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[249]

Chapter 19: Spottsylvania

  • Death of a gallant boy
  • -- Mickey free hard to kill -- the 10th and 12th of May -- handsome Conduct of the “Napoleon section” of the Howitzers -- frying pan as sword and banner -- prayer with a dying Federal soldier -- “trot out your deaf man and your old Doctor” -- the base of the Bloody Angle -- the musketry fire -- majestic equipoise of Marse Robert.


At Spottsylvania Court House, when the artillery and infantry arrived and took the place of the gallant cavalrymen, who had saved the day and the place for us, the guns of our battalion, as I remember, were the first to reach the field. As adjutant, I had ridden with the old battery to its selected position, and, these guns in place, had returned to the column and was aiding in locating another of the batteries, when the fire upon the Howitzer position became so heavy that I galloped back to see how they were faring and if they needed anything. As I rode rapidly in rear of the first gun of the battery, at which my youngest brother, Eugene, had been made a driver, I noted that the fire had slackened considerably, but that one of his horses had been killed; that he had very practically pulled the dead horse around into proper position, and he.and the driver of the other team were fast. constructing quite a passable earthwork over and about him. Just as I observed this, “Genie” caught sight of me, and springing up, shouted after me, in fine voice and good old Georgia nursery phrase:

Bubba, Bubba, I wasn't scared a bit — not a bit!

A line of stalwart veteran infantry was lying down behind the guns, and as the plucky, but uninitiated, boy shouted this reassuring greeting, several of these seasoned old fellows raised up partly and looked around, and one of them [250] called out, “Where's that fellow that wasn't scared a bit? He must be some greenhorn or fool!” And then there was a burst of laughter at the lad's expense. But I shouted back to him that he musn't mind them; that they were just guying him, and were glad enough to be behind his gun and his dead horse, too.

At one of the positions the Howitzers took on these lines I witnessed a striking scene, or rather the climax of it-the rest was told me shortly after I reached the guns.

There was a tall, black-haired, pale-faced boy in the company, named Cary Eggleston, a cousin, I think, of George Cary Eggleston, whom he strongly resembled. He was No. 1 at the third gun; said to be the best No. 1 in the battery, and even before his heroic end, known to be a fellow of most gallant spirit. He was one of that small class of men who really love a fight for its own sake. He was not yet fully developed, and ordinarily appeared rather gangling and loose-jointed, but it required only the thrill of action to inspire him and to make his movements as graceful as they were powerful and effective. His “manual of the piece” was really superb when his gun was hotly engaged.

At the very height of a fierce flurry his left arm was nearly severed from his body by a fragment of shell. At that moment a comrade, who had returned while on furlough and had walked in all nearly forty miles to reach us, came running up to his gun. The disabled No. 1 handed him the rammer, saying:

Here, Johnny, take it! You haven't had any fun yet.

When he had thus surrendered his scepter and appointed his own successor, he had a crude tourniquet applied to his arm; but insisted upon walking to the field hospital, refusing a litter or even a man to accompany him.

I had been with another of the batteries of the battalion, but hearing the rapid firing about the Howitzer position, was galloping down there, when I saw Eggleston walking out. He had his unwounded side toward me, and I called to him to know where and why he was going. He answered by turning his other side and holding up the stump, from which his shattered arm hung by ragged shirt sleeve and [251] torn tendon, and then he shook the clenched fist of his sound arm toward the Federal lines, shouting to me that he would soon be back to fight them with that. The unconquerable boy died the following evening.

I have spoken several times of the “Howitzer position” in the Spottsylvania lines. Up to the 12th of May I think only two of their guns were on the main or front line, and even on the 12th the four were not together. Prior to the 12th two rifles of this battery and two of theTroupe Artillery were some distance back upon a hill, having been so placed with a view of engaging certain of the enemy's batteries to the relief of our front line, and of having a wider range and sweep of the attacking lines and columns.

