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[106]

The battle of Williamsburg, Va. Fought June 1, 1862. [from the Richmond, Va., Star, May 29, 1894.]

A paper read before Pickett Camp Confederate Veterans by Colonel Richard L. Maury.


Many erroneous statements which have been published as to the memorable engagement corrected.


Colonel Maury's paper is as follows:

the immortal Twenty-Fourth—The Yankee General Hancock said that the Fifth North Carolina and the Twenty-fourth Virginia, for their conduct in battle before Williamsburg, ought to have this word inscribed upon their banners: The Twenty-fourth in the fight of yesterday vindicated its title to this honor. Richmond Enquirer, June 2, 1862.

The Battle of Williamsburg, although of but small importance in comparison with the mighty and momentous conflicts between the same forces, which followed shortly after, attracted great attention at the time, especially in the North, chiefly because of the great prominence given by McClellan and his generals, to their successful repulse, at the close of the day, of an attack made by two of General Early's Regiments—the Twenty-fourth Virginia and the Fifth North Carolina—upon Hancock's position on our extreme left. The assault was badly arranged, not supported, and failed in consequence, for but two of the regiments of D. H. Hill's entire division came into close action, and they alone attempted what it was intended the whole division should undertake, whereby Hancock was enabled to achieve a success. Under the circumstances it was of but little credit to him, as being almost a matter of course, yet it was extravagantly magnified (as if it were some great thing for ten guns and five regiments to resist the attack of two) in the hope of diverting attention from the total failure of the repeated assaults of the many Federal divisions upon Longstreet's Division alone, for thus since morning had been vainly employed Hooker and Kearney, Couch, Casey, Smith and others, until night found them all repulsed, with Hooker and Kearney so cut up and demoralized as to be of little further use for weeks. [107]

The battle was considered by General Johnston of such trivial consequence that it is given but a few lines of mention in his report, and in his ‘Narrative’ he says it was but an affair of the rear guard with Longstreet only, for that Hill had but one regiment engaged, who stopped the Federal advance till the trains, delayed by the heavy rains, could get away; and then the retreat was continued just as intended and just as would have been had the action not occurred. The victory, therefore, such as it was, was with us, and although McClellan at the time reported quite otherwise, he was scarcely candid in doing so, for later he wrote: ‘Meanwhile the enemy's rear guard held the Williamsburg lines against our advance.’

Though barren of results military—for it caused no change in the plans of either general, except, perhaps, to delay the invaders in their advance and dispel a few delusions from their minds—it was, as said, a distinct triumph for the Confederates, and in this respect was of importance to them, for they thus drew the first blood in the grand campaign of 1862. It was a distinct check to McClellan's great advance upon Richmond, which he had boasted would be uninterrupted and triumphant. It was, in effect, the first clash of arms between these two powerful armies, after the long period of preparation and perfection since Manassas, the Southern necessarily of lesser numbers, as representing a section of the country so much smaller and with such poor makeshifts of arms and equipments and supplies as could be obtained in their agricultural country—so entirely barren of military resources that there was not within its borders when the war commenced a single cap machine or powder factory. But their soldiers were in deadly earnest, for every man felt the quarrel his own and that he was personally insulted and outraged by the mere presence of the invader within our borders, whose life it was his duty and his right to take. Thus they were enthusiasts, with nerves of iron and hearts of fire, to do and dare anything in defence of their home and native land.

