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Chapter 28: devastation of the country.

We remained near Bristow two or three days, but were unable to supply our army in this position, and as the enemy had destroyed the bridge over the Rappahannock on his retreat, we crossed the river on a pontoon bridge. Our army then occupied the line of the Rappahannock, and remained there until the 7th of November, my division after several moves finally going into camp in rear of Brandy Station, Rodes covering Kelly's Ford on the right, with Johnson between us, while Hill was on the left. We still held the crossing of the Rappahannock at the railroad bridge with a pontoon bridge across the river and a tete du point covering it.

Meade in the meantime had gradually moved his army up to the vicinity of Warrenton and Warrenton Junction, and we had sent forward, on several occasions, wagons strongly guarded by infantry to bring back the rails that had been torn up from the railroad between Bealton and the river. On the last of these expeditions, which was protected by my division, a considerable force of the enemy's cavalry was encountered at Bealton and driven off.

The tete du pont in front of the Rappahannock was occupied by a brigade detailed alternately from my division and Johnson's with a battery of artillery detailed from the artillery of the corps.

On the morning of the 9th of November, his position was occupied by Hays' brigade under the command of Colonel Penn of the 7th Louisiana Regiment, and Green's battery of artillery of four guns, while some works on the south bank, immediately in rear of the tete du pont, were occupied by Graham's and Dance's batteries of artillery.

The tete du point itself consisted of a line of rifle [308] trenches encircling the bridge and resting on the river above and below, near the right of which were two small redoubts embraced in the circle of works, one of which had been constructed in the spring of 1862 when our troops fell back from Manassas to face to the north, and the other had been constructed by the enemy subsequently to face to the north, both being remodelled for the use of artillery. The rifle pits were slight, affording in themselves no obstacle to the passage of a force over them unless held by an opposing force, and the redoubts were imperfectly remodelled-while there was no obstruction in front, in the way of ditches, abattis or otherwise.

The work was completely commanded by higher positions in front, on ridges behind which a cover for the advance of troops from that direction was afforded, while, on the immediate right of the point at which the rifle pits touched the river, on that flank, the railroad approached to the bank of the stream by a high embankment of earth, with a walled opening in it for the passage of a road just in front of that part of the work. In rear of the tete du pont the river was rendered impassable except over the bridge, which was near the right, by a mill dam which backed up the water, making a pond extending along the entire rear of the work, the bridge being across this pond.

The works in rear of the bridge occupied by Graham's and Dance's batteries consisted of a redoubt that had been constructed by the enemy on that side and which had been turned, and some sunken pits for guns on the left of it, the ground occupied by these works being lower than the tete du pont in front. Some sunken pits for artillery had been made on the south side of the river on the right of the railroad in low, flat ground so as to sweep the east side of the railroad embankment that was on the north, but was unoccupied; there were also rifle trenches connected with this epaulment, and lower down to cover a point at which the enemy had had a bridge. The works which were occupied on the south bank really [309] afforded no protection to those on the north, but merely served to command the bridge itself in the event of the tete du pont being carried, as the fire from the guns posted in them would be over the latter, in order to reach an advancing enemy.

Early in the day of the 7th, a small force of infantry appeared in front of the tete du pont, beyond the range of the artillery there posted, passing down the river, and a little before noon a heavy force of infantry was developed in front of the works, forming a line of battle encircling them, but still out of range of our artillery; and still later a large force was seen passing down the river, that in front still remaining in line of battle.

The enemy confronting this position, subsequently ascertained to be two corps, the 5th and 6th, under Sedgwick, then commenced advancing by gradual steps, coming up a little nearer each time and forming a new line of battle; and Colonel Penn, who had three of his regiments advanced to the front and on the flanks, so as to cover the main position with a line of pickets while one was in reserve in the trenches, and the other was on picket on the river on the south bank, was compelled to retire his advanced regiments gradually, until they were withdrawn into the woods, leaving only a line of skirmishers in front as far as their safety would permit. On the first appearance of the enemy in force, Colonel Penn had sent me a dispatch informing me of the fact, but as my camp was fully five miles off it did not reach me until a little before 2 P. M.

I immediately signalled the information to General Lee and General Ewell, and ordered my other brigades, then engaged in constructing huts for quarters, to be moved to the front as soon as they could be got together. As this required some time, I rode in advance towards the position occupied by my brigade on picket, and at Brandy Station received another dispatch from Colonel Penn informing me that the enemy still remained in his front in line of battle with a very heavy force. For fear [310] that the information by signal had not reached General Ewell, as I understood he was coming up towards Brandy Station, I sent my Adjutant General, Major John W. Daniel, to meet him and communicate the contents of the two dispatches to him.

