Col. William Smith’s Memoir of the Battle

13 12 2008

From Memoir of Governor William Smith, of Virginia, His Political, Military, and Personal History, by John W. Bell See also here

I was appointed by Gov. Letcher, Colonel of the Forty-ninth Virginia volunteers, the latter part of June, 1861, upon my individual application. The Governor replied to my application, that I was too old; to which I rejoined, that I would like to see the young man who could stand more hardship and fatigue than I. Well, he said, if you insist upon it, I will not refuse. To which I said, in the words of the bridegroom, who, when asked by the parson if he would take this woman as his wedded wife, “zounds man, that is just what I come for.” The Governor thereupon gave me an order to Gen. R. E. Lee, then Adjutant-General of our State, to prepare my commission. Upon presenting it, General Lee, after glancing over it, looked up with manifest surprise, he, too, doubtless thinking I was too old; and pausing a moment, and without a word, he filled up and handed it to me. I took it to the Governor for his signature. Receiving it, I returned with it to General Lee, that he might make the proper record–who, having done so, returned it to me, with an order to General Beauregard to form my regiment out of companies as they severally reported for duty. In my sixty-fourth year, and wholly unacquainted with drill or tactics, my military prospects were anything but flattering; yet, I thought I knew how to manage men, and flattered myself that I could soon, for all practical purposes, overcome existing difficulties. Besides, I well knew the bitter feeling of hostility against the South cherished by Northern politicians, who would greedily seize upon the opportunity to gratify their hatred and satiate their revenge; and in view of the great inequality of the contest, I felt it to be my duty to set a spirited example and to contribute all in my power to the success of a cause which was dear to my heart, and which I believe, and ever shall believe, to be right. With this explanation, by way of reply, to the many friends who kindly remonstrated against my entering the army, I proceed to carry out the purpose of this article. Having made my personal arrangements, and having fortunately secured unexceptionable field officers, to wit: Lieutenant-Colonel Murray, a graduate, I believe, of West Point, and certainly a splendid drill-master and tactician, and Major Smith, my nephew, a veteran soldier, just about three weeks from the Federal army, having resigned therefrom to enter the Confederate service, I felt that my first great difficulty had been overcome.

And so, with three companies only assigned to my regiment, I found myself regularly enrolled in the Confederate army, only three days before the first battle of Manassas. On the first day, and late in the afternoon, I was ordered to the Sudley mills, where I expected to meet Colonel Hunton, then on the march from Leesburg. On our arrival, finding Colonel Hunton had not arrived, we camped in and around the Sudley church, my quarters being in a house not far from it. It was fully 11 P. M. before my men got their supper and fixed themselves for the night, and I had not been asleep more than an hour when, about 1 A. M., I received an order to get my men under arms and move with them to a point on Bull Run near the Lewis house, and to report to General Cocke; in other words, to return. I promptly gave the necessary orders. On reaching the camp I found the command in a state of confused preparation, and when it was reported as ready to move I walked over the ground and found many of its conveniences about to be abandoned. I at once sternly rebuked the men for their negligence, told them that order and carewere two of the duties of the soldier, and that I would not tolerate the loss of a tin cup if an act of carelessness. The ground being gleaned, the order to march was given, and we reached our position about sunrise. The next day we camped near the Lewis house. As it was understood we were to fight the day thereafter, and my men had but little rest the previous night, I determined they should have a good night’s rest the coming night. Accordingly when the sentinels were posted, they were charged not, under any circumstances, to permit the men to be disturbed. On the morning of the 21st July, 1861, I was ordered to take position on Bull Run, north of the Lewis house; and Captain Harris, an engineer officer of much note, was ordered to accompany and post us. We were placed on the edge of the run, under a bluff, on which a section of Rogers’s battery, under Lieutenant Heaton, was posted, and temporarily attached to my command.

