerous. But we
knew better when it stinick a member of Comapny I in the
stomach and drew from him a scream of pain that was fearful
to hear. Its movement arrested by impact with the poor
fellow's body, it stopped within ten feet of him. The soldier
received from it a mortal wound ; one of his comrades told me
next day that he died from the effect of the blow, his body
having swollen to near the size of a flour barrel.

" It is but fair to the men whose retreat we endeavored to
stop to say that they were armed only with old-style, smooth-
bore and short-range muskets carrying ' buck and ball,' or
one ball and three buckshot. Such weapons were only dan-
gerous at closer quarters than their bearers had gotten to
the enemy. The Federals, though, carried Springfield rifles
of long range and large cahber, and so had much the advan-
tage of their poorly armed antagonists. But when the Fifth
Texas, which was armed with Enfield rifles, moved up to the
ridge, the advantage shifted to the side of the best marks-
men, and that, it soon appeared, the Texans were. Many of
the Georgians, notably those whom we met in retreat, had
soon decided it was time for them either to get further from,
or move closer to the enemy, and had chosen the getting fur-
ther as the safer alternative. That no such choice was forced
upon the Texans, is evident from the circumstance that after
three carefully aimed volleys from them the Union troops
immediately in their front got out of range so rapidly and
numerously as to leave but few in the line to receive the charge
of the Fifth that was immediately ordered.

" Again with a loud yell, our line sprang forward. At the
very outset. Sergeant Onderdonk, of Company A, our flag-
bearer, was shot down. R. A. Brantley, of Company D,


sprang forward and, seizing the flag, bore it bravely through
the battle then on, and continued to bear it gallantly until,
just before the battle of Second Manassas, it was resigned
to another member of the regiment. The effort by the Fed-
erals still remaining in line to stay our advance was fruitless ;
many of them were killed outright, the others chased through
their encampment. This was a sea of white tents. Planned
for the occupation of a large force, it had been carefully laid
off and kept remarkably clean. After passing into the open
ground beyond the camp located, the Fifth Texas continued
its advance to the crest of a hill in a large field and there
halted to readjust its alignment. As formed, our line over-
lapped, on the right, several of the cannon previously cap-
tured by the Fourth Texas. Approaching these guns at the
same time we did, came some scattering men belonging to the
Fourth Texas, who for some cause had failed to keep up with
their comrades, then in front of us on our right and out of

" Having restored its line, the Fifth Texas marched south-
east through the field, in the direction of Grapevine Bridge,
about two hundred yards. Neither friend nor foe coming
within its view, it countermarched and took position again near
the cannon. For about ten minutes nothing happened. Then
bullets commenced fl^'ing over our heads from the rear, and
facing about, we saw a line of troops bearing the Federal flag
coming toward us through the encampment. As they emerged
from the protection of the tents, we began to fire on them.
But there was no fight in them — that was taken out the mo-
ment they saw a Rebel regiment in their front. Without
firing another shot, they lowered their flag and commenced
waving hats and handkerchiefs in token of surrender. So
anxious, indeed, were they to sun'cnder, that they came run-
ning toward us as though they recognized us as dearly beloved
but long lost brothers, and our men had actually to push many
of them back to prevent them from getting right in among
us. Unfortunately, too, although offering every other evidence
of surrender, they forgot, or at least, many of them did, to
throw down their guns. As a consequence of this failure on
their part, many were fired on at close range by individual
members of the Fifth Texas. I was lucky enough to save the



life of one of them. As one of my company was in the act
of hvmg on him— the two were hardly ten feet apart— and
the Federal still had his rifle— I knocked up the Confederate's

" The regiment surrendering was the Sixth New Jersey
Judging from the fact that it came from the direction we sup-
posed the First Texas to be, we argued that it was driven
back and into our arms by that regiment. Previous to its
?,? , f. ^ ''^' ^ ^"""^ cannon fired many times at us from a
hill half a mile east of the Fifth, but did no damage. Be-
tween this gun and Grapevine Bridge, stood a division of the
enemy, massed m column, wliich had evidently come that far
to the front with a view of reinforcing their assaulted lines.
I hey came too late though; there were no longer any lines at
the front to reinforce.

" On our march to the battle ground that morning, when
four miles or more from it, the Fifth, and I suppose, all the
other regiments of the Texas Brigade, was ordered to deposit
blankets, knapsacks and other impediments to rapid motion,
by companies, in piles. Over these, guards were placed, the
men being told that wagons would come along to transport
and return them to the owners. But to this day no wagons,
with our all, have overtaken us. Our loss was total and
serious. We never secured an outfit of clothes and blankets
to compare with those abandoned. The Fifth Texas supplied
Itself liberally from the stores left in the Federal camps, but
along with what they took they got army lice enough for a
large division of troops.

