Southern Historical Society. cn.

Southern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) online

. (page 16 of 61)
Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 16 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Army of Northern Virginia was about to grapple its enemy.

The " Old Stone Pike," running from Orange Courthouse to
Fredericksburg, and having the general direction of southeast, passes
what was formerly an old stage stand, known as "Locust Grove."
After passing this point about two and one half miles east and south,
it enters the battle-renowned "Wilderness." This Wilderness is
a generally level barren, covered with a matted growth of scrub oak,
stunted pine, sweetgum brush and dogwood. The surface of the
earth is indented occasionally with low basins, through which the
rainfall, washing from the higher margins, cuts long gullies and often
deep and wide washouts.

About three miles south and east of " Locust Grove," a brave
farmer, in days long gone, cleared a little field, of twenty or more
acres, on and including one of these basins, through which the pike
now runs. Time has driven the farmer to seek more productive soil,
while the continued drain of water from the slope has washed a long
and narrow gulley through the field; where it — the water — was ob
structed by the pike, it has destroyed all vestige of a pike, and, at
this day, a deep, wide and long washout st'ands in its stead.

Travellers in this Wilderness, like most country folk, adopted the
cheaper plan of making a road around to repairing the pike, the con-
sequence is, a road turns to the right about eight hundred yards
north and west of the washout, and, obtaining a distance of two
hundred yards from the pike at its greatest width, enters it again
three hundred yards south and east.

148 Southern Historical Society Papers.

Along the eastern edge of this field the Sixth corps was posted in
line of battle, while the remainder of the "Army of the Potomac"
was passing to the right along the road from Germania Ford, imme-
diately in rear of this line, posted to cover the movement. By this,
it will be seen that Ewell's corps and the Sixth Federal corps were
both in the Wilderness, and only separated by a few hundred yards.
Those who remember the grand old commander will not doubt for a
moment what such proximity meant.

Steuart's brigade was in column on the pike a very few minutes
after the firing began, at lo}^ A. M., and marched promptly in the
direction of the fire ; a very short distance had been marched when
the fire became severe, and some of Jones's men, known to be in the
front, began passing to the rear.

Line of battle was immediately formed in the following order :
The Third North Carolina to the right, the First North Carolina
across, and the Virginia regiments to the left of the pike. Advancing
in this order of battle, when about three hundred yards had been
passed over, the right came in contact with Jones's and Battle's bri-
gades, the former in great confusion, its gallant commander being
killed, the men streaming to the rear, and carrying many men of
Battle's left with them.

It was now ii^ A. M. Battle having succeeded in rallying his
men on Steuart's right, the line resumed the advance, and struck a
stout line of Federal infantry in a thicket of pines, skirting the mar-
gin of the small opening — once a field. This line being assaulted,
fled precipitately, all escaping except the One-hundred and Forty-
sixth New York — its commander. Colonel Jenkins, Elmira, New
York, being killed — which surrendered in a body, and was sent to
the rear, all except its color-guard and colors, which was too fleet to
be overtaken.

The right of Steuart, debouching suddenly into this field — the left
still in the biUsh — discovered two Howitzers, in the act of being
taken off, which were quickly captured, together with the Lieu-
tenant commanding the section. This section of a battery was on the
near side of the deep 'and wide washout — as described — while,
three hundred yards from the far side, was a strong line of the
enemy that could not be moved. The attempt was twice made, but
failed, and in the failure about fifty men of the two North Carolina
regiments remained in the washout, and did good service later in
the day as sharpshooters.

Several attempts were made to bring off the guns by hand — the

Report of Conduct of General Steuart's Brigade. 149

horses and limbers having gotten away — but the open ground and
proximity of the enemy prevented, until night, when they were
brought in by a detail from the Third North Carolina.