Riding up on the bluff, I found but one gun. Surprised, I asked the Lieutenant where his other was. Pointing to it, near the Lewis house, he said, “there it is, and put there by the order of General Cocke.” Putting spurs to my horse, as I passed the gun, I gave orders for every man to be in the saddle, ready to move on my signal to do so, on my return. Dashing up to General Cocke, who was some two hundred yards west–after saluting him–I said, General, permit me to suggest that the gun I have just passed would be more likely to render effective service along side of its mate on yonder bluff than where it is now; and I beg you will permit me to so order. Receiving his consent, and touching my hat in salute, I moved rapidly in return, giving the expected signal, so that the gun with all its equipments was promptly in motion, and moved with such celerity, that it reached the bluff before I could, with all my dash, overtake it. It was a happy reunion, and under the exhilarating circumstances, gave assurance of a splendid fight, should the exigency require it; but a few shots from our guns and from Latham’s battery near by, on my right, induced the enemy, who had shown himself in the pines on the northern side of the run, to abandon his purpose which, obviously, was to reach, in this direction, our line of inter-communication with Manassas. As far as I can learn, the enemy’s force referred to was under the command of General Schenck. He was easily checked. About this time the peals of musketry, apparently about the Robinson and the Henry houses, was incessant and fascinating. While thus absorbed, and sitting on my horse, surrounded with Colonel Murray, Captain Harris and others on the bluff, near Heaton’s guns, Lieutenant-Colonel Murray called to me, “Look there, Colonel.” Following the direction of his finger, I saw two regiments in line of battle, moving at quick time, apparently from the field of battle. I know not how to account for my conduct, but giving way to the impulse of the moment, I put spurs to my horse, threw myself in their front and brought them to a halt, simply remarking, “Gentlemen, I must inform you that you have taken the wrong direction.”

Returning quickly to my position, for the heavy firing still continued, I had barely done so, when Colonel Murray cried out: “Look, Colonel, those fellows are moving.” Again stopping them I again returned to the bluff, when Colonel Murray for the third time exclaimed. “Colonel, those fellows are off again.” Much exasperated, I put spurs to my horse, soon overtaking them, and galloped around their left flank, drew up in their front, and again brought them to a halt on the road leading from the Lewis house to Ball’s or Lewis’ ford, I am uncertain which. As I did so, I heard some one in the ranks cry out, “who the h-Il is that?” To which I replied in a loud voice, “I am Colonel Smith, of the Forty-ninth Virginia Volunteers.” To which Colonel Fisher promptly replied, “and I am Colonel Fisher, of the Sixth North Carolina, all I ask is to be put in position,” and Colonel Falkner then said, “and I am Colonel Falkner of the Second Mississippi,” but from the distance he was from me, I heard him imperfectly, yet understood him to say that he was ready to obey orders. Then, I said, “dress your men on the line of this road, bring them to a rest, and wait for orders.” These regiments and the gun I had had moved to the bluff, were, it is highly probable, the foundation of General Schenck’s estimate of our force. He had them in full view from the position he occupied in the pines.

