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Chapter 22:

  • The two Louisiana brigades, army of Northern Virginia
  • -- Louisiana artillery -- battle of Cedar Run -- the Second Manassas campaign -- ‘battle of the rocks.’

General Robert E. Lee had, on assuming command of the army of Northern Virginia, proceeded at once with energy in its organization. His work was quickly shown in results. In order to insure the full efficiency of that victorious army, upon which was to depend the safety of the Confederate capital, it became important to organize it thoroughly. New brigades, composed of three or more regiments from the same State, commanded by brigadiers from that State, were indispensable. It was still 1862; the war was still young; the carnage within bounds; the people cheerful; and great gaps spoiled not yet the stately ranks of that noble army which, beginning at Bull Run, July, 1861, was to end a conflict of many victories in one long, final fame-crowned retreat, April, 1865.

On July 26th the First regiment, Wright's brigade, the Ninth, Taylor's brigade, the Fifteenth (late Third Louisiana battalion, of Anderson's brigade), and Coppens' battalion, Pryor's brigade; were ordered to General McLaws, to constitute in connection with the Second and Tenth regiments, a brigade of that division. Thus was formed the Second Louisiana brigade of the army of Northern Virginia. General Taylor was assigned as its commander by this order, but Col. Leroy A. Stafford, of the Ninth, was mainly in command until, in October, 1862, his regiment was transferred to the First brigade. The command of the First brigade, composed after July 26th of the Fifth, [226] Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Fourteenth Louisiana regiments, was given to Harry T. Hays, promoted to brigadier-general. Hays' successor in command of the Pelican regiment was Lieut.-Col. Davidson B. Penn. Col. Zeb York was in command of the Fourteenth, with David Zable as lieutenant-colonel. To the Third battalion, to fill out the Fifteenth regiment, was soon added two companies, the Orleans Blues and Cathoula Guerrillas, of the St. Paul Foot Rifles, which during the Seven Days had been consolidated with the battalion of Lieut.-Col. G. Coppens. Lieutenant Colonel Nicholls, of the Eighth, was promoted to colonel of the new Fifteenth, and held that rank until October 14th, 1862, when he became brigadier-general, and Lieut.-Col. Edmund Pendleton took command of the regiment. The remaining three companies of the St. Pauls' were permitted to make individual re-enlistments in any command desired. Wheat's battalion passed under the same order of disbandment, with equal privilege of re-enlistment. The First Louisiana brigade, thereafter known as ‘Hays' brigade,’ including the Louisiana Guard artillery, remained attached to Ewell's division, Jackson's corps. The Second Louisiana brigade after moving to Gordonsville under Colonel Stafford, in August, was assigned to the same corps, in Jackson's old division, and a week later Gen. W. E. Starke, who had served in West Virginia in command of a Virginia regiment, was put in command.

Louisiana in 1861-65 had comparatively few batteries in the army of Northern Virginia. These were composed, however, of men of proof, who knew their duty, loved their guns dearly, and from field to field grew ever more watchful of their State's honor. In her light artillery she included names of which the army, around its campfires, spoke much and often after some doughty day of combat, and which war—over for thirty-four years—has not let pass from the memory of men who live at ease in days of peace. Some, like the Washington artillery and [227] Donaldsonville Cannoneers, still survive among us, sustained by their old record and their young blood; others, like the Louisiana Guard artillery, live only in heroic story.

The field artillery, army of Northern Virginia, which Louisiana gave to the war, comprised the Washington artillery, four companies, Col. J. B. Walton commanding; Victor Maurin's fighting Donaldsonville Cannoneers; the Louisiana Guard artillery, Capt. Louis E. D'Aquin; and the ‘Madison Tips’—most natural of nicknames, though hailing from an upper parish. ‘Tips’ clung to the battery by reason of its fun-making Irishmen, loving danger quite as much as cracking a jest. It would be hard to fix the palm of cheery valor among those loud-laughing, dinmaking, battle-loving, caisson-riding lads. One thing is sure, the push of the Louisiana infantry passed into her artillerists' nimbler fingers. Under her Tent of Glory one can find both the musket and the field-gun.

