SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
Maj. U[lysses]. R[obert]. Brooks gives some Interesting Incidents which came under his Own Observation, and which should be Preserved for the Future Historian.
A cold, rainy day towards the end of October, in the year 1864, [Wade] Hampton’s cavalry was guarding the right wing of Lee’s army [at the Siege of Petersburg], between Burgess’ Mill, on Hatcher’s Run, and the Rowanty. An indescribable melancholy, which hangs over an army when on the eve of battle, betokened that something of a grave and serious character would usher the 27th of October out. It was the autumn-time, the glorious forests of “Old Virginia” for weeks back had given under its foliage a gentle resting place for cavalrymen, infantrymen and artillerymen. Headquarters of generals had been located near farm houses or some old “Colonial home,” full of the traditions of the “Past,” so fraught with the spirit of ancient and present hospitality.
It was the autumn-time, when leaves gently fall and cover oft in many places the graves of the unnumbered and unlettered, gallant dead. The oak, the hickory and the elm had each in turn shed leaves; all delicate and tender plants hid themselves away until the season came around once again to welcome them to sunlight and to shade. The change of season was upon us—dull, dreary days of danger and death, rested upon the face of the earth. The campaign of a short time before had resulted in sending Gen. Phil. Sheridan and a Gen. [James] Wilson to cover; they had been roughly handled by the “Corps of Cavalry” commanded by Gen. Wade Hampton1, and sought shelter under the protection of Gen. U. S. Grant and his superb army, well equipped and representing all branches of a magnificent array of men and horses, guns, carbines and improved rifles. Sabres, too, glittered along his rifled guns he had near at hand to shell towns, to hurl into advancing columns or to cast over the tops of trees into the Confederate lines—the fatal shell which, upon leaving the gun, cast a circle or wreath of white smoke behind it that one might trace thereby the death mission entrusted to it. It was a sturdy set of men, seemingly without end of numbers, and the came
“Like the wolf on the fold;
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.”
Grant’s plan of battle [with his Sixth Offensive against Petersburg in late October 1864] was to drive Hampton across the South Side R. R., which, if successful, would have forced Gen. Lee to evacuate Petersburg. His forces moved in three columns, the Ninth Corps on the road to Hawks, the Second Corps down the Vaughn road to Hatcher’s Run, and the Fifth Corps on a line intermediate between the other two—parts of which had to be opened. [Union Ninth Corps commander] Major General [John G.] Parke was instructed to move on the presumed position of Hampton’s men and, if practicable, drive them out. [Union Fifth Corps commander] Major General [Gouverneur K.] Warren supported Gen. Parke, and [Union Second Corps commander] Major General [Winfield S.] Hancock, (who was called by Dan Dougherty “the superb,”) with parts of the Second Corps and [David McM.] Gregg’s Division of Cavalry was ordered to cross Hatcher’s Run and to capture the bridge at the Mill on the Boydton plank-road.
Hampton’s men charged his line from the woods to his (Hancock’s) right and rear, and attacked him vigorously, at the same time advancing on his left and attacking Gregg in the rear. The fight was in an open field and very sharp and severe. Gen. Meade, in his report of date of Oct., 28th, 1864, says: “In the Second Corps the losses, owing to the severe fighting, were believed to be heavy,” and regrets to report “that owing to the want of transportation and the character of the cases, some of the wounded were left in charge of surgeons in some houses on the field. No return of casualties has yet been made.” He might have added that they had no time to make out any return of casualties, as they were all too busy getting back to their former positions in the entrenched lines. If this was a victory for the “bluecoats,” all I have to say is that about three more just like it would have demolished Grant’s entire army. Who ever heard of a victorious army escaping under cover of darkness and leaving their dead and wounded on the field in the hands of the enemy?