From the hour of the killing of General Jones and the discom-
fiture of his brigade, Steuart was cool and steady, advancing firmly
and solidly through that tangled thicket, and, while serving as a rally-
ing point for Batde's confused left, did not once falter, but looked to
the front for the enemy. When entering the field the right of the
brigade, the Third North Carolina was directly in front of three
obstacles — the One-Hundred-and-Forty-Sixth New York, the two
howitzers and the washout, which latter covered more than its front.
The first and second were easily disposed of, not so the third. The
New York regiment, being in line on its knees, rose at the first vol-
ley, and leaving its guns at "ground arms," passed through the
brigade to the rear as prisoners of war. A few minutes after the
two howitzers were captured, but the washout was never fairly
cleared. While this was occurring, Battle's brigade closed to its
right, connecting with the left of the line of battle on the opposite
side of the traveled road, which manoeuvre created a long brigade
distance between the flanks of the heretofore well-closed line of the
two brigades. Steuart kept the direction of the pike until arrested
by the close fire of the Sixth corps, heretofore mentioned.

About one-half hour was expended in attempting to force the
enemy's position, but, failing in that, the brigade was withdrawn two
hundred yards to the rear in the brush, where line of battle was
formed, with Stafford on its left and Battle on its right. Later in
the day the "Stonewall" was put in Stafford's place, and that bri-
gade moved farther to the left.

It was now after midday. No more fighting was done on this
front, save a few picket shots, and a feeble attempt of the enemy,
late in the afternoon, to recapture the two guns still standing on the
edge of the washout. This was a signal failure, and the repulse was
largely assisted by the men of the First and Third North Carolina,
who were in the washout. After dark the two guns were brought
in, and the men returned to their respective companies.

In the early morning of the 6th, Steuart's brigade was closed in to
the left until its right rested on the pike, and Jones's brigade, now
reorganized, was put in on its right and connected with Battle's left.
The entire day was passed in quiet on this part of the line, only an
occasional picket shot disturbing the repose of the men. Several

150 Southern Historical Society Papers.

vigorous attempts were made to force the line to the left, and as
vigorously repulsed.

The morning of the 7th revealed the enemy gone, and the day
was spent by the men in congratulations, and by the writer in making
a sketch of the field from the bivouac of the night of the 4th up to
the line occupied by the Federals during the same period. Late in
the evening of this day the brigade began closing or extending —
cannot call it marching — to the right, which continued during the
entire night, the men having no time for rest or sleep.

The morning of the 8th dawned bright and hot. The line of
march was taken up and pushed with vigor, notwithstanding the
heat, dust, parching thirst, and smoke and fire of burning woods.
The nature of the march was sufficient to convince those heroes that
their presence was required to meet the foe on some other field, and
gallantly did they toil through the day. As the sun was hiding
behind the western wood, the brigade was thrown in line to the sup-
port of Rodes, in front of Spotsylvania courthouse, but was not
engaged. After dark it was marched and countermarched in search
of a position, and at 10 P. M. was formed in line and ordered to
throw up works in that salient which proved so disastrous on the
1 2th following.

By daylight of the 9th, in spite of the fatigue and loss of sleep on
the night of the 7th, and the terrible march of the 8th, the entire
brigade, with no tool, except the bayonet and tin-plate, was en-
trenched behind a good defensible rifle pit. This day was spent in
strengthening the lines, scouting to the front, and that sleep so much

The morning of the loth found it closed to the righr, connecting
with the left of Hill's corps, and Jones's brigade occupying the works
in the salient. The position now occupied was in rear of the left-
centre of the army, and so near as to require protection for the backs
of the men when that part of the army was assaulted. These assaults
were made fast and furious during the day, and the men of this line
were, of necessity, compelled to erect works in front and rear at the
same time. Late in the afternoon Doles's brigade was pressed back
upon Steuart's rear, followed closely by the exultant enemy.

Orders to fall in, take arms, face by the rear rank and forward,
were repeated in quick succession ; the brigade responded with
alacrity, and soon was moving steadily — though moving in line of
battle by the rear rank — through a small strip of woods into a field,

Report of Conduct of General Steuart's Brigade. 151

in which stood a dwelling, and there meeting the enemy immediately

The work here was sharp and quick, resulting in the repulse of
the Federals across and out of Doles' s works, and their occupation
by Steuart. It was, however, soon discovered that Steuart did not
cover Doles' s entire front to the left, and fifty or more of the enemy
were having a happy time enfilading the lines left and right. Lieu-
tenant Robert Lyon with "H" company, Third North Carolina —
the then left company — was formed across and perpendicularly to the
line, and moving promptly down the left, drove them off". Before
this could be accomplished the Third North Carolina, on the left, had
suffered severely ; many men were wounded, its sergeant-major
killed, and colonel seriously wounded.

