#41 – Lieut. Col. Frank Wheaton

6 09 2008

Report of Lieut. Col. Frank Wheaton, Second Rhode Island Infantry

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, p. 400


Camp Clark, Washington, D.C., July 23, 1861

SIR: In conformity with paragraph No. 723, Army Regulations, I have the honor to submit through you to the brigadier-general commanding the following report of the killed, wounded, and missing in the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the late battle with the secession forces near Bull Run, Va. A more detailed report, giving the names of all killed, &c., is now being prepared, and will be submitted at the earliest possible moment.

It is my mournful duty to record as amongst the first killed, as he was first in the fight, our gallant colonel, John S. Slocum, who was three times wounded, and left in a dying condition. Maj. Sullivan Ballou, while bravely assisting in changing the position of our center, was struck from his horse by a ball from a rifled cannon, and also left unconscious and dying.

The total loss of my command is 114 killed, wounded, and missing. Among the killed are Colonel Slocum, Major Ballou, Capt. Levi Tower, commanding Company F, Capt. Samuel James Smith, commanding Company I. Among the wounded are Lieut. Stephen T. Arnold, temporarily commanding Company B, and Second Lieut. Henry C. Cook, Company I. The total number killed, wounded, and missing is 114; total number killed, 28; total number wounded, 56; total number missing, 30. A carefully corrected list of the names in full of all who are among the above will accompany my detailed report of the operations of the Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the battle of the 21st instant, as also a list of arms, &c., destroyed or lost in action.

Thanking you for the compliment bestowed us on the field, and for having assigned us the advance on our way to meet the enemy and the lead in the fight and the rear in the retreat, I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Captain, U.S. Army, Lieut. Col.

Second Rhode Island Vols.

Lieutenant BEAUMONT,

First Cavalry, U. S. Army, Aide-de-Camp, &c.

Wheat’s Tigers – Did They or Didn’t They?

28 08 2007


UPDATES: Please see the comments section for updates to this post. 

Earlier I received the following comment to this post:

First off, excellent research and a great website on “Sherman’s Battery”. I have a question that is in the ball park. Do you know of what flag Major Wheat’s Battalion captured? Evan’s OR report said “capture of a stand of colors”. There were no OR reports on Wheat’s Battalion. This has many of us just completely stumped.

We are thinking either the 2nd Rhode Island or 11th New York regiment. We are working on ALL Union and Confederate flags that were captured during the Civil War. This project will take a long time.

If you have any information or could tell me where to find it, I would be very grateful.

Thank you, Sir,

Shawn Prouty

I responded in brief to Shawn’s comment and told him that I would expand in the form of a post.  I also forwarded the question to Jim Burgess at Manassas NBP.

wheats-tigers.gifThe First Louisiana Special Battalion (Wheat’s Tigers) was the command of Major Roberdeau Wheat, part of Nathan Evans’ demi-brigade that was holding the far left of the Confederate line in the area of the Stone Bridge. The unit’s official report (OR) was apparently written by Captain Harris – remember that Wheat was severely wounded as described here (UPDATE: I found a report written by Wheat in the Supplement and you can read it here.  No mention of captured flags.)  I say apparently because, while Evans mentions it in his OR, there is a note indicating that the compilers of The Official Records were unable to locate Harris’ report.  I sent a note to my friend Tom Clemens who has a set of the Supplement to the ORs, asking him to check and see if Harris’ report turns up there.  (I’d really like to get my hands on the single volume of The Supplement that has the Bull Run stuff.)

Evans’ report, written just three days after the battle, includes this statement:

I send herewith a stand of colors taken during the action by Major Wheat’s battalion.

Evans submitted his report to Col. Philip St. George Cocke, though I’m not sure why.  Cocke commanded the Fifth Brigade of Beauregard’s army.  Other brigade commanders sent their reports to Beauregard or his AAG, Thomas Jordan.  Unfortunately, Cocke did not write an OR for the battle, and he was dead by his own hand by the end of the year.  Beauregard’s report, written in October, mentions having taken nine regimental and garrison flags, but does not identify any of the banners.

I don’t think that the battalion could have captured any of the 2nd Rhode Island’s colors.  Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton’s report written on July 23 does not mention any lost colors.  In addition, the battalion’s fight with the 2nd RI as recounted in this article by Gary Schreckengost describes the battalion as being driven from the enemy’s front  while still about 20 yards away, hardly close enough to seize their colors.  The author indicates that the battalion took part in Beauregard’s general advance later on Henry Hill.  A Tiger reported to a New Orleans paper:

Our blood was on fire.  Life was valueless.  The boys fired one volley, then rushed upon the foe with clubbed rifles beating down their guard; then closed upon them with their knives, ‘Greek had met Greek’, the tug of war had come…[It] did not seem as though men were fighting…[but as if there] were devils mingling in the conflict, cursing, yelling, cutting, and shrieking.

It’s possible that the 11th New York Fire Zouaves were a part of the force against which the Louisianans fought.  According to this site, it seems that while the New Yorkers did indeed lose their flags, they were subsequently recovered.

So, the long and the short of it is I don’t know what colors Evans was referring to in his report.  How about you guys?

Henry P. Bottom House, Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site

9 10 2016

1862 Perryville Property Map (Courtesy of Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site – PBSHS) HPB marks the Henry Bottom Farm

In recognition of yesterday’s 154th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville, here is the unedited version of my Collateral Damage article which ran in the June, 2011 edition of Civil War Times magazine. Click the images for larger ones.


H. P. Bottom House today (battleofperryville.com)

On the morning of October 8, 1862, northwest of the town of Perryville in Boyle County, Kentucky, Union Major General Don Carlos Buell’s gathering Army of the Ohio faced east across rolling terrain toward Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi. Between the lines of Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook’s First Corps of Buell’s army and Maj. Gen William Hardee’s Left Wing of Bragg’s lay the farm of Henry Bottom. The area of the house and barn, on the western bank of mostly dry Doctor’s Creek where it crossed the Mackville Road, was also improved with stone and rail fences, some lining the road and creek, which would both afford cover and make maneuvering bodies of men problematic. On this very hot, dry, and dusty day the homestead’s location in the valley separating the two armies and its proximity to a water source placed it squarely in the path of the gathering storm. Bottom’s 760 acre farm was the ground over which much of the battle would rage. The battle would be marked by command confusion, erroneous assumptions, personality conflicts, and miscommunication on both sides, and proved to be the climax of a Confederate campaign meant to carry the war in the west from northern Mississippi to the banks of the Ohio River.


Henry P. Bottom (PBSHS)

Henry Pierce Bottom was born in 1809. He was a Baptist, a farmer, a cabinet maker, and Justice of the Peace, which earned him the moniker “Squire”. He took Margaret “Mary” Hart, 10 years his junior, as his wife in 1840. They had two sons: Samuel (1841) and Rowan (1848). Also living at the Bottom House in October 1862 was Henry’s 77-year-old uncle, William. Henry owned eight slaves, aged three to sixty-two, and Uncle William owned two more, aged two and twenty-two. All ten slaves lived in one dwelling on the property.

