[From the Richmond, Va., Times, May 28,1899.]
GREAT BATTLE OF THE CRATER. 1
The Work of Mahone and Weisiger at the Fight.
By GEORGE S. BERNARD.
Reply to a Times Editorial Which Paid a Tribute to the Late General Weisiger—A Discussion of the Battle.
Editor of The Times:
Sir—In its editorial of Sunday, February 26, 1899, The Times, whilst paying a handsome tribute to the late General David A. Weisiger, makes some statements calculated to do great injustice to the memory of the late General William Mahone.
“The Virginia brigade and the Georgia brigade of Mahone’s Division were brought during the morning from the far right to recapture the Confederate lines by assault. The Virginia brigade advancing in front, came up a covered way to within two hundred yards of the crater, and then debouched to the right and formed line of battle directly in front of the crater. General Mahone remained in the covered way directing the movement and he ordered Weisiger to hold his brigade after it was formed, until the Georgia brigade, following him, got formed on his right. After Weisiger’s formation was complete and the Georgia formation was going on, Weisiger saw the Federal officers jumping out of their works and motioning their men to do the same and form. He saw it was only a question of a moment whether he should charge them or be charged by them in overwhelming numbers. Despatching a message to Mahone that he could wait no longer but must charge at once, he gave the command, led his men, and in a moment was hand to hand in a desperate encounter with the enemy. His triumph was complete, and with his 800 men he killed, wounded, and captured many thousands. Weisiger himself was shot through the body and being borne back to the covered way he found General Mahone still there. Mahone said to him: ‘Weisiger, you and Joe Johnston are always getting yourselves shot.’ In telling it Weisiger said he thought he was a dead man and was indifferent, therefore, about insubordination, and he replied: ‘Yes, General Mahone, and if you would go where General Johnston and I go, you would get shot, too.’
THE VIRGINIA BRIGADE.
The statements here made are in several particulars inaccurate.
The Virginia Brigade, after emerging from the covered way, did not form “directly in front of the crater,” but with the right of its line of battle as it faced eastwardly towards the Confederate breastworks (then in the possession of the enemy), considerably—probably over a hundred yards—to the left and rear of the crater. General Mahone’s purpose was to have the Georgia Brigade form on the right of the Virginia Brigade, and, as The Times correctly says, his order to General Weisiger was to hold his brigade until this formation, that is to say, the placing of the two brigades in continuous line of battle, should be completed. Had this plan been carried out,
the right of the Georgia Brigade would have been about “directly in front of,” or to speak more accurately, directly in rear and west of the crater, and the first assault would probably have been more effective; but, made as the charge was, with the Virginia Brigade and only a part of the Georgia Brigade, together with some of Elliott’s Brigade (which occupied the trenches immediately at, and on the right and left of, the crater at the time of the explosion), the assault, although brilliant, was not, in any sense, a complete triumph. Only the couple of hundred yards of the breastworks immediately to the north of the crater were recaptured. The crater itself was not, but was held by several hundred of the enemy for at least four hours longer, that is to say, until 1 o’clock P. M., when the final assault of the day, that made by the Alabama Brigade of Mahone’s Division, supported by troops from General Bushrod Johnson’s Division, resulted in its capture, and in the capture of the several hundred men then occupying it. This assault was made under the direction of General Mahone, after at least one unsuccessful assault by the Georgia Brigade, the assault of the Georgians being made about an hour after that of the Virginians.
To say that General Weisiger’s “triumph was complete,” and that “with his 800 men he killed, wounded and captured many thousands,” and to make this statement without qualification, is to claim for the Virginia brigade and its commander, as their special work, what belongs to the whole of the Confederate forces engaged in the battle of the Crater.
In a congratulatory order issued by General Mahone to the Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia Brigades during the week following the engagement he stated that, with an effective force of less than 3,000 men and a casualty list of 598, they killed 700 of the enemy’s people, wounded, by his own account, over 3,000, and captured 1,101 prisoners, embracing eighty-seven officers, seventeen stands of colors, two guerdons, and 1,916 stands of small arms, “deeds which,” to use the language of the order, “entitle their banner to the inscription, ‘The Crater,’ Petersburg, July 30, 1864.”
