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The Stonewall brigade at Chancellorsville.

by General William Terry.
It has recently come to my knowledge that Captain Landon, in a memorial address at Raleigh, North Carolina, made the statement that in the battle of Chancellorsville, in May, 1863, a certain famous brigade behaved in a most cowardly manner, and refused to advance when ordered to do so. I have no defence to make for that brigade, nor do I know them.

Captain Landon did not name the brigade to which he referred, but I am informed that he stated afterwards that he referred to the ‘Stonewall Brigade.’

This is a total mistake, and does the grossest injustice to as brave a body of men as ever carried a musket.

So far as the part taken by that brigade in that engagement is concerned, I am entirely familiar with it, as I commanded the Fourth Virginia infantry, one of its regiments, and therefore know, from personal observation, what I write. I need not go over the history of General Jackson's flank movement and its brilliant results. This is familiar to all intelligent readers. It is sufficient to say that night-fall found Jackson covering the old plank road and facing east toward the Chancellorsville House. In the night, after Jackson had been wounded, the Stonewall Brigade was moved forward and placed in line of battle in the woods on the left of the plank road. As I never saw [365] the ground in daylight, when my attention might have been called to distances, I will only say, I think we were some three-quarters of a mile in front of the Chancellorsville House.

The brigade remained in this position during the night. With daylight, artillery firing commenced, and very soon furious infantry firing was heard on the right of the plank road. During the night the enemy had constructed some temporary breastworks on the right of the plank road, from which they were driven in the attack referred to.

Soon after, the Stonewall Brigade was moved from the left to the right of the plank road, and moved some distance to the right; then moved by the front, and again direction was changed to the right. About this time Brigadier-General Paxton, commanding, was mortally wounded—for we were under fire all this time. A word of explanation here will serve to explain what followed. The Second Virginia infantry was on the right of the brigade; my regiment was the second in line, with the Fifth, Twenty-seventh and Thirty-third to my left, but their order in line I do not now remember. The order given us was to follow the movements of the regiment on the right of the brigade. After crossing the plank road some distance, then moving by the front, and again changing direction to the right, we were brought near the temporary breastworks from which the enemy had been driven in the early morning, and behind which were then lying the troops who had captured them. I, did hear then the name of the brigade in our front, who had participated in the morning attack, but I do not now remember it. (I hope this article will fall under the eye of some member of that command, and that they will remember it.) As I have stated, we had now approached near the breastworks, and were moving by the right flank. In the left company of the regiment to my right the command was given, ‘By the left flank, march.’ This I promptly gave to my regiment, and it was repeated to the three regiments to my left. I have never heard any explanation of the order given to the company to my right, and have no doubt there was some mistake; but at the instant I had no reason to question it, and I promptly obeyed. The result was that the company to my right, my regiment and the three regiments to my left moved by the front over the troops and breastworks into the woods beyond; and, moving forward some one hundred or one hundred and fifty yards, we became engaged with the enemy. I naturally supposed that we were supported on the right and left in this advance, but it turned out that only the left company of the Second Virginia [366] and the other four regiments of the brigade were engaged. We became exposed to a very heavy concentrated fire. I quickly took in the situation. I saw we could not drive the enemy, and that we were suffering a terrible loss of life. I ordered the men to retire behind the breastworks.

The regiments to my left, following my movement, also fell back.

To show the terrific fire to which we were exposed, I will state that I went into that fight with three hundred and fifty muskets, and in less than ten minutes I had one hundred and sixty men killed and wounded.

We had remained behind the breastworks some time, when General J. E. B. Stuart, who, upon the fall of Jackson and the wounding of A. P. Hill, had been called to the command of Jackson's corps, rode in front of the line where the Stonewall Brigade was, and called for it. They responded, they were there—Stuart ordered an advance. The order was given, and I state positively, after recent conversations with men and officers of the Fourth Virginia infantry, that notwithstanding the terrible ordeal through which they had only a short time before that passed, every man, not wounded, sprang to his place in ranks. There being now a continuous line of battle and properly supported, the enemy gave way and were driven with but light resistance for more than half a mile, and the plateau of the Chancellorsville House was carried. I need not, for the purpose of this article, pursue this branch of the subject further.