The northern, with everything that money could buy in Europe and the whole North, and some parts of the Southern States as well, could furnish, with overwhelming numbers, being by far the larger portion of the country and with uninterrupted communication abroad, and inexhaustible sources whence to draw ceaseless supplies and recruits. It demonstrated, too, to our complete and growing satisfaction, that though the Federals were our superiors in numbers, resources, supplies and equipments, and, in fact, in everything but one that makes an army powerful, yet, lacking in this, we, in this [108] alone were their superiors, and that, being as we were better soldiers, braver, more dashing and earnest, more devoted, and of greater fortitude, and armed with perfect right, if with imperfect weapons, we need never hesitate to engage them whenever we met, regardless of odds. And it also cured these boasting, confident invaders of many errors, most of whom were hirelings and without principle, who overestimated their own prowess as greatly as they foolishly and to their own great confusion, oftimes did our numbers; who till then believed, as they had been assured, that there was no fight in the Southerners—that at heart they were utterly opposed to making war, had been forced into the army against their will, and would not stand for a moment against these mighty men of war from the North. Here, now, they learned another lesson, as they did also in battle after battle, when we continually attacked them upon their own ground, or beat them away when they attacked us, until at last they were compelled to yield the palm of valor and superiority to that ragged and poor, half starved and half armed but incomparable Southern infantry, which had met and foiled them at every turn, and finally, to offer a tribute and testimony thereto, the like of which was never before witnessed, when, at the Second Cold Harbor, in sight of Richmond's towers and steeples, they threw down their guns and refused to charge, saying and acting, from general to private, that it was worse than useless for them to attack these veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia, and Grant sent word to Washington that his army would fight no more, and that preparations for peace had best be begun, and the chief authorities there so ordered. What better evidence of the great superiority of our soldiers could be adduced, and that too, from those who before Williamsburg believed that we could not resist these mighty warriors from New England? And yet there are many now who have forgotten these lessons of actual war, and are again asserting that they were our equals.

All day long there had been fighting, with Longstreet alone on our right, who stood upon the defensive. There was no need for the reserves to come up, and so Hill had done nothing but wait, and now the battle was over and the day nearly gone, when Hill asked leave to attack Hancock on our left, and Early's Brigade was to lead. Then it was that the offensive war now assumed at the close of the day and a charge was made upon General Hancock, and though by the Twenty-fourth Virginia at first alone, and afterwards assisted by the Fifth North Carolina, their repulse was represented [109] by General McClellan and some of his officers as the chief event of the day, for it was the only success they had secured.

Notwithstanding the great disparity in numbers, these Virginians—less than 500, supported by the Fifth North Carolina of about the same strength—drove in General Hancock's five regiments in great confusion and caused his guns rapidly to flee away, and indeed, would probably have captured them all had they not been ordered to halt and return, for these were the same Virginians of whom wrote General Lee on a late occasion: ‘We tried very hard to stop Pickett's men from capturing the breastworks of the enemy, but could not.’

It is this Virginia charge, led soon after it opened, by myself (the major), General Early, Colonel Terry and Lieutenant-Colonel Hairston having all fallen at early stages, to which your attention is asked. 'Twas as brave a display as war has ever seen.

At Yorktown D. H. Hill's Division held the left and Early's Brigade (recently from Manassas) the front, just outside the village. On the first night of the retreat, May 3, 1862, Early was the rear guard, and the Twenty-fourth Virginia being his left regiment was in rear of all. It had already done hard work for three weeks in the Yorktown trenches, picketing and skirmishing day and night, for the lines were very close. The weather was wet, there was no shelter for the new arrivals; the trenches were full of mud and water, and food and supplies very scant. This exposure and hardship—the worst of their then experience, so different from the snug winter quarters left behind at Manassas—quickly caused sickness and disease, so that our seven hundred muskets—the Twenty-fourth was one of the largest regiments in service—were soon reduced to 500.

The horrible condition of the roads are well remembered by all who passed them on that dark and gloomy night.

There had been constant rains for weeks and ceaseless use of every highway all the while. The mud and water were ankle and sometimes knee deep, and the weary infantry had often to help the struggling horses, drag wagons and guns, from holes and ruts, whose wheels had sunk to the very axle. 'Tis said that even General Johnston dismounted and put his shoulder to the wheel to help a piece along. So the march was tedious and slow. Men fell asleep on the wet wayside at every halt, and sometimes not a mile was made in an hour. Thus, although we had started about midnight, morning dawned ere we had gotten half way, and midday had long gone by when the weary rear guard passed through the gray old town and [110] halted for the night in open bivouac about a mile beyond. Supperless and without sleep, in a pelting rain, they lay upon the ground that night, and without breakfast, jaded, wet and hungry, but jolly in spirit and in good heart they fell in next morning to resume the march. All this was ill-preparation for the desperate charge that evening. Let it not be forgotten, for greatly does it add to its glory.

