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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 8)

 

The principal object of the investment of the town of Suffolk, seems to have been to keep the enemy closely confined within his lines immediately in and around that place and the city of Norfolk, and thus enable the Confederate Commissary Department to gather all available supplies for the army from the southeastern counties of Virginia, and to transport them into the interior for the use of our army.  Beyond some severe skirmishes, nothing very important occurred during our stay around Suffolk.  General Longstreet quietly withdrew  his forces on the night of the 3rd of May, and marched to the vicinity of Chester Station, between Petersburg and Richmond.  On our way from Suffolk to Petersburg we heard of the battle of Chancellorville, the wounding of General Jackson and later of  his death.  The command remained at Chester Station until about the middle of May, when Pickett's division marched through Richmond to Taylorsville and went into camp, where it remained and rested until the last of the month or the 1st day of June, when it marched across the Pamunkey into King and Queen County, returning in a day or two to its camp at Taylorsville.  On the 2nd day of June the division was again in motion in the direction of Northern Virginia, and the movement continued until it reached, on the 10th, a point within about eight miles of Culpeper Court House, where it went into bivouac.  Here had assembled, as was assembling, a large part of the army of General lee, including his cavalry corps under its matchless leader, General J. W. B. Stuart.

The passionate ardor of our people for their country's cause had brought to the army nearly every man that was able to perform active military duty in the field, so that but few additions to the ranks could be hoped for.  It was the largest number of men, and composed of the best fighting material, that General Lee had yet, in fact ever led to battle.  Most of them were men well inured to the service, and therefore well prepared to undergo the greatest hardship; and by this time most of the cowards, of which there were few, had either gotten out of the army and gone home, or over to the enemy.    As General Lee, at the head of this magnificent body of men, was passing through Clark County, in the Valley of Virginia, he dined with Dr. McGuire, and after dinner on mounting his horse and about to leave, the Doctor remarked to him, that he had never before felt confidence in the Southern cause, but was now encouraged as he saw the army marching north.  To which General Lee quietly said, "Doctor, there marches the finest body of men that ever tramped upon the earth."  This incident was related to the author by Doctor Edwin McGuire of Richmond.  The usual orders to cook rations and prepare to move at a moment's notice were given the men in their bivouac at Culpeper, and everything was bustle and confusion in preparation to move.

