Thirty-Second at Sharpsburg. From the Times-dispatch, September 30, 1906.Graphic story of work done on one of the Bloodiest of Fields—Forty-five per cent. Loss.
Shot at from behind a Stone Fence—Samples of personal courage.
[For further information of the terrific battle and of the loss sustained by the Fifteenth Virginia Infantry, Colonel E. M. Morrison, see Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 97-110.—Ed.]
Editor Times-DispatchSir,—On December 10, 1905, you published, in the Confederate column an account of the part the Fifteenth Virginia Regiment took in that awful battle of Sharpsburg, on September 17, 1862. It was written by that noble and gallant gentleman, Colonel E. M. Morrison. The hope was then expressed that some soldier who was there would do for the Thirty-second Virginia Regiment what Colonel Morrison had done for the Fifteenth Virginia. I have waited for nearly one year to see if some one more competent than I would respond, but so far I have seen no account of the Thirty-second Virginia, and the old regiment was there, and did her full duty, having lost forty-five per cent. in killed and wounded. If our noble Colonel Edgar Bunn Montague, Lieutenant-Colonel W. R. Willis, Major Baker P. Lee, or several Captains, Samuel Armistead, Octavius Coke, O. P. Johnson, Segar Green, Adjutant Pettit, and other true and brave men were alive, they could and would give a good account; but I will try and do the best that I can, and tell what I saw and did from my standpoint, which was not very far right or left of our colors. Bob Forrest was the color-bearer, John Cose, of Company I, was on his right front rank, and I was on his left front rank. Captain Octavius Coke, of Company C, on my left. Our brigade (Semmes's) left Maryland Heights on the afternoon  of the 16th of September, 1862. We crossed the river at Harper's Ferry on pontoon bridges. Late in the day saw plenty of Federal prisoners. I got a good supply of crackers and maple sugar. We camped just outside of the town, and rations were issued with instructions to cook at once. It was then about dark. We marcled until about ten o'clock, and then filed off into an open field to rest for the night, as I thought. Most of us lay on the ground to sleep and rest, but many, as usual, went off foraging for something good to eat. At about twelve o'clock, I reckon, we were awakened by that very unwelcome, everlasting long roll, and our colonel, mounted on his old sorrel, riding about the men, saying, ‘ Hurry up, men! Hurry! Everything depends on being at the ford by daybreak.’ That word, ‘Hurry!’ and, ‘Steady, men! steady!’ were his favorite commands. (Brave and true soldier he was; he ought to have been a general.) It looked then as if we were going back to Maryland. About that time, Leonard Taylor, of Company C, said, ‘Boys, we are going to catch thunder today, for I have been dreaming that we were in the hardest battle yet.’ His dream came too true, for before sunset on that day, the 17th of September, our regiment, the Thirty-second Virginia, had lost in killed and wounded forty-five per cent. (The poor boy was afterwards killed at Second Cold Harbor.) After a hard march we reached the ford (Boteler's, just below Shepherdstown) at daybreak and crossed the Potomac, and marched up the river opposite Shepherdstown, halted, and two men from each company detailed to fill our canteens. At that time General Jackson rode up and directed General McLaws to strike McClellan about Dunkards' Church and drive him back. Kershaw's Brigade rested near the church, Barksdale's next, Semmes's next, Cobb's Legion next, I think, and Fitz Lee's cavalry next on the river. I think that was about the formation of the line about where we went in the battle. I will say just here that Captain R. I,. Henley (afterwards Judge 0f James City County), as we were on the way to the field procured a musket, and, as was his custom, went in the fight with his old company, C. He was at that time commissary of the regiment. He was wounded three times before leaving the field. We went on at quick time until halted and ordered to unsling knapsacks and all baggage (except ‘war-bags,’ haversacks and  canteens); and then on to the field at a double-quick through fields, woods, creeks, fences and most everything. I thought as we came out of a piece of woods to the field I saw General Jackson. I think the Tenth Georgia was on the right of our brigade (which was in echelon with Barksdale's Brigade), the Thirty-second next, the Fifteenth next, I think, and the Fifty-third Georgia on extreme left. As we emerged from the piece of woods, Colonel Montague gave command, ‘By company into line!’ as we were marching by the flank; but the regiment came into line at one movement and started across that terrible, bloody field. Looking to my right, I witnessed one of the most magnificent sights that I ever saw, or ever expect to see again. It was Barksdale's men driving the enemy up into and through a piece of woods in their front. Their fire was so steady and severe that it looked like a whirlwind was passing through the leaves on the ground and woods. I remarked to Captain Coke, on my left, ‘to look; was not that the grandest sight he ever saw.’ He said, ‘Yes, John, it is grand; but look in our front, my boy, and see what we have to face.’ At that time the field in our front was being literally plowed and torn up by shot, shell and minie balls. Colonel Montague gave command that captains take their positions in the centre and rear of their companies. Captain Coke said that he was going to stay by my side, on the right of his company. I said to him it was a very dangerous place, so near the colors. He said, ‘Yes, everywhere is dangerous here.’ In a few moments he was shot above the knee and fell. The ambulance corps took him off the field, and he recovered to join us again before we got to Fredericksburg, in December, 1862. On we went until we reached a rocky knoll about, I should judge, seventy-five or one hundred yards from a stone fence, which the enemy were behind, pouring a shower of minies at us. At that point our loss was terrible. The ranks were so scattered, and the dead and wounded so thick, it seemed as if we could go no further. Our rear rank was ten or more paces in our rear, and we were in danger of being shot by our own men. Our flag was shot through seventeen times, and the staff cut in two. I don't think our color-bearer, Bob Forrest, was hurt. I was slightly wounded in the wrist and foot, and it seemed to me that most everybody near the flag was either killed or wounded. Both of my jacket sleeves were bespotted with blood and brains of my comrades near me.  At about this time General Semmes came to our colors, and saw me still shooting away as fast as I could load, and asked where the enemy was located. I told him behind that fence in front. He said, ‘Yes, and they will kill the last one of us, and that we must charge them.’ He gave the command to charge. Bob Forrest went forward several paces in front and waited for the line of battle to come up, and Lieutenant Henry St. Clair, of Company I, ran up to him and said, ‘ Bob Forrest, why in the h-ll don't you go forward with the flag; if you won't go, give it to me,’ and started for it Bob Forrest, as brave a man as ever lived, said to him, ‘You shan't have it; I will carry this flag as far as any man; bring your line up and we will all go up together.’ They did come up, and took the fence and drove the enemy up the hill. This practically ended the fighting in our front during that awful day. This is the best account I can give. I well know that the old Thirty-second Virginia did her full duty on that terrible, bloody day.
John T. Parham, Late Ensign 32d Virginia Infantry.P. S.—I omitted to state that Capt. W. S. Stores, of Co. I, the color company, and Sergeant-Major Jos. V. Bidgood were present and did their full duty, and are both now alive, and could give a good account of the battle. Joseph V. Bidgood's father was our chaplain. I have heard that Major Willis, chaplain of the Fifteenth Virginia, had his coat shot all to pieces, and did not receive a scratch. He was one of our many fighting chaplains—would fight with his men during the day and preach and pray with them at Zzz
J. P. T.