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[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


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