Featherstone-Posey-Harris Mississippi Brigade. [from the New Orleans, la., Picayune, June 1, 1902.]
By Captain E. Howard McCaleb, of New Orleans.On the 16th day of April, 1861, the Claiborne Guards were organized and mustered into the service of the State of Mississippi by Lieutenant N. F. Hawkins, of the Mississippi Rifles. The officers were: John G. Hastings, Sr., captain; A. J. Lewis, first lieutenant; W. H. Hastings, second lieutenant; W. T. Jeffries, third lieutenant; R. Shoemaker, first sergeant, and H. C. Knight, second sergeant. Before the departure of the company from Port Gibson, Captain Hastings resigned, and Henry Hughes, author of Southern Sociology, and classmate of the great French imperialist, Paul Cassagnac, was elected in his stead. How well do I recollect that bright April day, when the ladies of Port Gibson presented to the Claiborne Guards, in Apollo Hall, a beautiful silken flag, wrought by their own fair hands! How our chivalric captain, Hughes, in responding to the address made on that occasion, promised that ‘my brave boys will come back from the war corpses rather than cowards.’ How, on the evening of that lovely spring day, amid the sobs and tears of dear ones, we bade farewell to Port Gibson, while the loudmouthed cannon pealed forth its prophetic Godspeed. We faithfully kept the promise made by our gallant captain, for of the 125 comrades who left with us on that bright April day, but thirteen veterans now survive, and thirteen more who severed their connection with the company after the expiration of their first year's service. And the rest! Ah, where are they? Dead on the field of glory. They gave up their lives, a precious offering on freedom's bloody altar. Amid flame and smoke, and yells and groans, their young hearts beat life's last tattoo, and their spirits flew back to the God who gave them, like incense ascending in the sight of heaven. Far away from home they fought and fell on the sacred soil of Virginia. There, on a hundred fields, they are sleeping the holy  sleep of death. Peace to their ashes. Calmly?nd quietly may they rest, nursed in the lap of old mother earth, far away from the scenes of their childhood. And may the singing birds, the sighing winds and the murmuring crystal waters, as they trickle down the mountain's side, chant a ceaseless requiem to their memory. After our departure from Port Gibson, the Claiborne Guards went to Jackson, where they remained in camp for about a week, and then removed to Corinth, Miss. There, in May, 1861, the 12th Mississippi Infantry Regiment was organized, composed of the following companies: Charles Clark Rifles, from Jefferson county; Raymond Fencibles, from Hinds county; Sardis Blues, from Panola county; Pettus' Relief, from Copiah county; Natchez Fencibles, from Adams county; Vicksburg Sharpshooters, from Warren county; Lawrence Rifles, from Lawrence county; Claiborne Guards, from Claiborne county; Sartartia Rifles, from Yazoo county, and Durant Rifles, from Holmes county. Richard Griffith, who was adjutant of Jeff Davis' Mississippi Regiment during the Mexican war, was elected colonel; W. H. Taylor, lieutenant-colonel; Dickinson, major; W. M. Inge, adjutant; J. H. Capers, sergeant-major; M. S. Craft, surgeon, and Rank Dickson, quartermaster. From Corinth, Miss., the regiment was transferred to Union City, Tenn., in May, 1861. There we camped until the 18th of July, losing a large number of good and true men from sickness, when we were ordered to proceed to Virginia. We reached Manassas Junction just before daylight on Monday morning, July 22, 1861, the day after the first important battle of the war. The regiment went into camp at Manassas where they stayed two or three weeks guarding the captured cannon, which were parked around General Beauregard's headquarters. From Manassas we went into camp on Bull Run, and there were brigaded with the 5th, 6th and 12th Alabama Regiments, under command of General ‘Dick’ Ewell. Brigadier-General R. E. Rhodes, of Alabama, succeeded General Ewell in command of the brigade, and we were ordered to Davis' Crossroads, in Fairfax county. During the remainder of the summer and fall of 1861 our regiment was doing picket duty in front of Alexandria and along the Alexandria Railroad. About the 1st of November, 1861, shortly after the battle of Leesburg, while we were encampted at Camp Van Dorn, our colonel, Griffith, was promoted brigadier and placed in command of the Mississippi regiments engaged in that fight, and Captain Henry Hughes, of the Claiborne Guards, elected colonel in his stead.  In December, 1861, we went into winter quarters at Davis' ford, some six miles from Manassas, on the Occoquan river, in Prince William county, Va., and there whiled away the time drilling and doing picket duty until the middle of March, 1862. It was there we celebrated the anniversary of the secession of Mississippi, on the 9th of January. It was there that we first endured the hardships of a Virginia winter and learned to skate on the ice of the frozen Occoquan. From Davis' ford, in March, 1862, we began our retreat. We recall the speech delivered by Colonel Hughes on that bleak March morning, just before our departure. Said he, straightening himself up on his queer-looking war steed: ‘Soldiers, the enemy is trying to flank us; we are going to march to meet them. If you are cowards, stragglers, pilferers and plunderers, I will have you shot; but if you are hightoned, honorable Mississippi gentlemen, as I have always known you to be, I'll love you. Forward by the right flank; route step, march!’ On the retreat from Davis' ford we passed through the wealthy counties of Fauquier, Culpeper and Orange, tarrying several days at Rappahannock station, finally reaching Orange county, Virginia, where we camped some fifteen days, and departed thence for the peninsula to join the forces of the gallant General John B. Magruder. Our brigade (Rhodes') was camped near Yorktown, and a small number of our command were here first engaged in an insignificant skirmish with the enemy. While at Yorktown our term of service expired, and the regiment was reorganized by the election of W. H. Taylor, colonel; M. B. Harris, lieutenant-colonel, and W. H. Lilly, major. J. H. Capers was appointed adjutant, and E. H. McCaleb sergeant-major. Joseph E. Johnston, with his heroic army, after delaying McClellan many weeks around Yorktown, began to retreat up the peninsula to Richmond. The Federals overtook us at Williamsburg, and there an important engagement was fought between Hooker's Division of Heintzleman's Corps and the Confederate rear guard, commanded by General Longstreet, on the 5th of May, 1862. Although our regiment was under heavy fire, it cannot be said to have been actually engaged in the battle of Williamsburg. After this important engagement, resulting in a great victory for the Confederate arms, we continued our march unmolested, and subsequently encamped on the banks of the Chickahominy, near Richmond. Here we remained until the morning of the 30th of May, 1862, when the long  roll was sounded, calling us to receive our baptism of blood at the ever-memorable battle of Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks. For eight long, consecutive hours the 12th Mississippi Regiment was under fire in the hottest and thickest of the fight, capturing the Federal fortifications and an excellent battery of artillery. But the victory was dearly won, for of the 446 men we carried into this engagement, 204 were killed and wounded. Among the number was the chivalric Captain Henry Hastings, of the Claihorne Guards, killed outright as he grasped the flagstaff of our regimental colors, after five color-bearers had been shot down beneath its folds Colonel Wm. H. Taylor, by his cool, calm and collected manner, won for himself the soubriquet of the ‘old war horse’ on that sanguinary field. Lieutenant-Colonel Harris was severely wounded in the head, and Major W. H. Lilly rendered indispensable assistance to Colonel Taylor in directing the movements of the regiment and assigning the companies to the position they were respectfully called upon to occupy during the engagement. It was here that the soldier-poet of the Confederacy, beholding the daring courage of the Mississippians, exclaimed: Twelfth Mississippi! I saw your brave columns,
Rush throa the ranks of the living and dead.
Twelfth Alabama! why weep your old war-horse?
He died as he wished, in the gear, at your head.
Soon after the battle of Seven Pines, or Fair Oaks, we were brigaded with the 16th, 19th and 48th Mississippi Regiments and placed under command of Brigadier-General Featherstone. Again the long roll sounded, and we were called upon to begin the seven days battles around Richmond. On the evening of the 26th of June, about midnight, we bivouacked upon the ground where skirmishing had been going on during the day. Bright and early on the morning of the 27th of June, just as I had begun to get the regiment in line, and while the orderly sergeant of the Natchez Fenccibles was calling the roll, a murderous hailstorm of bullets rained down upon us. The order was given to charge. Major Lilly was severely wounded, and Meriwether Jones, of the Claiborne Guards, a talented and promising son of old Claiborne, together with many other brave young men, were killed outright as we swept down upon the enemy's outposts with a terrible yell, forcing them to beat a hasty retreat. We kept in hot pursuit all day, passing through the  deserted camps of McClellan's hitherto invincible army, and again attacked the enemy about 3 o'clock that evening at Gaines' Mill, or Cold Harbor, driving him before us and assailing him in his strong fortified position on the ridge, with an abattis of felled timber in front to protect him against assault. We carried his works, forced our way to the crest of the hill, went flying over the open field at a double-quick, capturing large numbers of prisoners and threatening utter annihilation of McClellan's army, which was only prevented by the incessant and terrific fire of the batteries south of the Chickahominy upon our advancing columns. On the evening of the 30th of June, near dusk, we fought the battle of Frazier's Farm, regaining the ground lost by Pryor's Brigade, the conflict raging furiously until after 9 o'clock in the night. It was here that Howard West, of the Claiborne Guards, a fearless and gallant soldier, and many others whose names have escaped my memory, fell to rise no more. Our regiment did not participate in the battle of Malvern Hill, having been terribly cut up at Frazier's Farm the night previous. Here the seven days fights around Richmond terminated. We had assisted McClellan in ‘changing his base’ and seeking the protection of his gunboats in the James river. General John Pope, who had only seen the backs of his enemies, and who dated his orders from his ‘Headquarters in the Saddle,’ had advanced across the Rappahannock as far