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Hunter's and Crook's united corps, and bring it down to Grant's
army. This operation being rendered impossible by Sheriddn's de-

The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg. *53T

feat, on the night of the i2th of June, the Federal army began its
march to the south side of the James. General Grant had* at first
been of the opinion that the south side of the James was the best
position for attack, and doubtless his north side experience had made
this opinion a positive conviction. Says his chronicler: " The march
of fifty-five miles across the peninsula was made in two days, and
with perfect success." Surely after so much unsuccessful fighting,
the Federal commander is entitled to all praise for this successful

The overland campaign was at an end. To the Federal army it
had been a campaign of bloody repulses, and even when a gleam of
success seemed to dawn upon it for a moment (as at the plank road
on May 6th, and at Spotsylvania on the morning of the 12th), it was
speedily extinguished in blood, and immediate disaster covered over
the face of their rising star of victory. Says the historian of the
Army of the Potomac: "So gloomy was the military outlook after
the action of the Chickahominy, that there was at this time great
danger of the collapse of the war. The history of this conflict,,
truthfully written, will show this. Had not success elsewhere come
to brighten the horizon, it would have been difficult to have raised
new forces to recruit the Army of the Potomac, which, shaken in its
structure, its valor quenched in blood and thousands of its ablest
officers killed and wounded, was the Army of the Potomac no more."'
In a foot-note to this he adds: "The archives of the State Depart-
ment, when one day made public, will show how deeply the Govern-
ment was affected by the want of military success, and to what
resolutions the Executive had in consequence come."

That the morale of General Lee's army was high at this time
there can be no doubt. The strain of continuous bloody fighting at
Spotsylvania had been great; but the campaigns of the North Anna
and Chickahominy had given them much more repose. They were
conscious of the success of the campaign, and were on better rations
than they had been for a long time. The fat bacon and (Weathers-
field?) onions brought in at that time from Nassau were very cheer-
ing to the flesh, and the almost prodigal charity with which several
brigades contributed their rations to the suffering poor of Richmond
was a striking incident in the story of these days on the Chicka-
hominy. But cheerful and in high spirits though they were, there was
a sombre tinge to the soldier wit in our thinned ranks which ex-
pressed itself in the homely phrase, "What is the use of killing these
Yankees ? it is like killing mosquitoes — two come for every one you

538 Southern Historical Society Papers.

As General Lee had sent Breckinridge back towards the Valley
on June 8th, and General Early, with the Second corps (now num-
bering about eight thousand muskets — it having suffered more than
either of the other corps), on the 12th to meet Hunter at Lynchburg,
and restored Hoke's division to General Beauregard at Petersburg,
the odds against him were much increased, as he had now with him
only from twenty-five to twenty-seven thousand infantry.

These bold movements show what he thought of the condition of
the Federal army and his undiminished confidence in the morale of
his own troops.

When Grant reached the James in safety, after his successful march,
he did not repose under the shadow of his gunboats, as did the
sorely bruised McClellan in 1862. Being essentially a man of action
and obstinent persistency — and, more than all, having the advantage
of McClellan in the consciousness that his Government had staked
all on him and would support him with all its resources — he crossed
the James and pushed on to Petersburg. He attacked Beauregard
on the Petersburg lines on the 15th with Smith's corps, sent in trans-
ports from the White House. Reinforcing Smith heavily, he attacked
him again on the i6th, and pushed corps after corps to the front. On
the 17th Beauregard had all Grant's armv to deal with. Fighting
against overwhelming numbers, he had exacted a bloody tribute for
every foot gained by the enemy. Though Grant met with partial
success in carrying the outer lines, held by a mere handful of troops,
yet Beauregard's small force, strengthened by his brigades with-
drawn from the Bermuda Hundred lines and by the return of Hoke's
division from Cold Harbor, held him in check at the interior lines
until General Lee's arrival with reinforcements on the i8th of June.