General Johnston had no intention of tarrying at Williamsburg. He was bound for Richmond, and on that morning of the 5th, Magruder's command continued on. The train followed, and Hill's Division, too, had gone, save Early, to the rear, when orders came to wait; and then to countermarch and return to town. The enemy's van had come up and were skirmishing with our rear. His fresh divisions were pressing forward on every road in eager, confident pursuit of what they thought was a demoralized and fleeing foe, and as our trains had not yet gotten well away, Longstreet, the rear guard of to-day, was told to check the advance, and Hill was brought back to help him if needed. But his wagons went on while his infantry retraced their steps and stacked arms upon the college green. As the day went on Longstreet, who had but good men, was most vigorously pressed. His line at and to the right of Fort Magruder, which stands near the junction of the Yorktown and Warwick roads—along both of which came division after division of the Federals—was again and again vainly attacked by the division of Hooker and Kearney, and others as they came up, until by evening there were in his front these two and also Couch and Casey, who a few weeks after at Seven Pines this same Twenty-fourth Virginia chased from his own headquarters and took his dinner, cooking on the fire, and his ice cream in the freezers under the shade of the trees near by (!) and Smith and others, large divisions, every one besides artillery and all of Stoneman's cavalry too. The skirmish of the morning by evening had developed into a real assault in force, and while we waited at the college the music of the battle sounded continually in our unaccustomed ears, and wounded friends and ambulances, and squads of prisoners passed frequently by. Every one looked for orders ‘to the front!’ each moment. We were not then used to such scenes, many had not yet been under serious fire at all, and so, amid these sights and sounds the tension of expectation and excitement became more and more intense. Meantime evening, dark and cloudy, drew slowly on, when suddenly between 3 and 4 o'clock, galloped up the expected courier. ‘Move quickly to Longstreet's support,’ said he. [111]

The prudent forethought of General Magruder had fortified a line just below Williamsburg, across the narrow peninsula, from the James to the York, the right and centre of which Longstreet occupied, but through an oversight or carelessness, the left was neglected and remained open. This by chance General Hancock had that morning discovered, and he promptly moved in and took possession of the two left redoubts, thus securing a fortified position in our own line, in Longstreet's flank and rear, with nothing between him and Williamsburg, or between him and Longstreet's road of retreat. Had these timid division commanders, of West Point, ‘pursuing,’ as McClellan telegraphed to Washington, ‘a routed and flying foe,’ but followed up the advantage thus promptly seized upon by General Hancock, they might at once have occupied the road in Longstreet's rear, and cut him off completely. But though in hot pursuit till they came up with the enemy, their ardor seems to have been greatly cooled by the sight of him, and their policy of rapid pursuit was rapidly changed to timid waiting and careful prudence, for when Hancock, appreciating the value of his find, sent back for reinforcements that he might further advance, General Sumner, who was in command—for McClellan was still tarrying at Yorktown and did not appear till all was over—not only refused to reinforce, but peremptorily ordered Hancock back, and he got no reinforcements till after our charge was over and McClellan had come up. So he did not advance, and was preparing to retire when we burst upon him. He had five regiments and ten guns, about 3,000 men. He had abundant support close at hand, and his position was a strong closed redoubt on a crest near the head of Saunder's Pond, on Queen's Creek, about a mile to the left of Fort Magruder, which it commanded, being on the same continuously open ground. He had, he says, full view of the whole Confederate line. But he had done us no harm, the attacks upon Longstreet had now ceased, the day was over, Johnston had accomplished every purpose of his halt, and was ready to go on when morning came. Hancock himself was preparing to retire.

But Hill and Early, learning of his isolated position, and anxious for a share in the glory of that day, which till then was all with Longstreet's Brigades, asked and obtained leave from General Johnston to attack and capture the line. Hill had four elegant brigades— Early, Rodes, Featherston, and Raines—a force which, properly handled, could have picked up and carried away every man, gun and horse which Hancock had, for, in fact, his position was a dangerous [112] one—he had ventured too far to remain there alone, and his sole line of retreat was a narrow road over the dam of Saunder's Pond.

President Davis in his Memoirs says: ‘Early confidently expresses the opinion that had his attack been supported promptly and vigorously, the enemy's forces then engaged must have been captured.’