TO WHOM CREDIT IS DUE.
Talk with the men of Elliott’s Brigade, which, under the gallant Colonel F. W. McMaster, did no small amount of fighting on this famous day; talk with the men of Wise’s Brigade, which held the Confederate lines next on the south of the crater; talk with the men
of Ransom’s North Carolina Brigade, which occupied the lines next to Elliott’s Brigade on the north of the crater; talk with Major David N. Walker, of your city, who commanded a battery on the south of the crater; talk with Captain W. Gordon McCabe, who as Adjutant of Pegram’s Battalion of Light Artillery, posted immediately west of the crater, witnessed the charge of the Virginia Brigade; talk with Dr. Joseph W. Eggleston, of your city, who, as a member of Lamkin’s Mortar Battery, fired many a shell into the Federal lines during the engagement; talk with many others of the surviving participants in the battle, and they will satisfy you that, so far from the success of the Confederate arms at the crater being the work of the Virginia Brigade alone, strictly speaking, it was not the sole work of the three brigades commanded by General Mahone, but the result of fighting wherein other infantry took part and the artillery was a potential factor.
But to what officer in particular does especial credit for this success belong? To General Weisiger, says The Times. These are not the words, but the substance of its editorial of February 26, 1899.
If General Weisiger, and not General Mahone, was entitled to the credit of recapturing the Confederates’ works as claimed by The Times, it is manifest that both General A. P. Hill, to whose corps the division commanded by General Mahone belonged, and General R. E. Lee were laboring under a mistake, when, on the day of the battle, in their official reports, they referred to the retaking of the salient as the work of Mahone, the report of General Lee to the Secretary of War, published on page 818 of serial 82 of the War Records, being as follows:
“Headquarters Near Petersburg,
“July 30, 1864, 6:30 P. M.
“Hon. James A. Seddon, Secretary of War:
“General A. P. Hill reports that General Mahone, in retaking the salient possessed by the enemy this morning, recovered the four guns with which it was armed, captured 12 stand of colors, seventy-four officers, including Brigadier-General Bartlett and staff, and 855 enlisted men. Upward of 500 of the enemy’s dead are lying unburied in the trenches. His loss slight.
“R. E. Lee.”
If it was General Weisiger, and not General Mahone, whose service on the 30th of July, 1864, was especially memorable, as one would infer from the editorial of The Times under consideration, President Davis was in error when, three days after the battle he promoted General Mahone to a major-generalship, and made his promotion date from the day of what Mr. Davis referred to as “his memorable service” in the following official communication to General Lee, published at page 1156, of serial 88 of the War Records:
“Richmond, August 2, 1864.
“General R. E. Lee. Petersburg. Va.:
“Have ordered the promotion of General Mahone to date from the day of his memorable service, 30th of July. Have directed the appointment, temporary, of Captain Girardey as recommended. Has your attention been called to Colonel Dunavant or DeSaussure, temporarily to supply the place of General Elliott? I have enquired as to the position of Colonel Butler, and whether he can be detached.
If the work of the Virginia Brigade under General Weisiger was a complete triumph, and General Mahone’s work was as nothing, as one would suppose from a perusual of The Times’ editorial, General Bushrod Johnson, whose lines had been broken, was under a false impression as to the true state of things, when in his official report made August 20, 1864, and published at page 787, of serial 80 of the War Record, he said:
“To the able commander and gallant officers and men of Mahone’s Division, to whom we are mainly indebted for the restoration of our lines, I offer my acknowledgements for their great service.”
If The Times is right in giving to Weisiger, and not to Mahone, the credit of what was done by the Virginia Brigade in the battle of the Crater, there are many men in the brigade who participated in the engagement, who, for nearly thirty-five years have been greatly mistaken in their impressions of it.
General Weisiger’s Belief.
