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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 9)

 

"To describe this charge, we will go back to the evening of the 2nd of July, and recall upon what basis the cautious Lee could undertake so fearful a responsibility.  The victorious Southrons, fresh from their triumphs at Fredericksburg and Chancellorville, had entered the North, carrying consternation and dismay to every hamlet, with none to oppose; their forward march was one of spoil, and it was not until the 1st of July that they met their old foemen, the Army of Potomac, in the streets of Gettysburg, and after a fierce conflict drove them back.  The second day's conflict was a terrible slaughter, and at its close the Federal army, although holding its position, was to a certain extent disheartened.  Many of our best Generals and commanding officers were killed or wounded, scores of regiments and batteries were nearly wiped out, Sickles' line was broken and driven in and its position was held by Longstreet.    Little round Top, the key to the position, was held at a frightful loss of life, and Ewell  upon the right had gained a footing upon the ridge.  The Rebel army was joyful and expectant of victory.

"The morning of the 3rd of July opened clear and bright, and one hundred thousand men faced each other, awaiting the signal of conflict; but, except the pushing of Ewell from his position, the hours passed on, relieved only by the rumbling of artillery carriages as they were massed by Lee upon Seminary Ridge, and by Meade upon Cemetery Ridge.  At 12 o'clock Lee ascended the cupola of the Pennsylvania College, in quiet surveyed the Union lines, and decided to strike for Hancock's center.    Meanwhile, Pickett with his three Virginia brigades had arrived from Chambersburg and taken cover in the woods of Seminary Ridge.  What Lee's feeling must have been, as he looked at the hundred death-dealing cannon massed on Cemetery Hill, and the fifty thousand men waiting patiently in front and behind them, men whose valor he knew well in many a bitter struggle--and then looked at his handful of brave Virginians, three small, decimated brigades which he was about to hurl into that vortex of death--no one will ever know.  The blunder that sent the Light Brigade to death at Balakava was bad enough, but here was five thousand men waiting to seek victory where only the day before ten thousand  had lost their limbs in the same futile endeavor.

"Leaving the college, Lee called a council of his Generals at Longstreet's headquarters, and the plan of attack was formed.  It is said that the level-headed Longstreet opposed the plan, and if so it was but in keeping with his remarkable generalship.  The attack was to be opened with artillery fire to demoralize and batter the Federal line, and was to be opened by a signal of two shots from the Washington Artillery.  At half past one the report of the first gun rang out on the still summer air, followed a minute later by the second, and then came the roar and flash of one hundred and thirty-eight Rebel cannon.  Almost immediately one hundred Federal guns responded and the battle had begun.  Shot and shell tore through the air, crashing through batteries, tearing men and horses to pieces; the very earth seemed to shake and the hills to reel as the terrible thunders re-echoed amongst them.  For nearly an hour every conceivable form of ordnance known to modern gunnery hissed and shrieked, whistled and screamed as it went forth on its death mission, till, exhausted by excitement and heat, the gunners slackened their fire and silence reigned again.

"Then Pickett and his brave legions stood up and formed for the death-struggle; three remnants of brigades, consisting of Garnett's brigade--the Eight, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-eighth, Fifty-sixth Virginia;   Armistead's brigade--the Ninth, Fourteenth, Thirty-eighth, Fifty-third, Fifty-seventh Virginia; Kemper's brigade--First, Third, Seventh, Eleventh, Twenty-fourth Virginia.  Their tattered flags bore the scars of a score of battles, and from their ranks the merciless bullet had already taken two-thirds their number.

"In compact ranks, their front scarcely covering two of Hancock's brigades, with flags waving as if for a gala day, General Pickett saluted Longstreet and asked, "Shall I go forward, sir?"  But it was not in Longstreet's heart to send those heroes of so many battles to certain death, and he turned away his head--when Pickett, with that proud impetuous air which had earned him the title of the 'Ney of the Rebel Army,'  exclaimed:  "Sir, I shall lead my division forward!"    The orders now rang out, "Attention!  Attention!"  and the men realizing the end was near, cried out to their comrades: "Good-bye boys, good-bye!"  Suddenly rang on the air the final order from Pickett himself, and his saber flashed from its scabbard--"Column forward, guide center!"  And the Brigades of Kemper, Garnett and Armistead moved toward Cemetery Ridge as one man.    Soon Pettigrew's division emerged from the woods and followed in echelon on Pickett's left flank, and Wilcox with his Alabama division moved out to support his right flank--in all, about fifteen thousand men.  The selection of these supports shows a lack of judgment which it would almost seem impossible for Lee to have made.    Pettigrew's division was composed mostly of new troops from North Carolina, and had been terribly used up in the first day's fight and were in no condition to form part of a forlorn hope.  Wilcox's troops had also received severe punishment in the second day's engagement in his attack on the Ridge, and should have had now begun, and Lee with his generals about him watched anxiously for the result.

