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The first Virginia infantry in the Peninsula campaign.

Reminiscences of Sergeant Charles T. Loehr.

The following graphic paper was read before Pickett Camp of Confederate Veterans, at Richmond, Virginia, on the night of Monday, December 4, 1893:

Comrades of Pickett Camp.

In referring to the campaign on the Peninsula a few preliminary remarks may not be amiss.

After the battle of Bull Run Johnston's army remained inactive in front of Washington. Instead of gaining in numbers and efficiency it was sadly depleted by details and discharges for the War Department. It cannot be denied that both Johnston and Beauregard urged the Confederate authorities to concentrate the whole Confederate force for an aggressive move, but the President and his advisers thought otherwise, and the army was condemned to inactivity when the chances for success were almost certain. Meanwhile, as the months passed away, the Federal authorities were not idle. A large army was placed in the field under the able management of General Mc-Clellan. More than 150,000 were ready to pounce down on the Confederate force at Centreville, which had been reduced to less than 40,000 by the policy of the Confederate Government.

In March, 1862, the Northern army was in readiness to move. Johnston, unable to oppose the overwhelming numbers, did the best he could under the circumstances, retreated to the Rappahannock. McClellan, instead of following the Confederates, concluded to transfer this army to Fortress Monroe and push ‘on to Richmond’ from the Peninsula.

April 3d we left Orange Courthouse; after a very fatiguing march through mud knee deep, during a continued rain, snow, and hail storm, we reached Louisa Courthouse on the 7th. The 12th found us encamped at Young's mill-pond, near this city; that is, the [105] camp was there, but most of us spent our time in meeting and greeting our friends in Richmond.

On the 16th we marched through the city, embarked on the steamer Glen Cove, which landed us at King's Mill wharf early on the morning of the 17th.

During our halt near the wharf I saw General Joseph E. Johnston. He was talking to a wounded soldier lying on a stretcher. The remarks he made were about picket firing, which the General said he did not approve; that the loss of life and comfort of the men did not compensate for damage inflicted to the enemy. In the evening we marched to the rear of the line near Wynn's Mill in a thick piece of woods. The next day we were placed in the trenches, where we stayed most of the time. These works we found were of great strength; covered ways and ditches ran to them from all directions, and the men were kept busy to make them still stronger. Here we lay in the muddy ditches, in which some rude shelters or bomb-proofs had been erected. In these we huddled up during night and day, trying to keep out of the wet, as it rained most of the time. Water for washing purposes was not to be had, and therefore it was not long before vermin, generally known as graybacks, appeared to add to our discomfort.

A considerable amount of artillery ammunition was wasted between the lines, and further to the right the sharpshooters made things lively. On the 16th the enemy, some Vermont troops, charged the lines just to the right of our position, and on visiting this part of the line, which was somewhat dangerous from the enemy's sharpshooters, many of the dead left by the enemy in his retreat could still be seen in the swamp just in front of the works.

In the rear of our lines were the log cabins erected by Magruder's men during the winter. During a heavy rain our boys would make use of them as shelter. On one occasion a number of my company were making themselves comfortable when Colonel Williams ordered us out, saying it was dangerous, as the enemy would shell us. I and most of us had hardly gotten out when sure enough a shell penetrated the log just over the entrance of the cabin and burst, killing Corporal E. M. Ferneyhough and wounding private M. F. Wingfield, who was fortunate to come out with his eyes only blackened by splinters. Corporal Ferneyhough was one of our best and most daring comrades, and we sadly regretted his loss. [106]

On the 26th of April there was a great time in camp. We were there in the rear—in reserve, as it was called. The reorganization and election of officers was the subject. Having enlisted for one year, our time expired on the 21st of that month, but there was little ceremony wasted by the Confederate Government as to our right of being discharged. We were permitted to reorganize. This appears to have been about the only favor extended. We, of course, realized that if we should pack our knapsacks and leave, the war would end then and there. Therefore there was nothing to be done but to hold on and follow the fortunes, or rather the misfortunes, of the Confederacy.