Henry was surrounded by relatives: across the road to the north lived his mother, the widow Mary “Polly” Bottom; to the south was his cousin Sam; to the northwest another cousin, the widow Mary Gibson. In 1860 Henry’s farm, where he raised cattle, sheep, and swine, and grew oats, wheat, rye, corn, peas, beans, and potatoes, was valued at $16,000.

On the day of the battle, the Bottom’s substantial barn was filled with threshed wheat and oats for the approaching winter. During the fighting around the buildings, mostly between Colonel William Lytle’s Union brigade and those of Confederate Brig. Gens. Daniel Adams, Bushrod Johnson and Patrick Cleburne, several shots from Confederate artillery struck the barn. One of those shells set the structure ablaze. The heat was so intense that nearby Union soldiers could do nothing to help their wounded comrades trapped inside. This inferno in turn started a grass fire which would eventually kill a few more incapacitated men lying in the open.

After what was a tactical victory, Bragg’s Confederates withdrew on October 9, and Henry Bottom’s farm was in shambles. He had already suffered the loss of fences and barn, and the house and outbuildings were pockmarked with bullet holes. In addition, the battle resulted in over 1,400 men killed in action, most of whom littered the field afterwards. The Yankee garrison understandably focused on tending to their own, and consequently dead Confederates were left unprotected from the elements. As feral hogs from nearby woods became a ghoulish nuisance, Henry Bottom and other local slaveholders were impressed by the garrison to assist in burying the Confederate dead, which they hastily did. After the occupying troops marched off, Bottom, other locals, and some students from the nearby Kentucky School of the Deaf exhumed and relocated many of the bodies to a plot on his farm. There they interred the bodies of 347 men, about 30 of whom he was able to identify from their possessions, in a compact mass grave.

Henry Bottom remained on his farm after the war, but he was economically and spiritually broken by the effects of the battle – for the first time, he was forced to buy food to feed his family.


H. P. Bottom House in 1885 (PBSHS)

Henry filed a claim against the U. S. government for damages that occurred after the battle as a result of additional demands by the army: $1,282 for “commissary” items such as pork, beef, bacon, cattle and sheep; and $3,580 for “quartermaster” goods including wood, corn, hay and oats. But in addition to showing that the losses were incurred after and not during the battle, a claimant had to prove that he had been a loyal citizen of the United States. Some of Henry’s neighbors claimed he was not only disloyal but was the area’s most prominent secessionist, and his claim was denied. But in 1902, his son Rowan re-filed the claim. The counter-testimony of other of Bottom’s neighbors attesting to his Unionism and disparaging the motivations of his detractors was considered by the Court of Claims, and Rowan was awarded $1,715 by act of Congress in 1914.


H. P. Bottom on Cemetery Wall, 1885 (PBSHS)

Henry, who died in 1901 at the age of 92, is perhaps best remembered for his Confederate Cemetery. He had attempted to construct a stone wall around the site, but in 1885 it was incomplete and overgrown, and would remain so until the next century. On October 8, 1902, thanks to fundraising by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a twenty-eight foot tall granite monument was dedicated within the now completely walled-in cemetery.

The restored Bottom House can be viewed just outside the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, which consists of 745 acres, with another 300 protected by easements and over 7,000 total acres recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The park also includes a visitor’s center and museum, walking trails, and a Union monument near the Confederate cemetery. The “Squire” Bottom house is on private property.

Thanks to historian Kenneth W. Noe, author of Perryville – This Grand Havoc of Battle, and Kurt Holman of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site for their assistance.

A New Old Map of the Battlefield

21 09 2016

Author John Hennessy passed along this heretofore unseen, by him or me, map. It was provided to him by reader Kimball Brace, who found it in the Library of Virginia. Kim has been researching E. Porter Alexander and the signal stations around Manassas and the Bull Run Line.

Mr. Hennessy correctly points out some of the notable features of the map include its depictions of the Beale and Van Pelt houses and details of the topography around the Stone Bridge.

The key (click for large images):


The map (click for large images):


Here is a transcription of the key, provided by a staff member at the Winery at Bull Run. I’ll try to find out more about that part of the story later…

The key:
A. Centreville Road to Stone Bridge
B. Forest each side Centreville Road
C. Enemies long Parrot Gun, Rifled; opening light Sunday Morning July 21st 1861, on Col Wheat’s Battalion (marked by a circle with an X in it)
D. Beale’s House, vacated by family Wednesday July 17th.
E. Shaeffers encampment, of Battalion, Co S Beauregard Rifles, Capt Shaeffer. New Orleans ____ Blues. Capt Goodauyn. New Market ___ Capt H N B Wood.
F. Thicket to which a large force of the enemy were concealed.
G. Cornfield fronting entrenchment Schaeffer’s Battalion
H. Entrenchment left-wing Capt Wood’s __ north side Bull Run.
I. Shaeffer’s Battalion entrenched, s.side Bull Run.
J. Latham’s Battery 2 guns (one marked XX) firing upon enemy at A B & C
K. Albemarle Regt Col Strange Comm at, entrenched on Bluff of Bull Run
L. Wheat Stubble between Albemarle Regt. And front of Enemy advancing at this point, Capt Latham’s Artillery, opening upon them, they commenced the flank to O, all around
M. Stone Bridge
N. Battery, of Enemy (not known invisible) moved with infancy upon Left-Flank of S.C. Army.
O. Advance of enemy, from A,B, (Carrying C.) F & G to O. and direction up to V.
P. Cornfield of Beale’s
Q. Forest Felled by Shaeffer’s Battalion
R. Turnpike to Warrenton from Stone Bridge
S. Bull Run
T. Vanpelt’s House, He having 2 sons in the Northern Army
U. Open fields over which reinforcements passed. Met the enemy, and the result was as the country knows
V. Headquarter’s, Gen E Coucke Lewis House
W. 1 Gun from Latham’s Battery managed by Lieut Saunders New O ____ Blues.
a. *Cannon Shot from enemy into headquarters
b. XX Guns’ supported by Charlottsville
c. X Monticello Guards of Latham’s Battery
d. Cursive X : open fields leading to Manassas from Lewis Farm
X. Circle around an x: Col Wheat’s encampment before 21st July

Click here for citation

New Orleans Visit – Confederate Memorial Hall

1 09 2016

In this post, I hipped you to my recent trip to New Orleans. After our stop outside at Lee Circle, we paid the small ($8) fee to tour Confederate Memorial Hall – Louisiana’s Civil War Museum. The exterior is nice, but the inside is very impressive – lots of wood and open timbers. Way old-school, outside of the 20 minute video presented at the end of a hallway on a flat-screen TV. So much to see, and you can check out the history of the place at their website. As with anything that is Confederate in NOLA, don’t put off seeing it until your “next trip,” as it may very well be “lost in time, like tears in rain.” Lots and lots of manicuring going on in the town.


