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Memoir of the First Maryland regiment.
[written in July, 1863.]

By General B. T. Johnson.

Paper no. 5.

The battle of Port Republic.

The manoeuvres of Fremont and Shields pursuing Jackson up the valley were now approaching consummation. From Front Royal the Massanutton range tends south parallel to the Blue Ridge, dividing from the lower valley of Virginia the Luray Valley. It terminates at the Picket Mountain some miles above Port Republic, at which point the two valleys unite in the great upper valley. Up the Luray valley is a fine country road, while up the other the broad turnpike offers every facility for the movement of a column. At Harrisonburg, a road turns to the east from the Valley pike, and crossing the East Fork of the Shenandoah at Port Republic, eight miles distant, continues to the left over Brown's Gap and to the right to Staunton. While Fremont pressed Jackson steadily up the valley pike, Shields was rapidly advancing up the Luray valley on Port Republic to intercept him if he attempted to [146] pass that way, or if he continued on the pike to pass him and strike him in flank and rear.

On the 6th of June, as I have shown, Jackson turned off the main road, and marched on Port Republic; on the 7th he passed his whole train over the river and turned to face Fremont who was then at Harrisonburg, six miles off. Early on the 8th Shields's advance seized Port Republic and the bridge, Jackson's only retreat. At sunrise, then, this was the position: Jackson with his back to the river facing Fremont six miles off, while in his rear two miles distant Shields's advance had possession of his only retreat, while the main body was rapidly coming up — certainly not more than fifteen miles distant. With the quickness of lightning Shields's advance was driven from Port Republic and the Stonewall brigade, and Charles Winder assigned the duty of keeping then from regaining it. At the same time, Ewell was thrown on the advancing columns of Fremont. Eight hours hard fighting stopped him. By this time Shields had come within striking distance.

At daylight on the morning of Monday the 9th of June we crossed the river, Gen'l Trimble holding Fremont back with his skirmishers, until the last man and horse was safely over, when withdrawing them he fired the bridge, destroying every hope of Shields for succor against Jackson, who was now coming down on him like a lion. Extending down the right side of the Shenandoah, between the river and the mountain, is a plateau, which some times widens out into a mile in depth. About three miles above the burning bridge, the Yankee General had formed his line of battle, his left thrown up the side of the mountain, on the slope of which he had posted a battery of six twelve-pounder Napoleons, while his right was completely protected by the river. Our line marched steadily forward, and the Second brigade of General Edw'd Johnson's old command, consisting of the Fifty-eight, Forty-fourth, and other Virginia Regiments, swept the Yankees before it until, hesitating at an unfortunate time, they were charged in turn and driven back. The Stonewall brigade steadily pressed on, while the Louisianans, swinging round the mountain side, at once with a terrific yell were launched like an avalanche on the battery and its supports, the gallant Wheat as usual in the lead, and each striving to be ahead. The Yankees stood well to their guns, and plied the charging line with canister, but they were borne down and every gun taken in their places. That ended the battle in rout and confusion. Of four brigades brought in by the enemy, we captured 1,000 prisoners and six pieces of artillery. They left probably 1,000 to 1,500 killed and wounded on the field. The residue were so demoralized, as to be useless during the rest of the campaign. [147] Thus 8,000 men were, in effect, destroyed for the enemy in a two hours fight. The battle was one of the most brilliant and decisive of the war.

We were not in it, by accident. Our wagons had not reached us, we had not our cartridge boxes filled, had had nothing to eat since the day before Cross Keys. The Colonel, finding that our rations were half a mile south of Port Republic, obtained Generl Ewell's permission to go there, fill his boxes, feed his men, and come on. He thus lost an hour, and consequently only got up as the last charge was made, but really had no participation in the battle.

While we were burying our dead, and before we had time to attend to the enemy's wounded, Fremont appeared on the opposite side, within easy range for artillery, and went into position. Jackson marched up a mountain road, concealing his troops, to Brown's Gap, while we were left as rear guard and picket to hold Fremont back at the fords. While doing this, and attending to some wounded men, both of the enemy's and ours, a battery from the other side opened sharply, and we therefore having obeyed orders, about dusk fell back by the route pursued by the army.

After a march unequalled by its annoyances, we reached the top of the mountain near daylight, and during the day camped at its eastern declivity. In a day or two we removed to the vicinity of Weyer's Cave, and while here, Col. Johnson procured permission from Gen'l Jackson to proceed to Staunton, to re-organize and recruit. The discontent which had displayed itself the day of Front Royal, had been allayed by his promise to lay the matter before the Secretary of War, and he now sought an opportunity to do so. Companies I and H were about being mustered out, their terms expiring in a few days, and he hoped if he had a place to which men could be sent to join him, he might fill up the regiment again. The reputation it had acquired during the campaign, he hoped would conduce greatly to this result. We left the army with the kindest wishes of every one, and with strong hope that thirty days rest would give us five hundred men. General Ewell's mention of the regiment shows his appreciation of it. In his report of the battle of Cross Keys he says:

The history of the 1st Maryland regiment, is the history of the campaign of the Valley, &c., &c.