But General Johnston, unfortunately more occupied with the defense of his own record than in giving well-earned prominence to the glorious deeds of those soldiers who made him great, makes but passing mention of this affair, which his opponents, on the other hand, have treated as the great event of the day. He says: ‘General Early sent an officer to report that there was a battery (redoubt?) in front of him which he could take, and asked authority to do so. The message was delivered to General Longstreet, who referred the messenger to me, we being together. I authorized the attack, but desired the General to look carefully first. Under the circumstances he could not have expected support, for he moved out of the reach of it.’

But this is error, for the other three gallant brigades of Hill were close upon the ground, and could have been brought to support Early just as well as he could and did make the attack.

So Hill brings down his division from the college, and Early's Regiment having been selected to make the attack, and eager for the first of a hundred battles, hastily threw their knapsacks and blankets in a yard as they pass, and came hurrying along at the double through the narrow main street of the old historic town, where the cheers and the tears of the women and maidens, whose pallid faces appear at every window and door, waiving adieu to the eager soldiers as they pass so quickly by, and the unaccustomed sight of dead and wounded and prisoners brought in from the field to which we were hastening; the rapid expected motion; the galloping of artillery, couriers and staff, with all the burning excitement of the approach to battle sent the hot, young blood coursing through their veins like fire, which even now, cool with age at the bare memory of it all, flush the cheek and brighten the eye, though we are gray and old, and the third of a whole century has rolled over our heads since that glorious day.

Half a mile or more down the Yorktown road we hurry, and filing by the left flank through a wide, newly-ploughed field near a wood, which screens from our right all beyond, and breathless, hot and heavy of foot from such a long and rapid run—halt! come into line, [113] and prepare to load. Thus formed, the line from left to right is: The Twenty-fourth Virginia, Colonel Terry commanding, the writer the major; the Thirty-eighth Virginia, Lieutenant-Colonel Whittle; the Twenty-third North Carolina, Colonel Hoke, and the Fifth North Carolina, Colonel McRae.

The rest of the division, with the Second Richmond Howitzers, were also there to support and assist.

Hill will lead the two North Carolina Regiments on the right and Early the two Virginians on the left. So he, with his staff, takes position in front of his own old regiment, the Twenty-fourth, and its field officers, all mounted, do likewise. The orders are given to load and the guns are loaded, and then ‘Fix bayonets,’ and the bayonets are fixed. Early makes a little address before we start. He says we are to capture a battery ‘over there,’ pointing to the woods in front, and then gravely adds ‘that the safest place after getting under fire will be at the guns themselves, and so I advise you to get there as quickly as you can.’ Expectation is on tiptoe, and many a gallant heart in generous emulation resolves to be the very first to touch those coveted guns. With only these few words of pause to form, load and gain a little breath, the order ‘Forward’ is given and the line moves on.

The General did not know the exact position of the point of attack, and the line of advance was oblique when it should have been direct. The disposition of the supports was equally faulty and they gave no aid, for lack of which the assault failed. As there were no skirmishers advanced, and from Early's address before we started it was understood that we were then right upon the enemy; that the battery we were to take was just beyond the road, and that in a minute or two we would be under fire and fall upon the foe.

With this impression it was difficult to restrain the Twenty-fourth from a wild, impetuous dash at the start, and as it was, General Hill says, they got upon the field too soon and made the attack before he was ready, but nevertheless, they moved off steadily well in line, and with quickening step entered the woods in front. Here the miry ground, tangled underbrush and briars and fallen timber somewhat impaired the alignment which increasing excitement, rising higher every moment which we thought would bring us into action, rendered it still more difficult for the officers to correct. The Twenty-fourth, however, kept well together and continued to move rapidly on, but others to their right were not so quick and here began [114] to lose distance, having greater obstacles to pass, 'tis said, and finally lost their place. But the Twenty-fourth hurried ahead breathless now, for already we had gone half a mile or more, but still with all the strength we could muster; there was no halting or struggling—only more excitement and greater speed, though at each step less breath and more fatigue—and still no enemy to be seen, and where are the guns? Over the field from which we started we have run down the hill, through tangled, tripping briars and dense woods, crossed the road and up a slope and into woods again, and still no foe appears. But now, at last, there is light ahead, the trees are fewer, and an open field is seen in front-surely the guns are there, and around them will be the enemy. The glorious Virginians renew their strength at the sight, press forward towards it, and in a moment are at the edge of the open, seeing before them, as a picture, the open plateau of Magruder's entrenchments, the contour of the Confederate redoubts stretching away to the right to Fort Magruder, about three-quarters of a mile distant. The redoubt on the extreme left is directly in face of the left of the Twenty-fourth Virginia and occupied by Hancock, whose five regiments and ten guns are well advanced in its front. Thus the Twenty-fourth Virginia alone directly faces the foe, the rest of the brigade stretching away to the right has no enemy in its front, and as yet has not emerged from the timber. In a word, our line was too far to the right by nearly the entire brigade front.

