« PreviousContinue »
of Gen. Lee's army by a force of about 35,000 infantry and cavalry; to encounter which Pickett's and B. Johnson's divisions and a small force of cavalry were moved to the extreme right, and first struck the enemy within half a mile of Dinwiddie Court House. The first event was a success of the Confederates. The enemy was severely punished; half an hour more of daylight and Pickett's men would have got to the Court House; as it was, learning that the enemy was reinforcing with infantry, and knowing that the whole of Sheridan's and Kautz' cavalry was in his front, Gen. Pickett decided to fall back, at daylight of the 1st April, to Five Forks, a position he was directed by a telegram from Gen. Lee to "hold," so as to protect the road to Ford's Depot.
This movement was made in perfect order. In the morning of the 1st April, the enemy pushed up steadily from the Court House, and commenced extending to the Confederate left. In his official report (which is in manuscript and has not yet been admitted into the historical records of the war) Gen. Pickett thus describes the principal action and disasterous close of the day : “Suddenly the enemy in heavy infantry column appeared on our left front, and the attack, which, up to that time, had been confined principally to our front towards the Court House, now became general. Charge after charge of the enemy was repulsed; but they still kept bringing up division after division and pressing around our left. Gen. Ransom, perceiving this, took his brigade from behind the breastworks, and boldly charged the heavy column of the enemy, committing great havoc and temporarily checking their movement. In this he had his horse killed, he falling under him, and his Asst. Adjt.-General, the brave but unfortunate Captain Gee, was killed. The few cavalry however which had got into position gave way, and the enemy came pouring in on Wallace's left, causing his men to give back. Pegram had been mortally wounded, the captain of the battery killed, and many of the men killed and wounded. I succeeded nevertheless in getting a sergeant with men enough for one piece put in position on the left, and fired some eight rounds into the head of the enemy's column, when the axle broke, disabling the piece. I had also immediately withdrawn Terry's Brigade from its position, and threw them on the left flank, charging over Wallace's men, forcing them back to their position. Even then, with all the odds against us, we might have held on until night, which was approaching; but the ammunition was fast giving out. Col. Florence's regiment fought hand to hand with the enemy, after their cartridges were expended; but it was of no avail, and, although the enemy's dead lay in heaps, we were obliged to give way, our left being completely turned. * * * Everything assumed the appearance of a panic, when, by dint of great personal exertions on the part of my staff, together with the general officers and their staff officers, we compelled a rally and stand on Corse's Brigade, which was still in perfect order, and had repulsed, as had W. H. F. Lee's cavalry, every attempt of the enemy against them. One of the most brilliant cavalry engagements of the war took place on this part of the field, near Mrs. Gillian's residence. The enemy made a most determined attack in heavy force (cavalry), but were in turn charged by Gen. W. H. F. Lee, completely driving them off the field. This, with the firm stand made by Corse's men, and those that could be rallied at this point, enabled many to escape capture. Thus the shades of the evening closed on the bloody field.”
The men who escaped capture were assembled on the railroad; their losses had been severe, several thousand having been taken prisoners. As night fell, Gen. Pickett with the remnant of his command took up his line of march towards Exeter Mills, intending to cross the Appomattox river at that point, when he received orders by a staff officer to report to Lieut.-Gen. Anderson at Sutherlan's. In the following morning, while on the march, he found the road strewn with stragglers from Wilcox' and Heth's divisions, who informed him that the lines in front of Petersburg had been forced. He at once struck for the general line of retreat towards Amelia Court-House, where he reported to Gen. Anderson. After the affair of Sailor's Creek, the history of this retreat, so often referred to in this volume, became a dull, harsh record of occasional skirmishing and continual marching, day and night; and in its last stages Gen. Pickett reported to Gen. Longstreet, and continued to receive orders from him until the army was surrendered and dispersed.
In his final report, officially addressed to Gen. Lee, Gen. Pickett thus epitomizes the deeds of the Virginia troops he had led so long, in language which his ardent and honourable regard for his men inspired, and to which history will add the commentary which
his personal modesty has withbeld. “It is needless in this, my last report of the Virginia Division, to recall to the Commanderin-Chief the trials, hardships and battles through which they have passed. Baptized in war at Bull Run and the First Manassas, under Lieut.-Gen. Longstreet's instructions, they continued afterwards to follow the lessons taught them on their various marches; in the lines about Yorktown; at the glorious battle of Williamsburg, where, with Wilcox' Alabama Brigade, they withstood the advance of the whole of McClellan's Grand Army, and absolutely drove them back; at Seven Pines, where they were so highly complimented by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston; at Gaines' Mills, Frazier's Farm, Second Manassas, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and the engagements about the lines in front of Bermuda Hundred, Fort Harrison, etc., which came under the personal observation of the Commander-in-chief. The written and verbal acknowledgments of their worth from him, have been gratefully appreciated by them."