That General Weisiger, who gallantly commanded his men in this as in many other previous and subsequent engagements, believed
that he gave the order to charge at the opportune moment cannot be doubted. The writer of this communication distinctly remembers hearing him in the summer of 1865 give the same account of his part in the action that he gave in 1872 in a letter to General Mahone. But it must be borne in mind that other participants have made statements tending to show that General Weisiger was mistaken, however strong was his belief that his order, and not an order coming directly from General Mahone or indirectly from him through his staff officer, Captain Girardey, put in motion the Virginia Brigade when it made its charge. The conflict in the statements touching the point of controversy leaves the contemporaneous official records, from which quotations have been made, as our proper and only safe guide in determining what occured; from which records there is but one inference to be drawn, and that is, that, whatever the actual facts were, General A. P. Hill, General Robert E. Lee, and President Davis, who may properly be assumed to have voiced the current sentiment of the army and people of the Confederacy on the subject, which was the talk of the day, and was everywhere discussed were of opinion that the honors of the battle belonged to General Mahone.
Now for another feature of The Times editorial, its imputation, a very unjust one, that General Mahone was in the covered way, in a place of safety, all of the time that General Weisiger was with the troops, in the firing line, at the breastworks. This charge was made, for the first time in 1880, some sixteen years after the battle. Upon its appearance in print a committee of four of the best soldiers in the Virginia Brigade took the matter in hand, and a few weeks later published the statements of a number of trustworthy participants, which made it clear beyond controversy that, so far from it being true, as charged, that General Mahone remained in the covered way from the time General Weisiger moved forward with his brigade to the time when, after having been wounded, he met and talked with him (Mahone) on his way from the field, it is, on the contrary, true, that within a few minutes after General Weisiger and his men reached the breastworks General Mahone was there with them and among them.
Captain Taylor’s Statement.
Captain W. A. S. Taylor, the adjutant of 61st Virginia Regiment, in his statement, said:
“Arriving at the works, the command delivered its fire and finished the work assigned it with the bayonet. In a very few minutes thereafter General Mahone was at that portion of the works occupied by the 61st Virginia, and I heard him remark, “That the work is not over, and that we must retake the balance of the line.'”
Mr. T. H. Hines, of Company B, 16th Virginia Regiment, in his statement, said:
“Seeing a communication in print from General Weisiger, claiming the honor of having led Mahone’s Old Brigade at the battle of the Crater, and also stating or intimating that General Mahone was not present until after the fight was over. I beg leave to state that as a member of Company B, 16th Virginia Infantry, I was in that charge and in the fight. My brother, J. C. Hines, was near me and was wounded, having his right arm shattered by a bullet while in the works about half an hour after we reached the breastworks. General Mahone was near us in the works immediately in the fight; and when my brother was wounded, spoke to him and asked if he was much hurt; then directed him the way to get out and where he could find a surgeon: at the same time directed me to go with him and take care of him. My brother and I both are willing to make oath to this statement.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Wm. H. Stewart, of the 61st Virginia, who commanded the regiment in the battle, in his statement furnished in a letter to General Mahone, said:
“I was under the impression that it (the order to charge) came from you. As my attention was to the front, and you were on the right, I did not see you again until we had gained the outer breastworks. I then met you, and begged you not to expose yourself. The crater was then held by General Bartlett.”
Mr. William W. Caldwell, of Company C, 12th Virginia Regiment, a member of the battalion of sharp-shooters, which command charged with the brigade on the extreme left of the line, in his statement; sa[i]d:
“I had not lost sight of him (Mahone) five minutes when the enemy began forming outside the captured portion in our front. * * * * At that moment one of the men in the 12th jumped up and fired his rifle and yelled, ‘Forward.’ That was the first sound I
heard and we all jumped up and moved right at them. Then Weisiger called out to us, ‘Don’t fire.’ * * * We were advancing when he said this, and I am positive Weisiger did not give the command ‘ Forward.’
“In the movement from where we laid down to the works which we captured, I did not see General Mahone, but in less than five minutes after we were in the works he was in our midst, encouraging the men in the thickest of the fire. He joined us from the direction of the left.”