One evening, about the 9th of May, I was riding into the position of some of our guns on the front line and passing through a little copse of woods, there being at the time quite a sharp musketry fire on the lines, and bullets clinking against the resinous boles of the pine trees about me, when suddenly my horse, Mickey Free, was shot, the ball making a loud slap when it struck. He sprang aside, but settled right down again to his course, and it was some little time before I could find any trace of the shot. I soon discovered, however, that the ball had cut into one of my saddle pockets, but not through it, and there it was, inside. A moment later he was struck again, and this time reared and plunged violently. Glancing around I saw that the ball had entered back of my legs about the mid line of his body one side and had come out about opposite on the other, and, as he persisted in lying down and rolling, I concluded that the poor fellow was mortally hurt, and sprang off, endeavoring to remove saddle and bridle, which I finally accomplished, with some difficulty and at some peril of being kicked or rolled upon. I looked at him a few moments in great distress, but the fire becoming really heavy, I threw saddle and bridle across my shoulder and toddled into the works on foot.

My recollection is that when the attack had been repulsed I went back to see if Mickey was dead, or if I could do anything for him, but that he had disappeared; that I could not track him far and soon gave it up, concluding I would never [252] see him again. I certainly laid down that night one of “Lee's Miserables,” as we used to term ourselves, after reading Victor Hugo's great novel — a soldier edition of his works in Confederate “sheep's wool paper” having been distributed largely throughout the army the preceding winter. Judge of my surprise and delight at learning, early in the morning, that Mickey had in some mysterious way found our headquarter wagon and was being cared for there, and that he did not seem to be contemplating immediate death, but on the contrary had drunk copiously and eaten sparingly, as was a Confederate artillery horse's duty to do. As soon as I could get off I went back to see the dear old fellow, and there he was, as good as ever, except that a rope appeared to have been drawn around the lower part of his body, just under the skin, and a little back of the proper line of the saddle girth. The Minie bullet had of course been deflected, and had passed beneath the skin, half around his body, without penetrating the cavity.

My dear friend, Willy Dame, in his reminiscences already quoted, says some very pleasant and complimentary things of “our old adjutant.” These things I do not pretend to gainsay or deny. It would be easy to deny and not hard, perhaps, to disprove them; but motive is lacking. Why should I? The fact is, I shouldn't and I won't. But there are other things, or at least there is one other thing he says, and says elaborately, with date and circumstance,--the date is the 10th of May-calculated to bring my gray hair into ridicule and contempt, which, of course, I deny, even if I cannot disprove. The difficulty of proving a negative is well understood. I certainly go as far as this — I have no recollection whatever of such occurrence or utterance as he mentions, barring the nasty performances of those twenty-pounder Parrott shells. I recollect a good many of these quite similar to what Willy describes. But here is what he says:

Robert Stiles, the adjutant of the battalion, who had been until lately a member of our battery and was very devoted to it and his comrades in it, had come to the line to see how we were getting on, and gave us news of other parts of the line. He, Beau Barnes, and others of us, were [253] standing by our guns talking, when a twenty-pounder Parrott shell came grazing just over our guns, passed on, and about forty yards behind us struck a pine tree about two and a half to three feet in diameter. The shell had turned. It struck that big tree sideways and cut it entirely off, and threw it from the stump. It fell in an upright position, struck the ground, stood for an instant and then came crashing down. It was a very creepy suggestion of what that shell might have done to one of us. A few moments after, another struck the ground right by us and ricochetted. After it passed us, as was frequently the case, we caught sight of it and followed its upward flight until it seemed to be going straight to the sky.

Stiles said, “There it goes, as though flung by the hand of a giant.” Beau Barnes, who was not poetical, exclaimed, “Giant be darned; there ain't any giant can fling 'em like that!” He was right!

If the foregoing was not written with malicious intent to expose me to the scorn of all sensible and practical people, then my belief is that Willy Dame dreamed the absurd story; but if Barnes and I did speak under the circumstances mentioned, and both are correctly quoted, then I admit the redoubtable “Beau” had decidedly the best of it, and I apologize humbly.

