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Seven Pines.

May 30, 1862, was warm and sultry. The Twelfth Alabama was kept under arms, and moved about frequently, as if expecting a battle. After sunset we went into bivouac and were ordered to prepare rations for the next day. The men were busy until very late that night, and then, tired out, they sought rest. Very soon a terrible thunder storm arose. It sounded as if heaven and earth were in conflict, while the rain fell in sheets and torrents. The men were poorly sheltered, many with little fly tents, others with only a single blanket on a pole, a poor substitute for a tent. This dreadful night, with its terrific storm raging, its sheets of lightning and torrents of rain, its sharp and deafening thunder, was a forerunner of the bloody strife to wage the next two days. The roads were deep with mud and water, and the woods and fields held water [219] as high as our ankles, and often went to our knees, and even to our waists.

May 31 and June 1, 1862, found General Joe Johnston and General McClellan fronting each other and fighting the great two-days battle of Seven Pines, called by some ‘Fair Oaks.’ This was one of the most desperate, hotly contested and bloody fields of the war. In the morning we noticed many federal balloons flying in the air taking observations. McClellan had 100,000 splendidly equipped soldiers, while Johnston had only 63,000. Our losses were 6,134 killed and wounded, and the federals lost 5,031, making a total of ,165 brave men. The storm passed away on the morning of the 31, leaving the air cool and bracing. It was a lovely May morning and the sun rose bright and clear. Though they were wet, and had enjoyed little sleep, the men were full of life and courage, and the woods resounded with their cheerful voices and brisk movements. Breakfast was soon enjoyed and the order ‘fall in’ was given. The Twelfth Alabama numbered 408 men and officers present for duty, and was led by Colonel R. T. Jones, Lieutenant Colonel B. B. Gayle, Major S. B. Pickens, while Captain R. H. Keeling commanded Company F, and I, as second lieutenant, accompanied our command, while Lieutenant McNeely was acting commissary of the regiment. Lieutenant Wright was also absent.

The Fifth Alabama under command of Colonel C. C. Pegues, Lieutenant Colonel J. M. Hall, and Major E. L. Hobson; the Sixth Alabama under Colonel John B. Gordon, Lieutenant Colonel B. H. Baker, and Major Nesmith; the Twelfth Mississippi under Colonel N. H. Harris, afterwards promoted to brigadier general. These regiments composed, with the Twelfth Alabama, Rodes' Brigade.

Early in the morning we were drawn up in front of the enemy's works under cover of a dense forest, within one-fourth of a mile of the enemy's batteries and redoubts. These redoubts bristled with artillery, and were supported by numerous infantry and flanked by breastworks. We moved forward through the mud, water and limbs of trees, cut down to form obstructions to our approach, and, as we moved, the enemy opened on us with their artillery, and a dreadful storm of shot, shell, grape and cannister tore through the trees, plowing up the ground on every side and cutting off limbs and small trees above and around us. We moved on to the assault, and under the terrible fire of musketry and artillery which we could not return, because of the abatis in our front, and the difficulty of [220] getting over them, but the brave and devoted men kept moving forward, until at last an open field was reached near the enemy's works. The men were placed in a hurried line of battle, and continued to rush upon the enemy, who seemed to renew their firing with redoubled fury. Our men fell rapidly, some dying, many dead, and others dangerously wounded.

I heard the clarion voice of Colonel Gordon calling to his men on our right, above the roar of battle. His major, Nesmith, was killed. Capt. Bell and 44 of his men were killed or wounded in one company.

The 12th's old superb commander, Col. R T. Jones, was instantly killed. But we silenced the battery in front of us, rushed through the moat of water, climbed over the breastwork, ran through the tents, vacated by Gen. Caseys's troops, and moved on beyond the camp, halting in front of a collection of abatis, which was formed by cutting down a dense grove of old field pines and trimming and sharpening the limbs so as to impede our progress. While lying down here we could see the enemy a short distance in front, despite the smoke of battle, and it was at this point that Capt. Keeling was instantly killed. Private Nicholson called out to me: ‘Lieut. Park, Capt. Keeling is killed, you must take command of the company.’ I rose, walked down the line of the company and urged the men to avenge the death of our captain.

Kneeling by the side of Serg. Flournoy, of Opelika, and private J. W. Fannin, of Tuskegee, I heard Flournoy call to Fannin: ‘Shoot that officer in front of you.’ In response, Fannin gazed intently before him, but soon remarked that he could not see him. Flournoy's reply was, ‘The mischief you cant, I do,’ and with that he raised his gun, and deliberately pointing, fired; at the same time he received a bullet through the top of his head, laying his brains bare.

