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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 6)

 

As Kemper's men cleared the gap and reached the vicinity of Haymarket, they could distinctly hear the roar of the guns of  the enemy and those of Jackson.  The pace was quickened as the troops passed on and along the highway in clouds of dust and suffering for water.  It was near high noon when Kemper's brigade reached the vicinity  of the battlefield, and late that afternoon the roar of the battle on the left told us that Jackson's men with a portion of Longstreet's were hotly engaged.   Some skirmishing and artillery firing occurred in the afternoon of the 30th, and then for a while there was a calm; in which both armies were preparing for the fray.

General Kemper was placed in command of a division consisting of Jenkins', Huton's and his own brigade, the latter commanded by Colonel Montgomery C. Corse of the 17th Virginia regiment.

The battle rolled along the left front of Kemper's brigade with fury, when about three o'clock, PM., the order came to move forward, which  was done at double quick, the men fixing their bayonets as they went.  Through a strip of woods and into an open field a little to the south of the Chinn house, brought the brigade almost into the presence of the enemy, but in the direction  of a right oblique from them; and in order to face them a left half wheel was made which brought it in full face to the enemy, only a few hundred yards away, standing in line of battle in open ground across a small ridge or elevation beyond the Chinn house, and a little north and west of an  old Virginia rail fence, with a five gun battery on top of the elevation in line with its infantry supports.

Kemper's brigade went forward in good order at a quick step, until striking the Chinn house which compelled it to make a left oblique movement creating some confusion, which however was but momentary.  Away it dashed at the enemy's line firing as it advanced, reached and crossed the rail fence and on to and over the Federal battery, scattering the canoniers  with infantry support.  A short distance beyond the brigade was halted; its supports coming up it was finally withdrawn to a pine thicket in the rear of the ground over which  it had fought.  After the brigade started on the charge every man was his own General, and there was no earthly power could have stopped it until, it had accomplished the object for which it had made the charge, viz, the capture of the Federal guns and defeat of its infantry supports.  In this charge the left of the 7th Virginia regiment became somewhat intermingled with the right of the 24th  Virginia regiment, so that  both regiments are entitled to claim credit for the capture of the guns.   The colors of the 7th regiment having fallen, were seized by Lieutenant Colonel Flowerree, who upon the fall of Colonel Patton handed them to Lieutenant Stewart. In addition to the five guns the brigade had captured, a flag from the enemy was also taken, but it had paid dearly in precious lives and blood for its victory.  The enemy was beaten and was getting away, but night now upon us prevented successful pursuit.    The brigade loss was 33 killed, 240 wounded, and one missing.  The 7th Virginia regiment lost 5 killed, and 48 wounded.  The 24th Virginia regiment lost 11 killed and 67 wounded.  Among the field officers wounded were Colonel Corse commanding the brigade, Colonel Patton, Lieutenant Colonel Flowerree, and Major Swinler, the latter losing a leg, as well also as Adjutant Hugh M. Patton and Sergeant Major Park of the 7th regiment.  Company D, of the 7th regiment, lost the following members:    Killed, John Q. Martin; wounded Captain R. H. Bane and Lieutenant John W. Mullens, and privates W. H. Carr, John S. Dudley, Elbert S. Eaton, Adam Thompson, William C. Fortner, James H. Fortner, Francis H. Farley,  J. Tyler Frazier, John W. Hight, Gordon L. Wilburn, Hugh J. Willburn, William I. Wilburn, James J. Nye, and Washington R. C. Vass, the latter two mortally; Vass dying that night and Nye in a day or two after.    Out of about 57 men carried into action only 40 came out unhurt.  The loss in officers in the 7th Virginia was 12.  The loss in the Giles and Mercer companies in the 24trh regiment was severe.  The names of those killed and wounded in the Giles company seems not to have been preserved.  A partial list of those killed and wounded   in the Mercer company shows that Lieutenant Ballard P. French   was slain, and that Captain H. Scott and private John Coeburn  were wounded.   In front of Kemper's brigade fell mortally wounded Colonel Fletcher Webster of Massachusetts, the only son of Daniel Webster.

