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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 11)

 

"Let us now go back to the advance of Kemper's brigade to the assistance of General Gracie, and follow the course of the 7th Virginia, as this regiment played an important part in the capture of general Heckman, and the State flag of the 23rd Massachusetts.  When the 1st Virginia entered the woods, passed up the Old Stage Road over the position vacated by the two companies of the 9th New Jersey, and wheeled to the right toward the right flank of the 23rd Massachusetts, the 7th Virginia advancing on their left, struck a bog that separated the two or three left flank companies from the rest of the regiment, and left them in the rear at the edge of the woods.  When Colonel Flowerree was informed of the fact, he sent his Adjutant, John H. Parr, after them to return them to their places in line, while he continued to move forward with his regiment around the Federal right flank.  In wheeling to the right and just after crossing the Old Stage Road, this regiment captured General Heckman.   The General, taking this advancing regiment for reinforcements, was about to order it to change front, when seeing  his mistake, he tried to pass himself off for a rebel officer.  Sergeant Blakey, of Company G of the 7th Virginia, could not be fooled, and the General declining to surrender to anyone but a line officer, was marched by Blakey to Colonel Flowerree, to whom General Heckman gave up his sword.

"To go back to John H. Parr and the two or three companies of the 7th Virginia, which he found stuck in the bog at the edge of the woods; he moved them to the left around the bog and led the way through the woods in an effort to overtake his regiment.  Mistaking his course, he took a much shorter wheel, which brought him, with his two or three companies, around the left flank of the 1st Virginia, and upon the right rear of the 27th Massachusetts, just after the 23rd Massachusetts had broken to the rear, and at just the moment when the 11th Virginia, and detachments forming the 59th Alabama, who were lying down in the edge of the woods, and who noticing from the Federal line in their front that the firing had ceased, moved forward and joined the 1st Virginia, passing over the ground just vacated by the 23rd Massachusetts, upon the right flank of the 27th Massachusetts.  It was these rebel regiments that Colonel Lee walked into when he stepped to the right of his regiment to see if the 23rd  Massachusetts had fallen back.  When Colonel Lee had surrendered, Adjutant John H. Parr, of the 7th Virginia, who had led the two or three companies of his regiment around the Federal right flank, rushed forward and seized the staff of the State flag of the 23rd Massachusetts, carried by Corporal Charles G. Fernald."

The morning succeeding the battle, Kemper's brigade, with other troops, pursued the enemy to Howlett's  house on the James, where there was an unfinished Confederate earthwork.  The 1st and 7th Regiments were sent to hold these earthworks.    The enemy's gunboats in the river opened on the works, and continued the shelling throughout the evening and night.  During the shelling Major Howard, of the 1st Regiment, and Sergeant Thomas Fox, of the same regiment, were seriously wounded.   On the next morning, the 18th, Lieutenant John W. Mulllins, of Company D of the 7th, in command of the skirmish line, received a wound from which he died on the 22nd day of the succeeding month.

Withdrawing on the evening of the 18th, the brigade marched to the neighborhood of Manchester, bivouacked  for the night, and next morning marched through Richmond to the station of the Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad; placed aboard flat cars and moved to Milford station, debarked, moved across the Mattaponi and bivouacked.  There were present of the brigade at Milford, on the morning of the 21st of May, about 60 men of the 1st Virginia, seven companies of the 11th Virginia, numbering about 225, and the 7th Virginia, numbering about 250, making an aggregate of 535.    About ten o'clock A. M., there was a call to arms, and report of the approach of a body of Federal Cavalry, supposed to be a mere raiding party, but, as subsequently developed, was the Federal Cavalry Division of General Torbett, leading the advance of General Grant's army from Spottsylvania Court House toward Richmond.  After a spirited contest of more than an hour, in which the Federal Cavalry charges were repeatedly repulsed, the troops under the command of Major George F. Norton, of the 1st Regiment, were withdrawn across the river, dismantling the bridge to such an extent as to prevent immediate and close pursuit by the enemy.  The Confederate loss in this affair was about 70, mostly captured, being unable to reach the bridge in advance of the enemy.  The loss sustained was mostly in the 11th Regiment; numbers of the men escaping by swimming the river.  The brigade continued its movement until it joined General Lee's army, en route from Spottsylvania to the North Anna.  On reaching Hanover Junction, the command joined the remainder of the brigade, and the other brigades of Pickett's Division.  Here too, was Breckenridge's Division from the valley, fresh from the victorious field of New Market.

