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Hood: Advance and Retreat
Chapter 2a


AFTER the battle of Seven Pines, General R. E. Lee was assigned to the command of the Army of Northern Virginia. He immediately commenced to form plans by which to free the Confederate Capital from the proximity of the enemy. I His first move was to send General Whiting's Division to Staunton, as a ruse, to join General Jackson; to order the latter there to march toward Richmond, or down the north side of the Chickahominy, upon the right flank of McClellan; and, when Jackson was sufficiently near the enemy, to throw across this stream the main body of the Confederate Army at, and in the vicinity of Meadow bridge, and, finally, with his united forces to make a general assault upon the Federals. I happened to have been made cognizant of the foregoing plan through General Whiting, just prior to or during the march to Staunton. I mention the source from which I obtained this information, as it might seem strange that a Brigadier General should have knowledge of the secret purposes of such a movement, in operations of so great importance.

My brigade having been reinforced by Hampton's Legion, under the command of Colonel Geary, moved by railway about the middle of June, via Lynchburg, to Charlottesville, and thence marched to Staunton. Upon our arrival at this place, we received orders to retrace our steps, return to Charlottesville, and there take the train to Hanover Junction. On the 25th I conducted my command, which now formed a part of Jackson's Army, to Ashland. At this point rations and ammunition were issued to the troops, and, the morning of the 26th, I marched with my brigade in a southeasterly direction towards Cold Harbor, as the advanced guard of Jackson's forces. We soon came in contact with the Federal outposts, I whom we drove rapidly to and across Tottapotamoi creek, a sluggish stream, with banks steep and densely wooded on either side. Here I discovered the bridge on fire, and the enemy busily engaged felling trees to check our advance beyond; thereupon, Reiley's battery was placed in position, and opened fire, whilst we continued to push forward our skirmish line. The Federals finally retreated in such haste that they left their axes in the trees. The bridge was promptly repaired, and we continued skirmishing with their rear guard till we reached Handley's Corner, where we halted, and bivouacked for the night.

We had heard during the day, in the direction of Mechanicsville, the guns of Longstreet and A. P. Hill, which indicated that the issue of the great battle, then in progress, would soon be decided. At early dawn of the 27th the march was resumed; Ewell's Division bore off in the direction of our left during the day, and Whiting's to the right. The latter received instructions, in the afternoon, to repair to the support of Longstreet, then assaulting the Federal left at Cold Harbor. I moved on with all possible speed, through field and forest, in the direction of the firing, and arrived, about 4.30 p.m., at a point, on the telegraph road, I should think not far distant from the centre of our attacking force. Here I found General Lee, seated upon his horse. He rode forward to meet me, and, extending his usual greeting, announced to me that our troops had been fighting gallantly, but had not succeeded in dislodging the enemy; he added, "This must be done. Can you break his line ?" I replied that I would try. I immediately formed my brigade in line of battle with Hampton's Legion on the left. In front was a dense woods and ugly marsh, which totally concealed the enemy from us; but the terrible roar of artillery and musketry plainly revealed, however, that thousands and thousands of living souls were struggling in most deadly conflict for the mastery of that field, and I might say, almost under the shadow of the Capitol of the infant Confederacy. My line was established, and moved forward, regiment by regiment, when I discovered, as the disposition of the Eighteenth Georgia was completed, an open field a little to its right. Holding in reserve the Fourth Texas, I ordered the advance, and galloped into the open field or pasture, from which point I could see, at a distance of about eight hundred yards, the position of the Federals. They were heavily entrenched upon the side of an elevated ridge running a little west and south, and extending to the vicinity of the Chickahominy. At the foot of the slope ran Powhite creek, which stream, together with the abatis in front of their works, constituted a formidable obstruction to our approach, whilst batteries, supported by masses of infantry, crowned the crest of the hill in rear, and long range guns were posted upon the south side of the Chickahominy, in readiness to enfilade our advancing columns. The ground from which I made these observations was, however, open the entire distance to their entrenchments. In a moment I determined to advance from that point, to make a strenuous effort to pierce the enemy's fortifications, and, if possible, put him to flight. I therefore marched the Fourth Texas by the right flank into this open field, halted and dressed the line whilst under fire of the longrange guns, and gave positive instructions that no man should fire until I gave the order; for I knew full well that if the men were allowed to fire, they would halt to load, break the allignment, and, very likely, never reach the breastworks. I moreover ordered them not only to keep together, but also in line, and announced to them that I would lead them in the charge. Forward march was sounded, and we moved at a rapid, but not at a double-quick pace. Meantime, my regiments on the left had advanced some distance to the front through the wood and swamp.