Colonel George T. Rogers, of the 6th Virginia Regiment, upon whom devolved the command of the brigade when General Weisiger, after being wounded, retired from the field, in his statement, said:
“We captured the line equal to our front, but could not cover the crater; and upon the instant almost of reaching the entrenchments Colonel Weisiger called to me that he was, he thought, mortally wounded, and turning over to me the command of the brigade, retired with assistance from the field before Colonel Rogers saw General Mahone in the trenches, and that General Weisiger was but a short time in command on the forming line. Let us here settle any question that may arise by the statements of General Weisiger and Judge Drury A. Hinton, his aide-de-camp, who was with General Weisiger in the charge, and at the breastworks, and who bore him from the field.
From the statement of Colonel Rogers, which fixes General Mahone as at the works before the Georgia Brigade charged, it would appear that General Weisiger was wounded and retired from the field. The brigade for the moment was in great confusion; our loss in the charge had been very heavy; the work of death was yet rife in the trenches, and our men were suffering terribly from an enfilade fire, poured from the crater proper that projected far into the rear of our line, as well as from the fire of the main line of battle of the enemy.
“Then it was,” continues Colonel Rogers, “I met General Mahone in the trenches, and received from him timely instructions for the disposition of the men and orders to hold the position at any hazard and under any loss, until he could bring another brigade to our relief. A few minutes after the Georgia Brigade was brought to the charge, but, obliqueing too far to the left, failed to cover the crater and the line to the right.”.
Couldn’t Cover The Crater.
General Weisiger, in his letter of 1872, to General Mahone, said:
“Perceiving the rapidity with which the enemy were forming, and the immediate danger of being overrun before the Georgians could arrive on the field, he (Girardey), expressed his assent to my views. I thereupon requested him to state my reasons for so doing, and immediately charged with my brigade, which, in gallant style, carried the works as far as my line would cover, which was to an angle nearly in rear of the ‘mine,’ capturing several hundred prisoners and eleven stands of colors, with a loss to my command in killed and wounded of 283 officers and men.”
”Soon after,” continues General Weisiger, “the Georgians were sent in, and later in the day, after I had been compelled to leave the field, the Alabama Brigade, under General Saunders, was sent in and the remaining portion of our works held by the enemy, captured.”
In his letter of 1876, to Captain W. Gordon McCabe, General Weisiger said:
“A short time after reaching the works I was wounded, and left the field with Captain Hinton, my aid. In coming out I found Mahone at the same point at which I had left him, in the ‘covered way.’ I reported to him that I had been wounded, and had turned the command over to Colonel Rogers, of the 6th Virginia Regiment. All of the fighting was over on my immediate front before I left.”
From these statements of General Weisiger we must understand that the Georgia Brigade had made its unsuccessful charges before he left the breastworks, and that the fighting, except that done when the Alabama Brigade was sent in, was all over.
[From the Richmond, Va., Times, June 4, 1899]
Editor of The Times:
Sir—In last Sunday’s Times in the first part of my article on the Battle of the Crater, the statement of Colonel Rogers was disarranged through fault of the type, and it should have read as follows:
Colonel George T. Rogers, of the 6th Virginia Regiment, upon whom devolved the command of the brigade when General Weisiger, after being wounded, retired from the field, in his statement, said:
“We captured the line equal to our front, but could not cover the crater; and upon the instant almost of reaching the entrenchments Colonel Weisiger called to me that he was, he thought, mortally wounded, and turning over to me the command of the brigade, retired with assistance from the field. The brigade for the moment was in great confusion; our loss in the charge had been very heavy; the work of death was yet rife in the trenches, and our men were suffering terribly from an enfilade fire, poured from the crater proper that projected far into the rear of our line, as well as from the fire of the main line of battle of the enemy.”
“Then it was,” continues Colonel Rogers, “I met General Mahone in the trenches, and received from him timely instructions for the disposition of the men and orders to hold the position, at any hazard and under any loss, until he could bring another brigade to our relief. A few minutes after the Georgia Brigade was brought to the charge, but, obliqueing too far to the left, failed to cover the crater and the line to the right.”
