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A Tadpole.

During the night of the 17th the ammunition gave out, and it was brought up in an army wagon. I had to distribute it to the regiments on our left. I started with a detail, carried out my orders, and was returning to headquarters, when I missed my bridge and brought up in the swamp. As bad luck would have it, the Federals [227] made an attack at that time. Then I was in the swamp and water, with the Federals in front of me, and the 25th regiment in rear of me. There was no alternative except to obey the old Confederate injunction, ‘to grab a root.’ I managed to get between two tussocks, and under water as much as I could. The balls passed over me from both sides, so I was unhurt, but I felt very uncomfortable all night in my wet and muddy clothing.

The next morning was the 18th June. Then Mr. Alley says, Lincoln's pets, 1,950 strong, the Maine battery, charged us, and went back with 250. I can realize that this was so, for, except at Cold Harbor, I never saw such slaughter.

At early daylight the Federals commenced shelling us. It was then, as it is now, my habit to take hot coffee as soon after daylight as practicable. Of course I had to make it myself. That morning I made a double portion, for Major Rion and myself. I knew he needed it. He brought his tin cup to me, and then went off across the esplanade of the fort, and called to me to bring him his coffee. To do so I would have to expose myself to the shells of the Federals, which were flying around us. I did it. The Major said: ‘I wanted to see if you could do it without spilling a drop. I believe you did it.’

The Major gave the right fort to my charge; but, such a charge! ‘Take your place in the fort, when the line crosses the railroad, and extend my orders. Remember, I hold you responsible at the mouth of my pistol, if a shot is fired from that fort before my order to fire.’ I was dazed; for it is almost impossible to restrain men from firing when under fire, and while being charged, and I knew the Major was a strict disciplinarian and would do as he said. So I asked him: ‘How can I help it?’ ‘Go to Captain Jones (I. L., of Liberty Hill), and say to him what I said to you, and that I say you can only relieve yourself of responsibility from my pistol by your opening fire on him upon the first premature shot he permits to come from that fort.’ I so did; crossing the railroad among the shells to see Captain Jones. That discipline was the secret of that slaughter.

The battle was continuously fought under the strictest tactics of the manual of arms. The Major would stand in the open, so he could see our breastworks, and the balance of us would be ‘grabbing a root, close up to the breastworks.’ The enemy would come by brigades, two companies deep, and march steadily across the open field towards us, while the air over our heads was seething with shells and minie-balls. At my post, behind the breastwork, near the [228] railroad, I would peep up to see how near the Federals were. Captain Jones, on the other side of the railroad, was doing the same thing. Closer and closer would the Federals come, and I would think to myself, ‘Will he never say fire?’ At length they came within ten or fifteen yards, as Mr. Alley says, and the Major straightened himself, ‘Rear rank, ready! aim, fire!’ Then, ‘Front rank, ready! aim, fire!’ I extended the orders to Captain Jones, and 250 Enfield rifles of each rank spoke at each command with one voice. The air was thick in front of us with the smoke; but when we ceased firing, and the air cleared, we could see the retreating and scattered Federals, and the dead they had left in our front.

In one of these charges, while the shells were flying, I peeped up to see the approaching Federals. Just in front of me there suddenly appeared something like a black buzzing bee. It was a shell. I knew what it was, and down I ducked behind the breastwork. The shell burst in the breastwork, right in front of me, and covered me with dirt all to my protruding legs. I was pulled out, and my head bandaged where a piece of the shell had struck me. It was my duty to report the casualties. I did not report myself. ‘How is this?’ asked Major Rion. I told it was slight, and I did not want my wife to be unnecessarily alarmed. ‘Wounds, sir, are honorable to a soldier and his command. A wound is any blood letting. Don't let this occur again.’ I told him ‘I hoped it would not.’

But all things must come to an end. General Hoke had been preparing an interior line for us, while we were fighting the forts. South of Hare's Race Course was the old Colonial Canal, leading from near Colquitt's salient down to the Appomattox, and it made splendid breastworks. On the morning of the 19th the interior line was ready. At daylight Major Rion directed me to make a detail of skirmishers for him. When I reported with the detail he directed me to take the rest of the battalion back to the canal and report to General Hagood. This I did, looking back at Major Rion to see what he was going to do with his skirmishers. They were all lying flat and within ten or fifteen yards of the breastworks. The Federals saw us withdraw, and came on to the forts with a great rejoicing. The Major let them crowd the breastworks, and then poured in a volley from his skirmishers. Both sides retreated.