As yet the Confederates had not been seen, and to this point indeed they could and should have been brought—supports and all, formed in line and then set to charge, the point to be assaulted being plainly in view. Had this been done the single brigade, even without support, could easily have accomplished the task which, as it was, was nearly done by two of the regiments. Hill says that such was his intention, but the impetuosity of the Twenty-fourth Virginia prevented its being done.

And now the enemy is in sight for the first time, for the first time is seen the battery we are after. ‘There they are,’ shouted Early, and in a few moments fell wounded from his horse. Seeing them the men sprung forward with renewed energy, and mindful of Early's words, leave the woods and rushed for the guns. But the wild advance at such a speed over rough and heavy ground, has broken the line—the two centre regiments do not appear at all, while the Fifth North Carolina on the right does not get into the open until the Twenty-fourth Virginia has been in close action some time and [115] was already driving the enemy before them, and when it does emerge 'tis far away to the right, and in rear of Longstreet's left.

Thus, as it leaves the woods, the Twenty-fourth Virginia, alone and unsupported, with both flanks in the air, finds itself confronted by ten guns, defended by five regiments of infantry, with a strong redoubt in their rear. Clinging instinctively to the timber, bordering the field on its left flank, so as to mask its weakness as well as might be, and opening out its files to cover the foe's broad front, these fearless mountaineers break at once into the double and charge with a wild cheer that thrills through every heart. At once they are heavily engaged. In opening their files several of the largest companies on the right became detached, and mistaking a redoubt held by Colonel Bratton for the objective point, rushed towards it. But the remainder go straight on, and the brunt of the affair falls upon the left wing, led by the writer, they being closest to and moving directly upon the foe, and receiving the fire both from front and flank. The advanced force delivered steady volleys at most uncumfortably short range, but soon give way, retreating towards the redoubt. As they retire, the guns, which have already been hurried back, again open; and these Virginians, but a portion of the Twenty-fourth Regiment, weary and breathless, already shattered by shot and shell, receive Hancock's whole fire of musketry, shell, grape and canister, as, pressing over the field with undaunted courage, they approach nearer and nearer the foe. None halt or hesitate, but all rush forward with a vigor hardly to be paralleled, and now with a silence that would do honor to the first veterans on record, though to many 'tis their first fight. A spirit of death or victory animates every bosom; and mindful of Early's advice, each one anxious to be the first at these guns, they still press on, not so quickly, perhaps, as they would have done had they not been exhausted by their run through field and forest, but still without delay, and the enemy all the while gives way before them, though some of his regiments tarry longer than others.

The leaden hail was fearful; it poured in from front and either flank, and for the first time was heard the barbarous explosive bullet which the Yankees introduced and used. The artillery, too, was well served, and soon both grape and canister were cutting through the wheat with a terribly suggestive sound, carrying down many a brave spirit, and men and officers fell dead and wounded on every side. Yet the advance is maintained; down a slope first, and up again on the further side—still on and on. The regiment soon finds [116] that it is alone; it knows that ‘some one has blundered,’ and marvels that the supports are nowhere seen, and that the Major-General, with his part of the brigade, does not appear. Still none falter or cast a look behind. They are pressing the enemy well back, though receiving deadly wounds meantime, for his attention is engrossed by this attack, and the Virginians are drawing his whole fire. Gray-haired old Coltrane, of Carroll, that gallant, staunch old soldier, is well in front, his colors already pierced with many a bullet, and men and officers press quickly on, unchecked by the murderous fire directed upon them. The ground is soft and yielding; the wheat half-knee high, drenched with rain, clings heavily to the legs, and many trip and stumble and sometimes fall. The flag-staff is shattered, but Coltrane grasps the broken staff and cheerily waves the silken folds in front. Away to the right is seen the gallant Fifth North Carolina, coming up at the double-quick to our aid, led by that preux chevalier, Colonel Duncan McRae, his horse briskly trotting in advance. A cheer bursts forth, and all take heart and still press forward. But the Virginians are much nearer the redoubt, and the enemy, regardless of the approaching supports, still concentrated all their fire upon this devoted band, and with terrible effect. Early's horse has been shot, and in another moment he himself receives a wound, the effect of which his bended form showed to his death. Terry, too, that gallant leader, ever in the van of many an after battle, has gotten the first of frequent shots full in the face, and the dauntless Hairston also goes down desperately wounded; so the writer, then but a youth, finds himself, for the first time, in command of his regiment, and the only mounted officer there. His cap has been shot off, and he leads his command, bareheaded and waving a sword just taken from a Federal captain.