From the statement of Colonel Rogers, which fixes General Mahone as at the works before the Georgia Brigade charged, it would appear that General Weisiger was wounded and retired from the field before Colonel Rogers saw General Mahone in the trenches, and that General Weisiger was but a short time in command on the forming line. Let us here settle any question that may arise by the statements of General Weisiger and Judge Drury A. Hinton, his aide-de-camp, who was with General Weisiger in the charge, and at the breastworks, and who bore him from the field.
After this adjustment of the error, the article is herewith concluded from last Sunday:
JUDGE HINTON’S VIEW.
Let us now see what Judge Hinton said in an account of the battle given by him in 1892. The statement of this staff officer of General Weisiger is of especial importance in this, that, whilst it corroborates in some particulars the statement of General Weisiger as to what Weisiger said to Captain Girardey and Girardey said to Weisiger, it establishes the following facts: (1st) that Weisiger did not leave Mahone in the covered way when the brigade started on its charge; (2d) that Weisiger and Hinton on their return from the breastworks met Mahone, not in or at the covered way, but at “the mortar under a little arbor about twenty steps to the left of our line,”
some distance southwardly from the traverse at the end of covered way; (3d) that it was at this little arbor that he stood when, upon being informed by Hinton that Weisiger was ready to charge, he said: “Tell Colonel Weisiger to wait for an order from me or Captain Girardey; ” and (4th) that General Weisiger was not wounded immediately upon reaching the breastworks, but between 11 and 12 o’clock A. M.—after the Georgia Brigade had made two unsuccessful charges, and upwards of two hours after the Virginia Brigade made its charge.
The statement of Judge Hinton is as follows:
“At the end of the covered way along which we passed to this ravine, and at the point at which it intersects with the ravine, was General Mahone, standing by a traverse, to which a horse was tied. Here he directed Colonel Weisiger, who was leading the brigade, to move up the ravine and prepare to charge. Colonel Weisiger promptly did as directed, and placed his brigade along the slope of the hill with his left resting some distance from the traverse referred to.
TO FIX BAYONETS.
“Colonel Weisiger, being now on the right of the line of battle, directed me to order the men to fix bayonets and lie down, and then to inform General Mahone that he was ready to charge. I did as directed, going along down the line and repeating the order to the regimental commanders, and adding that the men had better reserve their fire until they could see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. When I reached General Mahone he had moved southwardly from the traverse, and was standing by a mortar under a little arbor about thirty steps from the left of our line. General Mahone, receiving Colonel Weisiger’s message, said: ‘Tell Colonel Weisiger to wait for an order from me or Captain Girardey ‘—which I understood to mean an order from himself in person or delivered through Girardey.
“Soon after I reached the right of the line and delivered General Mahone’s response, Captain Girardey came to where Colonel Weisiger and myself were standing. Just at this moment a magnificent looking Federal officer stepped out from our works, and, as we could perceive by his gesticulations, was calling upon his men to form line preparatory to a charge. The call was indifferently obeyed. Here and there a man would jump out from the works, but the great mass of the men in the trenches failed to respond. At this juncture Colonel Weisiger said to Girardey, ‘Captain, had I not better go in
now?’ ‘No,’ said Girardey, ‘General Mahone desires to annex Wright’s Brigade on to you and send you in together.’ A few moments later, however, Captain Girardey authorized him to charge. Colonel Weisiger then gave the word ‘Forward!’ which was immediately communicated along down the line, and with one impulse, as it seemed to me, the whole brigade sprang forward and rushed up the hill, making the most brilliant and orderly charge I ever had the opportunity to witness.
GENERAL WEISIGER WOUNDED.
“Arrived at the works, General Weisiger remained in command of the brigade until two unsuccessful charges had been made by Wright’s brigade, when he was wounded. I assisted him from the field between 11 and 12 o’clock, and on reaching the before-mentioned arbor, where was the mortar referred to, we met General Mahone, who, I am satisfied from the several statements of participants in the action—had previously been in the breast-works with the men.