Onward we marched under a constantly increasing shower of shot and shell, whilst to our right could be seen some of our troops making their way to the rear, and others lying down beneath a galling fire. Our ranks were thinned at almost every step forward, and proportionately to the growing fury of the storm of projectiles. Soon we attained the crest of the bald ridge within about one hundred and fifty yards of the breastworks. Here was concentrated upon us, from batteries in front and flank, a fire of shell and canister, which ploughed through our ranks with deadly effect. Already the gallant Colonel Marshall, together with many other brave men, had fallen victims in this bloody onset. At a quickened pace we continued to advance, without firing a shot, down the slope, over a body of our soldiers lying on the ground, to and across Powhite creek, when, amid the fearful roar of musketry and artillery, I gave the order to fix bayonets and charge. With a ringing shout we dashed up the steep hill, through the abatis, and over the breastworks, upon the very heads of the enemy. The Federals, panic-stricken, rushed precipitately to the rear upon the infantry in support of the artillery; suddenly the whole joined in the flight toward the valley beyond. At this juncture some twenty guns, stationed in rear of the Federal line on a hill to my left, opened fire upon the Fourth Texas, which changed front, and charged in their direction. I halted in an orchard beyond the works, and despatched every officer of my staff to the main portion of the brigade in the wood on the left, instructing them to bear the glad tidings that the Fourth Texas had pierced the enemy's line, and were moving in his rear, and to deliver orders to push forward with utmost haste. At the same moment I discovered a Federal brigade marching up the slope from the valley beyond, evidently with the purpose to re-establish the line. I ran back to the entrenchments, appealed to some of our troops, who, by this time, had advanced to the breastworks, to come forward and drive off this small body of Federals. They remained, however, motionless. Jenkins's command, if I mistake not, which was further to our right, boldly advanced and put this brigade to rout. Meantime, the long line of blue and steel to the right and left wavered, and, finally, gave way, as the Eighteenth Georgia, the First and Fifth Texas, and Hampton's Legion gallantly moved forward from right to left, thus completing a grand left wheel of the brigade into the very heart of the enemy. Simultaneously with this movement burst forth a tumultuous shout of victory which was taken up along the whole Confederate line.

I mounted my horse, rode forward, and found the Fourth Texas and Eighteenth Georgia had captured fourteen pieces of artillery, whilst the Fifth Texas had charge of a Federal regiment which had surrendered to it. Many were the deeds of valor upon that memorable field.

General Jackson, in reference to this onset, says in his official report:

" In this charge in which upwards of a thousand men fell, killed and wounded, before the fire of the enemy, and in which fourteen pieces of artillery and nearly a regiment were captured, the Fourth Texas, under the lead of General Hood, was the first to pierce these strongholds and seize the guns. Although swept from their defences by this rapid and almost matchless display of daring and desperate valor, the well disciplined Federals continued in retreat to fight with stubborn resistance."

On the following day, as he surveyed the ground over which my brave men charged, he rendered them a just tribute when he exclaimed: "The men who carried this position were soldiers indeed !"

Major Warwick, of the Fourth Texas, a brave and efficient officer, fell mortally wounded near the works, whilst urging his men forward to the charge; over one-half of this regiment lay dead or wounded along a distance of one mile. Major Haskell, son-in-law of General Hampton, won my admiration by his indomitable courage: just after my troops had broken the adversary's line, and I was sorely in need of staff officers, he reported to me for duty, sword in hand, notwithstanding one of his arms had by a shot been completely severed from his body. I naturally instructed him to go in search of a surgeon.

