“Justice,” 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

23 08 2020

[For the State Journal.]

Manassas Junction, Aug. 3, 1861.

Editors of the State Journal, Sirs: – Your attention has no doubt been called to a publication in the Standard, purporting to be an account of all that was done by the Sixth Regiment of North-Carolina State Troops on the memorable 21st ult. That statement does certainly far more than justice to one individual, and, by inference at least, great injustice to others. I do not pretend to reflect on Mr. Holden for publishing, as true, whatever facts were communicated to him from what he regarded as a reliable source; but the most charitable supposition in camp is, that the Standard’s informant, whether he be one of those mentioned in the article or not, was not an eye-witness of the whole affair.

In the article referred to, only the companies of Capt. Freeland and Capt. York are mentioned, and the inference is very palpable, that they alone bore the brunt of the battle. Now, if we are to judge from the list of killed and wounded, (which I enclose in full for publication,) and I know no better criterion by which to judge, it will be seen that, while Capt. Freeland’s company suffered as much, perhaps, as any, Capt. York’s loss in killed and wounded is less than that of any company actively participating in the fight.

The following summary will sustain me in what I have stated:

Co. A. Capt. Kirkland.
Killed, 2
Severely wounded, 2
Slightly wounded, 3
Missing 1
Total 7
Co. B. Lieut. Parish.
Killed, 1
Mortally wounded, [1]
Severely wounded, 2
Slightly wounded, 3
Total 7
Co. C. Capt. Freeland.
Killed, 2
Mortally wounded, 1
Severely wounded 10
Slightly wounded, 2
Total 15
Co. E. Capt. Avery.
Mortally wounded, 1
Severely wounded 4
Slightly wounded 7
Total 12
Co. F. Lieut. Carter.
Killed, 2
Mortally wounded, 1
Severely wounded, 3
Slightly wounded, 1
Total 7
Co. G. Capt. Craig.
Killed, 7
Severely wounded, 2
Slightly wounded, 14
Total, 23
Co. I. Capt. York.
Mortally wounded, 3
Severely wounded, 1
Slightly wounded, 1
Total 5

As unofficial reports have reached the people of N. C. through the press, it is due to the regiment and the friends of the regiment that a fair, full and impartial account of its connection with the fight should be published to the people of our state.

Omitting all the details of our march thither, it is sufficient to say, we reached the Junction soon after daylight on the 21st, and in a half hour were marched off at a pace between quick and double-quick toward Lewis’ house, distant some four miles. When within a mile of the battle field we halted in obedience to orders and the men were drilled an hour in the manual.

The regiment was then led forward to the brow of the hill in front of Lewis’ house for the purpose, it was said, of supporting a battery about to open fire from that point, but, for some reason, the battery was removed, and our regiment led to the left, and formed in line along a road on the margin of the woods.

While resting in that position, we were first enabled to realize that a hard-fought contest was going on before us. The wounded were every moment passing our line with the report that the enemy were advancing, and that the shell from Sherman’s battery were playing sad havoc with our soldiers. Shell whizzing over our line occasionally gave to their statement at least an air of plausibility, one of them wounding Col. Fisher’s horse, and another passing through the centre of Capt. Craig’s company. After a little pause, however, Col. Fisher commanded us to file to the left, and, conducted by a mountain officer, led us through a dense wood for some distance, and then filed us to the right, along a little ravine, with thick woods on our left and an old field on the right. Though concealed from our view by an undergrowth, the battery was throwing shell constantly over us as we advanced, and it was only on rounding a corner of the woods that we came in full view of it, planted on the top of the hill in an old field, and not more than sixty yards from us. It was supported by a body of Marines and Ellsworth’s red-legged Zouaves.

Col. Fisher then filed to the left around the corner of the woods, and the following companies in the order of the names – Capt. Freeland’s, Capt. York’s, Lieut. Carter’s, Capt. Avery’s, Capt. Craig’s, Lieut. Parish’s and Capt. Kirkland’s – came into line, faced to the right and opened fire on the enemy. Our men then advanced, firing at will, until, I suppose, they had fired two rounds or more, and many were then within thirty yards of the battery. All this time a oration of our men were firing at a body of men on our left in a little slip of woods, but at the time I speak of, a mounted officer rode in among our men, with no little danger to himself, and ordered us to cease firing. Our Colonel repeated the command, and when, through the united efforts of our Company officers, the firing was stopped, it was stated that we were firing into our friends on the left, and we immediately concluded that it was the 4th Alabama Regiment which, it was previously understood, would support us on that side.

