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[160]

The battle of Frazier's Farm, [from the New Orleans, La., Picayune, February 19, 1893.]


June 29th, 1892. the part taken Therein by Louisiana troops.

A paper read before the Louisiana Association of the army of Northern Virginia, February 18, 1893, by Captain John W. T. Leech, Company C, Fourteenth regiment, Louisiana infantry, Confederate States army.


Comrades of the Army of Northern Virginia.
In writing of the thrilling events which took place around the city of Richmond in 1862, you will bear in mind that thirty-one years have rolled by and that a man's memory, however good, must necessarily have forgotten many things which would prove very interesting if they could be recalled.

But the truth of the matter is, I am growing old, and those scenes are rapidly fading away. I wore the gray then, and as the battle of life progresses I am wearing more gray, and this will continue on until that arch enemy of mankind will flank me out of every position and compel a final surrender.

Comrades, in commencing this narration it is proper to inform you what command I belonged to. I had the honor to command company C, Fourteenth Louisiana regiment. This regiment belonged to General Roger A. Pryor's brigade, composed of the Fourteenth Alabama, Second Florida, Fourteenth Louisiana, St. Paul's Battalion and Louisiana Zouaves, consolidated, Third Virginia and the Donaldsonville Artillery.

We belonged to Major-General James Longstreet's division, which was composed of the following brigades: Kemper's, Anderson's, Pickett's, Wilcox's, Pryor's and Featherston's.

On the morning of the 28th of June, just after the battle of Gaines' Mill, I was standing on one of the hills near by, with a group of men, [161] and, looking southward, we could plainly see a large balloon which the enemy had sent up for the purpose of reconnoitering, and I heard General Pryor remark, ‘I am afraid those devils will get into Richmond in spite of all we can do.’

In a little while troops were pressed forward to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy, and it was soon discovered that he had retreated across the Chickahominy and destroyed the bridges, but as he might yet give battle to preserve his communication, some cavalry and Ewell's division was sent to seize the York River railroad.

During the afternoon clouds of dust showed plainly that the Yankee army was in motion, and, judging by the roads he had taken, it was soon discovered that McClellan was making his way to the James.

Our divisions followed on down the Chickahominy, and on Sunday morning it was ascertained that the enemy had abandoned his fortifications and was in full retreat toward his gunboats on the James river.

To Generals Magruder and Huger had been assigned the important duty of watching the enemy, and to cut off or press his retreat.

The result of the battle of Gaines' Mill was to force McClellan out of all his strong positions north of the Chickahominy, and, with his communications cut off on the Pamunkey river and confronted by our forces on the south side of the Chickahominy, it was supposed that he would be forced into a capitulation.

But the enemy had been imperfectly matched at a conjuncture the most critical in all the seven days battles around Richmond, when liberty hovered o'er us and seemed ready to perch upon the Confederate banners, these generals signally failed to perform the duty assigned them.

On the morning of the 29th of June, Magruder and Huger were attacked, but they drove the enemy down the roads and through the woods, passed their breastworks, and found them deserted, and, instead of profiting by this discovery and commencing the pursuit, these generals allowed the foe to pass across their front, instead of piercing his line of retreat by advancing down theNine-mile road and the Williamsburg road, which would have cut the forces of the enemy into so many fragments.

On the same day, June 29, our division and that of A. P. Hill's were ordered to recross the Chickahominy at New Bridge and move by the Darbytown and Longbridge roads to intercept the retreat. [162]

Huger was sent down the Charles City road and Magruder down the Williamsburg road.

The scenes in McClellan's army at this time must have been such as would have appalled the stoutest hearts.

The historian says McClellan's column had already been swallowed in the maw of the dreary forest. It swept on fast and furious. Pioneer bands rushed along in front, clearing and repairing the single road; reconnoissance officers were seeking new routes for a haven of rest and safety. The Confederates were in the rear, pressing on with fearful power; and there was yet an expectation that Jackson's flank movement might cut off the retreat. Moments seemed hours. Back and forth dashed hot riders. Caravans of wagons, artillery, horsemen, soldiers, camp-followers, pressed through the narrow road, and at intervals swept onward like an avalanche.

The trace of agony was on the face of the commander, and the soldiers who carried muskets in their hands could perceive it.

Presently the dull boom of a cannon and its echoing shell fell grimly upon the ear, and an ominous roar behind told the enemy that his rear was attacked.

Magruder had struck the enemy's rear, but Jackson was so delayed in reconstructing the Grapevine bridge that he was unable to get up in time to participate.

On the march down the Darbytown road our division was joined by President Davis and staff, and, together with our general officers, made a body of such fine-looking men that I will never forget the picture.

I ought to describe some of the scenes on these marches, but it would detain you too long; in almost any direction you might look you could see large columns of smoke, showing that the enemy was destroying his quartermaster and commissary stores, and, not satisfied with that, burning up farm-houses, barns, haystacks, fences—everything that would burn, all through pure spite.

The fields over which we passed were strewn with all sorts of military accoutrements, guns and swords thrown away, abandoned wagons, ambulances, and all sorts of things that belong to an army.