On June 26th, a bugle-note had rung cheerily in Camp Walton of the Washington artillery. The Seven Days had opened. Colonel Walton was appointed by General Longstreet as chief of artillery of the right wing of the army. Walton's promotion was joyfully hailed by his enthusiastic artillerists. For highest rank in the artillery the battery would not willingly have parted with its popular commander. It was also announced that the battalion itself would be Longstreet's ‘reserve artillery.’ Reserve artillery is, in passing, an exceedingly elastic phrase. Under a fighter like Longstreet, it might mean many chances on the fighting line. Under a Fabius, it might easily suffer from an overdose of inaction. The Washington artillery was directed to move out on the Mechanicsville turnpike. Once on the pike, the battalion began to learn what the phrase reserve artillery might mean. They saw no fighting on the 26th; grumbled at the ‘reserve’ on the 27th; frowned on the 28th, 29th and 30th —were lured into hope on July 1st, and dropped into gloom by Longstreet himself late on the afternoon of Malvern [228] Hill. Longstreet had said: ‘We have done all we can to-day. Park your guns in the field alongside the road.’1 That was all That same night McClellan sought repose at Harrison's landing—leaving the batteries still in ‘reserve.’ On July 5th-7th Squires' battery, with Col. S. D. Lee, had some practice on the Union shipping on the James.

Impatient at their long inaction, eager for the fray, yelling wildly at the order of June 26th, rejoicing in the splendid show they are making when they obey it—with their sixteen guns, rifles and Napoleons taken from the enemy at Manassas and Seven Pines; throwing back cheers like shells, as they jubilantly galloped passed the ‘Dixie’ battery, and feeling their hearts throb at hearing themselves cheered and yelled at by Hood's hardy Texans—the Washington artillery misses, by the narrow chance of an eighth of a summer day, the glory of baptizing its ‘tigers’—the fiery emblem of the command—and its new Napoleons in one ensanguined pool. Have patience, Washington artillery! Your tigers, cheated so far, will shortly growl at Beverly ford, on the Rappahannock, and roar their fiercest when the battalion rides, with Longstreet, through Thoroughfare gap, in search of Jackson.

The Louisiana Guard, from New Orleans, left the city, April 28, 1861, as Company B in the First Louisiana infantry. After remaining a few days about Richmond, the regiment was sent to Norfolk, to lose patience in weary tramping and no fighting. In August, 1861, Company B, being taken out from the regiment and furnished with field guns and horses, the Louisiana Guard galloped with its new pieces straight into the light artillery. At the expiration of its original enlistment it re-enlisted for the war. After the evacuation of Norfolk, the company followed Huger's division to Richmond. As the Louisiana Guard artillery it went into the war; its first corps commander [229] was Stonewall Jackson; its field of valorous action, all Virginia. Before the curtain had fallen upon the slowly darkening Confederate stage, the Louisiana Guard artillery had helped to make the name of the State honored by valiant service on a hundred fields. With the Washington artillery and the Louisiana Guard went also Maurin's active Donaldsonville Cannoneers and Moody's Madison Tips. All these carried their guns wherever the army of Northern Virginia fought, marched or stormed; served them bravely, cheered comrades, and confounded the blue-coats.

McClellan, supreme as organizer and steadiest of fighters for existence, was a doubtful commander in a campaign for conquest. After the Seven Days he had still remaining an effective force of between 85,000 and 90,000 men out of that army which he had made a great military machine. His main plan was to remain near Richmond, his secondary one being the capture of Petersburg. But McClellan was under a cloud from Washington, and Pope, fresh from his vaunted success at Island No.10, was the new favorite. Halleck's latest order gave birth to a military infant. This was the army of Virginia. It meant McClellan withdrawn, Pope seated firmly in the saddle.

In the stagnation which followed the Seven Days Lee had not been idle. Seeing the temporary dismemberment of his old heroic foe, his heart was easy that Richmond, for a time, was safe. Lee at once settled upon a new field on the old fighting ground around Manassas Junction. At the mere name, the army of Northern Virginia stirred through all its scattered bivouacs.