The fears of General Johnston that this line could not be held now became more and more apparent. The enemy brought up his siege train. Over 100 heavy guns and mortars were ready to hurl destruction into our lines. This was more than we could stand, so, after everything had been carefully prepared by General McClellan, General Johnston concluded it best and safest to retire to the capital of the South, then concentrate the Confederate forces, and try to regain the lost ground, which he could not hold with any prospect of success.

On the evening of May 3d the evacuation of the Yorktown lines commenced, leaving the trenches during the early part of the night. We marched about four or five miles toward the rear near an old church, where a halt was made for a few hours, during which time the evacuation of Yorktown was completed. Ammunition and ordnance were blown up, and the guns which could not be removed were spiked. The noise could be heard for miles. Continuing our march, we reached Williamsburg and halted near the asylum on the morning of the 4th. The enemy, on finding out that his front was clear, followed close behind, catching up with our rear guard. It resulted in a heavy skirmish, in which the enemy was driven back with loss. The morning of the 5th opened wet and dreary. Our division (Longstreet's) was to hold the enemy in check while the rest of our army was on its way toward Richmond.

Early in the morning, skirmishing commenced east of Williamsburg. About 10 o'clock orders came for us to fall in, and the brigade commanded by General A. P. Hill, consisting of ours the First, about 195 muskets, the Seventh, Eleventh, and Seventeenth Virginia regiments, turned its face eastward towards the advancing Federal lines. [107]

Marching through the old capital of Virginia, we left our baggage at one of the private residences, and halted in the rear, and to the right of Fort Magruder, which was occupied by the Richmond Fayette artillery and two guns of the Richmond Howitzers, who were subjected to hot fire from the enemy's guns, loosing a great many men, but holding on to their position, from which the enemy was unable to silence or drive them. After forming in line of battle and halting awhile we were ordered forward into the woods, to the right, where the battle was then raging. Soon after we reached the position, as the regiment became engaged, they got separated, and each regiment, so to say, fought on its own hook. We were ordered to support the Nineteenth Mississippi regiment, which was being forced back by the enemy. Before we could reach them some of the companies broke and ran through our ranks, closely pursued by the enemy, who, getting into the felled timber or abattis, was in turn charged by our regiment and driven off in great confusion. Following them through the felled timber, we came out right into a six-gun battery, which we captured, together with a large United States battle flag, also a small brigade guide flag. It was of blue silk with a golden 3 embroidered thereon. This we carried with us to Richmond. An aide of General Longstreet now came up and requested Colonel Williams to make a detail of 100 men to carry off the guns. This Colonel Williams was unable to do, as he could not spare that force. Subsequently a detail was made from the Nineteenth Virginia regiment, and the guns were safely carried off.

From the point where we struck the battery we charged across an open field into another piece of woods. While halting in the edge of the woods, we observed several lines of the enemy passing between us and our line which was in the felled timber. At first we thought they were some of our men until we were fired upon by them. We then fell back into the fallen timber a short distance in rear of where we captured the battery; but now, the enemy having been reinforced, they swarmed all around us. The bullets seem to come from all directions. We lost a good many men, Colonel L. B. Williams was badly wounded, and the command was turned over to Major W. H. Palmer. Most of our muskets had become useless from the continued rain, and our ammunition was nearly all expended, but by supplying ourselves with the enemy's muskets and ammunition, which was abundantly scattered about, the fight was continued [108] until dark, when the regiment, or what was left of it, retired from the field as stated. It had been raining all day, the woods were full of dead and wounded Federals and Confederates. We could have captured hundreds of the enemy who appeared to be lost in those woods, but we only gave them the direction to our rear.