General Lee's skillful tactics compelled the enemy to fight at a disadvantage, and yet it was among the most fiercely contested open field battles of the war, and in scarce no other did the Confederates acquit themselves with more honor.  They had beaten an enemy superior to them in numbers and equipment, inflicting upon him heavy loss of men and guns.

With Longstreet's division,  Kemper's brigade occupied the field the next day and buried the dead, and cared for the wounded amid a heavy rain storm

Early on Monday the 1st day of September the division moved across Bull  Run and to the vicinity of Chantilly, reaching there at night and in the midst of a pelting rain.    On the 3rd it moved to and through Leesburg and to the banks of the Potomac at White's Ford, where it encamped on the night of the 5th.  The enemy had taken shelter within his entrenchments in and around Alexandria and Washington. and another "on to Richmond" had come to grief.

At Leesburg all the men who were sick, broken down, barefoot, lame and halt, were allowed to remain, and there were not a few of them, whose services were so sorely needed beyond the Potomac a few days later.  A little after sunrise on Saturday, the 6th day of September, 1862, Kemper's brigade crossed the Potomac and made its footprint on the sacred soil of Maryland, my Maryland, and as the men wended their way across the Potomac, some one remembering Randall's soul stirring and patriotic poem, began to  sing:

"The despot's heel is on thy shore,
Maryland, my Maryland,
His torch is on thy temple door,
Maryland, my Maryland,
Avenge the patriotic gore,
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland, my Maryland."

Thousands of voices joined in the song, while a bugler on the Northern bank took up and made the welkin ring, which was answered by long and gladsome shouts by the men.  Halting that night and camping a few miles out from the river; reaching the Monocacy River next day where it is spanned by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge, where the command spent two or three days in resting and recuperating.  The men were in light marching order, having learned to burden themselves with as little as possible; a cloth haversack, canteen and blanket were the sum total of a soldier's luggage at this period of the war.  They had no change of clothing as a rule; a grey cap, jacket, pants, and colored shirt, made up about all the clothing he had, and when he thought he would like to have a clean shirt, he took off the soiled one, went to the water and, generally without soap, gave it a rubbing, hung it out in the sun, hunted a shade and waited for the garment to dry sufficiently to  put it on again.  As for rations, especially on this campaign, if he could get a little green corn and fresh beef he counted himself fairly well provided for; enough to march and fight on.  He preferred a pair of shoes if he could get them and if he could not. he, like many on this campaign, marched barefoot, and complained but little if it was light enough  for him to see where to place his feet.

Remaining at the Monocacy some three or four days, the command turned its face westward, passing through Frederick, Middletown, and Boonsboro to Hagerstown.   It had become the custom for each  regiment to have inscribed upon its flag the various battles in which it had been engaged.  At that time the 7th Virginia regiment had inscribed on its flag among the names of battles, that of Seven Pines, and as the regiment marched through Frederick a lady among a considerable group catching sight of the words Seven Pines on the flag proposed, "Three cheers for the battle flag of Seven Pines," Which were given with  a hearty good will, and thereupon the regiment began to sing:

Oh! have you heard the joyful news
Virginia does old Abe refuse,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Virginia joins the cotton states,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
The glorious cry each heart elates,
We'll live and die for Dixie."