"It was nearly a mile to the Union lines, and as they advanced over the open plain the Federal artillery opened again, plowing great lanes through their solid ranks, but they closed up to guide center as if upon dress parade; when half way over Pickett halted his division, amidst a terrible fire of shot and shell, and changed his direction by an oblique movement, coolly and beautifully made.  But here occurred the greatest mistake of all.  Wilcox paid no attention to this change of movement, but kept straight on the the front, thus opening a tremendous gap between the two columns and exposing Pickett's right to all the mishaps that afterward overtook it.  To those who have ever faced artillery fire it is marvelous and unexplainable how human beings could have advanced under the terrific fire of a hundred cannon, every inch of air being ladened with a missiles of death; but in splendid formation they still came bravely on till within range of the musketry; then the blue line of Hancock's corps rose and poured into their rank a murderous fire.  With a wild yell the Rebels pushed on unfalteringly, crossed the Federal line and laid hands upon eleven cannon.  Men fired in each other's faces; there were bayonet thrusts, cutting with sabres, hand-to-hand contest, oaths, curses, yells and hurrahs.  The second corps fell back behind the guns to allow the use of grape and double canister, and as it tore through the Rebel ranks, at only a few paces distance, the dead and wounded were piled in ghastly heaps.  Still on they came, up to the very muzzles of the guns; they were blown away from the cannon's mouth, but yet they did not waver.  Pickett had taken the key to the position and the glad shout of victory was heard; as, the very impersonation of a soldier, he still forced his troops to the crest of Cemetery Ridge.

"Kemper and Armistead broke through Hancock's line, scaled the hill and planted their flag on its crest.  Just before Armistead was shot, he placed his flag upon a captured cannon and cried:  "Give them the cold steel, boys,"    but valor could do no more, the handful of braves had won immortality, but could not conquer an army.  Pettigrew's weak division was broken, fleeing and almost annihilated.  Wilcox, owing to his great mistake in separating his column, was easily routed, and Stannard's Vermonters, thrown into the gap, were creating havoc on Pickett's flank,  Pickett seeing his supports gone, his generals, Kemper, Armistead, and Garnett killed or wounded, every field officer of the three brigades gone, three-fourths of his men killed or captured, himself untouched, but broken-hearted, gave the order for retreat, but, band of heroes as they were, they fled not; but amidst that still continuous, terrible fire, they slowly, sullenly recrossed the plain--all that was left of them, but few of five thousand.

"Thus ended the greatest charge known to modern warfare; made in the most unequal manner against a great army, and midst the most terrible cannonade known in wars, and yet so perfect was the discipline, so audacious the valor, that had this handful of Virginians been properly supported they would perhaps have rendered the Federal position untenable, and possibly have established the Southern Confederacy.  While other battlefields are upturned by the plough and covered with waving grain, Cemetery Ridge will forever proudly uphold its monuments, telling of glory both to the Blue and the Gray, and our children's children, while standing upon its crest, will rehearse again of Pickett's wonderful charge.

In the article just quoted, injustice is done to Pettigrew's North Carolinians, as it is known that one or more of his brigades, especially that of General Lane, behaved as gallantly and as bravely as any brigade in that charge, and deserve as much credit and praise.

The army remained on the battlefield during the 4th, that night, and early on the morning of the 5th it withdrew through the passes of the mountain, retiring on Hagerstown and Williamsport, where it remained in battle line until the night of the 13th, not being able to cross the Potomac on account of its swollen condition.    Longstreet's and Hill's corps passed over the bridge, while Ewell's forded the river at Williamsport; the three corps going into bivouac in the neighborhood of Bunker's Hill, where they remained for several days.  Pickett's division on its retirement from the battlefield, and on its march to Winchester, Virginia, had charge of about 4,000 Federal prisoners, captured during the three days engagements at Gettysburg.