The 10th of May, 1864, was preeminently a day of battle with the Army of Northern Virginia. I know, of course, that the 12th is commonly regarded as the pivotal day, the great day, and the Bloody Angle as the pivotal place, the great place, of the Spottsylvania fights, and that for an hour or so, along the sides and base of that angle, the musketry fire is said to have been heavier than it ever was at any other place in all the world, or for any other hour in all the tide of time. But for frequency and pertinacity of attack, and repetition and constancy of repulse, I question if the left of General Lee's line on the 10th of May, 1864, has ever been surpassed. I cannot pretend to identify the separate attacks or to distinguish between them, but should think there must have been at least a dozen of them. One marked feature was that, while fresh troops poured to almost every charge, the same muskets in the hands of the same men met the first attack in the morning and the last at night; and so it was that the men who in the early morning were so full of fight and fun that they leaped upon the breastworks and [254] shouted to the retiring Federals to come a little closer the next time, as they did not care to go so far after the clothes and shoes and muskets — were so weary and worn and heavy at night that they could scarcely be roused to meet the charging enemy.

The troops supporting the two Napoleon guns of the Howitzers were, as I remember, the Seventh (or Eighth) Georgia and the First Texas. Toward the close of the day everything seemed to have quieted down, in a sort of implied truce. There was absolutely no fire, either of musketry or cannon. Our weary, hungry infantry stacked arms and were cooking their mean and meagre little rations. Someone rose up, and looking over the works — it was shading down a little toward the dark-cried out: “Hello! What's this? Why, here come our men on a run, from-no, by Heavens! it's the Yankees!” and before anyone could realize the situation, or even start toward the stacked muskets, the Federal column broke over the little work, between our troops and their arms, bayonetted or shot two or three who were asleep before they could even awake, and dashed upon the men crouched over their low fires — with cooking utensils instead of weapons in their hands. Of course they ran. What else could they do?

The Howitzers-only the left, or Napoleon section, was there-sprang to their guns, swinging them around to bear inside our lines, double-shotted them with canister and fairly spouted it into the Federals, whose formation had been broken in the rush and the plunge over the works, and who seemed to be somewhat massed and huddled and hesitating, but only a few rods away. Quicker almost than I can tell it, our infantry supports, than whom there were not two better regiments in the army, had rallied and gotten to their arms, and then they opened out into a V-shape, and fairly tore the head of the Federal column to pieces. In an incredibly short time those who were able to do so turned to fly and our infantry were following them over the intrenchments; but it is doubtful whether this would have been the result had it not been for the prompt and gallant action of the artillery. [255]

There was an old Captai-Hunter,--it seems difficult to determine whether of the Texas or the Georgia regiment,who had the handle of his frying pan in his hand, holding the pan over the hot coals, with his little slice of meat sizzling in it, when the enemy broke over. He had his back to them, and the first thing he knew his men were scampering past him like frightened sheep. He had not been accustomed to that style of movement among them, and he sprang up and tore after them, showering them with hot grease and hotter profanity, but never letting go his frying pan. On the contrary, he slapped right and left with the sooty, burning bottom, distributing his favors impartially on Federal and Confederate alike-several of his own men bearing the black and ugly brand on their cheeks for a long time after and occasionally having to bear also the captain's curses for having made him lose his meat that evening. He actually led the counter-charge, leaping upon the works, wielding and waving his frying pan, at once as sword and banner.

When it became evident that the attack had failed, I suggested to the chaplain — who happened to be with the Howitzer guns, perhaps for that sundown prayer meeting which Willy Dame mentioned — that there might be some demand for his ministrations where the enemy had broken over; so we walked up there and found their dead and dying piled higher than the works themselves. It was almost dark, but as we drew near we saw a wounded Federal soldier clutch the pantaloons of Captain Hunter, who at that moment was passing by, frying pan in hand, and heard him ask, with intense eagerness: “Can you pray, sir? Can you pray?” The old captain looked down at him with a peculiar expression, and pulled away, saying, “No, my friend, I don't wish you any harm now, but praying's not exactly my trade.”

