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History of Lane's North Carolina brigade.

By Brigadier-General James H. Lane.

No. 1.

[We are indebted to our gallant friend, General Lane, for a full history of his splendid brigade of North Carolinians. We shall continue the series from month to month until the whole is completed.]

Campaign of 1862--organization.

After the battle of Newberne, North Carolina, the Confederate troops at that place fell back to Kinston, fresh North Carolina troops were ordered to the same place, and soon afterwards the whole force was divided into two brigades. The first was placed under the command of General Robert Ransom, and the second, composed of the Seventh, Eighteenth, Twenty-eighth, Thirty-third and Thirty-seventh North Carolina regiments, was commanded by General L. O'B. Branch. This brigade was known as the Second North Carolina brigade from the time of its organization until it was assigned to General A. P. Hill's command. It was then designated as the “Fourth brigade of the light division” until orders were issued directing that all brigades, divisions and corps should be called by the names of their respective commanders. In obedience to these orders, this gallant body of North Carolina troops was then called “Branch's brigade” until the battle of Sharpsburg, where the heroic Branch was killed. I was soon afterwards promoted to fill the vacancy caused by the death of General Branch, and from that time to the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse this command was known in the Army of Northern Virginia as “Lane's brigade.”

Ordered to Virginia.

Early in May, 1862, this command was ordered to Virginia, and, on reaching Richmond, it was at once sent to Gordonsville. It remained there and at Rapidan station, on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, only a short time, when it was ordered to the Valley to join General Ewell, but, on reaching the base of the Blue Ridge, the order was countermanded and it was taken to Hanover Courthouse. From that point it was moved, on the 26th of May, to “Slash church,” near Peake's turnout on the Virginia Central railroad.


Battle at Slash church and Hanover Courthouse.

Early next morning General Branch sent the Twenty-eighth regiment under me to Taliaferro's mill to cut off a body of marauders, but it was itself cut off from the remainder of the brigade by an overwhelming force of the enemy — the whole of Porter's division and a part of Sedgwick's — and at Dr. Kinney's farm it fought most heroically. Lieutenant Pollock, of Fauquier county, Virginia, at one time on duty at General R. E. Lee's headquarters, informed me that he heard General Lee, on several occasions, speak in very complimentary terms of the retreat and escape of this regiment under such trying circumstances, as well as of its gallantry in the fight of that day. General Branch, with the other four regiments of his command, engaged the enemy at Slash church, but was overpowered and forced to fall back after a most gallant and stubborn resistance.

Official report of General Branch.

Captain R. C. Morgan, Assistant Adjutant-General:
I have the honor to report, for the information of the General commanding the division, that in order to cover the railroad against small parties of the enemy, and at the same time carry out other views and wishes of General Johnston, which he had communicated to me, I moved my command on Monday from Hanover Courthouse to Slash church. The position was selected because, whilst fulfilling other requirements, it was at the mouth of a road leading to Ashland, which assured me of a means of retreat if assailed by the large forces of the enemy in close proximity to my front.

I took up the position with a knowledge of its danger, and all of my arrangements were made accordingly. No baggage train encumbered me, and my command bivouacked Monday night, infantry supports being thrown out for cavalry pickets. Tuesday morning the enemy were reported to be advancing on the road by Taliaferro's mills, and I sent Colonel Lane with his own (Twenty-eighth North Carolina) regiment and a section of Latham's battery to support the pickets and repel any small parties. At the same time Colonel Hardeman's Forty-fifth Georgia regiment was sent to repair the railroad at Ashcake, where it had been obstructed by the enemy the day before, and watch any approach of the enemy on that road. About the middle of the day the enemy opened fire [515] from a battery near Peake's crossing. Latham's battery very soon got into position to reply, and after a sharp action silenced it. In the meantime a severe cannonade had been going on in the direction of Lane, showing that he, too, had been attacked. As soon as the battery in the road had been driven off, I sent Colonel Lee with his own, the Thirty-seventh, and the Eighteenth, Colonel Cowan's regiment, to reinforce him. When these two regiments had proceeded about a mile and a half, the enemy was found strongly posted across the road. On learning this I galloped forward (leaving orders for Latham to follow me as quickly as possible), and was informed by Colonel Lee that the force of the enemy consisted of two regiments of infantry and some artillery.