south as Culpeper Courthouse, and near Gordonsville. Having reached the Rapidan, General Stonewall Jackson's Corps was sent to meet him. Longstreet followed Jackson, and by forced marches our brigade passed through Hopewell Gap, and arrived in time to participate in the second battle of Manassas, on the 29th of August, 1862. In my mind's eye I can see the dauntless Featherstone, mounted on his war steed and giving the order at the top of his voice to charge. I can hear, in imagination, that awful Rebel yell as it swept down the lines, and see my brigade as it advanced at a double-quick in close pursuit of the fleeing enemy, capturing an excellent battery of Napoleon guns, and following up the victory till darkness put an end to the conflict. Pope's ‘headquarters’ were captured, and his Grand Army of the Potomac again took refuge in the fortifications around Alexandria and Washington. Our army moved on to Maryland, Featherstone's Brigade crossing the Potomac near Leesburg. On the 7th of September, 1862, we pitched our tents on the banks of the Monocacy river, near  Frederick City. Here we rested for four or five days, and finally took up our line of march, following Stonewall Jackson's Corps down to Harper's Ferry, where we occupied the Maryland Heights, assisting in the capture of General Miles' garrison, numbering some 12,000 men, besides seventy-three pieces of artillery, 13,000 small arms and a large quantity of military stores. We did not tarry long at Harper's Ferry, but marching all night on the 16th, up the Virginia shore, recrossed the Potomac at Shephardstown and arrived upon the battlefield of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, early on the morning of the 17th of September, 1862. I was wounded soon after we got under the enemy's fire, compelled to retire from the field, and cannot, therefore, speak of the issue of the memorable engagement. Our army came back to old Virginia, barefooted and footsore. We camped near Winchester, and there made moccasins out of rawhides, to cover blistered and bleeding feet. When I next rejoined the command it was camped near Fredericksburg, facing Burnside's army on the opposite side of the Rappahannock river, just after the battle of Marye's Heights. Here we went into winter quarters, about the 20th of January, 1863, at which time General Featherstone was relieved from the command of the brigade, and Colonel Carnot Posey, of the 16th Mississippi, promoted and assigned to his place. Never shall I forget the noble-hearted charity of the brigade to the Fredericksburg sufferers, our brigade having subscribed $2,287 for their relief, savings out of the scanty pay of the soldiers. About the 1st of February, 1863, Captain Joseph W. Jayne, of the 18th Mississippi, was appointed colonel of the 48th Mississippi, and the gallant young Manlove, of Vicksburg, lieutenant-colonel. After the battle of Sharpsburg new flags were presented to the different regiments composing Featherstone's Brigade, which, by the fortunes of war, had lost their colors. But the. ‘Bloody Twelfth’ preferred to retain her old battle flag, with thirty-five bullet holes through it, which told in silence the story of its memorable deeds. Our brigade marched through the snow from Fredericksburg to the United States ford, on the Rappahannock river, where we were assigned to outpost duty. There we remained until the 1st of May, when ‘Fighting Joe Hooker’ commenced his onward march to Richmond. We were the first to begin the battles of the Wilderness. On Friday evening, May 1, we repulsed the enemy's skirmishers and drove a column, numbering three times our number, pell-mell before us. Again, on Sunday morning, May 3, Posey's Brigade charged the enemy in their breastworks before Chancellorsville,  capturing over 700 prisoners and covering the earth in every direction with killed and wounded. Generals Lee and Anderson were present at this daring exploit, and expressed their admiration for the death-defying courage of the Mississippians. Our brigade was also engaged Monday evening, May 4, near Fredericksburg, and there added another gem to its glittering diadem of victorious achievements. About 350 gallant men, killed and wounded in the battles of the Wilderness, bear ample testimony to the part our brigade bore in the series of brilliant achievements which covered the Army of Northern Virginia with everlasting honor and renown. But, notwithstanding our undisputed successes, we all felt that we had sustained a loss almost irreparable. Stonewall Jackson, the great and good, had been mortally wounded. There was a witchery in his name which carried confidence to friend and terror to foe. That bright star, which had hitherto eclipsed all others in brilliancy, had suddenly sunk to rise no more. On the receipt of the sad intelligence of his death there was scarce a dry eye in the whole Army of Northern Virginia, and we all felt that a heavy stone of sorrow had been rolled on our hearts. Among the many amusing anecdotes related of that distinguished chieftain, it is said that upon a fatiguing, forced march during his celebrated campaign in the valley of the Shenandoah, a verdant Mississippi recruit of the 16th Regiment lay prostrated by the wayside as General Jackson rode up, and, observing his commander, the undisciplined soldier addressed him thus: ‘General, what do you design by marching us so far? Come, now, and explain your plans to me.’ Whereupon the hero fixed his eyes upon the private and quizzingly asked: ‘Can you keep a secret?’ ‘Yes, that I can,’ was the reply, his eyes sparkling, expecting to hear something wonderful. ‘Ah, so can I,’ General Jackson laconically answered, and galloping off, left the soldier as unsatisfied as ever. We were along with the army during the invasion of Pennsylvania. On the night of the 2d of July, while doing picket duty at Gettysburg, Posey's Brigade, then temporarily under command of Colonel W. H. Taylor, captured sixty Federal pickets without firing a gun. After the disasterous engagement at Gettysburg we began our retreat southward, wading the Potomac up to our armpits, and carrying our cartridge boxes on top of our shoulders to prevent them from getting wet.  We participated in the battle of Bristow Station, and there, on the 14th of October, General Carnot Posey was mortally wounded. We again fell back to the line of the Rappahannock, and passed the winter of 1863-64 near Orange Courthouse. Colonel N. H. Harris, of the 19th Mississippi Regiment, was appointed to succeed General Posey as our brigadier. General Grant took command of the army of the Potomac and began another ‘On to Richmond.’ We were engaged in the battles of the Wilderness, and on the 12th of May, 1864, participated in the great battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse, retaking a salient angle captured from Johnson's Division. Just before entering this fight a shell exploded near a group of horsemen surrounding General Lee. He rode up to our regiment and asked how many rounds of cartridges have the men. He was answered, forty rounds in their boxes and twenty in their pockets. His face was flushed, and eyes sparkling with anxiety. We were ordered to march by the left flank, General Lee placing himself at our head and leading us in the direction of the heavy firing. Soon shot and shell and minie balls were crashing and hissing and crashing around our ears. The men began to cry out: ‘Go back, General Lee! General Lee to the rear!’ Colonel Charles Scott Venable, his chief of staff, grasped the bridle of his horse and besought him to retire beyond the reach of danger. Standing up in his stirrups, and looking back upon our serried ranks, he exclaimed: ‘Mississippians, I go back under one condition, and that is that you go forward. Remember, you strike for Mississippi to-day!’ And they did go forward. And for twelve long hours held the enemy at bay. May God in his mercy never again permit us to behold such a field of carnage and death! On the 27th of May, 1864, near Hanover Junction, on the North Anna river, we repulsed and annihilated a Massachusetts brigade, mortally wounding Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Chandler, of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteers, while gallantly leading his command against our regiment. We were again in the battles of Cold Harbor and Turkey Ridge before Richmond. About the middle of June we participated in the battle of Petersburg, where Colonel Harris was severely wounded in the head. The regimental officers were at that time M. B. Harris, colonel; S. B. Thomas, lieutenant-colonel; J. R. Bell, major, and E. Howard McCaleb, adjutant. On the 18th of August we retook the position occupied by General  J. V. B. Girardey's Georgia Brigade, on the north side of James river, in front of Richmond; returned to Petersburg, on the south side, and on the 21st of August fought the battle of the Weldon Railroad, where the writer was severely wounded, left for dead on the battlefield, and taken North, without his consent, to spend the winter. From the 30th of July to the 21st of August, 1864, Harris' Mississippi Brigade lost 14 killed, 103 wounded, and 131 missing in battles around Petersburg. During this time Lieutenant-Colonel S. B. Thomas, than whom a braver or truer soldier never existed, commanded the bloody 12th Regiment. I cannot speak of the operations of our command after that time, having, as I said before, been wounded and taken prisoner. A historian of the war, however, by no means partial to the troops hailing from the cotton States, in narrating the events that occurred in the last desperate struggle before Petersburg, says: ‘Receiving no assistance from its twin brother (Fort Alexander) Fort Gregg, manned by Harris' Mississippi Brigade, numbering 250 men, breasted intrepidly the tide of its multitudinous assailants. Five times Gibson's Corps surged up and around the work—five times with dreadful carnage they were driven back. I am told that it was subsequently admitted by General Gibson that in carrying Fort Gregg he lost from 500 to 600 men; or, in other words, that each Mississippian inside the works struck down at least two assailants. When at last the work was carried, there remained out of its 250 defenders but thirty survivors. In these nine memorable days there was no episode more glorious to the Confederate arms than the heroic self-immolation of the Mississippians, in Fort Gregg, to gain time for their comrades.’ On the 16th day of April, 1865, after I was exchanged, under directions of President Davis, I gathered together a number of old veteran soldiers belonging to our brigade, at Greensboro, N. C., who were absent on furlough at the time of the battles before Petersburg, and were returning to their respective commands, and formed them into a company, as the President's mounted escort, accompanying him and his cabinet as far south as Washington, Ga., where we were dismissed on the 4th of May, 1865.