One odd thing – the video mentioned a vast store of documents in the basement. When I asked the attendant how one gains access for research purposes, I was told one does not. I asked why and was told the documents are historic, hence no access. Ummm, OK, I guess.

Here are some photos, and I’ll try to let them do the talking for the most part. Click on any image for great big giant versions.

First, the exterior:


The interior:


Jefferson Davis ephemera:



This is the crib used by Jeff Davis as a child, also used for his children.



First Bull Run stuff:

  • Rob Wheat and the First Special Battalion:



Stars and Bars of the First Special Battalion


The story goes that, after his wounding at First Bull Run, Wheat was wrapped in these colors and borne from the field…


…and that his bloodstains are still visible today

  • 6th Louisiana Infantry


  • 7th Louisiana Infantry


  • 8th Louisiana Infantry


  • Washington Artillery



About that piece of wood (click on the image to enlarge) – it was not likely taken from Sherman’s Battery at First Bull Run, as the battery was not captured there.

  • P. G. T. Beauregard


Odds and Ends:

  • Benjamin Butler


  • A Piano, confiscated – or rescued – at Jackson, MS in 1863


  • Braxton Bragg



Any Masons in the house?

Lee Circle

Metairie Cemetery

Preview: Four New Emerging Civil War Titles

20 08 2016

If you’ve been reading Bull Runnings for a while, you know that I’ve previewed all of the titles in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series. And you also know how these books work. Concise histories, lots of maps and illustrations, tough paperbacks, suitable for the field. The really interesting parts, to me anyway, are the appendices. So, for each of these four most recent publications, I’m going to give you the bare minimum, and flesh out those appendices for you. Narrative page counts are for the main chapters only, not counting appendices. All run around 200 pages total.

OutFlewTheSabers_LRGOut Flew the Sabres: The Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, by Eric J. Wittenberg and Daniel T. Davis.

  • Narrative: 109 pages with tours
  • Appendix A: The Four Battles of Brandy Station (Wittenberg).
  • Appendix B: The Winter Encampment (Mike Block).
  • Appendix C: The Battle of Kelly’s Ford (Davis).
  • Afterword on preservation efforts (O. James Lighthizer).
  • Order of Battle

Layout 1The Last Road North: A Guide to the Gettysburg Campaign, 1863, by Robert Orrison and Dan Welch.

  • Narrative: 167 pages, with tours, from the start of the Confederate advance through the retreat.
  • No Appendices

Layout 1Don’t Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863 – From Little Round Top to Cemetery Ridge, by Chris Mackowski, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis.

  • Narrative: 131 pages with tours
  • Appendix A: The Wheatfield: A Walking Tour (White).
  • Appendix B: The Heroes of Little Round Top? Controversy surrounding Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine (Ryan Quint).
  • Appendix C: Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter. Photography at the site (James Brookes).
  • Appendix D: Not a Leg to Stand On: Sickles vs. Meade in the Wake of Gettysburg (Mackowski).
  • Order of Battle

A_Long_BloodyA Long and Bloody Task: The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton through Kennesaw Mountain to the Chatahoochie River, May 5 – July 18, 1864, by Stephen Davis.

  • Narrative: 105 pages
  • Driving Tour of the Atlanta Campaign: 14 pages
  • Appendix A: The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Evolving Presence (Stephen Briggs).
  • Appendix B: My Time with “Company Aytch:” Personal Memory and the Kennesaw Line (Robert W. Novak).
  • Appendix C: The Chattahoochee River Line Today (Michael k. Shaffer).
  • Appendix D: Federal Logistics During the Atlanta Campaign (Britt McCarley)
  • Appendix E: Why Do People Believe Joe Johnston Could Have Saved Atlanta? (Davis).
  • Appendix F: What We’ve Learned About John Bell Hood Since the Centennial (Davis)
  • Order of Battle


Captain Richard Watt York* (1), Co. I, 6th North Carolina Infantry, On the Soldier’s Haven and the March to Winchester

10 08 2015

Winchester, Va., July 18, 1861.

Mr. Editor: – Our Regiment, the 6th Infantry North Carolina State Troops, arrived here on the 16th. After leaving Raleigh we had a very pleasant time, but going through to Petersburg without stopping, and arriving there late at night, jaded us considerably. We arrived there about 12 o’clock at night, very hungry; but the good people of the city had supper ready for us, and we were ready for the supper. Early next morning the regiment was formed and we marched over to the Soldier’s Haven, where an ample breakfast was prepared for us, and after attending to this pleasant duty we expected to embark for Richmond; but cars were wanting, and two companies only, under Lieut. Col. Lightfoot, proceeded with the baggage, the remainder being left at the Soldier’s Haven, under Maj. Webb, to spend the day. After getting a dinner really sumptuous, two more companies proceeded, and late in the evening the remainder left also, and at 12 o’clock at night the last of us was in Richmond. Well, Mr. Editor, probably you are a little curious to know where the Soldier’s Haven is. I will endeavor to tell you, so that if you ever come to Petersburg and do not visit this spot, more dear by far to a soldier than any other turf around the Cockade City, you would do violence to a soldier’s feelings.

The beautiful Appomattox rolls its waters between it and the Cockade City. On its left lies a grassy plain, at whose border rises several beautiful hillocks, and deep ravines between. These hillocks are enclosed, and shaded by beautiful trees which offer a most refreshing shade to the weary soldier, while the heavy grass gives him a couch on which to rest his weary limbs, and gushing rivulets all around afford water in abundance. On the river side stands a long table, groaning from day-break until midnight under the weight of food. This is a place as romantic as the Vale of Tempe, far-famed, and holier than any other spot, with rich memories of the kind friends, and the sweet enchanting smiles and cheering words of the nymphs fabled of old. In my lonely marches, when worn down with fatigue and exhausted with hunger, I imagine I can see the clever faces of the men and angelic forms of the ladies (God bless them) of Petersburg. Some spots of earth may be forgotten, but the Soldier’s Haven, on the banks of the Appomattox can never be obliterated. May she stand eternally There is not another such place in this world.

Wearied and jaded by a six hours ride we got to Richmond about midnight, and at four next morning took up our line of march for the depot of the Virginia Central Railroad, our destination being Winchester. Arriving at the depot after a march of several hours through a heavy rain and muddy streets, judge of our vexation when we found no cars ready for us. Breaking ranks, we put ourselves under shelter as we could, and picked up cakes, pies and other eatables in infinitely small quantities, there being no haven for the soldier in Richmond as there is in Petersburg; but root hog or die was the word. About 2 o’clock it cleared away, and we marched up to capitol square, where President Jefferson Davis reviewed our regiment and made us a short speech, complimenting the old North State very highly. The Band played Hail to the Chief, Old North State, Dixie, and other patriotic airs, after which we marched down to the depot and embarked for Mannassa, where we arrived about 10 o’clock the next day. Mannassas is strongly fortified. The people generally have no idea of the strength of the place. The Yankees never will come through there. It is an utter impossibility. The troops were eager for a fight; but had no idea of getting one, for it is rashness to attack it.