Before proceeding to relate the movements of the army Northward it becomes necessary to go back to Western Virginia and state what has been transpiring in that section.    After the battle of Sharpsburg and the Confederates had retired south of the Potomac, General Stuart with a portion of his cavalry corps made a ride around the Federal army of the Potomac.  On reaching his starting point about Cumberland, Maryland, he ascertained that the Federal General Cox with about 5,000 men had started for the valley of the Kanawha, to intercept or cut off General Loring, who was operating in the said valley with an army composed largely of New River Valley men.  Loring being informed of this movement of General Cox, retired from the Valley of the Kanawha to the New River section.  In Loring's command were a large number of men from the Counties of Giles, Mercer, Monroe, and Greenbrier.  These men belonged largely to the 36th and 60th Virginia regiments of infantry and to the 23rd, 26th and 30th battalions of infantry, and to William H. French's battalion, afterwards 17th regiment of cavalry.  There was also along with General Loring two or more companies of Tazewell County men, one of which was that of Captain D. B. Baldwin, of the 23rd Virginia battalion.  On Loring's return from the Valley of the Kanawha, he was relieved by General John Echols, who soon thereafter on account of ill health, was relieved by Major General Samuel Jones.    During the winter of 1862-3 the 36th and 60th Virginia regiments with Otey's battery, and for a part of the time other troops, remained at Princeton, while another portion of the troops that had formed a part of Loring's command were stationed at the Narrows of New River, and some wintered in Monroe, and Greenbrier Counties, while the cavalry of Jenkins' brigade in part sent their horses farther south to be wintered, the most of the men remaining on duty on the outposts.  Colonel William H. French took his command to the County of Floyd and adjacent counties, where it remained until towards the opening of the spring of 1863, when it removed to Roanoke County, where the Colonel succeeded in completing the organization of his regiment, which was attached to General Jenkins' brigade of cavalry, and later moved into the lower Valley of Virginia in the early days of June, leading the advance of General Lee's army into Pennsylvania.  The cavalry brigade of Jenkins was composed of the 8th, 14th, 16th, 17th, 19th regiments, and the 34th, 36th and 37th battalions of cavalry.  The Virginia batteries of Chapman, Bryant, Otey, and Stamp were also a part of the army operating in southwestern and western Virginia, and were in part composed of New River Valley men from the Counties of Giles, Monroe, and Mercer.  From October, 1862, to the spring of 1863, the southwest Virginia country and western Virginia, from the Tennessee line at Bristol to Staunton in the Valley, was kept in an almost constant state of excitement and alarm, on account of the frequent incursions of Federal raiding parties, and the march of larger bodies of Federal troops into that territory.  Small parties of Federal scouts and patrols, even in the cold winter months, penetrated far into the interior, even within the Confederate line of outposts, and the country was filled with Federal spies, who kept their friends along the lines referred to fully posted as to the strength and movements of the Confederates.  To some extent this was likewise true of the Confederate scouts, patrols, and spies as to the movements of the Federals.  A large part of the territory referred to was, on account of bad roads and swollen streams, almost wholly impracticable for military operation in the winter season. We left the army of Northern Virginia in its bivouac near Culpeper Court House.  Pickett's division left its bivouac at the point above mentioned on Monday, the 15th day of June, the head of the column directed toward the Blue Ridge and Snicker's Gap, through which it passed on the 20th, and crossed the Shenandoah at Castleman's ferry.  Here it was detained for two or three days as well as at Berryville, for the purpose of remaining in supporting distance of the cavalry operating east of the Ridge.  The division marched from Culpeper left in front, that it might be facing into line, meet the enemy at any moment.    General Ewell's corps in the advance had routed Milroy at Winchester, and cleared the route for the rapid movement of the other troops following his corps.    Longstreet's corps, which included Pickett's division, of which division only three of the brigades were on this march, continued its movement through Martinsburg, by Falling Waters, and on the evening of Wednesday, June the 27th, it crossed the Potomac at Williamsport, and bivouacked a short distance out of the town, on the Maryland side of the river.  The morale of the army was never better, officers and men alike were inspired with confidence in their ability to defeat the enemy wherever he might choose to offer battle.  And never did an army move into an enemy's country in better fighting trim and spirit.  It was doubtless this spirit of over-confidence that lost us the battle of Gettysburg.  The men were in splendid condition, everything in first class order, no straggling, no desertion, no destruction of private property, no outrages committed upon citizens; the orders of the commanding General on this subject were as a rule, strictly observed.  Here was a grand, magnificent spectacle; a great army of effective men, and every man a soldier in the true sense of the word, the heroes of victories on more than a dozen fields; marching through the country of their enemy unobstructed and unopposed.

The corps of General Longstreet continued its march on the 25th to Hagerstown, where it halted to allow the corps of General A. P. Hill, which had crossed at Shepherdstown, to pass to the front.  On Saturday, the 27th, the march was continued to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, halting on the road on the outer edge of the town in front of the beautiful residence of Colonel McClure, where some ladies made their appearance and delivered quite a spicy address or somewhat of a lecture, which was responded to with "Dixie" by the band of the 7th Virginia regiment.  A few miles beyond the command halted and went into bivouac on the York road.  During the 28th, 29th and 30th of June and 1st day of July the division of Pickett was engaged in the destruction of the track of the Cumberland Valley Railroad.  At near 2 o'clock, A. M., of Thursday, July 2nd, the long roll sounded and the men were soon under arms and in line, and moved promptly on the road leading to Gettysburg, the vicinity of which was, after a rapid and tiresome march of some twenty five miles, reached about 4 o'clock, P. M., and the division went into bivouac about two miles from the town.  The other division of Longstreet's corps had preceded that of Pickett some hours, and had been in the fight the evening of the day of Pickett's arrival.  A little before daylight on the morning of Friday, the 3rd, the division moved from its bivouac, on the road between Cashtown and Gettysburg, to the right and along the valley of Willoughby's Run, reaching its battle line about 7 o'clock, A. M.    The usual inspection of arms and ammunition took place.