The Division of Pickett, again united, marched with the army to Cold Harbor, taking position in the battle line on the left of Hoke's Division, which on the 3rd of June, in co-operation with Breckenridge's, bore the brunt of the Federal assault, in which General Grant lost about as many men in twenty minutes as Hoke and Breckenridge had in their commands.

In this battle of Cold Harbor, Pickett's men had but little or no part, beyond severe skirmishing, and receiving a heavy shelling from the enemy.  As a matter of fact, General Lee had succeeded in repulsing the larger part of General Grant's army with only a small part of his own.  It is stated that the Federal loss in    the assault on June 3rd, was 12,737, while the Confederate lost less than 2,000 men.

On the march from Milford Station to Hanover Junction,  John A. Hale, of Company D, 7th Regiment, with a comrade from the regiment, broke completely down, and found themselves within the enemy's lines where they remained for two or three days.    Hungry and starving, they ventured to a dwelling to obtain food; finding there a Federal soldier on the same errand, they captured him and took him along with them, until they got within the Confederate lines.

In this battle of Cold Harbor, there were in Breckenridge's Division a number of New River Valley men, belonging to companies of the 23rd Virginia Battalion, 26th Virginia Battalion and 30th Virginia Battalion.  Very considerable losses in killed and wounded was suffered by these commands, but in the absence of official data it cannot be given.  Lieutenant James K. Peck, of the 23rd Virginia Battalion, and a Giles County man, was killed; and Colonel George Edgar, commanding the 26th Battalion, was wounded by a bayonet thrust and captured.  Captain James Dunlap, of Monroe, and Lieutenant W. W. George, of Mercer, were also captured.

In a few days after the battle of Cold Harbor, General Bredckenridge, with his division, marched for the Valley of Virginia, to meet the army of General Hunter, now endeavoring to reach Lynchburg.  On the 12th of June General Lee detached his 2nd Army Corps under Lieutenant General Early, and pushed it to Lynchburg.  The retreat of Hunter and the operations of Early's command and that of General Breckenridge, will be taken up in relating the campaigns of 1864 in Western Virginia, Southwestern Virginia, in the Valley, and in Maryland.

General Grant, convinced of his inability to enter Richmond on the line he was traveling, on the night of the 12th of June changed his course, moving direct for the James, followed by the Confederates marching on parallel lines.  The line of march of Pickett's Division, carried it over the old battle ground of Gaines' mill, crossing the Chickahominy over McClellan's bridge near Seven Pines, and halting near the battle field of Frazier's farm; on the 15th marched up Darbytown road a short distance and went into bivouac.  Daybreak on the morning of the 16th found the division in line and on the march to the James at Caffin's  Bluff, where it crossed the river on a pontoon bridge; passing over the battle field of Drury's Bluff on to the Turnpike road; and had reached a point near Walthall Junction, where the head of the column was unexpectedly fired into  by the enemy, who had gained possession of the road.  The division was quickly formed in battle line, and sending ahead a strong skirmish line, drove the enemy beyond the first line of earthworks, which had that morning been evacuated by the Confederate troops, who had been called to the defense of Petersburg.  About four o'clock, P. M., the division charged along the whole line, retaking the whole outer line erected by General Beauregard's troops before their removal to Petersburg.     This assault was not without loss, and brought from General Lee to Major General Anderson, the corps commander, General Longstreet having been severely wounded in the battle of the Wilderness, the following letter:

"General:--I take great pleasure in presenting to you my congratulation upon the conduct of the men of your corps.  I believe that they will carry anything they are put against.  We tried very hard to stop Picketts' men from capturing the breastworks of the enemy, but couldn't do it.  I hope his loss has been small."