When this fight occurred Butler’s [Cavalry] Division was guarding the crossing of the Rowanty. We were encamped on the Quaker road, some distance to the right of the Mill on Hatcher’s Run. Gen. [Matthew C.] Butler behaved with such gallantry on the battlefield at Ream’s Station, on August 25th, 1864, that he was promoted to Major General, and Gen. John Dunovant, Colonel of the Fifth [South Carolina] Cavalry, who, for gallantry, was promoted to Brigadier General, took command of Gen. Butler’s old [South Carolina Cavalry] Brigade and was killed on the Black Snake road on the 1st day of October, 1864, while leading his men to victory. Would it be out of place for me to state right here that about twenty minutes before he led this charge he said to me, after I had handed him a biscuit and a slice of ham: “Go back to the camp and remain there; suppose you were killed, who would take care of me?” Was he forewarned that he was to die so soon? I did take care of him. I carried his remains to Chester, S. C., where I left all that was mortal of this brave, generous and chivalrous man with his brother, Col. Quay Dunovant.
Butler’s Division was composed of Dunovant’s Brigade, (which was commanded by the gallant Col. Hugh Aiken [of the 6th South Carolina Cavalry] in this fight [at the Boydton Plank Road],) and Gen. [Thomas L.] Rosser’s Virginia Brigade and [Pierce M. B.] Young’s Georgia Brigade. When Hancock opened the fight, just at the break of day, Gen. Butler ordered me to go at once to the front and report the cause of the firing immediately to him, and on my way back I met a Confederate Colonel who asked me what the trouble was. I told him that the enemy were advancing in full force. (See Mohun, page 310.) After leaving the Colonel I soon met Gen. Butler, and lost no time in putting him in possession of the facts. Hancock’s Corps forced a passage across the Rowanty and drove in our pickets. Gen. Hampton ordered Gen. Butler to withdraw and take a position higher up the Creek at Burgess’ Mill. The left of Young’s Brigade was on the extreme left of the cavalry, and rested on the millpond, having an open old field in our front. Gen. Butler was also directed to move forward as soon as he heard the guns of Gen. Wm. F. H. [“Rooney”] Lee, whose Division was to deploy on our right. While awaiting Gen. Lee’s attack we had thrown up temporary breastworks of fence rails, logs and such material as we could get. Hart’s grand old Battery of Horse Artillery was stationed by Gen. Butler along our line with guns commanding the field in front; this was after the gallant Maj. Hart had lost his leg about 12 m[eridian, i.e. noon]., but as usual Gunner Bamberg and Gunner Verdier were at their guns. This gallant old Battery covered itself with glory. Gunner Bamberg is now the retired merchant, Gen. Bamberg, at Bamberg, S. C., and Gunner Verdier is none other than the Hon. W. J. Verdier, the distinguished lawyer at Beaufort, S. C.
At the signal I was sent by Gen. Butler to tell the gallant Col. [Robert J.] Jeffords [of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry] to move forward the entire line. As soon as Col. Jeffords gave the command to forward he was shot down and died instantly. His remains now rest in Magnolia Cemetery, at Charleston, S. C. Gen. Butler “fought the devil with fire” by dismounting the men, and they fought like devils, and attacked a Division of Federal Infantry stationed in the woods and in the old field in our front. The firing was terrible. As soon as Gen. Butler gave the command the whole Brigade bounded over the breastworks and advanced, firing; the artillery at the same time firing over their heads with great rapidity and effect. Gen. Butler’s Headquarters were at the corner of Burgess’ garden, near where two guns of the Battery were posted. Maj. Barker, Adjutant General of Hampton’s old Division—Butler’s then—was with Gen. Butler that day. He missed Maj. Barker and Capt. Nat Butler from his side, and looking across the garden to his right he saw these two and Preston Hampton riding in the midst of the line of advancing men, waving their hats and cheering them on. They were perhaps a hundred yards to his right and the heavy firing prevented their hearing him. Gen. Butler waved his hand to them, and Nat Butler spurred his horse around the front of the garden and looked so handsome “with long, dark-brown hair and a rosy mouth, and eyes like the blue heavens in a night of frost.” Preston Hampton turned to return to his father, whose Headquarters was a few hundred yards to the right rear, and as he turned off in one direction and Nat to the other, he called out, “Hurrah, Nat,” and almost instantly was shot in the groin and mortally wounded. I rushed up to where he was, and soon Dr. W. B. Taylor was at his side to alleviate his pain, but alas, too late; his young life blood had gone, and thus ended the career of this, one of the bravest of the brave young men who died so gloriously for our Lost Cause.