Before reaching the river I encountered General Lee, who had not received my dispatch, and together we proceeded to the river, where we arrived a little after three o'clock. I immediately crossed over to Penn's position and going out in front of the skirmish line, then considerably advanced, I discovered a very heavy force which was gradually but very slowly and cautiously moving up, encircling the whole position. Penn's regiments had been drawn in, including the one on picket below, except one company still left on picket at that point, and now occupied the trenches, which they could not fully man, while the guns of Green's battery were posted in the works on the right.

After fully reconnoitring in front I rode back across the river and communicated the state of the case to General Lee. Shortly after I recrossed the river, the enemy commenced forcing back our skirmishers, who were compelled to retire towards the works, and having got possession of the hills in front he opened with a battery of artillery, his guns being replied to by Graham's and Dance's with little or no effect, as the distance was too great. The enemy's skirmishers in very heavy line continued to advance, forcing ours back to the protection of the line of works, and a portion of his getting to the river bank about half a mile below the right of the tete du pont. An attempt was then made to send one of Dance's guns to the pits on the right of the railroad, but the advance of the enemy's skirmishers up the opposite bank of the river caused it to be abandoned, for fear of losing the horses.

At four o'clock, General Hays, who had been detained from his brigade by his duties as a member of a court martial, arrived and assumed command of the tete du [311] pont. In a short time afterwards the three regiments of Hoke's brigade, forming the advance of the rest of the division, came up, and I sent them across the river, under command of Colonel Godwin, to the support of Hays. General Lee directed me to send no more troops across the river, but retain the others on the south side, and Gordon was moved to the right to occupy a hill further down the river, while Pegram's brigade was formed in line in rear of the hill occupied by Graham's and Dance's batteries, the 31st Virginia being sent to occupy the rifle trenches at the gun pits on the right of the railroad.

The enemy now opened from a battery on our left and soon from another on our right, and the fire of these batteries, which crossed in rear, of our works, and that from the front rendered the bridge very unsafe. The fire from Graham's and Dance's guns seemed to be doing no good, as they could not be used to advantage by reason of having to fire over the works in front, and it was therefore stopped by General Lee's orders. Green's battery, however, under the command of Lieutenant Moore, continued the fire in front, but was greatly overmatched.

On crossing the river, which was under the enemy's artillery fire, Godwin's three brigades were put in the trenches covering the river above the bridge-three regiments of Hays' brigade, the 6th, 9th and 8th, being on the right and the 5th and 7th on the extreme left. The portion of the trenches occupied by the 6th, 9th and 8th regiments of Hays' brigade covered the bridge and to the right of it and on this part of the works were the four guns of Green's battery.

The enemy continued his artillery fire vigorously and rapidly until dark, his skirmishers in the meantime advancing in such heavy force as to drive ours into the works, and themselves coming up to within easy rifle range of the trenches. Just at dark the enemy's force advanced in heavy columns immediately in front of the position occupied by Hays' three regiments and our artillery, one of the columns moving up to within a short [312] distance under cover of the railroad embankment and then suddenly debouching through the opening made for the passage of the road, before mentioned.

This assault was resolutely met by Hays' men and Green's guns, who poured a destructive fire into the advancing masses of the enemy, breaking the heavy line of skirmishers preceding the columns, but these columns came on in such strong force and such rapid succession that after a brief but obstinate resistance, Hays' men were literally overpowered by numbers in the trenches, which they held to the last, without attempting to leave them. The enemy also rushed upon the guns at the same time and, meeting with little or no obstacle from the works themselves, overpowered the gunners at their posts.

When the guns were taken General Hays made an attempt to recapture them, but the enemy coming up in still further force in front rendered the attempt abortive. The part of the line now taken was within a hundred yards of the northern end of the bridge and completely commanded it, so that all the force on the left was completely cut off from retreat.

An attack made on Godwin's front simultaneously with that on Hays' right, but not in as strong force, had been repulsed by the 54th North Carolina Regiment, and when Godwin learned that Hays' line was broken, he endeavored to move to his assistance, but the enemy had now got between the trenches and the river and commenced moving up a strong force against Godwin's right, at the same time that another advanced against him in front. He was therefore compelled to abandon a part of the trenches on his right and present front, as well as he could in the darkness, to the two forces, thus assailing him in different directions, so as to try to cut his way to the bridge.

