SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
THE STORY OF THE FAMOUS RANGERS CONTINUED.
How they Fought, Bled and Died for the Glory of the Southern Cross—Some Close Calls on the Banks of the James.
To the Editor of the News and Courier:
We will now take our readers back to the 24th of June [sic, 14th of August], ’64. Our camp [of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry] was then at New Market Heights, having been forced back from Malvern Hill by the sturdy advances of the Federals up the James River, and massing their forces in our front. It was evident that some important move was going to be made. We were on the left of New Market Heights, and on the bank of a small stream of water, on which was Fuzzle’s mill with a large pond of water. On the side we occupied the ground was rather elevated, giving us with the branch and mill pond some advantage over the enemy, who occupied the opposite side.
Every night we dug trenches with such implements as we could get hold of, often using our knives, spoons and plates for this purpose, and placing rails and logs in such position as, with the man pits, we had dug to constitute a temporary breastwork, behind which we expected to fight the enemy. It was astonishing how much work of this character could be done in one night’s time.
In the meantime the enemy were active in our front fortifying their position. They erected many observatories in our front. Some of them were framed and others were in the tops of tall trees with a rude seat upon which a sentinel, with a spyglass, sat all the time watching our movements.
Sharpshooting was going on more or less all the time. Our men made several efforts to dislodge the sentinels and, it is thought, succeeded in some instances. Our horses were in the rear, and we had not seen them in several days. Some infantry was sent to assist us. They would come in the night; we would give way to them, extending our lines to the left. By this we would have to give up our fortifications. So soon as we would get in place the men would begin to fortify again.
BATTLE OF JUNE 24 [sic, August 14], 1864.
Early in the morning of the 24th of June [sic, 14th of August], 1864, the Federals charged our line just above the mill pond and broke through it at a weak place. An infantry brigade was sent to our assistance1, and the enemy were driven back with great loss. The principal part of the fighting was done in a dense thicket of young pines in which the timber was literally riddled with the bullets. Our works after that were occupied by the infantry, who buried the dead between the water and our line; just simply put them in a pile and covered them with earth. We had no tools, and could do no better.
Next morning [August 15, 1864] the enemy began sharpshooting. They were at the head of the pond in a dense growth of original forest. I overheard Col. [Thomas M.] Logan, of the Hampton Legion [Cavalry], tell Gen. [Martin W.] Gary and other field officers that if they would permit him he would take our regiment and drive the enemy out of these woods. But they didn’t approve of it. It was, however, but a short time before Capt. Palmer was ordered out with his company as skirmishers to attack them. This we knew was a serious undertaking. Every man seemed to realize the importance of the work to be done and moved bravely forward with a steady step at the command. We soon reached them and from behind trees and excavations made by fallen trees, logs, etc., where they were secreted, they fired upon us a volley of musketry, the balls of which went over our heads as we ascended the short slant in our advance upon them. They ran back as we advanced and we finally drove them out without losing a single man as far as I can now recollect. Thus we had driven the enemy back on their extreme right of their line.
GEN CHAMBLISS KILLED.
Here, in establishing a picket line, Gen [John R.] Chambliss was killed [on August 16, 1864] while directing the officers in command of the picket force.2 The men were ordered back to the position we occupied in the morning, where we remained for several days. Our regiment occupied the place where the battle was fought the day before. By this time decomposition of the dead began to take place. As the bodies would swell the earth would crack and thereby admit the flies. The stench was awful, but we had to “grin and bear it.” The enemy’s loss was much heavier than ours. I do not remember the loss of our regiment. No one in our company was killed. The enemy remained comparatively quiet for a few days and then began to transport their troops to the south side of the James River.
THE BOUNTY JUMPERS.
Occasionally we would send out a reconnoitering party, which generally brought about a skirmish. Such a lively one occurred at “Double Gates,” just beyond New Market Heights, in which our company was engaged. At this place some Georgia infantry were bivouacked in the public road. A shell from a boat fell in their midst while they were engaged in cooking and eating their breakfast, killing seven of them. About this time a considerable number of Federals were deserting; a few came to us, but most of them were trying to get home by going across Virginia into Maryland, passing between the lines in neutral ground. These were generally known as “bounty jumpers.” Our scouts would frequently come in contact with them, and they generally had more or less greenbacks. It seemed that they had laid up means for the occasion. Just below where we were stationed was a large field of wheat. If I am not mistaken the farm belonged to Gen Pickett. We undertook to harvest it, but the enemy would drive us out with the shells from their boats. But our boys would step in at night, and with their knives cut some for their horses. Finally the enemy made a sally out one day under cover of their gunboats and set it on fire and tried to burn it.
A CHERRY TREE ADVENTURE.
