SOPO Editor’s Note: Brigadier General Thomas L. Clingman wrote a lengthy letter covering nearly two full newspaper columns to The Daily Confederate in Raleigh, NC discussing the actions and movements of his brigade (Clingman/Hoke/DNCSV) on June 17, 1864 at the Second Battle of Petersburg. This letter is a response to a note from Colonel John T. Goode of Wise’s Brigade asking Clingman about how he had treated the soldiers and officers of that brigade. Clingman answered these charges, and then called out Goode for having published a letter in a Richmond paper which did not give Clingman’s Brigade any credit for the defense of Petersburg on June 17. Goode had been temporarily in charge of Wise’s Brigade on June 17-18, 1864.
HEADQUARTERS, CLINGMAN’S BRIGADE
In The Trenches, June 30, 1864
COLONEL [John T. Goode]1:-I avail myself of the first leisure moments I have, to answer your note of enquiry of yesterday’s date [June 29, 1864]. You refer to a statement of Captain Ramsey, that “General Clingman threatened even to bayonet the officers, if they would not go back and endeavor to retake the ground they had so disgracefully abandoned.[”] You ask if this statement has “any truth” in it, and also desire me to state what I “observed during the 17th inst. [June 17, 1864], in connection with Captain [Samuel D.] Preston, of the 34th Virginia, and the officers and men of your brigade, who remained in the works.[”]2
In compliance with your request, I proceed to state succinctly the facts necessary to a proper explanation of the occurrences of that evening [of June 17, 1864], bearing on the subject of your enquiries. In doing this, however, it is necessary that I should make the statement full enough to do justice to the several parties as far as they are mentioned:
My brigade [Clingman/Hoke/DNCSV] formed the right wing of Maj[or]. Gen[eral]. [Robert F.] Hoke’s division, and immediately on my right was placed [Brigadier] Gen[eral]. [Henry A.] Wise’s brigade. I had during the day passed into a portion of its line contiguous to my own. During the afternoon one of its regiments (the 34th [Virginia], as I understand it,) passed from my left up to my right, and I believe took the position of the regiment nearest me, the latter moving further to the right. During the day, there had been several feeble demonstrations of the enemy, which had been repulsed at once; but about 6 ½ o’clock [PM] the enemy advanced in great force, partly in my front and also directly in front of the line of Gen. Wise’s brigade.—The pickets were driven in and the line began to fire, but in less than five minutes, as I think, I heard the exclamation, “our men are giving way on the right;” and on looking in that direction, I saw with the greatest astonishment, the troops running from the line of Gen. Wise’s brigade back to the rear. I could see plainly the regiments next me, and probably a portion of the second one of the [Wise’s] brigade. By the time, however, the men had run about 100 yards to the rear, I saw an officer run up, with what I took to be about one company following him, and from the trench wave his hand, seemingly calling back the fugitives. This officer I have reason to believe was Capt[ain]. Preston, who advanced up to the line somewhat, and made the effort to rally the regiment. A number did return towar[d]s the trenches; but just as they were about entering them, the enemy appeared advancing from the front, and were, I think, within a hundred yards, or rather less. I could see one of their flags and what appeared to be about one regiment coming up towards the works. Those who were getting back to the trenches, immediately fled again to the rear, while Captain Preston soon after joined my right with his company, and, as I am informed, some others, whom he induced to stand with him. These occurrences took place just before sunset. I moved my brigade somewhat to the right along the trenches, and ordered Lieut[enant]. Col[onel]. [William S.] Devane, of the 61st [North Carolina] regiment of my brigade, to take four companies to the right and rear of my line, to check if possible the movement of the enemy. They had by this time not only filled the abandoned trenches of Gen. Wise’s brigade, but had also advanced a heavy force beyond them towards the city, for a short distance. Colonel Devane subsequently informed me that Captain Preston reported to him, and after expressing his regrets for the conduct of his regiment, desired to act with the men under his command wherever he could be most serviceable. Colonel Devane assured me that he behaved with great gallantry during the entire engagement.3
I immediately afterwards carried from my left wing, half of the 51st [North Carolina] Reg[imen]’t under command of its Col[onel]. [Hector] McKethan, up to the right. They swept around from the rear, and driving back the enemy entered the trenches to the right of the line held by Col. Devane, with the assistance of Capt. Preston. This occurred a little before dark, and from that time the enemy were kept out of the trenches entirely, as far up as our line of fire extended. Col. McKethan being wounded, the command of the extreme right remained with Capt. [James W.] Lippitt, of his regiment. The enemy for a period of two hours made repeated advances in heavy force against my entire front, but especially against the right. They did not however at any time approach nearer than twenty yards of the right, commanded by Capt. Lippitt, but were always