He made a resolute struggle, but the enemy threw such a force between him and the bridge that the attempt to reach it was hopeless, and the rest of his men were [313] forced to abandon the trenches on the left. His three regiments and the two Louisiana regiments on his left were now completely surrounded, the enemy encircling them in front and on the flanks, while an impassable river was in their rear. Nevertheless, Colonel Godwin continued to struggle, rallying and encouraging his men as he retired from point to point towards the river, until he himself, with only about seventy men still remaining to him, was overpowered and taken by an irresistible force, without surrendering himself or his command. A like fate befell the 5th and 7th Louisiana Regiments.

I had remained with General Lee, by his direction, on the hill in rear near Dance's guns, where he had taken his position, observing the enemy's movements as well as we could, until very nearly or about dark. When the enemy's artillery fire ceased, we had discovered some movement of his infantry, but we could see so indistinctly that we could not tell what it meant. We saw the flashes of the rifles from our trenches and from the guns on the side of the river, but a very heavy wind was blowing, so that we could hear no sounds, not even that of our guns, which were not more than three or four hundred yards from us.

After this firing had continued some minutes, perhaps twenty or thirty, it slackened, and not hearing from it, we were of the opinion that it was at the enemy's skirmishers. General Lee then, expressing the opinion that the movement of the enemy in our front at this point was probably intended merely as a reconnoissance or feint, and that it was too late for him to attempt anything serious that night, concluded to retire, leaving with me two dispatches for General Ewell.

A short time before we saw the last firing, I had sent my Inspector General, Major Hale, on foot across the bridge to direct General Hays and Colonel Godwin to send and have rations brought up for their men, and just as I was preparing to send off the two dispatches left with me for General Ewell, Major Hale returned [314] and informed me that when he saw General Hays the enemy was advancing against him, but he and his men were all right and in good spirits and that he then went to Colonel Godwin, whom he found all right, but as he was returning across the bridge he saw one or two of Hays' men coming off, who said the enemy had just broken through the line, the Major himself expressing the opinion that the statement was entirely false. It was now very dark and objects could not be seen at a very short distance. General Lee could not have then gone more than a few hundred yards since he left me.

Though I did not think the information brought could be true, as what I had witnessed did not indicate such a result, yet I sent Major Daniel to ascertain the truth, and ordered Pegram to move his brigade to the bridge immediately and Graham and Dance to man their guns. I then started to the bridge and soon met Major Daniel, who informed me he had just seen General Hays, who had made his escape, and that the greater part of his brigade was captured, the enemy in possession of the works, and Godwin cut off from the bridge.

Pegram's brigade was then hurried up to the bridge to prevent the enemy from crossing and Gordon's was sent for, information of the disaster being sent to General Lee at once. Godwin's regiments had not yet been captured, and I had the mortification of seeing the flashes of their rifles, and hearing their capture without being able to render them the slightest assistance, as it would have been folly to attempt to cross the bridge, and I could not open with the guns on the south side, as it was so very dark that nothing was visible, and we would have been as apt to fire into our own men as into the enemy.

A. number of Hays' officers and men had been able to effect their escape by slipping off in the dark, after the works were in possession of the enemy, many swimming the river and others getting over the bridge. Some of Godwin's officers and men also effected their escape by swimming the river, and others by slipping down the [315] banks of it to the bridge, while the enemy was engaged in securing the rest. General Hays had effected his escape after he was entirely surrounded by the enemy, and was in their power, by his horse's taking fright at a musket fired near him and dashing off, when a number of shots were fired at him, and finding that he had to run the gauntlet anyhow, he made for the bridge and escaped unhurt.

A regiment from Pegram's brigade had been sent to the end of the bridge and the rest of the brigade formed in line in rear of it. To have attempted to cross the rest of my command over the bridge would have but added to the disaster, and therefore, after waiting for some time to give an opportunity to all the men to escape who could, and ascertaining definitely the capture of the regiments on the left, and that the enemy had a guard at the further end, the bridge was fired at the end next us, and so destroyed that it could not be used by the enemy.

Receiving orders from General Lee to move back to my camp, I did so at three o'clock in the morning, after having sent off Graham's and Dance's batteries.

The loss in my division in this affair was 5 killed, 35 wounded, and 1593 missing, making a total of 1630. The loss in Green's battery was 1 killed and 41 missing, total 42, making the loss altogether 1672, besides the four guns and the small arms. The killed are those who were known to be killed, and the wounded were those who got off. Doubtless there were a number killed and wounded who were put down in the missing, but the enemy came up to the works firing but very little, and therefore the loss in that respect was comparatively slight.