I had reported to General Hagood in the road, and he directed me to take his horse and recall Major Rion. The campaign had made him bony, yet I mounted, but did not get twenty yards before he fell with me. The shells were flying, and they thought I was [229] killed, but I got on my feet, turned the horse's head back to the General, and cried out, ‘If he had no objections, I would take the balance of my journey afoot,’ and so I did.

The Major brought in his skirmishers, and exchanged them for the first company of the Washington Light Infantry, and went back to the front. The Federals must have thought he had a brigade, he ran the infantry about in such a way. We could hear him,‘Charge, men, charge!’ ‘Down!’ The infantry behaved well, and the Major was so well pleased that he sent to me for the second company of the Light Infantry. General Hagood gave me a verbal order on the commanding officer for them, and I carried then out to Rion. He had been wounded in the right forearm at Drury's Bluff, and he always carried a tournequet and bandages ready in his haversack. Just after midday he was wounded in the left forearn, and brought in his skirmishers. I applied the tournequet for him, and bandaged his arm, and he went to the hospital.

Before going he had the prescience to establish our picket pits; he directed they should be kept at a good distance from our main line, so that the main line might not be annoyed by shooting from close quarters. This was wise. When we first entered the canal our regiments were mixed up, but soon Colonel Nelson came in, and our battalion was aligned from the road eastwardly, and the other regiments extended to Colquitt's salient in the same direction; to the west of the road was Clingman's North Carolina Brigade. They did not keep the Federals off as far as we did, and the consequence was Clingman suffered from the near approach of the Federals. They got so close they could talk together, swap tobacco, newspapers, etc. The men became so friendly that an order was issued on our side to stop it, and to commence firing. I recall how a Tarheel got on the breastworks and cried out, ‘Hide out, you Feds, we have orders to commence firing, and we are going to begin.’

The difference in the picket lines in front of us and those in front of Clingman made a complete trap for several Federal officers. The officer of the day and officers in charge of the Federal picket line used to start, after nightfall, to visit their picket pits, commencing at the Appomattox river, and going eastwardly. Along Clingman's line it was plain sailing, but when they came to the road and crossed over in our front, they came on the same projection to the rear of the Confederate pickets; and all the Confederates had to do was to draw a bead on them and make them stand and deliver.

Captain W. C. Clyburn, of Co. G, was at that time acting as [230] major, and inasmuch as we had recovered the cannon on the 17th he was put in charge of it when it was brought back to the canal. It was right in the road, and the Federal prisoners, when brought in, would be brought before Captain Clyburn. He is now, and was then, one of the politest men in the world. He would receive these Federal officers with the utmost courtesy, but he would always insist on the spoils of war. Captain Clyburn had plenty of greenbacks and good clothing so long as this trap lasted. He lived well, too. He once asked me to dinner with him. ‘Take this seat, up against this tree; you can see to the front, and you are in no danger, I can assure you. None of the Federal balls ever come lower than this mark,’ said he, showing me a spot on the tree about three inches above my head. About a day or two afterwards Captain Clyburn showed me where a Federal ball had struck the tree fully six inches below, just where my head had been.

Four years after this battle I revisited this field. When I went into the army for good my wife had made me a pretty woolen shirt, and put in it my set of amethist and pearl studs, so that if I was killed, as she said, whoever found my body would see I was a gentleman and give me decent burial. A few days after I had been among the tadpoles, as above related, I went to the rear, towards the Appomattox, to bathe and wash my clothing. I found, I thought, a safe place, and deposited my studs on a stump, taking my shirt with me into the water. While busy in my laundry the Federals made an attack, and their balls fell so thick around me that I retreated, taking my clothing, regardless of my studs. My remembrance is that Captain Martin, of General Hagood's staff, was wounded in the same vicinity that day. So when I went North for my health in 1868, and passed through Petersburg, I stopped over to see the old battlefield and find my studs. I found the stump, but the studs were gone.

The old forts were reversed. Instead of facing North they faced South. Some negro women and a man were hoeing corn on the site of the left fort. I asked them ‘if that was a Yankee or Rebel fort?’ ‘He Yankee fort,’ was the answer. I was miffed, I said: ‘I was here in the fight, and just where the women are hoeing three men were killed by one shell, and we buried them right there.’ Down went the hoes, and away went the women, just as the Federals had done years before.


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James H. Rion (6)
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