The brigades of Corse and Jenkins having been left in Virginia, Pickett had but Garnett's, Armistead's and Kemper's present, consisting of 15 regiments--all Virginians, numbering on that morning about 4,500 muskets; all aggregate effective strength, rank and file, was close to 4,700, which will be understood as including the General and staff officers.  This division was composed of the flower of the Virginia army, many of them were youths--schoolboys, of which a large number were from the New River Valley counties, viz;  Montgomery, Carroll, Pulaski, Floyd, Giles and Mercer.  In the division were companies from the counties of Campbell, Bedford, Franklin, Patrick, Henry, Craig, Madison, Culpeper, Orange, Rappahanock, Greene, Albemarle, Nansemond, Norfolk.    Cities of Richmond, Lynchburg, Norfolk  and Portsmouth.  The first brigade was commanded b the gallant and impetuous General James L. Kemper, and was in front during the morning's march, and in battle line held the right, with Garnett's brigade on the left, and Armistead somewhat to the left and rear.

Fencing and other obstructions were cleared away, and the line moved forward a short distance into a field on which was a growing crop of rye.  Arms were stacked and instructions given that upon the report of two guns, which were to be signals, the men were to lie flat upon the ground.  In front of the divisions was  massed the Confederate artillery, numbering about one hundred and fifty pieces.  On the hills beyond and 1,400 yards, or a little more, away and in front, were something like an equal number of Federal guns, prepared and ready for the fray.  The heat was exceedingly oppressive, and several of the men had sunstroke, and all  suffered more of less for water.  It was past one o'clock when the report of the two signal guns rang out upon the air, and down upon their faces went the men, and then began and continued for nearly two hours the most terrific and destructive artillery duel that ever occurred on the face of the earth.  The atmosphere was broken by the rush and crash of projectiles, solid shot, shrieking, bursting shells.  The sun, so brilliant before, was now darkened by smoke and mist enveloping and shadowing the earth, through which came hissing and shrieking firey fuses and messengers of  death, sweeping, plunging, cutting, ploughing through the ranks, carrying mutilation, destruction, pain, suffering, and death in every direction.  Whithersover you might look could be seen at almost every moment muskets, swords, haversacks, human flesh and bones flying and dangling in the air or bouncing above the earth, which now trembled as if shaken by an earthquake.  It was afterwards stated by the teamsters and cooks, who were two and three miles away, that the sash in the windows of the houses where they were shook and chattered as if caused by a violent wind.  Over, behind, in front, in the midst, and through the ranks, poured shot and shell and the fragments thereof, dealing out death on every hand.

The men remained in their places, except those knocked out by shot or shell, and when the firing ceased, at about a quarter past 3 o'clock, and the order came to fall in, the men sprang quickly to their places, ready to move at the word.  General Pickett came dashing along calling out, "Up, men, and to your posts; don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia."  At the order forward, the three brigades moved up the hill by the batteries and across the open as steadily as troops ever moved under fire.    The fresh batteries of the enemy now opened at short range, and from sheltered positions poured a destructive fire into these advancing columns, the Federal batteries on the Round Top enfilading the Confederate line as it advanced. The enemy had covered his front by a heavy line of skirmishers, which withdrew as the Confederates advanced.    Hancock's second Federal army corps, about  18,000 strong, held the lines which Pickett's division assailed, and as the line approached the stone wall behind which lay these men of Hancock's, it was met by a most scathing fire, which killed and wounded not less than twenty-five per centum of Pickett's men.   Notwithstanding this fire, not stopping, but with a rush they went over Hancock's line:

"Now they climb the mountain height
And plant the flag of freedom's right.

In the headlong rush over the Federal line they had captured a large number of guns, and had effected a lodgment which only needed a strong helping hand for a short while and the Federal army would have been cut in twain, and must have rapidly retreated or been destroyed.  Pickett's division had made a great and daring charge, but had been repulsed; and what remained had to retire to the point from which the advance began.  Here Generals Lee and Pickett rallied and reformed the men to meet what was supposed to be an advance of the enemy.  It was while this rally and reformation was taking place that General Pickett complained so bitterly of the treatment of his division in not being properly supported and the fearful loss it had sustained; and which called forth the noble response of the great soul of Lee that "Its all my fault."    It was here, at the same time, that a boy by the name of Belcher, from Franklin County, bearing the flag of the 25th Virginia regiment, addressing General Pickett, said, "General, shall we charge them again?"  It was also at this moment that General Kemper was being carried by, dreadfully wounded, that Pickett's anguish was so great that he wept, and then it was that General Lee made the statement above, "It's all my fault."  Noble words from a noble man!