In mid-July, Jackson's corps was stationed at Gordonsville, where the remainder of the army was to concentrate after Jackson, lightning-like, had flitted northward. John Pope was in front with his boasts, his foolish orders, and his unconcealed flouting of our army. To crush Pope had been Jackson's aim ever since Lee had settled upon his advance. Lee's plan had chimed in with Jackson's. [230] The chances seemed unequal. Pope, trying to anticipate Jackson, failed. Jackson, anticipating Pope, struck him a sharp blow at Cedar Run, August 9, 1862.

In this fight Hays' brigade, under Col. Henry Forno, of the Fifth regiment, was led by Ewell to an elevation of 200 feet, looking down in the valley, whence they supported Trimble's charge. Already repulsed from our left and center, and now pressed stoutly by gallant Ewell on our right, the Federals retreated from the whole line, leaving their dead and wounded on the field. The Louisiana Guard artillery had taken an active part at Cedar Run. ‘They behaved like veterans, although this was their first engagement,’ said their Captain D'Aquin. The Second Louisiana brigade, under Colonel Stafford, and then with A. P. Hill's division, reached the field at dark and was sent forward through the woods, feeling its way cautiously, skirmishing and taking prisoners, and finally discovering the enemy in force. The brigade was thus forced to occupy a position always dangerous. To an army—or any part of it—a night attack multiplies its perils indefinitely. At frequent intervals during the night, the Second brigade was under heavy shelling. Its loss was 4 killed and 20 wounded.

From Cedar Run Jackson set himself to mystifying Pope as he had mystified McClellan. What the great St. Bernard pass had been to the Austrian Melas, in the Marengo campaign, Thoroughfare gap was to be to Pope. Before the latter—in his saddle—had even thought of holding the gap, Jackson's ‘foot cavalry’—after a wonderful march of fifty miles in thirty-six hours—were dashing through it, wrecking the Union supplies at Bristoe2 and Manassas Junction, and sending a thrill of horror as far as Halleck's office. Once on his old territory, Jackson [231] lay like a cuttle-fish, saving his ink but watching warily. Meanwhile he rested his men, waiting for Longstreet. This he could safely afford to do. From the memories of the ground, his ‘Stonewall’ veterans were receiving new fire. Never had the certainty of victory been as high in them as now, once more on the field of their ‘brevet.’ Never, too, had the trust in the invincibility of Jackson been so deep in that larger army which was following with Lee and Longstreet.

Meanwhile Longstreet was marching to Thoroughfare gap, with him Colonel Walton in command of artillery, including the Washington artillery, Squires' First company, Richardson's Second, Miller's Third, and Eshleman's Fourth, and Maurin's Donaldsonville battery, as well as S. D. Lee's battalion, and other batteries.

Lee not in sight and Longstreet still outside the gap, Pope's chance for a battle seemed good. For swallowing up Jackson he had more than troops enough. With Mc-Dowell, Pope had planted himself squarely between Jackson and Thoroughfare gap. McDowell was a trained soldier, and his movement was well sustained, but its effect was marred by an unlooked for blunder of his chief. Strangely enough he seemed to have cooped up Jackson; certainly, Jackson seemed to be in a trap set by him, and watched over by McDowell. Getting over-anxious for his right flank, however, Pope called off his watch dog—leaving only a small force under Ricketts at the key point. Swiftest of commanders, Jackson was prompt in seeing his advantage. From Sudley he outflanked the guard. Ricketts back, he opened wide the gate to Longstreet just outside, and Lee near by. Pope should have known that Longstreet had passed through—he did not. Believing fatuously that Jackson alone was in his front, and borrowing his adversary's favorite tactics, he endeavored, by turning his left flank, to reoccupy Gainesville, so as to separate him from Lee. This was a weak effort to make good a fatal blunder. Had Pope held Gainesville from the [232] morning of the 28th on, he could have barred the gap to Longstreet. On the 29th the attempt to regain the town was too late. Longstreet had already passed through and joined forces with Jackson.

