Editor’s Note: This article was provided by and transcribed by K. S. McPhail (New Kent County History and Thread the Rude Eye). The author of this story, John Neil of the 7th South Carolina Battalion, Hagood’s SC Brigade, was an old man in 1905. He mistakenly calls the action of August 21, 1864 “the Battle of Ream’s Station”, when in fact you will be reading about the last day of fighting at the Battle of Globe Tavern, or Weldon Railroad. During this action, Hagood’s men had the unfortunate luck to assault a reentrant portion of the Union lines, and they were cut to pieces from three directions, losing heavily. This fight is also noteworthy because during the action Dennis Dailey of the 2nd Wisconsin rode into Hagood’s lines demanding the brigade’s surrender. Some South Carolinians were starting to do so when Brigade commander Johnson Hagoood himself rode up and shot Dailey at point blank range to prevent the act and save the day at the last possible moment. Dailey survived the wound and went on to correspond with Hagood after the war. Click here to learn more about the Battle of Globe Tavern (or Weldon Railroad).
BATTLE OF REAM’S STATION (sic, Battle of Globe Tavern, August 21, 1864)
Hagoods Brigade cut to Pieces
The General’s Daring Recovery of a Flag
An Incident that Delighted Col. Rion
Mr. Editor: I will again endeavor to gratify my old comrades and many of my young friends and also by giving them another war story, my last. I have in my other war stories endeavored to give due honor to my friends and comrades, the gallant Cols. P. H. Nelson and J. H. Rion, and Capts, Brooks, Segurs, Clyburn and others of the 7th battalion, to which I had the honor to belong. Now I propose to make special mention of Gen. Johnson Hagood and his gallant brigade.
His general life and war records I shall leave to be told by older and wiser heads than mine. I shall confine this story to the battle of Ream’s Station, sometimes called the Weldon Road. Gen. Hagood has been criticized by a few for the wreck of his brigade on that fatal day. After a full investigation in council of war by several of Gen. Hagood’s seniors in rank he was fully vindicated and the mistake was that of Gen. Mahone.
After the crater fight on the30th of July, 1864, on the east of Petersburg, Gen. Grant turned his attention to the southern side of the city. Here the Weldon railroad came into the city. It is the great highway to the South. This road was regarded as a great necessity to Petersburg and Richmond and the Confederacy. To give, it up meant giving up Virginia and retiring to North Carolina. It was important, therefore, for Grant to take it and to the Confederacy to hold it. About the middle of August Gens. Malone and Hampton were sent by Gen. Lee to defend the road and to head off the Federal advance. Gen. Mahone, on the18th and 19th captured 2,100 prisoners and Gen. Hampton drove into Petersburg a large herd of cattle captured from the enemy.
Among the troops engaged in this feeling expedition of Gen. Mahone was Gen. McGowan’s S. C. brigade. When Gen. McGowan returned from the front to report to Gen Mahone, he was mounted on his old warhorse with hat in hand and answered Gen. Mahone’s inquiry as to whether there were any Yankees out there: “Oceans of them, General, oceans” The fire of battle was in Gen. McGowan’s eyes and as they rolled and glistened, Mahone concluded to send for reinforcements.
It was thus on the 20th Hagood’s brigade was ordered from and left the trenches to assist Mahone in retaking the Weldon road which the Yankees had occupied and was about 9 miles south of the city. On Saturday, the 20th, the 7th battalion along with, the brigade was in the trenches on the east of Petersburg, where it had been for three months. Col. Rion was at that time in the hospital. His wounded arm had never healed. That day hearing the movement he came out to see us leave the trenches. The doctors had enjoined upon him not to go with us. He stood with Dr. Hanahan on the banks of the trenches, while the battalion filed past him. The men were pleased to see him and glad also to get out of the trenches, Col. Rion was pleased with the spirit of the men and glad to know they were to meet the enemy on the open field. He gave his men many words of comfort and cheer. But little did he think the next time he saw his faithful battalion it would be reduced to nineteen men.
Through the city we marched to the other side of it, where we met with McGown’s brigade. These we encamped for the night, lying down in a heavy rain. But we enjoyed the best night’s sleep we had had in two months. Capt. J.L. Jones, of Liberty Hill, being the senior officer present was in command of the battalion. The next morning by 5 o’clock, we were marching down the road from the city. The battalion was in front with Capt. Jones and Adjutant W.M. Thomas at its head. We were met by one of Gen. Mahone’s aides who directed our line of march to the left of the road where we halted and rested for a few minutes.
Just then Pegram’s battery of artillery came down the road at full run. Just to our right and front across the road was an open field Pegram dashed in to this field and opened a quick fire with all his guns. The enemy’s minie balls and shells aimed at Pegram I began to fall about us. Then came, “Attention. Hagood’s brigade, forward, march!” and down the road we went at double quick time, passing this battery and forming a line of battle on the road side of the old field. Pegram had already lost all of his horses and the most of his men.
