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NP: August 1, 1864 Richmond Examiner: A Member of the 1st Rockbridge Artillery Defends Its Honor, July 27, 1864

[SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was badly faded in places, but it is an important one.  In this letter to the Editor of the Examiner, Private Charles J. Armistead of the 1st Rockbridge Virginia Artillery lays out why his battery was captured on July 27, 1864 at the First Battle of Deep Bottom. I have done my best to transcribe this article faithfully, but there were words and passages I simply cannot make out.  If you can help on a few of the missing words, please Contact Us.]



To the Editor of the Examiner:

Under the head of “THE WAR NEWS” your issue of today notices the capture of the First Rockbridge battery, which occurred on yesterday [July 27, 1864].  In referring to the fact that no loss was sustained beyond that of the guns, you say it may be readily explained, “if the accounts that reach us of the rapidity with which our men ran be true.”  From this I infer that the report of the affair made no difference between the conduct of the artillerists and the conduct of their support, but represented both as having been disgraceful in the face of the enemy.  If this is so the accounts which have reached you are not true, and my job is to correct them.1  Let me premise by saying that this is the first time I have ever seen the First Rockbridge battery alluded to in the papers, except in the lists of casualties.  There it has figured conspicuously.  It has won a reputation in the army, though it may be little known elsewhere. Take Stonewall Jackson, not one of whose victories came without its help.  It has been content to do its duty, without a sensitive regard of the impression it made or the credit accorded to it.  But it will not boast on its behalf of a said indifference to unjust censure, and I hereby appeal to your sense of justice to correct your unintentional misrepresentation of our conduct of the occasion referred to above.  A simple statement of the facts will sustain my appeal.  It will not be necessary to go over fully into details as they would not throw any light on the conduct of the artillerists.  It will be enough to say that the battery, with a part of [Kershaw]’s division2 as a support, was posted on a road running along the edge of a large bed of woods. In front lay a field, [half?] a mile wide, bounded on either side by woods and sloping abruptly at the edge two hundred yards from our position into a valley or ravine deep enough to conceal from the battery any movements which the enemy might make under its cover.  At the other end of the field, and on a hill opposite us, the enemy was [?] with infantry and artillery, the distance between us being about one thousand yards.  Between seven and eight o’ clock, on Wednesday morning [July 27, 1864] the enemy’s infantry3 (by whose fault I do not know) had gained a position on our left from which they opened an enfilade fire directly upon the road which we held.  Before they had fired five shots the infantry support on the left of our battery retreated in confusion across the road into the woods in their rear, thus leaving the battery unprotected.4  Captain [Archibald] Graham5 at once ordered the guns to be wheeled to the left so as to sweep the road, but the latter was so narrow that only two guns could be brought to bear on the enemy.  A few rounds of canister checked their advance effectually.  While this [was?] doing that portion of our infantry which was on the right of the battery6 had formed a [zig-zag?], militia like line in the rear of our guns, with part of the line resting on the road and the rest bearing off at an obtuse angle into the woods.  But before order could be restored, or anything like a line of battle could be formed, a small body of the enemy which had deployed in the ravine mentioned above, appeared on the brow of the hill in our original front, and advanced upon the battery.7  Our supply of canister being small, as is always the case with heavy rifled guns, had run short, but the guns were turned to the right again and fire withheld until the enemy were within fifty yards.  Our infantry in the meantime, did not fire a shot, and seeing that it was meaningless to attempt to hold on, we abandoned our pieces and sought the cover of the woods.  The conduct of our support can be better explained by one in the infantry than by myself.  Such, [then?], was the part which this battery took in the affair.  I have only to [?] application which Captain Graham made in the field, to be [?]. [?] in retaking the battery was refused.  No effort to retake it was made by the infantry, who fell back when we ceased firing.8

C[harles]. [J.] A[rmistead].9,10

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: This letter was written to the editor by a member of the 1st Rockbridge Artillery in defense of his unit.  He is describing events on the morning of July 27, 1864 at the First Battle of Deep Bottom, where all four 20 lb Parrott Rifles of the battery were captured by a heavy Union skirmish line.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: The writer or the editor took out the name of the infantry division for reasons of privacy and propriety. That said, the brigades of Humphrey and Henagan were on the right and left of the Rockbridge Artillery, respectively. Kershaw was not present at this time.  Instead these two brigades were led by Benjamin G. Humphreys, the senior brigadier. See Bryce Suderow’s article on First Deep Bottom in the pages of North and South Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 7, page 21 for a map of this fight.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Skirmishers from the brigades of Nelson A. Miles (1/1/II/AotP) and Regis de Trobriand (1/3/II/AotP) were the ones initially attacking the Confederate position.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: This was Henagan’s Brigade of South Carolinians, Kershaw’s old brigade.
  5. SOPO editor’s Note: Graham commanded the 1st Rockbridge Artillery.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: This was Humphreys’ Brigade of Mississippians.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: Again see Bryce Suderow’s North and South article, page 22.  The 110th Pennsylvania of de Trobriand’s Brigade was the unit which moved toward the battery.
  8. SOPO Editor’s Note: Despite not being able to read all of this badly faded section, the idea is that the Confederate artillerymen pleaded with the infantry to help them charge and retake the guns, but to no avail.
  9. SOPO Editor’s Note: The only member of the entire 1st Rockbridge Artillery with the initials “C. A.” would be one Private Charles J. Armistead, who enlisted in February 1864 and who is listed as present for the period from July 15 to August 31, 1864 in his Compiled Service Records.
  10. “The Rockbridge Battery.” Richmond Examiner. August 1, 1864, p. 2 col. 6
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