But no pause is made. Ten minutes—fifteen—have passed while they cross that field of blood, and every other man is down. But support approaches; not all the rest of the brigade, as was expected—or a part of the division, fresh and in order—but only a single regiment, the gallant Fifth North Carolina, who, seeing what odds the Virginians were fighting, had, as soon as it emerged into the field and found no enemy confronting them, sought leave to march towards the firing, and were now hastening to an awful destruction, in their zeal to share that glorious field. The enemy, too, fall back more quickly as they see reinforcements coming up, and run into and behind the redoubt, to which they have all retreated now. Confusion has seized upon them there, for the Virginians are within twenty [117] yards and show no signs of halting. The fire of the enemy slackens, and as their assailants reach the fence of substantial rails, with a rider, ceases entirely. The order to their artillery to ‘cease firing’ and ‘limber up’ is distinctly heard, and some of the guns are actually run off; the infantry, too, are in great tumult, their bayonets seem tangled and interlocked, some run into the fort, many make off to the rear, and voices calling to others to halt and stand steady are distinctly heard. In a word, General Winfield Scott Hancock's five regiments and ten guns have been attacked and driven in by a single Virginia regiment, and are now on the point of being routed.

As the Twenty-fourth gains the fence just spoken of, the enemy having ceased firing entirely, it pauses a moment to breathe and reform its scattered line, preparatory to a last dash—no man thinks of turning back, for the enemy is retreating before them—and here, too, now, are the gallant comrades, fresh and eager for a share in the struggle. While the men were in the act of climbing this fence, the writer seeking a gap where his horse could pass, Adjutant McRae communicated to him General Hill's order to retire immediately; whereupon, anticipating that the enemy would re-form and open with terrible effect at such short range as soon as the backward movement was perceived, the regiment was obliqued into the woods upon which its left flank rested, and retiring thus under cover, came off without further damage.

Not so its gallant comrades, who, having advanced with but little loss, and just rectified their alignment behind the fence, were now in perfect line right under the enemy's guns. Their retreat was across a broad, open field, and as they faced about, the foe, quickly rallying and reforming, more than five or six times their number, hurled shot and shell through their devoted ranks with awful destruction. The retreat was the signal for slaughter, and as Colonel McRae says, the regiment ‘was scarcely harmed at all till the retreat began’; the loss was desperate in a few moments afterwards. Before they recrossed that fearful field, the best blood of the Old North State fed the fresh young wheat at their feet, and a hundred Carolina homes were cast into direful mourning and distress. And of the officers of the heroic Virginians there had fallen Early and Terry and Hairston, and Captains Jennings and Haden and Bently and Lybrock, and Lieutenants Mansfield and Radford and Shockley. Of the privates who now lay stretched upon that bloody sod so lately pressed by their hastening feet, there were over two hundred—a full half of the regiment—all down in a charge of less than twenty minutes. A [118] gallant band of the bravest of the brave, whose glories should never be forgotten or unhonored or unsung, for—

How sleep the brave who sunk to rest,
By all their country's wishes blest!
When spring with dewy fingers cold,
Return to deck their hallowed mould;
She then shall dress a sweeter sod
Than fancy's feet have ever trod.

By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung.
There Honor comes, a pilgrim gray,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair,
To dwell a weeping hermit there.