“Do we weep for the heroes who died for us,
Who, living, were true and tried for us,
And, dying, sleep side by side for us;
The martyr band
That hallowed our land
With the blood they shed in a tide for us?”
I learned right here my first great lesson life from Gen. Hampton, which is self-control. When he saw his dying son lying on the ground he dismounted and kissed his brave boy, wiped a tear from his eye, remounted and went on giving orders as though nothing had happened. How can we control others if we do not control ourselves? Gen. Butler rode up to this group and asked Gen. Hampton who had been wounded, and with an agony of expression he replied, “Poor Preston has been mortally wounded.” Gen. Butler ordered a one horse wagon near by down so that his remains might be carried out. Meantime the enemy discovered the crowd around him and concentrated their fire on us and shot young Wade Hampton through the spine and killed one of Gen. Hampton’s couriers. About one hour after Gen. Hampton’s sons were shot, one of the cannoneers of Hart’s battery reported to Gen. Butler that a Major was lying some distance in our front in the broom-sedge, badly wounded. He at once sent some scouts out in search of him, but they returned unsuccessful. After a time Maj. Barker dragged himself out terribly wounded. When Dr. B. W. Taylor, chief surgeon of the Division, examined him, he thought the wound fatal, but he happily recovered. Our own Dr. B. W. Taylor took no heed of cannon balls nor minnie balls that day, but spent the whole time in alleviating the sufferings of the wounded. Never was there a surgeon in any army who behaved with more gallantry and Christian fortitude than did Dr. Taylor.
We kept up the fight until nightfall. I can never forget that night; how young Wade Hampton was carried to a little hut, and when Dr. Taylor went to dress his wound, Capt. Lowndes, who was as brave as Julius Caesar, could stand and see the enemy bleed and die, but when he saw how bloody his friend was he fainted and fell like a beef. Dr. Taylor had to administer to him at once before proceeding with the wounded young man who behaved so gallantly in the fight.
Gen. Hancock was driven some distance and retired to his lines.
Our attack saved Gen. Mahone’s Division, which was being handled well, but hardly pressed on our left by largely superior numbers; we also heard that Hancock made a very narrow escape. A shell from Hart’s Battery exploded very near his horse.
It seems that Gen. Grant always selected Gen. Hancock when he wanted to attack Gen. Hampton. He gave us a terrible fight, but did not succeed in breaking into our lines very far. In the afternoon of this memorable day Gen. Lee sent Gen. A. P. Hill with his gallant old Corps down to help us entertain the several Corps commanded by Major Gen. Parke, Major Gen. Gregg and Major Gen. Warren, while we strained a point to entertain Gen. Hancock, “the superb,” specially.
Col. John Esten Cooke, in “Mohun,” speaks of Gen. Butler as the gallant, noble Butler. “The bravest are the tenderest, the loving are the daring.”
Gen. Maury tells a story worthy of everlasting remembrance about three of our distinguished young soldiers: “Col. John C. Haskell, whose arm was shattered so that amputation at the shoulder was necessary. The surgeon was about to administer chloroform when Haskell said: ‘Stop, doctor; you must have very little chloroform since the enemy have declared it contraband of war. Is it not so?’ ‘Yes, Colonel, said the surgeon. ‘Then keep it for some poor soldier who needs it. I can do without it,’ was the reply of this brave, unselfish man.
“Gen. M[atthew]. C. Butler, of South Carolina, was seriously wounded and maimed for life at the battle of Brandy Station. He and a young captain named Farley had just come out of action early in the morning, and were laughing together over some amusing incident they had noticed, and at that moment, a cannon ball came bounding at them. It struck Butler’s leg above the ankle, tore through his horse and cut off Farley’s leg above the knee. Down they all went. Butler began to staunch the blood with his handkerchief and advised Farley how to do the same. Capt. Chestnut, Lieutenant Rhett and other officers came running to Butler’s help, but at that moment he observed that Farley’s dying horse was struggling and seemed likely to crush the rider. ‘Go at once to Farley,’ cried Butler, ‘he needs you more than I do.’ They did as they were bidden, and as Farley was placed on a litter he asked them to bring his leg and put it, too, on the litter. Then he said: ‘Now, gentlemen, you have done all for me that is possible. I shall be dead in an hour. God bless you for your kindness. I bid you all an affectionate farewell. Go at once to Butler.’ That evening Gen. Butler’s leg was dressed in the hospital just as poor Farley breathed his last. Henceforth,” says Gen. Maury, “we shall not need to go to Sir Phillip Sidney for an example of noble self-sacrifice.”