“ The history of the Maryland regiment, gallantly commanded by Colonel Bradley T. Johnson, during the campaign of the Valley, would be the history of every action from Front Royal to Cross Keys. On the 16 inst., near Harrisonburg, the 58th Virginia was engaged with the [148] Pennsylvania” Bucktails, “the fighting being close and bloody. Colonel Johnson came up with his regiment in the hottest period of the fire, and by a dashing charge in flank, drove the enemy with heavy loss, capturing Lieutenant Colonel Kane commanding. In commemoration of their gallant conduct, I ordered one of the captured Bucktails to be appended as a trophy to their flag. The gallantry of the regiment on this occasion is worthy of acknowledgment from a higher source, more particularly as they avenged the death of the gallant General Ashby, who fell at the same time.” --Ewell's Report of the Battle of Cross Keys.

As soon as we arrived at Staunton Colonel Johnson prepared a written statement of the dispute in the regiment, of the complaints of the men and his own knowledge and opinions of them, and of the facts on which they were based, and sent them to Richmond, by Captain Murray, who delivered it to a trusty person in Richmond, to be handed to the Secretary of War. Before sending it he read the paper to several of the most intelligent of those concerned, who were entirely satisfied with the fairness of its statements. It placed their case, fairly and fully before the department. Unfortunately it never reached Mr. Randolph. On the 15th June, company I and on the 17th company H were mustered out and discharges given the men, they were paid off, and went away delighted, at the prospect of a little holiday after their hard work. They had performed a gallant part in one of the most glorious campaigns of modern wars, and had always been cheerful and zealous, doing their best to appease the discontent of those men, who were mustered for the war. They were aware that the circumstance of part of the regiment being for twelve months and part for the war was the principle cause of the unhappiness of the latter, and they tried to obviate it. No men nor officers ever served a commander more gallantly or faithfully than they did theirs, and none were ever loved and more respected than he regarded them. The day the last one was mustered out, a new company entered the regiment, and was designated company C. It was understood that Captain Murray, would raise a company as soon as possible, and renter the regiment, and in this view Colonel Johnson reserved the reenlisted men of company H, fourteen in number, for his new company. He had reason then to look forward to eight companies in a short time, seven of them being together and in service. Company C was organized by the election of Captain, Edmund Barry; First Lieutenant, J. P. Marshall; Second Lieutenants, W. H. H. Edelin and John T. Smith.

Two or three days after this, while everything was going on encouragingly, recruits coming in and every prospect of success, Colonel [149] Johnson met General Jackson in the street, both riding. “Colonel, received the order?” said he, in his crisp way. “No, sir,” said the Colonel. “Want you to march.” “When sir?” “Now!” “Which way?” “Get in the cars, go with Lawton.” “How must I send my train, and the battery?” “By the road.” “Well General” said the Colonel, “I hate to ask questions; but it is impossible to send my wagons off without knowing which road to send them.” He laughed and said “Oh! Send them by the road the others go.” And those were the only orders we got to go into the great battles around Richmond. In an hour we were on the train, with General Lawton's brigade, and by managing to find out the railroad arrangements Colonel Johnson got us on the railroad as far as Fredrick's Hall on the Virginia Central road. At Charlottesville, Captain Edelin and his company, which had been absent on detached duty since February, re-joined the regiment. From Frederick's Hall we marched to Blount's Bridge over the South Anna, where we reported to General Elzey, and were assigned to his brigade again, by request of the Colonel and all concerned.

On Wednesday June 25th we moved to Ashland, where we slept in line of battle.

The battle of Cold Harbor.

At 4 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, June 26th, “The army of the Valley” moved from Ashland. It consisted of Jackson's old division, commanded by Brigadier-General Charles Winder, and Ewell's, with Whiting and Lawton, who had joined us at Staunton, and whose coming had convinced the Yankees, that we were about attempting Washington, and had set then to fortifying the lower valley.

