History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade [at Petersburg, Part 3].1
By Gen. JAMES H. LANE.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: This series of articles written by James H. Lane about his brigade spans the entire war. The articles you’ll read here focus, naturally enough, on the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox only. This is the third of five articles on Petersburg. A section in the middle of this article has been omitted due to its lack of Petersburg subject matter.]
MARCH TO JARRATT’S STATION AND BACK.
During the winter of 1864-5 [December 7-12, 1864], about the time General Early returned from his Valley campaign the Federal cavalry [and Warren’s Fifth Corps] made a raid on the Petersburg and Weldon railroad, and our brigade formed a part of the force sent to Jarratt’s Station. On our march to that point we suffered intensely from the hail and the snow, and a high and bitter cold wind. When we reached the station the enemy had retired, and we had to return to our winter quarters over the hard frozen ground.
On our return one of our brigade, seeing a barefooted Floridian slowly picking his way over the frozen ground, left ranks, and approaching him, said; “Look here, mister, I don’t know who you are, but I can’t stand that.” Taking off his knapsack, he took out a pair of new shoes, put them on, and handed his old ones, a very good pair, to the poor fellow, with the remark: “Here, take these, and I will wear my news ones which I drew just before leaving camp.” The bare-footed and sore-footed rebel from the “Land of Flowers” soon had them on, and the kind-hearted “Tar Heel” was cheered by his gallant comrades as he returned to ranks.2
I was sitting by a fire on the roadside, to see that my command was properly closed as it marched by, when two thinly-clad and sickly-looking soldiers came up to warm their feet. Their toes were all exposed, the uppers of their shoes being ripped from the soles. I soon found out that one of them was from East Florida and the other from Middle, and that both were disgusted with Virginia on account of the cold. When I informed them that I had once lived in West Florida, one of them said: “Mister, ain’t Florida a great place? There the trees stay green all the time, and we have oranges and lemons, and figs and bananas, and it is the greatest country for taters you ever did see.”3
[SOPO Editor’s Note: Several pages of resolutions from Lane’s regiments from February 1864 have been skipped since they do not pertain to the Siege of Petersburg.]
OUR SHARP-SHOOTERS ATTACK THE ENEMY’S SKIRMISH LINE.
Late in the winter, about the opening of spring, I received a note from General Wilcox, asking, “can’t you catch a Yankee to-night for General Lee? Some of the enemy are moving, and he wants to know what command it is.” I at once sent for Major [Thomas J.] Wooten [,commander of Lane’s Sharpshooters]. When he had read the note, I asked if he thought it could be done without loss, and added, I wouldn’t have one of your brave fellows hurt for half a dozen Yankees. “Nor I,” was his prompt reply, “I love those fellows as much as you do.” A long silence followed, as the Major sat, looking upon the tent flow, with his head between his hands. But his face finally brightened, and as he looked up, he said, “I can get him.” He took only a part of his corps of Sharp-shooters with him, though all wished to accompany him. The moon was shining brightly, and when he reached the skirt of woods in front of my headquarters, he found it was too far from he enemy’s rifle pits to make the dash. In whispers the men were directed to crawl, and when they had gone some distance on all fours, the Major, who was in the lead, sprang to his feet and cried out, “Boys, we have got them.” Away they went, at a run, in double ranks, and when the left had reached the line of pits, the two ranks faced outward, and wheeling right and left, just as you would open the lids of a book, they came back, bringing their prisoners with them. This mode of attacking the enemy’s skirmish line, adopted by the Major, was known in our brigade as ‘Wooten’s seine-hauling.” The enemy fired, but no one was hurt. About day Wooten reported to me that he had not been able to catch a Yankee, but that he had seven Dutchmen. Whether General Lee was able to get any information from them, I never heard. I only know that no one at our headquarters could understand their “foreign gibberish.”4
AFTER GORDON’S ATTACK, THE ENEMY SWEEP OUR SKIRMISH LINE.
When General [John B.] Gordon attacked Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman] [on March 25, 1865], General [Cadmus M.] Wilcox was sick, and I commanded his division. I was ordered about dark to report to General Gordon, in Petersburg, with my own and another brigade. General Gordon ordered us to Lieutenant Run, on the road leading to the Jerusalem Plank-road, not far from the ruins of the Ragland House, (I think that was the name,) and there await further orders. We were not taken into action; but, some time after the repulse, were ordered back to our winter quarters.