driven back by his fire in front, but chiefly by the oblique enfilading fire of my entire brigade, which could reach them as soon as they came up the hill into the field, and cut them to pieces so, that after two or three volleys they invariably broke and ran to the rear. These movements, with attacks occasionally along my whole front, were kept up until nearly 10 o’clock, when they ceased, the enemy keeping themselves back where they could be sheltered by the hill in front of the right. About the time I was able to send back a report to Maj. Gen. Hoke that the line on my right was entirely clear of the enemy, a body of men came up the trenches from my left. The officer in their front, on being hailed, told me that he had a portion of the 34th V[irgini]a., which had been rallied in the rear, and he was bringing them up to aid me. I am not sure that I remember the name he announced to me, but you, Colonel, can, if you do not already know, easily ascertain which officer it was. Being rejoiced at the arrival of the first reinforcements, and fearing that the enemy might renew their attacks, I told him he would find the trenches open on my right, and ordered him to move up at once into them. This occurred, I think, about 10 o’clock. After a portion of this regiment passed, it stopped in the trenches. It did not advance even its front to my right, but stopped one or two hundred yards short of the right of my line, and filled up the trenches so as to cause complaints from my officers. While passing up and down the rear of my line several times, I urged them to get out of the trench and move in that way to the right, assuring them that there was then little danger as I had constantly been moving myself to the rear of the trench. I induced at one time probably a dozen of the privates to get out of the ditch and move up towards the right, but the body of the detachment continued to rest in the trench so as to crowd the men of my brigade already there, in spite of all my efforts to remove them. It was then stated to me that “the men of Capt. —–‘s company were urging him t move forward, but that he would not go.” (I do not mention his name because possibly there may have been a mistake as to his conduct.) I at once said, “go and tell Capt. —–, that if he does not move on as his men desire, I will have him bayonetted in the trenches.” Soon after I was informed that the officer in charge of the regiment, though previously repeatedly urged to go forward, was still down in the ditch. I sent an officer to him with orders to say that if, in defiance of the frequent orders given or sent to him, he did not move in some direction, I would have him reported and endeavor to procure his dismissal from the service. He made however no move, but soon after this, the 24th N[orth]. C[arolina]. regiment of [Brigadier] Gen[eral]. [Matt W.] Ransom’s brigade, came up likewise from my left, and on my informing the officer in command4 that I wished him to move up to the right and occupy a portion of the vacant trenches, he complied at once, and with his entire command moved rapidly by the 34th V[irgini]a., and also my brigade, and took position in the trenches on my right. Having ascertained that the entire line of the trenches were filled by our troops again, I, in passing by the officer in command of the 34th V[irgini]a., stated the fact to him. Soon afterwards I was requested by a messenger from him to give him twenty-five yards space on my right to get in his men, and afterwards asked for seventy-five yards for that purpose. I sent him word that I had given orders to my regiments and companies to return to their former positions at the beginning of the action, and that whatever space might be left on my right could be occupied by his men. This occurred about midnight when all the firing had ceased.
It is proper that I should state that the expressions I frequently used during the evening were intended to stimulate the officers and men. For this purpose I used both exhortation and denunciation at times. Knowing that the safety of Petersburg and of a large part of our army depended on the enemy’s being held back, I wished to get every man in position as soon as possible. I may have been somewhat irritated at the time, too, by reports made to me that officers as well as men of the fleeing troops had endeavored to make my companies stationed to the right, retreat, by telling them that a large force of the enemy had passed to our rear, and also by reports brought from Petersburg during the progress of the battle, that Wise’s brigade had fled through the town and across it beyond the [Appomattox] river and spread consternation throughout the city. It is scarcely necessary for me to say that I have as high an appreciation of the conduct of the officers and men of Virginia generally, during this war, as of those of any other State, and that I know that good troops are sometimes seized with unaccountable panics. It should also be stated that the officers and men of Gen. Wise’s brigade that evening assured me that a regiment of South Carolinians on their right gave way before they did5; and others that an entire brigade gave way. I am satisfied that there was a large space vacant on the right of their position during the fight, but how it had been occupied I do not know. I was also informed by an officer of General Ransom’s brigade, that when they advanced on the works to retake them, a South Carolina regiment, the 22nd, charged with them.