We crossed the Central railroad, and passed by the ground over which Branch had fought Fitz John Porter at Hanover a short time before. Swinging then toward the southeast we marched cautiously, Ewell in the advance. First Maryland and Baltimore battery in his front and before them a regiment or two of cavalry. Towards the middle of the day, we began to find indications of the enemy. Logs were thrown into the road, and trees felled across it, their leaves perfectly fresh, and when the twigs were broken showing the fracture had just occurred. The flying axemen were not fifteen minutes ahead, and our march pushed them so that after awhile the obstructions ceased. Early in the afternoon the cavalry in front were seen halted. Instantly you could hear all down the ranks, “Look out boys, fight on hand! cavalry videtting to the rear.” “Bring forward the First Maryland,” was the order an aid brought from General Ewell. Going past the cavalry to [150] the front we found the enemy's pickets, which companies G and E, Captain Nicholas and Lieutenant Lutts, immediately drove in — following them rapidly and driving in their supporting force, which skirmished obstinately. This began about 3 o'clock, and we believe were the first guns fired in the great Richmond battles.

Following up our line of skirmishers, about sunset we reached a rising ground overlooking Beaver Dam creek. During our skirmish we saw heavy columns pass down a short distance to our right, understood to be General Branch, and shortly after heard musketry and artillery of the fight at Mechanicsville. The enemy in our immediate front had now got into a position from which we could not dislodge them without a severe struggle, and their interchange of fire was sharp. “What's that firing, Colonel?” said General Jackson to Colonel Johnson, as the latter rode up to General Ewell, to ask if he should drive them off. “It's the enemy's skirmishers in a thicket.” “Why don't you stop them?” “Can't do it, sir, without charging them, or shelling the place.” “Well, sir, you must stop that firing; make them keep quiet!” “Very well, sir,” said the Colonel, and riding off he brought up two pieces of the Baltimore artillery. At the first two shells the Yankees fell back and we were not disturbed until late at night, when they came down in some force, drove off Captain Edelin, who was on picket, and carried off two guns, as we afterwards found, which our skirmishers had prevented their getting off that evening. Re-inforcing Captain Edelin, he was ordered to re-occupy his post; which he did, and the night passed off — the men lying in line of battle, every now and then a ball from a Yankee picket smacking among them or whirring over their heads. The consequence was, nobody got much sleep, and at daylight when we moved again, the whole regiment as skirmishers, we were in no condition for hard work. The Thirteenth Virginia was posted on the right and we on the left, but in a short time General Ewell relieved us with the Ninth Louisiana, and we were withdrawn, with our battery as a reserve to both of them.

This order was kept for some time, and we pushed on, capturing straggling prisoners, camps and hospitals. The Thirteenth Virginia in front was engaged in a continual skirmish nearly the greater part of the march. Towards noon they were withdrawn and we resumed our old position on the right, marching pretty rapidly towards Cold Harbor. At 3 oa clock we were there, and for some time waited for a movement to be made by some one else. In the corner of a field near the crossroads of Cold Harbor, were collected Generals Jackson, Ewell, A. P. Hill, Elzey, Lawton, Whiting, and others, who sat silently in their saddles, [151] waiting events, or every now and then exchanging a word or two in a low tone with a General officer, or one of their staff. Ranged along the side of the road fronting Gaines's Mill was Elzey's brigade; the rest beyond his right. Each man, from the General commanding the corps to the soldier in the ranks, seemed thoroughly impressed with the belief that everything depended on the impending battle; all were grave and quiet, convinced that if that battle was lost, life had no attraction, and that death were preferable to the hated Yankee rule.