It may be truthfully said that no commander to a great army so universally and deservedly enjoyed the perfect love, confidence and esteem of his men, and that no General had higher conception of the manliness and valor of his troops, and no body of men that ever tramped on the earth followed its leader with such supreme devotion  as the men who followed General Lee; it was akin to that expressed by Ruth for Naomi: "Entreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.  Where thou diest I will die and there will I be buried."    No higher earthly tribute could be paid to a man than that to General Lee by Senator Ben Hill, of Georgia, in which he said:  "He was a foe without hate, a friend without treachery, a soldier without cruelty, and a victim without murmuring.    He  was a public officer without vices, a private citizen without wrong, a neighbor without reproach, a Christian without hypocrisy, a man without guile.  He was a Caesar without his ambition, Frederick without his tyranny, Napoleon without his selfishness, and Washington without his reward.  He was as obedient to authority as a servant, and royal in authority as a King.  He was as gentle as a woman in life, pure and modest as a virgin in thought, watchful as a Roman Vestal, submissive to law as Socrates, and grand in battle as Achilles."  No less deserving is the tribute of    Mr. Charles Francis Adams, who said in speaking of General Lee:   "He represented and individualized all that was highest and best in Southern mind and the Confederate cause,--the loyalty to state, the keen sense of humor and personal obligation, the slightly archaic, the almost patriarchal love of dependent family and home.  He was a Virginian of the Virginians.  He represents a type which is gone--hardly less extinct than that of the great English Noblemen of the feudal times, or the ideal head of the Scotch clan of the later period; but just as long as men admire courage, devotion, patriotism, the high sense of duty and personal honor--all, in a word, which go to make up what we know as character--just so long will that type of a man be held in affectionate, reverential memory."

Long since the close of our civil strife,  numbers of ex-Federal soldiers are beginning to pay just tribute to the gallantry and devotion of the Confederate soldier.  Among the ex-Federals who have written on the battle of Gettysburg is Mr. Charles A. Pacta, of Massachusetts, who not long since published an article in a newspaper, containing a description of the charge of Pickett's division at Gettysburg on July 3rd, 1863, in which he says:

"In all great wars involving the destinies of nations, it is neither the number of battles, nor the names, nor the loss of life, that remain fixed in the mind of the masses; but simply the one decided struggle  which either in its immediate or remote sequence closes the conflict.  Of the one hundred battles of the great Napoleon, Waterloo alone lingers in the memory.  The Franco-Prussian war, so fraught with changes to Europe, presents but one name that will never fade--Sedan.  Even in our own country, how few battles of the Revolution can we enumerate; but is there a child who does not know that Bunkers Hill sounded the death knell of English rule in the land"  And now but twenty years since the greatest conflict of modern times was closed at Appomattox, how few can we readily recall of the scores of blood-stained battle fields on which our friends and neighbors fought and fell; but is there one, old or young, cultured or ignorant, of the North or of the South, than cannot speak of Gettysburg?    But what is Gettysburg, either in its first day's Federal defeat, or its second day's terrible slaughter around Little Round Top, without the third day's immortal charge by Pickett and his brave Virginians?  In it we have the culmination of the rebellion.   It took long years after to drain all the life-blood from the foe, but never again did the wave of rebellion rise so gallantly high, as when it beat upon the crest of Cemetery Ridge.  The storming of the heights of Inkerman, the charge of the noble Six Hundred, the fearful onslaught of the Guards at Waterloo, the scaling of Lookout Mountain--have all been sung in story, and perhaps always will be; but they all pale beside the glory that will ever enshroud the heroes who, with perhaps not literally Cannon to right of them and cannon to left of them, but with a hundred cannons belching forth death in front of them, hurled themselves into the center of a great army, and had victory almost within their grasp.

 

 

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