Whether they went there or not, it mattered little to us, we were too much worn out to attend to this part of the programme. The regiment lost many good and true men. Among the killed we name: Corporal Charles D. Beale, Privates Jordan and P. Moss, of Company B; Private Pat. Keeting, Company C; Private George Logan, Company D; Sergeant C. C. Fowlks, Company G; Private Ro. D. Swords, Company H, and Private John G. Grammer, Company I.

Towards tile close of the day I was ordered by Major Palmer to communicate our position to a North Carolina regiment, which was towards the right of our position. Just after reaching this regiment and delivering my instructions to the colonel, the enemy made a fierce attack on this regiment. The men were lying behind the trees, and as they commenced to fire their muskets some of the bullets would come out with a stream of fire, then fall to the ground, the powder having become soaked. However, the enemy was driven off and I started for my command. It was then getting quite dark. Seeing a line of men in my front I thought I could recognize some of my company, but after calling to them and getting closer I found myself within the enemy's line. To turn around and start off in another direction was the next thing. In doing so I was saluted by the Federals with a shower of balls, but I got away, continuing my solitary retreat among the dead and dying in the dark woods, not knowing where to go. I was aroused by hearing some one call out: ‘Here goes one; shoot him.’ I now gave myself up for lost. Not knowing what to do and being completely worn out, I shouted back toward the voice, ‘Don't shoot, I surrender.’ Then came the query, ‘What regiment is yours?’ To my answer the First Virginia, I was informed that I had come into the line of the Second Mississippi battalion; that the First had passed through them for the rear some time previous. I then started towards the town, coming out in the open field in front of Fort Magruder. Our artillery was hard at work sending its iron messengers towards the Federal lines. I had to cross the field just in front of the batteries, and I tried to do it quickly, but the soft mud was too much for me; so as gun after gun was fired, I [109] had to lay flat down and let the shot pass over before I could get further. Finally I reached the road, and a short walk brought me to the town. Here every house was filled with wounded, and men who, like myself, were in quest of a dry spot. It was not till I reached the western end of the town that I found shelter. Hearing the voices of some of the members of my company who had taken possession of a vacant building, I was soon among them, and by a rousing fire we spent the night after the battle. When we got up in the morning we found the last of our army were leaving, while the enemy was charging Fort Magruder where not a man was left to oppose them. Gathering our baggage we also turned our faces toward the West, leaving behind us our colonel and several others too badly wounded to stand the march.

The roads were simply bottomless. Wagons, guns, horses, and even men got stuck in the mire, and it was only with great exertion that they could be liberated. Some of the guns and wagons, however, were left in the mud. That night we reached Burnt Ordinary, and the 7th of May found us near the Chickahominy river, where we formed a line of battle; got something to eat, which was the first food furnished us since leaving Williamsburg. On the 9th, we reached Long Bridge, which we crossed on the 15th. During the night we stopped on the side of the road, and a fearful rain-storm came up, nearly drowning us. The next day we again reached the neighborhood of Home, Sweet Home.

General A. P. Hill, in his report of the battle of Williamsburg, mentioned the capture of the battery and the flag having for its inscription: ‘To Hell or Richmond,’ saying that Colonel Williams fell severely wounded about 6 o'clock P. M., when the command devolved on Major W. H. Palmer, who, though slightly wounded himself, held every position they had taken until directed to fall back after dark. Captain James Mitchell received the swords of two officers. Cadet Thomas H. Mercer was commended for coolness and daring. Corporal Leigh M. Blanton, though wounded in the head, refused assistance, and himself captured General Patterson's carpet-sack, with his commission, and took two prisoners to the rear.

The list of casualties of A. P. Hill's is stated as follows:

First Virginia—Killed, 11; wounded, 29; missing, 1—total, 41.

Seventh Virginia—Killed, 12; wounded, 64; missing, 0—total, 76. [110]

Eleventh Virginia—Killed, 25; wounded, 105; missing, 3—total, 133.

Seventeenth Virginia—Killed, 14; wounded, 47; missing, 10—total, 71.

Grand totals—Killed, 62; wounded, 245; missing, 14—total, 321.

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