After resting and getting dinner, we embarked at 5 o’clock on the Mannassas Gap Railroad for Strasburg, eighteen miles from Winchester. Long and anxious we sat in our cars waiting for the engines to take us off. The regiments began to hold dress-parade. The sun sank to his couch of fire, and night closed in, but no iron horse drew us off. Tired and weary from our night’s journey before, sleep found us, and many a soldier thought he was bounding over the mountains to join the army at Winchester; but day came and we were still at Mannassas Junction, and at about sunrise, without supper or breakfast, we started to Strasburg, and arrived there in the evening, pitched tents, and got supper – Col. Fisher being indefatigable in his exertions to render us comfortable. Tattoo was beat at 8 o’clock and tap immediately after. This astonished us. Soon the officer of the day came round and informed us that we had received a dispatch from Gen. Johnson to come on immediately, and we were ordered to march at midnight. I was preparing to lie down to take some sleep when the order came for the Captains to form their companies, march to the Quarter Master’s tent, receive their ammunition, and put out to Winchester, twenty miles. Without sleep for three nights, it was rather rough. Twelve o’clock drew on. I had fixed on my pistols and sword, filled my canteen and haversack, and was ready to form my company, when the bugler should give his blasts. Just then the rain commenced falling in torrents, and the order was countermanded until the rain should cease. About 2 o’clock the rain ceased, the bugler gave his blast, and soon the companies were formed, received their cartridges, and put out to Winchester.

After marching 9 miles we halted and got water, when we learned the Gen. Johnson had formed his line of battle, and that a detachment of Gen. Patterson’s troops were trying to turn his flanks and cut off our Regiment. Entirely ignorant of the country, we took up the line of march, and hurried on to effect a junction with Gen. Johnson. On arriving at Winchester we hated a few minutes to get water, and immediately marched through the town to the other side and were immediately placed in line of battle, and rested our weary limbs upon our muskets. Our positions was an excellent one, being posted about 500 yards to the left of the centre, behind a small hillock, which is a natural breastwork. Here we stood, amid the shocks of new mown wheat, awaiting the Yankee vandals, until about 10 o’clock at night, when Col. Fisher announced that after much trouble he had supper for us. We stacked arms, and all then lay down, making our bed by tearing down wheat shocks, and spreading our blankets over us, in which condition we took a heavy rain. We were kept in line of battle until about 2 o’clock yesterday, and our baggage being left behind, and after it arrived being packed away so that we could scarcely get to it, yet Col. Fisher himself, took our negroes, went back to town, had us a good breakfast cooked and brought to us. No man ever lived who thought more of his men that Chas. F. Fisher. No officer ever toiled harder than he to render them comfortable, and to do this, he shrinks from no labor no matter how menial. For be it remembered that a great deal of out breakfast on the morning of the 17th was cooked by the hands of Chas. F. Fisher. It is useless for me to say how our Regiment loves him. At 2 o’clock yesterday the troops were all ordered to their quarters and strong pickets posted in advance. The enemy, after advancing within three miles of us, fell back towards Martinsburg, and we joyfully went to pitching tents. And yet, not withstanding our suffering, not a murmur was heard, but all stood to their arms, and longed to see the foe.

This is a strong position, and the key to the Valley. We are well posted, and defy Old Abe to come down on us, which I do not believe he will do; for whenever he comes down to Winchester we will reddened the valley with their blood. They never can take this place.

We are here in camp in good health, no sickness, and in good spirits, and have but little expectation of a fight, though the enemy is only 12 or 15 miles distant, and may advance at any moment; but when he does come down, he will feel the effects of our heavy batteries and muskets in a way that will not be palatable. More anon.


P. S. Excuse this hasty epistle, I am worn out and tired. This morning (19th) we march to Martinsburg, I presume; at least we march.


(Raleigh) North Carolina Standard, 7/27/1861.

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

* While the author is not identified, from the narrative it is apparent he was a captain in the regiment. The only captain in the regiment at First Bull Run with initial “Y” was R. W. York of Co. I. See here.

R. W. York at Ancestry.com 

Pvt. Lewis Herbert Metcalfe, Co. E, 11th New York Infantry, On the Battle

21 07 2015

“so Eager Were We All …”

The morning was beautiful. The day before had been so hot and sultry that the damp cool night air seemed quite a relief, and the full moon, beaming above, lighted up the valley in which we lay, and its rays glistened on the thousands of muskets which were stacked around.

I awoke shortly after twelve o’clock, my sleep having been disturbed by the voice of one of our sergeants who passed down the row of sleepers telling them that letters had arrived from home. The sight before me when I arose from the ground was one which, though often seen by a soldier, is always interesting. Twenty thousand men were gathered together in that valley covering the slope of the hills on both sides. In every camp large fires were burning, around which groups were sitting or standing reading newly received letters and papers or busily engaged in cooking food for the coming day.

We had bivouacked there two days and, having no tents, had managed to protect ourselves from the sun during the day by building bower houses of small trees which we cut in a neighboring wood, and which had served as a slight shelter against the rain which had fallen the night before.

Orders had been issued the evening previous for the army to march at two o’clock in the morning. Three days’ rations had been supplied; ammunition furnished; and all were prepared to start. Through all the camps everyone seemed stirring, though it wanted two hours of the time, so eager were we all to meet the foe. Many had not slept at all. Some had spent the night before the campfires writing to the loved ones at home, letters which for aught they knew might be the last. Others whom excitement forbade to sleep had spent the night in storytelling and suggesting plans of private action on the morrow.

As I wandered through the camp visiting several campfires, I found every man full of resolution. Once aroused I could not sleep again amid all the hum and bustle of the camp. So, taking my canteen, I started for a spring to fill it with water. I had to pass through several camps before reaching it, and found nearly everyone stirring. Here and there would be groups of privates surrounding some officer who was regaling them with latest news of which the very latest seemed to be that General Butler had captured Richmond and the Rebels had been surrounded by General Patterson. All that we had to do was to give Beauregard a thrashing in order to end all the troubles. Not a thought of defeat or reverse of any kind entered our minds. We had only to go forth to conquer.

Two o’clock came, but no movement was made. Our regiment was ordered to fall in by companies, and after a short time of waiting, the muskets were again stacked, and the soldiers dismissed for a while. Some of us set fire to the bower houses which, being dry, burnt with a brilliant light, and other regiments following our plan, in a very few moments the whole valley was almost one sheet of flame.

At daybreak we were ordered to fall in and marched a very short distance to the edge of the road, and after forming the regiment, we were allowed to rest on our arms. We rested there an hour or two. Some laid down and slept, and the sun was well up above the horizon before any movement took place around us. First, Ricketts’ Battery which lay across a little creek in front of us limbered up and started down the road. Then came the 1st Michigan Regiment who, in passing us, gave three cheers. “Fall in!” came the order to us, and instantly every man was in his place. After the Michigan regiment came the 2nd Scott Life Guard, 88th, New York, which also gave three cheers which we returned, and, on the order being given, we formed in marching order and started off behind them.