After the capture of the artillery posted on the hill in rear of the Federal line, a strange and interesting incident occurred. The Second Cavalry, my regiment in the United States service prior to the war, gallantly charged the Fourth Texas, the regiment I had organized and commanded in the Confederate Army. Major Whiting, who was captain of my company on the frontier of Texas, commanded the former in this bold attack to recapture these guns; his horse was killed under him, and he fell stunned, though unharmed, at the feet of my men, and was taken prisoner.

When the battle had ceased, I gave my attention at once and during the night—to the care of the wounded, as doctors, litter-bearers and ambulance drivers were without much experience at that early period of hostilities. As I rode over the field, about 2 o'clock in the morning, amid the wounded whose touching appeals for water resounded on every side, a voice in the distance arose, calling me by my surname in tones of deep distress. Shortly after one of my soldiers came and reported to me that Captain Chambliss, an old friend, and a member of the Second Cavalry, United States Army, was lying upon the hill, desperately wounded. I ordered him to return immediately, to render every assistance in his power, and to assure Chambliss that I would soon be with him, as I was then completing the necessary arrangements for the care of the wounded. About daybreak I reached the spot where my friend lay, and we met with the same warmth of feeling which had characterized our intercourse previous to the war. I issued instructions to have him transported to the hospital, and accorded the same attention given to my own wounded officers. Although I feared at the time his wounds would prove mortal, he, I am glad to state, finally recovered.

Subsequent to the battles around Richmond, I, in company with Colonel Fitzhugh Lee, also formerly of the Second Cavalry, United States Army, visited the Capital, and, at the Libby prison, called upon Whiting and Chambliss, with whom we renewed the cordial relations we had enjoyed upon the frontier.

The dead were buried on the field of Cold Harbor or Gaines's Mills on the 28th, and, the afternoon of the 29th, my brigade began the pursuit of the enemy along with Jackson's forces. We crossed the Chickahominy at Grapevine bridge, near the railroad; arrived at Savage's Station the morning of the 30th, and pushed on to White Oak Swamp, where we found the enemy in position on the opposite side of the stream, in our immediate front, behind the bridge, which they had destroyed on the retreat. General Jackson ordered forward a few batteries, opened fire, and, at the same time, sent detachments to the right and left to effect a crossing and assail our adversary upon both flanks. Whilst this artillery duel in our front was progressing, Longstreet and A. P. Hill were heavily engaged lower down at Frayser's Farm. At a very early hour on the morning of July 1st we forced the passage of white Oak Swamp, moved rapidly forward, and, before long, reached the field which Hill and Longstreet had compelled the enemy to abandon. From this point Jackson's Corps led the advance of Lee's Army upon the Willis Church road; my brigade, under an annoying fire from the Federal rear guard, soon arrived in an open field in front of and commanded by Malvern Hill. The latter was not only a position of immense natural strength, but was, moreover, crowned with artillery which was supported by McClellan's entire Army.

General Whiting's Division, in this meadow, constituted the left of the Confederate line; and, although the position occupied by the enemy in our immediate front was seemingly impregnable, the country on their right appeared to be open, and to afford an easy approach. I therefore dispatched some of my Texas scouts to reconnoitre in that direction. The report, shortly received, was of a favorable character, and General Hampton and I requested of General Whiting permission to turn and assail this exposed flank. Our application was not granted, however, and we remained during the day under a murderous fire of artillery, whilst our forces on the right were driven back in every attempt made to gain possession of Malvern Hill. The ensuing night the Federals retreated to Harrison's Landing, on the James river, and thus put an end to this bloody and fruitless contest.

General Jackson marched, after this engagement, in the direction of Culpepper Court House, leaving my brigade with; Longstreet. The battle at Cedar Run soon followed, and resulted in a brilliant victory for Jackson over Pope, Whilst Longstreet remained with his corps in observation of McClellan's shattered forces at Harrison's Landing. A fleet of vessels, however, appeared on the James river to transport the Federals to another field of operations, and orders were issued to march to the Rapidan in the vicinity of Gordonsville, which point we reached about the 15th of August.

My command had been increased by the addition of two or more batteries and a splendid brigade, under Colonel E. M. Law, an able and efficient officer. General Evans was shortly afterwards given, besides his own troops, command of the two brigades under my direction.

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