Thus matters stood at night-fall on the loth, when the writer was
carried to the hospital ; he there learned the brigade was moved
back during the night to its original position, remained inactive
throughout the nth, and was captured, together with its division
and brigade commanders, in the early morning of the 12th.

General Edward Johnson, the division commander, in his report of
this memorable morning, written on the i6th August following, vir-
tually admits if the troops to the left of Steuart had held their ground
with the same tenacity, the result would have been different, as the
artillery could have gotten into position in the sahent. He has this
to say about Steuart: " The first assault was made on Steuart's front,
which, after a fierce conflict, was repulsed ; a second narrow but
deep column then assaulted the salient; the artillery being absent,
the troops were overpowered and gave away, when the enemy
poured through our lines in immense numbers, taking possession to
the right and left of the salient."

Lieutenant-Colonel W. M. Parsley, commanding Third North
Carolina that morning, and who was captured in his works, says:
" Steuart faced by the rear rank and continued to fight inside the lines
until a second column attacked him in front, when, finding himself
between two fires at short range, he was compelled to surrender."

Thus, on the 12th day of May, 1864, in front of Spotsylvania
Courthouse, ceased to exist Steuart's brigade, composed of men
who had followed various commanders from Manassas, in i86i,the
Valley campaign with Jackson, down to Richmond and on through
the several conflicts of '62, '63 and '64, not only without spot on
their colors, and having the confidence of their leaders, but also
complimented and honored for their endurance and heroism.

152 Southern Historical Society Papers.

From this day to the closing scene at Appomattox the two North
Carolina regiments served with Ramseur's — later Cox's — brigade, of
Rodes's division, and the three Virginia regiments were consolidated
with the remnants of Jones's brigade, of Gordon's division. In these
separate commands a warm feeling always existed between the men
who had stood firmly by each other on so many hardly contested

They followed the fortunes of war under Early in the Washington
city and Valley campaigns. The last seen of them by the writer was
on the field of Winchester September 19, 1864, where he, after being
baptized in the blood of the heroic and dauntless Rodes,* was him-
self so fearfully wounded as to be unfit for field duty ever after.

In the absence of the division and brigade reports, due to the cap-
ture of Generals Johnson and Steuart, a few errors have, of neces-
sity, appeared in the report of General Ewell. The report, after
describing the death of General Jones, and the discomfiture of his
brigade, says : " Daniel's brigade of Rodes's, and Gordon's of Early's,
were soon brought up and regained the lost ground, the latter cap-
turing, by a dashing charge, several hundred prisoners." There was
really little loss of ground. Battle was already up with Jones ; and
Steuart in time to assist in rallying Battle, when these two brigades
advanced as heretofore described. Daniel and Gordon, both advanc-
ing on the traveled road, instead of the pike, found Doles' s front,
and there rendered that prompt assistance so much needed, which
assistance was on Doles's, not Battle's, right. No troops were on
either Steuart' s right or left, except Battle and Stafford, and no
prisoners were captured in that front, except the One-Hundred-and-
Forty-Sixth New York, already mentioned.

The writer well remembers how sorely pressed was Doles when
Jones was broken, but never knew who was sent to his assistance,
as he was three hundred yards to the left of Doles ; but it is safe to
infer that as Daniel and Gordon were not with Steuart, and yet being
in the front, they must have been with Doles. The history of this
part of the line in action is, that Battle rallied on Steuart's right, and
when " formed on the ground first occupied" they were the only
troops that moved forward in that front, or, at least, that came up to
that front. As to the two howitzers captured, they were claimed by

* General Rodes was bending from his saddle and giving instructions to
Colonel Thruston when the fatal bullet pierced his brain. He fell, without
a groan, in the arms of the colonel, saturating him with the warm life