After awhile General Hill rode off and soon the crashing musketry told that the battle had begun. One General after another moved to take his command into its appointed place. Then Stuart's cavalry on the left surged on in a gallop. General Jackson went to the front; we were left with our battery and the Twelfth Georgia. The crash of battle rose higher and higher, swelling on the right, then rolling toward our left. Colonel Johnson, preferring to go in rather than wait in support of a battery, rode off to attract General Jackson's attention, hoping for orders. He found him with a half a dozen of his staff in front, on a rise of ground to the right of the road. “Good evening, General!” said he; “Good evening, Colonel,” was the curt reply. “If you want me, I am there;” “Very good, sir.” His teeth were clenched, his lips clamped closer than ever, and the blaze of his eye alone betrayed excitement. Straight in the saddle, straighter than usual, for he stooped forward in riding, he sat, his head raised up, catching every sound. Now the roll and crash of small arms would break out at once, as the surf breaks on the shore, and then retire in a gradually receding roar, and then it could be heard far in the distance, swelling and surging and roaring towards us, like an advancing torrent, as if it were about to sweep over everything in its course. Over and over again it went back, and we felt the battle was won. Time and again it rolled towards us, and we feared the victory was lost. Then half a dozen horsemen appeared in a field, a quarter of a mile off, galloping wildly to and fro. Suddenly Jackson threw his horse's head toward them, jerked bolt upright in his saddle, and raised his right arm, horizontal to the elbow, thence perpendicular. “I'll bring them to you,” said Colonel Johnson quickly, thinking he was beckoning the horsemen. There was no reply, and looking round at his face, he saw the soldier was praying, abstracted, dead to the strife, and blind to all around, his soul communed alone with his God. Every one observed a dead silence, until turning, he said in his calm, quick tone, “Colonel, send all the infantry in except a hundred to each battery; you cover them I” “All right, sir,” said the Colonel, and galloped off to make the circuit of the batteries. [152] He found each, supported by a small regiment, so reduced by the Valley campaign as to admit of no further reduction. On his return, he met the General and staff coming up the road in a trot, and reported the facts to him. Jackson's face was in a blaze of enthusiasm; his whole expression lighted with the fervor of his feelings. “Take all the infantry in, Colonel,” said he; “I shall support the batteries with cavalry, and, Johnson, make your men shoot like they are shooting at a mark, slow and low, hit them here and here,” thrusting the Colonel in the waist with his forefinger at the words. It was the first and last time the Colonel ever heard the General call any one by his name. “How and where shall I go in?” “Over there,” pointing to the left. “When I break them, which way shall I push?” “Press that way,” swinging his arm toward the right. We since see that his order was intended to break McClellan's right and then sweep down in rear. Colonel Johnson immediately obeyed the order, and we marched steadily on until the bursting shell and whizzing balls and wounded, limping men showed us we were approaching the point at issue. Just at the edge of a ditch we were halted and dressed carefully. The ground was impassible, and the horses were sent back. The Colonel said, “Men, we alone represent Maryland here; we are few in number, but for that reason our duty to our State is greater, we must do her honor!” Forward then we went as quickly as a waist-deep morass and undergrowth would permit, and emerging into open ground, were made to reform and lay down until every man had gotten over.

We were then just at the crest of a hill on the side of a wide field, with no obstruction in front for half a mile nearly. The farther side was covered with a thick curtain of smoke rolling backward and forward, in which only incessant lurid flashes of musketry could be seen. Occasionally a small group would emerge, bearing a wounded man, or a frightened soldier would run back. Some distance to the left was a large battery, sweeping the whole plateau. From the front came an incessant rain of bullets. Directly to the left the most tremendous roar of small arms proved a desperate struggle. “Up men,” was the order. Just in front was a regiment lying down. “Never mind, we can march through,” was said to them as they attempted to move. “Shoulder, arms; right shoulder shift, arms. Forward, march!” The regiment moved forward as it never moved on drill, as steady and as straight as a line: on it went, over that dreadful plain strewed with dead and wounded. The Colonel just in front of the colors, every officer in place, the file-closers dressed as if on parade, the hospital attendants with the surgeon, Dr. Johnson, and assistant surgeon, Dr. Latimer, [153] thirty paces in rear; shot and shell tore through our ranks; not a man fell out; the wounded men were picked up by the hospital detail and attended to on the spot by our gallant medical officers, who in every action were as close to us as line or field officers. Wishing to change direction, the order was given, “Battalion, right wheel,” and they swung round like an arm; coming to a small rise which would shelter the men, they were halted, brought to a shoulder, then an order, then lie down.

Colonel Johnson went forward to reconnoitre. Instantly from the cloud of smoke in front rushed a battalion in disorder. “Halt, men, and rally!> form! Form!” cried he, as by word and sabre he tried to rally them, but precept and example were vain. “They were cut to pieces; they were flanked; their officers were all killed!” they said, and nothing could stop them. Directly two small groups came back around two battle-flags. “Who are you?” cried the Colonel. “The Fifth and----North Carolina,” said they. “Colonel McCrea ordered us to take that orchard and house, but we can't stand it.” “For the love you bear the Old North State, rally and charge!” “Yes, for her, the old North State forever” and clustering around those two little flags the gallant fellows with a cheer carried the colors of North Carolina into that hell of fire. “Up men and forward!” was our order, as an Alabama regiment formed on our right and two Virginians on our left. “Steady men, steady,” as we rose the crest and the battery became visible on a hill beyond the McGee House, the orchard and road between us, and which were filled with Yankees. Just then a disorderly, broken crowd tore back by us. “Shoulder, arms,” cried the Colonel. “Support, arms,” “Shoulder, arms,” “Right shoulder shift, arms,” were the orders he gave deliberately and slowly as the canister screamed over and around us. His object was to distract the attention of the men from the terrible fire and death around them, and to make them look alone to him for orders. Then coming within a hundred yards of the orchard road, and house, “charge” and forward we went with that old cheer which used to tell the Yankees their time had come. Over everything we went pell-mell into the road, over the fence, through the orchard, by the house. But the battery was gone, no further stand was made, and the battle of Cold Harbor or Gaines's Mill was won.

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