General Lee remained on the north side of the James until June
15th. On the night of that day he camped near Drewry's Bluff.
On the i6th and 17th of June he superintended personally the recap
ture of the Bermuda Hundred lines by Fields's and Pickett's divis-
ions. These lines had been occupied by Butler after the withdrawal
of Beauregard's troops for the defence of Petersburg on the day be
fore. The incident of the volunteer attack of our men on these
lines, various incorrect versions of which have been given, happened
thus : By the afternoon of the 17th all of the line had been retaken
except a portion in front of the Clay House. The order had been
given to Generals Field and Pickett to move against them from the
lines which they held. But meantime the engineers reported that
the line already taken up by our troops was of sufficient strength,

The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg. 539

and that it would be an unnecessary waste of life to attack the part
still held by the enemy. The orders to make the attack were-coun-
termanded by General Lee. This countermanding order reached
General Field in time, but did not reach General Pickett until "his
troops were already involved in the attack under his orders. Gen-
eral Pickett sent a message to General Gregg, of the Texas brigade,
of Fields's division, which was next to his right, urging him to go in
and protect his flank. Gregg consented at once, but could not wisely
move until he had sent a like message to the troops on his right, as the
interval between the line held by our troops and that held by the enemy
widened much from left to right in front of Fields's division. At this
moment, however, Pickett's advancing lines opened fire, and in an in-
stant the men of the brigades of Fields's division, on General Gregg's
right (first squads of men and officers, then the standards, and then
whole regiments), leaped over our entrenchments and started in the
charge without orders, and General Gregg and his Texans rushed
forward with them, and in a few moments the line was ours. It
was a gallant sight to see, and a striking evidence of the high spirit
and splendid elan of troops who had now been fighting more than
forty days, in one continuous strain of bloody battles. It was a haz-
ardous movement, as the position attacked was a very strong one,
but it was found to be held by a mere handful of the enemy, and our
loss was very slight. I have been thus particular in the details of
this incident, of which I was an eye-witness, as General Lee, who
was at the Clay House, was not acquainted with all the iacts when he
sent the well known message to General Anderson, mentioning only
Pickett's men.

On the next day, June i8th, General Lee marched to Petersburg
with the van of his army, Kershaw's division, with which he at once
reinforced Beauregard's troops in the line of defence. Both generals
were on the field that day, when the assault along the whole line
was made by the Federal corps, which met with such a complete and
bloody repulse. During the action a young artillery officer fell by
General Lee's side, shot through the body. The attack made no
impression whatever on our lines. The easy repulse of the Federal
c<:»rps on this occasion, and the result of the attack made by Hill with
a part of Wilcox's and Mahone's divisions on the Second and Sixth
corps, near the Jerusalem plank road, on the 21st, when sixteen hun-
dred prisoners and four pieces of artillery were captured by Mahone,
made it plain that the opportunity had arrived for a decisive blow.
So, on the night of the 22d General Lee sent for General Alexander,

540 Southern Historical Society Papers.

the accomplished Chief of Artillery of Longstreet's corps, and made
arrangements for the disposition of the artillery for an attack on the
morning of the 24th. The attack was to begin at daylight, with a
heavy fire of artillery from Archer's Hill, on the north bank of the
Appomattox, enfilading the enemy's line near the river, then the
infantry of Hoke's division, sustained by Field's division, was to
begin w'ith the capture of the line next the river, and then sweep
along the line uncovering our front, thus rolling up the Federal right
and compelling General Grant to battle in the open field at a disad-
vantage. At daybreak on the 24th the artillery opened fire and did
its work well. The skirmishers of Hagood's brigade, of Hoke's divi-
sion, went forward very handsomely and captured the lines next the
river. But through some mistake this success was not followed up —
the gallant skirmishers were not sustained, and were soon made
prisoners by the forces of the enemy turned against them. And
thus the whole plan, so well conceived and so successful in its begin-
ning, was given up much to the sorrow of the commanding-gen-

In the preliminary operations about Petersburg up to July ist,
Grant's losses footed up fifteen thousand men. On the 6th of July
his engineers pronounced the Confederate works impregnable to as-
sault. From this date the operations partook of the nature of a