Beport of Conduct of General Steuart's Brigade. 153

General Rodes for Battle, and he, ever tenacious of the rights of his
men, only compromised by calling it a joint capture of Battle, and
Steuart. As before stated, when Battle emerged from the thicket,
he closed to the right, which threw him, when on a line with the two
guns, at least one hundred yards to the right of them, while Steuart,
keeping the direction of the pike, came up in front, and after hold-
ing them all day, had them secured at night. It is also a fact known
to the entire brigade, that Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, with
his own hands pulled the lieutenant in charge of the guns from his
horse, and held possession of the horse until required to turn him in.
It was at this point Captain Cantwell, F company, Lieutenant Lyon,
H company, and Adjutant T. C. James, all of the Third North
Carohna, succeeded in turning the two guns upon the enemy, but
were unable to fire, as they were empty and there was no. am-
munition, and in this act of duty James lost his right arm. From
these facts Steuart ever claimed the guns as his capture.

The only ' ' counter attack ' ' made by Steuart and Battle was that
immediately following the death of the lamented Jones, with the
results above indicated ; this being ended, the troops lay quietly
building breastworks all the afternoon on the line selected, and where
they remained until moved by the right to Spotsylvania, May
the 8th.

General Ewell, in his report, makes no mention whatever of Steu-
art's brigade on the evening of the loth, in the recapture of Doles' s
works. The facts are as hereinbefore stated. Steuart, facing by the
rear rank, left his works and advancing across to Doles' s line took
an active part in that engagement. The two North Carohna regi-
ments had served in Doles's brigade from the " Seven Days' battles
around Richmond " through the "Second Manassas" and Mary-
land campaign to Fredericksburg, 13th December, 1862. The men
quickly recognized their old comrades and felt much interest in as-
sisting that gallant brigade.

This report is written from memory, aided by a diary and a sketch
of the battlefield of the 5th of May, made on the 7th, and both pre-
served to this day. The sketch, a copy of which is sent herewith,
was made without instruments, consequently the distances are esti-
mated ; the relative positions as they apply to Jones, Battle, Steu-
art, and Stafford are correct, and show them in the proper places,
at the several hours named, with the estimated distances passed over.
The positions of the other troops have been filled in from General
Ewell's report.

154 Southern Historical Society Papers.

Few incidents of individual conduct have been mentioned aside
from the general behavior of the troops in the several conflicts ; being
on the right nothing, but the generalities of the left could be seen,
and many seen have been forgotten ; for this reason mention is made
of no personal incident in either of the three splendid Virginia regi-
ments, they being continuously on the left.

Colonel Brown, First North Carolina, is living somewhere in Ten-
nessee ; Colonel Williams, Thirty-seventh Virginia, in or near
Abingdon, Virginia ; the colonels of the Tenth and Twenty-third
Virginia have passed away. If either, or both, of those living, or
any member of either of the regiments of Steuart's brigade happen to
see this, it is earnestly solicited that any alterations, additions, or
corrections, necessary to a truthful history, may be given publication,
the writer's only object being to put the five regiments in their true
light before their countrymen now living, and more particularly those
to come after.

Believing some of my comrades will see this and recognize the
motives which have dictated it, and hoping this feeble effort may
meet with that appreciation its intent demands, this narrative is sub-
mitted, subject to the criticism of any and all the surviving true men
actively engaged in battle on either or all of the days covered by it.
All of which is respectfully submitted,

S. D. Thruston,
Colonel Third North Carolina hifantry, Steuart's Brigade.

Death of Stonewall Jackson.


Supported upon either side by his aids — Captain James P. Smith and
Joseph Morrison — the General moved slowly and painfully towards
the rear. Occasionally resting for a moment to shake off the ex-
haustion which pain and the loss of blood produced, he at last
reached the line of battle, where most of the men were lying down
to escape the shell and canister with which the Federals raked the
road. General Pender rode up here to the little party and asked
who was wounded, and Captain Smith, who had been instructed by
General Jackson to tell no one of his injury, simply answered, "A