Some days after the battle of Chancellorsville I was informed that General Ramseur, in his official report of the battle, stated that he had passed over the Stonewall brigade; I immediately called on Colnel Funk, Fifth Virginia infantry, senior Colonel of the brigade, and in temporary command, General Paxton being dead, and informed him of General Ramseur's report and suggested that he at once call on General Ramseur and try to get his report corrected, so far as it related to the ‘Stonewall Brigade.’ He promised me to do so. With that I was content. I gave the matter no further thought, feeling satisfied that full justice would be done.

To my utter astonishment, near twelve months afterwards, I learned that Colonel Funk had never called on General Ramseur, and no correction of his report had been made. I immediately procured from the officers of my regiment, who were in the engagement, and then with the regiment, the following certificates, a copy of which, in my own handwriting, is now in my possession, the original was forwarded to General Ramseur: [367]

Fourth Virginia infantry, May 3d, 1864;
We, the undersigned, officers of the Fourth Virginia infantry, Stonewall Brigade, “ do certify that we were engaged in the battle of Chancellorsville, May 3d, 1863, and that no troops passed through or over this regiment, and especially do we deny that any troops passed over us near the breastworks; some troops may have passed, moving by the flank, while the ” Stonewall Brigade, was moving by the flank from the left to the right of the plank road.

‘(Signed): John E. Roberts, Captain, Company F, Fourth Virginia infantry; George M. Hanson, Lieutenant, Company A, Fourth Virginia infantry; B. D. Fretton, Lieutenant, Company A, Fourth Virginia infantry; T. P. Campbell, Lieutenant, Company D, Fourth Virginia infantry; P. Hagan, Lieutenant, Company H, Fourth Virginia infantry; Thomas J. Kirk, Lieutenant, Company G, Fourth Virginia infantry; J. B. Caddell, Lieutenant, Company C, Fourth Virginia infantry; Jas P. Kelly, Lieutenant, Company C, Fourth Virginia infantry; Samuel H. Lyle, Lieutenant, Company I, Fourth Virginia infantry; John B. Jones, Lieutenant, Company I, Fourth Virginia infantry; S. S. Slusser, Lieutenant, Company L, Fourth Virginia infantry; H. I. Keister, Captain, Company L, Fourth Virginia infantry; Jas. N. Bosang, Captain, Company C, Fourth Virginia infantry; Wm. Wade, Adjutant, Fourth Virginia infantry; Joseph McMurran, Sergeant-Major, Fourth Virginia infantry.’

Early in the morning of the 3d May, 1863, the skirmishers of the Stonewall brigade were deployed some one hundred and fifty yards in the front of the brigade and about parallel with the breastworks on the right of the plank road. When the brigade moved by the flank to the right of the road, the line of skirmishers moved also to the right, many of them crossing the road, and remained there some time awaiting orders.

Hamil. D. Wade, Captain Commanding Skirmishers.

I certify that the within are the only officers of the Fourth Virginia infantry who were in the battle of Chancellorsville, 3d May, 1863, who are now with the regiment, and that the facts stated by these officers (except the statement of Captain Wade, who was in command of the skirmishers, of which I have no personal knowledge, but whom I fully endorse as a gentleman of veracity) are true, and I further state that my colors at no time during the engagement [368] advanced without my regiment, nor was my regiment ordered forward at any time that it did not promptly respond.

May 3d, 1864.
Wm. Terry, Colonel Fourth Virginia Infantry.

The above is a true copy of a paper forwarded to BrigadierGen-eral Ramseur May 4th, 1864.

Wm. Terry, Colonel Fourth Virginia Infantry.

