“E.,” 5th South Carolina Infantry, On the Battle

29 03 2022

Jenkins’ Regiment.

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We are pleased to place before our readers a communication from a correspondent in relation to the part of the Fifth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, in the great battle of the 21st. In an extended line of battle, covering seven miles, and with regiments marching beyond reach of enquiry soon after the engagement, it is manifestly impossible for any one or two men to see, hear, or tell the various occurrences of that eventful day. It is our desire to furnish the public with truthful, impartial and unexaggerated accounts of all our troops; and to that end we shall be exceedingly pleased to have detailed accounts from gentlemen of character in every regiment and company. If they will do this, they must blame themselves for omissions. They must be expected as a thing unavoidable.

The Fifth is a splendid regiment, and we are gratified that they had a showing in the field. In battles there seems always a great deal in the luck of opportunity for distinction.

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Camp Pettus, Fairfax County, Va., July 27.

We are somewhat surprised that the 5th Regiment, S. C. V., Col. Jenkins, has not received a prominent place in the picture of last Sunday’s great battle, when, what they did contributed so very materially to the success of our arms on that day. The fact, however, finds a ready explanation in the circumstances that the part they played was the closing scene of the drama; and the news of the victory at Stone Bridge had reached and left Manassas, and its limits been defined, while the fifth were in the midst of their fight. Gen. Beauregard himself has said that this movement contributed not “a little,” as Gen. Jones modestly reported, but “a great deal” to the completeness of the victory; and President Davis also remarked upon the brilliancy and daring of the action.

Early in the morning, Gens. Jones, Ewell and Longstreet were ordered to co-operate in making a demonstration upon the enemy’s reserve, on their extreme left, opposite Blackburn’s Ford, consisting of four regiments of infantry, a battalion of cavalry, and two field batteries of eight cannon. If this design had been consummated, the success would have been followed up upon the enemy’s left in action, and the battle would have closed hours sooner beyond question. But Gen. Ewell’s Brigade, from causes unknown to us, failed to meet the other two, and Gen. Jones was ordered to retrace his steps.

In the afternoon again, the same brigades were ordered upon the same enterprise, but after Gen. Jones’ brigade, undaunted and alacritous as ever, had marched three or four miles, the movement was again countermanded. These repeated orders and countermands of themselves, show clearly both the extreme importance and the extreme difficulty of this undertaking. These last orders reached Gens. Ewell and Longstreet, but did not reach Gen. Jones; and his brigade alone, therefore, went forward to the hazardous feat of storming eight field pieces, situated on a hill very difficult to access, and supported by at least four thousand infantry and five hundred cavalry.

Col. Jenkins’ regiment was drawn up in a line of battle on the brow of a hill, the Mississippi 18th on their left, and the Mississippi 17th behind in a ravine. Here the sharp-shooting began; and instantly with a shout, the Fifth rushed over the hill, across and open field, and then had to descend an exceedingly rough and precipitous hill, covered densely with mountain laurel. All this wile they were exposed to the fire of the enemy’s sharp-shooters, and a tremendous shower of grape and shell from their artillery. As they crossed the stream, in places waist deep, at the foot of the hill, and began to climb the next and last ascent, they received a farther and most galling fire from the Mississippians behind, until the latter fell back under the active and well-aimed batteries.

The 5th were now isolated in the presence of a force at least six times as great, having all advantages of position; the former, too, exhausted by wearisome watching and forced marches, the latter were as fresh as oiled athletes for the fight. Yet their line, which was necessarily broken in descending the hill, was reinforced; and their Colonel, cool yet firm as steel in the hour of peril, only awaited the support of two companies (his orders) to make the charge. Capt. Fontaine’s Company of the Mississippi 18th, rallied to the support of the 5th; and they were held there by the indomitable spirit that brings victory, three quarters of an hour by the watch, until orders, which were three several times issued, came from Gen. Jones for them to retire.

Meanwhile, just before these orders were received, the enemy’s bugle sound “to horse” was heard, and Col. Jenkins was in momentary expectation of receiving, a charge of cavalry. Considering it preferable to the open field behind the laurel jungle, he marched his regiment forward in good order under the brow of the hill, where they were screened from the artillery. Two companies of sharp-shooters, with long-ranged guns, were thrown forward upon the right, whose well-aimed and effective firing drove the gunners and cavalry to the woods.

The miscellaneous firing and sheering, and the exceeding boldness of the charge, seem to have produced panic, and the foe fled precipitately. They appear to have regarded this whole movement as a feint to disguise a flank or rear attack from a much larger force. Their retreat added greatly to the general rout.

Seventy-four were killed and wounded in Gen. Jones’ brigade. Many of the 5th were shot from behind by the Mississippians, whose brave and generous hearts bled within them when they learned what they had done. The loss of the enemy was about 40 killed and wounded.

But for the hand of a gracious Providence, which was visibly on our side everywhere during the day, the 5th must have been cut to pieces as the Palmetto Regiment were at Cherubusco; and their veteran coolness and firmness must, to some extent, at least, be ascribed to their ignorance of the enormous danger to which they were exposed. Take it all in all, this charge of the 5th on the afternoon of the 21st, was one of the most brilliant, daring and dangerous, if indeed, not one of the most “successful” side-events of the day.

E.

Yorkville (SC) Enquirer, 8/8/1861

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