Death of Stonewall Jackson. 155

Confederate officer"; but Pender recognized the General, and, spring-
ing from his horse, hurriedly expressed his regret, and added that
his lines were so much broken he feared it would be necessary to fall
back. At this moment the scene was a fearful one. The air seemed
to be alive with the shrieks of shells and the whistling of bullets;
horses, riderless and mad with fright, dashed in every direction; hun-
dreds left the ranks and fled to the rear, and the groans of the
wounded and dying mingled with the wild shouts of others to be led
again to the assault. Almost fainting as he was, from loss of blood,
fearfully wounded, and as he thought dying, Jackson was undismayed
by this terrible scene. The words of Pender seemed to rouse him to
life. Pushing aside the men who supported him, he stretched him-
self to his full height and answered feebly, but distinctly enough to
be heard above the din of the battle: " General Pender, you must
hold on to the field; you must hold out to the last."

It was Jackson's last order upon the field of battle. Still more ex-
hausted by this effort, he asked to be permitted to lie down for a few
moments, but the danger from the fire, and capture by the Federal
advance, was too imminent, and his aids hurried him on. A litter
having been obtained, he was placed upon it, and the bearers passed
on as rapidly as the thick woods and rough ground permitted. Un-
fortunately, another one of the bearers was struck down, and the
litter having been supported at each of the four corners by a man,
fell and threw the General to the ground. The fall was a serious one,
and as he touched the earth he gave, for the first time, expression to
his suflfering, and groaned piteously.

Captain Smith sprang to his side, and as he raised his head a
bright beam of moonlight made its way through the thick foliage
and rested upon the pale face of the sufferer. The captain was
startled by its great pallor and stillness, and cried out: " Oh! General,
are you seriously hurt?" " No," he answered, " don't trouble your-
self, my friend, about me;" and presently added something about
winning the battle first and attending to the wounded afterwards-
He was placed upon the litter again, and carried a few hundred
yards, when I met him with an ambulance. I knelt down by him
and said, "I hope you are not badly hurt. General." He replied
very calmly but feebly, " I am badly injured, Doctor; I fear I am
dying." After a pause he continued, " I am glad you have come.
I think the wound in my shoulder is still bleeding." His clothes
were saturated with blood, and hemorrhage was still going on from
the wound. Compression of the artery with the finger arrested it

156 Southern Historical Society Papers.

until, lights being procured from the ambulance, the handkerchief,
which had slipped a little, was readjusted.

His calmness amid the dangers which surrounded him and at the
supposed presence of death, and his uniform politeness, which did
not forsake him, even under these, the most trying circumstances,
were remarkable. His complete control, too, over his mind, enfeebled
as it was by loss of blood, pain, &c. , was wonderful. His suffering
at this time was intense; his hands were cold, his skin clammy, his
face pale, and his lips compressed and bloodless; not a groan escaped
him — not a sign of suffering except the slight corrugation of his brow,
the fixed, rigid face, and the thin lips so tightly compressed that the
impression of the teeth could be seen through them. Except these,
he controlled by his iron will all evidence of emotion, and more
difficult than this even, he controlled that disposition to restlessness,
which many of us have observed upon the field of battle, attending
great loss of blood. Some whiskey and morphia were procured
from Dr. Straith and administered to him, and placing him in the
ambulance it was started for the corps field infirmary at the Wilder-
ness tavern. Colonel Crutchfield, his chief of artillery, was also in
the ambulance wagon. He had been wounded very seriously in the
leg, and was suffering intensely.

The General expressed, very feelingly, his sympathy for Crutch -
field, and once, when the latter groaned aloud, he directed the ambu-
lance to stop, and requested me to see if something could not be
done for his relief Torches had been provided, and every means
taken to carry them to the hospital as safely and easily as possible.
I sat in the front part of the ambulance, with my finger resting upon
the artery above the wound, to arrest bleeding if it should occur.
When I was recognized by acquaintances and asked who was
wounded, the General would tell me to say, " A Confederate officer."
At one time he put his right hand upon my head, and puUing me
down to him, asked if Crutchfield was dangerously injured. When
answered " No, only painfully hurt," he replied, " I am glad it is no
worse." In a few moments after Crutchfield did the same thing, and
when he was told that the General was very seriously wounded, he
groaned and cried out, "Oh, my God!" It was for this that the

Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 16 of 61)