We continued firing for some minutes, until it became almost too dark to distinguish the enemy in front, and were then ordered to retire behind the redoubts now in our rear. I let the entire company fall back before I started, and, taking the hand of Sergt. Flournoy in mine, I said, ‘Mack, dear fellow, I am sorry to lose you, but you see I am alone and must go.’ The poor fellow paralyzed by his wound, was unable to speak, but pressed my hand cordially and closed his eyes in assent, while the big tears rolled down his noble face. Then, leaving him, I hurriedly ran to overtake [221] my comrades, and miraculously escaped the thousands of minie balls that were being hurled above and around me.

It was appalling to see how few men formed in line with us after dark, how reduced we were in numbers. The strong, orderly line of the morning was now scarcely more than a line of skirmishers, and from 408 had been reduced to 203 present for duty, making a loss of 205 men from our single command. The ground seemed literally covered with the dead and wounded.

This was our first experience in real battle. The men were worn out, and were glad to stretch themselves upon the wet ground and slept soundly, though the air was filled with the agonizing cries and groans of the wounded and dying men and animals by whom they were surrounded. It is impossible for me to describe or properly eulogize the splendid conduct of the officers and men in this notable engagement. They showed coolness, deliberation, daring in making their way through the pointed abatis while suffering from the galling fire at short range. I can never forget the calm resolve with which the men reformed their line after we had reached the open field, within a hundred feet of the enemy's breastworks. They did not wince nor dodge under the terrible and destructive fire, but, with the utmost coolness and precision, returned it, undisturbed by their trying situation. The gallant charge they made into the very jaws of death while crossing the works and through the forsaken camp, their stubborn courage as they retired, evinced a lofty heroism worthy of patriots of any age and any country. The names of these martyr patriots may never be recorded in history or known to fame, but it seems to me that such men not only illustrated their own states and section, but they ennobled humanity. The world was poorer by their loss.

Rev. Dr. J. L. Burrows, the distinguished Baptist minister, and many noble citizens of Richmond, spent the night walking among the wounded, relieving their necessities. The ambulance corps did not sleep, but were busy carrying the wounded into Richmond.

Early next morning I saw an ambulance pass by, and was attracted by the sight of a weeping negro man walking behind it, and recognized Mark, the cook and slave of Sergeant Flournoy. He had learned of his master's wound and had been with him all night, and was then following the ambulance, as it was being driven into the city. As he passed Company F, and saw us preparing breakfast, he burst into tears and it was a tender and pathetic sight to [222] witness his great grief over the condition of his beloved master. Sergeant Flournoy lived for a week in Chimborazo Hospital, conscious to the last, able to recognize any one, but wholly unable to speak, and then calmly gave up his generous and patriotic spirit. My gallant cousin, Colonel G. A. Bull, of the Thirty-Fifth Georgia, was killed bravely cheering on his men.

My own beloved Captain Keeling gave up, as I have stated, his life during the battle. His clear, ringing voice I can hear now, calling to and inspiring the men on that memorable battle-field. In speaking of Captain Keeling I am but obeying an irresistible impulse of my heart. He was my friend, ever generous and kind to me. We marched and fought side by side, and on that woeful and never-to-be-forgotten day, the 31st of May, 1862, amid the tempest of fire and hail of iron, he fell within a few feet of me, and his noble spirit winged its eternal flight to the land of the hereafter. Captain Keeling was born in Richmond, Va. His father, the Rev. Henry Keeling, D. D., was a noted Baptist minister, and for years editor of a church paper. He was a poet of no mean reputation. Captain Keeling's education was received mainly at the Virginia Military Intitute.

