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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter VII.  1861 - 1865  (Part 3)


The skirmishing began at early dawn, and grew fiercer as the morning wore away; so that by high noon it had drifted into regular volleys.

The brigade of General A. P. Hill, in which was the 7th Virginia regiment of infantry, passed from the grounds of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, where it had encamped two hours previous, by William and Mary College to a point near Fort Magruder, and then by a flank movement to the right for a half mile or more, was brought face to face with the enemy, who were in line of battle in a wood, Hill's brigade being in an open field where it received a volley from the enemy which killed and wounded many men.  The brigade pushed forward into the wood, getting close up to the enemy, and fired into them a destructive volley, and then charged, driving them rapidly for more than a quarter of a mile, when it met a fresh line of the enemy lying down behind fallen timber.  Here the battle raged for more than two hours, and until the men had exhausted nearly every round of ammunition; whereupon General Hill ordered another charge, and the enemy was driven for some distance through and beyond this fallen timber.  It was now growing dark, the brigade halted and returned to the position from which it had started in the charge, and where it remained for an hour or more after dark, and then resumed its line of march.

The loss sustained in the 7th Virginia regiment was 77, and in company D., the Giles Company the loss was as follows, viz: killed, William H. Stafford, wounded, Lieutenant E. M. Stone, and the following men of the line, Allen M. Bane, Charles Wesley Peck, Andrew J. Thompson, John A. Hale, John W., East, Isaac Hare, George Knoll, Anderson Meadows, Damascus Sarver, William I. Wilburn, Edward Z. Yager, and David E. Johnston, a total of fourteen killed and wounded, being about 25 per cent of the number carried into action.  Tapley P. Mays, of this company, was the color Sergeant of the regiment, and although he escaped unhurt, the flag which he bore was pierced with 23 balls and the staff severed three times. For his gallantry in this action Sergeant Mays was awarded a sword by the Governor of Virginia.

On the evening of the same day General Early led two regiments of his brigade, the 5th North Carolina and 24th Virginia regiments, against a fort held by General Hancock's Federal brigade.  While General Early's men fought with great steadiness and bravery, they were forced to retire with the loss of 190 men killed, wounded and prisoners.  General Early was among the severely wounded; as was also Colonel William R. Terry and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hairston.  The killed and wounded in Captain Richardson's Mercer Company G., 24th Virginia regiment were as follows: Killed, Isaac Alvis, Edward Bailey, John A. Brown, John Easter, and Tobias Manning, and the wounded were Alexander East, James H. Mills, lost an arm, Stephen Prillman, Rufus G. Rowland, Gorden L. Saunders, lost a leg, and A. J. Whittaker, Robert Batchelor, Granvil F. Bailey, William Bowling, Jesse Bowling, L. A. Cooper, Jordan Cox, Marshall Foley, John M. N. Flick, Peter Grim, James T. Hopkins, Dennis Johnson, Addison Johnson, Isaac A. Oney, Theaddeus Peters, John M. Smith, Allen Smith, William Stewart and George W. Toney were captured, a total of twenty nine.

As already related, the company of Captain Napoleon B. French, of Mercer, had gone with General Floyd's command to Fort Donelson, where it was engaged in the battle of the 13th day of February, 1862, losing William Oney killed by a shell from one of the enemy's guns, and the whole company with the other troops, except Floyd's brigade and Forrest's cavalry regiment, were surrendered as prisoners of war.  Captain French being absent in Virginia, the command of the company had devolved upon Lieutenant John J. Maitland.

Later in the year of 1862, the company of Dorman, captured  at Roanoke Island, and that of French, surrendered at Fort Donelson, were exchanged and returned home.  The time of their enlistment having expired, they went into other organizations, a portion going to Captain Jacob C. Straley's company of the 17th Virginia Cavalry regiment, another portion to Edgar's battalion of Virginia infantry, and another portion to the 30th battalion of Virginia infantry commanded by Colonel Clark, attached for part of the time to the brigades of Echols or Wharton.