Returning rapidly to my position, I there found a general order, that every man not in the face of the enemy should report to General Beauregard near the Robinson house. Promptly putting my little command in motion, I soon crossed a small ravine draining into Bull Run. Ascending the opposite hill, Lieutenant-Colonel Tibbs of Colonel Hunton’s Eighth Virginia Regiment hallooed to me: “I am posted here (near the head of the ravine) with three companies; for God’s sake, let Colonel Hunton, who is at the Lewis house with the balance of the regiment, know your orders.” The hill on which the Lewis house stood is of very considerable size and the northern slope of it drains into the ravine. The whole of this slope, up to the new ground, near the north of the Lewis house, was then covered with an oaken growth of original forest; but it is now, I find upon recent examination (1882), under a fine crop of corn, the house having been burnt by the enemy in the spring of 1862, when he first took possession of it. Ordering Lieutenant-Colonel Murray to take charge of my command, and to move on without delay, saying I would soon rejoin him, I put spurs to my horse, dashed through the woods and nearing Colonel Hunton’s command, hallooed to him that General Beauregard’s order was, “that every man not in the face of the enemy should move into action.” To which he promptly replied: “I am posted here by General Cocke, with express orders not to leave my position without his command.” I rejoined, “You know whom to obey.” Returning rapidly to my command, I had scarcely reached it when a squad of fifteen or twenty men crossed my line of march, in the direction of the Lewis house. I halted them for information, when at the instant a heavy outburst of musketry breaking upon the ear, they resumed their previous rapid movement, like frightened deer, amid the derisive laughter of my whole command. Resuming our march, we had proceeded but a short distance when we encountered a South Carolina company moving in the direction of the stone bridge. Ascertaining it was lost, I said: “Fall in upon my left and I’ll conduct you to the post of duty.” This was promptly done. Moving but a short distance I encountered two Mississippi companies under precisely similar circumstances, to whom I also said: “Fall in on my left and I’ll conduct you where men can show their mettle;” which was done with alacrity. So that when I reported to General Beauregard, some hundred yards from the Robinson house, I had three companies of my own regiment, one South Carolina company and two Mississippi companies–not exceeding in all 450 men. Touching my hat, I said: “General Beauregard, I report for orders.” Pausing for a moment, he replied: “Colonel, what can you do?” This was a hard question to one wholly unacquainted with military duty. I, however, promptly answered, “Put us in position and I’ll show you.” I then added: “General, Colonel Hunton, with a fine regiment, is posted at or near the Lewis house and is burning with impatience to join in the battle,” Promptly acting on the information, he ordered one of his staff to proceed forthwith to Colonel Hunton, and to order him to report with his regiment with all possible dispatch.

At this time General Beauregard was forming his new line of battle, his right in the open field, midway between the Robinson and Henry houses, and in a line parallel therewith, but considerably to the east thereof and running south in a line that soon gave them the shelter of the pines for a quarter of a mile or so. The enemy was heavily flanking our left, and our reinforcements, as they came up, were ordered to form on the left of our line, and so, by extending it, counteract the movement of the enemy. Accordingly, I was ordered to form on the left, by passing the rear of our line until I reached my position. The Washington Artillery, as I was at the time informed, was firing upon the enemy and across my line of march; it was ordered to suspend its fire until I had crossed its range, when General Beauregard placed himself by my side, at the head of my column, and the order to march was given. On reaching our new line of battle, under what influence I know not, I announced General Beauregard to the men, to which they promptly responded with three rousing cheers, and so, as we marched along the rear of our line, I, every fifty or seventy-five steps, announced General Beauregard, to which a similar response was invariably and promptly given. On reaching the left of the line I found it in much disorder. Here, General Beauregard informed me that he must leave me, and repeating his orders left me. He had not gone more than forty steps when a cry from the disordered crowd referred to, demanded to see General Beauregard. Calling to the General to return, as the men say they must see you, I announced him to them, to which, responding with three hearty cheers, they promptly formed in line. This I understood was Jackson’s left, on which, as ordered, I formed my men; the three companies which had joined me, as heretofore stated, having been detached, as far as I can learn, by General Johnston and placed under the command of Colonel F. J. Thomas of his staff, who was unfortunately killed. I have recently visited the spot where he fell. From the time I reported to General Beauregard to the time I took my position on the left, we were at no time under fire, certainly none that annoyed us. It may not be amiss here to add that the half dozen cheers to which I have referred, and with which General Beauregard was honored, had, I have reason to believe, a very happy effect on our troops and a very depressing one on those of the enemy, being regarded by him as the indications of frequent and heavy reinforcements from General Johnston’s army. At least the letters of the Federal correspondents, which were spread all over the country and were, as I have heard, republished in Europe, so stated; while I know that the entire force represented by those cheers did not exceed 450 men, one-half of whom belonged to the Army of the Potomac.