" As already said, the Fourth and the Fifth Texas entered
the battle about one-third of a mile apart. The Fourth
moved, I think, southeast, while the Fifth moved south or a
httle southeast, their lines of advance converging at such
angles as, had not the Fourth had much the shorter line, and
the easier to make speed over, would have brought the two
commands together at the batteries. General Hood remained
with, and directed the movements of the Fourth, until it began
the charge from the orchard where it halted to re-form, on the
batteries. When the Fourth got under headway, he sent
for his horse, and when the animal came, rode to the front to
find that the Fourth Texas and the Eighteenth Georgia had


captured the batteries, and the Fifth Texas, a whole regiment
of the enem}". This would indicate, that long and difficult as
was the route forward pursued by the Fifth, it had not tarried
by the way, but had moved promptly and vigorously. As
from the beginning of the advance till night came, no regiment
of the brigade came within view of the Fifth, it played the
part of a lone knight on the field, anxious to meet and defeat
the enemy, but unable to do so because of his rapid disap-
pearance and continued absence. It carried with the battle
800 men. Its losses in killed and wounded were few.

" On the morning of the 28th, in company with other
officers, I looked at the fortified position of the enemy which
the Fourth Texas had assaulted so successfully, and wondered
how any of the assailants escaped with their lives. Not again
during the four years of war was another such charge made.
General Jackson did right in mentioning the Fourth Texas
in his official report as having been the first Confederates 'to
pierce these strongholds and seize the guns.' Nor was it ful-
some and undeserved praise he bestowed when the day after the
engagement, while surveying the ground over which the Fourth
Texas charged, he said to General Hood, ' The men who car-
ried this position were soldiers indeed.' "

As a supplement to the foregoing account of the part taken
by the Fifth Texas in the engagement of Gaines' Mill, the fol-
lowing anecdote will not come amiss. Its truth is vouched for
by more than one of the survivors of tlie Fifth Texas. As
introduction to it, it must be told that Lieutenant-Colonel J.
C. Upton was in command of the Fifth Texas wlicn the New
Jerseyans surrendered, Colonel J. B. Robertson having been
wounded before the Fifth came so far. Upton was one of
that adventurous, self-reliant and plain-mannered class of peo-
ple to whom miHtary uniform and a long unwieldj' sword were
nuisances. That day, a woolen overshirt constituted his uni-
form, and while his sword trailed at his side, he carried in his
right hand, as was his habit, the long-handled frying pan in
which was fried the bacon for himself and mess. But for the
look of command in his eyes and the deference paid him by
his command, one would never have suspected his rank.

Having made up their minds to surrender, both the men


and the officers of the Sixth New Jersey were in haste to re-
lieve themselves of the unwelcome job; apparently, each
of them thought, " if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere
well it were done quickly." The privates and non-commis-
sioned officers had naught to do save drop their guns. The
commissioned officers, though, must, to play the game of war
with dignity, surrender their swords to equals or superiors
in rank. Therefore, their first inquiry of their captors was,
"Where is your commanding officer.?" "There he stands,"
said a Texan, pointing to Colonel Upton. But there was so
little of the commanding officer in Upton's make-up and pose,
that for half a minute the Federal officers stood in doubt.
Reassured of his rank, however, they rushed toward him from
all parts of their line, each man endeavoring to be the first to
reach him. When the foremost officer unsheathed his sword
and holding it by the blade, proffered it to Upton, he said,
" Just drop it on the ground, will you." " Indeed, I will
not," said the Federal indignantly. " As major of the Sixth
New Jersey regiment of infantry, I tender the weapon to you
as token that I am your prisoner, and I insist, sir, on your in-
stant acceptance of it." " Well," said Upton, " hand the thing
to me," which was immediately done, Upton taking the sword
in his left hand, as he also did the next one tendered. Then
noticing that twenty or more of the same weapons were on their
way to him, and unwilling to lay aside the frying pan that
was yet in his right hand, he crooked his right ann and as
each sword was presented, laid it in the crook of that soon
heavily loaded limb. At first, the swords taken behaved with
commendable decorum, but ere the last was laid on the pile of
them, they began to get crosswise, and to slip and slide about
in a way that soon put each of them pointing in a different

At this juncture, Colonel Upton became aware of a com-
motion at the far end from him of the almost surrendered regi-
ment. Springing to the top of a nearby log, the armful of
sabers dangling in every direction, he shouted to a Texan
who seemed to be having trouble, " Say, Big John Ferris, what
the mischief and Tom Walker are you trying to do now.f* "
" I'm trying to keep a lot of these d — d Yankees from es-
caping," came back the response in a stentorian voice. " Let


them go, you infernal fool," returned Upton, " let them go ;
we'd a d — d sight rather fight 'em than feed 'em."

