previous next

Re-enlistment for the war.

In January, 1864, while encamped near Orange C. H., the Richmond and other Southern papers were filled with the proceedings of Congress, and discussions in regard to the passage of the Conscript [270] Act, and the officers and men of Battle's Alabama brigade made it a topic of frequent conversation. The preference of myself and many officers of companies, which had enlisted for two more years, that would expire during the spring and summer, was to volunteer for the remainder of the war, however long, and thus avoid the necessity, and what we thought was the stigma, that would attend conscription. Having this thought in view, with others, I was active in calling together delegates from the various companies in our brigade to a convention to be held at the quarters of the 12th Alabama.

The following day, promptly at eleven o'clock, every company in the brigade had a delegate present. Nearly all of these delegates were non-commissioned officers or privates, chosen by their respective companies, but my company selected me as its representative, and Lieut. P. H. Larey of Co. M 6th Alabama, was chosen by his company, and Capt. Thos Bilbro of the 3rd Alabama by his. On assembling, some one nominated me for Chairman of the Convention, and I was chosen without opposition, with Sergt. Sprague of Co. C 3rd Alabama, as Secretary.

The subjects of re-enlistment, and petition to Congress for the privilege of reorganization, and the election of our field and company officers, were earnestly and eloquently discussed and advocated by all of the delegates, so far as I recall, except Capt. W. T. Bilbro and Sergt. Sprague. Lieut. Larey made an able speech, advocating the privilege of reorganization, and petitioning Congress for this permission. After a frank debate, upon putting the vote, it was found to be unanimous, with but two exceptions, and our petition was duly drawn up, signed and forwarded to Hon. David Clopton, M. C., from Alabama, and Senator Jemison, with the earnest request that they advocate the granting of the petition by Congress.

A few days later, Gen. Battle visited each regiment and delivered an eloquent address, urging the men to volunteer for the war, which was gallantly responded to by the men stepping forward and expressing their determination to enlist. It was an inspiring sight to see these heroes step forward without hesitation and boldly announce their purpose to continue the fight to the bitter end. This was their third enlistment.

Gen. Rodes issued a complimentary address, which was read before each regiment, in which he expressed his gratification at the [271] re-enlistment of his old brigade of Alabamians, and at their leading the entire army in this noble action.

Gen. Lee in a letter addressed to Hon. T. J. Foster, dated Jan. 31, 1864, used these words:

I do not see how the good of the service can be promoted by detaching the 26th Alabama, thus breaking up a veteran brigade which has just set the glorious example in this Army of reenlistment for the war.

Further on he says:

General Rodes' whole division acted at Chancellorsville with distinguished gallantry, and that officer owes his promotion to General Jackson's observation of his skill and conduct, and you will see by my report of that battle that one of his dying messages to me was to the effect that General Rodes should be promoted Major General, and his promotion should date May 2nd. He commanded his division with success and ability, and I am gratified to state that his division has re-enlisted for the war, Battle's brigade of Alabamians having set the example. Instead of raising new brigades I think it would be far better to recruit to the fullest number those veteran brigades whose whole conduct is worthy of the admiration of the country.


Your obedient servant,


R. E. Lee, General.

Congress did not act favorably upon our petition, but passed a sweeping and peremptory act conscripting everybody in the Confederacy, (above the age of sixteen and under that of forty-five), to active military service. This was quite a disappointment to many gallant officers who desired and deserved promotion after their three years of experience, and many brave and intelligent privates who were worthy to command companies and even regiments.

In my own company F, there were near a score of noncommissioned officers and privates promoted to commissioned officers, and there were many among them who were never promoted who were entirely worthy and well qualified to fill positions of trust and honor. There were nearly one dozen college boys in the company, several of my own class-mates, and there were a large number of lawyers, merchants and farmers. The combined wealth of the one hundred and six volunteers, who left Tuskegee the last of May, 1861, for Richmond, was estimated at more than a million dollars. Such men as Hon. Bython B. Smith, a lawyer of wealth and intelligence, [272] Hon. Nicholas Gachet, a distinguished lawyer of large means, James F. Park, of the Tuskegee Classical Institute, who, since the war, has been honored with the distinctions of Ph. D. and Ll. D., now living at LaGrange, Ga., and lately mayor of that city, H. R. Thorpe, M. D., from Auburn, a prominent physician, who was promoted to assistant surgeon of a North Carolina regiment, and a very large number of younger men, belonging to the first families in Alabama, and the sons of parents of prominence, influence and wealth. Sergeant Jack Echols, afterwads Colonel C. S A., and whose father was also a colonel, Judge Clopton, Congressman, and Lieutenant Governor Ligon, were all owners of many slaves and much landed property.

