CV: V37N8: With the Palmetto Riflemen

   

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in Siege of Petersburg

Editor’s Note: Base transcription is from the CD-ROM version of The Confederate Veteran at Eastern Digital.  Minor corrections were made by Brett Schulte.

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With the Palmetto Riflemen.1

[Experiences of the late Capt. Peter A. McDonald, of Greenville, S. C., as a member of that famous South Carolina command.]2

SOPO Editor’s Note: The first page plus of this article does not pertain to the Siege of Petersburg and has been omitted.

When I reached my command [Company L, 2nd South Carolina Rifles], I found it very much reduced in number, so many had been killed or disabled, and the captain very severely wounded. I assumed command and fought with my company almost daily from Cold Harbor on down to the James River and across to Petersburg in the trenches; close to the Crater, where Grant inhumanly undermined our fortifications and blew them up. In these trenches I suffered more than any place of my whole experience. We could not raise our heads above the works without a Minie ball whizzing by, and the mortor [sic, mortar] shells could be dropped right into the trenches. It was here that my dear favorite soldier boy fell across my legs, a Minie ball having pierced his brain. I had him buried at night and marked a plank for his headpiece: “W[illiam]. C. Branyon, Gallant Soldier, Rest in Peace.”

Just a few nights before the blow-up at Petersburg3, we were moved to the north side of the James. We were skirmishing almost daily. On the 13th of August, 1864, I was placed in command of my own and two other companies, to go on the picket line. We went about a mile in advance of our brigade to a skirt of woods, where I deployed my men. We keep on the alert all that day and night.

Near the time for us to be relieved on Sunday, the 14th of August, 1864, I heard the Georgians away to my left shouting, “Look out on the right!” and at the same time retreating. Almost at the same time a line of battle emerged from the woods and opened a deadly fusil[l]ade at my thin line of skirmishers. I ordered my line to fall back across a corn field to a bluff near a branch, where I ordered a halt to give battle. As my line commenced firing, I fell, shot in the head, and in a few seconds became unconscious. I was left by my men, they thinking and reporting that I was killed. I fell into the hands of the enemy, but was not conscious of it; don’t know how they carried me or how I came to have my coat on, as my brother found my vest the next day. I had a small Bible in my pocket that I prized very much, as it was presented to me by my borther-in-law, the Rev. V. A. Sharpe. My name was written on the flyleaf, also my address.

When I came to myself I was on a stretcher near the north banks of the James River, at Deep Bottom, where General Grant crossed a portion of his army to the south side. I was surrounded by a squad of the blue coats, who told me to rouse up, that I must be put on the boat. In a semiconscious manner I remember asking for my sword and canteen, and the reply was: “I guess you will not get your sword, but here is a canteen.” It was then I realized that I was a prisoner. I was wounded in the early morning and when I found myself at the boat loading, it was near sunset. Just at this time, General Grant came by and there was great cheering as he rode away. I got a very good look at him just for a moment, then I was tenderly lifted and carried away to the boat, where I was placed on a cot and a surgeon was at my side in a few minutes, washed the blood from my head and face, and had a barber to shave the whole left side of my head. Then he placed cotton and a bandage around my head. He was very gentle and spoke very kindly to me, but said very little about my wound. After he had finished dressing my head, he gave me a large watermelon and told me to eat what I wanted of it. A wounded Yankee was on the next cot, and I told him to cut it and help himself, which he did. I took one swallow, which caused me to vomit, and I became unconscious and remained in that condition till I reached Fortress Monroe, where I was placed in the room of a large building that was used for the wounded commissioned officers. Several Confederate officers were already there, and they began to ask questions. I was talking in a disconnected way when one kindly said: “You are a little off; don’t talk any more now.” I don’t remember all of my roommates while I was a prisoner, but I call to mind there was [Brigadier] General [William Stephen] Walker, who had lost a leg4; Captain [Wiley Roy] Mason, who was on General Fields’ staff; Capt. E. W. Ware, of Virginia, and Lieutenant McEachern, of North Carolina. The surgeon in charge of the hospital was Dr. McClellan, a cousin of the General, and a brother of H. B. McClellan, who was on General Lee’s staff. He was very attentive to me, gave me a great deal of attention, talked freely about my wound, that it was very dangerous, and how cautious I must be, that a very light lick or jar would kill me, etc. He also talked in great confidence about the war and that his sympathies were with the South, but it would not do for him to talk it except to those whom he could trust. He told me that his brother was on General Lee’s staff.

(Concluded in September.)

Source:

  1. McDavid, Peter A. “With the Palmetto Riflemen.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 37, Number 8, pp. 298-300
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Peter A. McDavid served with the 2nd South Carolina Rifles.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: McDavid is referring to the mine explosion and the subsequent Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: William Stephen Walker had been wounded and captured at Ware Bottom Church on May 20, 1864.

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