It is matter for regret that no accounts of the parts taken
in the battle by the First Texas, the Eighteenth Georgia and
Hampton's Legion are forthcoming. The two or three com-
panies forming the right wing of the Eighteenth Georgia, be-
ing in open, unobstructed ground, moved forward in line with
the Fourth Texas, and assisted in the capture of the batteries,
but the other companies of the regiment could not make the
same headway over the ground in their front. That over
which the First Texas and Hampton's Legion had to pass
was probably the most difficult, and their movement forward
was so retarded by swamp and morass, fallen timber and the
profusion of vines and undergrowth, that it was practically
impossible for them to gain the enemy's lines as soon as the
regiments on their right.

In his official report. General Hood gives the losses of the
brigade, as follows :

Hampton's Legion — Two killed, 18 wounded, none missing.

Eighteenth Georgia — Sixteen killed, 126 wounded, 3 missing.

First Texas — Fourteen killed, 64* wounded, none missing.

Fourth Texas — Forty-four killed, 207 wounded, 1 missing.

Fifth Texas — Thirteen killed, 62 wounded, none missing.

But he does not correctly state the number of killed and
wounded in the three Texas regiments. In these, the First
Texas had 20 killed and 56 wounded; the Fourth Texas, 75
killed and 176 wounded, and the Fifth Texas, 15 killed and
52 wounded.


Savage Station, Frayser's Farm, Malvern Hill, Kelly's

Ford, Freeman's Ford, Thoroughfare Gap,

Second Manassas

On the day following that of Gaines' Mill, the Texas Bri-
gade counted up its losses and buried its dead. Many had
fallen dead on the field of honor; others lived long enough
to send last messages to their loved ones, and still others lin-
gered and died in hospitals amid utter strangers. Wrapped
in a blanket, the soldier's shroud, the bodies of such comrades
as died on the field were laid side by side in shallow trenches,
each regiment's dead to itself. At the head of each body
was placed a rough, rudely lettered board to tell whose it was,
and then the earth was heaped in a high mound over the
common grave. A few, whose bodies, it was thought, their
friends would likely desire to remove, were buried in separate

On the morning of the 29th, the enemy in the meantime
having made good his escape to the south side of the Chicka-
hominy, and being now so little desirous of capturing Rich-
mond as to be making his best speed down the James River
and away from it. Whiting's division followed Jackson's
troops in pursuit — a body of Texas scouts leading the ad-
vance of Jackson's command. Inasmuch as, although under
fire of both artillery and musketry at Savage Station on the
afternoon of the 29th, at Frayser's Farm on the 30th — where,
by the explosion of a shell from a Federal battery, nearly all
of Company M of the First Texas was killed or wounded —
and at Malvern Hill, on the 1st of July, where it lay exposed
for long hours to the merciless fire of Federal artillery, the
Texas Brigade took active part in neither attack nor repulse,
the description of these battles is left to the general historian.
Suffice it here to say, that owing to blunders and misunder-
standings, absence of reliable maps of the country, the in-



competency of the guides secured, and various other causes,
the defeat of the Federal army was not as complete and over-
whelming as it should have been, and as General Lee san-
guinely hoped it would be.

McClellan having accomplished the " change of base " to
which he was driven by the Confederate commander, and be-
taken himself, with his army, to the protection of the gun-
boats in James River, at Harrison's Landing, General Lee
ordered Longstreet to remain in the vicinity of the Landing,
and observe his movements, and recalling Jackson's com-
mand from the front, ordered it to Culpeper Court House,
north of the Rapidan. General Pope — the puissant Federal
general who, from headquarters *' in the saddle " bombasti-
cally proclaimed that he was accustomed in the West, where
up to that date he had served, to see only the backs of the
enemy, and that with the army under him there would be no
retreats, and who was then commanding " the Army of Vir-
ginia," composed of the corps of Banks, Fremont and Mc-
Dowell, was making demonstrations indicating an intention
to move down on Richmond, and Jackson was sent to adminis-
ter a check to his puissancy.