As it is not my intention to give any record of events after the
siege of Petersburg, I will close my address at this point in the cam-
paign of 1864 — a campaign, the full history of which would leave the
world in doubt, whether most to admire the genius of our great
leader, or the discipline, devotion, courage, and constancy of his sol-

On the 4th of May four converging invading columns set out
simultaneously for the conquest of Virginia, The old State, which
had for three years known little else save the tramp of armed legions
was now to be closed in by a circle of fire from the mountains to the

Through the Southwestern mountain passes, through the gates of
the lower valley, from the battle-scarred vales of the Rappahannock,
from the Atlantic seaboard, by the waters of the James, came the
serried hosts on field and flood, numbering more than two hundred
and seventy-five thousand men (including in this number also rein-
forcements sent during the campaign). No troops were ever more
thoroughly equipped or supplied with a more abundant commissariat.

The Campaign from the Wilderness to Peter shurg. 541

For the heaviest column, transports were ready to bring suppHes and
reinforcements to any one of three convenient deep-water bases —
Acquia creek, Port Royal and the White House.

The column next in importance had its deep-water base within
nine miles of a vital point in our defences. In the cavalry arm (so
important in a campaign in a country like ours) they boasted over-
whelming strength.

The Confederate forces in Virginia, and those which could be
drawn to its defence from other points, numbered not more than
seventy- five thousand men. Yet our great commander, with stead-
fast heart, committing our cause to the God of battles, calmly made
his dispositions to meet the shock of the invading hosts. In sixty
days the great invasion had dwindled to a siege of Petersburg (nine
miles from deep-water) by the main column, which, "shaken in its
structure, its valor quenched in blood, and thousands of its ablest
officers killed or wounded, was the army of the Potomac no more."

Mingled with it in the lines of Petersburg lay the men of the sec-
ond column, which, for the last forty days of the campaign, had been
held in inglorious inaction at Bermuda Hundreds by Beauregard,
except when a portion of it was sent to share the defeat of June 3d
on the Chickahominy, while the third and fourth columns, foiled at
Lynchburg, were wandering in disorderly retreat through the moun-
tains of West Virginia, entirely out of the area of military opera-
tions. Lee had made his works at Petersburg impregnable to
assault, and had a movable column of his army within two days'
march of the Federal capital. He had made a campaign unexam-
pled in the history of defensive warfare.

My comrades, I feel that I have given but a feeble picture of this
grand period in the history of the time of trial of our beloved South
— a history which is a great gift of God, and which we must hand
down as a holy heritage to our children, not to teach them to cherish
a spirit of bitterness or a love for war, but to show them that their
fathers bore themselves worthily in the strife when to do battle be-
came a sacred duty. Heroic history is the living soul of a nation's
renown. When the traveler in Switzerland reads on the monument
near Basle the epitaph of the thirteen hundred brave mountaineers
who met the overwhelming hosts of their proud invaders, and " fell,
not conquered, but wearied with victory, giving their souls to God
and their bodies to the enemy " ; or when he visits the places sacred
to the myth of William Tell, transplanted by pious, patriotic fraud
from the legends of another people to inspire the youth of that

512 Southern Historical Society Papers.

mountain land with the hatred of tyrants and the love of heroic
deeds ; or when he contemplates that wonderful monument by
Thorwalsden, on the shores of Lake Lucerne, in commemoration of
the fidelity in death of the Swiss Guard of Louis XVI — a colossal
lion, cut out of the living rock, pierced by a javelin, and yet in death
protecting the lily of France with his paw — he asks himself how
many men of the nations of the world have been inspired with a love
of freedom by the monuments and heroic stories of little Switzer-
land ?

Comrades, we need not weave any fable borrowed from Scandina-
vian lore into the woof of our history to inspire our youth with
admiration of glorious deeds in freedom's battles done. In the true
history of this Army of Northern Virginia, which laid down its arms
"not conquered, but wearied with victory," you have a record of
deeds of valor, of unselfish consecration to duty, and faithfulness in
death, which will teach our sons and our sons' sons how to die for
liberty. Let us see to it that it shall be transmitted to them.

Campaign of 1864 and 1865.


