Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
BATTLE OF REAMS STATION.
J[ames]. W[illiam]. Mattison, lately of Co. G., Orr’s Rifles, in Abbeville Medium.
In one of your letters from Columbia to the Medium last January, you quoted what a Confederate had said about a captured cannon at Reams Station, Va., August 25th, 1864.
Reading that sketch vividly brought up recollections of nearly forty years ago. I have never seen in history any account of that fight more than a passing notice.
In August, 1864, after Petersburg was invested by the Federals on the East and North, repeated attempts were made to capture and hold the Weldon railroad, one of the roads the Confederates used to bring in supplies to the army.
Sometime in August, 1864, the enemy succeeded in reaching the Weldon road, and entrenched themselves at Ream’s Station, a few miles south of Petersburg. This move on the part of the enemy cut off our source of supplies by way of Weldon. The fight of August 25th was to retake the road and open up the line. We were unsuccessful, failed to dislodge them and abandoned the Weldon road to the enemy, from Stony Creek to Petersburg, depending on the south side road for supplies thereafter.
Well do I remember the occurrence of the Yankee training the piece on his own comrades. McGowan’s brigade was in position nearly a mile west of Ream’s Station, formed in a pine thicket. Our gallant Sharpshooters were thrown out in front to drive in the enemy. They did so in fine style. Pegram’s battery [sic, Battalion]1 was placed in our front on rising ground, commanding the works of the enemy. Orr’s Rifles were detached from the brigade and placed in rear of the battery as a support. Pegram’s six field pieces, and the battalion of Sharpshooters in his front soon had the enemy under cover, afraid to show themselves. The Federal battery on the railroad was soon silenced. The enemy seemed to be demoralized, and we soon learned the cause. On our right and on the flank of the Yankees, we heard the well known rebel yell. Soon the blue coats were seen running for life, General Hampton’s troops sweeping up the railroad from the direction of Weldon, doubling the enemy back on their main force, at Reams Station. As Gen. Hampton’s forces doubled them up, Orr’s Rifles were ordered to charge the battery on the railroad. When we reached the battery and railroad embankment we found quite a number of Federals there, ready to surrender, and glad of the opportunity. My recollection is that over two thousand were taken prisoners. Still the enemy was not driven from the railroad at Reams Station, the troops on our left failed to dislodge them and our troops were withdrawn about night.
At the battery on the railroad was where the Confederates turned one of the captured pieces on the enemy. The first shot took out the top of a pine tree two or three hundred yards in our front. That was when the captured Yankee volunteered to show them how to use the piece. The elevation was for long range not for close range, where it was most needed.
Something of an unusual occurrence happened during that fight. In rear of the fighting line there was quite a number of stragglers or skulkers, officers and men with guns all at a safe distance.
A body of Federal cavalry run in on them, and they had to fight or be captured. There was enough officers in the crowd to take command and run them out.
This part of the fight was camp rumor. I only give it as I heard it at the time, the men with guns in the army could not know much of the battle in other parts of the field.
I remember seeing a stand of colors lying on the ground that evening and foolishly passed on and did not pick them up. (I was not going to the rear.) A member of another regiment picked them up and carried them out, and was promoted to Lieutenant for gallant conduct. I was so near to promotion and yet so far. After being in the army so long and only promoted from high private to Corporal, I have always thought I made a mistake in not picking up the flag and getting a promotion in place of the other fellow.
At the railroad I found a knapsack belonging to Charlie Smith, of Greensport, N. Y. In it I found several letters, some of them unopened. One was from a friend in a government office at Washington. The writer seemed to be anxious to meet the rebels as he termed them, and end the war.
Another letter was from Miss Nina Smith, a sister of Charlie Smith. I formed a very favorable opinion of Miss Nina, judging from her handwriting and the tone of her letter. She was anxious to see the war close and her brother return home. There was nothing abusive of the Southern people in her letter.
The generation that has grown up since 1865 may think that we who took part in the war often draw on our imagination in relating incidents that happened forty years ago. They can’t know how indelibly they are fixed in our mind, to remain as long as reason or life last. In my case, I think it was scared into me. I don’t like the blue uniform to this day, it brings up thoughts of long ago that are not pleasant. The sight of the blue lines give me a strange feeling too often. A feeling hard to describe, and I will not attempt to do so.2