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Capture and Reoccupation of the Howlett House in 1864.

Zzzwho commanded the 15th Virginia Infantry in the ‘desperate dash.’

A communication from Colonel Morrison, embracing extracts from letters from other participants.

In the last volume of the Papers (Xxi), pp. 177-188, there was republished from the Richmond Dispatch, of January 2, 1894, an article under the chief caption, ‘A Desperate Dash.’

The Editor has pleasure in now presenting the well-tempered reply as to who was actually commander in this so valorous charge.

To the Editor of the Dispatch.:
A controversy having arisen as to who was in command of the [21] Fifteenth Virginia Infantry on the afternoon of the 16th of June, 1864, when the regiment, deployed as skirmishers, so gallantly drove the enemy out of and held the works on the Howlett-house line, and a statement of mine, in a previous newspaper article, giving my recollection of the affair, having been declared erroneous, I beg leave to submit the annexed extracts from letters from some of the participants in the skirmish to sustain my statement—namely, that I joined the skirmish line a few minutes before the advance, went with it through the woods and open field and into the works, performing all the duties of a commanding officer possible under the circumstances.

I had cause to be proud of my little regiment. It was one of the best drilled and best disciplined in the Army of Northern Virginia, and on this particular afternoon got in some very pretty work of its own volition, notwithstanding the fact that it seems to have had three commanding officers, of whom that good, gallant, modest gentleman, J. D. Waid, captain of Company I, in all fairness deserves the greatest credit. He deployed the regiment most admirably, made all the dispositions for the attack, and in good faith, ignorant of the presence of any commanding officer, conducted the charge, or, at least, so much of it as he could superintend and control, to a successful issue. All honor to the gallant ‘Old Boy,’ and I have no doubt the result would have been the same had neither General Corse nor Colonel Morrison been present, for it was not the first time he had heard the singing of those ‘things’ (minies) which, innocently, he mistook for ‘bees’ at Malvern Hill.

The following extracts from letters of different persons engaged in the affair show how treacherous is the memory of man:

Zzzcaptain Waid's statement.

Captain Waid says: While passing Drewry's Bluff Colonel Morrison stopped his horse on the roadside, and, as my company approached, said: ‘Waid, take command of the regiment; I want to see a friend at Drewry's Bluff.’

He goes on to tell of the dispositions for attack, and says: ‘Glancing to the rear just as we started on the charge, I received a special inspiration, as it were. A few paces in rear, standing on an abandoned earthwork, was General M. D. Corse, waving his hat above his head, and cheering on the men with his well-known phrase on such occasions, “Go it, my bullies.” After reaching the works, General Corse's orders having been executed, my skirmishers were halted in the trenches of the Howlett line, and I was awaiting further [22] instructions when Colonel Morrison rode up to me from the direction of the left of my line, and I becoming aware of his presence with his regiment, my command of it ceased, but not till then.’

(Ah! Jimmie, here I think your recollection is at fault. I could scarcely get through that swamp on foot. Would never have done so on horseback, and I came from the right.)

First Lieutenant William L. Smith, of the Fifteenth Virginia Infantry, says: ‘Haw's mistake was quite a natural one; he being at one point of the line, could not possibly tell what took place at all times at other points. The facts in the case are these: While we were in skirmish line under the brow of the hill and protected by a slight thicket of trees, you came up and passed in rear of Company A, going to the right. A few moments later we advanced to the attack. I do not know whether you saw Captain Waid assume command or not. I know positively it was at this time you came up, for I remember, distinctly, remarking to one of my comrades, “Well, the Colonel is up just in time for the ball.” ’

Zzzsergeant—Major Lacy's recollection.

Sergeant-Major James B. Lacy says: ‘On our advance we came to a little stream in a bottom, which we crossed, and found ourselves in sight of the field, and saw the enemy occupying the Howlett-house works. We came to a halt, and I think it was Captain Waid who asked me “where was Morrison?” As I did not know, he sent me to look for you. I found you a short distance in rear, talking with one of the sergeants in the line of file-closers.’

I delivered his message, which was, “We have sighted the enemy and await your instructions.” Your reply was, “Use your own discretion, but be prudent, and tell him not to get where he cannot extricate himself.” I ran back swiftly, found the men where I had left them, gave Captain Waid the instructions, and had hardly done so when, without any order that I heard, a big yell went up, and every man dashed out of the woods and into the field, and the enemy, making little resistance, left the works just before we got to them.

‘You were dismounted when I saw you in the woods, and did not have your horse with you. All the horses were left on the pike when we entered the woods.’

Zzzlieutenant Bumpass' testimony.

B. B. Bumpass, lieutenant Company C, says: ‘It has been so long [23] since it happened that I cannot remember all of the particulars concerning the Howlett-house affair, but in regard to yourself I am certain that I saw you during our advance through the woods and after we got into the works.’ (And if I am not mistaken, I slept with him or some of his company that night.)

I have other letters to a like effect, but these are enough, I suppose, to prove my statement. Comrades Lumsden and Lacy seem to be mystified that they both should have been sent to the rear with practically the same message.

After posting a few pickets in our front and learning from the left, where we were, I sent two men—Lieutenant Arthur Lumsden and Sergeant-Major Lacy, I think—at intervals of an hour and a half, to General Corse with just such information as they say in their letters to me they received. By the first messenger General Corse informed me I must be mistaken as to the works being those of the Howlett-house line. I sent the second messenger with positive assurance that the works were the Howlett line, and asked him as soon as possible get more men into them, and also to arrange about getting the rations to the men, which was not done until quite late next morning.

Zzztired and sleepy.

The men were very tired and sleepy. Night came on in a hurry with very little twilight, and I found it impossible to keep them awake, although they, as well as myself, appreciated the fact that we would be in a precarious situation if the Yankees attacked us that night or early next morning.

I have not written thus at length for my own laudation, nor do I take to myself any particular credit, save the fact of trying to do my whole duty as soon as I met up with the command, for the men, as soon as they confronted the works partially occupied by the enemy, seemed, intuitively, to know what to do and did it.

Had the result been otherwise, and 40 or 50 men been killed and the works not been captured, the responsibility would have fallen on my shoulders, in this, that being present, I, at least, authorized the attack.

I have written this to disabuse the minds of the men deployed on the left wing of the regiment, several hundred yards from the extreme right, where I joined them, of the idea that I was not present at all, because they did not see me riding, as usual, through the woods, attending to the deployment of skirmishers. [24]

Now, who was in command? Honest and faithful Waid, perfectly ignorant of my whereabouts, doing all he could on the left; I trying to do all that I could on the right, and, according to Captain Waid's recollection, our silver-haired old hero, General M. D. Corse, doing the same in the centre.

E. M. Morrison, Colonel Fifteenth Virginia Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia.

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