Gen. Butler’s Division Staff consisted of Major T. G. Barker, Assistant Adjutant General, James N. Lipscamb, Captain and Assistant Adjutant General; O. N. Butler, Lieutenant and Aide-de-camp; John S. Preston, Major and Assistant Inspector General; B. W. Taylor, Chief Surgeon; James M. Mason, Captain and Ordinance Officer; George Melton, Major and Assistant Commissary General, Major Emmet Seibels was acting Aide-de-camp. The Couriers were Jim Nix, who rode a roan horse, Alex Taylor was mounted on a beautiful little sorrel, Billy Garvin was on a dark-brown, ball-faced, white-legged, glass-eyed horse, and a little fellow named Jackson, who was known among the Couriers as “Stonewall,” rode a sorrel horse. I was mounted on a bay. Starling Turner was Wagon Master and Billy Burrell was caterer. Jesse Hart was Headquarter Commissary and John Wyche drove the Headquarter Ambulance, and an old fellow named Johnson drove the Medicine Ambulance. This old fellow was subject to cramp colic as we will see later on. The day before the battle of Burgess’ Mill, John Wyche, Jesse Hart, Hugh Scott, the famous Scout, and myself messed together and had decided to celebrate my 18th birthday, Thursday, Oct. 27, 1864, in royal Confederate style. “Our birthdays, what are they but warnings that sound at intervals from off the rockbound coast of time.” Unfortunately for us, as we thought then, Hugh Scott was ordered to go behind Grant’s army. We knew from that order that trouble was near, but did not expect it so soon. For the birthday celebration we procured a canteen full of apple jack and John, my faithful servant, had gathered together a chicken, a peck of sweet potatoes and some collards. Jesse Hart, Wyche and myself sat up around the campfire talking about the good things we would have the next day, and after passing several resolutions that we would not open the canteen until next morning, we reluctantly retired for the night in the Headquarter Ambulance. Hart weighed 200 pounds, Wyche 190 pounds and I 120 pounds. I was wedged in between them; but for thinking of the good things that we thought were in store for us, we could not sleep, and I ventured to say that I could not see how just one drink would hurt us. So we were soon again around the fire drinking from the “old canteen,” and when we returned to the Ambulance I soon discovered that there was no room in the Ambulance for me and the apple jack too, as I began to feel very sick and everything seemed to be turning round. I put my head over the hindgate of the Ambulance in order to pour out the “vials of wrath” of the apple jack. I was soon relieved, however, but must say, to my disgust, that I raised such a racket that Gen. Butler was awakened, and said in a loud voice to Wyche: “What in the d___l is the matter out there?” and he quickly answered: “Nothing, General, only old man Johnson has got the cramp colic, but the medicine we recommended will soon fix him.” It is useless to say that we ate nothing until Friday, the 28th [of October, 1864] As above stated the fight began at break of day on the 27th. Hancock’s men pressed us very hard, and a desperate fight took place right in our camp. We slowly fell back to our regular line of battle on the Boydton plank road, where we fought stubbornly until black dark, as described above.