I regret that, to do justice to all mentioned, I have been compelled to make so long a statement.
And now, Colonel [John T. Goode of the 34th Virginia, who had commanded Wise’s Brigade on the evening in question], having answered your enquiries, you must allow me to say, that I read with great astonishment a communication over your name in the Richmond Enquirer, dated June 29th , in which, utterly ignoring the presence of my brigade, you claim for your own and Ransom’s, all the credit of the repulse of the enemy on that day, and the holding of the works. As your brigade left the works before sunset, and as Gen. Ransom’s did not advance up to them until about 11 o’clock, did it not occur to you that some troops wee engaged during these four hours? The crash of the musketry was so heavy that everybody in Petersburg seems to have been aware that an engagement of a serious character was going on. It was stated even in the newspapers of the next morning, that “Hoke’s division stood like a wall of adamant,” &C., to protect the city.—But it should be stated that my brigade was the only portion of Gen. Hoke’s division engaged that evening. [Brigadier] Gen[eral]. [James G.] Martin states, that his brigade, the next to mine, was not engaged, while the other brigades were still farther from the battle. That resistance which for four long hours held back what is, I think, ascertained to have been two army corps of the enemy, was made alone by my brigade, aided by Capt. Preston’s small command. The frequent shouts to cause the enemy to believe reinforcements were coming in, and the rapid and well aimed volleys which repulsed their repeated attacks, kept the space on my right vacant. They might have passed farther to the right beyond the reach of our fire, but seem to have been afraid to leave an obstinate force in their rear.
I have thus Colonel, while in the trench of my brigade, under the enemy’s fire, written a hurried, but I hope accurate statement of the facts within my knowledge, necessary to a proper response to your enquiries. As I have used a pencil to write with, I must send this to the rear to have a legible copy made.
Very respectfully, yours, &c.,
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: Brigadier General Thomas Clingman was writing to Colonel John T. Goode, of the 34th Virginia, who had commanded Wise’s Brigade on June 17, 1864, who had published his own account of the June 17, 1864 fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg in the Richmond Enquirer on June 29, 1864, and who had sent Clingman an “enquiry” on June 29 asking about Clingman’s conduct on the evening of June 17, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I believe the Captain Preston in question is Captain Samuel D. Preston, who was appointed acting Major of the 34th Virginia on June 17, 1864. No other man with the last name Preston was a Captain on June 17, 1864, although 1st Lieutenant Thomas S. Preston did eventually become a Captain later and was at that rank when he surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This fighting was part of the larger Second Battle of Petersburg, contested on June 15-18, 1864 east of the city. General P. G. T. Beauregard and elements of his Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, including the divisions of Hoke and Johnson, managed to hang on against overwhelming numbers of Union troops in four full Corps long enough for Lee’s veterans to file into the works on June 18, 1864. This charge appears to have been made by Ledlie’s Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac, led by Colonel Jacob P. Gould of the 59th Massachusetts in Ledlie’s absence. For more, see Sean Chick’s book The Battle of Petersburg: June 15, 18, 1864, pp. 222-229, with a map on 227 to aid in understanding. It is clear he read this newspaper article as one of his sources. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was probably Major Thaddeus D. Love. See “Interesting Letter from Ransom’s Brigade.” Raleigh Confederate. June 23, 1864, p. 2 col. 4. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: It appears the 23rd South Carolina was the regiment in question. They had been severely fatigued building breastworks that day and were somewhat demoralized wen the assault began. See Chick’s book above for details. ↩
- No title. The Daily Confederate (Raleigh, NC). July 18, 1864, p. 2 col. 3-4 ↩