The total loss of this division in the battle of the 3rd, was 2888, of which 224 were killed, 1080 wounded, and 1584 captured or missing.  The loss in Kemper's brigade was 729.  The 7th Virginia regiment lost 67 killed and wounded, and the 24th Virginia lost 128 killed and wounded.  The loss of the division in general and field officers was frightful.  Brigadier General Garnett was killed, Armistead mortally and Kemper dangerously wounded.  Of the whole complement of general and field officers, aggregating about 48, only one, Lieutenant Colonel was left unhurt.    The color bearer of the 7th Virginia regiment, with his eight color sergeants and corporals, went down in the battle, either killed or wounded; the colors falling into the hands of the 82nd New York Infantry, commanded by Captain John Darrow.  There went into the battle of Company D,  7th Virginia regiment, 31 men, of which 17 were killed and wounded.  The killed were, David C. Akers, Jesse Barrett, Daniel Bish, and John P. Sublett; the wounded, Lieutenant Elisha M. Stone, and Elijah R. Walker, Sergeants Thomas S. Taylor and David E. Johnston, the latter severely, Corporal J. B. Young, and privates William C. Fortner, James H. Fortner, leg amputated, John Meadows, and C. L. Sarver; John W. Hight was taken prisoner.  No data is at hand as to the 24th Virginia, but the names of the Mercer County company in that regiment who were killed or wounded, are as follows, viz:  Killed, Charles Burroughs, Squire Cook, James Kinney, Jesse Parsons, B. W. Peck, and J. P. Thomas; wounded Captain H. Scott, H. French Calfee, mortally, Jordon Cox, Robert A. George, A. J. Holstein, Rufus G. Rowland, James Snead, and Levi Vermillion; total, fourteen.

General Pickett was greatly distressed over the losses in his division, and wrote his report, which contained matter which General Lee thought for the good of the service ought not to be published, and hence returned the report to General Pickett, suggesting the omission of the objectionable matter, and in his letter returning said report, says:  "You and your men have crowned yourself with glory, but we have the enemy to fight, and must carefully at this critical moment guard against dissensions, which the reflections in your report would create.  I will therefore suggest that you destroy both copy and original, substituting one confined to casualties merely.  I hope all will yet be well."  The report was never published.  It is supposed that General Pickett had seriously reflected upon some one touching the disaster which befell his heroic and gallant veterans at Gettysburg, who so bravely and freely had sacrificed their lives upon the altar of their country.  Well may it be said of them:

"Spartans at Thermopylae,
Fought and died for liberty,
But no richer legacy
Left posterity."

General  A. G. Jenkins' cavalry brigade led the advance of the army into Pennsylvania, and was at Gettysburg, but there does not appear any official report showing its losses, if it sustained any.

French's  battery remained around the defenses of Richmond during the Gettysburg campaign.

Notice must now be taken of affairs in Western Virginia.  Major General Samuel Jones was in command of this department, and in whose command were the brigades of Echols, Williams, Wharton, and McCausland; constituted as follows, viz:    First Brigade, General John Echols, 22nd, 45th, Virginia Regiment;  23rd and 26th Virginia Battalions, and Chapman's Virginia Battery.  Second Brigade, General John S. Williams, 63rd Virginia Regiment, 64th Virginia Regiment, 45th Virginia Battalion, 21st Virginia Cavalry, Virginia Partisan Rangers, and Lowry's Virginia Battery.    Third Brigade, General G. C. Wharton, 50th and 51st Virginia Regiments, 30th Virginia Battalion, and Stamp's Virginia Battery.  Fourth Brigade, General John McCausland, 36th and 60th Virginia Regiments, and Bryn's Virginia Battery; with Jenkins' Cavalry Brigade, consisting of the 8th, 14th, 16th, 17th and 19th Virginia regiments, and 34th, 36th, and 37th Virginia Battalions of Cavalry, together with some unattached troops, viz:  Trigg's 54th Virginia Regiment, two Virginia companies of Partisan Rangers, commanded by Captains Philip J. Thrumond and William D. Thurmond, respectively, and Otey's Virginia Battery; numbering in the aggregate about 10,000 men, and guarding the territory and border stretching from Bristol to Staunton.  In the winter of 1862-3, and up to March of the latter year, these troops were in camp at various points in the district of country mentioned.  Wharton at the Narrows, Echols and Williams in Monroe and Greenbrier section, later General Williams at Saltville, and General McCausland's command at Princeton.