Our colonel had been suffering from fever for several days, and was not considered able to do any duty. To our great surprise, as we gained the top of the hill above our late camp, he came riding by us toward the head of the column cheered again and again by our regiment and others who lined the roadside in order to see us pass.

In a short time we passed through Centerville and turned to our left down a country road. On this road was stationed a number of regiments which were a portion of the reserve, and all of them, as we passed, cheered us and wished us success. On we marched, crossing Cub Run, and then a short distance beyond we turned abruptly to the right, passed through a small grove of trees, and emerged into a large open plain skirted by woods on nearly every side. Away ahead of us we could just see a regiment vanishing in the woods. “Forward double quick” came the order, and away we went. Now “double quick,” if properly performed, is a very pretty movement, and one not excessively tiresome to the soldier. I remember one day to have seen the Massachusetts’ 5th coming down Pennsylvania Avenue at double quick with the drums beating to keep the proper time, and it looked very well.

But with our regiment, it was another matter, and performed in a manner not set down in our tactics. Anyone who has seen a closely contested race between two fire engine companies down Grand Street can form a good idea of what double quick was with us. Soon the plain on each side of us was found strewn with blankets which had been thrown aside by flying soldiers, and some of us, thinking they belonged to the Rebels, set up a lively shout.

In a short time we gained the woods, and entered them by an old road which looked as though but little used, and which we afterward discovered had been widened and cleared in some portions to allow our artillery to pass on it. I cannot form any opinion of the distance through the woods or the length of time we were in them. Now and then we were halted for a very few minutes, and then away we went again at double quick. The day was very hot. Scarcely a breath of air was stirring, and the shade of the trees afforded but little relief.

As we advanced farther on we passed numbers from different regiments who had given out in the march and dropped by the side of the road to wait for the wagons to pick them up.

After a while we came to edge of the woods. For some little while back the booming of cannon had told us a battle was going on. Now that we had reached the edge of the woods, the sound came more clearly and we could hear the rattle of volley after volley of musketry. Passing up a steep hill, we left the woods and halted on the road. To the left of the road was a wheatfield, and, looking across the field a mile or two to the right, we could see the puffs of smoke rising, showing us where the fighting was going on.

Cheer after cheer rang out from our regiment at the prospect of at last finding the foe, and yet many among us were suffering from the intense heat and want of water, for nearly all the canteens were empty by this time.

Away again on the run. The dust under our feet was thrown into the air and filled our eyes and mouths, and the fierce July sun blazed remorselessly down upon us. But a short distance and we filed off the road on to an open plain, forming into companies, and halted. To the left stood a large old-fashioned mansion house, and around it were several horses tied, belonging to our army, and several ambulances were halted there in front of the house. To our right the land sloped steeply down to the creek, and at the bottom of the hill was a meadow which was occupied by several of our regiments who were getting water.

We paused but a moment, and at the order the column wheeled and marched down the hill, company front. To hear the shouts of the assembled soldiers below us as we moved slowly down toward them, and see the splendid manner in which the evolution was performed, one would think it was some gala day, and ours a Broadway parade instead of a battlefield, and a fiercely contested one at that. We halted a moment in the meadow. A squad was detailed from each company to fill our canteens with water from the creek. But before they returned, away we started again at double quick. Hot, tired, and thirsty, and Tantalus-like our chance for water seemed slipping from our grasp. But the squad detailed from our company came running up, and nearly all of us were furnished with a canteen of water.

Now it was double quick in earnest across the creek, up a hill, then another creek crossed by a bridge, by Sudley Church, and then wading through another creek till we halted for a moment and divested ourselves of blankets, overcoats and haversacks which we laid, each company by itself, in piles on the ground. After leaving our things, we started again, and soon came to a large open space, one just suited for a parade—and so we must have it. Break into platoons. Forward double quick. I guess it must have looked well, for a regiment just retiring from the field came around a piece of woods, and when they saw us, shouted, cheered, and threw their caps up. But we were tired and nearly worn out, as the pale faces and heavy short breaths of those around me indicated.

All the time the cannon were roaring out just ahead of us, and to our immediate left the crack of the muskets told us we were on the battlefield. A member of the New York 71st who was slowly walking to the rear met us. “For God’s sake, hurry up, boys,” he said. “We’re driving them, but they’re killing all our officers.”

A few moments more, and still at double quick we filed into marching order and entered the battlefield up a slope on the summit of which to our right was a large barn and several haystacks. We passed by Ricketts’ Battery which were in action a short distance down the slope of the hill to our left, and seemed to be engaging a Rebel battery which lay about a mile off a little to our rear and left. Several of the shells from it exploded in mid-air before reaching us, and a few balls passed over and through our regiment, but none were struck by them. Passing on by the barn we soon got out of range of them. We marched a little down the hill so as to be protected from the cannon, and formed in line of battle.

Behind us in the valley the 14th Brooklyn were drawn up in line and were resting. Oh, if we could but get some rest, just five minutes, to catch one good long breath,—one moment to get a sip of water from our canteens! No, not for us. Up rode an officer sword in hand ere we had hardly halted. “Colonel,” he shouted, “the General has decided to put you right into it. Let the colors advance ten paces. Detail two of your companies as a reserve. Dress on your colors.”

’Twas done. “Come on boys and show them what New York can do!” And with that the pet lambs were led to the slaughter. Ricketts’ Battery were ordered to limber up and follow us. The hill in front sloped down to a small creek along which ran a road, and just across the creek another hill rose, on the top of which was a small white house surrounded by an orchard and cornfield beyond which were dense woods. To our right a small spur of dwarf pines and bushes extended obliquely down the hill some little distance from the woods.

Down the hill we marched, over the fence into a road, across the creek, passing some skirmishers of the 14th, and then, climbing another fence, gained the foot of the hill on the other side. The regiment was thrown into a little confusion getting over the two fences, but soon resumed good order, and up the hill we pushed at double quick. Up, up, not a single enemy in sight, not a shot from his side. Up, up till we gained the top and then:

Crashing through the cornfield, singing and whistling around our ears, making the air blue and sulphurous with smoke, came a storm of bullets upon us from the woods in front. “Down, every one of you,” cried the Colonel. And we went down just in time to escape the second volley. No orders came all along the line. One and then another would jump up and fire and then lie down to reload. Some started toward the woods on their own account, crawling slowly along in hopes to get sight of the foe.

And still the volleys came thundering upon us from our unseen enemy.

Our right, among which was my company, were thrown into confusion by them, and [by] the number who broke ranks and advanced toward the enemy. Our gallant Captain who had been in front of us all this time commanded us to rise, sent the sergeants to bring the adventurers back into line, and ordered us to fall back down the hill to the valley. The men returned slowly, the company on our right returning with us, while the rest of the regiment held their ground and returned the fire of the Rebels.