Captain William H. French having been commissioned Colonel of the 17th Virginia regiment of cavalry, was energetically at work during the early spring and early summer months of 1862, in getting together and organizing his regiment, which participated in many of the expeditions and skirmishes along the outposts in Western Virginia up to the date of the advance of the Federal army of General Crook from the Kanawha Valley in May, 1864, when this regiment with others of Jenkins' cavalry brigade and troops of Colonel William L. Jackson, under Colonel French, were stationed at the narrows of New River in Giles County to guard that point, and to meet the forces of General Crook, should they move by that route, of which full statement will be made hereinafter.

General Johnston's army, after defeating the Federals at Williamsburg and at White House on the York River, retired behind the Chickahominy.

By the middle of May and first of June the army of General McClellan had made its approach very near to Richmond, and had extended its right wing far up in the direction of the Virginia Central Railroad, leaving its left wing across the Chickahominy in front of Richmond.  Brigadier General A. P. Hill had been promoted to Major General, and given the command of a Division, which included Field's brigade, to which was attached to the 60th regiment of Virginia infantry.

Upon the promotion of General Hill to the command of a Division, Colonel James L. Kemper, of the 7th Virginia regiment, had been commissioned a Brigadier General, and assigned to the brigade previously commanded by Hill.

For some time previous to and on the night of the 30th day of May, 1862, Kemper's brigade had been in camp at Howard's Grove, a few miles north of Richmond.    On the night of the 30th occurred a most remarkable electric storm, accompanied by an exceeding heavy downpour of rain, which continued for many hours during the night, and so flooding our camp that we were compelled to stand on our feet in our tents during the long hours before the coming of daylight.  This rainfall had flooded the low lands of the Chickahominy, and caused such a rapid rise in that stream as to carry away or flood the bridges over the same, whereby General Johnston was led to attack the Federal troops then occupying the bank of that stream on the side next to Richmond.   The Divisions of Longstreet and D. H. Hill marched at an early hour on the morning of the 31st, encountering on the way to the battlefield streams so swollen as to greatly delay and impede the march.  The 7th Virginia regiment with Kemper's brigade belonged to Longstreet's Division.  The 24th Virginia regiment to Garland's brigade of Hill's Division.  The former mentioned Division marched down the White Oak swamp road, the latter down the Williamsburg road.  Hill opened the battle a little after noon, and while it raged with great fury, the sound thereof, which was to be the signal for Longstreet's attack, was not heard by him for some time, on account of the condition of the atmosphere, although he was scarcely two miles away.  Finally, General Hill requested assistance, and Kemper's brigade was sent him.  This brigade moved rapidly through swamps, water and mud until it reached the field of Hill's contention on the Williamsburg road, when about four o'clock, P.M., it advanced in good order against the earthworks thrown up by the command of the Federal General Casey, and after a stubborn contest of a little more than half an hour it charged and carried the works, capturing the enemy's camp and a number of prisoners.  The loss in company D, of the 7th regiment was A. D. Manning, killed; Sergeant Elijah R. Walker, privates Tarvis Burton, John W. Hight and Joseph Lewy wounded.  The total regimental loss was about 75.

The 24th Virginia regiment was in this battle in the brigade of General Garland and suffered a loss of one hundred and seventeen killed and wounded, among them its Major, Richard L. Maury, who was severely wounded.  The Mercer company loosing G. H. Gore, killed, George P. Belcher, Hugh M. Faulkner, William H. Herndon, George A. Harris and Luther C. Hale wounded.

On the evening and night of the day after this battle the troops returned to their former camps, wherein they for the most part remained until the opening of the "Seven Days Battles."

In the interim between the close of the battle of Seven Pines, which has just been referred to, and the opening of the "Seven Days Battles," the 24th Virginia had been detached from Garland's brigade, and attached to that of Kemper, now composed of the 1st, 7th, 11th, 17th, and 24th Virginia regiments.

General Branch, of North Carolina, with a brigade of North Carolina troops and some others, was fiercely attacked on the 26th of June near Mechanicsville by a superior force of Federal troops under General Porter, and Branch defeated with serious loss, though after a brave and gallant defense on his part and that of his men.    General A. P. Hill going to the support of Branch, and advancing with the remainder of his division, supported by Ripley's brigade, struck the Federals at Beaver Dam, and a bloody engagement followed lasting far into the night of the 26th, without any particular advantage to the Confederates.