The brigade loss was about twenty killed and wounded.  In the 7th Regiment, Sergeant William Parrott, of Company I, Corporal J. B. Young, of Company D, were severely, and William Davis, of Company C, mortally wounded.

From the 16th day of June, 1864, until the 5th day of March, 1865, Pickett's Division occupied the line from Howlett's house, on the James, to Swift Creek and Fort Clifton, on the Appomattox.  The minor occurrences within this period, on, along, within and immediately without, the lines of the division would fill a volume.

The enemy's advance on the north side of the James, and his capture of Fort Harrison, on the morning of September 29th, drew to that side of the river, among other Confederate troops, four regiments from Pickett's Division, including the 24th Virginia Regiment, all under the command of Colonel Montague.  An unsuccessful assault was led by General Hoke against Fort Harrison on the morning of the 30th of September, in which the 24th Virginia suffered severe loss.

The battery of Captain David A. French was also engaged in this battle at Fort Harrison, and met with the following loss, viz:  Killed, Adam Johnston; wounded, Lieutenant W. H. Smith, Privates E.W. Charlton, John M. Walker, John Burton, Joshua Day, Henry Hicks, John Ingrahan, and Erastus W. Peck.  This company was engaged in the battle of Fussells' Mills, on the north side of the James, on the 19th of August, 1864, and its casualties were as follows:  Killed, Henry Stover; wounded, Sergeant John N. Woodram, mortally; H. C. Clyburn, and William J. Sarver.  The Federal loss in and around Fussells' Mill was 2901, out of the 2nd and 10th Army Corps.

During the months of July, August, September, and October, the regiments and brigades of Pickett's Division were frequently shifted along the line it was holding , and which has been described.  Frequent combats,m in the shape of sharpshooting, took place, and occasionally the Confederate skirmishers, and twice in larger body, made sallies against the enemy's rifle pits, gathering in large numbers of prisoners.  On one of these expeditions they swept the Federal picket line for several hundred yards, bringing away without loss more than one hundred prisoners, including the Federal officers in command of the line.  For the most part of the period between June, 1864, and March 5th, 1865, the pickets of the combatants on this line were on friendly terms; so much so, that the Confederate officers had to require the picket firing to be resumed in order to break up these friendly relations, which had been carried to the extent of regular traffic between the pickets in the way of barter and exchange of newspapers, tobacco, coffee and other articles.   In many places along the line the pickets were near enough to each other that they could carry on conversation in any ordinary tone of voice.

The cold winter winds began to be felt in the close of the November days, and the men, in addition to their bomb proofs and mud houses in the earth, began to improve them as far as possible, in view of the approaching cold weather, by building flues or chimneys, and closing up all openings.  The men were not only thinly clad, but some, at least, had but little clothing of any kind, and a large number were without shoes; and when the first blasts of winter came numbers could be seen shivering over the small fires they were allowed to kindle.  Famine stared them in the face the ration being from one-eight to one pound of bacon and one pint of unseived corn meal per day, and occasionally a few beans or peas.  With empty stomachs, naked bodies, and frozen fingers, these men clutched their guns with an aim so steady and deadly that the men on the other side were exceedingly cautious how they lifted their heads from behinds their sheltered places.

This was not altogether the worst part of the situation, for many a good brave Confederate soldier heard in his rear the cries of distress of a mother, wife, or children at home, whose needs were as great for bread as his.  What could he do?    What should he do?  This, with his own pitiable condition, was enough to break the strongest heart. It was too much for some, who broke away to look after the suffering ones at home.  "How could the Government do any better?" was often said.   Whatever food it had for the army was mostly in the far-off South, and could not be brought forward, either for lack of transportation or by reason of the enemy having cut or destroyed the lines of communication.