August 3, 1864. At Bunker Hill for three days. This rest and quiet, after our continual marching and counter marching, double-quicking, running, fighting, skirmishing, long-roll alarms by day and by night, loss of sleep by night marches and constant picketing, is generally enjoyed by us all.

On August 4th we left our quiet camp for Maryland, and passed through Martinsburg, halting six miles beyond.

Waded across the Potomac at Williamsport, and marched towards Boonsboro, halting five miles from Funkstown. General Breckinridge's command crossed at Shepherdstown. The majority of the men took off their shoes, tied them on their knapsacks, and waded through, over the rocks and gravel, barefoot,

Breckinridge's corps, consisting of his own and Wharton's small divisions, passed by us and crossed the Potomac. General Breckinridge was formerly vice-president of the United States, and is a magnificent looking man, weighing over 200 pounds. He wears a heavy moustache but no beard, and his large piercing blue eyes are really superb. Rodes' and Ramseur's divisions also crossed to the Virginia side, wading the river again. We marched to the vicinity of Hedgesville and camped for the night.

This, August 14th, rude breastworks of rails were thrown up, but the enemy kept aloof Although we have thrown up scores of earthworks we have never been called upon to fight behind them.

August 17. We left our post for Winchester, and, on our route, saw where several large barns, loaded with wheat, corn and hay, had been burnt by order of General Sheridan. One large flouring mill of great necessity to the locality, had been destroyed. I suppose Sheridan proposes to starve out the citizens, or rather the women [273] and children, of the valley (for the men are in the army), as well as Early's troops. Grant and he have resolved to make this fertile valley a desert, and, as they express it, cause it ‘to be so desolate that the birds of passage cannot find enough to subsist upon.’ This is a very ungenerous return for the humane manner in which General Lee conducted his Pennsylvania campaign last year, and for the very kind treatment of the citizens of Maryland and Pennsylvania by General Early and his command recently. Such warfare is a disgrace to civilization, but I suppose that Irish Yankee, Sheridan, and that drunken butcher and tanner, Grant, have little comprehension of sentiments of humanity or Christianity. Breckinridge and Gordon whipped the Yankees badly to-day in some severe skirmishing. Rodes, for a wonder, was not engaged. My good mother says Rodes' division is in every battle her papers mention, and that such expressions as ‘Rodes bore the brunt of the battle,’ ‘Rodes began the action’, ‘Rodes' division led the advance’ or ‘Rodes conducted the retreat, serving as rear guard,’ are constantly in the telegraphic columns, and to be found in ‘Letters from war correspondents.’ It is true that our gallant and beloved Major-general is usually foremost at the post of honor and danger. He is ably seconded by his efficient adjutants, Major H. A. Whiting and Major Green Peyton. Re-inforcements from Longstreet's corps have reached us, and vigorous work may be expected. Lieutenant-General Anderson is in command.

We marched through Winchester, and were, as usual, warmly greeted. Ladies and children and negro servants stood on the porches and sidewalks, with prepared food of a very tempting kind, and goblets and pitchers of cool, fresh water, whieh they smilingly handed to the tired troops, who seldom declined the proffered kindness. The native Virginians of Winchester and the Valley are as true as steel, and the ladies—God bless and protect them!—are as heroic and self-denying as were the noble Spartan mothers. Indeed they are the equals of the highest, truest heroines of the grandest days of the greatest countries. The joy they evince, when we enter their city, serves to encourage and inspire us, and the sorrow we see in their fair countenances, and often hear them express, with trembling lips and streaming eyes, as we leave them to endure the cruel and cowardly insults and petty persecutions of Sheridan's hirelings fill our hearts with indescribable regret. We love to fight for patriotic Winchester and her peerless women. We camped one mile [274] from Winchester on the Berryville pike and cooked our rations. Lieutenant-General Anderson, with Kershaw's infantry and Fitz Lee's cavalry, arrived from Lee's army. Their ranks are much depleted, but a very small re-inforcement will greatly encourage and help our sadly diminished command.

