SOPO Editor’s Note: Due to the unfortunate political climate of the early 2020s, I want to state here that some critics of the Southern Historical Society Papers accuse the writers of these articles of perpetuating the Lost Cause. In addition, these articles were written decades after the war and may suffer from some issues with accuracy. All that said, these articles provide a look at the Siege of Petersburg from the Confederate perspective. This perspective is largely absent from the Official Records due to the hasty retreat from Richmond and the burning of many important documents during the Appomattox Campaign. I believe it is important to provide this perspective on this site.
Operations of Second South Carolina Regiment in Campaigns of 1864 and 1865.1
By Colonel WILLIAM WALLACE, Commanding.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: Normally I would remove portions of an article not relevant to the Siege of Petersburg, but if I remove those in this case I would be left with little to show.]
At sunrise on the morning of the 6th of May , we were marching by the right flank along the [Orange] Plank road when suddenly we heard firing; heard the minnie balls whistling and falling amongst us; saw our troops running rapidly to the rear, and learned that the enemy had surprised and routed them. [Joseph B.] Kershaw’s division formed line in the midst of this confusion, like cool and well trained veterans, as they were, checked the enemy and soon drove them back. The Second [South Carolina] regiment was on the left of the Plank road, near a battery of artillery, and, although completely flanked at one time by the giving way of the troops on the right, gallantly stood their ground, though suffering terribly; they and the battery keeping up a well directed fire to the right oblique until the enemy gave way. General Lee now appeared on our left, leading Hood’s brigade. We rejoined our brigade on the right of the Plank road, and again advanced to the attack. As we were rising a wooded hill we were met by one of our brigades flying in confusion, the officers in vain endeavoring to rally their men. We met the enemy on the crest of the hill and again drove them back. We were soon relieved by Jenkins’ brigade, under command of that able and efficient officer, General Bratton, and ordered to march to the rear and rest. We had scarcely thrown ourselves upon the ground when General [John] Bratton requested that a regiment should be sent him to fill a gap in the lines which the enemy had discovered and were preparing to break through. I was ordered to take the Second regiment and report to him. A staff officer showed me the gap, when I double-quicked to it and reached it just in time, as the enemy were within forty yards of it. As we reached the point we poured a well directed volley into them, killing a large number and putting the rest to flight. General Bratton witnessed the conduct of the regiment on this occasion, and spoke of it in the highest terms. The enemy, up to his time, had been routed at all points, and General [James] Longstreet was just advancing to give the finishing stroke to the victory, by cutting them in half, when he was unfortunately wounded by our own men.2
Our regiment lost severely by this battle. Colonel [John D.] Kennedy was again wounded and the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel [Franklin] Gaillard killed, both early in the action, when fighting near the battery. The command of the regiment consequently devolved upon myself [then Major, later Lieutenant Colonel William Wallace] as the only field officer present. The 7th [of May 1864] was spent in burying the dead and marching slowly towards the right. At night we made a forced march towards Spotsylvania Courthouse, near which point we arrived at daylight [May 8, 1864] and slept till sunrise, when we were aroused and double-quicked about a mile. We had just been placed in position by General [J. E. B.] Stuart, of the cavalry, when the enemy advanced to the attack, thinking they would meet nothing but cavalry. We opened a terrific fire upon them which killed a great many and drove the rest back in confusion. They soon returned, however, bringing artillery to bear upon our frail breastworks of rails. The men stood their ground, however, and again drove them back with great slaughter. General Stuart remained with our regiment during the entire action, sitting on his horse amidst a storm of bullets, laughing and joking with the men and commending them highly for their courage and for the rapidity and accuracy of their fire. Poor fellow! he left us after the fight was over, and, to the regret of all, we heard a few days after of his death [at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, May 11, 1864]. The rest of the army soon came up and fortified the heights which we held that morning. The battle raged with great fury for several days, but Grant, finding that he could not reach Richmond by that route, rolled on towards the Pamunkey. He made a feint at Northanna bridge, but finding Lee ready for him, continued his march for the Peninsula.