When the smoke had cleared away we perceived that the horses attached to the battery were all killed and many of the soldiers manning and supporting the guns had fallen while many others had retreated, though the stars and stripes still floated over the battery, and some Federal troops were ranged around.

At this juncture, it was that, after a pause, Capt. Avery took the responsibility of ordering a charge, and it being repeated along the line, more than a hundred of our men did charge, and, the enemy retreating in hot haste, took possession of the battery. When we reached the top of the hill, many of the Zouaves could be seen running a distance of a hundred yards beyond, while some had squatted behind a fence in a lane about fifty yards beyond the battery. Upon these latter our men opened fire from points beyond and around the battery.

About this time a fire was opened upon us from the strip of woods on our left, and many of our number, among them the gallant young Mangum, fell. Our hands were tied. We had been told that they were friends, and to corroborate it, they had given us the sign adopted to distinguish friends that day, and some said had raised the Confederate flag. The solders of the 4th Alabama Regiment deny the charge, but with the facts before them, it is submitted to the public to pass judgment. Situated as we were, receiving a fire and unable to return it, our officers advised a retreat and we did give way.

Upon the conduct of our gallant Colonel, suitable encomiums will be passed by persons much more competent to perform the task than myself. I will content myself with giving a plain statement of facts.

He had been from the first in front of his regiment, and when, after the command to cease firing, a portion of his men were giving back fire for a moment, he came down the hill, called upon them to rally, and as they charged, said to an officer, ”you are right, rally your men, it will never do to give it up.” These were his last words. In a moment he swept on with the men and past them, and soon after it is supposed, fell about thirty yards beyond the battery and to the left of it. No one saw him fall, for no one could see him from behind, even though within a few paces of him. He had gone through a little cluster of pine bushes and at the moment he emerged from the other side fell dead. Besides, Col. Fisher had dismounted, and there was nothing to attract attention to his movement. In justice to those companies in the rear, that did not actively engage in the fight, it must be said that some were in the most trying of situations, receiving a galling fire and unable to return it, especially Capt. Tate’s, which was next in front. Maj. Pickett, who was in command of Sherman’s battery on the 21st, but now a wounded prisoner here, states, that when our regiment was coming up the ravine, he started to depress his pieces and rake our line; but we were too quick for him and our first fire killed all his horses and some of his gunners. With this statement before them, we call upon the citizens of North Carolina to aid us in establishing the fact, that we took Sherman’s battery. I may also state, that up to the time we attacked the battery, the enemy’s line in that direction had been steadily advancing, and our Generals were forming a new line some distance in the rear to fall back upon. When the battery was silenced, however, they instantly gave the command ”forward.” After we had retreated about a hundred and fifty yards to an old field, portions of Capt. Freeland’s, Lieut. Carter’s, Capt. Avery’s, Capt. Craig’s, Lieut. Parish’s and Capt. Kirkland’s companies rallied with all their officers, who were not disabled, and Col. Lightfoot, who had been last to leave the field despite a wound in the leg, then bleeding freely, took command, having the assistance of Maj. Webb and Adjutant Lowrie. Col. L. then reported to Gen. Cock for orders and was commanded to support the flank movement, which he did, moving with the left of our line till the final stampede of the enemy that evening. His command, being attached that night to the Va. 7th, slept on the line and returned to the Junction to rejoin their comrades Monday afternoon. This, Messrs. Editors, is a true statement of al that was done by the 6th Regiment, on the 21st.

I must not be understood to question the truth of any accounts of the heroic adventures or miraculous, hair-breadth escapes of any individual, which may have reached the public. Those feats were performed and those scenes enacted, where there could be no witness, but that one appealed to in the courts of justice. I, of course, cannot testify with regard to them.

JUSTICE.

(Raleigh, NC) Semi-Weekly State Journal, 8/17/1861

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2 responses

24 08 2020
John Hennessy

This account is new to me (else I would have quoted it extensively), and is likely the best 6th NC accounts there is, and one of the best CS accounts of the fighting on Henry Hill. A couple of known landmarks help fix things. The site of Mangum’s wounding is still marked, and was likely done so originally the day after the battle. The marker that indicated where Fisher fell stood for years, and reportedly was located near where the flagpole in front of the visitor center stands today. These landmarks fit the narrative perfectly and suggest that the 6th did indeed capture Griffin’s section on the right of the Union line. A great find…a great addition, Harry.

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24 08 2020
Harry Smeltzer

Might be fun to walk this one some day…

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