Heavy fighting began on August 28th and continued on the 29th and 30th. The fronts of battle changed from day to day. The Second Louisiana brigade under General Starke was engaged on the 28th at Groveton, in a conflict both fierce and sanguinary, holding its line of battle at the crest of a hill. Taliaferro, division commander, was wounded, and Starke filled his place, Colonel Stafford resuming brigade command. Next day Stafford was not in action until afternoon, when he made a charge, clearing his front.

Hays' brigade, with Early at the deep cut of the unfinished Manassas Gap railroad, had not been seriously engaged in the fight of the 28th, in which General Ewell was wounded. On the 29th they were with Early's brigade on the extreme right of the division, and at 3:30 Colonel Forno was ordered by General Jackson to advance the brigade to the support of one of A. P. Hill's brigades. Gallantly the Louisianians went to the front, drove the enemy from the railroad, and took position. A few hours later Colonel Forno was seriously wounded by a Federal sharpshooter, and Colonel Strong took command. After Forno's advance, Early's brigade also went to help A. P. Hill, accompanied by the Eighth Louisiana under Major Lewis, and this regiment, temporarily separated from its brigade, shared in the gallant ousting of the enemy from the railroad cut.

On the morning of the 30th Stafford's brigade was ordered up to this dangerous line, to be held at all hazards. At an early hour the enemy's activity began. Massed heavily, the Federals formed six lines of battle. Starke, to meet the expected attack, placed the brigade in the deep cut. Our artillery quickly opened fire on the enemy. Ominously silent remained the brigade. The Federals [233] came at double-quick toward the embankment, heedless of what might be behind it. Then the rifles of the brigade awoke. Our bullets came swiftly, and from close quarters made havoc in the advancing column. Charge after charge was each time repulsed with appalling loss. While this slaughter was going on, the Louisianians began to run short of ammunition. Already some of the men were relieving the dead bodies of their comrades of cartridges. Another Federal advance, in force, came up closer than before to our position at the railroad. Company E, Montgomery Guards, First Louisiana, earliest out, first called for cartridges. Starke had already been notified by Nolan, commanding the regiment, that ammunition was running out. Directly in the rear of the Montgomery Guards was their leader, Capt. Thos. Rice. The eyes of Captain Rice, from his station on a slight elevation of the slope, moved, here, there, everywhere. Nothing but a great quantity of rock was lying around, broken in fragments of moderate size, as they had been blasted when the railroad was building. Captain Rice drew upon his experience in the Crimea. He recalled that battle with stones, fought in a rock quarry at Inkerman, close to the redan—one of the bulwarks of Sebastopol—which had now come to him like a flash, born of the need. Quick as the thought, Rice picked up a piece of rock and calling out loudly, ‘Boys, do as we did at Sebastopol!’ hurled the first stone. Ambulance men, being idle just then, gathered stones at the word. The company, the regiment —even other commands of the brigade—followed with more stone, pelting the enemy savagely in their faces, with good aim. Excellent work was done with these rocks—a work certified to by both pelters and pelted. Some of the enemy crawled up the bank and voluntarily surrendered themselves to escape the deadly stoning.

By this time the men had warmed to the work. A fresh assault of the Federals, in formidable array, came up to the railroad. Major Barney, commanding the Twentyfourth [234] New York, rode gallantly up to the very bank, on a fine bay horse. As he came close to it, and the horse had planted his four hoofs squarely on the embankment, the major was shot through the heart. Stone pelting had swiftly turned tragical. At his fall, his command became demoralized and fled in confusion. The bay, half dazed by the clamor, was finally captured. He was ridden by Lieutenant-Colonel Nolan, and remained with that brave soldier until his death on Culp's hill. He became next the property of Father Hubert, soldier-priest known and dear to every man in the army of Northern Virginia. Martial tradition has it that under Father Hubert the warrior bay learned to care no more for ‘the battle afar off,’ nor recked he of ‘the thunder of the captains and the shouting.’