The regiment did good service at this point, four companies holding the bridge successfully against a large force of the enemy.3
Grant still rolling on by his left flank, Lee marched by his right to be ready to confront him whenever he should offer battle. This he did again at Cold Harbor, about the 1st of June . One brigade, under the lamented Colonel Keitt, was sent out to reconnoitre and came upon the enemy in large force, strongly entrenched. Keitt was killed and the brigade suffered severely. A few skirmishers thrown out would have accomplished the object of a reconnoissance and would have saved the lives of many brave men. Our troops, finding the enemy entrenched, fell back and began to fortify. Soon our line was established and the usual skirmishing and sharpshooting commenced. That same afternoon, being on the extreme left of Kershaw’s division, I received orders to hasten with the Second regiment to General Kershaw’s headquarters. I found the General in a good deal of excitement. He informed me that our line had been broken on the right of his division, directed me to hasten there and if I found a regiment of the enemy flanking his position to charge them. I hurried to the point indicated, found that our troops, to the extent of a brigade and a half, had been driven from their works and the enemy in possession of them. I determined to charge, however, and succeeded in driving them from their position with but little loss. Our regiment numbered one hundred and twenty men. The enemy driven out consisted of the Forty-eighth [New York] and One-hundred-and-twelfth New York. We captured the colors of the Forty-eighth, took some prisoners and killed many whilst making their escape from the trenches. We lost in this charge one of our most efficient officers, Captain Ralph Elliott, a brother of General Stephen Elliott. He was a brave soldier and a most estimable gentleman.4
The regiment was at the siege of Petersburg and did good service there. [In mid-June 1864 at the end of the Second Battle of Petersburg] [t]hey threw up breastworks under a heavy fire, and held them for eight days until relieved.5 The regiment was then held in reserve at Petersburg and was thrown continually to the extremities of the line to resist the flank movements of the enemy.6 It was afterwards sent to the [Shenandoah] Valley and operated there under General Early for several months, sharing his victories and defeats. It was then ordered back to the lines in front of Richmond [in mid-November 1864], and was marched almost every night in midwinter, the ground covered with snow, to some threatened point, and was at last sent to South Carolina, in January, 1865, to aid in defending its native State from the invasion of Sherman. But they were marched to Charleston whilst Sherman was burning Columbia, evacuated that place with scarcely an enemy in sight, and were conducted in ignominious retreat into North Carolina, while Sherman, unresisted, was destroying the vitals of their State. The regiment was engaged in the two small battles in North Carolina – Bentonville and Averasboro’. They were small affairs and merely intended as temporary checks to the enemy. General Joe Johnston, I believe, never had any other object in view. The regiment was reorganized at Smithfield, North Carolina, by the consolidation of the Twentieth with it. It retained its name and colors. It had five hundred men present for duty. Its officers were William Wallace, Colonel; J. D. Grahame, Lieutenant-Colonel, and J. S. Leaphart, Major. The regiment remained at Smithfield for some weeks, reorganizing and drilling, and then marched to join General Lee. At Raleigh we heard rumors of his surrender, which were not believed; but soon after they were confirmed by stragglers from his army, whom we met on our march. We soon after surrendered to General Sherman at Greensboro’, and, being paroled, returned home.
Colonel Second South Carolina Regiment.
- Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 7, Pages 128-131 ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This paragraph covers the May 6, 1864 second day at the Battle of the Wilderness. For more, see Gordon Rhea’s book The Battle of the Wilderness: May 5-6, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The preceding two paragraphs cover the first day of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in some detail, and then gloss over the rest of the fighting as well as that at the Battle of North Anna River. for more on these fights see Gordon Rhea, The Battles for Spotsylvania Court House and the Road to Yellow Tavern, May 7–12, 1864 and To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13–25, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: In this last paragraph prior to the Petersburg portion, Wallace describes his unit’s actions at the Battle of Cold Harbor. For more, see Rhea’s book Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26–June 3, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I believe this refers to when Kershaw’s Division, First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia reached Petersburg on the morning of June 18, 1864 and took position southeast of town on the right flank of the Confederate forces arrayed east of town. Unfortunately, in many cases in postwar accounts Confederate soldiers are not very specific with dates. It makes sense since they were relying on memory and did not yet have access to the Official Records. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: In looking over the Diary of the First Corps for June-July 1864, Kershaw’s Division (of which this regiment was a part) was involved in the June 29, 1864 First Battle of Reams’ Station, covered the movement of several railroad trains full of corn on July 10, 1864, and fought at the First Battle of deep Bottom on July 28, 1864. ↩