“Colonel Weisiger here informed General Mahone that he had been wounded and had turned over the command of the brigade to Colonel Rogers.”
General Weisiger, in a statement published in 1880, after the committee had published the several statements from communication, said:
“I repeat that General Mahone was not in the line of battle from its formation to the time the charge was made; nor was he in the captured works until after I had been wounded and retired. He has not to my knowledge claimed it for himself; it has only been done by his friend.”
If General Weisiger was right in this statement, Major Richard W. Jones, of the 12th Virginia Regiment, who commanded the regiment in the action, was in error when in a letter to General Mahone written in 1877 he said:
“On getting my regiment in position in the ravine your courier delivered me a message to report to you at the right of the brigade. I went immediately, walking in front of the brigade, and found all the other regimental commanders before you when I arrived. At that moment you gave an order to have the Georgia Brigade moved rapidly to its position on the right of the Virginia Brigade, and then
turning to the officers you delivered a stirring address to this effect: (Here follows what Major Jones says General Mahone said.) “I do not profess to give your words, but your address and orders were given with such peculiar emphasis and under such impressive circumstances that the sentiments were indelibly inscribed on my mind. The whole management, the promptness, the vigor, the movements of our troops, impressed me as being more like the impetuous charges of the ‘Old Guard’ of Napoleon than any battle I ever saw. It was certainly the quickest, most splendid and most complete of all of the actions made by troops with whom I had the honor to serve. You seemed that day to be ubiquitous, superintending almost every detail in person.”
A QUESTION OF ACCURACY.
If General Weisiger was right, Mr. W. W. Caldwell was mistaken when in his statement he said, “Mahone accompanied us out of the covered way, at the head of the column, almost by my side, to our new position; and so was Colonel Stewart when in his statement he said: “As soon as the column halted on the ground from which the charge was to be made you came from the head of the column, directed me to have every man in line, and cautioned me to see that no one was left skulking in the covered way;” and so was Courier Jas. H. Blakemore, “well known in the Army of Northern Virginia as one of the most gallant lads in the service,” to quote Captain W. Gordon McCabe’s words describing him, when, in his statement made in 1880, after having stated that the Virginia Brigade was formed by Captain Girardey under the direction of General Mahone along the line as decided by General Mahone and “was kept at its post with bayonets fixed and ready to charge,” he said, “at this moment I could not have been more than two feet from General Mahone, who was standing a short distance from and a little distance in advance of the line of our formation, and who was then awaiting the movements of the Georgia Brigade, emerging from the covered way;” and so was Captain Thomas P. Pollard, of Company B, of the 12th Virginia, when in his statement made in 1880, referring to the time at which the brigade fixed bayonets and lay down to await orders, he said: “At that time, if my memory serves me right, I saw General Mahone in our immediate rear and close enough to give any command that might have been necessary;” and so was Lieutenant John E. Laughton, Jr., of Company D, 12th Virginia, who com-
manded a company of the battalion of sharp-shooters on the extreme right of the line, when in a statement made in 1876 he said: “Having seen General Mahone superintending the formation of the line my impression was that the order from Captain Girardey to forward came direct from General Mahone;” and so too was Orderly Sergeant Thomas E. Richardson, of Company K, 12th Virginia, when in a statement made in 1876 he said: “When the enemy came out of their works I was in twenty feet of General Mahone. He and Major Girardey were talking. When the move on the part of the enemy commenced, Major Girardey left General Mahone and ran to the front, giving the command, ‘Forward men.’ ”
Were all of these men at fault in their recollections as to the presence of General Mahone in the line of battle when it was formed on the slope of the hill on the east side of the ravine ready to charge? The statements of other participants might be produced to show the presence of General Mahone in the line of battle at this time, but the foregoing are sufficient, especially when it is remembered that General Weisiger’s position about the right of his line of some 800 men, standing or lying down in two ranks, made it impossible for him to see that General Mahone was not in some other part of this line, some two hundred or more yards long.