General Jackson, with his corps, having arrived from the Valley, joined Hill's left and swinging around the Federal right compelled General Porter to withdraw and retire to Cold Harbor, where he occupied an exceedingly strong position, but from which he was driven with heavy loss on the 27th, as hereinafter related.

The movement of the troops of Hill and Jackson had uncovered the front of General Longstreet's Division on the Mechanicsville Road, and he immediately crossed the Chickahominy and set out in pursuit of the retreating enemy, passing on the route immense piles of bacon, flour, wagons, tents, etc., which the Federals had sought to destroy to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Confederates.

About noon or a little past on the 27th, the head of Longstreet's column reached the New bridge, in the vicinity of Cold Harbor or Gaines' Mill, where it halted and formed a line of battle behind a long range of hills, which hid it from the enemy's view.  The enemy occupied a strong position behind a small creek on a range of hills in part fringed with timber.  In front of the position of the enemy was a deep ravine, through which flowed a small branch or creek, this ravine he filled with his sharpshooters, and in his rear was a wooded bluff on the side of which was a line of infantry protected by log breastworks.  Behind this line was another line of infantry, sheltered by the crest of the hill, and the high ground behind them crowned with artillery.  To reach the position of the enemy, the Confederates must pass over an open space of some five hundred yards.

Kemper's brigade was in line of battle behind the crest of a low ridge, and behind the brigades of Wilcox, Pryor, Pickett, and Featherstone.  The battle raged for hours with great fury;  more than once was the charge repeated before the enemy's position was carried.  Kemper's brigade was not engaged, though exposed to the fire of shot and shell, but suffering little loss.  The field had been won, and the day was ours.

In this terrific engagement, as well as that of the day before, the 60th Virginia regiment was a participant, and suffered severe loss, its Colonel Starke being wounded in the engagement of the 26th, and the two Mercer Companies of Ryan and Pack losing a considerable number of men in killed and wounded.  Colonel Starke in his report of the engagement of the 26th, says: "Our loss here was considerable, Lieutenant S. Lilley of Company I, Ryan's Company, being killed, Captain John L. Caynor and Lieutenant P. M. Paxton of Company F, and Lieutenant S. D. Pack of Company A, being wounded, and many privates both killed and wounded.  On the next day, the 27th, this regiment was again engaged, repelling a cavalry charge of the enemy, and losing many valuable officers and men.  Colonel Starke, in commending its conduct and that of its officers refers specially and by name to Lieutenant  Colonel B. H. Jones, Major John C. Summers, Captain John M. Bailey, and Lieutenants R. A. Hale and George W. Belcher, the three last named Mercer County men, of  Company H, and Lieutenants A. G. P. George, Stephenson, and Lilley, the latter killed the day before, and adds: "I desire to notice particularly the good conduct of Lieutenant A. G. P. George, not only through out all the engagements in which the regiment participated, but for months past while in charge of Company I, in faithfully discharging the responsible duties of his position *** the highest terms of praise apply with equal justice to Lieutenant R. A. Hale *** upon whom owing to the wounds or sickness of his Captain in particular engagements devolved the command of the company."