As we fell back to the valley, being broken and separated, cavalry came riding down upon us. They were met by a volley from the regiment, and rode through us cutting right and left with their sabers but hitting no one. They passed to our rear, gained a small clump of bushes, partially rallied and commenced discharging their carbines at us. Without waiting for any orders, the two companies on the right rushed pell mell at them, running in their fury right up to the horses and bayoneting the riders when the bullet would happen to miss, and drove them flying from the field in as short a time as it takes me to tell it.

Having disposed of them, we soon got our companies rallied and ran up in good order and formed in line again with the regiment. We were in a bad position. The clump of trees extending down from the woods were directly in front of our portion of the regiment, and the fire of the Rebels who lay concealed among the bushes within thirty yards of us told with fearful effect on our men. We had just got into line with the regiment when a bullet whirred across my breast, passing through both shirts I had on, but not even grazing my body. Before I had recovered from the shock, a blow as though a club had hit me just above both ankles, told me that I was hit.

The regiment was still pressing forward, and not knowing how bad I was hit, I still kept on. I had taken three or four steps when my left leg crushed under my weight, and I fell to the ground. The regiment passed on a little from where I lay and left me alone. Knowing full well how necessary it was that the blood should be stopped, I took a handkerchief from my pocket and tied it tightly around my leg above the knee. Then, holding my gun in my hand, I crawled, or rather dragged myself, away from the enemy.

Several of my companions passed by me. One wished me to let him carry me back toward the ambulances, but he was stopped by the Colonel, who told him to attend to the fighting instead of the wounded.

I have no doubt but that much of the disorder into which our regiment was thrown was owing to the fact that those who were unhurt, instead of pressing on to the fight, would stop and carry their wounded friends out of the way. Thrown into all manner of danger as our firemen are, they soon learn to stand by each other in trouble, and the stern necessities of a battlefield even could not break them of it.

To the right of where we had been fighting, a road ran up the hill in the direction of the Rebels. It being but a few hundred feet off, and the balls coming very thick around me where I lay, I thought I would drag myself to it. So I started again still carrying my gun. Pausing to rest, it suddenly occurred to me that I was extremely foolish to be dragging my gun with me when I was disabled from rising. It was loaded, and raising it, I managed to get it to my shoulder and discharge it in the direction of the enemy. Then I reached for a small stone which lay near me, broke the nipple off the gun, and laid it down.

During the time while I was slowly gaining the roadside, our men were still fighting, but from the large number straggling around, and the number of wounded which were being brought by me, I could see that we would soon be driven from the hill. Ricketts’ Battery had come up behind us and got into position, but the heavy volleys had swept off nearly every horse, and it was impossible to move the guns away. For nearly two hours the strife was over those guns. We had been driven away from them, and they were in possession of the enemy when Captain Ricketts rode up to a large body of our regiment and exclaimed, “For God’s sake, boys, save my battery.”

Captain Ricketts had always been a favorite with our men, and enough of them rallied, and under the lead of their sergeants, charged on the Rebels and drove them back to the woods again. But we were too small in numbers to hold it. The brave artillery captain was badly wounded, and his battery, after being taken and retaken several times, was finally lost.

I at length reached the side of the road but found I was no better off. I lay there for a long time looking around till our own men had vanished from my sight. And then for the first time I saw our concealed foe. A company of them came slowly from the woods loading and firing with great rapidity. Their gray coats and slouch hats, seen under such circumstances, filled me with disgust which I have not yet overcome. The bullets rained all around me, striking near me in the ground and throwing the dirt over my clothes. They came so thick and struck so near me that, for a time, I thought they were firing at me. But only one ball struck that passed through my right leg.

Once again I saw a portion of our army. I was engaged in watching the motions of the Graycoats on the top of the hill when suddenly they disappeared toward the woods. Soon after there came by where I lay a party of three or four hundred of our army composed of all the regiments I had seen and of those I had not. They were not marching in regular order at all, each man alone loading and firing and pressing forward in the direction of where I was first shot. “We’re driving them! Come on, boys!” was their cry.

I hoped we were driving them, but I feared not, and my fears were too true. The soldiers pressed on, worked well up onto the field near the woods, when crack came another of those fierce volleys, and our soldiers returned down the hill, their numbers greatly reduced, and the ground around strewed still thicker with dead and wounded. The fight had been going on all this time in other parts of the field. Now for a time it ceased entirely around me, and everything was quiet.

I imagined the Rebels were changing their position, and it turned out so. They moved further to our right, and some pieces of artillery were brought and placed in position on the road near which I lay about two hundred feet above me. Just across the road from where I was, stood a large tree around the trunk of which several wounded men were lying. One man, a soldier of the 14th New York who was wounded, was standing by the tree. I had lain my head down on my arms and was resting quietly when I was startled by a fierce volley coming down the road, striking the tree and whistling through the branches. Next I heard a rush down the road and shouts of “Kill him, he’s a Fire Zouave, kill him!”

I lay perfectly still expecting every moment to be set upon by the Rebels when a voice as from one in authority spoke up, “Shame on you, men, would you hurt a wounded man?” Instantly the excitement ceased, and raising my head, I glanced across the road. Surrounding the wounded at the foot of the tree were quite a number of Rebel soldiers busily engaged in asking questions of the wounded. Among them was a gray-haired man who appeared to be their captain and whose voice at once denoted him to be the one who interfered on behalf of our soldiers.

Some of the Rebels were giving water to the wounded, and one young man among them, looking over toward me, caught sight of me and came to my side asking numerous questions as to where I was wounded, etc. I asked him for water, but he had none. Leaving me, he went to the captain and told him there were several wounded men lying there, some of whom wanted water. A canteen was found among them which was not empty, and it was brought to me and I drank. There was a large bush within a few feet of me, and some of them asked me if I did not wish to be moved out of the sun. I acquiesced in their proposal, and two or three of them lifted me very carefully from the ground and carried and laid me down in the shade of the bush.

Here, to my great surprise, were three of my own regiment, and two of them belonged to my company. One was slightly wounded, and had been surrounded by the enemy while taking care of the other, a member of 28 Engine who was mortally wounded. Poor fellow, he lay on the ground writhing in agony, now begging for water, now talking in broken sentences of companions who were far away.

Our captors had left us suddenly, and soon we heard them forming in the woods across the road, their right being supported by the artillery which was in the road above us. Their regiment extended away to the left through the woods and, at the edge near us, we could see the soldiers loading their pieces and preparing to meet the charge of our own men. I could not see our army, but the exclamations of the enemy told us a little of their movements. “There they come,” “What a splendid front!” “They look good” were some of the remarks made. One, apparently a boy, spoke: “I say, Captain, just give me twenty men, and I’ll go around here and scatter the hull on ’em.” The laugh with which his proposition was received showed it didn’t meet with much favor. I heard the Captain ask if their guns were all loaded, and then the order was given for them to lay down close.

All was still. One of my comrades muttered, “I wonder if our folks know where these fellows are hid?” Oh, what a moment of suspense! I could picture in my mind our brave fellows advancing steadily uphill toward the woods not knowing where they were to be met, but pressing steadily on in line of battle. I could imagine them drawing nearer and nearer the foe when from the center of the woods came a low sound which was caught up at each company and repeated again – “Fire!” And with a roar that shook the earth, the artillery above us and the infantry in the wood opened upon our advancing columns.