Were all of those who state that they saw General Mahone in the breastworks within a short time after the charge of the Virginia Brigade, and before the Georgia Brigade made any assault, under a delusion as to this? General Weisiger, in that network of traverses and ditches, where the range of vision was very limited, could not have seen and known that any particular person was not also present. A score of reputable participants in the action could doubtless be produced who will testify that they did not first see General Weisiger at the breastworks, and their testimony would furnish just as much evidence upon which to base a statement that he was not there at all as there is to support the statement that Mahone was not there whilst Weisiger was, but was in the covered way during all of this time.
As you will note, the several statements from which extracts have been made are those of other participants than General Mahone. In 1880, when General Weisiger said that he (Mahone) had not to his knowledge claimed for himself that he (Mahone) was in the line
of battle at any time from its formation to the time the charge was made, and was not in the captured works until after he (Weisiger) had been wounded, and that this claim was only set up by General Mahone’s friends, General Mahone had not made a statement setting out in detail his personal movements on the morning of the battle, but in 1892 he made a statement of this character, which was published and from which the following extracts are taken:
MANY FEDERAL FLAGS.
“Arrived at the mouth or terminus of the first mentioned ravine or gulch, the lieutenant, pointing across to the slope of the hill on the east side of this branch, a few yards away, said to me: ‘If you will go up that slope there, you can see the Yankees.’ Moving quickly to this slope, I found myself in full view of the portion of the salient which had been blown up, and of that part of the works to the north of the salient, and saw that they were crammed with Federal soldiers and thickly studded with Federal flags.
“For the moment I could scarcely take in the reality, and the very danger to which I was at the time exposed came to my relief and bade me stand still, as the surest course of personal safety—I did not think they would be so likely to fire upon a single man—and so I stood where I could keep one eye on the adversary whilst I directed my own command, which every moment was in fearful peril if the enemy should advance whilst the two brigades were moving, and the larger part of them were still in the covered way.
“A moment’s survey of the situation impressed me with the belief, so crowded were the enemy and his flags—eleven flags in less than one hundred yards—that he was greatly disordered but present in large force. At once I sent back to my line in the trenches, full two miles away, for the Alabama Brigade to be brought me quickly by the route by which the two brigades had come, then indicating to Captain Girardey the ground on which I desired the Virginia Brigade formed facing the retrenched cavalier of the salient.
“Occupying the position heretofore described, and from which, as heretofore stated, I was able to command a full view of that portion of the works occupied by the enemy, and at the same time to intimately direct the movement of my own command, I spoke words of encouragement and duty to the men as they filed by on their way to the position which had been indicated to Captain Girardey for them to take for the attack.
“The Virginia Brigade being now in position, and the head of the Georgia Brigade having now left the mouth of the covered way and filing up the depression to take its place on the right of the Virginia Brigade, the left of the Virginia Brigade being not more than eighty feet from where I stood and Girardey about midway. Girardey sang out, ‘General, they are coming!’ whereupon, turning my head to the left—at the moment I was instructing the Georgia Brigade as it was filing along up the depression—I saw the Federals jumping out of the Confederate breastworks and coming forward in a desultory line, as if to charge us, and in a tone of voice so raised that the whole of the Virginia Brigade might hear me, I said to Girardey, ‘Tell Weisiger to forward.’ Captain Girardey, like the brilliant officer he was—never failing to do precisely the right thing at the right time—rushed with uplifted sword to the front of the brigade himself, repeated the command ‘Forward’ and led the brigade which, as if on dress parade, and with the steadiness and resolution of regulars—and regulars they were in every sense that makes the soldier effective—moved forward to meet the advancing enemy.
* * * * * **
“The Virginia Brigade having made its charge, I put the Georgia Brigade in position to meet any possible reverse to which the Virginia Brigade might be subjected, and then hurried across the field to the works the Virginia Brigade then occupied, and, after making a thorough examination of the situation, so disposed the same as to increase the ability of the brigade to hold the works retaken, at the same time causing sharpshooters to be so posted as to make death the penalty to those of the enemy who were attempting to escape and get back to their lines. It was whilst here that I remember young Butts, of your company, being killed in my immediate presence. He had just cautioned me, whilst I was looking through an opening in the works, not to expose myself. I told him I would look after that, and almost immediately afterwards he received a bullet in his head, which killed him instantly, and he fell on the floor of the trench at my feet.
