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General Lee to the rear. [from the Richmond times, August 23. 1896.]


Col. W. L Goldsmith, of Mississippi, witnessed both events. Gordon Begging Lee to retire.

Captain Funkhouser's graphic description of the Georgia soldier Persuading General Lee to go to the rear, and then leading the charge.


No other circumstance of the war has attracted more attention than the references to General Lee, when in the crisis between defeat and victory, he rode in front of soldiers, ready to lead them in the charge. An old circular comes from Texas with an account of an exhibition in which Lee is reported by the Galveston News in the picture, as follows: This heroic man, generally so calm and self-contained, flames like an archangel, above the wreck of war, and inspires all around him with his own elevated yet steadfast intention.


General Lee to the rear.’

Colonel W. L. Goldsmith, Meridian, Miss., writes: The Texan in last Confederate Veteran is correct, and so were other writers who saw General Lee turned back. All are correct, but strange to say, no one gives dates. This would correct everything. I happened to witness both events. One occurred on the 6th of May, 1864, early in the morning when A. P. Hill was being withdrawn to place Longstreet's Corps in position, because of the severe fighting of [80] Hill's Corps on the 5th of May. The Federals, by a strange chance, attacked Hill's Corps while withdrawing, which was thrown into great confusion, and retreated fighting. Longstreet's column was just coming up. General R. E. Lee started to lead them into action, to check the wild rush of the Federals. Many of us heard the Texas soldier tell General Lee to go to the rear. I was in a few feet of General Lee for a long time that morning, while trying to rally the retreating Confederates. He was on Old Traveler.


General Gordon pleading.

The second occasion occurred just six days thereafter, early on the ever-memorable 12th of May, 1864, when Hancock, by night surprise, had captured the angle occupied by General Johnson, and captured nearly his entire division, with many pieces of artillery. General R. E. Lee again attempted to lead the fresh troops coming up to retake our lost works. I was there, and saw the gallant John B. Gordon remonstrating with General Lee to go to the rear, which he finally did, and Gordon led brigade after brigade against the enemy, my own included, and we recaptured the works in our front and held them all day, and until 10 P. M., when we were withdrawn to form the new line. I remember sending Captain Perry, of my regiment, back that awful 12th of May, 1864, to tell our artillery to elevate their guns, as their shells were exploding just over us, and killing my men. Captain Perry returned and said: ‘My God, they are Yankee batteries!’ At this battle, the musketry rolled for twenty hours continuously. So you see, this matter, which seems to be in such great confusion, happened twice, and comrades write about each without giving dates, and hence the conflict. I commanded the Fourteenth Georgia Regiment, Thomas's Georgia Brigade, Wilcox's Division, and A. P. Hill's Corps, and saw both occurrences, and all writers nearly are correct.

Captain R. D. Funkhouser writes from Mauvertown, Va.:

The details of the “Lee-to-the-rear” incident are given at the request of W. T. Gass, of Texas. The claims of Alabama and Texas are correct. Their account occurred on the 5th or 6th of May, 1864, at the Wilderness proper. The battle of Spotsylvania, or Horse-shoe, occurred on the 12th of May, fifteen or twenty miles distant.

I was first lieutenant of Company D, Forty-ninth Virginia Infantry (the famous Extra-Billy Smith's old regiment), up to the battle of Spotyslvania. After that I commanded my company, and was captured [81] at Hare's Hill, or Fort Steadman, March 25, 1865, in front of Petersburg, along with one hundred and eleven officers, and nineteen hundred men. The Forty-ninth Virginia Regiment was in Gordon's Division, Jackson's old Corps, afterwards Early's and Gordon's successively.


Grant's ‘on to Richmond.’

General Grant commenced his ‘on to Richmond’ by crossing the Rapidan river, May 4, 1864, the terrible battles of the Wilderness, or Parker's Store, taking place on the 5th and 6th of May. Grant being worsted, he commenced his slide around, or flanking policy, only to find General Lee boldly confronting him on the heights at Spotsylvania, on the evening of Sunday, the 8th, after a tortuous march through the Wilderness, which was on fire, and burned up to the road on both sides, and in very warm weather, too. It had been evident that preparations were being made for a tremendous conflict, and it came. In the meantime, the famous horseshoe and other earthworks were created, and a sortie was made by the enemy on the evening of the 10th, on a portion of our works, a little to the left of the toe of the horse-shoe, and it was carried, but speedily retaken, with considerable loss on both sides. On that day and the next, the 11th, our brigade, or division, was used as a supporting division, consequently we occupied a position in the rear. On the morning of the 12th, we were moved up to the front line, a little to the left of the toe of the horse-shoe, the latter being a thicket. Our position, a small open field, connected with another field a little farther to the rear by a narrow strip of land, like an isthmus. We were doubled upon, or supported, the Louisiana Brigade. I said to one of the Louisiana Tigers, ‘What's the matter here? You've had us waked up before day and brought out of our shelter into the rain.’ He replied: ‘We will have the Yankees over here directly to take breakfast with us.’


A gallant officer.

It was hardly dawn, and pouring down rain, when Hancock landed his 40,000 men against Johnson's Division, in the toe of the horseshoe, when his 3,600 as brave men as the world ever saw, with its commander, who had won the sobriquet of ‘BullJohnson, were overpowered and captured. We, being immediately on their left, of course, the enemy were to pay their respects to us next. A gallant [82] officer sprang out of the ditch, and said: ‘Men, don't be scared; be steady, and follow me; I'll take you out.’ We had not gone more than two hundred yards before we were halted by Colonel A. S. Pendleton, who said to me: ‘Captain, stay here until I return,’ and started for General Ewell's headquarters in a gallop. My attention was called to a thicket, which we would either have to pass through or flank around through the little opening already described, and, to my horror, the Yankees were going up an old road at trail arms, and double-quick, to cut us off. I called Colonel Pendleton's attention to the Yankees. With a motion of his hand he directed us to flank around the thicket, which we did in a hurry, marching within fifty or seventy-five yards of the Yankees, who seemed to be forming to charge us. When we got around the thicket, and in the second field we came to a halt without any orders from anybody, and on looking around I saw General R. E. Lee, alone, I think, calmly sitting on his gray horse. I said to Captain J. B. Updike, ‘Here is General Lee.’ He joined me and others in saying: ‘General Lee to the rear.’


‘These are Virginians.’

General Gordon then rode up, and said: ‘General Lee, these are Virginians; they have never failed to do their duty and they never will, but they don't want you to uselessly expose your life. You go to the rear, and they will follow me; won't you, boys?’

All echoed ‘Yes,’ when Sergeant Wm. A. Compton, who had volunteered at the age of seventeen (he is now sheriff of Warren county, Va.), took hold of the bridle of General Lee's horse, and led him back through the ranks of my company and regiment. General Gordon immediately spurred his horse into the thicket, saying: ‘Charge! Men, follow me!’ and, in the language of John R. Thompson, the poet,

Like the waves of the sea
That burst the dykes in the overflow,
Madly the veterans burst on the foe.

Their ranks were torn, and their columns riven, the breastworks retaken, and the day was ours. General Lee was reported to have said: ‘The crisis had come. The army was cut in twain, and I was willing to risk all on the one issue.’ And he won.

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