My plan was quickly formed and orders given for its execution. Lee with the Thirty-seventh was to push through the woods and get close on the right flank of the battery; Hoke, as soon as he should return from a sweep through the woods on which I had sent him, and Colonel Wade's Twelfth North Carolina regiment was to make a similar movement to the left flank of the battery, and Cowan was to charge across the open ground in front. Hoke, supported by Colonel Wade, had a sharp skirmish in the woods, taking six prisoners and eleven horses, but came out too late to make the move assigned to him; and Lee having sent for reinforcements, I so far changed my plans as to abandon the attack on the enemy's left, and sent Lieutenant-Colonel Hoke to reinforce Colonel Lee, relying on the front and right flank attack.

Colonel Cowan, with the Eighteenth, made the charge most gallantly, but the enemy's force was much larger than had been supposed and strongly posted, and the gallant Eighteenth was compelled to seek shelter. It continued to pour heavy volleys from the edge of the woods, and must have done great execution. The steadiness with which this desperate charge was made reflectes the highest credit on officers and men. The Thirty-seventh found the undergrowth so dense as to retard its progress, but when it reached its position it poured a heavy and destructive fire upon the enemy. This combined volley from the Eighteenth and Thirty-seventh compelled the enemy to leave his battery for a time and take shelter behind a ditch bank.

For two hours the cavalry pickets had been coming in from the Ashcake road, reported a heavy force of the enemy passing to my right by that road, and Colonel Robertson, of the Virginia cavalry, who was near Hanover Courthouse, had sent me repeated messages [516] to the effect that a heavy body from that direction was threatening my line of retreat. I had already learned that my brigade was engaged with an entire division in its front, but continued the contest in the hope that the cannonade would attract to me some reinforcements — taking the precaution, however, to keep Campbell's Seventh North Carolina and Hardeman's Forty-fifth Georgia in order to cover the retreat in case my expectation should not be realized. Finding I could remain no longer without being surrounded, and hearing of no reinforcements, and feeling assured from the firing that Lane had made good his retreat to Hanover Courthouse, I determined to draw off. This, always difficult in the presence of a superior enemy, was rendered comparatively easy by the precaution I had taken not to engage my whole force. Campbell was ordered to place the Seventh across the road so as to receive the enemy if they should attempt to follow.

Orders were then sent to Lee and Cowan to withdraw in order. They were hotly engaged when the order was received, but promptly withdrew. Colonel Cowan, in an especial manner, attracted my tention by the perfect order in which he brought out his regiment, notwithstanding the severe and long continued fire he had received from both infantry and artillery. The regiments marched to the rear without haste or confusion and went up the Ashland road. A cautious attempt was made by the enemy to follow, but a single volley from the rear-guard of the Seventh arrested it. The march was continued without interruption to Ashland, where I was ordered by General Johnston to report to Major-General Hill. All my subsequent movements having been under orders received from him in person, they need not be detailed.

Having but one wagon and one ambulance, I was under the necessity of leaving a portion of my wounded. The enemy left a portion of their killed on the ground which we subsequently occupied.

My senior Surgeon established his hospital in a house on which the hospital flag was conspicuously displayed. It was not in or near the line of fire. I saw many shells thrown by the enemy explode immediately over and around this house. It could not have been undesigned.

Colonel Lane, with the Twenty-eighth regiment, has rejoined the brigade, but I have not received his report of the engagement he had with the enemy. As soon as received, it will be forwarded to you. [517]

My loss (exclusive of Colonel Lane's command) was sixty-six killed and one hundred and seventy-seven wounded.

An entire division was engaged against me, and, as you are aware, a large part of General McClellan's army were in supporting distance.

The officers and men of my command conducted themselves in a very handsome manner, both in the engagement and in the march.

The enemy may have captured stragglers enough to offset the prisoners we took from them in the open field, but they took no body of my troops.

Twice during the day the enemy were driven back, the last time taking shelter behind a ditch bank at the edge of the woods. From this position I did not succeed in driving them.

I have the honor to be yours, very respectfully,

L. O'B. Branch, Brigadier-General Commanding.

Battle of Hanover Courthouse-Colonel J. H. Lane's report.

Herdquarters Branch's brigade, June 4th, 1862.
Captain R. C. Morgan, Assistant Adjutant-General:
I have the honor to inclose, for the information of the General commanding the division, the report of Colonel James H. Lane, Twenty-eighth North Carolina troops, of the action we had with the enemy at Dr. Kinney's, on the 27th ultimo. Colonel Lane conducted the expedition on which he had beep sent by me with prudence and courage, and has entitled himself to my entire approbation.