In March General Jones planned quite a formidable expedition into Northwestern Virginia, and the Kanawha Valley, sending a portion of his troops into the Nicholas County section, and northward thereof.  A portion of the cavalry of Jenkins was sent from Tazewell through McDowell, and towards the Ohio; and General McCausland to Fayetteville, but the whole affair amounted to but little.  In the early part of May,    the 26th Virginia Battalion,  under Edgar, defeated at or near Lewisburg a portion of the 2nd West Virginia Cavalry Regiment.  Later the cavalry brigade of Jenkins, except the 8th Regiment and Dunn's Battalion, was withdrawn from the Western Virginia department, and sent to the Valley of Virginia, preparatory to the march into Pennsylvania.  And in July of this same year, 1863, the brigade of Wharton was also sent to the Valley of Virginia.  About the middle of July the brigade of McCausland, stationed in Raleigh County, at the crossing of Piney River, was, by a force of the enemy, compelled to abandon its position, and retreat upon Princeton.  This force which threatened McCausland was under the immediate command of the Federal Colonel Toland, who had with him the 2nd Virginia Cavalry, the 34th Regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and a detachment of the 1st Virginia Cavalry; these troops had left the Kanawha and crossed onto Coal River, and thence to Raleigh Court House, and to the front and flank of McCausland's command which impelled his retreat.

The Federals then returned to Coal River, and marched by way of Wyoming Court House into Tazewell County, capturing at the head of Abb's valley, Captain Joel E. Stolling and his company, which were re-captured on the next day by a bold charge made by Colonel A. J. May, at the head of his Kentucky cavalry.  The Federals marched rapidly upon Wytheville, then virtually unprotected, entering the same on the evening of the 18th, when a sharp, brisk fight occurred between the enemy and about 130 men badly armed, under Majors Boyer and Bosang, and Captain Oliver with the aid of a few of the citizens of the town.  The enemy after the loss of Colonel Toland, who was killed, Colonel Powell dangerously wounded and left a prisoner, and having some 75 or 80 men killed, wounded and captured, retired from the town, first setting it on fire.  The Confederates lost three killed, seven wounded, and about 75 captured including some of the citizens of the town.  The Confederates endeavored to intercept and capture this raiding party, by sending troops on and along its most probable routes of retreat.  Colonel May, with a portion of his 5th Kentucky Regiment, together with Captain Henry Bowen, commanding a company of  Tazewell County men of the 8th Virginia Cavalry, followed closely, having several collisions and smart skirmishing with its rear guard, but unable to force the party to halt and fight.  They finally succeeded in eluding the Confederates, by taking unfrequented paths through Crabtree's gap, over East River Mountain by W. H. Witten's farm, Pealed Chestnuts and over the mountain which led them on to the Tug fork of Sandy, where they were virtually free from successful pursuit.

The Federal Brigadier General Averill having set out from Winchester, Virginia, on the 5th day of August, 1863, with a large force of cavalry and mounted infantry, for the purpose of making a raid into the Greenbrier Valley, and of reaching the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, marched his command across the mountains into Pocahontas County, where he encountered Colonel William L. Jackson with the 19th Virginia Cavalry, whose command he attacked and drove over the mountain toward Warm Springs.

General G. C. Wharton's brigade, which had been so ordered came over by Staunton to the Jackson River country to meet Averill, who rather suddenly turned back, changing his course toward Lewisburg, when on the 26th of August, about one and one-half miles east of the White Sulphur Springs, he rather unexpectedly encountered a Confederate force under the command of Colonel George S. Patton, consisting of the 22nd and 45th Regiments of Virginia Infantry, the  23rd and 26th Battalions of Virginia Infantry, the 8th Regiment of Virginia Cavalry, the 37th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry and Chapman's Monroe County Battery of four guns.  General Averill had with him the 16th Illinois Cavalry, Company C, 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry,  3rd West Virginia Cavalry, detachment 2nd West Virginia Mounted Infantry,  3rd West Virginia Mounted Infantry, 8th West Virginia Mounted Infantry and two West Virginia batteries of six guns.  The fight continued from early morning on the 26th until about noon of the 27th, when the enemy drew off, blocking the roads behind him and rendering rapid pursuit impossible, and it had to be abandoned.  The Confederate loss was 162; that of the enemy 218.  The 23rd Virginia Battalion of infantry lost three killed and 18 wounded.  Mercer County had one company, Lilley's, in the 23rd Battalion, and Tazewell County had one company in the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, and Captain D. B. Baldwin's company in the 23rd Battalion.

 

 

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