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[155]

The battle of New Market, Va. From the Confederate veteran, Dec., 1907.

Account of the famous engagement by the Captain who witnessed It—Took note of the Cadets—Never saw Veterans show greater courage or do better fighting.


By D. H. Bruce, of Joppa, Tenn.
Having seen a few articles about the battle of New Market, Va., fought in May, 1864, written by those who claim to have seen it, some of which I believe to be erroneous, I give my version as I saw it, believing that history should be correct. As the captain of an infantry company—A, Fifty-first Virginia—I could not see all the field of battle, of course, and can give only part of it.

We were stationed about the centre of the line of battle on the left of the pike and some little distance from it. When we got our lines formed after our regiment had run in the rain through a field freshly planted in corn and tramped it into a ‘loblolly’ of mud, we were on level land in a wheat field, where the growing grain was about knee-high. The Yankees were in a meadow, from seventy-five to one hundred yards off, without protection to either side. Our regiment was in or near the centre. Next to us on our right was the Cadet Corps from the Virginia Military Academy; on their right was Imboden's Brigade. On our left I recall Edgar's, Clark's, and Derrick's Battalions. There were others, but I cannot recall them.

Our regiment lay down and the Yankees stood up. We were facing down the valley to the east, and we stayed in that position and fired as fast as we could load for one hour and fifteen minutes, according to a man who was not in the battle and noted the time.


[156]

The Artillery.

In front of the left wing of our regiment, a little over a hundred yards from us, was a battery of artillery, which played on us with shell, grape, canister, and shrapnel. After we had fought for a considerable time I saw Imboden's men giving way, and also saw that the cadet boys were confused and giving way. I had been noticing the cadet boys (and boys they were at that time) on the right of our regiment, right out of school, and we were old veterans. I was curious to see how they would stand fire, and I saw them stand and fight like regulars. I never saw soldiers fight better than they did. They stood up and took it in military style, while we, who had been there three years in many battles and knew the danger of Yankee lead, lay as flat on the ground as we could get.

When the cadets gave way, Lieutenant-Colonel Wolfe, commanding our regiment, standing behind me, said: ‘Captain, what had we better do?’ I answered, ‘You are the colonel,’ meaning that he was my superior and it was his place to command the regiment. I did not think our regiment would run, as I had never seen it driven off a field in three years. I didn't see Colonel Wolfe any more in the battle; suppose he went to the head of the regiment. My company was doing fine work. It was made up of boys out of the mountains of Wise county, Va.—all good shots and not excitable. I could see the Yankees in front of us falling right and left. I said to the boys: ‘Draw low and fire at their knees; don't overshoot; keep steady; we will whip them.’ I seemed to feel that we would whip them.


The four companies.

There were four companies of our regiment on our right. My company was A, and belonged at the head of the regiment; but when on the march we walked so fast that the command could not keep up, and General Wharton put us back in the right centre. Those companies on our right gave way one at a time, slowly falling back; they dropped down to try to stay under the shot and shell from the enemy that seemed to keep the air blue. I called to the company next to mine to stand firm, [157] as I was not going to run. My men always told me they never would run until I did, and I believed them. The officer tried to hold his company, but could not. I saw something had to be done, and saw no officer of higher rank than myself. The time had come for no foolishness; at least half our command was giving way.

A few steps behind us there was a little lane with low fencing—an old worn rail fence. Behind this lane was the cornfield, tramped into a ‘loblolly.’ I thought that if I undertook to run my company through that muddy field we would all get killed, so I concluded to fall back in the lane and get behind the fence and the right would rally on us. I dropped my company back and tried it, but the other men failed to rally. Corporal John Wampler, of my company, a six-footer, got up and looked over the field and exclaimed: ‘Captain, the Yankees are running on the left.’ I saw some two or three hundred yards off Derrick's Battalion going toward the enemy. I gave the command, ‘Attention!’ which brought my company to their feet; then I told them to ‘Forward! Double-quick! Charge!’ My company and the whole left raised that old rebel yell, and at them we went. The right, when they saw us going forward, turned and came back with a yell. When we got half-way to them, I saw they had their horses to the artillery and were starting. I gave the comman to ‘Fire left oblique into that artillery!’ It seems that I can still see the guns of my company turned in a left oblique direction and firing. All the riders on the artillery horses who were not hit jumped off and struck the ground on a run. They turned everything loose. My company went straight forward to the right of the artillery. By the time we got half-way to the Yankee line they were running, going their best, but shooting back and hitting a good many of our men. They had a reserve line behind, but the first line ran through it and tangled it so badly that it went too.


A fighting Parson.

After we had run them a good way, Sergeant Wampler, than whom a better soldier never fought, now a Southern Methodist preacher, threw his hand to his shoulder and said: ‘Captain, I [158] am wounded.’ I answered, after placing my hand on my right thigh: ‘I am wounded, too; both of us are badly wounded.’ I told my first lieutenant, Kennedy, to take charge of the company, and I stood and watched them go out of sight on a run. Our men captured, so I understood, about 1,500 prisoners.

Our regiment went into battle with about 500 men, 5 per cent. of whom were killed and wounded. I have seen it stated in papers that the Cadet Corps captured that artillery. If they captured any artillery, it was not the six pieces that my company fired left oblique into. That battery was left oblique from my company, and the cadets were beyond four companies to our right. I have thought that maybe after we had run the Yankees off they came across the artillery and took possession of it and, like boys, thought they had captured it. I would not take any honor from them, for they were brave.

An article sometime ago in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I understood, stated that Edgar's Battalion ran over our regiment and captured the artillery. No battalion or regiment ever ran over our regiment and took our front in any battle.

The cadets and Edgar's Battalion did not both capture it. I have given this account as I saw and understood the battle.

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