It was astonishing what destruction had been done to Pegram’s battery in so short a time. As we passed, some of the old artillerymen of the battalion wanted to stop and man the idle guns, but the charge upon the outer lines of the federals had commenced and Hagood’s line swept on across the open field towards the enemy in the wood sat the further edge. Slowly at first the enemy gave way. They had butchered Pegram, but now they were in full flight. The 25th regiment was on the left and the battalion on the right. From the woods came the brave and gallant Gen. Saunders. He was dead, borne on the shoulders of our faithful Alabamians, who had followed their brave commander to his death. Following their dead commander came a squad of stragglers into our lines. Adjutant Thomas endeavored to rally them, and get them to join in with us. But they said they would wait in the road until their brigade came up. One old fellow, however, asked, “What brigade is that?” “Hagood’s S. C. brigade,” was Adjutant Thomas’ reply. “All right,” said he “that is good enough for me. Come, on, boys, Let’s hitch on here. I was born in the old State and I can fight with her.” So they were hitched on to the right of Company D, but I don’t remember what ever became of them.
Our battle was only a few minutes. We were again marched forward with skirmishers to the front. We swept through the woods until we came to an open corn field. There we stood in line of battle for several minutes. From where we stood we could plainly see the enemy entrenched behind the railroad enbankment in front of us across the cornfield, and that they had earthworks projecting like forts to the right and to the left of where we were to charge. The enemy’s artillery from the front, right and left were playing upon us, killing and wounding our men, tearing off tree tops over our heads and cutting down the corn in our front. Gen. Hagood and staff came to us on the right and ordered the right to move just at 9 o’clock. Gen. Hagood, seeing the surrounding circumstances were entirely different from what we had been informed, sent his aide, Capt. Martin to Gen. Mahone, who was about a hundred yards in the rear, to ask what to do. Capt. Martin re-turned with orders from Gen. Mahone to charge them, as he had been informed there was but a light force of the enemy in his (Hagood’s) front. Had Gen. Mahone seen it as Gen. Hagood did he might have avoided what followed, this order was final, and there was no alternative for Hagood but to order the advance. Gen. Hagood, in passing the battalion on the right of the line, ordered it to advance at ordinary time until he came back to the right, as he had to go to the left where they were in trouble. All this took time and we were standing still, exposed to their shot and shell and not allowed to return their fire. The command, “Forward,” came from Adjutant Thomas to the battalion. With sparkling eye and a cheerful face he started back to the right. As he passed, Company B, he shook hands with is old friend, Lieut. S. Wade Douglass. Looking him in the face, he said: “Adjutant, we are going to catch it, to-day.” His reply was: “Oh, Wade, cheer up. We can’t die but once, So long, I will see you again. “Scarcely had their hands parted when Lieut. Douglass was struck by a minie ball and he fell mortally wounded at the adjutant’s feet. Thomas called some one and said, “Take care of Wade” and he moved on. Little did one think in five minutes that besides Lieut. Douglass Company B was to number among its dead Capt. Kennedy and Lieuts. Isbell and Robert Kennedy. At this time Hagood came up and the whole line rushed for war. The enemy opened a deadly fire from their batteries just in front of the 21st and 25th regiments and upon which the regiments rushed to their deaths; scarcely one-tenth of their number escaped. Capt. Martin, of the staff, was mortally wounded, and immediately Major Maloney, also of Hagood’s staff, was killed. This disposed of the left regiments of the brigade for the day. The others were the 27th on the left, the 11th in the centre and the 7th battalion on the right.
It was now 10 o’clock. The church bells at Petersburg rang but that Sunday hour down in the valley of the shadow of death along the railroad those chimes floated on the gentle breeze, as if to remind us of our altars and firesides.
The command was continually given to forward and dress on our colors. The whole line pressed forward amid a murderous fire from the enemy. Men fell at every step, but the brigade closed up its gaps. It lost half its number, crossing the first rising ground. When we reached the second rise and were in the flats, the command to halt was given and the order to lay down so as to be protected as much as possible, until our support came up. But they never came. Here, just at this time and place, your humble scribe received his discharge and carries the missile to this day.