I said to the chaplain, “Let's go to that man.” As we came up he caught my pants in the same way and uttered the same words: “Can you pray, sir? Can you pray?” I bent over the poor fellow, turned back his blouse, and saw that a large canister shot had passed through his chest at such a point that the wound must necessarily prove mortal, [256] and that soon. We both knelt down by him, and I took his hand in mine and said: “My friend, you haven't much time left for prayer, but if you will say after me just these simple words, with heart as well as lips, all will be well with you: ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner, for Jesus Christ's sake.’ ”

I never saw such intensity in human gaze, nor ever heard such intensity in human voice, as in the gaze and voice of that dying man as he held my hand and looked into my face, repeating the simple, awful, yet reassuring words I had dictated. He uttered them again and again, with the death rattle in his throat and the death tremor in his frame, until someone shouted, “They are coming again!” and we broke away and ran down to the guns. It proved to be a false alarm, and we returned immediately-but he was dead, yes, dead and half-stripped; but I managed to get my hand upon his blouse a moment and looked at the buttons. He was from the far-off State of Maine.

It was long before I slept that night. It had been an unparalleled day. The last hour, especially, had brought together elements so diverse and so tremendous, that heart and brain were overstrained in attempting to harmonize and assimilate them. This was the first time in all my career as a soldier that I had heard from a dying man on the battlefield any expression that indicated even so much as a belief in the existence of any other world than this.

What did it all mean? When that Federal soldier and I had our brief conference and prayer on the dividing line between the two worlds, neither of us felt the slightest tremor of uncertainty about it. To both of us the other world was as certainly existing as this, and infinitely greater. Would I ever see him again? If so, would both of us realize that our few moments of communion and of prayer had meant more perhaps than all the struggles, that day, of the great embattled armies? I went to sleep at last that night, as I shall go this night, feeling that it all was and is too much for me, and committing myself and all my perplexities to the One Being who is “sufficient for these things,” and able to lead us safely through such a world and such experiences. [257]

It is an interesting coincidence that on this very day, the 10th of May, 1864, at the point christened two days later as “The Bloody Angle,” the Second Howitzers rendered a service even more important and distinguished perhaps than the gallant conduct of the First Company just recorded; a service which, in the opinion of prominent officers thoroughly acquainted with the facts and every way competent and qualified to judge, was deemed to have saved General Lee's army from being cut in twain.

There is one other feature or incident of the closing fight of the 10th of May which may be worthy of record, not alone because of its essentially amusing nature, but also because of a very pleasant after-clap or remainder of it later on. There were two men in the First Howitzers, older than most of us, of exceptionally high character and courage, who, because of the deafness of the one and the lack of a certain physical flexibility and adaptation in the other, were not well fitted for regular places in the detachment or service about the gun. For a time one or both of them took the position of driver, but this scarcely seemed fitting, and finally they were both classed as “supernumeraries,” but with special duties as our company ambulance corps, having charge, under the surgeon of the battalion, of our company litters and our other simple medical and surgical outfit. For this and other reasons, the elder of these two good and gritty soldiers was always called “Doctor.”

When the break occurred these two men, always on the extremest forward verge of our battle line, were overwhelmed with amazement, not so much at the irruption of the enemy, as at what seemed to be the demoralized rout of the Georgians and Texans. They ran in among them asking explanation of their conduct, then appealing to them and exhorting them — the Doctor in most courteous and lofty phrase: “Gentlemen, what does this mean? You certainly are not flying before the enemy! Turn, for God's sake; turn, and drive them out!” Then, with indignant outburst: “Halt! You infernal cowards!” and suiting the action to the word, these choloric cannoneers tore the carrying poles out of their litters, and sprang among and in front of the fugitives, belaboring [258] them right and left, till they turned, and then turned with them, following up the retreating enemy with their wooden spears.

Some weeks later, after we had reached Petersburg, in the nick of time to keep Burnside out of the town, and had taken up what promised to be a permanent position and were just dozing off into our first nap in forty-eight hours, an infantry command passing by, in the darkness, stumbled over the trail handspikes of our guns and broke out in the usual style:

“0, of course! Here's that infernal artillery again; always in the way, blocking the roads by day and tripping us up at night. What battery is this, any way?”