While this battle of the rocks was still going on, Jackson, in response to Starke's report of the failure of ammunition, had sent word that ‘men who could hold their line and drive back the enemy by throwing stone could defend themselves a little longer, until reinforcements or ammunition could reach them.’ Jackson smiled rarely. He may have smiled, for aught we know, at this. At 3 p. m., a Virginia brigade reinforced the First Louisiana. The result was a prompt distribution to each man of twenty rounds of cartridges. Thus was fought the picturesque ‘Battle of the Rocks,’ and fought to victory.

The loss of Starke's brigade during August was reported at 65 killed and 288 wounded. Among the killed was Lieut.-Col. R. A. Wilkinson, of the Fifteenth. The losses of Hays' brigade, reported in more detail were, at Bristoe and Manassas Junction, 17 killed and 70 wounded; on August 29th, 37 killed and 94 wounded, including Lieutenants Sawyer and Healy killed. On September 1st, Hays' brigade, under Colonel Strong, fought at Ox Hill, near Chantilly, and suffered a loss of 33 killed, including Lieut. W. W. Marsh, Fifth, and 99 wounded.

The Washington artillery, fresh from its successful engagement [235] with the enemy at Beverly ford, a victory saddened by the death of Lieut. I. W. Brewer, Third company, and other brave men, went into the fighting at Manassas plains with two of the companies assigned to different brigades. The Fourth, under Capt. B. F. Eshleman, Lieuts. J. Norcum, H. A. Battles, and G. E. Apps, was with Pickett's brigade; the Second, under Capt. J. B. Richardson, Lieuts. Samuel Hawes, G. B. De Russy, and J. D. Britton, with Toombs' brigade. The First under Capt. C. W. Squires, Lieuts. E. Owen, J. M. Galbraith, and C. H. C. Brown; and the Third under Capt. M. B. Miller, Lieuts. Frank McElroy and Andrew Hero, were held together.

About noon on the 29th, Longstreet sent Miller and Squires to open on the enemy's batteries near Groveton. Miller soon found the enemy with his shells and silenced a battery in front. Squires, with three rifle guns under Lieutenant Owen, and followed by Lieutenant Landry's Donaldsonville artillery, two guns, found place on Miller's left. The roar of these guns, pouring confusion into the enemy's lines of infantry, meant that Longstreet, long looked for, was near, and that a strong fighter had come to the help of a greater. Jackson, on the qui vive, hears the welcome note. Thousands listening to the guns yell wildly along their battle-lines. Lee's army is no longer separated from its brothers—Lee will have his lieutenants at each hand. Next morning (30th) Richardson, going to the front with Toombs, came to the rescue at the Chinn house where the Confederate infantry had taken a battery, but feared its loss in the face of heavy reinforcements.. When Richardson got in position on the left of the Chinn house, the enemy was advancing rapidly in large force, but after a few shots he succeeded in holding the captured battery and compelling another battery—immediately in his front and greatly annoying our infantry —to retire from the field. Having got the four Napoleons Richardson turned them on their late owners—a good [236] stroke of vengeance. The first to reach these Napoleons were Private J. B. Cleveland and W. W. Davis.

The Louisiana Guard artillery throughout the two days fought gallantly and effectively, and suffered considerable loss in wounded and in the killing of many horses. Meanwhile Eshleman, following Pickett for the time, had his eye open for a hill from which to flank the enemy's line. Trying all the ridges he found, and firing as he went, at last he was satisfied far in front, enfilading the ground in front of the Chinn house. When the enemy began his retreat a section under Norcum was engaged near the Conrad house, and Battles' section, supported by only one company of infantry, pushed on after the rout [237]

1 Owen's ‘In Camp and Battle with the Washington Artillery.’

2 Hays' brigade, under Forno, attacked and destroyed the railroad trains approaching Bristoe station on August 26th; on the 27th the Sixth, Col. H. B. Strong, and the Eighth, Maj. T. B. Lewis, repulsed the attack of two Federal brigades until supported by the Fifth, under Major B. Menger.

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