SHS Papers: Volume 14: Campaign of 1864 and 1865 by Charles W. Field

   

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in Petersburg Campaign

Campaign of 1864 and 1865.1

NARRATIVE OF MAJOR-GENERAL C[HARLES]. W. FIELD,

[It is due to the gallant author of the following paper to say that it was not written for publication, but for the private use of General E[dward]. P[orter]. Alexander, who was at that time — several years after the war — contemplating a history of Longstreet’s corps. The narrative is, however, so interesting and valuable that we take the liberty of publishing it as material for the future historian.]2

SOPO Editor’s Note: The portion of this narrative from the introduction to page 549 has been removed because it does not pertain to the Siege of Petersburg.

I think it was on the 16th of June [1864], late in the evening, that my division, after crossing James river, found itself near Walthall Station on the Richmond and Petersburg railroad. During the day Butler’s troops had been engaged in tearing up the railroad, and had also taken possession of a line of works fronting Bermuda Hundreds, which Beauregard had been compelled to vacate in order to go to the defence of Petersburg. As the enemy only held these works by a strong picket line, Pickett’s and my division next day (the 17th) charged and drove them out, and Pickett continued to occupy this line during the rest of the campaign, I going on to Petersburg on the 18th.3 I took position in the trenches at Petersburg, my left resting at the battery afterwards blown up and known as the ” Mine.” I remained in these trenches without relief from this time till two days before the explosion, when I was was [sic] withdrawn and sent to the Richmond side of the James to resist an advance there. On the left of my line at Petersburg the picket firing was continuous; my losses being daily from five to fifty. I should have stated that once during this time I left the trenches for the purpose of assisting in an attack upon the enemy’s right. This was, I think, about the middle of July, and was as follows: General Lee, believing that the enemy had grown careless and was weak on his right (resting on the Appomattox), determined to assault him there. The plan was written out in detail; was as follows: Hoke’s division, which occupied our trenches at that point (our extreme left), was (after a severe artillery fire of half hour’s duration had driven the enemy under shelter and demoralized him) to charge suddenly, take the enemy’s first line and sweep up it to the right. After Hoke had gotten entire possession of the first line of the enemy and had swept to the right, I, who was to have been ready in rear of his old lint, was to move up over the same ground that he had passed over, and Hoke having unmasked me I was to carry the enemy’s second if he should have one, and if not, I was to attack wherever and whatever I found best. Other divisions were to take up the attack at stated periods, as it swept down to our right.

Although it was not expected that I would move from my position, in reserve, till Hoke had not only vacated his line, but had carried the enemy’s, I was so anxious to do more than my duty, that as soon as I saw the first signs of stir in Hoke’s lines, I rushed forward with my leading brigade (Benning’s Georgia, commanded by Du Bose), and took shelter in Hoke’s breastworks with his troops. Hoke’s assault was a failure; about two-thirds of his left brigade left their trenches and rushed across the space separating them from the Yankees — about three hundred yards — but none of them reached the works, except as prisoners. The rest of that brigade and division, which were to have charged, never left their own works, and of course I had nothing to do until they had gotten out of my way and done the duty assigned them. Instead of getting credit for doing much more than I was ordered to do, ignorant persons (and very few knew what the orders were) took it for granted, I suppose, that it was I who was ordered to make the assault, and that the failure was mine, whereas it was because I was active and exceeded my instructions that people supposed that it was I and not Hoke who was ordered to carry the place. So much for being too enterprising and ambitious. 4

The next day I returned to my original place in the trenches, and in about a week afterwards left for the north side of the James to resist a threatened attack there. I found upon the north side of the James, permanently stationed there, an artillery force and many guns at Chaffin’s Bluff, the Richmond City battalion, and a Tennessee brigade (Johnston’s), all under the nominal command of Lieutenant-General [Richard S.] Ewell. I say nominal, because, though General Ewell commanded the Department of Richmond, which embraced those troops, and everything which might be located there, in fact I commanded, and made disposition to suit myself, without consultations with him, and received no orders from him. When I first went over to the north side, Lieutenant-General [Richard H.] Anderson, with Kershaw’s and Heth’s divisions, were there, but, the enemy withdrawing the most of his force to the south side during the night, on the following day Lieutenant-General Anderson and the two divisions last mentioned did the same, leaving my division, and the permanent force I have before mentioned, on the north side to watch the enemy5. At this time General Anderson, with Kershaw’s division, marched to join Early in the Valley. I believe it was proposed for me to follow in a few days, but at daylight on the 14th of August the enemy, having thrown a heavy force to the north side during the previous night, attacked my lines. He made three assaults at different times during the day, which were handsomely repulsed, with loss to him; and, finding that he could not succeed by direct assault, he determined to effect his purpose by turning my left flank.