Soon after his graduation, at the age of 19, the Mexican war having broken out, he was chosen 1st lieutenant of a company of Virginia Infantry, and hastened to the scene of action. He commanded his company and acted as adjutant for twenty-two months in the regiment in which General Early was major. When the Mexican war was over he adopted teaching as a profession, and for several years taught successfully in Alabama. Just before secession he moved to Tuskegee, and was there military instructor in the Collegiate Institute. His career as a teacher was brilliant and successful, while his genial disposition and engaging manners secured for him hosts of friends and admirers wherever he lived. In May, 1861, soon after hostilities had actually begun, in conjunction with Captain R. F. Ligon, Hon. David Clopton, Colonel Nick Gachet, Captain George Jones, Captain John H. Echols, Prof. J. F. Park and others, he raised the ‘Macon Confederates,’ and on the 26th of that month left for Richmond, where his company was assigned to the 12th Alabama Regiment. While the battle of Manassas was raging, on the 21st of July, the regiment took the cars for the scene of action, but, as stated in another place in this sketch, owing to the treachery of the conductor [223] or engineer of the train, did not reach the field until the battle was over. For weeks and months after, near Fairfax, Va., Lieutenant Keeling and his brother officers employed themselves drilling, disciplining and training their command for the duties and realities of war, and the company was conceded to be the best equipped, the best instructed and the promptest and most intelligent in the regiment. Lieutenant Keeling's previous experience in the army proved of great advantage to his men, and his excellent advice and instruction was often afterwards found to be of great benefit. He was tall and commanding in figure, with a lofty brow and piercing eyes. These, together with talents, energy and intense devotion to the success of the Confederate cause, promised a brilliant career as a soldier. In April, 1862, the 12th Alabama was reorganized, and Lieutenant Keeling was unanimously elected captain of his company. During the trying Yorktown campaign, and in the arduous retreat to Richmond, before McClellan's advancing hosts, he cheered and inspired his men by his self-sacrificing example. On the night of the 30th of May the 12th Alabama was on outpost duty in the vicinity of Seven Pines. It had been raining incessantly during the day and increased in violence towards night. The writer of this shared with Captain Keeling his couch, consisting of blankets spread on rails, under a blanket stretched over us, for protection from the torrent of descending rain. Never shall I forget that night, nor the conversation I held with my departed friend. He gave me a retrospect of his life, replete with many interesting incidents, and full of instruction and wholesome advice. But I noticed that a certain degress of sadness marked his discourse, different from his usual genial and happy manner. He spoke of the certainty of a great and decisive battle between the opposing armies, and of the probability of his being killed or severely wounded, and all my efforts to banish the impression from his mind were unavailing. This feeling was but the harbinger of the approaching end. In our comfortless situation it was impossible to sleep, and early the next morning we arose ready for the daily routine of duties.

About ten o'clock an officer from Gen. Rodes' headquarters brought orders to Col. Jones to have white badges placed upon the arms of his men that they might distinguish each other in battle, and to prepare for immediate action. With alacrity each man donned his badge, inspected his cartridges, and carefully loaded his [224] musket. Pretty soon after, the command ‘fall in’ was given, and Col. Jones, riding quickly forward, told his men that he was about to lead them into action, and that he expected every man to do his duty, and win for himself and his regiment a name. The 6th Alabama under Colonel (subsequently Lieutenant General) Gordon marched by us with orders to deploy as skirmishers, and the 12th Alabama, filed in next. Many hundreds of hearts in that command which beat high with hope, and exulted in the prospect of meeting the despised foe, before sunset were stilled in death. On we moved, over fences, through mud and water waist deep and almost impenetrable under growth, across fields and ditches and fallen trees, listening to the oft repeated command ‘forward! close up! keep together!’ and forward we went rapidly, and with yells, facing minie balls, grape and shells, reckless of danger. The 12th Alabama crossed the abatis and breastworks within twenty feet of the 12 captured Napoleon guns of the enemy. Twenty-eight dead horses and scores of lifeless and disabled Yankees were in our pathway. We moved through the camp of Gen. Casey, near his headquarters, and drove the enemy to a second abatis and a line of heavier earthworks. Just as we reached the abatis the command ‘halt,’ ‘fire and load kneeling!’ were given, and scarcely had the order been repeated along the line, when Capt. Keeling fell, but the field was won, and his name, with thousands of his brave comrades, is worthy to live in the hearts of his countrymen forever.

It is proper to state that the above tribute to my friend, much extended, was written by me in 1867, and published in the Tuskegee News, edited then by my old comrade, A. F. Henderson.

In returning through the camp of the enemy I was handed from General Casey's tent a copy of ‘Casey's Tactics,’ written by himself, with his autograph in it, and I have preserved the book to this day. The men supplied themselves with many articles found in these tents, but with the exception of the desiccated food and articles of clothing, they could make little use of the trophies secured.

Private John U. Ingram of my company was killed, a gentle, manly youth, 18 years old.

It would be wrong not to mention the capital city of Richmond and her patriotic people in connection with the battle of Seven Pines. Every house in the city, whether stately or humble, was open for the Confederate wounded. The floors of the parlors, halls [225] and verandas were covered by them. Beautiful girls and graceful matrons handed fruit and food to the soldiers who were marching through the city to the support of their comrades, and then turned to minister, angelically to the wounded and dying within their doors. These devoted women were ready with unlimited sacrifice for the cause they held sacred.

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