After the battle on Friday morning I asked where John, my servant, was, and Wyche said: “I never saw a nigger run so since I was born. He passed the wagon train with a double barrel shot gun, with nearly all of his clothing torn off, and said he would kill every d___d Yankee that was fool enough to catch up with him—that he was getting mad.” About three days after the fight John got back with his face badly scratched up and no hat and begged me to let him go home, where he remained. He was an affectionate negro. When my brother [Whitfield Butler Brooks] was killed at Travillian [sic, Trevilian] Station, on the 12th of June, 1864, John wept like a child. Well do I remember how my brother and myself, when little boys, would beg the overseer not to whip him for running away. Every time the cotton got in the grass, John was just as sure to run away as a wild horse is to run when the trace breaks. John’s first trip to Virginia was with my father in 1862, and when he returned, so full of romance was he that all the negroes from the surrounding plantations would stretch their eyes and marvel at the wonderful tales as told by him. After the war, I remember in October, 1865, a Yankee soldier had straggled away from the garrison at Edgefield, C. H., and asked me for dinner, which I gave him and soon discovered that he was in liquor. He, wishing to return my kindness, said he would go into the field and straighten out the niggers. He went alone. The first order he gave John jumped on him and beat him unmercifully, and told him that if he ever caught him on that place again he would certainly kill him. The soldier evidently thought he was in earnest for he never returned. I asked John why he beat him so, and he said: “Well, Marse Nuly, I just wanted to show these niggers how I used to do them d___d Yankees up in Verginny.” If John were here to-night how natural it would be for him to ask if he was the only nigger who ran at Burgess’ Mill. Let history answer2:
IN THE FIELD, VA., Oct. 30, 1864.
Capt. Israel R. Sealy, Assistant Adjutant General, Department of Virginia and North Carolina.—Army of the James.—SIR: We, the undersigned officers of the 22nd Regiment, U. S. Colored Troops, most respectfully and urgently solicit an order convening a court of Inquiry to investigate the action and conduct of Col. J. B. Kiddoo, while commanding the regiment during the 27th inst., and leading it into action on the evening of the same day. Fully imbued with the responsibility resting on us while taking our men into action, we hold it to be due the honor and name of the regiment to which it is our pride to belong, as also a duty owing to ourselves as men and officers and to the men under our charge that the veil be lifted which enshrouds our disgraceful rout on the 27th instant.
Signed by six Captains and one Lieutenant of this Colored Regiment.
It seems from their own report that the “Rebel Yell” (as usual) had a moving effect on this occasion.
Comrades, did you ever fight niggers in the war? Well, if so, did you notice that your guns would shoot faster and straighter than ever before? Did you ever see a comrade after he had surrendered to negro soldiers, and, if so, where? And did you ever take a negro soldier prisoner, and, if so, what did you do with him? I never saw one captured nor one after he was captured!
Gen. Sherman says “War is Hell,” and we found race prejudice to be strong there.
A gallant private soldier, who had won laurels on other fields, just one month after this memorable bloody day, was captured and held as a prisoner of war and kept in the pens where the private soldiers belonged to the 3rd Virginia Cavalry, although at one time he was a Colonel and at another a Brigadier General in the C. S. A., and is now engaged in dispensing justice through a judicial quill to our friends, the enemy, in New York.
Listen while I read letters from Gen. C[admus]. M. Wilcox, C. S. A., to Gen. Grant, U. S. A., and from Gen. Meade to Gen. Wilcox in reply about this distinguished man:
HEADQUARTERS, WILCOX’S DIVISION,
November 29th, 1864.
Lieut.-Gen. U. S. Grant, Commanding Armies of the United States. SIR: I take the liberty of writing to you with reference to an incident that occurred between the picket lines of the two armies on Sunday, the 27th inst., about 2 p. m., and after my explanation of the affair I trust the request may be granted, believing that my statement will be confirmed by the reports of the officers and men of our forces. The affair that I refer to is the capture of Private Roger A. Pryor, 3rd Virginia Cavalry, on the 27th inst., by the pickets of the troops under your command and under the following circumstances, viz: At the time mentioned the soldier rode up to our picket line, and looked for a while at the opposite line through his glass, then dismounted from his horse, and taking from his pocket a newspaper, waved it toward a group of Federal officers. One of these responded to this with a paper in a similar manner, and the two mutually approached for the exchange of papers. Private Pryor asked the pickets on our side not to fire. Upon meeting each other they shook hands and exchanged papers. The Federal officer then seized Pryor by the arm and led him off to the rear. Upon reaching the line in the rear a crowd gathered around them and seemed to regard him as a prisoner, and since then he has not been seen. I feel much interest in the case of this young soldier, but cannot ask of our commander of our forces to intercede for him, for it is against his positive orders to exchange papers with the Federals, and doubtless like orders from yourself. It is, however, well known, that papers are exchanged, and, as above indicated, when not actually engaged in deadly strife, men from both armies are anxious and willing, and very naturally so, to hold communication and exchange papers. This soldier is, I believe, thoroughly imbued with a sentiment of honor, and could not have approached your lines with any sinister purpose, and though at this time a private in the ranks from choice, has been both a Colonel and a Brigadier General in our army, and filled both grades with credit to himself. Should my statement be corroborated by that of your officers I believe this man’s case will be favorably regarded by you, and that he will soon be returned to our lines, to his friends and family. I am with high respect, very truly, & c.,
C. M. WILCOX,
Major General, C. S. A.
