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

By General Bradley T. Johnson.

Paper no. 6. (Conclusion.)

The capture of dispatch Station — behind M'Clellan.

The conduct of the Regiment at Cold Harbor was probably more creditable than any action they ever performed. The fighting actually done by them really amounted to nothing — nothing in comparison to the gallant dash at Harrisonburg, nor the deadly struggle at Cross Keys where, hour after hour they rolled back the attack of Fremont's regiments in that terrible storm of iron and lead. Going into action late, over ground filled with dead and wounded, swept on all sides by shot and shell, while battalion after battalion came back in disorder, they moved on unshaken as steadily as iron, silent, steady, and attentive, they obeyed every word of command promptly, and accurately, and at last stormed the strong position of McGee's house at a “right shoulder shift arms” and without firing a shot. When the rush of disordered troops backward seemed about to attract their attention, the word of command ordering the changes of arms in the manual, were heard and obeyed at once, with precision, and nothing but the perfect coolness and steadiness of the men and officers saved us from almost annihilation. Other regiments, who went in with us, stopped to fire — got in disorder, lost very heavily, and then from the confusion in the ranks, and their losses, were forced to retire. The discipline and coolness of our men saved us from all this.

In this battle General Ewell lost his horse, General Elzey was wounded, and the chivalrous Wheat, with many other of our old friends killed. General Elzey being wounded, devolved the command of his brigade upon Colonel Walker, of the Thirteenth Virginia, and General Ewell separated us from it, making the “Maryland line” again a distinct command, under Colonel Johnson. Before the battle he had ordered Captain Brown to report to Brigadier-General Fitz. Lee, in order to give them a chance for service, so for seven days the command only consisted of the First Maryland and the Baltimore Light Artillery.

During the morning of Saturday, June 28th, Jackson moved off down the left bank of the Chickahominy, Ewell on the right, the First [215] Maryland and the battery on the right of Ewell. Toward noon the cavalry advance under Major Martin, of the Jeff. Davis Legion, dashed in upon Dispatch station, on the York river railroad, and drove off the guard. We went instantly to their support, and took possession of the stores there found, which were quite acceptable. Taking post on the hill above the station, our pickets were pushed to the Williamsburg road, a mile or so from Bottom's bridge, and within four or five hundred yards of the enemy's videttes, which were riding slowly to and fro on their beats on the level ground below.

At Bottom's bridge could be seen immense masses of men working like beavers on entrenchments on both sides of the river, where there was a heavy work containing apparently heavy guns. Up the railroad, across the track, could be seen some branches of trees piled which might conceal a gun or two, or might be only a pretence. General Ewell came up, and after having the position pointed out to him said: “Colonel, suppose you try those fellows at work there; we'll find out how many guns they have” So a couple of pieces were put in position and opened. The second shot had not reached the mass of working Yankees before they broke right and left and three batteries at once pitched shell after shell into us — at Bottom's bridge, on the railroad, and at a point between. “That'll do,” said the General, “we've found out what we want.” So our guns were run back under the crest of the hill. We had stirred up a hornet's nest, however, for the Yanks kept firing eagerly for some time after we stopped.