To-day, August 19, we marched to our familiar old camping ground, the oft visited Bunker Hill.

On August 21 we marched through Smithfield, and halted about two miles from Charlestown, where ‘old John Brown's body’ once ‘was mouldering in the ground, but is now marching on to h–ll.’ Our gallant division sharpshooters, under Colonel J. C. Brown, of North Carolina, those from our brigade, under Major Blackford, of the Fifth Alabama, and our regiment, under Lieutenant Jones, Company I, skirmished vigorously the rest of the day. The firing was fierce and continuous.

The Yankees fell back towards Harper's Ferry, and we promptly followed, passing their breastworks and through Charlestown, encamping in a woods near where Hon. Andrew Hunter's beautiful residence recently stood. His splendid mansion had been burnt by order of General (Yankee) Hunter, his cousin.

Here a sharp skirmish took place, in front of our camp, which we could see very plainly. It was a deeply interesting sight to watch them advancing and retreating, firing from behind trees and rocks and clumps of bushes, falling down to load their discharged muskets, and rising quickly, moving forward, aiming and firing again—the whole line occassionally running quickly forward, firing as they ran, with loud ‘rebel yells,’ and the Yankees retreating as rapidly, and firing as they fell back. It is so seldom we have an opportunity to look on, being generally interested combatants ourselves, that the exciting scene was very enjoyable. After dark the 12th Alabama relieved the brigade sharpshooters, and took the outer picket post.

August 25. At sun — up we were relieved in turn, and had to vacate the rifle pits under the fire of the enemy, General Anderson, with General Kershaw's division, took our place, and General Early, with the rest of the little army of the Valley, marched towards Shepherdstown on the Potomac. We met the enemy's cavalry beyond Leetown, but they fell back quickly, and except a few shells thrown at us, our advance was not opposed. We marched through Shepherdstown after dark, making the air ring with joyous [275] shouts. Many ladies welcomed us with waving handkerchiefs and kind words, as we passed through the streets. Lieutenant Arrington, A. D. C. to General Rodes, was severely wounded in the knee, and Colonel Monaghan of Louisiana, commanding Hays' brigade, was killed in a skirmish to-day.

A convention of Yankee politicians is to be held at Chicago today, the 29th. I reckon they will spout a good deal about the ‘gal-lorious Union,’ ‘the best government the world ever saw,’ the ‘stars and stripes,’ ‘rebels,’ ‘traitors,’ et id omne. Our entire corps was in line of battle all day, and General Breckinridge drove the enemy some distance from his front. The 12th Alabama went on picket at night.

August 31. Another reconnoissance by Rodes' division. General Rodes received orders to drive the Yankees out of Martinsburg, and taking his division of Battle's Alabama, Cook's Georgia, Cox's North Carolina, and Lewis' North Carolina brigades, started on his errand. Battle's brigade was in front and was shelled severely. General Rodes seems to think his old brigade of Alabamians entitled to the post of honor, and usually sends them to the front in time of danger. About two miles out of town, the brigade was deployed and ordered forward. We marched in this way, through Cemetery Hill, into town, running out the Yankee cavalry and artillery under Averill.

At night we returned to our old camp, having made twenty-two miles during the day. These reconnoissances may be very important, and very interesting to general and field officers who ride, but those of the line and fighting privates wish they were less frequent, or less tiresome this sultry weather. We have walked this pike road so often that we know not only every house, fence, spring and shade tree, but very many of the citizens, their wives and children.

On September 2nd we marched toward Winchester, and when five miles distant met our cavalry, under General Vaughan, of Tennessee, retreating, the Yankees in pursuit. We quickly formed line, and moved forward, but the enemy retired, declining further battle. Camped six miles from Bunker Hill.

To-day, September 3rd, we went to our well known resting point, Bunker Hill. A few shells were fired, and one wounded our skillful and popular surgeon, Dr. George Whitfield, from Demopolis, in the arm. [276]

September 4th, Sunday. Marched towards Berryville, passing Jordan Springs, a well known watering place, and halted at 12 o'clock, one and a half miles from Berryville. Deployed to the left of the town, where we could see the enemy and their breastworks very plainly. At night retired one mile.