Whiting's division, though, not belonging properly to Jack-
son's command, was returned to that of Longstreet, and about
the 10th of July was ordered into camp on the Mechanics-
ville road, three miles from Richmond. Here the Texas Bri-
gade remained idle and at rest until the 8th of August. Since
June 11th it had been almost constantly on the move — its
days of rest few, its marches long and wearisome, its hard-
ships many, its dangers great, its losses in battle heavy, and
it was grateful indeed for the lengthy exemption from hard
service. To the Texans at this place came long-delayed let-
ters, and our captures from the Federal army large, a great
deal of much-needed clothing, and with the latter, that pest
of the soldier, the body louse. Up to this time we had no
acquaintance with the animal — thenceforward to the close of
the war, he remained with us.

On the 8th of August the brigade folded its tents, and
shouldering its guns began the marching that, with but few
rests, was to continue until December of that year. It
marched light, each man having by this time learned what


weight he could comfortably carry, and therefore, dispensing
with all superfluities. Still, we could not reduce the weight
to be carried to less than about thirty-six pounds. A gun
weighed about ten pounds, the cartridge box, cap-box, bayonet
and the belts and straps to which these hung, another ten,
and the roll of blanket and tent, or oil-cloth, still another ten.
Add to these the weight of the haversack, in which not only
provisions but under-clothing and many other necessities were
carried, and the total, on a fair estimate, was never less
than thirty-six pounds, and often went a little beyond
forty. A canteen full of water weighed at least three

For three days the march was leisurely. On the 11th, haste
was enjoined. Jackson had engaged in battle with Pope at
Cedar Run, near the mountain of the same name, on the 9th,
and had not only defeated the Federals but inflicted upon
them a heavy loss. He held the field until the night of the
11th, and then learning that his antagonist had received rein-
forcements and would move against him with an overwhelm-
ing force, he retired to the south side of the Rapidan.
Thither Longstreet hastened, and on the 15th took position
along the Rapidan, on the right of Jackson — the Texas
Brigade, at Raccoon ford. On the 20th, there was a simul-
taneous advance by both Confederate commanders across the
Rapidan and toward the Rappahannock — Whiting's division,
now under command of General Hood and hereinafter to be
spoken of as Hood's division, leading Longstreet's advance.
General Lee himself was now up and directing the Confederate

Learning of the advance, and fearing to join battle. Gen-
eral Pope hastily retreated to the north side of the Rappahan-
nock, taking position there to command all fords in his front.
The Texas Brigade followed rapidly, and at Kelly's ford came
under a heavy artillery fire and had a light skirmish with the
rear-guard of the enemy. Here it was that Captain Reilly,
commanding one of the batteries attached to the brigade, let
his imperfection of sight lead him into trouble with his su-
periors. While yet the cannonading on both sides was in
progress, a lone horseman rode into the river at the ford, bear-
ing a white flag. Swearing that although he could see man


and horse distinctly, he could see no flag, Reilly trained and
fired a gun at the fellow, the round shot plunging into the
water three feet to his right. That not calhng him to a halt,
Captain Reilly, still insisting that he could see no white flag,
fired two more shots, one of which struck the water a few
feet to the left of the horseman, and the other, five feet in
front of him. Hardly, though, was the last shot on its way,
when an aide-de-camp dispatched by General Hood came at
full speed, and halting near Captain Reilly, shouted : " Gen-
eral Hood says stop your d — d foolishness — that man is bear-
ing a flag of truce." " An' so, be Jasus, he is," confessed
Reilly with a grin, " but in the name of St. Pathrick an' all
the ither hoully saints, whoy didn't the spalpeen hould the
domned white rag high enough for an Irishman to per-
saive it.? "

At Freeman's ford, on the following day, occurred the fun-
niest incident that ever precipitated a conflict between bodies
of armed men. Having crossed Hazel River, the Texas Bri-
gade formed in line just inside of a field of com in good roast-
ing ear. On the other side of the field and on the south
side of the Rappahannock, yet lingered a Federal brigade.
The Confederates were hungry, the Federals in the same fix,
and roasting ears in sight, each wanted a share of them.
Each in position to watch the other from its main line, neither
of the opposing brigades had out a skimiish or picket line.
Two soldiers, the one a Dutchman belonging to the Union
army, the other a Prussian serving in the Confederate, hap-
pened to be in the field at the same time, gathering com, and
each fastidious as to quality, each wandered toward the center
of it, and just when each had an armful of roasting ears, they
came face to face.

Neither uttered a word, but dropping the corn, each rushed
at the other and began to pound him with his fists. That
proving slow work, they clinched, and finally falling, began a

Online LibraryJ. B. (Joseph Benjamin) PolleyHood's Texas brigade, its marches, its battles, its achievements → online text (page 6 of 32)