The great superiority of his troops in numbers gave him bright prospects of doing this. Up to this time my lines extended from Chaffin’s Bluff on the right to New Market Heights on the left, my extreme left resting at this latter place. Covering so great a line, it was of course, with the comparatively few troops at my disposal, weak everywhere, the men being in extended single rank, and in many places there being none at all. I omitted to include a small brigade of cavalry, under Brigadier General Gary, as a part of the permanent force on the north side, and which force rendered me very important service on this occasion.

About a mile to the left of New Market Heights, where the left of my infantry rested, the New Market and Darbytown roads united at Fussell’s mill. The line of works behind which I was, continued to to [sic] this point, but was, as I said before, not manned. The enemy rightly judged that by getting possession of these abandoned, or rather unoccupied, works at this point, he could, with his large force, probably sweep us before him into the lines surrounding Richmond, as the line upon which we then were was perpendicular to this last line, and the enemy arriving on our left flank would roll us up before we could form line of battle facing him, because our right was at Chaffin’s, several miles distant. Accordingly, under cover of a forest, the enemy dashed at this point, Fussell’s mill, but Gary quickly dismounting two of his three regiments threw them behind the works and received the Yankees with a galling fire. Fortunately, I was at the moment at my extreme left, and learning the enemy’s intention, had a few minutes before started with Anderson’s Georgia brigade and two pieces of artillery at a double-quick to the assailed point. Reaching near the point of attack a few minutes after it began, a part of Anderson’s brigade and the two guns opened upon the enemy’s left flank, whilst Gary poured in a galling fire in front ; the enemy wavered a few minutes, and then gave way in confusion, and fell back out of range for the day. The conduct of Gary on this occasion was very judicious and gallant. Only a portion of the enemy had crossed from Petersburg during the previous night, but all this day (August the 14th), from the elevation at New Market Heights, a stream of reinforcements could be seen coming over.6 Telegraphing at once to General Lee, who was at Petersburg, the condition of things, he sent to me also large reinforcements which were reaching me at intervals during the 15th [of August]. During this day the enemy made no attack, but were hard at work fortifying in my front. By morning of the 16th [of August] all my reinforcements had arrived and were in position, my line extending considerably to the left of Fussell’s mill in the direction of the Charles City road.

There was now under my command about fifteen thousand troops, consisting of the permanent troops I have previously named, my own division, now immediately commanded by Brigadier-General Gregg, and a brigade or two each, I think, from Heth’s, Wilcox’s, Mahone’s, and Pickett’s divisions. I regret that I cannot recall just now precisely whose brigades they were, but one I know was Harris’s Mississippi brigade, one was Girard[e]y’s Georgia, one was Virginia, two were North Carolina, one commanded by General Conner, one Wright’s, and the other I do not recollect. I should add that W. H. F. Lee’s division of cavalry had also reported to me, and covered my left on the Charles City road[.]7 I think it was about 10 or 11 o’clock A. M. of the 16th that the enemy made an assault in heavy masses on a part of my line about six hund[r]ed yards to the left of Fussell’s mill. He had hit upon the most unfavorable point in our line of defence, for the ground was irregular, and what was of much more consequence, there was a dense forest of oak and pines in this immediate front, which we had only had time to cut away for a few yards (about fifty) in front of our works, thus offering a secure shelter to, and screening the enemy from our men till he got within fifty yards of our works. But he was met with a heavy and well-directed fire as soon as he showed himself through the bushes, and quickly withdrew. It was about a half hour after this, that whilst sitting on the ground with my staff and couriers, about one hundred yards in rear of the centre of the assault, with our horses hitched to some bushes close by, that I heard a scattering fire and some cheering immediately in my front. I knew at once that the enemy was assaulting again, but as he had just been handsomely repulsed at that very point, I felt so sure that the result would be the same now that I did not even rise up from the ground. Major Willis F. Jones, my Adjutant-General, who was standing up near me and could see all that was going on so near us, suddenly said, very excitedly, ” General, they are breaking “; thinking he referred to the Yankees, I replied, “Well, I knew they would;” but he immediately exclaimed, “but, General, it’s our men,” and, jumping to my feet, I saw at a glance the most appalling, disheartening sight of my life. The brigade just before me — Girard[e]y’s Georgia — had, from some entirely inexplicable cause, given way without firing a shot hardly, and the brigade on its left, a North Carolina one [Lane’s, commanded by Col. Barbour], seeing this, immediately did the same, and, at the moment of my looking, both brigades were coming back in disordered squads, and the Yankees were jumping over the works they had just vacated in close pursuit, and cheering like all the world. Jumping on my horse in a moment, I dashed up the line to reach the left two brigades, which were now cut off, and which I wished to attack in flank, whilst with the rest of my disposable troops I met him in front. Though I rode parallel to, and not over fifty yards in front of the enemy for some distance, the motion of my horse, and the great excitement of the enemy, made him miss me, though numerous shots were fired at me. But I could not reach the brigade on my left — the enemy were between us — had broken the army in two, and were pouring through the gap left by the two brigades which had broken.