The enemy having been driven from the field of Gaines' Mill with a loss of 6,837 men, retreated on the night of the 27th across the Chickahominy, followed on the next and two succeeding days to Frazier's Farm, where the divisions of Longstreet and A. P. Hill had with almost the entire Federal army, a more than four hours bloody engagement, without decided results to either army.  In this battle the brigade of General Kemper, together with that of General Field, was heavily engaged; the former brigade constituted the extreme right of the general line of battle, and was posted upon the rear edge of a dense body of timber and on the right of a nearly perpendicular to the road leading through Frazier's Farm, with the 17th Virginia regiment, under Colonel Montgomery Corse, occupying the right; the 24th Virginia under Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hairston the left; the 1st Virginia regiment under Major George F. Norton in the center;  the 11th Virginia regiment Captain Kirkwood Otey the right center and the 7th Virginia regiment under Colonel Walter Tazewell Patton the left center.  After suffering  from a severe shelling for some time, about 5 o'clock P.M., the order to move forward came, and the brigade advanced steadily and in good order, notwithstanding the entangled undergrowth which filled the wood, and the raining of shot and shell from the enemy's guns directly in front of the moving column.  Upon striking the enemy's skirmish line, the advance from a quickstep into a double-quick followed, with loud cheers, and by the time the brigade had cleared the wood and reached an open field at the farther side of which stood the enemy in full line of battle behind log breastworks with their batteries beside them and firing rapidly, the continuity of the line was lost and much confusion followed, but the impetuosity of the forward movement was not broken, and the brigade fired rapidly, throwing itself upon the enemy's infantry and artillery swept them away like chaff before a hurricane.

General Kemper says in his official report of this charge: "A    more impetuous and desperate charge was never made than that of my small command against the sheltered and greatly superior forces of the enemy.  The ground which they gained from the enemy is marked by the graves of some of my Veterans, who were buried where they fell; and these graves marked with the names of the occupants, situated at and near the position of the enemy, show the point at which they dashed at the strong holds of the retreating foe."  Continuing, General Kemper says: "It now became evident that the position sought to be held by my command was wholly untenable by them, unless largely and immediately reinforced.  The inferior numbers which had alarmed the enemy and driven him from his breastworks and batteries soon  became apparent to him, and he at once proceeded to make use of his advantage.  While greatly superior numbers hung upon our front, considerable bodies of the enemy were thrown upon both flanks of my command, which was now in imminent danger of being wholly captured or destroyed *** no reinforcements appeared and the dire alternative of withdrawing from the position, although of obvious and inevitable necessity, was reluctantly submitted to."   Again, says the report:  "Among those reported to me as deserving notice for gallantry on the field are Captain Joel Blackard, Company D, and Lieutenant W. W. Gooding, 7th Virginia, who were both killed, Sergeant Major Tansill and Color Sergeant Mays, the latter of Company D, both wounded, and both of whom had distinguished themselves in the battles of Williamsburg and Seven Pines, Lieutenant Calfee of Company G, Mercer County, 24th Virginia, who was killed within a few paces of the enemy's battery."

The Federal General McCall, who was captured in this battle, says of this charge: "Soon after this a most determined charge was made on Randall's battery, by a full brigade, advancing in wedge shape without order, but in perfect recklessness; somewhat similar charges had as I have stated, been previously made on Cooper's and Kern's batteries by single regiments without success, they having recoiled before the storm of canister hurled against them.  A like result was anticipated by Randall's battery, its gallant commander did not doubt his ability to repel the attack, and his guns did indeed mow down the advancing host, but still the gaps were closed and the enemy came in upon a run to the very muzzle of his guns.  It was a perfect torrent of men, and they were in his battery before the guns could be removed."

General Kemper had ordered his brigade to retire, which it did, but not in good order, but soon rallied again near the spot from which it had made the charge.    The loss of the brigade was 414, of which 44 were killed, 205 wounded, and 165 missing; of which the 7th Virginia regiment lost in killed 14, wounded 66,   missing.   The 24th Virginia regiment lost 4 killed, 61 wounded and 14 missing.  The loss in Company D, 7th Virginia regiment were killed, Captain Joel Blackard, wounded Joseph C. Shannon, Daniel Bish, Jesse B. Young, David C. Akers, Hugh J. Wilburn, Tim P. Darr, Francis M. Gorgon, George A. Minnich, T. P. Mays, John W. Sarver, Joseph Southron, Ballard P. Meadows, Lee E. Vass and Joseph Eggleston, and Allen M. Bane captured; total killed, wounded and missing 16.  The loss in Company G, Mercer Company, 24th Virginia was, killed, Lieutenant Harvey M. Calfee, wounded Thomas C. Brown, lost a leg, John Coeburn , A. J. Holstein, Jeff Thomas, lost a leg, and Lieutenant Benjamin P. Grigsby.



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