Feeling deeply interested in this matter, I went to General Ramseur's headquarters. We talked it over. He told me that in riding along the breastworks, to the right of and near the plank road, he saw a line of battle lying behind the works, and a few steps in rear were men at about the intervals of skirmishers. He asked several of these men as he passed, to what command they belonged, and they replied, to the ‘Stonewall Brigade.’ General Ramseur very naturally concluded that the troops behind the works was the ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ and these, no doubt, were the troops that he subsequently passed over. I do not know to what command they belonged. There must be men living who can answer, should they ever see this article. I then explained to General Ramseur the position of our skirmishers in the morning and the orders that Captain Wade had. It was then perfectly apparent to General Ramseur that the men that he spoke to, standing at intervals, were some of the skirmishers of the ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ who had crossed from the left to the right of the plank road, and who had halted in rear of the troops behind the breastworks. General Ramseur expressed himself as perfectly satisfied that he had made a mistake and that he would correct his report.

This was on the 4th May, 1864, and the battle of the Wilderness commenced on the 5th. All who were engaged or took an interest in the movements of the army, will remember how active the campaign of 1864 was. Readers will remember General Grant's flank movement from the Rapidan to reach Richmond. After second Cold Harbor General Early was detached with his corps. He met Hunter in front of Lynchburg, and drove him back into West Virginia. Early then moved down the Valley; fought the battle of Monocacy and advanced even to the defences of Washington city. He then retired into Virginia, and over into the Valley. Many small affairs took place in the Valley between the armies of General Early and [369] General Sheridan. The armies were constantly in motion. 1 will not go into details of this service. Those who desire full and accurate information are referred to histories on the subject. Although in the same corps, it so happened that I did not meet General Ramseur from 4th May, 1864, until the evening of 18th October, 1864. At that time General Sheridan was on the left of Cedar creek, that empties into the Shenandoah a short distance below Strasburg. General Early, who was then at Fisher's Hill, determined to attack. Preparatory to the movement, all the general officers were summoned to headquarters on the evening of the 18th of October. After the business for which we had been summoned had been disposed of, I spoke to General Ramseur of his report of the battle of Chancellorsville, so far as it concerned the Stonewall brigade. At this time I was in command of it. He said the campaign had been so active since May that he had not been able to correct his report, but that he would certainly do so as soon as the exigencies of the service would permit. I never saw General Ramseur again. The battle of Cedar Creek was fought the next day, and General Ramseur was killed. Had he lived there would never have been any occasion for this article.

General Ramseur's papers may be in the hands of some person, if so they will do me a favor if they will try to find the original of the certificates that I have copied above in relation to the battle of Chancellor, ville.

In writing this article I have but one object in view, viz: to vindicate the Stonewall Brigade against most unjust aspersion. And under the circumstances, without for a moment even suggesting an invidious comparison, I hope I may be permitted to say, that after four years of service with them, having seen many troops under fire, I never saw a braver, better body of men than the ‘Stonewall Brigade.’ I will not say more, I cannot say less.

This statement is submitted to the public.

In corroboration of the foregoing, the following extract is taken from the report of General Rodes of the battle of Chancellorsville. General Grimes's brigade was a part of Rodes's division:

Ramseur, after vainly urging the troops in possession of the first line of entrenchments to move forward, obtained permission to pass them, and, dashing over the works, charged the second entrenched line in the most brilliant style. The struggle at this point was long and obstinate, but the charge on the left of the plank road at this time caused the enemy to give way on his left; and this, combined [370] with the unflinching determination of his men, carried the day and gave him possession of the works. Not being supported, he was exposed still to a galling fire from the right, with great danger of being flanked. Notwithstanding repeated efforts made by him and by myself in person, none of the troops in his rear would move up until the old Stonewall brigade arrived on the ground and gallantly advancing in conjunction with the Thirtieth North Carolina regiment, Colonel Parker, of Ramseur's brigade, which had been detached to support a battery, and was now on its return. Occupying the works on the right of Ramseur, and thus relieving him when his ammunition was expended, the Stonewall brigade pushed on and carried the Chancellorsville heights—making the third time that they were captured. They, in turn, were forced to fall back, but recaptured several of the prisoners and one of the flags taken from Colonel Hall.’

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