Having taken my position, I found myself quite well sheltered from view by a small growth of old-field pines, as was Jackson’s left, with some small gullies now plainly to be seen in the rear of my left. Looking around me, I found myself on the eastern slope of the ridge or plateau, opposite to, with my left a little to the south of the Henry house, and directly in front of Rickett’s battery, which had just taken position. I am quite sure the enemy had not yet discovered us. I admonished my men to be cool and deliberate, and not to fire without an object under sight, and gave the word to fire. This fire, with Jackson’s, which was no doubt simultaneous, was so destructive that it utterly disabled the Rickett’s battery for all efficient purposes. I am not sure, but I am under the impression, that it never fired upon us more than once, if that. Three times was it taken and retaken before the enemy gave up the struggle to retain it. I had a number of men wounded at the guns–two of them, James and John Wells, brothers, wounded on one of the guns; and James, although shot through the lungs, is still living and able to do a day’s work as a post and rail fencer. Indeed, such was the impetuosity of one of these charges–the first, I think–that two of my men, Kirkpatrick and Suddoth, penetrated so deeply into the enemy’s lines that they could not fall back with their comrades when repulsed, but remained in the confused masses of the enemy, unnoticed I presume, until another charge, which almost immediately followed, extricated them.

Shortly after this bloody strife began, looking to my left, I saw a heavy mass of the enemy advancing from the direction of the Sudley and Manassas road, on a parallel with the equi-distant between my line of battle and the Henry house. For a moment I thought I must be doubled up, but had resolved to stand my ground, cost what it might, when to my great relief, the Sixth North Carolina, Colonel Fisher, and the Second Mississippi, Colonel Falkner, came up from the direction of the Lewis house, and formed in much confusion on my left, relieving me, however, in a great degree from my perilous position. I had three times stopped these regiments as previously described, and now they came up so opportunely to my relief that it almost seemed to be an act of Providence. By the time they had formed in tolerable order, the enemy nearly covered their front without seeming to have discovered them. Being on my extreme left, one of the North Carolinians recognizing me, called to me from his ranks: “That is the enemy; shall we fire?” I replied: “Don’t be in a hurry; don’t fire upon friends.” At the instant a puff of wind spread out the Federal flag, and I added, “There is no mistake; give them h–l, boys!” thus giving orders most strangely to a regiment which was not under my command, to begin the fight. The enemy was soon scattered and disappeared from the field. I have not been able, after much investigation, to discover his name or number. Lieutenant-Colonel Lightfoot, of the Sixth North Carolina, claims that his regiment united with us in one of the charges on the enemy’s guns and to have suffered severely. It was on this charge, I presume, that Colonel Fisher was killed, as he fell some one hundred and fifty yards in advance of his original line of battle. When driven back from the enemy’s guns neither the North Carolinians nor Mississippians remained to renew the charge, but incontinently left the field.

I was thus again on the left of our line of battle, with no enemy in sight. On my flank I had suffered severely. Major Smith had been shot down in my lines–his leg broken just below the hip; Captain Ward had been mortally wounded in the charge, and died in a few hours; the enemy had charged into my lines and been repulsed, several prisoners being captured, among them a Captain Butterworth, I think, of the First Michigan, who was shot down in my lines, badly wounded, and a private of the same regiment, I presume, who held Major Smith in his arms until the fight was over, and he was relieved by the removal of Major Smith to Dogan’s, near by, where he was confined for many weeks. It was about this time that Colonel Hunton, with his gallant regiment, appeared upon the field, charged and cleared out the scattered fragments of the enemy about and near the Henry house, and thus shared in and materially contributed to the final result. Nor must I omit to state here, that he was indebted to me for the opportunity he so handsomely improved, to share in the glories of the day.