[It is due to the gallant author of the following paper to say that
it was not written for publication, but for the private use of General
E. P. Alexander, who was at that time — several years after the war
— contemplating a history of Longstreet's corps. The narrative is,
however, so interesting and valuable that we take the liberty of pub-
lishing it as material for the future historian.]

I joined the division at Bull's Gap, east Tennessee, about March 1 3th,
1864; remained there for some weeks, then fell back to Zollicoffer,
and, finally, about the middle of April, took the cars for Gordons-
ville, Virginia. A few days after our arrival there, General Lee came
over and reviewed McLaws's division and mine and aroused great
enthusiasm among the troops. This, with the fact of our rejoining
the Army of Northern Virginia, and getting back to Old Virginia,
where we wished to serve, operated very beneficially upon the troops,
and elevated them to the very pinnacle of military pride and perfec-

It was about noon of the 4th of May, whilst encamped near Gor-

Campaign of 1864 and 1865. 543

donsville, that General Longstreet signalled me that the enemy had

broken camp, and directed me to strike, I think, the road, and

reach a point on it — Jack's Shop, I think — early next day. By
marching nearly all night, I encamped on the following evening at
dark about five miles from the Wilderness battleground.

The opposing armies had been engaged during the day, the cav-
alry fighting in my immediate front. At midnight I received orders
to move immediately to the scene of action by striking across the
country to the plank road. McLaws's division, commanded by
Kershaw, had encamped a few miles from me, and as the head of his
column reached the plank road point, and as it was already broad
day, and thinking the emergency might be great, instead of halting
until the rear of his column passed, I moved parallel with him, the
head of his column being maybe a hundred yards or so in advance of
mine. Both columns were directly just in rear of the field and mov-
ing down the plank road. As the musketeers' fire increased, so did
the numbers going to the rear from Heth's and Wilcox's divisions,
which had just been assaulted by the enemy. The numbers, man-
ner, and words of these troops all told too plainly that those divi-
sions were being driven back in confusion, and that the two divisions
of Longstreet' s corps were badly needed. In a moment all our
troops in my front gave way and came hurrymg by us, and I got an
order from Longstreet to form line of battle on the right of and
perpendicular to the road, and check the enemy's advance. I threw
Anderson's brigade, which was leading to the right, at once in line,
but before it could be followed up by the other brigades a second
order was received from Longstreet to form in the quickest order I
could and charge with any front I could make. Throwing the Texas
brigade, which was second, on the left of the road and in line per-
pendicular to it, and Benning in rear of that, and Law in rear of that,
and Jenkins in rear of that, the Texas brigade, led by its gallant Gen-
eral Gregg, dashed forward as soon as it formed, without waiting for
those in its rear to get ready.

By this time the enemy had swept Heth's and Wilcox's divisions
entirely to our rear, and ignorant that there was anything to oppose
them, the view being obstructed by a slight rise and some scattered
pines, were pushing forward in heavy and confident masses.

There was nothing to oppose to this seemingly resistless force but
Gregg's small body of Texans, less than five hundred strong. But
away thev went, charging right down the plank road, the right rest-
ing upon it, met the enemy and — though flanked on both sides —