Scarcely had the Rebel volley died away when we heard a heavy volley from our side. Again was it returned from the foe, and the artillery kept sending their deadly messengers down the road. Cheer after cheer came from our soldiers as they poured their volleys into the trees. But it did not last long. After a short time, amid the noise of the cannon and musketry, one could hear the Rebels shout: “There they go, they’re breaking.” Several, with great enthusiasm, leaped from the ground and cheered for Jeff Davis, and the whole of them were filling the air with yells and hurrahs.

But the group near the bush were filled with different feelings. We looked at each other in sorrow. All our hearts seemed to tell us the day was lost.

The artillery had ceased firing. The soldiers had advanced from the woods, and everything was quiet again. I looked toward the poor fellow who was so badly wounded. He lay perfectly still. His head lay on the ground, and his face was covered with his right arm. I said to my friend, “Look at Tommy—he lies so still, he must be dead.” He walked up, raised the arm, and turned the body so as to get a view of the face. My thoughts were too true. Amid that crash of shot and shell, through the sulphurous smoke which filled the air around us his soul had answered to God.

The tide of battle had passed away from us entirely. Our army were slowly retreating, but the sound of cannon and small arms showed that the ground was still contested in the neighborhood of where we first entered the field. From where we lay we could see the open fields through which the last charge had been made, and saw several Southern regiments winding slowly out of the woods with their banners hanging lazily in their midst as they moved still more lazily in the direction of our army.

We were soon surrounded by numbers of Rebels all eager to ask questions, and also desirous of obtaining a Minie musket or rifle. One asked me for mine. I told him I had dropped it, and I watched him searching for it, and saw him pick it up. He went off with it, but I imagine he didn’t harm anyone with it that day. Our visitors were mostly of the [?] South Carolina and 4th Georgia regiments, although a great many other regiments were represented all of whom were desirous to see the Fire Zouaves.

From the remarks of those who came to see us, we knew that our army had been driven panic-stricken toward Washington, and as night drew near we all became anxious to know how we were to be cared for. Several Rebel officers had been around cheering us up, telling us they would take care of us as soon as ambulances could be obtained to take us off.

About half an hour after dark, someone about fifty feet down the road inquired if there were any Fire Zouaves in hearing. We answered, and soon our names were given to each other. There were two of our regiment badly wounded, lying together, and the inquiry came from them.

During the whole day I had suffered scarcely any from pain. The force of the ball which had broken my leg had so benumbed it that when I lay still I felt no inconvenience. I lay patiently waiting for some wagon to come along, but as one after another came near and then departed filled with wounded, I gave up all hope of being carried off that night, and lay down to sleep. There was an old overcoat beside me which I drew around me to keep the chill night air off. Amid the noise of the wagons, the shouts of the Negro drivers, the sighs and moans of the wounded and dying around me, I closed my eyes on this eventful Sabbath. The toil and excitement of the day at last asserted their power, and I fell into a sound sweet slumber. Sunday, the twenty-first of July, 1861, was left among the annals of the past.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe at Ancestry.com.

Lewis Herbert Metcalfe bio sketch

Transcribed by reader David Ulf.

Also appeared in print in American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 16, Issue 4, 1965

On the Anniversary of the Surrender at Bennett Place

21 04 2015

This article ran in my Collateral Damage column in Civil War Times back in December, 2010, as Bennett Place, Where the War Really Ended. Click on the thumbnails for larger images I recorded over the years.


Original road trace

Original road trace

The knock came unexpectedly at just about noon that sunny spring day, April 17, 1865. James Bennett and his wife, Nancy, opened the door to their modest three-room, two-story home and were greeted by Union Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston, along with their staffs and escorts, several hundred soldiers in all. Johnston thought the farm which he had passed earlier looked like an appropriate place for them to sit down and talk and Sherman had deferred to his judgment. The Bennetts left their guests and repaired to their detached kitchen, leaving the two men in possession of the main room, which was described as “scrupulously neat, the floors scrubbed to a milky whiteness, the bed in one room very neatly made up, and the few articles of furniture in the room arranged with neatness and taste”. What followed was the first of three meetings between the army group commanders; three meetings that would end – after no little drama – with the surrender on April 26th of nearly 90,000 Confederate soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

353James Bennett (he would change the spelling from “Bennitt” after 1860: to avoid confusion the later spelling will be used here) was born in Chatham County, NC on July 11, 1806. In the 1820s he moved to Orange County, and on May 23, 1834 he married Nancy Leigh Pearson. The union produced three children: son Lorenzo in 1832, daughter Eliza Ann in 1834, and son Alphonzo in 1836. After years of struggling financially, in 1846 James was finally able to borrow $400 and purchase a 325 acre farm with an existing cabin along the Hillsboro Road outside Durham, NC, in eastern Orange County. They added siding to the cabin, and by 1854 James was able to pay off the loan, later selling 133 acres for $250.

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

James had several sources of income. He did some contract hauling; sold food, liquor and lodging to travelers on the Hillsboro Road; and made and sold shoes and clothing. But the family’s primary business was agriculture, and they grew corn which they both consumed and sold. The Bennett farm also produced cantaloupe, watermelon, oats, wheat, and sweet potatoes. Bennett owned no slaves, but hired helpers, including slaves, when he was able.

The war was hard on the Bennetts. Lorenzo, who had enlisted in the 27th NC, fell sick and died in a Winchester, VA army hospital in October 1862. Alfonso died that same year, though it isn’t clear if he died in military service. In August 1864 Eliza’s husband Robert Duke – a brother of Washington Duke for whom Duke University is named – of the 46th NC died of illness in a hospital in Lynchburg, VA. Soon after, Eliza returned to live at Bennett Place with her and Robert’s son, James.

Interior of reconstructed farm house

Interior of reconstructed farm house

When the “Terms of a Military Convention” were signed by Sherman and Johnston on April 26th, James Bennett was invited to join the generals and their staffs in a celebratory toast. Afterwards, a Union private offered to purchase the table cover on which the agreement had been signed, but Bennett refused. One reporter wrote that relic hunters were so thorough that there would soon be little left to indicate where the house stood.

Two days later, a detail from Kilpatrick’s cavalry division arrived and made Bennett an offer of $10 and a horse for the signing table and cover, with the caveat that they were under orders to take them if he declined the offer. Not surprisingly, he accepted, but despite turning over the table the payment never materialized. In 1870, after learning that the table had subsequently sold for $3,000, Bennett wrote to the governor of North Carolina seeking compensation for it and other items taken from his home, but to no effect. In 1873 he filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission, but was denied restitution because he had supported the Confederacy.