Some fellow, not yet clean gone in slumber, grunted out:

First Company, Richmond Howitzers.

What a change! Instantly there was a perfect chorus of greetings from the warm-hearted Texans.

“Boys, here are the Howitzers! Where's your old deaf man? Trot out your old Doctor. They're the jockeys for us. We are going to stay right here. We won't get a chance to run if these plucky Howitzer boys are with us.”

Billy tells me that he remembers, word for word, the last crisp sentence Col. Stephen D. Lee uttered the morning he complimented the old battery on the field of Frazier's Farm; that he said, “Men, hereafter when I want a battery, I'll know where to get one!” Two years later, at the base of the Bloody Angle, General Ewell seems to have been of the same opinion. He held our centre, which had just been pierced and smashed and his artillery captured. He wanted guns to stay the rout and steady his men, and he sent to the extreme left for Cabell's Battalion. I do not mean that the old battalion, or either of its batteries, was counted among the most brilliant artillery commands of the army, but I do claim that the command did have and did deserve the reputation of “staying where it was put,” and of doing its work reliably and well.

The 11th had been a sort of off-day with us, very little business doing; but the 12th made up for it. As I remember, it was yet early on the morning of the 12th that we were [259] sent for. We went at once, and did not stand upon the order of our going, though I think two guns of the Howitzers led the column, followed by two guns of Carlton's battery, the Troupe Artillery. If I remember correctly, our other guns occupied positions on the line from which they could not be withdrawn. As Colonel Cabell and I rode ahead, as before mentioned in another connection, to learn precisely where the guns were to be placed, we passed General Lee on horseback, or he passed us. He had only one or two attendants with him. His face was more serious than I had ever seen it, but showed no trace of excitement or alarm. Numbers of demoralized men were streaming past him and his voice was deep as the growl of a tempest as he said: “Shame on you, men; shame on you! Go back to your regiments; go back to your regiments!”

I remember thinking at the moment that it was the only time I ever knew his faintest wish not to be instantly responded to by his troops; but something I have since read induces me to question whether he did not refer to some special rendezvous, somewhere in the rear, appointed for the remnants of the shattered commands to rally to. Be this as it may, every soldier of experience knows that when a man has reached a certain point of demoralization and until he has settled down again past that point, it is absolutely useless to attempt to rouse him to a sense of duty or of honor. I have seen many a man substantially in the condition of the fellow who, as he executed a flying leap over the musket of the guard threatening to shoot and crying “Halt!” --called back, “Give any man fifty dollars to halt me, but can't halt myself!”

When we came back to our four guns and were leading them to the lines and the positions selected for them, just as we were turning down a little declivity, we passed again within a few feet of General Lee, seated upon his horse on the crest of the hill, this time entirely alone, not even a courier with him. I was much impressed with the calmness and perfect poise of his bearing, though his centre had just been pierced by forty thousand men and the fate of his army trembled in the balance. He was completely exposed to the [260] Federal fire, which was very heavy. A half dozen of our men were wounded in making this short descent. In this connection I have recently heard from a courier — who, with others, had ridden with the General to the point where we saw him-that, observing and remarking upon the peril to which they were subjected, he ordered all his couriers to protect themselves behind an old brick kiln, some one hundred and fifty yards to the left, until their services were required, but refused to go there himself. This habit of exposing himself to fire, as they sometimes thought, unnecessarily, was the only point in which his soldiers felt that Lee ever did wrong. The superb stories of the several occasions during this campaign when his men refused to advance until he retired, and, with tears streaming down their faces, led his horse to the rear, are too familiar to justify repetition, especially as I did not happen to be an eye-xwitness of either of these impressive scenes.