These two brigades for a time at least seemed to dissolve, but they were afterwards rallied, and aided in restoring things, the North Carolina one particularly doing good service.

At this time not only the day but Richmond seemed to be gone. There were three roads (the New Market, Darbytown and Charles City) radiating from Fussell’s mill and leading to Richmond. The enemy had possession of these roads, was fronting two of them in heavy masses, and with my left entirely cut off, I had not at hand a single regiment to oppose him. I felt that nothing but a miracle could save us. My own gallant division had never yet failed when called upon, and sending an order to General Gregg commanding it to bring me every available man he had, to leave only a skirmish line to hold his works, and to come quickly, in a few minutes this division had formed a line of battle  (under cover of the forest) in the enemy’s path; we advanced against the enemy, and after a hard and well contested battle drove him back a half mile to our works, which he had captured, over and beyond them, retook our works and continued to hold them forever afterwards. This glorious and scarcely to be hoped for result was accomplished by Gregg, commanding my division, attacking in front aided by such portions of the two broken brigades as could be rallied (a majority of the North Carolina fighting well, its Colonel commanding [Barbour] being badly wounded) and that portion of the army which had been cut off — Colonel Conner, afterwards General Conner, being the senior, and in command of it, attacking at the same time in flank. This ended the fighting for that day.8

Our losses, as might be inferred from such open, hard fighting, were heavy — the enemy’s, though, much more so. Among the casualties in my division which now, at this distance of time, recur to me were: Colonel [Francis H.] Little, commanding Eleventh Georgia, wounded; Colonel Jack Brown, of Georgia, my aide-de-camp, Lieutenant W. Roy Mason, badly wounded, falling into the hands of the enemy, and General Gregg’s aide de-camp killed. Brigadier-General [Victor] Girard[e]y was killed early in the action, at the time his brigade broke. He had only a few days before been raised from the rank of Major and assigned to that brigade, and fell in his first action with his new rank. He was said to be a gallant, meritorious officer.

Previous to this battle being fought General R. E. Lee had arrived from Petersburg; but he did not take command, and was simply a looker-on.

I should have stated that on the day previous (August 15th), General W. H. F. Lee’s cavalry, on the Charles City road, being hard pressed, I sent to his assistance Gary’s cavalry brigade, and the Texas infantry brigade, and, with their assistance, he drove the enemy back and re-established his position. Hampton, who some days before had started for the Valley to join Early, returned and took position on the Charles City road on my extreme left on the 16th. General Lee having telegraphed him at Gordonsville to return to my assistance. On the next day (the 17th) the enemy sent a request, by flag of truce, that hostilities should cease for a few hours, that they might gather up and bury their dead near our lines. The application was signed and made in the name of Hancock, though I ascertained a day or two afterwards that Grant and Meade were both present. The correspondence granting and arranging the armistice on our side was conducted by me, though General Lee was now present. The second night after, the enemy having withdrawn to the south side again, the brigades which had come to my aid were also sent back to that side. This battle is called by the enemy ” Deep Bottom” — from a point on the James near by thus called — and is placed among their important actions.

Though Richmond came at last so near being closely invested, and the result to us was so important, the people even in Richmond, a few miles off, were never aware how great their danger was, and never knew of nor appreciated the importance of the battle. Indeed, it was scarcely known that a battle had been fought and won.

