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Boy heroes of Cold Harbor. [from the Sunday news, Charleston, S. C., July 25, 1897.1


How Taylor, Hayne, Pinckney and Gadsden Holmes died.

Colonel Edward McCrady, after Consultation with Captains Armstrong, Kelly, Hasell, Hutson and Dr. Frost, tells the story of the Heroism of the four Young South Carolinians who fell at Cold Harbor supporting the colors of the 1st regiment, S. C. V.—The gallant Dominick Spellman, of the Irish Volunteers.


The following interesting letter of Colonel Edward McCrady to Mrs. Thomas Taylor, of Columbia, explains itself:

Charleston, April 6, 1897.
My Dear Mrs. Taylor:
It will make rather a long letter to answer your inquiries of the 25th ultimo. I will, however, endeavor to do so as briefly as I can.

I should premise that, though present at the battle of Cold Harbor on the June 27, 1862, I was not on duty with the regiment, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, of which I was then major. I had been ill in Richmond for some weeks when the seven days battle [235] around the city began, and though I managed to get out in a carriage just as that battle opened, being too weak to walk I was directed by General Gregg to serve upon his staff, as doing so allowed me to remain on horseback, when the field officers of regiments were ordered to dismount upon going into action. It thus happened that I was separated from the regiment at the time though within a few yards of it, and did not actually see what took place in the now famous incident of the destruction of our color guard, and the repeated upraising and upholding of our colors. I am, however, I believe, fully informed of the occurrences, and the following account is confirmed by my comrades here—Captains James Armstrong, William Aiken Kelly, N. Ingraham Hasell, C. J. C. Hutson and Dr. Francis L. Frost.

In regard to the formation of the color guard about which you inquire, I must tell you that our color guard was composed of a color sergeant, who bore the regimental colors, a corporal who bore the battle flag, and one corporal from each of the remaining eight companies. The color guard thus consisting in all of ten men. As the color guard forms the color line on which the regimental line is formed, and as it is the most dangerous because the most conspicuous part of a regiment, and indeed that upon which the whole formation is made, none but the best soldiers are detailed for this duty. Upon the organization of our regiment, Colonel Maxcy Gregg appointed young James Taylor, from Columbia, your kinsman, a noble and gallant youth, color sergeant, and Corporal William Gregg, of Marion, bearer of the battle flag. I will mention here at once that Corporal Gregg was sick in Richmond at the time, but endeavoring notwithstanding to join his regiment, missed his way, and failing to find it, joined another regiment, and was killed, thus sharing the fate and glory of his comrades though upon another part of the field.

As I have said, a regiment is formed upon the color guard, the companies by rule (not always, however, followed), ranging from right to left and centre, by-seniority of the captains; the senior captain on the right, the next on the left, and the third, whose company is known as the color company, in the centre.

The alignment which, however, obtained in our regiment, and which was never changed during the war, was from right to left, as follows:

(1) The Richland Volunteers, Company C, Captain Cordero; (2) the Barnwell Company, Company A, Captain C. W. McCreary; (3) [236] the Carolina Light Infantry, of Charleston, Company L, Captain C. D. Barksdale; (4) the Edgefield Company, Company G, Captain A-P. Butler; (5) the Irish Volunteers, Company K—my old company, then commanded by Captain M. P. Parker—the color company; (6) the Horry Rebels, Company F, Captain T. Pinckney Alston; (7) the Marion Company, Company E, Captain William P. Shooter; (8) the Newbury Company, Company B, Captain J. C. McLemore; (9) the Richardson Guards, Charleston, Company I, Captain C. L. Boag; (10) Captain William T. Haskell's Company, partly from Abbeville and partly from Beauford, Company H, Company D, from Darlington, Captain D. G. McIntosh, was converted into artillery, and became the Pee-Dee or McIntosh battery, and so was separated from the regiment.

The 1st and 12th regiments had been generally in the advance during the morning of the 27th of June, and when at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, arrangements had been made by General Lee for a general attack on the Federal position at Cold Harbor, General Gregg directed the 1st and 12th to advance upon a hillside, the ground of which—especially in front of the 1st—was covered by a dense thicket of young pines. The advance was met by a continuous fire of small arms, and General Gregg finding that great damage was done by an enfilading fire from a battery established a good way to our right, directed Colonel Marshall with the regiment of rifles Orr's rifles, as it was known, to charge and take it.

Upon the attempted advance of the 1st and 12th, their lines were much broken by the dense growth of pines and brambles, through which they had to move, the 12th getting in rear of the 1st, and the first three companies on the right of the 1st, doubling up in rear of the rest of the regimental line. This put the Carolina Light Infantry, Company L, directly in rear of the Irish Volunteers, the color company, and so just behind the colors.