All over these bottoms were fine, large cherry trees, which, at this time, were covered with their sweet, luscious fruit. A very laughable occurrence took place here on this farm. Some Federal officers rode out to these trees, not far from the bank of the river, for the purpose of eating some of the fruit. They tied their horses’ heads to their forelegs, climbed up the trees and were enjoying the fruit in blissful ignorance of an enemy being near at hand. At the same time one of the Hampton Legion scouts had his eye on them. He got down on his all-fours and crept up to the horses, cut the halter of one and mounted it and rode off into our lines, at the same time waving his hat at the enemy.
As he passed near where Gens Fields and Gary with some of their staff were observing the Federal officers Gen Gary challenged him to know what was up. He replied: “Shut up, Mart, I mean business.” Gen Gary winked at the other officers—I supposed at what, to them, might seem to be an important remark. Such was common with Gary’s command, save on duty; then he was rigid and strict. This man had his pants rolled up to his knees, was barefooted, and had a spur on.
Once on one of our skirmish lines, some infantry being present and forming a line of battle, one of the privates showed some timidity in getting into line. Gen Gary called to him to “move up into line.” He hesitated; the General drew his sabre and struck him with the flat side of it and forced him into position in “double quick” time.
WOUNDING OF FARR AND HARRIS.
The enemy began to contract their lines and moved their forces up the river to the bend and began to construct a canal at what was called “Dutch Gap.” We moved our picket forces nearer on their right wing and occupied the ground they had abandoned. All was quiet except now and then a stray shot was exchanged by the picket forces, until one Sunday evening in July the enemy began to make some demonstrations in our front, advancing from their gunboats and taking position in and around some farm houses. Our brigade was moved up to their front and dismounted, forming a line in a narrow strip of woodland. The enemy began to fire upon us, and soon got our “range” when their rifles began to have effect at the same time their gunboats were throwing shells promiscuously over their infantry’s heads in and amongst our troops. Here we had several men wounded.
The distance was too great to kill many. Amongst the wounded were Orderly Sergt R[obert]. C. Farr and Private George Harris. Harris was my righthand man. I heard the ball strike him. We fell back and carried our wounded. On examining Harris we found the ball, very much flattened and in his clothing. It had made an ugly wound to the right of the “median line” and over his stomach. Much anxiety was manifested in Harris’s case. He was one of our best soldiers. If I am not mistaken this place was called “Strawberry Plains.”3
Sergt Farr, after recovering from his wound, was made assistant commissary, which place he filled with great satisfaction to all. He was amongst the best orderlies in the brigade and an excellent soldier, which was proven on more than one occasion.
Our picket line extended from this place to York River a distance of over twenty-five miles, all kept up by our brigade. The Federals took great pride in attacking our pickets frequently at one or more places with strong forces. They knew we were weak, only having eight men to each post, six pickets and two non-commissioned officers. But we generally made them pay for it. We had out a strong and efficient scouting party. This was continued until the capitulation of Fort Harrison [on September 29, 1864], of which I will speak in the next chapter.
SOLACED BY MUSIC.
In a good many of these manoeuvres in and around New Market Heights, Field’s division was with us and amongst them was Jenkins’s [at that point called Bratton’s South Carolina] brigade. They had some fine bands of music, particularly the 6th South Carolina regimental band. Some evenings they would discourse some fine music. On one occasion they struck up ‘Yankee Doodle.” Immediately the Federals responded by playing “Dixie.” Here our videttes exchanged tobacco for coffee and swapped knives with the Federals.
If a “Yankee” wanted to trade he would call out, “Any trade to day, Johnnie Reb.” If the answer was favorable from our side the parties would meet half way between the lines and trade. Frequently we would converse with them for some time. But this was soon stopped by the Federal officers.
At “Deep Bottom” many heavy skirmishes took place during the months of July and August, 1864. Jenkins’s brigade lost many good men here, in killed, wounded and captured. Here Capt C. C. Beatty, Laurens’s Senator, and others from our country were killed. These tilts were between the infantry, our command being on their left. UNUS.4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Two regiments of G. T. Anderson’s Georgia Brigade were in the vicinity when this attack by Macy’s Brigade of the Union Second Corps occurred on August 14, 1864 during the Second Battle of Deep Bottom. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: See this recent post from Jimmy Price at Emerging Civil War which details Chambliss’ death on August 16, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The portion of the historical record I have available shows that Private Harris was wounded on August 14, 1864 at Second Deep Bottom, during the fight earlier mistakenly referred to in this article as having occurred on June 24, 1864. However, the fight generally referred to as “Strawberry Plains” was fought on July 27, 1864 at the First Battle of Deep Bottom. It seems from the description that the article is here referring to the First Battle of Deep Bottom on July 27, 1864. ↩
- “M’Kissickian Memories.” Charleston News and Courier. July 8, 1891, p. 5 col. 1-2 ↩
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