REMINISCENCES OF A FAMOUS COMPANY
The Liberty Hall Volunteers at First Manassas.
“Old Zeus” — College Roommates Killed by Same Ball.
By Lieutenant J. H. B. Jones
(The following remarks were made on Lee-Jackson Day, 1911, at Lexington, and are reprinted from the Lexington Gazette:)
The Liberty Hall company was organized at Washington College, Lexington, Va., early in April, 1861, and numbered seventy-one members, rank and file. It was mustered into service at Staunton, Va., on June 10, 1861, by Major (afterwards general) John Echols. It spent several days in Staunton, and was then ordered to Winchester, Va., and was assigned to the Fourth Virginia Infantry, as Company I. This regiment was composed of companies principally from the counties of Montgomery, Pulaski, Smyth and Grayson, and was commanded by Colonel James F. Preston, who was a fine old officer, amiable and humane, and ever watchful of the interests of his soldiers. He sympathized with us on long marches and did everything he could to aid the weary. The youthful appearance of our boys brought forth many comments from the bewhiskered mountioneers of the Grayson Daredevils, such as, “Sonny, does your mother know you are out?” or “You may crack a cap on my gun; it won’t hurt you.” “Come home before the kufy bell rings.” These remarks were not very complimentary to us soldier boys, and very often our replies were not given in scriptural language, but it was not long before our critics changed their opinions of our endurance and soldierly qualities. As soon as we had been assigned to our regiment our time was fully occupied in drilling, guard duties and cooking. We were fairly proficient in the first two duties, but novices in cooking. The bread, oh, my! the samples of bread we produced would astonish the chefs of the exclusive 400.
Ted Barclay, one of my messmates, was noted for his recipe for making steak gravy (the only butter we had for our slapjack bread). He never failed to drop the hot stump of a tallow candle into the frying pan when cooking by candle light, and just before it was ready to go on our tin plates.
Owing to the position of the Confederate forces, long and rapid marches had to be made to aid Evans’s brigade on the extreme left. Generals Bee’s and Bartow’s men were hurried forward to his assistance. Then General Jackson’s brigade, after a rapid march, took position on the Henry house plateau in front of the young pine woods and in an easterly direction from the Henry house. The location of the Fourth Virginia Infantry was just in front of the young pine saplings, and the ground before the L. H. V. Co., was slightly higher than the ground it occupied. The order was given for the Fourth Virginia to lie down. The Rockbridge Artillery and some other guns were stationed in front of the Fourth Virginia and other regiments of the First Virginia brigade. The Thirty-third Virginia was to our left. The famous batteries of United States regulars commanded by Griffin and Ricketts were posted at first near the Henry House, and then advanced nearer to our line. These batteries were pouring a very destructive fire upon our forces. Some of their shots, aimed at the artillery in our front, passed them and struck the line of infantry. One solid shot killed three of the L. H. V.’s – viz.: Sergeant Charles W. Bell. Corporal William L. Paxton and Private Benjamin A. Bradley. The most trying duty that soldiers are called upon to perform is to support batteries in their front. They must lie still, receiving balls and shells not aimed at them, seeing their comrades killed and wounded, while they have to remain passive and restraint their combative instincts until ordered to “up guards, and at the enemy with bayonets.”
A very touching incident in the lives and death of Charley Bell and Ben Bradley may be recorded. They were playmates and close friends when small boys; they entered Washington College together, were roommates and bedfellows while there; in the army they were messmates and bunk fellows, and they were hurried into eternity by the same cannon ball. While the company was being subjected to this terrible ordeal of fire and blood, what can I say more complimentary than has already been said of our gallant captain, James J. White, the towering and loved “Old Zeus” of our college days? He walked backward and forward in front of his line of boys, seemingly unconscious of the deadly missiles flying past him; his words allayed their fears and inspired them with additional courage, and caused Jackson to say of them while making the successful, but bloody charge: “The boys were more than brave.”
Now the enemy’s fire became more distinct and more rapid; the enemy was sending forward fresh troops and more of them. The L. H. V.’s realized that their fighting qualities would soon be called into action. The artillery in their front were opening the way for them by retiring by the right and left flanks; the Federal volleys were getting nearer and nearer; our gallant soldiers were being outnumbered and were giving ground slowly. Every soldier knew that the time for vigorous action had come.
“The combat deepens, on ye brave
Who rush to glory, or the grave.
Wave Dixie, all thy banners wave,
And charge with all thy chivalry.”
The proximity of the volleys, the zip and singing of the rifle balls indicated that our men were stubbornly yielding to the enemy’s advance. Just then General Bee dashed to General Jackson and said: “General, they are beating us back.” Jackson’s reply was: “Then we’ll give them the bayonet.” General Bee returned to his men and said: “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Tally behind the Virginians; follow me.”
In this charge the gallant general was killed, but he had given Jackson a name that will ever live in history. Jackson watched the enemy’s approach closely, and then in clarion tone he called to his brigade: “Reserve your fire until they come within 50 yards, then fire and give them the bayonet, and when you charge yell like furies. Forward, First Brigade!”
Then and there, comrades, was born the rebel yell that ever grew in volume and spirit until insufficient rations cut short our wind and vocal powers. This was the decisive charge of the day, and in the language of Stonewall Jackson “broke the moral power of the Federal army.” The L. H. V.’s suffered severely in this charge. Four were killed, viz.: W. B. Ott, Calvin Utz, H. L. Wilson and C. D. Strickler, and three had been killed before the charge. The wounded were Orderly Sergeant William A. Anderson, Corporal G. B. Strickler, S. H. Lightner, H. A. Paxton. C. F. Neel and Bronson B. Gwynn. Sergeant E. A. Mitchell died shortly after the battle from brain fever, brought on by excitement and exertion in the battle, making a loss of fourteen men. The opponents of the company in this charge were the famous gaudy New York Zouaves. They had the reputation of being great fighters, and were terrible to look at. It was the fate of one of our smallest men, Bronson Gwynn, to meet in a hand-to-hand conflict with one of these big red breeches fellows, who jumped from behind a pine bush and made a desperate lunge at Gwynn with his bayonet. Fortunately, his thrust was inaccurate, and the bayonet only passed through his uniform between his arm and side. Poor little stammering, stuttering Gwynn rallied and extracted his clothing from the bayonet, at once crying out: “Now, d-d-damn you, take that,” and turned loose the contents of his old regenerated flint lock into the upper story of the Zouave’s fez-covered head. Having seen that his work was effective he hurried on to take his place in the charge.
Richmond [Virginia] Times-Dispatch, 2/12/1911
Contributed by Brett Schulte