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[231]

The battle of New Market, Va., again,

With further account of a volunteer night attack at Newport news.


The editor finds that there are exceptions to the article, pp. 155-158, and counter statements. He yields to no one in due admiration for the signal display of valor and veteran soldiery demeanor of the boy cadets—at New Market—an exemplification which Napoleon himself would no doubt have acknowledged.

The article for the volume had already been printed, but the following corrections made in the Times-Dispatch of January 19, 1908, must be given:

“Ch. M. W., Co. B., V. M. I. Cadet Corps,” thus corrects the statement made by Captain Bruce, that ‘the Cadets gave way,’ and gives tribute to his martyred boy comrades, Cabell, Atwell, McDowell, Steward, Jefferson, Jones, Crockett and Wheelwright.

Further, the Cadet Battalion fired directly into the battery, while Captain Bruce states his regiment, the 51st, fired ‘obliquely’ into; and that the Cadets did capture it.

As to the percentage of loss of the 51st Regiment, which Captain Bruce states as ‘five per cent.’—the Cadet percentage was twenty-five per cent.

As to halts of the Cadets, charged by Captain Bruce—one is accounted for by an intervening ravine, when ‘the line of the Cadets becoming necessarily disarranged.’ Colonel Scott Shipp, in command, gave the order to halt and dress into line. ‘The second halt was somewhere about one hundred yards in front of the six-gun battery,’ spoken of by Captain Bruce.

Following the order to halt the order was given to charge, and soon after, in this charge, Colonel Shipp was wounded.

In the same issue of the Times-Dispatch appeared the following corroboration of the above, with some further matters of interest:

Bruces Errors.

Not meaning to detract one scintilla from the glory of Captain [232] Bruce or his men, he errs in the statements that the Cadet Battalion was immediately to the right of the 51st, whereas the fact is that the Cadets' Battalion was at the extreme left end of the second line of battle, with the exception of Edgar's Battalion, which was upon the immediate left of the Cadets' Battalion. Captain Bruce is positively wrong in his assertion of the breaking of the corps in the outset or in the engagement. The captain also claims that his regiment was to the right of the six-gun Federal Battery, with the exception of the extreme left wing of his regiment, the 51st. He (Captain Bruce) furthermore asseverates that his company was the fifth in his (Fifty-first) regiment from the right of this aforesaid, that the men developed a backbone and an esprit de corps which responded with alacrity and enthusiasm to General Magruder's call for .volunteers on a memorable occasion. Information had been received at headquarters that just outside of the main line of fortifications at Newport News was a gun redoubt of two or three field pieces, supported by only a small body of infantry. It was believed that by a well-planned and rapidly executed night attack this redoubt might be stormed and the guns captured. At any rate, the scheme seemed so feasible that a picked body of men was formed, the volunteers being ignorant of their destination and being only forwarned that they were composing a ‘forlorn hope.’

As my memory serves me, these volunteers were taken from the following commands, at the rate of six or eight from each: Edgecombe Guards, Charlotte Grays, Hornet's Nest Riflemen, Orange Light Infantry, Lafayette Light Infantry, Burke Rifles, Independent Light Infantry,. Enfield Rifles, Southern Stars, Bertie Light Infantry, Chowan Light Infantry, Stuart's and Montague's Virginia Light Infantry, twelve dismounted men of Douthat's Virginia Cavalry.

After this lapse of time my recollection is indistinct, and I can recall by name of these volunteers only J. B. Smith, R. M. Orrell, James T. Rose, Theodore Wardell and J. W. Hurlst, of my own company, the Lafayette; Charles Haigh, W. E. Kyle, Jarvis Lutterloh and John B. McKellar, of the Independent Company. All were killed during the war or have died since except Haigh, Kyle and the writer.

General Magruder placed at the head of this expedition Captain [233] J. B. Starr, commanding Company F, or Lafayette Light Infantry, a man of that stubborn, bulldog courage which is never exalted by victory or depressed by defeat. An officer of the Virginia Cavalry, Lieutenant Goode, I think, who was thoroughly acquainted with all the country of the Yorktown peninsula, was selected as guide through the woods and swamps to the scene of action.

The men were ordered to equip themselves in light marching order—that is, without blankets or knapsacks—and to cook one ration. In the early afternoon, in the month of August, the command marched out of camp, with no sound of trumpet or tap of drum. I remembere that the morning had been mild and beautiful, but the clouds gathered in the afternoon, with threatening of heavy rain.

After proceeding from Bethel Church for some distance the column wheeled sharp off to the left, traversed a byroad for about half a mile, marched through a piece of dense woods, then into an old field, overgrown with small oak and gallberry bushes, and halted. The men were told to rest at ease, eat their ration if they felt so disposed, and were cautioned to secure any buckle or other piece of metal which might jingle in walking; also, to rub wet earth on their bayonets and gun barrels, in order to dull their glint and shine. Then Captain Starr and the cavalry lieutenants, plunging through the undergrowth, disappeared, and were gone so long that the men ate their rations, smoked their pipes, and some of them were asleep by the time the officers returned.

The command was called to .attention and the march was resumed, through a broken country, with thick undergrowth, and the signs of an approach to tidewater. Once again there was a halt, and the muskets of eight or ten men were replaced by axes, with which to cut away any obstructions in the dash on the redoubt. On the right of this squad stood Charles Haigh, a stalwart young soldier, now Major Charles Haigh, a gallant ex-Confederate officer, and one of the prominent business men of Fayetteville. Dark night was now upon us; but here and there through the openings of the trees the dim light showed, towering through the gloom and stalking on behind us gigantic centaurs of the days of mythology, as weird and [234] terrible as the famous mysterious horse of Albert Durer. They were the teams and drivers brought along to carry away the captured guns, and they must have been harnessed in cotton or velvet and shod with straw, for they came on as noiselessly as the spectres of a dream.

And now, under thick darkness, headed by our morning guide, Lieutenant Goode, we broke our way through bush and briar, splashed water, stole quickly across some open patch of ground, descended into a steep gully, then climbed a hill, and the redoubt was right in front of us. Just above me, not twenty feet away, I could see a sentinel, seeming to be peering down into the cavernous gloom.

There was a moment's breathless pause. The man awaited the clarion command, ‘Charge!’ Then lights flashed along the line of embankment, soldiers rushed to the front, a bugle sounded, drum beat, and a random shot rang out here and there. The night attack had failed. Either the garrison was larger than we had been given to understand, or the enemy had been informed of the expedition, and had sent reinforcements to the redoubt. Our retreat was a crawling on hands and knees to the first sheltering thicket, and then a run for it, with the uneasy feeling of a probable volley in the back at any moment.

It is said that ‘there is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.’ In camp, while volunteers were falling into line for the expedition, W. E. Kyle called to a relative, J. K. Kyle, to come up to the front. ‘Go on, Emmett, my boy,’ cried the latter; ‘I glory in your spunk, but I have a wife and a stake in the country.’ A young fellow in the Chowan Light Infantry, when informed that we were about to charge the redoubt at the point of the bayonet, exclaimed in all the proud consciousness of a big tidewater plantation and hundreds of negroes, ‘Hell! if the Confederacy is so bad off for guns I'll get father to buy half a dozen cannon for it.’

I doubt not that there are some survivors of that expedition among the old soldiers of Virginia and North Carolina, who can corroborate my account, I may be repeating a story, but I have never seen it in print.

J. M. H. Fayetteville. N. C. December 26th.

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