September 5. Our division again passed Jordan Springs, and soon after hearing the skirmishers firing in front, were hastily formed into line, and ordered forward to support our cavalry, marching parallel with the pike. We pursued the enemy about four miles, during a heavy, drenching rain, amidst mud and slush, across corn fields, fences, ditches and creeks, but were unable to overtake them, and halted about three miles from Bunker Hill. It rained incessantly during the night, and prevented our sleeping very soundly.

We hear very heavy skirmishing on the Millwood road, and are ordered to be ready for action. Adjutant Gayle and Sergeant Major Bruce Davis keep busy carrying such orders from company o company. The Richmond papers bring us news of the fall of Atlanta. It grieves us much. Atlanta is between us and our homes. It is only seventy miles from where my dearly loved mother and sisters live, and all mail communication with them is now cut off. It pains and distresses me to think that La Grange and Greenville, Ga., may be visited by raiding parties, and my relatives and friends annoyed and insulted by the cruel Yankees, as the noble and unconquered people of the Valley have been.

Am daily expecting my commission as captain, as Capt. McNeely has been ‘retired’ on account of the wound he received at Chancellorsville, May 3rd, 1863, nearly eighteen months ago, and since which time, except on wounded leave of absence, for twenty-five days, after the battle of Gettysburg, I have been in constant command of my company, being the only officer ‘present for duty.’ My commission will date from time of issuance of Captain McNeely's papers of retirement, some months since. Lieutenant Colonel Goodgame left for Alabama to-day on ‘leave of absence.’ His name is an exceedingly appropriate one, as he is a gallant, unflinching officer and soldier. His ‘game’ is unquestionably ‘good.’

Company F was on picket to-day, 9th of September. I took tea with the family of Mr. Payne, near Stephenson's depot. They are true Southerners. Miss Betty Payne, the elder sister, is a very bright and accomplished woman. Our entire army is getting its supplies of flour by cutting and threshing the wheat in the fields, [277] and then having it ground at the few mills the enemy have not yet destroyed. The work is done by details from different regiments. It shows to what straits we have been reduced. Still the men remain cheerful and hopeful.

September 10. Rodes' division, preceded by our cavalry, under Generals Fitz Lee and Rosser, went as far as Darkesville, returning to Bunker Hill at night. Our brigade acted as the immedtate support of the cavalry. As it rained without cessation during the night, we had a very damp time of it. I slept on half, and covered with the other half, of my oil cloth, one I had obtained from the Yankees when I captured my sword. The drops of rain would fall from the leaves of the large trees under which I lay, drop on my head and face, and trickle down my back occasionally. Notwithstanding these little annoyances, I managed to get a pretty good night's rest. A stone served as my pillow.

I am almost barefoot, and was glad to pick up, and substitute for one of mine, an old shoe, which I found thrown away on the roadside. It, in its turn, may have been thrown away for a better one, or perhaps the wearer may, in some of the numerous skirmishes in this vicinity, have been wounded and lost his leg, thus rendering his shoe no longer necessary to him, or, probably, the gallant wearer may have been slain, and is now sleeping his last sleep in an unmarked and unknown soldier's grave. Nearly all of my company are barefoot, and most of them are almost destitute of pants. Such constant marching on rough, rocky roads, and sleeping on the bare ground, will naturally wear out the best of shoee and thickest of trousers. While anxious for some attention from our quartermasters, our men are nevertheless patient and uncomplaining. We returned at night to our camp near Stephenson's depot.

On September 13th in obedience to a singular order, we marched from our camp two or three miles in the direction of Winchester, and then marched back again. At night Company F went on picket This continual moving to and fro indicates that a decisive action is imminet. Sheridan is reported to have large reinforcements from Grant. Our own ranks are thinner than at any time since weentered service. My company is one of the largest in the 12th Alabama and numbers less than 30 ‘present for duty.’ The entire regiment, including officers, will not number 200, and the brigade is not more than 1,000 strong, if so much. It is said that Early has, including infantry, cavalry and artillery, less than [278] 8,000 men for duty. General Anderson, with his infantry and artillery, has left us and returned to Richmond, leaving only Fitz Lee's small force of cavalry. On the other hand rumor says Sheridan has fully 40,000 well equipped, well clad and well fed soldiers. If Early had half as many he would soon have sole possession of the valley, and Sheridan would share the fate of Milroy, Banks, Shields, Fremont, McDowell, Hunter, and his other Yankee predecessors in the valley campaign. Sheridan's lack of vigor, or extra caution, very strongly resembles incompetency, or cowardice.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: