SHS Papers: Volume 9: History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade at Petersburg, Part 2 by James H. Lane

   

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in Petersburg Campaign

History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade [at Petersburg, Part 2].1

By Gen. JAMES H. LANE.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: This series of articles written by James H. Lane about his brigade spans the entire war.  The articles you’ll read here focus, naturally enough, on the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox only.  This is the second of five articles on Petersburg.]

CAMPAIGN OF 1864-ANECDOTES ABOUT CAPTAIN G[OLD]. G. HOLLAND, TWENTY-EIGHTH NORTH CAROLINA TROOPS.

Captain Gold G. Holland, of North Carolina, though a postmaster, a magistrate and over the conscript age, would avail himself of none of these excuses to keep out of the army, but voluntarily entered the Twenty-eighth North Carolina regiment as a private, and rendered himself so conspicuous by his gallantry that he soon won the respect and admiration of the whole brigade, though he knew scarcely anything about tactics. As an officer, he preferred to fare like his men, and always marched with his knapsack on his shoulders, and sometimes he would carry a frying-pan and a camp-stool with him. He was blessed with good health, and though he was in most of the battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, he never was wounded. During the summer of 1864, he was thrown in command of his regiment, and when it was advancing under fire, on the north side of the James, he rushed in front of it, and extending both hands-sword in right and frying-pan in left-exclaimed, “I command the Twenty-eighth North Carolina regiment-men, follow me.” The regiment did follow him and did noble work that day.

Not long afterwards, he took a very active part in that glorious charge made by Cooke’s, M[a]cRae’s and Lane’s brigades, all North Carolina troops, on Hancock’s fortified position at Reams’s Station. He was among the first of his brigade to mount the enemy’s works, and finding them filled with troops, he yelled out, “Yankees, if you know what is best for you, you had better make a blue streak towards sunset.” The Captain had the satisfaction of seeing a long streak of blue coats pass over the works towards sunset as prisoners of war. The old patriot pushed on, and was soon after seen in an ambulance driving back a pair of spirited horses, in “two-twenty style,” which he had captured under fire of the enemy’s second line of battle.

BRILLIANT DASH OF THE SHARPSHOOTERS ON THE ENEMY’S SKIRMISH LINE.

Soon after my return to the army, and while we were camped on the outskirts of Petersburg, near “Battery 45,” Major [Thomas J.] Wooten [of the 18th North Carolina] commanding our sharpshooters, asked permission to attack, at night, the enemy’s skirmish line at a dwelling owned by Mr. Davis, immediately in our front [on August 31, 1864]. Permission was granted, and the attack was made without any loss whatever on our side, while the Major emptied the enemy’s rifle-pits of so large a number of prisoners, he and his command were complimented in a special written communication from Army or Corps Headquarters, I have now forgotten which. The enemy subsequently burnt the residence at which the attack was made.2

This was the beginning of a series of dashes made by Major Wooten and his picked men, on the enemy’s skirmish line during the following winter, known to us as Wooten’s seine-haulings, in all of which he was very successful, and never lost a man.

BATTLE OF JONES’S FARM.

On the morning of the 30th of September, troops from the right of the line were ordered by General Lee to the north side of the James to support the forces then and there engaged, and the new works near the Pegram House were necessarily left to be defended by a weak skirmish line of dismounted cavalry. After crossing the Appomattox and marching beyond Ettricks, we were ordered back, as our right was threatened.

That afternoon my brigade was formed in line of battle to the right of the road leading to the Jones House, and another of Wilcox’s brigades was formed on the left. The enemy were driving our cavalry skirmishers back so rapidly, that Major Wooten, to cover the formation of my line, was compelled to deploy his sharpshooters at a double quick and push rapidly forward. This he did so quickly, so handsomely, and with the capture of so many prisoners, that it elicited the outspoken admiration of a large group of general officers who witnessed the gallant dash. One of them remarked that it was the handsomest thing of the kind he had seen during the war.

My line was formed just beyond a stream of water, and the ground in front, particularly on the right, was rising, and served, somewhat, to shelter my men. I put the Thirty-third [North Carolina] regiment on the right, as I feared a flank movement in that direction, and I had unbounded confidence in the bravery, coolness, and judgment of its Colonel, R[obert]. V. Cowan. I made known my fears to Cowan and instructed him, should such a movement be attempted, to manoeuvre his regiment at once to meet it and not to await orders from me. Not long after leaving him, and a short time before the general advance, there was heard a volley and a shout on the right. A large body of the enemy had formed perpendicular to Wooten’s line of skirmishers, under the impression, I suppose, that it was my line of battle, and were advancing rapidly. But Cowan was on the alert, his men were brought to attention, and when the Yankee line was nearly opposite his colors, he moved his command to the top of the hill, and with a well directed, converging, flank fire, broke the whole line and sent them back in great disorder into the hands of our cavalry, which had been posted still further to the right.