The private soldier received $11.00 per month for his services--about enough to buy his tobacco.  Confederate money had become worthless, and the price of provisions--that is, where any could be found for sale--was beyond the reach of the poor soldier.  Flour was selling for $1500.00 per barrel; bacon $20.00 per pound, beef $15.00 a pound, butter at $20.00 a pound; one chicken could be had for $50.00, soda $12.00 per pound, common calico $12.00 per yard; and at the date, January and February, 1865, it took $100.00 in the currency to buy one dollar in gold.  But this currency was all we had, good, bad or indifferent--it was use that or nothing--and the soldier had but little of it, and did not have this little long.  Some one wrote on the back of $500.00 Confederate note, about, or just after the surrender at Appomattox, the following lines:

"Representing nothing on God's earth now,
And naught in water below it,
As a pledge of a nation that's dead and gone,
Keep it, dear captain, and show  it.
Show it to those that will lend an ear
To the tale this paper can tell
Of liberty born, of the patriot's dream,
Of a storm-cradled nation that fell.

Too poor to possess the precious ore,
And too much a stranger to borrow,
We issue today our "promise to pay,"
And hope to redeem on the morrow.
Days roll by, and weeks became years,
But our coffers were empty still;
Coin was so rare that the treasury quaked
If a dollar should drop in the till.

But the faith that was in us was strong indeed,
And our poverty well we discerned,
And these little checks represented the pay
That our suffering Veterans earned.
We knew it had hardly a value in gold,
Yet as gold the soldiers received it;
It gazed in our eyes with a promise to pay,
And each patriot soldier believed it.

But our boys thought little of price or pay,
Or of bills that were over-due;
We knew if it brought our bread today
'Twas the best our country could do.
Keep it! It tells all our history over,
From the birth of the dream to its last;
Modest, and born of the Angel Hope,
Like our hope of success, it passed."

Notwithstanding all these things, these heroic men, who loved their cause better than life, stood to their posts, and defied the enemy to the last.  The enemy, by general orders and circular letters which they managed to send and scatter among the Confederate soldiers, offered all manner of inducements to have them desert their country; but, as a rule, such offers were indignantly spurned.  The consecration of the Southern women to the cause for which their husbands, sons, brothers, and sweethearts struggled and suffered, is beyond the power of pen to describe. The hardships of these women were equal to, and often greater than that of the shivering, freezing, starving soldier in the field.  They had not only given these men to the cause, but, in fact, themselves, too; for they remained at home and labored in the fields, went to mill, the blacksmith shops, lived on corn bread and sorghum molasses, and gave practically every pound of meat, flour and all the vegetables they could raise to the men in the army, whom they encouraged to duty in every possible way.  They manufactured largely their own clothing, out of material that they had produced with their own hands; and would have scorned any woman who would wear northern manufactured goods; and the thought, sentiment, and action is well expressed in lines written during the war:

"Now northern goods are out of date,
And since old Abe's blockade,
We Southern girls can be content,
With goods that's Southern made;
We send our sweethearts to the war,
But girls ne'er you mind--
Your soldier lover will not forget
The girl he left behind.

"An now young man, a word to you:
If you would win the fair,
Go to the field where honor calls
And win your lady there;
Remember that our brightest smiles
Are for the true and brave,
And that our tears are all for those
Who fill the soldier's grave."

Through this long, cold, dreary winter, Pickett's Division--less than five thousand strong--held the line which, in length, was not less than four miles; being not many beyond one thousand men to the mile; only a good skirmish line; over which the enemy, by a bold, determined charge, could at any time have gone.  It is certain that if the Federal line in front of Pickett's men had been as weak, and held by as few men as that of Pickett, they would have either been prisoner before the 1st day of January, 1865, or have been driven into the James and drowned.

 

 

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