” I hurried back to the Georgia Brigade and explained to the men and officers the situation of affairs, and how they must make the move to retake that part of our main line still occupied by the enemy to the left of the traverse. They moved forward for the charge, but, unfortunately, obliqued too far to the left and came in behind the Virginia Brigade. The terrific fire of the enemy to which this brigade
ORDERS TO FORWARD.
When General Mahone heard Girardey sing out, “General, they are coming,” and, turning towards the breastworks, saw the Federals jumping out of them and coming forward in a desultory line, indicating their purpose to charge—which movement on the part of the enemy had been already seen by Girardey, Weisiger, Hinton and numbers of men in the brigade—he cried out to Girardey, who stood between him and the left of the brigade, “Tell Weisiger to forward.” At that time, it is more than probable that Girardey, exercising the authority which Mahone intended him (Girardey) to exercise when he sent to Weisiger by Hinton the message, “Tell Colonel Weisiger to wait for an order from me or Captain Girardey,” had authorized Weisiger to move forward as suggested by Weisiger, and that the right of the brigade line of battle had actually begun its forward movement. Orderly-Sergeant J. Edward Whitehorne, of Company F, 12th Virginia Regiment, whose company was on the extreme left of this line of battle, in a statement made in 1892, said:
“We lay in the position above described (on the slope of the hill) for a few minutes, when a tremendous cheer from the right greeted our ears. Looking up the line I saw that the right of the column had begun to charge. Instantly we sprang to our feet and moved forward at a double-quick.”
The charge of the Virginia Brigade having been made, Mahone tells with clearness what his subsequent movements were, and no one after reading his statement and those of the officers and men who saw him in the trenches can doubt their correctness and the incorrectness of any statement which declares that he was not in the line of battle at anytime during its formation, but was in the covered way all of the time that it was being formed and all of the time that General Weisiger was with the troops.
This communication, Mr. Editor, is considerably longer than was anticipated, but can not be concluded without reference to the words said to have been exchanged between Generals Weisiger and Mahone, when Mahone said to Weisiger, “Weisiger, you and Joe Johnston are always getting yourselves shot.” There must be some mistake as to General Weisiger’s reply.
Weisiger was not, in point of fact, “shot through the body,” but was only slightly injured, so slightly, as indeed, as not to be prevented from commanding his brigade on the 19th of August, 1864, when Mahone took this and two other brigades in rear of Warren’s line of battle about the Weldon railroad, and both Mahone and Weisiger distinguished themselves, each doing his work with efficiency. We will assume, however, that General Weisiger supposed himself mortally wounded. It is not natural for an officer who believes that he has just received a mortal wound, in response to a complimentary salute from his superior officer, such as that implied in these words, kindly spoken, “Weisiger, you and Joe Johnston are always getting yourselves shot,” to avail himself of the opportunity to make a fling like that which We[i]siger is said to have made to and at Mahone; and those who knew the two men well are unwilling to believe that Weisiger, whatever he said, intended to cast any imputation upon Mahone’s courage. If General Weisiger considered General Mahone wanting in courage, it may be safely affirmed that he stood alone of all of the men who served under General Mahone in any capacity in holding this opinion. As above suggested, there must be some mistake about this matter. General Weisiger, as did all of his men who on many occasions had seen both officers in places where there was every opportunity to watch and measure them, knew that General Mahone’s courage was as true as his own. That of neither ever had been, or could be questioned. If you doubt this, consult the officers and men of the old brigade, whenever and wherever you find them, and you will soon become satisfied how unjust is any statement that makes a different impression.
This communication, Mr. Editor, is sent to you for publication, with the belief that The Times would not knowingly make an erroneous impression prejudicial to any one, but will take pleasure in publishing anything that may aid in removing any such impression, or tend to throw light upon a question of history.
- Bernard, George S. “Great Battle of the Crater.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 28, pp. 204-221 ↩