As a specimen of the knowledge and accuracy of the Richmond journals, one of them, after giving Mahone credit for the fight, gravely added that “he ought not, after winning battles, be too modest to let the public know of his prowess; that he must not, whilst fighting, forget the art of writing,” when, in truth, Mahone was at no time nearer than Petersburg, thirty miles off. So much for newspapers and the history they make. Some days after this I was with three brigades (Bratton’s, Anderson’s, and Perry’s) summoned to Petersburg. The Texas brigade and Benning’s (Colonel DuBose) were left on the north side, Gregg falling in command. After reaching Petersburg it was found that the particular event for which I had been wanted did not occur, and I remained there for some weeks doing nothing very special, but going from point to point, wherever the enemy threatened or my services were required. I think it was about the last of September [September 29, 1864] that early one morning General Lee sent for me and directed me to proceed at once to Chafifin’s Bluff, showing me at the same time a telegram from Gregg stating that Fort Harrison had been captured. 9

On arriving on the north side that evening, and not having been met by any instructions from Lieutenant General R. H. Anderson (who had just returned from the Valley and was now in command), and believing the occasion too important to lose time in seeking them from him personally, I inquired of a staff-officer, who came galloping by me, where the enemy was most pressing, and receiving for reply that he thought near Fort Gilmer, I immediately, with Perry’s brigade (the only one then with me), marched in that direction. As I got in sight of the breastworks I saw beyond them two lines of the enemy (the leading line of negroes) moving up to assault Gilmer and the lines to the right and left of it. Ascertaining at once that DuBose held Gilmer and neighboring works, that Gregg with the Texas brigade was on his right, I threw at a double-quick Perry on the left of DuBose. Hardly had they got in the trenches when the enemy got within musket range. Fire was opened along the line, but the enemy, under cover of some little irregularities, continued to advance beautifully. But directly our fire got too hot, and he broke and fled in haste, leaving many dead and wounded before us.

It is worthy of remark that some of the negro troops got up to our breastworks and were killed there. In this affair the enemy’s losses were heavy, ours scarcely anything. The enemy being driven completely out of sight and range at this point, I believed that that night was the time to attack and retake Fort Harrison. The gorge of the work was open on one side and there had not been sufficient time to close it up securely. General Lee just then arrived upon the ground from Petersburg and meeting him I told him what I proposed to do, but he thought it better to remain where I was for the present. Meanwhile the two other brigades (Bratton’s and Anderson’s) had come up. It was now sunset [on September 29, 1864].

