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[78]

The truth of history—a letter from Brig.-Gen. Lane. [for the Dispatch.]

Richmond, Va., September 19, 1867.
The Petersburg Index, in its editorial notice of Mr. Pollard's new work entitled, ‘Lee and His Lieutenants,’ does great injustice to Lane's North Carolina brigade and the other gallant troops composing Wilcox's division.

That paper asserts: ‘Wilcox was not engaged, except slightly, on the first evening at the Wilderness,’ whereas Heth's and Wilcox's divisions were both hotly engaged, and succeeded in keeping back two or more corps of the Yankee army. In my official report I stated that we—that is, my brigade—were the last troops to become engaged, and, without hope of assistance, kept up the unequal contest from about 5 o'clock P. M. until 9. My aggregate loss in the fights of the 5th and 6th was four hundred and fifteen.

The next error is in the assertion that ‘Wilcox's troops did not hold their own on the 12th of May at Spotsylvania.’ General Early, however, is of a different opinion, for in his ‘Memoir of the Last Year of the War for Independence,’ page 25, he says:

On this morning the enemy made a very heavy attack on Ewell's front, and broke the line where it was occupied by Johnson's division. A portion of the attacking force swept along Johnson's line to Wilcox's left, and was checked by a prompt movement on the part of Brigadier-General Lane, who was on that flank. As soon as the firing was heard General Wilcox sent Thomas's and Scales's brigades to Lane's assistance, and they arrived just as Lane's brigade had repulsed this body of the enemy, and they pursued it for a short distance. As soon as Mahone's division arrived from the left, Perrin's and Harris's brigades, of that division, were sent to General Ewell's assistance, and were carried into action under his orders. Brigadier-General Perrin was killed and Brigadier-General McGowan severely wounded while gallantly leading their respective brigades into action, and all the brigades sent to Ewell's assistance suffered severely.

Subsequently, on the same day, under orders from General Lee, Lane's brigade, of Wilcox's division, and Mahone's own brigade (under Colonel Weisiger) were thrown to the front for the purpose of moving to the left and attacking the flank of the column of the enemy which had broken Ewell's line, to relieve the pressure on him, and, if possible, recover the part of the line which he had lost. [79] Lane's brigade commenced the movement, and had not proceeded far when it encountered and attacked, in a piece of woods in front of my line, the Ninth corps under Burnside, moving up to attack a salient on my front. Lane captured over three hundred (300) prisoners and three battle-flags, and his attack on the enemy's flank, taking him by surprise, no doubt contributed materially to his repulse. Mahone's brigade did not become seriously engaged. The attacking column which Lane encountered got up to within a very short distance of a salient defended by Walker's brigade, of Heth's division, under Colonel Mayo, before it was discovered, as there was a pine thicket in front, under cover of which the advance was made. A heavy fire of musketry from Walker's brigade and Thomas's, which was on its left, and a fire of artillery from a considerable number of guns on Heth's line, were opened with tremendous effect upon the attacking column, and it was driven back with heavy loss, leaving its dead in front of our works. This affair took place under the eye of General Lee himself.


The original of the following communication is still in my possession:

headquarters Army of Northern Virginia, on battlefield, May 13, 1864.
General C. M. Wilcox, Commanding Division:
General: General Lee directs me to acknowledge the receipt of the flags captured by Lane's brigade in its gallant charge of yesterday, and to say that they will be forwarded to the Hon. Secretary of War with the accompanying note and the names of the brave captors.

I am, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

C. S. Venable, A. D. C.

The Index is again mistaken when it says, ‘Instead of achieving success at Jericho Ford May 24th, as Pollard relates, his brigades (Lane's and McGowan's) behaved most disgracefully and were replaced by Davis's and Cooke's troops, of Heth's division.’ The Thirty-seventh regiment alone of my brigade behaved badly on that occasion; but in justice to this regiment it must be remembered that it lost its colonel and many of its bravest company officers in the fight of the 12th. The Seventh was guarding a point on the river, [80] and was not actively engaged. The other three regiments fought very gallantly, drove the enemy back to a commanding position near the river, held the ground over which they fought, removed all their dead and wounded, and were not relieved by Davis's brigade until 11 o'clock that night, at which time the fighting had ceased.

Lastly, the Index denies that Fort Gregg was defended by any part of Wilcox's command, and says: ‘The infantry garrison at Fort Gregg was composed entirely of members of the Mississippi brigade of Harris, formerly Posey's.’ This assertion is not true. The true defenders of Fort Gregg were a part of Lane's North Carolina brigade, Walker's supernumerary artillerists of A. P. Hill's corps, armed as infantry, and a part of Chew's Maryland battery. Harris's brigade and a few pieces of artillery occupied Fort Alexander, which was to the rear of Fort Gregg and higher up the Appomattox; and that fort was evacuated, the infantry and artillery retiring to the inner line of works, before Fort Gregg was attacked in force. I have letters from Lieutenants Snow, Craige, Howard, and Rigler, of my brigade, who were in Fort Gregg when it fell; and these officers estimate the number of Harris's brigade in that fort at not more than twenty, including a Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan and his adjutant, while they estimate the number from my brigade to have been at least three-fourths of the entire force.

I commanded a North Carolina brigade from the battle of Sharpsburg to the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and during that time, with the single exception of the Thirty-seventh regiment at Jericho Ford, my entire command always behaved most gallantly, and won for themselves an enviable ‘army reputation.’

James H. Lane, Late Brigadier-General, C. S. A.

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