Longstreet's division reached Hagerstown on the 12th and went into camp on the southwest side of the town, where it remained until Sunday, the 14th as hereinafter related.  General D. H. Hill's division had been left to guard the passes through South Mountain, while General Jackson had led his troops for the reduction and capture of the Federal garrison at Harper's Ferry.  On the march of Kemper's brigade from Frederick through Middletown, it met with few smiles if any, but on the other hand strong exhibitions of Union feeling and sentiment, especially from the females, who seemed intent on saying bad things and in having the last word.  The men took it in good part, said funny things to them and sung for them a part of the words of the beautiful southern poem:

"We are a band of brothers and native to the soil,
Fighting for the property we've gained by honest toil,
And when our rights were threatened the cry rose near and far
Hurrah! Hurrah! For the southern rights"
Hurrah! Hurrah! for the bonny blue flag that bears the single star.

As long as the Union was faithful to her trust,
Like friends and like brothers, kind were we and just.
But now when northern treachery attempts our rights to mar,
We hoist on high the bonny flag that bears the single star.

Then here's to our Confederacy-strong are we and brave;
Like patriots of old we fight our heritage to save;
And rather than submit to shame, to die we would prefer,
So cheer for the bonnie blue flag that bears the single star.

In Hagerstown more signs of the southern sentiment were visible, even displayed,  for a young girl about fourteen standing on the top of a gate post as the brigade passed, cried out, "Three cheers for Jeff Davis, why may not he be honored?"

On Sunday the 14th about 11 o'clock, A. M., the long roll sounded and the men of Longstreet were quickly in line, and with faces turned eastward marched at a quickstep towards Boonsboro about 14 miles away.  The roads were cleared of everything that would in any way delay the march, which was quickened by the continuous roar of guns east of or about Boonsboro Gap, where as was understood General D.H. Hill's decision was closely engaged with the main portion of the Federal army, now under the command of General McClellen, who was gradually pressing the Confederates back to the Mountain top.  Longstreet's division, except one brigade left by him at Hagerstown, was pressing forward with all speed to the relief of General Hill's  command.    It was near 3 o'clock, P. M., when Kemper's brigade reached the foot of the mountain east of Boonsboro.  Turning to the right at the western base of the mountain, it was conducted to a point about half way up the mountain side in the direction of a gap, and thence to the left into the main gap through which the great highway passes.    While being conducted from this gap up and along an arm of the mountain to the left, the movement was discovered by a Federal battery to the right rear, which at once opened fire throwing shot and shell into the ranks, one of which struck  the head of the leading company of the 7th regiment, killing one man instantly.  To dodge at the sound of a cannon shot, the whistling or singing of a minnie ball, was altogether natural with a soldier, no matter how strong and brave he might be and was no indication of cowardice.  Dodging was one of the weaknesses of John Meadows, of Company D, 7th regiment.  John began to dodge, which happened to be observed by John Crawford of the same company, who called out to Meadows, "What the devil is use of dodging now, the ball is gone by now, the first thing you know you will dodge in the way of a ball."    The brigade hastened its steps to the mountain top, on reaching which it found itself face to face with the enemy.

Before describing the fight which ensued, a statement as to the situation and relative position  of the Confederates at and near the place occupied by Kemper's brigade is necessary to a clear understanding of what had and was about to take place.    Colquitt's Georgia brigade was occupying a line on both sides the turnpike road and perpendicular thereto, and from which the enemy had been unable to dislodge it.    Rode's Alabama brigade, supported by that of Evans, of South Carolina, held the extreme Confederate left, and by whom a most gallant and  unequaled struggle had been maintained for several hours, until the enemy by overpowering force of numbers had about succeeded in crowning the mountain, when Kemper's brigade arrived on the field of contention.  General Pickett's  brigade, now commanded by General Garnett, was thrown forward and posted on the left of  Colquitt's brigade; and Kemper's brigade across the old road to fill the gap or space between the right of Evans and left of Pickett.  These two brigades numbering not more than eight hundred men, and against whom was pitted not less than 5000 Federals, bravely held their ground until long after nightfall, withdrawing from their position without molestation.  The ranks of Kemper's brigade had been greatly depleted by sickness, the battles around Richmond, Second Manassas, and the barefoot, sick, lame men  left at Leesburg, and broken down men on the rapid march made from Hagerstown to Boonsboro; so that the five little regiments of his brigade that reached the firing line on the evening of September 14th, 1862, could not have exceeded in the aggregate 500 men rank and file.