A little after dark Brigadier-General Gregg came to me, and said that he had just seen General Lee, who wished me to retake Fort Harrison that night, but that Lieutenant-General Anderson wished to see me for a moment before I made the assault. My men were worn out with a long day’s march and excitement; were stretched upon the ground asleep. Rousing up the only three brigades which could be withdrawn for that purpose (Bratton’s, Anderson’s, and Perry’s), I started for Fort Harrison, two miles off, and, after reconnoitering, threw them up as close as possible, ready to assault. It was now one o’clock, and, all being ready, I went to report to Lieutenant-General Anderson, in pursuance of what I had been told was his desire. To my surprise, I found General Anderson asleep, and upon waking him and telling him what I came for, he said there was a mistake, that it was not intended I should attack that night. Directing the brigades to fall back a little, we went to sleep on our arms. All night long we could distinctly hear the enemy in Fort Harrison hard at work strengthening it, and by next day [September 30, 1864] it had become, in strength, a most formidable place I have always thought it a great misfortune that it was not attacked that night. I believe that my division could have retaken it then. Next day, when we did attempt it, it cost us dearly. The plan of attack for the next day was as follows: portions of Hoke’s division and my own were to be the assaulting column. Hoke was to attack one face, I the other. We were to get, unobserved, as near as possible to the work, and, after a severe artillery fire of twenty or thirty minutes’ duration, I forget which, we were to rush upon the work simultaneously. There was a deep ravine, which ran within a hundred yards of the face which Hoke was to attack. Up this he could form and have his troops completely masked. On my side the ground was a level plain, and consequently I could not form nearer than five hundred yards of the work. When the artillery fire was nearly over and the time for making the assault had nearly arrived, I directed General Anderson, commanding my leading brigade, to move up as close as possible to the work and let his men lay down, so as at the proper moment to spring up and reach the work simultaneously with Hoke, who had much less distance to charge than I. General Anderson failing to inform his men of his intention, they mistook the advance for an assault, and instead of halting and laying down rushed forward to attack. This brigade being in for it, necessitated my pushing Bratton and Perry to its assistance. Hoke, though aware that I was attacking prematurely, waited for the moment agreed upon, and thus the concentrated fire of the fort was poured upon my troops. The attack was, of course, unsuccessful, and my loss very heavy. Though Hoke made an effort after awhile, it was then too late. Had General Anderson sufficiently instructed his men to wait for the proper moment, or had Hoke attacked when I did, even though it did anticipate the time a few moments (and the chances for success were quite as good then as they could have been afterwards), the result might have been very different. General Lee now determined to attack upon the flank. Accordingly, Hoke’s and my division having been relieved in the trenches by the Richmond militia during the night of the 6th of October, daylight next morning found us massed on the Darbytown road. The enemy’s right, consisting of Kautz’s division of cavalry, rested on this road. My division having the advance, upon approaching our old exterior line of works, found Kautz with his division dismounted and with twelve or sixteen pieces of artillery behind them. Having previously detached Perry, who, with Gary’s cavalry, was to turn the enemy’s right and come in behind him with the rest of the division (Bratton leading), I assaulted in front. After a sharp fight of twenty minutes Kautz was routed, ten guns and caissons complete, and more than one hundred artillery and cavalry horses, being among the spoils. The enemy, being now perfectly aware of our force and intentions, massed about two miles to the rear of the point from which Kautz had been routed a large force of infantry and artillery behind breastworks, protected in front by a line of abattis. Hoke now came up and formed in line of battle on my right, and. I understood, was to assault simultaneously with me. My gallant fellows, led by the brigade commanders on foot, rushed forward and penetrated to the abattis, facing a most terrific fire, delivered, as I afterwards learned from a Yankee officer of rank, who was present, from those new repeating Spencer rifles. Hoke, from some unexplained cause, did not move forward. The consequence was that the whole fire was concentrated on my fellows. We were repulsed with heavy loss.10

Among the killed and wounded was Brigadier-General [John] Gregg, commanding Texas brigade, shot through the neck dead, and Brigadier-General [John] Bratton, commanding South Carolina brigade, wounded in the shoulder. These gentlemen were both brave and able officers, and the fall of General Gregg was felt as a great calamity by the whole army, and was a misfortune from which his brigade never recovered. Had he lived a few days he would doubtless have been promoted, as I had recommended him for a Major-Generalcy for previous distinguished services.

By the 12th of October [1864] a new line, intermediate between the old exterior line and the interior, had been traced out. The right of the new line started at Fort Gilmer, and the left extended to the Darbytown road. My division was the extreme left of the army, and as there was nothing easier than for the enemy to come up the Darbytown road and get on my flank and rear, I requested Lieutenant-General Anderson to cause Hoke to extend a little to his left so that I could throw a brigade across the Darbytown road. This not having been done, on the evening of the 11th, on my own responsibility, I withdrew the Texas brigade from my right and placed it on my extreme left across the Darbytown road. It was well that I did so, for at daylight of the 12th [sic, October 13, 1864] the enemy in heavy force came up the Darbytown road, and, thinking from a previous reconnoisance that I only reached to the road, would, but for the Texas brigade extending across it, have been upon my flank before I could have checked him. General Lee, coming upon the field, at once directed me to reinforce myself, and, whilst the Texas brigade held him in check, I threw quickly three brigades from my right on my left. My flank was now safe from being turned, and the enemy completely foiled. He tried all day to break through my lines, making two very determined assaults upon Perry, but late in the evening he withdrew. Our loss was very slight compared to his. Among his slain left in our hands were two Majors. (The body of one of them, Major Camp, was returned to them next day, upon application through flag of truce.) We had to deplore the loss of Colonel Perryel, Seventh Alabama brigade, a most daring, reckless officer — mortally wounded.11

The saddest event of the war befell me in this affair in the death of my Adjutant-General, Major Willis F. Jones. Major Jones had left an interesting family and magnificent home in Woodford county, Kentucky, to give his services and his life, if need be, to the cause of his country. He was my nephew, and, knowing his rare worth, I at once made him Adjutant-General of my division. He had passed through the hottest battles of the campaign unscathed. On this occasion I gave him an order to deliver to General Bratton, of South Carolina. Scorning to dismount, though others were already on foot, he galloped up to General Bratton, in the face of a severe fire, was shot through the brain and fell from his horse without uttering a word, a corpse.