Our guns were put in at the left base of the Salient, and there, in full sight and but a short distance up the side of the angle, stood two or three of the guns from which our men had been driven, or at which they had been captured. The Howitzers had two clumsy iron three-inch rifles, and Captain McCarthy and I offered, with volunteers from that company, to draw these captured guns back into our lines, provided we were allowed to exchange our two iron guns for two of these, which were brass Napoleons. This would have given the battery a uniform armament and prevented the frequent separation of the sections. There was not at the time a Federal soldier in sight, and some of us walked out to or near these guns without being fired upon. It might have been a perilous undertaking, yet I think General Ewell would have given his consent; but the officer to whose command the guns belonged protested, saying he would himself have them drawn off later in the day. If it ever could have been done, the opportunity was brief; later it became impracticable, and the guns were permanently lost.

Barrett, Colonel Cabell's plucky little courier, rode almost into the works with us, and we had left our horses with him, close up, but in a position which we thought afforded [261] some protection. In a few moments someone shouted to me that Barrett was calling lustily for me. I ran back where I had left him and was distressed to see my good horse, Mickey, stretched on the ground. Barrett said he had just been killed by a piece of shell which struck him in the head. The poor fellow's limbs were still quivering. I could see no wound of any consequence about the head or anywhere else; while I was examining him he shuddered violently, sprang up, snorted a little blood and was again “as good as new.” As soon as practicable, however, we sent Barrett and the three horses behind that brick kiln back on the hill, or to some place near by of comparative safety. I was afraid that Mickey, who seemed to have “gotten his hand in,” might keep up this trick of getting “killed,” as Barrett said, once too often. I may as well say. right here that the noble horse got safely through the war, but was captured with his master at Sailor's Creek.

When our guns first entered the works, or rather were stationed on the line just back of the little trench, there seemed to be comparatively few infantrymen about. One thing that pleased us greatly was, that our old Mississippi brigade, Barksdale's, or Humphreys', was supporting us; but it must have been just the end of their brigade line, and a very thin line it was. We saw nothing of the major-general of our division. General Rodes, of Ewell's corps, was the only major-general we saw. He was a man of very striking appearance, of erect, fine figure and martial bearing. He constantly passed and repassed in rear of our guns, riding a black horse that champed his bit and tossed his head proudly, until his neck and shoulders were flecked with white froth, seeming to be conscious that he carried Caesar. Rodes' eyes were everywhere, and every now and then he would stop to attend to some detail of the arrangement of his line or his troops, and then ride on again, humming to himself and catching the ends of his long, tawny moustache between his lips.

It had rained hard all night and was drizzling all day, and everything was wet, soggy, muddy, and comfortless. General Ewell made his headquarters not far off, and seemed [262] busy and apprehensive, and we gathered from everything we saw and heard, especially from General Lee's taking his position so near, that he and his generals anticipated a renewal of the attack at or about this point. From the time of our first approach, stragglers from various commands had been streaming past. I noticed that most of them had their arms and did not seem to be very badly shattered, and I tried hard to induce some of them to turn in and reinforce our thin infantry line. But they would not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charming never so wisely, and finally I appealed to General Rodes and asked him for a detail of men to throw off a short line at right angles to the works so as to catch and turn in these stragglers. He readily assented, and we soon had a strong, full line, though at first neither Rodes' own men nor our Mississippians seemed to appreciate this style of reinforcement.

One point more, with regard to our experience at the left base of the Salient, and we have done with the “Bloody Angle.” Every soldier who was there, if he opens his mouth to speak or takes up his pen to write, seems to feel it solemnly incumbent upon him to expatiate upon the fearful fire of musketry. What I have to say about the matter will doubtless prove surprising and disappointing to many; but first let me quote Colonel Taylor's account of it, from pages 130 and 131 of his invaluable work, so frequently referred to:

... The army was thus cut in twain, and the situation was well calculated to test the skill of its commander and the nerve and courage of the men. Dispositions were immediately made to repair the breach, and troops were moved up to the right and left to dispute the further progress of the assaulting column. Then occurred the most remarkable musketry fire of the war — from the sides of the Salient, in the possession of the Federals, and the new line forming the base of the triangle, occupied by the Confederates, poured forth from continuous lines of hissing fire an incessant, terrific hail of deadly missiles. No living man nor thing could. stand in the doomed space embraced within those angry lines; even large trees were felled, their trunks cut in twain by the bullets of small arms.

