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The Twelfth of May.

This was a day of trial, danger and desperation. The great battle of the triangle took place. I saw General Gordon and his A. D. C., Lieutenant Hutchinson, ride on top of the breastworks in our front, hats off and drawn swords, calling to the men not to fire in their front, as they were shooting into Doles Georgia brigade which had driven the enemy from our front. This daring and gallant action won the admiration and applause of the brigade, and caused every man to cease firing.

In one of our rearward movements we stopped at an inner line of rude words, and General Battle established his headquarters with my company. While sitting and standing, awaiting directions, a number of Yankee foreigners, without arms or accoutrements, jumped over our breastworks, and in foreign jargon, begged for quarter. They were evidently full of whiskey or other stimulant. They were ordered to run to the rear, and lost no time in obeying.

While at this point Major Whiting rode up and delivered a message to General Battle directing a rapid advance over the breastworks and to the front. To this order the general demurred, saying that his men had been fighting so continuously, and were so utterly exhausted, that he felt confident that it would be impossible to preserve any alignment, and that he did not believe a forward movement wise or practicable. Whiting's reply was, ‘I will report to General Rodes,’ but in a few minutes he galloped back and repeated his command, and in response, General Battle ordered his brigade to ‘forward.’ For a long distance we were under constant firing, and had little opportunity to reply. A number of men were shot down as we advanced, but the regiment and brigade maintained its line and continued moving slowly onward. After dark we were halted in a woods not a great distance from the Federal troops, and fronting them, were directed not to sit nor lie down, but to be ready for any movement. Colonel Goodgame came to me, as I stood at the head of the company and regiment, and said that he felt it absolutely necessary for him to have a few minutes sleep, and proposed that while he hugged an oak sapling that I remain awake and receive any orders that might come, and arouse him, adding that when he had slept a few minutes he would relieve me and I could sleep against the sapling. In this way we spent some time, how long it is impossible for me to relate. It was [295] a night of unrest, of misery, of horror. The standing men would occasionally hear a comrade utter an exclamation as a stray bullet from the enemy pierced some part of his body and placed him hors du combat. And it was well that the men were kept standing, as I saw many of them walking first by the right flank and then by the left flank, and in profound sleep, wholly unconscious of what they were doing. These were hours that tried men's souls.

The next day Grant's forces had disappeared from our front, and we were told that they were marching towards Hanover C. H. in an effort to flank Gen. Lee and get between him and Richmond. I walked over the famous salient, so much discussed by critics and historians, where General Edward Johnson and some of his troops were captured, and I saw the stump of a hickory tree, probably six inches in diameter, which is now in the museum of the Smithsonian Institute at Washington. The stump had been literally cut in two by the myriads of bullets that had pierced it, and the top of the tree was lying prone beside the stump. What chance would there have been for soldiers lying in front or in rear of this tree? Limbs, leaves, and bodies of small trees were lying thick in this part of the battlefield. One gallant fellow remarked, that, in all his experience during the war, he believed that this was the ‘hottest place’ that he had ever seen.

It was during these fights that General Lee, anxious to restore order and to drive the enemy from a certain position, rode on Traveler to the head of a regiment and called to the men to follow him in a charge upon the enemy. General Gordon was not far distant, and riding up to General Lee, urged him to retire, that his life was too precious to be placed in such jeopardy, and that he himself would lead the men. Two soldiers took the reins of Traveler, and despite General Lee's remonstrances, but amid the earnest exclamations of approval, led the horse and General Lee to the rear, while General Gordon led his men gallantly forward and drove the enemy before him, relieving the situation.

After the 13th for several days the two great leaders manoeuvered for advantage, Grant continuing his flank movement while Lee kept in front of him, offering daily battle. These movements continued until the two armies reached Richmond, and soon thereafter General Early was detached and sent on his famous campaign through the Valley and to Washington, which has been described elsewhere in this sketch. [296]

A fine martial poem, called, ‘The Man of the Twelfth of May,’ written by Captain Robert Falligant, of Savannah, fitly and eloquently describes this remarkable and heroic incident. From it I make the following extract:

When history tells her story,
     Of the noble hero band,
Who made the green fields gory
     For the life of their native land,
How grand will be the picture
     Of Georgia's proud array
As they drove the boasting foemen back
     On that glorious Twelfth of May!

Whose mien is ever proudest
     When we hold the foe at bay?
Whose war-cry cheers us loudest
     As we rush to the bloody fray?
'Tis Gordon's-our reliance,
     Fearless as on that day
When he hurled his grand defiance
     In that charge of the Twelfth of May.

Who, who can be a coward?
     What freeman fear to die
When Gordon orders “forward!”
     And the red cross floats on high?
Follow his tones inspiring,
     On, on to the field! Away!
And we see the foe retiring
     As it did on the Twelfth of May!

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