Thus fell, in the vigor of manhood and far from all he held dear, one of the noblest spirits of the war. In his death the country lost an ardent patriot and I an invaluable officer and loved friend.

A few days after this, General Longstreet having sufficiently recovered from his wound, resumed command of his corps to the great joy of us all.

It was on the 27th of October [1864], that early in the morning, long lines of the enemy advancing against us were again visible. At once doubling my skirmish line it alone kept the enemy at bay throughout the day. His appearance against my line was only a demonstration, the feint, though, to be converted into a real attack if an opportunity presented. But my skirmish line did their duty too well for that. The plan of the enemy was to make a show in our front, whilst [Godfrey] Weitzel with his division of infantry and [August] Kautz’s of cavalry should, under cover of the forest, move some distance to our left, then up the Williamsburg and Nine-Mile roads, get inside our works at those points (we having no troops there to oppose them), and then sweep down on our left flank. Generals Lee and Longstreet discovering his game, directed me to move with my division to the left to resist Weitzel and Kautz. I was still the extreme left of the army, and leaving my strong skirmish line out, which, with such assistance as Hoke could give, it was believed could hold the works I was about to vacate, I moved rapidly to my left to the Williamsburg road, and relieved a regiment of Gary’s cavalry which I found there skirmishing with the enemy. One of my scouts just in from the front gave me such information as led me to suggest to General Longstreet that my division should remain at the Williamsburg road, whilst Gary’s cavalry should move to and hold the Nine-Mile road. I had hardly formed line when Weitzel emerged from the wood in front and charged us. He got in about three hundred yards of my line, when his troops, unable to stand the fire, threw themselves on their faces in a little depression of ground. A portion of Bratton’s South Carolina brigade, led by his Adjutant General (the gallant Captain [Joseph B.] Lyle), went out in front of my division and captured four hundred or five hundred of them, the rest slipped back to the rear in squads leaving their dead upon the field. I may add that Gary was quite as successful in repulsing the enemy’s cavalry on the Nine-Mile road.12

It was now dark. During the night the enemy fell back behind his fortifications and I returned to my own lines. Thus ended the battle on the Williamsburg road with scarcely any loss to us, but with very heavy loss to the enemy. We buried next day one hundred of his dead near our lines. Among our captures was Weitzel’ s medical director. This closed on the north side the fighting of the campaign of 1864. From this time forth my left rested on the Williamsburg road. I now set to work strengthening my works and putting up huts for the winter. Churches were also erected, besides a theatre and a house for negro minstrelsy. There was in the Texas brigade a very good company of actors and actresses, of which Mrs. Mollie Bailey, the wife of one of the band, was the star. There was in the same brigade (also in others) a great troupe of minstrels. As our hardest duty during the winter was picketing, we had a pleasant, comfortable time after the fatigues and dangers of the past campaign.

I come now to that sad time when we were to leave the north side of the river, never to return as soldiers, and to enter upon the last short campaign of the war. At night of March 31st or April 1st [it was April 1] I was ordered to proceed to Petersburg by rail. As the cars could take but one brigade at a time I arrived there with the leading one (Benning’s) about 2 o’clock next day [April 2, 1865]; the last did not come up till sunset. The enemy had already broken through our lines and were moving in upon the city. Brigadier-General Benning, who had recovered from his wound received at the Wilderness, and during the winter resumed the command of his brigade, quickly formed line of battle, repulsed the enemy most handsomely, and held a large force in check till other brigades of my division came to his assistance. The enemy, finding us not inclined to give way for him, contented himself with forming line in front of us, but out of range. We stood thus in plain view of each other till night, when our army began its retreat, crossing to the north side of the Appomattox river.13 My division, which was rear-guard that night, and almost continuously during our arduous and trying retreat, crossed on a pontoon bridge about ri o’clock, after which it was destroyed. We marched all night and next day and most of the following night, reaching Amelia Courthouse the next morning before noon. The suffering of my division throughout this whole retreat for the want of rations was peculiarly great. We had left the north side hurriedly with nothing to eat, expecting to be supplied next day from our wagons or from the stores at Petersburg. But our wagons took a different road, and we first saw them again, or what was left of them, at Appomattox Courthouse. In the emergency and confusion at Petersburg there was no chance to obtain supplies, consequently we left with nothing. At Farmville rations were issued to the army, but, being rear- guard, the supply was issued out almost before we arrived. We had a precarious existence by now and then gathering in a few hogs or cows. Yet the spirits of my brave fellows never flagged for a moment. Their organization and discipline was perfect; there was not a straggler; they were as full of fight and pluck as they were the morning of the Wilderness, and I surrendered near five thousand muskets, rather more than I left Petersburg with, for the sick and convalescent had quitted the hospitals and shouldered their muskets.

At Amelia Courthouse, Jetersville, Rice’s station, and near Farmville, I skirmished with the enemy, sometimes very heavily. At the last named place the enemy attempted to turn Mahone’s flank, he being on my left. Going quickly to his assistance with two brigades — Bratton’s and Anderson’s — we drove the enemy back, and captured about seven hundred prisoners. This was the last shot fired by my division during the war; and it is a little remarkable that at the close of this, our last skirmish, my Inspector General, Major L. Masters, who had been with me from the very beginning of the war till that present time, two days of its close, and had passed through the battles of four years without a scratch, should have fallen into my arms dead, shot through the heart.

Major Masters was a Virginian, a lawyer of reputation, a valuable officer, and a most estimable gentleman. That he might give all possible aid to his loved South, he refused all pay for his services in her cause. His death was a sad blow to me. It is unnecessary to speak of what occurred two days afterwards at Appomattox Courthouse, except to say that my division, like myself, was unprepared for such a result. We were still bringing up the rear, the head of Meade’s column being two or three miles behind us; and when that morning some one came back to us and brought a summons of surrender, the division was about to mob him. An hour or two later, when there was no longer any doubt, I saw the tears streaming down the face of the chivalrous Colonel [Asbury] Coward, of [the 5th] South Carolina. Some proposed that if I thought it honorable, and would lead them, that they would try to cut their way out. Some few did leave, but I had their names surrendered as though they were present. I did not see Pickett’s division at all, nor Kershaw’s but once.

On the morning of the surrender a body of about two hundred troops passed, and in answer to my question, of “what troops they were?” the reply came from the leader, a Captain Butts, “Kershaw’s division.” The artillery, at all times and under all circumstances, rendered the most gallant and efficient service. I have not spoken of it, because you are better able to treat of it. Whilst lying at Appomattox Courthouse, arranging the details of our surrender, General Meade, whose army laid just in rear of my division, sent a request that I would pass him through my lines on his way to pay his personal respects to General Lee. He soon appeared at the head of a brilliant staff, and as these were the first Yankees who had ever ridden by us, except in a hostile attitude, the cavalcade drew large numbers of my men to the road-side to get a near view. Riding by the General’s side, and chatting with him, he directly said, pointing to a group of my men standing on the road side, in hearing distance, “those fellows are complimentary to me.”- I asked him “what was that? I did not hear what they said.” He replied, “they just now said I looked like a Rebel.” I answered, “that I did not suppose gentlemen on his side of the question thought that a compliment; “to which he replied, “Oh ! yes we do; any people who have made such a defence as you have, we can but respect and admire.” He then went on to speak in warm terms of our fortitude, endurance and courage, and expressed his astonishment that we had stood out so long. He also expressed his regret that, at General Lee’s request, all intercourse between the opposing armies was forbidden, saying, “that the Yankee army had only the kindest feeling for us, and would gladly meet us as friends.” I told him that our men had, or thought they had, cause for a different feeling, and that whilst they had arms in their hands, and our defeat was yet fresh, it might be better to keep aloof from any general intercourse. We directly met General Lee in the road, and at his invitation General Meade rode with him to his tent.

In bringing this rough sketch of the operations of my division, whilst a part of Longstreet’s corps, to a close, I desire to say that it is not meant for publication in its present form. I have written fully of persons and things because it was necessary to a proper understanding of the subject; but I have the very kindest feeling for all herein mentioned, and do not wish to imply censure upon any one. For our corps commander, Lieutenant-General Longstreet, I have the very highest admiration and regard, both as a soldier and a gentleman. He is, in my opinion, one of the very few who in this war deserved all the honors (and more) that were heaped upon him. He is, or rather was, a thorough soldier and General.

As these pages were written from memory alone, there may be some slight inaccuracies in dates, but the incidents and the part assigned to each are set forth just as they appeared to me and those about me, and are, I believe, in every particular correct.

C[harles]. W. Field,
Late Major -General, Longstreet’ s Corps,
Army Northern Virginia.

Source:

  1. Field, Charles. “Campaign of 1864 and 1865.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 14, pp. 542,549-563
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: E. Porter Alexander was the artillery chief of the First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. He did ultimately write two highly regarded histories of the Civil War, Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative and Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: P. G. T. Beauregard was tasked with defending the Bermuda Hundred Howlett Line as well as Petersburg in mid-June 1864.  As Grant crossed the James River and approached Petersburg from the east, he made the tough decision to abandon the Bermuda Hundred line and leave it up to Robert E. Lee to defend it.  What Field describes above is the retaking of the Howlett Line by Lee in the form of Field’s and Pickett’s divisions on June 17, 1864.  As Field notes, his division was then sent south to Petersburg on June 18th to help counter the growing threat there in the form of the Army of the Potomac.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field is describing the June 24, 1864 action at Hare’s Hill here, and his account seems one sided and at least somewhat inaccurate.  Hoke blamed Field for not supporting him in his assault, and this was not the last time the two division commanders would have trouble coordinating.  A similar incident happened on September 30, 1864 during Lee’s attempt to retake Fort Harrison.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field reached the area of New Market Heights north of the James at the very end of the First Deep Bottom Campaign in late July 1864.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field here descfribes the first phase of the fighting during the Second Deep Bottom Campaign.  The Union force led by Winfield Scott Hancock consisted of his own Second Corps, Birney’s Tenth Corps, and some cavalry.  The fight made by Gary and Anderson on August 14, 1864 prevented Hancock from turning Field’s left flank at Fussell’s Mill.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field’s memory was better than he gave himself credit for.  His own division, as he said commanded by General John Gregg of the Texas Brigade while he was in overall command, consisted of G. T. Anderson’s Georgia Brigade, Law’s Alabama Brigade commanded by Colonel Perry, Gregg’s Texas Brigade commanded by Col. Bass, Benning’s Georgia Brigade commanded by Col. DuBose, and Bratton’s South Carolina Brigade.  He also had at least one brigade from each of the three Third Corps divisions of Wilcox, Heth, and Mahone.  From Wilcox came Lane’s North Carolina Brigade under Col. Barbour and McGowan’s South Carolina Brigade under Brigadier General James Conner.  From Heth came Archer’s Brigade under Colonel Mayo.  From Mahone came Wright’s Georgia Brigade under newly promoted Brigadier General  Victor Girardey. Field also had the Department of Richmond brigade of Johnson’s Tenneseans, Gary’s Department of Richmond cavalry brigade, and Rooney Lee’s cavalry division.  The last named unit didn’t arrive until late morning at the earliest.
  8. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field has just described the heavy fighting at Fussell’s Mill on August 16, 1864 during the Second Deep Bottom Campaign.  The Union Tenth Corps division of Alfred Terry broke through Field’s line around noon, but determined Confederate counterattacks coordinated by Field restored the situation and saved the day for the Confederates by 2 p.m.
  9. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field was called north of the James in late September because of the success Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James had on September 29, 1864 at New Market Heights and Fort Harrison during Grant’s Fifth Offensive.  The latter place, in the Confederate line radiating northeast from Chaffin’s Bluff on the James, was an important place for the Confederates to hold or their entire line would be compromised.  Field participated in the fighting late on September 29 to hold Fort Gilmer, a neighboring fort, and in the effort on September 30, 1864 to retake Fort Harrison.
  10. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field and Hoke again were to cooperate on October 7, 1864, trying to turn the Army of the James’ right flank and roll it up all the way to its namesake river.  Field and Hoke failed again to work well together, resulting in another bloody repulse at the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads.
  11. SOPO Editor’s Note: Field is here describing the October 13, 1864 Battle of Darbytown Road.
  12. SOPO Editor’s Note: The October 27, 1864 Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road, or Second Fair Oaks, was the third and last of the “Darbytown Road” battles.  As Field makes clear, the Federals suffered bloody repulses all along the line on a day when Grant had cautioned Butler not to attack needlessly.
  13. SOPO EDitor’s Note: Field is describing the April 2, 1865 Third Battle of Petersburg.  By the time his division was fully at Petersburg, the Union Sixth Corps had already broken through Confederate trenches southwest of the city and were helping Gibbon’s Twenty-Fourth Corps close in on the city from that direction.

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