Every intelligent soldier, on either side, is aware of Colonel Taylor's deserved reputation for careful and unprejudiced [263] observation and investigation, and for correct and accurate statement, and General Fitz Lee, in his “Life of General Robert E. Lee,” at p. 335, fully agrees with him, saying: “The musketry fire, with its terrific leaden hail, was beyond comparison the heaviest of the four years of war. In the bitter struggle, trees, large and small, fell, cut down by bullets.”

Still, I am bound to say I saw nothing that approached a justification of these vivid and powerful descriptions. Of course the fire was at times heavy, but at no time, in front of our position, did it approximate, for example, the intensity of the fire during the great attack at Cold Harbor, a few weeks later. One singular feature of the matter is that we appear to have been at the very place and the very time where this fire is said to have occurred; for we were sent for by General Ewell, as I recollect, early on the morning of the 12th, and we remained at the left base of the Salient and within sight of some of the captured guns all that day and until the line was moved back out of the bottom, to the crest of the little ridge above mentioned. The only explanation I can suggest is that the fighting must have been much hotter further to the right.

It may be well just here to explain, while we cannot excuse, the existence not alone of the great Salient of Spottsylvania, with its soldier nickname of “Bloody Angle,” and its fearful lesson of calamity, but also of other like faulty formations in our Confederate battle lines.

It was noticeable toward the close of the war what skilful, practical engineers the rank and file of the Army of Northern Virginia had become; how quickly and unerringly they detected and how unsparingly they condemned an untenable line — that is, where they were unprejudiced critics, as for instance, where fresh troops were brought in to reinforce or relieve a command already in position. I seem to hear, even now, their slashing, impudent, outspoken comment:

Boys, what infernal fool do you reckon laid out this line? Why, anyone can see we can't hold it. We are certain to be enfiladed on this flank, and the Yankees can even take us in reverse over yonder. Let's fall back to that ridge we just passed!

[264]

But where troops had themselves originally taken position, it was a very different matter. This was one point where Johnny was disposed to be unreasonable and insubordinate — not to consider consequences or to obey orders. He did not like to fall back from any position he had himself established by hard fighting, especially if it was in advance of the general line. So well recognized was his attitude in this regard that it had well nigh passed into a proverb:

No, sir! We fought for this dirt, and we're going to hold it. The men on our right and left ought to be here alongside of us, and would be if they had fought as hard as we did!

Of course, Johnny would not violate or forget the fundamental maxim of geometry and war, that a line must be continuous; that his right must be somebody's left and his left somebody's right; but the furthest he would go in recognition of the maxim was the compromise of bending back his flanks, so as to connect with the troops on his right and left who had failed to keep up. So, this was done, he did not seem to care how irregular the general line of battle was. One cannot look at a map of any of our great battles without being impressed with the tortuous character of our lines.

I have myself heard a major-general send a message back to Army Headquarters, by a staff officer of General Lee, that he didn't see why his division should be expected to abandon the position they had fought for just to accommodate General , whose troops had fallen back where his had-driven the enemy. On that very occasion, if my memory serves me, this selfish, stupid obstinacy cost us the lives of hundreds of men.

One word more in connection with the straightening of our lines. Of course we moved after dark, and, as I remember, but a short distance. After we got to our new position I discovered that I had lost my pocket-knife, or some such trivial article of personal outfit, but difficult to replace; so, contrary to Colonel Cabell's advice-he didn't forbid my going — I went back on foot and in the dark to look, or feel, for it. I had no difficulty in finding the spot where we had been lying, and began to grope and feel about for the [265] knife, having at the time an unpleasant consciousness that I was running a very foolish and unjustifiable risk, for the minies were hissing and singing and spatting all about me. There was a man near me, also on his hands and knees, looking or feeling for something. While glancing at the shape, dimly outlined, I heard the unmistakable thud of a bullet striking flesh. There was a muffled outcry, and the crouching or kneeling figure lay stretched upon the ground. 1 went to it and felt it. The man was dead. In a very brief time I was back in our new position and not thinking of pocket-knives.

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