The battle being now substantially at an end, I made, for the time being, such arrangements for my killed and wounded as the occasion required. Attracted by an artillery firing, apparently some two hundred yards southwest from my position, I concluded to see what it meant. On my way I encountered an officer lying dead. I was told it was colonel Fisher, of the Sixth North Carolina, who was killed in a charge as I have previously described. Passing on I reached the battery of Captain Delaware Kemper, and found him firing upon the enemy retreating on the ridge running northerly from the Chinn by the Dogan house. He was on the eastern side of the Sudley road, and some half mile from his target. “With that beautiful precision inaugurated at Vienna,” he soon drove the enemy for shelter, to the western slope of the ridge, while on receiving his fire, the enemy’ sharp-shooters would run to the crest of the ridge and empty their long range guns, in reply. No injury was done to Captain Kemper or his command, of which I am aware, during the half hour, or less, that I remained with it–the enemy’s shot occasionally fell about us with sufficient force to wound or kill. Leaving Captain Kemper, I rode to a squad of officers some one hundred and fifty yards to the right, composed of Preston, Kershaw, and others, also overlooking the retreating foe, without the power to prevent it. It moved me deeply, almost to tears. Although now getting late, I concluded to ride down the turnpike, and went as far as Cub Run bridge. Here I found the bridge not passable, from an immense jam of the enemy’s wagons and other vehicles, and the stream not fordable. Returning to my position in the fight, to see if my orders had been executed, I found everything done to my satisfaction, except that Captain Butterworth, to whom I have before referred, had not been removed. No one was with him but my servant Pin. To my enquiry why he, the Captain, had not been cared for, he replied that all the wagons which had passed were filled with our own wounded, but that he hoped soon to get him in. It was now nearly 9 P. M., with every prospect of a bad night, and I directed my servant to take from under my saddle four or five blankets, which my dear wife had provided for my own exigencies, and to make him as comfortable as possible. I also charged my servant to lay my commands on the first wagon which passed to take him in and carry him to the hospital, while he must remain by him until this was done. The officer was grateful for my arrangements for his comfort; inquired of my servant who I was, and handing him his pistols, a beautiful pair, directed him to hand them to me, with an earnest request that I would accept them as the evidence of his gratitude for the kind and generous care I had taken of him: at least, so said my servant when he delivered the pistols to me next morning, and added, that I had scarcely left them the night before, when a wagon passing by, was stopped, the officer taken in and duly delivered to the hospital. Subsequently inquiring about him, I was informed that he had been moved to Orange Courthouse, where he died.

It was now fully 9 P. M. I had been in the saddle from a little after sunrise. I was much fatigued from the constant exertions and anxieties of the day, besides I had slept but little the two preceding nights–the night promised to be a bad one; and so, I concluded to seek the hospitable roof of my friend Dogan, where my Major was already quartered. The road to Dogan’s passed over the bloody plateau, on which a large portion of the fighting had been done, and near the Henry house. The field through which I rode was well nigh covered with the Federal dead and wounded; and as my horse’s step announced the passing of a human being, the wail of suffering humanity, and deep cry for water, water, which burst upon the otherwise profound stillness of the hour, was absolutely agonizing. I understood the appeal, but without the power to give relief, was compelled to leave them to those who were already actively engaged in collecting the wounded and carrying them where their wants could be attended to. On reaching Dogan’s, I saw by the imperfect light of a somewhat clouded moon, that his porch, yard and stable adjoining the yard, seemed full of the enemy’s wounded. Taking my seat in the porch, one of the wounded men, I think from New Hampshire, asked me about my position in the fight. Apparently satisfied with my reply, he said, “I thought I recognized you when you rode up, and particularly your horse. Three times did I fire upon you during the fight,” and added with the most perfect simplicity, “Of course, what I did was in the way of business and not in malice.” My horse was shot in the neck, and I suppose I owe to this man the injury he received. However, I soon retired, and notwithstanding the exciting and important incidents of the day, I slept soundly and awoke with the morn, refreshed and buoyant, resolved to perform my whole duty in the grand drama, in which I had undertaken to perform a part.

I should not, perhaps, omit an incident of the day, as it illustrates an important duty of the officer. On the morning of the fight (I was not provided with a commissary) a man, whom I did not know, reported to me as my acting commissary, stating that supplies for my command had been turned over to him, and he wished to know if he should destroy them, as he supposed we would soon engage the enemy. Amazed! I replied, “Destroy them! No. Take good care of them and issue them as the law and your duty requires. I am sorry thus to learn that you already assume that we are to be whipped.” Meeting him the next morning, I said, “Well, sir, what have you done with your supplies?” He replied, “Obeyed your orders, and am now issuing them to your men.” I then said, “Let this incident be a lesson to you, never to destroy anything committed to your care, without it would materially injure our enemies or materially benefit ourselves.”