The next day Gen. Wilcox received this answer:
HEADQUARTERS OF THE POTOMAC,
Nov. 30, 1864.
Major Gen. C. M. Wilcox, C. S. Army—Your letter of the 28th inst. has been referred to me by Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant, with directions to reply to it. I regret extremely that it is not in my power to accede to your request by returning to your lines Private R. A. Pryor, Third Virginia Cavalry. The same considerations which prevented you from applying to your Commanding General preclude me from sanctioning this irregular intercourse between the opposing pickets, which is in direct violation of my orders, and for violating which and thus permitting himself to be captured in a similar manner. I recently dismissed Captain Burrage of a Massachusetts regiment. Private Pryor will have to suffer the consequence of his imprudence. He will be held as a prisoner of war, and with all consideration due to his position.
I remain, General, with great respect, &c.
GEO. G. MEADE,
Major General Commanding.
On the 28th of October, 1864, Gen. Hancock sent over to the Confederates a flag of truce to be allowed to bury his dead. The men on both sides had become accustomed to see each other suffer and die, and the men in blue who were detailed to perform these last said rites were callous and easily contented themselves with shallow graves for their dead comrades, and after the first rain that fell on these narrow holes in the earth you could see an arm showing here or a foot in the open air there, &c.
Now the grave diggers they had—“Gone, and there was not a gleam of them,
Gone, and we could only dream of them
Gone into the night of the nevermore,”
so far as their dead were concerned.
November nights in Virginia are chilly, and our men being thinly clad, and shoes and blankets were not to be had, they were forced from necessity to see that there could be no harm in uncovering these above-mentioned graves and get the blankets, shoes, hats and pants that could not be of further service only to keep those of us from suffering who were fortunate enough to get them. I take the following from Colonel A[lexander]. C. Haskell’s address, delivered in Spartanburg, S. C., May 10th, 1897. In speaking of Confederate soldiers take them as depicted by the enemy in “Recollections of a Private Soldier of the Army of the Potomac,” as his line lay before our works at Petersburg in the summer of 1864 awaiting the order for the attack:
“Every man in the Second Army Corps knew,” says he, “that not many miles away that the columns of the Army of Virginia were marching furiously to save Petersburg and Richmond and the Confederacy. We could almost see those veteran troops—lean, squalid and hungry and battle torn, with set jaws and anxious looking eyes—striding rapidly through the dust, pouring over bridges, crowding through streets of villages and ever hurrying to face us, and we knew that once they got behind the works in our front we could not drive them out.”
In Gen. Butler’s book is another testimonial to the physical suffering of the “men in gray.” In discussing the treatment of prisoners under the non-exchange policy enforced by the Federal authorities he writes:
“I feel bound to say that from careful examination of the subject I do not believe that either the people or the higher authorities of the Confederacy were in so great a degree responsible, as they have been accused. In the matter of starvation it is incontestable that a soldier of our army would have quite starved on the rations which in the latter days of the war were served out to the Confederate soldier before Petersburg. I examined the haversacks of prisoners and found therein as their rations of three days scarcely more than a pint of kernels of corn, none of which were broken, but only parched to blackness by the fire, and a piece of meat, most frequently raw bacon some three inches long by an inch and a half wide, and less than half an inch thick. Now no Northern soldier could have lived three days upon that, and the lank, emaciated condition of the prisoner fully testified to the meagreness of his means of subsistence.”