Well, indeed, might friend and foe write highest laudations of so gallant a charge, rarely equalled, and never surpassed, in all the resplendent record of that ever glorious army. The blow thus delivered, at the very opening of that memorable campaign, not only stunned the enemy—who never attacked again on the Peninsula!— but furnished the whole army with an inspiring example, which could not but have an admirable effect.

General Hill found them, as did General Lee afterwards, too ready to get ahead, for he says that the Twenty-fourth pressed before all the other regiments, and without waiting for them to come up and the line to be formed, dashed at the enemy as soon as they saw him, and before he was ready for them to do. But no other fault had he to find with them, for in his report he says: ‘The courage exhibited by the Fifth North Carolina and the Twenty-fourth Virginia made too wonderful an impression upon the Yankees, and doubtless much of the caution exhibited in the subsequent movements was due to the terror inspired by the heroism of these noble regiments. History has no example of a more daring charge. * * * * It contributed largely to detain McClellan, to demoralize his troops, and to secure our retreat from a vigorous and harassing pursuit.’

General Early in his report says: ‘The Twenty-fourth Virginia, as I had anticipated, came directly upon the battery, emerging from the woods over a fence into the field within musket range of the farm-houses, of which the battery was posted. This regiment, without pausing or wavering, charged upon the enemy under a heavy fire and drove back the guns, and the infantry supporting them, to [119] the cover of the redoubt mentioned, and of the woods and of a fence close by, and continued to advance upon him in the most gallant manner,’ and after describing how the Fifth North Carolina came gallantly up to support the Virginians' further advance, he adds: ‘This regiment, in conjunction with the Twenty-fourth Virginia, made an attack upon the vastly superior forces of the enemy, which for gallantry is unsurpassed in the annals of warfare. Their conduct was such to extort from the enemy himself the highest praise, but they were not supported by the other two regiments of the brigade. If they had been they would unquestionably have captured the enemy's artillery and routed his infantry. As it was the enemy was compelled to withdraw the most of his pieces from the field, and these two regiments did not give way notwithstanding the fearful odds against them, until ordered to retire by General Hill. * * * Colonel W. R. Terry, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Hairston and Major Richard L. Maury, of the Twenty-fourth Virginia, all proved themselves eminently worthy of the positions held by them.’

Colonel—now General—Bratton, on Longstreet's left, who witnessed the charge, says, many years after: ‘The Twenty-fourth Virginia, meantime, emerged from the wood nearer the enemy than my redoubt, and moved in fine style upon them. * * * * I have never, on any field, during the war, seen more splendid gallantry exhibited than on that field at Williamsburg.’ And a captain of Her Majesty's Scotch Fusileers, who was in Hancock's redoubt, and saw the charge, made himself known to Dr. George T. Harrison, surgeon of the Twenty-fourth, left at Williamsburg to attend the wounded, saying that he did so because he understood the Doctor belonged to the Twenty-fourth Virginia, and he desired to tell him that during his entire Crimean experience, he had never seen more gallantry displayed upon a field of battle.

Longstreet characterizes it as an impetuous assault upon the enemy's position, and only General Johnston is silent.

Nor were the foes unwilling to declare their admiration or to testify to the impression made upon them by these dashing soldiers.

General Hancock declared that they should have ‘immortal’ written upon their banner forever; and although he had, as already said, five regiments of infantry and ten guns—3,000 men in line, and a closed redoubt, he called loudly and frequently for reinforcements, which, to the extent of three brigades (Smith's two and Naglee's), General McClellan sent him immediately after his arrival from the rear. The latter considered this action the most important of the [120] entire battle. He made it the chief subject of his first two telegrams to Lincoln, pronouncing Hancock's conduct brilliant in the extreme. And in his official report, written more than a year afterwards, he characterized it as one of the most brilliant engagements of the war, and declared that General Hancock merited the highest praise! So far from pressing the Confederates, as he had boasted he would do, after this day's work he sat quietly down in the ancient borough of Williamsburg, while these same ‘demoralized and flying’ Confederates sauntered up to the Chickahominy at their leisure, pausing on the route to reorganize their regiments whose period of service had expired, and to elect their officers! Nor did General McClellan ever again try the experiment of attacking General Johnston's men.

A few days after (May 9, 1862), the following animated account of the charge appeared in the columns of the New York Herald.