Nearly three hundred of Hays' officers and men, between one hundred and one hundred and fifty from the three regiments under Godwin, and twenty men of Green's battery made their escape. A considerable number of the men in both brigades were engaged in getting timber for building huts at the time and were not present with their brigades, thus escaping capture. [316]

The total force occupying the works was a little over two thousand, and the force which attacked them consisted of two corps, numbering probably over thirty thousand men. The result of the attack was unavoidable, and I fully exempted my officers and men from all blame. If the enemy chose to make the attack his success was inevitable. The works were of too slight a character to enable a body of troops to hold them against such overwhelming numbers. When the enemy reached the works he had no trouble in walking over them, as there were no ditches or obstructions in front.

In constructing these works too great reliance had been placed in the want of enterprise on the part of the enemy, and there was but one mode of approach to or retreat from them, so that when the works were carried in front of the only bridge there was, the fate of the rest of the command was sealed. The enemy on this occasion had more enterprise than had been presumed on, and hence the disaster.

This was the first serious disaster that had befallen any of my immediate commands, either as a brigade or division commander, since the commencement of the war, and I felt that I was not responsible for it, though I bitterly regretted it.

The same afternoon three corps of the enemy had attacked Rodes at Kelly's and forced a passage there, inflicting on his division some loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners.

On the next morning, the 8th, we formed a line of battle, a mile or two in rear of Brandy Station, Ewell's corps occupying the right, with its left, my division, resting on the road to Culpeper Court-House, and Hill's corps occupying the left, with his right connecting with my left. In this position we awaited the advance of the enemy all day, but he made no attack on us, though there was some fighting on Hill's left with the enemy's cavalry. Being now in a very unfavorable position, and having no good line to occupy in Culpeper, we fell back that night to the [317] Rapidan, and next morning crossed over and occupied our old positions. Meade's army also occupied very much the same positions it had previously occupied, and the line of pickets on the Rapidan was re-established.

While we were in Culpeper on this occasion we discovered that Meade's army had almost entirely devastated that county. Many beautiful residences of gentlemen had been pulled down, and some within sight of Meade's own headquarters, for the purpose of making huts for the soldiers and chimneys to the officers' tents. It was a scene of desolation, and the population was almost gone. I had been on the track of this army under all the other commanders, but I think it committed more depredations under Meade than under any of the rest, not excepting Pope himself.

After resuming our positions on the Rapidan, the condition of things was pretty much as it had been before, the enemy making some demonstrations but no serious movement until the last of the month.

A little after the middle of the month, General Ewell's health had been impaired, and I succeeded temporarily to the command of the corps.

There had been some demonstrations with the enemy's cavalry force, and General Lee, apprehending that the enemy might attempt to turn our right by moving across some of the lower fords, directed me to examine all the country on our right as far as Mine Run, and ascertain if a line could be formed there, extending towards Verdierville on the Plank road, which we could occupy in the event of an advance in that quarter; and to make myself familiar with all the roads. Our right, then held by Rodes' division, covered Morton's Ford and extended around to the river above the mouth of Mountain Runthe extreme right flank being unfavorably located, and liable to be turned, not only by a movement across at Germana Ford, but also at Jacob's Ford higher up, and from our right, as well as at some other points in the neighborhood. [318]

After a careful examination of the country, I selected a line to be connected with Rodes' right, by throwing the latter back from the river and then running the new line in its prolongation across Mountain Run, and a road leading past Rodes' rear to Bartlett's Mill, to Locust Grove, to Black Walnut Run above Bartlett's Mill, from which point the line could be still further prolonged past Zoar Church to Verdierville, if necessary, on a dividing ridge between the waters of Black Walnut and Mine Runs, which streams united just above Bartlett's Mill. Johnson's division which had been camped in the rear was then moved up to construct and occupy the right of the line extending from Mountain Run to Black Walnut.

While we were engaged in constructing this new line, with a view to its further prolongation if necessary, so as to cover all the roads coming in from the right between the Plank road and the river, on the 26th of November, Meade's army was discovered to be in motion towards the fords below on our right, and preparations were at once made to meet it.

Fitz. Lee's cavalry was ordered to relieve our pickets, and late in the afternoon of that day Rodes' division was moved across Black Walnut to the right of Johnson on the ridge extending towards Zoar Church, and my own division under the command of General Hays was withdrawn from its position and concentrated with a view of moving next morning on the old stone pike leading from Orange Court-House to Fredericksburg by the way of Locust Grove or Robertson's Tavern, and the old Wilderness Tavern so as to get on Rodes' right in prolongation of the line.

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