On the evening of the 29th, just before sundown, we were allowed to go into camp to get a little rest. In a short time the whole field was covered with camp-fires, men frying meat, baking bread, making coffee—sure enough coffee, for we had captured it from the enemy. [163] Presently I heard some one call me, and turning to see who it was, I beheld the new moon over my left shoulder and no silver in my left pocket. I remarked to Lieutenant Scott, for it was he who had called me, ‘That is a very bad sign.’

‘Oh, look here, Captain, you don't tell me that you believe in signs?’

‘Yes, I do, Scott, and what's more, I believe in destiny; if a man's born to be hanged, he will never be drowned.’

‘Well,’ said he, ‘come over here, I want to read the articles of war to you.’

‘Read what?’ said I, ‘you had better be reading your Bible.’ ‘Well,’ said he,‘come around here,’ meaning around a big tree.

I saw him point something black at the moon and, handing it to me, he said: ‘Take this telescope and see if there are any spots on the moon; let us know what the augurs have to say.’

I took it and, after taking a good look, I told him that I did not see any spots, but I certainly saw bubbles. After this I felt considerably better.

Alas, poor Scott, at the next roll-call one of my lieutenants stepped to the front, saluted and answered for him, ‘Dead on the field of honor.’

The night in this camp was spent in little cat naps, for I was a very feverish man. I knew that on the morrow there would be bloody work to do, so I was glad when reveille sounded.

In a little while the troops were on the march again, winding around the hills, crossing over the fields, maneuvering for good positions.

About noon our advance troops came upon the enemy at Frazier's farm. They had mustered their troops here determined to make a stand, so the balance of the flying army could get away. They occupied all the surrounding hills, and had them bristling with artillery—in fact had every advantage.

About 3 o'clock the battle opened with artillery. Whilst this was going on our brigade was lying down in the woods, bordering an old field. Skirmishers had been sent out, and I had gone a short distance out in front, when presently General Pryor and two of his staff rode up, and dismounting, said they would go out to the skirmish line. Just at this time George Zerr, of Company C, was up in a cherry tree enjoying himself. In a few moments I heard the boom of a gun, the scream of a shell, and off went the top of the cherry tree, and down came George on the run. [164]

In a moment there was another shell, and this one burst in the midst of Company C, Fourteenth Louisiana regiment, killing two men, James Kelly and James Baker, and wounding two or three others. Presently another, and off goes a leg of General Pryor's mare; at the same moment he came up and one of his staff remarked: ‘You may as well shoot her.’ ‘Oh, no,’ said General Pryor, ‘I can't do that, you must do it.’ In a moment more he put a ball between her eyes, and stopped the pain.

It was now four o'clock, and General Pryor received orders to advance his brigade into the fight.

As we advanced we discovered that the brigade on our right had been repulsed, and the enemy was making it very warm for us in our front and on our flanks. Nevertheless, we were ordered to charge the enemy, and our regiment moved boldly forward through an open field.

The enemy now opened upon us with renewed vigor, and as we further advanced our left became more exposed to an enfilading fire that compelled us to fall back again to the edge of the woods.

In this charge several officers and men were killed and wounded, and our color-bearer, James McCann, was killed.

We held this line until nightfall, momentarily expecting the forces of Magruder to make their appearance on our left, when we expected to outflank the enemy and drive him into the Chickahominy.

Whilst we were holding this line there was music in the air; the boom of artillery, the bursting of shell and the roar of musketry made music, the kind a soldier likes to hear when he is fighting in a just cause.

At a critical moment in the battle the Donaldsonville Artillery came up on our right, and in a few moments made things very lively in the enemy's lines.

Late in the evening our brigade was relieved by General Gregg, but just before his arrival I received a severe wound which put me out of the fight.

Our troops held the line, and during the night the enemy retreated.

At the close of the struggle the field was covered with the enemy's dead and wounded. Many prisoners, including a general of division, were captured, several batteries and thousands of small arms. If the other commands could have co-operated the enemy would have been completely routed.

Guns and caissons captured at Frazier's Farm: Seven 12-pounder [165] Napoleon guns, one 12-pounder field howitzer, six 10-pounder rifle Parrots, two 200-pounder rifle Parrots, one 10-pounder rifle Parrot, one 24-pounder field howitzer, one 12-pounder caisson, one 10-pounder caisson, one 6-pounder caisson, one 10-pounder Parrot caisson, one 12-pounder Parrot caisson, one 24-pounder Parrot caisson, one 10-pounder Parrot caisson, one 12-pounder Parrot caisson, and thousands of small arms.

This is a pretty good showing, and it looks as if there had been some desperate fighting on that battlefield.

General Longstreet in his report says: ‘The odds against us on this field were probably greater than on any other.’

Comrades, a few words more and I will close. I am proud of the old Fourteenth, and justly so; it was as good a regiment as ever struck a blow for Dixie.

Comrades, I will name six regiments that met with the greatest number of casualties in the seven days battles around Richmond:

Killed, wounded and missing: The Twentieth North Carolina, Garland's Brigade, 380; Forty-fourth Georgia, Ripley's Brigade, 335; Fourteenth Alabama, Pryor's Brigade, 335; Nineteenth Mississippi, Featherston's Brigade, 325; Fourth Texas, Hood's Brigade, 253; Fourteenth Louisiana, Pryor's Brigade, 243.

After thanking Comrade Leech for his interesting paper, the meeting adjourned.


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