I might here close this article contented with the very handsome notice taken of my command, in the official reports of the Generals commanding. But Dr. Dabney’s Life of Jackson, and the official reports of the day, recently published by the Federal Government, and until then unseen by me, impose upon me the duty of asserting for my command, even at this late day, its just claim upon the love and admiration of its country.

It must not be forgotten that my command had been organized only three days, and was wholly unused to arms, and was now on its third day called upon to perform the duties of the veteran soldier; it passed along the rear of Bee’s and Jackson’s brigades, and it may be Gautrell’s regiment, to form on the left–a position of peculiar danger, as the great effort of the enemy was to turn our left; that we took about 2 to 21/2 P. M., our position, and in musket range of the Rickett’s and Griffin batteries; that we had scarcely opened our fire when a heavy column of the enemy appeared, from the direction of the Sudley and Manassas road, moving on a line about equi-distant between my left and the Henry house, obviously to flank me, which was happily anticipated by the opportune arrival of the Sixth North Carolina; that my command three times, the North Carolinians once co-operating, charged the Ricketts battery before the enemy gave up the struggle to hold it; that my flank was again left, by the withdrawal of the Mississippians and North Carolinians, exposed; that my loss was slightly in excess of that of Jackson’s brigade, which only came under fire in the afternoon, at the same time that I did, slightly more than that of Hampton’s Legion, and slightly less than that of Bee’s brigade, as 40 to 43; while in the afternoon’s fight, during which we were engaged together, my command suffered a much larger percentage of loss than any other in the field, except Jackson’s, and slightly in excess of that. And I now mention these illustrious commands for the special purpose of showing that, however high the standard they have established for the qualities of the true soldier, my command may justly and proudly claim to have come fully up to it–par nobile fatrum.

In view, then, of these facts, it can but excite surprise that Dr. Dabney should, in his life of Jackson, have claimed for his brigade the whole merit of capturing Ricketts battery, &c. It is the more remarkable, as General Jackson did not do it. In his official report, speaking of a charge he had ordered, he says, “He pierced the enemy’s centre, and by co-operating with the victorious Fifth and other forces [the italics are mine], soon placed the field essentially in our possession.” Again, he says: “The brigade, in connection with other troops, took seven field pieces, in addition to the battery captured by Colonel Cummings.” General Jackson also says: “The enemy, although repulsed in the centre, succeeded in turning our flanks.” If the General meant his left flank, he was under a mistake. I was on his left, and know that no effort was made to turn mine but once, and that failed, as heretofore stated. I presume General Jackson does not refer to the movements of the enemy west of the Manassas road, as they were promptly arrested and the enemy was driven back.

I omitted to mention in the proper place that Lieutenant-Colonel Murray in one of our charges upon the enemy’s guns, finding that we could not hold them, spiked one of them with a nail he had in his pocket.

My next article will be a narative of the personal incidents of the battle of Seven Pines, the bloodiest fight, as far as my command was concerned, in which I ever was engaged.

RELATIVE LOSSES.

Colonel Evans began the fight with the subjoined forces and lost during the day as follows:

evans

Force estimated at 1,300 men.

The above command was relieved by General Bee’s Brigade consisting of

bee

2,800 muskets.

Colonel Hampton’s Legion fought through the day. Had 27 officers and 600 men, and lost 19 killed and 100 wounded.

General Jackson’s Brigade consisted of five regiments, as follows:

jackson

Dr. Dabney estimates 2,700.

Forty-ninth Virginia Volunteers, Col. Smith, 210 men. Officers killed, 1; men killed, 9; officers wounded, 1; men wounded, 29–aggregate 40.

William Smith.

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