With regard to clothing, he goes on to say:
“It was simply impossible for the Confederates at that time and for many months preceding to have sufficient clothing upon the bodies of their soldiers, and many passed the winter barefoot.”
‘These were men
Whom power could not corrupt,
Whom death could not terrify,
Whom defeat could not dishonor;
And let their virtues plead
For just judgment
Of the cause in which they perished.’
Maj. [James F.] Hart makes a statement which I hereto attach, with many thanks to this gallant old hero.
YORKVILLE, S. C., Sept. 2, 1897.
My Dear Mr. Brooks: I would like of all things to be present at the reading of your paper to-morrow night, on the battle of Burgess’ Mill. My interest is something more than of a participant, for I left a leg there on that early morning fight. I have no doubt your paper will be filed as a part of the history of the battle, and as I participated in a corner of it away from general observation, I give you my story.
My Battery was on plank road near Wilson’s house, when firing was heard at daylight that morning [October 27, 1864] in the direction of Armstrong’s Mill. “Boots and saddles” sounded at once, and Battery was put in motion for the firing. Met a courier from Hampton saying, “Bring your guns to Armstrong’s Mill at once, as the enemy attacked in heavy force.” (illegible) the Quaker road, where (illegible) had crossed it at school house, (near the saw mill,) some Cavalry came in stampeded, from the direction of Stoney Creek, saying that the enemy had broken our lines, and a heavy force of Cavalry was moving up that road, and would soon be there, closing Hampton’s outlet from Armstrong’s and capture his trains packed at the school house. I took two guns and went at a gallop to Gravelly Run Bridge and swamp, three-fourths of a mile (or perhaps half a mile) south on Quaker road, and sent remaining guns to Hampton with message of what I had done. Maj. T. E. Barker was at the Cross Roads, and I asked him to send everything he could find as supports. Capt. M. J. Hough, of the 6th [South Cavalry] Cavalry, brought his company, and some dismounted Cavalry also were brought in, and with these I protected my planks; the guns held the bridge until Hampton had retired from Hatcher’s Run and the trains had got away.
I think Gregg’s Cavalry Division must have been held here from two to three hours, for I moved out before sunrise and it was 12 o’clock before he got to the Cross Roads at Dabney’s Mill. Young’s Bridgade came in behind my guns and enabled me to get away. See Gen. Gregg’s report, War Records, Vol. 42, part 1; also Col. C. H. Smith, commanding Gregg’s 1st Brigade, same volume. They both lie like dogs when they say they charged and carried the position, and that it was held by a “large force.” I don’t think I had over 125 men, all told, during the fight, and with Young’s help, the guns were retired when the end was accomplished for which I carried them there. I was shot just before they were withdrawn.
The following letters shows that we had heroes to die at home as well as on the battlefield:
CAMDEN, S. C., Aug. 16th, 1897.
Capt. U[lysses]. R. Brooks, Columbia, S. C.—My Dear Sir: Your telegram received yesterday, and I write as early as practicable. The tragedy to which you refer, as reported to me and as given in an account of the affair published by the commandant of the Provost Guard, occurred under the following circumstances: “In February, 1865, while Sherman’s army was passing through South Carolina, Gen. Francis P. Blair, commanding the 17th Army Corps, caused twelve citizens of Chesterfield County to be arrested, and required them to cast lots, to determine which one of the number should be shot in retaliation for a Federal trooper who had been found dead in the woods. It fell to the lot of James Miller to die. His companions stated subsequently that upon their expressing regret that he should have to die, he said it was hard, but that it was doubtless best that it had fallen to his lot, for he was prepared to die, and he feared that not another of the party was. He protested to Gen. Blair that he was an old man with a large and dependent family, and that while in sympathy heart and soul with his country, he had not borne arms, except when called into service under the conscript law as a member of the reserves. Blair could not be moved. Mr. Miller then asked to see his wife and children; this privilege was granted him and his family, living some miles distant, were sent for. His last interview with them was most touching, but without demonstration; he asking that they control their grief. He gave directions as to the management of his affairs and the conduct of his children, took leave of his family, and was led out of sight, but not of hearing, and shot by the Provost Guard. Before being put to death, he told the officer in charge he had some requests to make, to-wit:
1st. He did not want them to tie him, for he was not going to run.