544 Southern Historical Society Papers.

forced them back. It was at the beginning of this charge that the
celebrated scene, quoted in the newspapers, between General Lee
and this brigade occurred. General Lee, who was present, seeing, as
all did, that the battle was lost to us unless some almost superhuman
exertion was made, placed himself at the centre of the brigade, say-
ing aloud he would lead them. The men strengthened the line, cried
out that he must go back, and that they would do the work. And
well they did it, but at the loss of two-thirds of their number lying
on the ground, killed or wounded, in ten minutes. Some companies
were entirely obliterated. One company, I remember, for months
had on duty but a single person, a lieutenant — all the rest being
killed or wounded at the Wilderness. The Texas brigade met and
overcame the first shock, but it was followed by Benning's Georgia
brigade at a few paces interval with signally cheering results. Gen-
eral Benning was badly wounded in this charge — the command for
some months after devolving upon Colonel DuBose — and his bri-
gade much cut up. Law's brigade, commanded by Colonel Perry,
came immediately to the rear of Benning, but fortunately the enemy's
course had been somewhat checked, and the losses in this brigade
were not so great at that time. The remaining brigade in Field's
division — ^Jenkins's South Carolina — was brought up as soon as it
could form, and held for a while in reserve. Meanwhile Anderson's
Georgia brigade, which had been the first formed and which had
been thrown across to the right of the plank road, was advanced on
that side as well as the dense thicket would admit. Its progress being
unavoidably slow, and the thicket very dense, its losses were compara-
tively small. The enemy's progress had been stopped, and he had
been driven back by the brigades from Texas Georgia, and Ala-
bama, commanded respectively by Generals Gregg and Benning, and
Colonel Perry, but he was not beaten, and for the next three hours a
fierce struggle, without any permanent advantage to either side, was
maintained at that point — first one side and then the other giving
back slowly and doggedly, while the same ground was fought over
a half dozen times in succession by both sides. It was about eleven
o'clock when General Longstreel informed me that some troops had
been sent around to attack the enemy on his left flank, and that he
wished me to attack in front at the same time. The plank road at this
point was straight and level for a mile or more. Placing a couple
of pieces in the road, which effectually dislodged the enemy from
a breastwork which he had thrown up across it, and moving down on
both sides of the road with my division, the enemy was started back.

Campaign of 1864 and 1865. 545

but slowly, and then he broke and fled in confusion, leaving his dead
and wounded thick upon the field. Among the latter was Brigadier-
General Wadsworth, of New York, who died late in the day. It was
at this time that General Longstreet was wounded, and Brigadier-
General Jenkins, of my division, killed. The enemy being routed
and nowhere in sight, and all fighting having ceased, General Long-
street rode up to me at the head of my division, and, seizing my hands,
congratulated me in warm terms on the fighting of my troops and
the result of the assault. Stopping a moment at the request of Gen-
eral Lee, who also came up at this time to direct the removal of some
logs, which the enemy had thrown across the road as a breastwork,
so that the two guns- might pass. General Longstreet, accompanied
by Brigadier-General Jenkins and their staff and couriers, had got-
ten about thirty yards in my front when I heard a scattering fire
from the bushes on the right of the road, and saw General Long-
street's party in great confusion. In a moment it was ascertained
that General Longstreet was wounded and General Jenkins and
some others killed. Rushing to the General at once, he was assisted
from his horse and reclined on the roadside against a tree. Knowing
that he was badly, if not mortally hurt, though the exact locality of
his wound was not yet known, he desired me to assume command of
the corps and press the enemy.

Some have doubted by whom this fire was delivered, but there
need be none. There was no enemy in sight or range, but some of
our troops of another corps emerging from the bushes and seeing
objects on the road where they supposed the enemy still were, opened
fire with the result above stated. Could we have pushed forward at
once, I believe Grant's army would have been routed, as all that
part which I had attacked was on the run. But as the troops were
now formed my division and some others, probably, were perpen-
dicular to the road and in line of battle, whilst all those which had
acted as the turning force were in line parallel to the road, and the
two were somewhat mixed up. No advance could be possibly made
till the troops parallel to the road were placed perpendicular to it,
otherwise, as the enemy had fallen back down the road, our right
flank would have been exposed to him, besides our two bodies being
on the road at the same point, one perpendicular and the other about
parallel to it, neither could move without interfering with the other.
To rectify this alignment consumed some precious time — time, as we
learned later, the enemy was employing in reforming his broken
columns, and throwing up a new line of works.

546 Southern Historical Society Papers.

Under my direction the line was finally straig^htened and an ad •
vance of the whole line made, and though the attack in some in-
stances was, I know gallantly made, the enemy was too strong behind
his breastworks to be again driven fi-om them.

The almost impenetrable growth of wood and brush prevented
some of the troops from reaching the enemy at all, but one of my bri-
gades, the gallant South Carolina — now led by Colonel Bratton, since
Jenkins's death — rushed up to the enemy's works under a withering
fire and got into them, but having no support were driven back again,

Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 57 of 61)