From the sharp fire of our skirmishers in the woods on our left came the first information of a movement in that direction and thus put all on the alert. * * * The fire grew hotter in the woods, and in a few moments, at a point fully half a mile away from the battery, the enemy's men began to file out of the cover and form in the open field. It was a bold, and proved an expensive way to handle men. Wheeler opened his guns on the instant, and the swath of death that subsequently marked the course of that brigade across the open field began at that spot. At the same moment, also, our skirmishers in the field began their fire. Still the enemy formed across the opening with admirable rapidity and precision, and as coolly, too, as if the fire had been directed elsewhere, and then came on at the double-quick step, in three distinct lines, firing as they came. All sounds were lost for a few moments in the sharp roar of the field-pieces and in the scattered rattle and rapid repetition of the musketry. Naturally their fire could do us but little harm under the circumstances, and so we had them at a fair disadvantage, and every nerve was strained to make the most of it. Still they came on. They were dangerously near. Already our skirmishers on the left had fallen back to their line, and those on the right had taken cover behind the rail fence leading from the house to the woods, whence they blazed away as earnestly as ever. Yet the guns are out there, and they are what these fellows want, and in the next instant the guns are silent. For a moment, in the confusion and smoke, one might almost suppose that the enemy had them, but in a moment more the guns emerge from the safe side [121] of the smoke-cloud, and away they go across the open field to a point near the upper redoubt, where they are again unlimbered and play away. Further back also go the skirmishers. And now for a moment the Rebels had the partial cover of the farm and out-buildings, but they saw that they had all their work to do over, and so came on again. Once more they are in the open field, exposed to both artillery and musketry, but this time the distance they have to go is not so great, and they move rapidly. There is thus another dangerous line of infantry; they are near to us, but we are also near to them. Scarcely a hundred yards were between them and the guns, when our skirmish line became silent. The lines of the Fifth Wisconsin and the Thirty-third New York formed up in close order to the right of the battery, the long range of musket barrels came level, and one terrible volley tore through the Rebel line. In a moment more the same long range came to another level, the order to charge with the bayonet was given, and away went the two regiments with one glad cheer. Gallant as our foes undoubtedly were, they could not stand that. But few brigades mentioned in history have done better than that brigade did. For a space, generally estimated at three-quarters of a mile, they had advanced under the fire of a splendidly served battery, and with a cloud of skirmishers stretched across their front, whose fire was very destructive, and if, after that, they had not the nerve to meet a line of bayonets that came towards them like the spirit of destruction incarnate, it need not be wondered at. *

This was the fight of the day—a fight that was in itself a hard-fought and beautiful battle—a battle in which each side must have learned to respect the courage of the other, and which shed glory on all engaged in it. Different statements have been made as to the enemy's force. * * * * It is probable that there were two brigades, or part of two. One of them was Early's, and comprised the Fifth North Carolina and Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiments and a Georgia regiment, and dead were found on the field in the uniform of the Lousiana Tigers. It would probably be safe to state their force at three thousand.

In General Hancock's official report he says the retiring regiment abandoned a flag, which his men found and brought in, but this was not the Twenty-fourth's colors. He also says that Captain William A. Bugh, of Company G, Fifth Wisconsin, in command of the skirmishers where the enemy emerged from the wood, behaved with great coolness and bravery, and was disarmed by the foe. Doubtless he was brave and gallant, but the Virginians were better, for I [122] was the boy who disarmed him, and his sword hangs over my mantel now to tell the tale; nor was the flag, picked up by Hancock's men on the field, the Twenty-fourth Virginia's, for behold that now—in my possession ever since that fateful day.

General McClellan, with his usual exaggeration when counting Confederate soldiers, reported that Hancock had captured two colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, and killed as many more. As a matter of fact, he captured none, and the only field-officer killed was the heroic Badham, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fifth North Carolina, a very impersonation of courage itself. They claimed to have killed the writer, also; but in this, as in many other statements, they were greatly in error, for a few weeks afterwards his comrades elected him in reward of his action on this field, to be their Major, and with them, as their Colonel, he was paroled at Appomattox, though on crutches and thought to be permanently disabled from wounds received in battle.

Richard L. Maury, Late Colonel Twenty-fourth Virginia Infantry.

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