2nd. He did not want them to blindfold him, for he wanted to look at those who killed him.
3rd. He did not want them to shoot him in the face, for in all his life he had never done anything to be ashamed of. (Sublimely heroic, was it not?) His requests were granted. And so died James Miller, who is buried at Five Forks Church in Chesterfield County, half way between Lancaster C. H. to Chesterfield C. H.; and there is in all South Carolina no holier spot than in the country churchyard where that brave man is buried. It was afterwards ascertained that the Federal trooper was killed by a negro belonging to Mr. Wm. Sowell, of Chesterfield County. Mr. Sowell had concealed his horses and mules in Lynches’ Creek Swamp, and left the negro to feed and water them; they were discovered by the trooper, who required the negro to take such of the animals as he wanted and go with him. It had been raining for some days, but the sun was shining, and the trooper complaining of being tired and sleepy, said to the negro that he would lie down and take a nap while he (the negro) looked out for him. While the fellow was sleeping, the negro killed him with a lightwood knot, and taking his master’s stock and the trooper’s horse returned to his place in the swamp, and saved all of them. This is the story as told to me by the people in the immediate community. Wish he had more James Miller’s! Hurriedly, I am
Most truly yours,
W. D. TRANTHAM.
In August, 1864, our Infantry was in the trenches at Petersburg, and with so much practice the men on both sides had become excellent marksmen with artillery as well as with small arms. So expert were our friends, the enemy, with big guns that they could throw a shell with almost as much accuracy as an expert pitcher in a base ball team, and when mortar shells were thrown up in the air they would frequently fall behind our breastworks and burst, killing three or four men—the fuse was arranged so that it was seldom the shell did not explode the very second it touched the ground. One day one of these life-destroyers fell behind the breastworks, right between the feet of a gallant young soldier, 17 years old, and instead of running to save himself and letting his comrades die, as quick as thought he pitched it over the breastworks, and it exploded before it touched the ground. The brave boy who performed this heroic deed belonged to the 1st S[outh]. C[arolina]. V[olunteers]., Jenkin’s [Bratton’s] Brigade, which regiment was commanded by the YOUNGEST colonel in either army, and who was only 19 years of age. How touching the scene was when the boy-colonel complimented the boy shell-pitcher before the whole regiment for this deed. This was witnessed by First Lieutenant J. R. Best and Lieutenant J. R. Bryan, of Co. E, 1st S. C. V. This gallant young boy colonel, James Hagood, who survived the war and was killed in a railroad accident just after the surrender and the gallant young shell-pitcher is none other than Col. F. M. Mixon, of our city. A report of this incident was made to Gen. Lee, and so impressed was he that this is what he wrote about the boy-colonel after the railroad accident had occurred:
It gives me much pleasure to state that Col. J. R. Hagood, during the whole time of his connection with the army of Northern Virginia, was conspicuous for gallantry, efficiency and good conduct. By his merit, constantly exhibited, he rose from a private in his regiment to its command, and showed by his actions that he was worthy of the position.
(Signed) R. E. LEE.
Lexington, Va., March 25, 1868.
“But their memories o’er shall remain for us,
And their names, bright names, without stain for us,
The glory they won shall not wain for us,
In legend and lay
Our heroes in Grey
Shall forever live over again for us”
Columbia, S. C., Sept. 3rd, 1897.4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: In June 1864, Sheridan had been roughly handled at the Battle of Trevilian Station on June 11-12, 1864 and James Wilson and August V. Kautz’s cavalry divisions had been nearly surrounded and captured at First Ream’s Station on June 29, 1864 during the Wilson-Kautz Raid. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Brooks was mistaken here. The 22nd USCT was at the Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road on October 27, 1864, way over on the Confederate left near Richmond, NOT at Burgess’ Mill southwest of Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Ulysses R. Brooks went to war with his brother Whitfield Butler Brooks, joining the 6th South Carolina Cavalry late in 1862. He went on to write Butler and His Cavalry in the War of Secession, 1861-1865. ↩
- “War History.” Anderson (SC) Intelligencer. September 15, 1897, p. 1 col. 3-9 ↩
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