We encountered the main body of the enemy at the Jones House, and after a short but obstinate resistance, drove them back, in the greatest confusion, to the Pegram House. I never saw a richer battle field, as oil-cloths, blankets, knapsacks and the like, were scattered in every direction by the retreating foe; some of whom in their flight actually cut their knapsacks from their shoulders, as evidenced by the appearance of the straps.

In passing through the garden I had occasion to order forward a man who had stopped to plunder, when a real soldier arose from one of the walks to my left and said that he was neither a plunderer nor skulker, but was there with his brother who had just been wounded. I went to him, and finding that his brother had been shot through the head, was unconscious and was dying, I replied, you know the orders-the ambulance corps is detailed to take care of all such cases-but as I know what it is to lose a brother under similar circumstances I cannot order you forward. I passed on, and when about to enter the woods beyond the garden, this brave fellow overtook me and remarked, “Here I am, General, I have thought over what you said and I am going to the front.” He did go quickly forward, and I soon lost sight of him, as my presence was required on the right, where my flank was again threatened. I am sorry I cannot give the name of this hero-I only know now that he belonged to the gallant old 7th.

When we had closed with the enemy at the Jones House, McRae’s North Carolina brigade, which had been formed in our rear as a support, rushed forward to participate in the fight. Some of my own command requested that they should be kept back, as they were not needed, but this was not done, and the two brigades fought together for the rest of the day. We captured a large number of prisoners in this engagement.

My Aid, Lieutenant Everard B. Meade, and my Brigade-Inspector, Captain E. T. Nicholson, two accomplished officers and gentlemen, displayed great gallantry on this occasion, and were of very great assistance to me, particularly as my physical condition was such as to prevent my moving about rapidly.

About dark we fell back to the edge of the woods-the Jones House side-where we slept on our arms.3

ACTION AT PEGRAM HOUSE.

Next morning we advanced through the woods again and formed line of battle in full view of the enemy at the Pegram House. I was informed that our attack here on the 1st October was intended as a feint, and that the main attack would be made on the Squirrel Level road under General Heth. Soon after our line was formed Brander’s artillery took position on our right and a little to our front, where it could enfilade the works then occupied by the enemy. Brander’s fire was both destructive and demoralizing. As the enemy were rushing back in great disorder, the ever vigilant and courageous Wooten dashed among them with his brave sharpshooters, and brought back twice as many prisoners as he had men. Brander’s artillerists seeing these prisoners, and thinking it was an advance of the enemy, turned their guns upon them and fired several times before they discovered their mistake. Some of the prisoners were wounded, and I think a few were killed; but all of our sharpshooters escaped unhurt. Major-General [Cadmus M.] Wilcox was very near being killed by this fire.

Our main line of battle now advanced and took possession of the works where we were subjected to a very annoying fire from the fort to our left and front. Exposed to the rain we held these works until dark, and then returned to the line of works near the Jones House.4

The whole brigade behaved nobly in these two engagements, and again proved themselves worthy of the high esteem of our Commanding General.

WINTER QUARTERS.

Not long after the fight at the Pegram House, we went into winter quarters. Our huts were built on each side of the road leading to the Jones House-our right resting near the residence of a widow lady named Banks; and our left extending a little beyond a dam thrown across the stream in front of our works.

List of Casualties in Lane’s Brigade from May 5, 1864, to October 1, 1864.

List of Casualties in Lane's Brigade from May 5, 1864, to October 1, 1864.

REMARKS.-Down to Storr’s farm this list was made from official reports. The remainder from written regimental and company lists of killed, wounded, &c., found in the Adjutant-General’s desk after the war.

***

Lane’s North Carolina Brigade History, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 9:

Source:

  1. Lane, James H. “History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 9, pp. 353-357
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: I am 99.9% sure this is the August 31, 1864 Skirmish near the Davis House, one of the very few actions and skirmishes I failed to cover during my 150th anniversary posts. As Lane states in the next paragraph, Major Wooten was becoming famous as a practioner of “seine-hauling,” or quietly and quickly penetrating the enemy picket line, sweeping behind it, and gobbling up large sections before the Union forces could react.  For an example of this, see my post on a December 31, 1864 picket line action.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: This section refers to day 1 of the Battle of Peebles’ farm, fought on September 30, 1864, and often referred to as the Battle of Jones’s Farm in Confederate accounts.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: This section refers to day 2 of the Battle of Peebles’ farm, fought on October 1, 1864, and is often referred to by other names in Confederate accounts.

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