The Twenty-eighth regiment has in it many recruits just recovered from the diseases incident to the commencement of camp life. Some of these, from physical exhaustion, separated from the regiment in the retreat — a portion of them may have fallen into the hands of the enemy's cavalry. If so, they are only trophies taken by an overwhelming force attempting to capture a single regiment, and will not more than counterbalance the prisoners taken by the Twenty-eighth from them.

My engagement of that day was for the purpose of reinforcing Colonel Lane, and was continued until I was assured that he had made good his retreat.

The Twenty-eighth regiment and the section of Latham's battery [518] which accompanied it, honorably sustained the credit of the Confederate arms. It ought to be stated to the credit of Latham's battery, that it reported to me from North Carolina only the evening before I left Hanover Courthouse, with only half enough men for the efficient service of the guns, and with horses entirely untrained.

Your obedient servant,

L. O'B. Branch, Brigadier-General.

headquarters Twenty-Eighth regiment, North Carolina volunteers, near Richmond, June 1st, 1862.
Brigadier-General L. O'B. Branch, Commanding Second North Carolina Brigade.
General — In obedience to your orders, I proceeded to Taliaferro's mill on the morning of the 27th of May with eight hundred and ninety (890) of my regiment and a section of Latham's battery, commanded by Lieutenant J. R. Potts. While I was there, examining the ground for a suitable position for my forces, information was received that the enemy was approaching in the direction of Hanover Courthouse. I immediately retraced my steps, marching left in front, and throwing out a platoon of Company G as flankers, under Captain George B. Johnston, to my right, the supposed direction of the enemy, while the other was thrown to my left and front, under Lieutenant E. G. Morrow. It was not until we had nearly emerged from the pine thicket in front of Dr. Kinney's that we discovered some of the enemy ambushed in the same, to our left, and where we were not expecting them. The regiment was immediately halted, faced by the rear rank, and wheeled to the right through the woods, pouring a deadly fire into a portion of the Twenty-fifth New York regiment, as they executed the movement. As soon as we cleared the thicket and appeared in the road, running by Dr. Kinney's to Richmond, another portion of the enemy, previously concealed in the wheat and behind the house immediately in front of us, opened a sharp fire, which was promptly returned by the Twenty-eighth.

The regiment was then ordered to charge, and did it most gallantly, many of them, shouting, leaped the ditch and high fence inclosing the field of wheat, while the rest rushed into the yard [519] and around the house. The enemy, armed with Springfield rifles, were “flushed” like so much game, and dropped back into the wheat before our unerring marksmen. Here and in the woods we killed and wounded not less than two hundred (200) and took a large number of prisoners, only about seventy-five (75) of whom we were able to send to the rear, and put in charge of a small detachment of cavalry, from the Fourth Virginia regiment, which was retiring from the mill. It was not until we had swept the Twenty-fifth New York regiment before us and passed nearly across the wheat field that we found ourselves in the presence of a whole brigade, commanded by General Martindale, about four hundred (400) yards distant from our extreme right-left as faced. The enemy opened a heavy fire on us from two batteries, planted upon an eminence between the balance of your brigade and ourselves, but fortunately fired too high, and gave us time to reform in an open field on the opposite side of Dr. Kinney's dwelling and in a direction perpendicular to our previous position. Our flag bearer was shot down while we were reforming, but one of his comrades seized the flag and bore it onward. It was here that I sent to you for reinforcements, stating that we had been cut off by an overwhelming force. I also sent a courier to Hanover Courthouse for assistance, with instructions to proceed to Hanover Junction, if none could be had there.