While his land was spared the ravages of fighting, after the war the productivity of Bennett’s farm dropped off significantly. By 1875 sales of various parcels of his land left him with 175 acres, all of which he sharecropped out in early 1876. James Bennett died in 1879, followed not long after by his wife. By 1889 Eliza’s daughter Roberta Shields was the sole owner of the farm: she sold 35 acres including the house to Brodie L. Duke, a black-sheep son of Washington Duke, in 1890.

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

By the early 1900’s the farm was reported as deserted, the house in a state of severe 359disrepair. A protective structure was erected around the house in the latter half of the first decade of the 20th century. Richmond businessman Samuel T. Morgan purchased 31 acres and the house around 1908, but he died in 1920 before anything was done to preserve the structure. In 1921, the Surrender site burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. All that remained was the stone chimney.



In 1923 a 3 ½ acre plot including the Surrender site and a new monument (Unity) was donated to a non-profit organization, The Bennett Place Memorial Commission, by the Morgan family in return for its promise to maintain the site in perpetuity. But while small improvements were made in the first decade, the site was relatively unvisited for more than 20 years. In 1961, Bennett Place became an official NC State Historic Site. The reconstructed house, kitchen, smokehouse and split rail fence lining the historic Hillsboro Road trace were dedicated, and Bennett Place’s life as a public historic landmark began. Today the site also includes a visitor center with theater, museum, and gift shop, the Everett-Thissen Research Library, and a bandstand.



Thanks to Tonia Smith for her assistance in the preparation of this article. See Arthur C. Menius, James Bennitt: Portrait of an Antebellum Yeoman in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1981 and the same author, The Bennett Place, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, July 1979

Wilderness – A Tale of Two Permelias

6 05 2014

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness and The Overland Campaign, here’s the original version of my Collateral Damage article that ran in the August, 2011 edition of Civil War Times. For real time tweets of the tours this week, be sure to follow Sesqui tourist extraordinaire Craig Swain @caswain01 on Twitter and look for the Overland150 hashtag.

The Higgerson and Chewning Farms in The Wilderness: The Widows Permelia

The Battle of the Wilderness, fought in early May 1864, marked the beginning of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. For two days, the Union Army of the Potomac and the Ninth Army Corps battled Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in a hellish tangle of thick, second-growth forest along and between the Orange Turnpike to the north and the Orange Plank Road to the south, in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County. Two farms, today located along Hill-Ewell Drive in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, were in 1864 situated at the center of the fighting; both were witness to singular events.

The northernmost farm, also known as “Spring Hill” and “Oak Hill”, was the home of Permelia Chewning Higgerson, 34. Her husband Benjamin, who was 20 years her senior, had died of smallpox in December 1862. One year later, Benjamin’s son from an earlier marriage, James, died in a Richmond hospital, also from smallpox, which he had contracted as a member of the Ninth VA Cavalry. Living with the Widow Higgerson were her five children – four boys and a girl aged two to eleven. In 1860, Benjamin Higgerson’s real estate was valued at $500, his personal properly was worth $1,370, and he owned two slaves. The house was a small, three room, one-and-a-half story frame structure which sat in a clearing about three quarters of a mile south of the Orange Turnpike.

Permelia Higgerson (umm, yeah, on the left)

Permelia Higgerson (umm, yeah, on the left)

About one mile to the south was the home of Permelia Higgerson’s parents, William and Permelia Chewning. Like her daughter, Permelia Chewning was a widow. William had died the previous June at the age of 73 as the result of an injury sustained in an accident at a local mill. In 1860, William Chewning’s real estate was valued at $1,500 and his personal estate at a respectable $14,400. He also owned thirteen slaves. The 72-year-old Widow Chewning lived with her 38-year-old daughter Jane and 30-year-old son Absalom in a two and one-half story frame house known as “Mount View”, situated in a clearing on a ridge on the 150-acre farm. The farm produced wheat, rye, corn, oats, potatoes, and tobacco. It also had a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.

Both farms played prominent roles in the battle. On May 5, Union general James Wadsworth’s division struggled westward through thick underbrush to keep pace with the rest of Union 5th Corps attack on Confederate General Richard Ewell’s lines. Colonel Roy Stone’s brigade passed through the clearing around the Higgerson house, tearing down a fence and laying waste to the garden despite the Widow’s loud objections and predictions of their impending defeat. After passing the house the men entered swampy ground near a tributary of Wilderness Run: “That’s a hell of a looking hole to send white men into”, shouted one soldier; another advised his comrades to “label” themselves, as death was certain. Soon they found themselves mired in waist-deep water, causing a gap to open in the Union line just as Confederate troops crashed into the isolated Pennsylvanians. Heavy casualties forced them to retire, and as they poured past the house, the Widow Higgerson again pelted them with taunts.

Higgerson HOuse

Higgerson HOuse

Farther south, the placement of the Chewning house on high ground from which enemy positions were clearly visible made it desirable to both sides, and possession changed hands over the two days. At one point, a group of Union soldiers had taken over the house and was inside vandalizing it and preparing dinner when Permelia Chewning flagged down her relative Markus Chewning (a scout for Confederate General Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee), who was coincidentally riding alone along the road from Parker’s Store to the south. After the Widow Chewning filled him in about what was happening, Markus rode rapidly around the house to convince those inside that they were outnumbered and should give up. The ruse worked – leaving their weapons inside the Yankees surrendered to Markus. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall: Mount View was soon to become a hot place. The Widow Chewning gathered some things and left the house soon after.

On May 6, Confederate General A. P. Hill and his staff rode into the unoccupied clearing. They dismounted and soon heard the sounds of a body of nearby Federal soldiers breaking down a fence. Hill remained calm, telling them: “Mount, walk your horses, and don’t look back.” Although the Rebels were within easy range, the Federals held their fire and the party made their escape at a leisurely pace. A captured Yankee later told one of the escapees, “I wanted to fire on you, but my colonel said you were farmers riding from the house.”

The Chewning house and farm was in a shambles after the battle. Absalom later testified: “Everything was gone – all the crops, all the stock, all the fences. Also, a tobacco house, a shop, and an ice-house were destroyed. I found some of the materials in the breastworks around the house.” The Widow Chewning filed a post-war claim with the Southern Claims Commission for just under $3,600, including lost fence rails, cordwood, and livestock. The disposition of the Chewning claim is unknown. Fire destroyed the Chewning house in 1947.

The younger Permelia – Higgerson – remarried in 1867. She and William Porter had two children, Cyrus and Ann, and moved to Missouri on the Mississippi River to a place they called “Higgerson Landing”, consisting of a house, a store, and a one-room schoolhouse that survives to this day. Permelia’s second marriage eventually fell apart. About 1871 William Porter ran off to Louisiana and Montana with Permelia Higgerson’s 16-year-old daughter, Jacqueline. After fathering four children with her, Porter deserted Jacqueline as well. The Widow Higgerson passed away in 1897 in Missouri. The Higgerson House disappeared in the 1930s, but remnants of its chimney survive today.

Higgerson House Chimney

Higgerson House Chimney

Thanks to Josef W. Rokus and Noel Harrison of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP for their assistance in preparing this article.