The 17th Virginia regiment occupied the right of the brigade, then 11th , 7th, 1st, and 24th regiments in the order named.  It was near the hour of 4:30 o'clock, P. M., when the brigade of General Kemper reached the crest of the mountain, and as stated met the enemy face to face, only a short distance away and seemingly intent on crowning the mountain if possible.  Here for more than an hour and thirty minutes, the battle raged fiercely, the enemy at some points reaching almost up to the points of the Confederate bayonets.  On the southeast side of the county road referred to were the 17th and 11th regiments, and partly in their front was a small field in which was a growing crop of corn, through which, a little after dark, the enemy came up almost to the muzzles of the guns of the regiments referred to, when some one cried out "There they are, men; fire on them!"  The fire from the guns of the combatants was so near each other that it appeared to intermingle.  It was at or about this time that Major John W. Daniel, Adjutant of the 11th regiment, now United States Senator from Virginia, received a ball in one of his hands.  The enemy finding the ground so firmly held against them, a little after dark desisted, leaving the Confederates in possession of this part of the field, from which in about one hour later they very quietly departed, taking with them such of the wounded as were able to be removed without stretchers.

Since the reports can be had of the strength of the Federal troops pitted against Garnett's and Kemper's brigades, on the evening of the 14th of September, it can now be stated that General Hatch's division of 3500 men, reinforced by Christian's brigade of 1500, which was put into the fight, were unable to drive these two small brigades from their position, and this should be glory enough for these men, tired, broken down, foot-sore, half naked and starved.  It is stated upon authority that in this battle the Federals had about 30,000 men, the Confederates about 9,000.

Want of official or other data prevents the statement of loses sustained by Kemper's brigade in this battle, except as to a single company, C, of the 7th Virginia, which company carried 21 men into  battle and lost T. P. Mays and James Cole, killed, and George Knoll and John R., Crawford wounded; a proportionate loss throughout the companies of the brigade would indicate a loss of 28 in 7th regiment and of 100 in the brigade, and may be set down as not far short of this number.  Color, Sergeant Mays died with his flag clutched in his hands.

The command passed quietly down to the turnpike and through Boonsboro and the little village of Keedysville, crossing the Antietam and reaching Sharpsburg the morning of the next day, Monday the 5th, about 11 o'clock, A. M.  Filling to the left, Kemper's  brigade took position behind the range of hills between the road leading from the town to Harper's Ferry and the Antietam, where it remained in the afternoon and night of Monday.  Being out of rations, nothing, however, unusual, Sergeant Taylor of  Company D of the 7th regiment with a detail was sent in quest of the much needed food, which he did not  succeed in getting to the regiment when the battle opened on Wednesday, though he had secured a quantity of beef and had it cooking    in one of the houses in the town when the battle began, but did not make delivery to the men until after night put a stop to the contest.

Nothing of importance transpired during Monday evening beyond a partial artillery duel and some skirmishing with the rear guard.  The artillery opened early on Tuesday morning, and as Kemper's brigade with others were shifted from place to place along the line, it was exposed to the shot from the enemy's guns across the Antietam.    Later in the evening the fire far to the left seemed to increase, which, however, ceased when night came.  On this day and prepared for the morrow's fray, Kemper could not muster in his brigade but few more than 400 muskets.  The 17th Virginia regiment numbered but 55 men and officers and men, the 7th regiment 117, the 1st   not exceeding the 150 men.  On Kemper's left was Drayton's small brigade of three regiments, one South Carolina and two Georgia.  to the left of Drayton was Garnett's brigade reduced to a mere skeleton, and beyond Garnett, and with its left resting on the turnpike road, was Jenkins' South Carolina brigade, likewise much depleted.

 

 

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