Now, Mr. Editor, the remaining few words I have to say of this terrible carnage of blood is hearsay, but taken from reliable sources, from others more fortunate than myself on that fatal day. Just at this period of the battle, a federal officer rode out from their lines on our left. As the firing ceased, he came into our lines and said to Col. Gaillard of the 27th: “Give up that flag, sir, and surrender. We have you surrounded. There comes a column from the left to your rear to cut off your retreat. I have come here to secure you from further slaughter. You have struggled far enough.” The flag was handed over to him. Then he looked towards the battalion. Its line was straight. Its flag was afloat. He asked if the battalion was not in the surrender. But the battalion had not surrendered. Every nerve was stretched, but none quivered. Capt. Segurs (sic, Captain Dove Segars), now in charge of the battalion, returned from the right to the left and asked Thomas what was the matter over there on the left. Thomas told him be 27th and the 11th had surrendered to the federal on the horse. Segurs said; “Adjutant we will have to die right here.” “We will die,” said Thomas, “and let those Yankees see how Carolinians can die.” Segurs remarked, “Oh, that Hagood would come up.” Just at this time Gen. Hagood did run up. He said to Thomas: “What is the matter here?” He replied “The 21st and 27th have surrendered to the federal and he has their colors. “Gen. Hagood was then about fifteen paces from the officer. He instantly pulled his pistol and fired at him. Then he rushed at him with pistol in hand, until it seemed to reach his body. “Give up that flag,” cried Hagood. “Bang”‘ went the pistol again. The officer fell from his horse and the flag fell from his hands. Hagood seized the horse and mounted it. Capt. Dwight Stoney of his staff grabbed the flag. Hagood shouted: “All save yourselves who can.” Gen. Hagood and Stoney safely escaped with the flag through the storm of shot and shell that followed them.
The next day Gen. Lee sought Gen. Hagood and found him sitting alone under a large tree. He was thinking of his noble dead, who lay stretched upon the field, so close that if they were living he could hear him call them. Gen. Lee rode up and saluted him with tears in his eyes and spoke to Gen. Hagood, saying: “Well, General, you have lost your brigade.” “Yes,” said Gen. Hagood, “I told my men not to charge, but, poor fellows, they would do it, and now they are all gone” “You must not be disheartened,” said Gen. Lee; “there are some of them left. Gather them up and take them back to the rear. You will soon recruit up. I will promise you I will never fight them any more in this war. They have done their share.”
As Gen. Hagood desired to be alone with Gen. Lee, he directed the adjutant to gather up the remnant of the brigade and bring them to him. It was easy for him to reorganize the members the battalion, and soon he had nineteen of them and ten of the other regiments. “Fall in here Hagood’s brigade,” rang out through the woods. But it was so sorry sight to see. When brought them to Hagood, I pressed each one of them by the hand with tears rolling down his cheeks, and told them he knew what they could do, and promise them several weeks of rest and recreation. He turned them over to Thomas to have them rationed and cared for till further orders.
The next day the brigade was sent to Dunlap’s farm to rest and recruit up. For several days the brigade increased from 29 to about 75. It was here that an occurrence took place which delighted Col. Rion to tell. I will tell it and close. One night, Adjutant Thomas was going down the lines to see a friend, and he was passing by a camp fire, I overheard a conversation between some of the soldiers from one of the other regiments. One man insisted that charging breastworks had played out. No one could get him to charge breastwork again. His remarks seemed to have the approval of all present until one man spoke up and said “Men, that won’t do; you have to do it. There is that battalion up yonder. It would charge hell to-morrow morning and there is not a man of you that would not follow them. “In this battle I closed my career as an humble soldier in behalf of the “cause that is not lost!”
Jno. H. Neil.
White Oak, S. C.1
K.S. McPhail was also kind enough to pass along a brief bibliography of John Neil, the author of the preceding article, which also comes from The Winnsboro (SC) News and Herald, this time from the May 25, 1910 edition. The biography was a part of Neil’s obituary in the paper, which also included the photo pictured below.
John H. Neil.
Entered Army April 27, 1864 in Company B Liles Rifles 7 S.C. Bat., under Capt. John L. Kennedy.
“Enlisted at the age of seventeen S. C. Inf., Hagood’s Brigade, April 1864. This company at that time was stationed at Fort Johnson, James Island, S.C. In a few days this command was ordered to Virginia. We arrived in Petersburg May 6. A finer command, better equipped and officered never marched to battle. Every regiment full, handsomely uniformed and armed with the latest and improved arms. The 11th, 25th, 21st and 27th Regiments and the 7th Battalion, constituted Hagood’s Brigade. From the day we arrived in Peterburg, this command was almost daily engaged in battle, up to August 1864. In the battles of Port Walthall, Swift Creek, Drewry’s Bluff, Bermuda Hundreds, Cold Harbor, Petersburg Front, sixty-five days in the trenches of Petersburg, in the battle of Reims [sic, Ream’s, but this is really the battle of Globe Tavern, as discussed at the top of this page] Station August 21st. Of the 4,800 men and officers of this brigade when we arrived in Virginia on the 6th of May, there were about 100 to answer to the roll call. In this terrible carnage of blood the author of this short and imperfect sketch received his discharge, and he carries the missile to this day. Of the 38 men of Company B carried in this battle 31 were killed, wounded and captured. Lieutenants Isbell, S. Wade Douglass and Robt. Kennedy fell in this battle. Capt. J. Luke Kennedy died a few days before the battle.”