It was at this moment of confusion, when the alignment of the two regiments, 1st and 12th, were thus broken, that the Rifles debouched from the cover under which they had been lying and advancing in column of companies attempted to form forward into line to make the charge ordered by General Gregg. The appearance of the Rifles upon the field brought upon the three advancing regiments of General Gregg's Brigade a fire which is said to have been the greatest delivered at any time during the war. It was the fire of Sykes' Division of Regulars, of the United States Army, to which was attached the New York Zouaves. I have seen it stated [237] somewhere that the fire was that technically known as the ‘fire by file of companies,’ which, supposing the division to have consisted of ten companies in two ranks, and allowing for reserves, would have given more than 100 guns at every second of time. This fire of musketry was deafening. The great guns of the artillery, and all the confused noises of battle were completely drowned in the one continuous roar of the deadly fire of small arms. Before it, the Rifles, caught in the moment of executing a most difficult manoeuvre, melted away; more than half of the regiment falling in a few moments in this its baptismal fire.

The fire was scarcely less fatal to the 1st and 12th. Of the 1st Lieutenant-Colonel A. M. Smith, Captain C. L. Boag, Lieutenants Grimke Rhett, Robert W. Rhett and A. J. Ashley were killed or mortally wounded. Lieutenants B. M. Blease, Josiah Cox, John G. Barnwell and E. D. Brailsford were also wounded, and under the fire the whole color guard went down. The loss of the 1st in this battle was 145, almost all of whom fell at this time.

As in all such incidents of intense excitement and violent and tragic scenes, the accounts of those who took part in this differ, and these differences increase as our memories fail as the years go by. But all agree that Color Sergeant Taylor—‘Jimmy Taylor,’ as we all affectionately called him—fell at once under the fire, which was no doubt in a great measure directed to our great blue flag with the palmetto upon it, as it emerged from the woods. His blood was still to be seen upon its folds when, in 1889, my brother surviving officers and myself presented it to the State, with the request that it should always be kept at the capitol.

There are two accounts as to who took up the colors from under Taylor's body. One statement is that Colonel D. H. Hamilton, commanding the regiment, did so, and that he handed them to Corporal Shubrick Hayne, the color corporal for Company L. The other account asserts that Hayne himself took them up. However this may be, certain it is that Hayne bore them aloft until he fell, mortally wounded, when it seems equally certain that Alfred Pinckney, of Company L, seized them and was immediately killed with them in his hands. Then comes another point of difference. On the one hand it is said that Philip Gadsden Holmes, also of Company L, took them up and immediately fell under three mortal wounds. I am inclined, however, to believe that this is a mistake; that the fact was that Gadsden Holmes was, at the moment he was shot, just behind the colors, endeavoring himself to [238] get a deliberate aim at the advancing enemy. Then Dominick Spellman, one of the heroes of our war, a member of the Irish company, raised the colors and gloriously bore them for the rest of the day, for which he was made color sergeant of the regiment, and bore them until himself was shot with the battle flag at Manassas. This, I believe, is as nearly accurate an account of this memorable incident as can now be given.

I have been thus particular to give the position of each company of the regiment at the time, as it explains how it was, that after the fall of Color-Sergeant Taylor, the great loss fell upon the Charleston companies, and how it was that to them the glorious opportunity was given, of showing how heroically Carolina boys would give their lives for the State. But it was only the accident of the doubling up of our regimental line, which put Captain Barksdale's company (Company L), behind the colors, and thus giving them the opportunity of furnishing the heroes, which every other company of the regiment would have done as well had the accidents of battle so decreed. Let me remind you also, that this is an account of an incident only of the battle, and hence it is that but three regiments of the brigade have been mentioned. Our comrades of the 13th and 14th regiments bore equally conspicuous and gallant parts upon that memorable day, but were not actively engaged at this time, the 13th being held in reserve, and the 14th hurrying into action after a long and tedious march from a distant position which they had been left temporarily to guard, and both coming to the assistance of the 1st, 12th and Rifles, in their great emergency.

Permit me, dear Mrs. Taylor, to express to you the gratification the survivors of the old 1st regiment experience in knowing that the ladies are taking an interest in our historic colors. I say historic, for the blue flag with the palmetto upon it, now in our State House, was carried from Fort Sumter and planted in the town of Gettysburg. It was, we believe, the first regimental flag unfurled in Virginia, for Governor Pickens, you know, sent Colonel Maxcy Gregg with his regiment to Richmond before the Virginia troops could be organized, and thus it was that it may truly be said the whole Army of Northern Virginia was gathered and organized around its folds.

I mentioned that Color Sergeant Spellman was shot at Second Manassas, carrying the battle flag. I will explain that, commanding the regiment in that battle, I considered the regimental colors as too conspicuous and costing too many lives, and, therefore, carried into that field only the Confederate battle flag—a course which I believed [239] also to be more in accordance with military rule, and which course after Gettysburg, in which battle Color Sergeant Larkin was shot through the body as he was crossing the stone wall with them, was permanently adopted, and our loved colors not again carried into action.

I am, dear madam, very respectfully and truly yours,


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