After we had reformed, the men, heated and excited, threw off their knapsacks, made heavier than usual by the drenching rain of the previous night, were advanced a short distance and made to lie down, while the section of artillery, previously planted in the road, was ordered to take a more commanding position in rear of the dwelling, between six hundred and seven hundred yards from the enemy's guns; after which we opened a brisk and well directed fire, forcing the enemy to withdraw one of his pieces, which was thrown forward a little on the same side of the road with ourselves. Lieutenant Potts and the men under him behaved with great gallantry and must have done considerable execution. This unequal contest was maintained for three long hours, in expectation of assistance either from you or Hanover Junction. During the artillery firing, Captain W. J. Montgomery, with his company, was ordered to the right to observe the enemy and check his advance up a hollow not far from the artillery, while Captain Johnston, with a part of his company, was sent to the left to reconnoitre. Company B, under Captain S. N. Stowe, and the [520] remainder of Company G, under Lieutenant Morrow, was held as a support to our two pieces. Captain Montgomery soon informed me that the enemy were throwing a large force through a wooded ravine on our Tight, to surround us. He was immediately recalled and ordered to follow the head of their line along a fence running parallel to the road, and the other companies of the regiment, except those named above, were directed to follow. After prolonging our line in this new direction, and finding the enemy still going on and throwing at the same time sharpshooters between our infantry and artillery up the hollow that Captain Montgomery was first ordered to defend, while their artillery was pouring a hot fire upon us (they having got our range), and as we could see a strong infantry reserve in rear of their batteries, it was deemed advisable to retire. I was not able to recall Captain Johnston from the left, and was forced to leave the dead and badly wounded on the field, together with an old ambulance, a two-horse wagon and our knapsacks. The twelve-pound brass howitzer also had to be left, as one of the horses was killed and three others badly wounded. We know the names of seven killed and fifteen wounded, as we retreated across the field to the road, under the enemy's fire, and a few in the woods where the engagement first commenced. Exposed all the previous knight to a drenching rain, without tents, deprived of food, having marched over a horribly muddy road with unusually heavy knapsacks, and having fought bravely and willingly for three hours in anticipation of being reinforced, we were not in a condition to retreat. Many of my brave men fell from exhaustion on the road side, and I am sorry to inform you that many of them are still missing, but trust that in a few days the number will be greatly reduced as some are finding their way back to camp daily.

We were pursued by infantry, artillery and a regiment of cavalry beyond Hanover Courthouse, where I received a dispatch from you stating that you had yourself engaged another portion of the enemy.

Guns were placed on the railroad hill formerly occupied by the Twenty-eighth regiment as a camping ground, which prevented our retreating by the Ashland road, as we had anticipated, and forced us to take the right-hand road to Taylorsville, along which we were shelled a short distance. The cavalry pursued us beyond Colonel Wickham's farm, and were only prevented from making a charge by our throwing the regiment into a field and making it [521] march along the fences, while Lieutenant Potts protected our rear with his Parrott gun.

We succeeded in reaching Taylorsville about sunset, and for three days we were endeavoring to join the rest of the command and had scarcely anything to eat.

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas L. Lowe and Major S. D. Lowe bore themselves well during the action, and were of great assistance, often in the execution of their duties passing through the hottest fires. Major Lowe was unaccountablely separated from the regiment after passing Hanover Courthouse, and is still missing. Adjutant D. A. McRae and Captain Gibbon, A. C. S., also rendered me great assistance in carrying orders, and proved themselves brave men.

Both Surgeon Robert Gibbon and.Assistant Surgeon R. G. Barham allowed themselves to be taken prisoners rather than leave the wounded. Surgeon Gibbon subsequently succeeded in making his escape, the wounded having been cared for and sent, in accordance with orders of a Federal officer, to a Federal hospital. We were at one time deceived by the flag of the Twenty-second Massachusetts regiment, which is nearly white, when our firing ceased, and John A. Abernathy, our regimental hospital steward, volunteered to meet it, and was fired upon by the enemy. Though Companies D and E took most of the prisoners, yet the new Springfield rifles, repeaters and swords, now in the possession of the regiment, show that all behaved well and it would be invidious in me to discriminate among the company officers and men, when all acted so well their respective parts. This is the first time that the Twenty-eighth has been under fire. Their bravery has been thoroughly tested in this unequal contest; and though they have proved themselves courageous, our escape from such an overwhelming force can be but regarded as providential.

Two companies of Colonel Lee's Thirty-seventh North Carolina volunteers, which were doing picket duty at Taliaferro's mill, came up during the artillery firing, and were ordered to keep themselves covered in the woods beyond Dr. Kinney's residence. I have not learned the causualties in these two companies. Colonel Lee will incorporate their report in his own.


James H. Lane, Colonel Commanding Twenty-eighth Regiment North Carolina Volunteers.


General R. E. Lee's congratulatory letter to General Branch.

headquarters army of Northern Virginia. June 3, 1862.
Brigadier-General L. O'B. Branch, Commanding, &c.:
General — The report of your recent engagement with the enemy at “Slash church” has been forwarded by Major-General Hill. I take great pleasure in expressing my approval of the manner in which you have discharged the duties of the position in which you were placed, and of the gallant manner in which your troops opposed a very superior force of the enemy. I beg you. will signify to the troops of your command, which were engaged on that occasion, my hearty approval of their conduct, and hope that on future occasions they will evince a like heroism and patriotic devotion.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

After the above battle

our brigade moved to the south bank of the Chickahominy near Richmond, where it was assigned to General A. P. Hill's division. Here it remained doing picket duty until the ever memorable fights around Richmond. How it behaved in that series of engagements, will best appear from the following official reports.

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