Just as we reached our camp, the enemy threw forward a very strong force, and swept the entire Confederate picket line from Hatcher’s Run to Lieutenant Run, and it was feared they would attack our weak line of battle. Our artillery opened, and the fighting continued throughout the day. About dark we succeeded in reestablishing the picket line in our front, excepting the hill in front of our left, from which the enemy could fire into our winter quarters. This hill was on the left of the road leading to the Jones House, and not far from it.5
WE RETAKE THE HILL IN FRONT OF OUR LEFT.
Next morning [March 26, 1865] General Lee sent for me, and wished to know if I could dislodge the enemy from the hill mentioned above. When I told him I thought I could, but that I would like to have reinforcements near in the event of a failure, he turned to the troops in his rear and said, “Here are two brigades, but I cannot let you have them longer than to-morrow morning, as they are needed elsewhere, so you must go to work at once, reconnoitre the position, determine where to attack, and take that hill to-night.” Major Wooten was directed to make the attack with the Sharp-shooters from the four brigades of the division, and his gallant fellows carried the hill about day [on March 27, 1865] without a single loss. As soon as their yell was heard, my brigade was thrown forward to their support, as I was afraid he enemy might attempt to retake this commanding position. We afterwards suffered some loss from the sharp-shooting, which was kept up all day.
When the enemy were seen dragging something in the ravine in front of our left, one of our men yelled out: “Hello, Yanks, what are you doing there?” To which he received the reply: “Your Major Hooten is so fond of running up these hollows to break our line, we are putting a howitzer here to give him a warmer welcome the next time he comes.” Major Wooten, of course, was the party referred to, as he had already by, his frequent “seine-haulings,” established a reputation in the enemy’s line along our front.6
Lieutenant O[ctavius]. A. Wiggins, of the Thirty-seventh [North Carolina] regiment, who was captured at Petersburg, informs me that when Grant made his last attack at that city our front was assailed by two Yankee corps, and that a third was leaving the works to join them just as he was taken into the enemy’s line.
Lieutenant Wiggins was confined a short time in the Old Capitol prison, where he spent his twenty-first birthday, and was laughed at by his comrades for being twenty-one and yet not being free. When he and others were being taken to Harrisburg he jumped from the car window just after the train had crossed a bridge, and as the night was very dark and rainy, he made his escape. He had on at the time a uniform made of an old shawl, but next morning he prevailed on a Radical near by to give him a working suit and a valise as a disguise. He afterwards worked until he made money enough to buy him a fashionable suit, in Baltimore, and pay his passage from that city to Richmond. His escape was exciting and full of adventure. When he reached Richmond Lieutenant Meade and I dressed him up in our soiled military clothes, and a lady friend escorted him to the Provost Marshal’s office, in the Baptist Female Institute. He there surrendered as a “straggler,” was paroled and given transportation to his home in North Carolina.
Lieutenant Wiggins was considered one [of] our bravest young officers. He specially distinguished himself at Spotsylvania Courthouse, on the 12th May, when our brigade, in its flank movement in front of our works, struck, Burnside’s corps, and his regiment got in its rear. I there saw him unarmed, in the woods, dare two armed Yankees to fire upon him. He not only made his escape on that occasion by his boldness, but immediately afterwards captured the Fifth-first Pennsylvania flag, as stated in my official report of that engagement.
Lane’s North Carolina Brigade History, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 9:
- SHS Papers: Volume 9: History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade at Petersburg, Part 1 by James H. Lane
- SHS Papers: Volume 9: History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade at Petersburg, Part 2 by James H. Lane
- Lane, James H. “History of Lane’s North Carolina Brigade.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 9, pp. 489-496 ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Floridians were from Finegan’s Brigade, Mahone’s Division, Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This section refers to Warren’s December 7-12, 1864 Stony Creek Raid to the Meherrin River. Lane’s Brigade, and many other brigades in A. P. Hill’s Corps for that matter, spent a miserably chilly few winter days fruitlessly chasing the Federal raiders. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I am unsure what date this particular “Wooten seine-hauling” occurred on. If you know please use the Contact button at the top of the page. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The skirmish line action Lane was involved in was the Action at Fort Fisher on March 25, 1865. When George G. Meade and Ulysses S. Grant learned of Gordon’s full-out assault at Fort Stedman, they correctly reasoned the rest of the Confederate defenses had been stripped, and ordered skirmish line attacks southwest of Petersburg. Lane’s Brigade was one of the Confederate units tasked with defending against these attacks. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This “Action at McIlwaine’s Hill” involved the sharpshooter battalions of the four brigades of Wilcox’s Division working in concert. See pages 254-255 of Fred Ray’s excellent book Shock Troops of the Confederacy for more information and a map. ↩