The “ Virginia Division," with such a record, will live as long as there is a pen to transcribe deeds of glory and living hearts to treasure the proud and tender memories of the past. The command of Gen. Pickett was composed of Virginians, himself the product and representative of the best school of the Virginia gentleman. In it was gathered much of the best and most cultivated manhood of the State; and men belonging to noble families, some with muskets in their hands, showed that superiour courage which belongs to the well-trained gentry of the Old Dominion, and proved themselves worthy of the blood which coursed in their veins.
From their near countrymen the survivors of the command that · fought at Gettysburg obtain homage, love, respect and admiration;
from their enemies they need fear nothing but the weakest and vainest attempts at detraction, for there is a certain assured glory where stings of envy cannot enter and where shafts of slander fall harmless; and we solemnly believe it would be as vain to dispute before the world, after the experience of the past war, the heroic character of the modern Virginians, as that of the old Romans, whom centuries have accepted as types of the martial and manly virtues.
MAJ.-GEN. CHARLES W. FIELD.
Services in the United States Army and at West Point.-Commands a Brigade in
" the Seven Days' Battles” around Richmond.--Promoted Major-General in 1864.Field's Division restores the Battle in the Wilderness.-An unheralded victory on the Richmond lines.--Apocrypha of the newspapers.—Remarkable and brilliant appearance of Field's Division at the Surrender-What the Federal General Meade said of "the Rebels."
CHARLES W. FIELD was born in Woodford county, Kentucky, in 1818; his parents having migrated from Virginia, his father being a native of Culpepper county, where the family had lived for several generations, and maintains to this day some honoured representatives. The illustrious Henry Clay conceived a great fondness for young Field, and was indeed a devoted friend of his father, but being defeated in his candidacy for the Presidency, he was in no position to serve the boy, who, however, through the solicitation of ex-President Jackson, secured a cadetship at West Point, which he had long coveted, being appointed "at large” by President Polk, in 1845. Being graduated in 1849, he was assigned to the 2nd Dragoons, Col. Harney, and for the five succeeding years operated against the Indians on the frontier of New Mexico, Texas and the Plains. In 1855 he was promoted first lieutenant and transferred to the Second Cavalry, then being raised, A. S. Johnston, colonel, and R. E. Lee, lieut.-colonel. In 1856, he was ordered by the War Department on duty at West Point, as chief of cavalry at that institution, and remained there until 1861, when he resigned his commission as captain, and, going to Richmond, offered his services to the Southern Confederacy.
His first duties in the war were quiet and obscure, he having
Ashland, near Richmond; thence he was appointed to command the 6th Virginia Cavalry; but it was not until Johnston's army abandoned North Virginia, in 1862, that he appeared conspicuously in the field. He was then made a Brigadier-General, and finally, falling into the command of an infantry brigade (all Virginia regiments), he was placed in A. P. Hill's division, and in that fought in the Seven Days' Battles around Richmond, Cedar Run, and the Second Manassas. In the last named battle Gen. Field was dreadfully wounded, and was actually confined to his bed for nearly a year. In February, 1864, though still on crutches, he reported for duty, was made a Major-General, and was assigned to Longstreet's corps, and to the division that Gen. Hood had formerly commanded.
From that time to the surrender at Appomattox Court-House Field's Division was an honourable and familiar name. It was this division that mainly restored the battle in the Wilderness, when at one time it appeared that the Confederate right wing was gone, and Gen. Lee in desperation had offered to lead the Texas Brigade into action. “Go back," said these hardy soldiers, “and we'll show you what we will do.” They did show it, they did repulse the enemy; but in twenty minutes two-thirds of this devoted brigade were on the ground, killed or wounded.
When Gen. Lee fell back to Richmond and Petersburg, Field's division was withdrawn and sent to the north line of the James, to meet a demonstration in that direction. On the 14th August, 1864, while Gen. Field held a line extending from Chapin's Bluff to New Market Heights, reinforced by some brigades from Mahone's, Wilcox' and Pickett's divisions, he sustained a heavy attack of the enemy, which at one time broke through a a gap of two brigades in his centre. It appeared that everything on the field was lost, and that there was nothing to stop the enemy short of the works immediately around Richmond. Gen. Field, however, called upon his old division, which had never yet failed him, formed it rapidly in front of the enemy, dashed at his advancing columns, drove them half a mile, and completely reëstablished his lines. It was a critical success; it may be said to have snatched Richmond itself from the grasp of the enemy. Gen. Field's forces