On Sunday morning a movement could be seen among them. Column after column, with knapsacks packed, for hours were passing the railroad, down the bank of the river, and miles below others could be seen moving in the same direction. General Ewell reported the fact, and in the afternoon we received orders to march up the Chickahominy, a reconnoissance having shown that the enemy was not crossing below and endeavoring to get to Williamsburg. As we were moving off a sudden movement was perceived in the masked battery on the railroad, and it was quickly withdrawn, a train came rapidly down with a singular rushing noise and accelerating speed until, with a roar, it leaped over the bridge into the Chickahominy, at the same moment exploding with the report of ten thousand cannon. It was a train of ammunition they had fired and set off towards us. It may have been intended to explode among us or to destroy the bridge. A dense column of smoke rolled upwards, continually rising from its centre and expanding on its sides, until it rose like a huge inverted cone miles high and broad, one of the grandest sights that can be seen. [216] This explosion convinced General Ewell that they were not going to attempt to force Bottom's bridge, and we accordingly hurried after the rest of the army. Monday and Tuesday we were rear guard, with orders to put all stragglers in our ranks and carry them into action. By noon we had collected 1,500 men from innumerable brigades and regiments. About that time we halted, in consequence of a movement in front of us which indicated an approaching battle. Troops were lying on the ground awaiting orders, ammunition and ambulance trains turned off, and couriers and aids galloped to and fro. After a while the artillery opened in front, followed by the crash of small arms. Colonel Johnson moved toward it, but his lately well filled ranks in the meantime had become depleted to their usual thinness. The guns and powder had been too much for the stragglers, and they had got off in passing other halting columns. After proceeding up the road some distance we moved into the woods and lay there, our left on the road. The Colonel rode forward with Lieutenant Frank Bond, of the cavalry, A. A. General, and Lieutenant Booth, adjutant of the regiment, until passing General George B. Anderson, of North Carolina, and the remnant of his brigade, they rose a small hill and suddenly turned a corner of the woods. Three hundred yards off in the open ground was a Yankee line, apparently a regiment, supporting skirmishers. Turning quickly, the three officers escaped before the astonished Yankees could fire. This was just in front of the Littleton house, and at that time there was no artillery there. Colonel Johnson rode directly to General Ewell, who ordered him to General Jackson, and he asked if he should take his battery there and drive them off. The General said “No.” Had it been done, in all probability that mass of artillery which was afterwards placed there could never have been collected on our left. Some other movement, however, was being made at the time, and we suppose General Jackson was under orders not to advance his lines. General Ewell directed us to remain where we were until further orders.

And during that whole terrible afternoon we lay under the most infernal fire that has ever been concentrated in America. The heavy mass in front poured over us a continual stream of shot and shell — while on our right the gunboats sent their 100-pound cylinders through the forest, enfilading us. The continual roar and shriek of the shell, the incessant crash of falling trees, the heavy dull report in the distance, and the sharp stunning explosion among us, over our heads, all around, with constant singing of minnie balls, made a scene uninterrupted by an instant cessation, for five hours, which will never be forgotten [217] by those who heard and endured it. Better, a thousand times better is the shock of battle — the charge — the cheer — the run forward, the short sharp struggle, and the flying foe — or your own men falling back to reform, than this terrible strain on the nerves in passive endurance. Lieutenant Shellman, Company A, was rolled over by a shot which tore up the ground beside him. Lieutenant Dorsey lifted up by one which passed under him. There was not a second during that whole afternoon that some one was not covered by the dirt or branches tossed there by the ploughing or cutting shot. Each one lay in his place, however, waiting the order to forward.

Toward night the stream of stragglers in the road thickened, and regiments and even brigades commenced coming back. Just then some scattered men came quickly by us. “Who are you?” was asked. “Seventh Louisiana,” was the reply. “Form with us.” “Who are you?” said they. “First Maryland.” “All right, Maryland!” and they formed steadily and marched to their regiment and brigade. The magnificent Louisiana brigade had made some mistake, some regiments charged without orders, had been driven back with great loss and were now forming with us. At last there seemed to be no one in front. The Louisiana brigade had been the only line before us and this had partly been driven back. The road was filled with a brigade which appeared to have no commander, and which hesitated, marched forward, then marched back, halted and then made a determined move towards the rear. It was necessary for some one to go forward to hold the ground, and to keep back the enemy if only to delay him with skirmishers.

There was no one to give orders, and no time to hunt for them. General Jackson who had been sitting on his horse reading right by us during an hour of the hottest fire had ridden off. General Ewell had left an hour before. So Colonel Johnson determined to move forward as far as possible, find out what the enemy was doing, and check him as much as we could with our small force. The night concealed our numbers and increased our chances. As we filed out, passing the column which was going toward the rear, Ewell's well-known voice was heard, “What troops are those?” “First Maryland,” sang out some one. “Thank heaven I you Marylanders are the only ones whose faces I find in the right direction.” We went down the road cautiously and found General Charles Winder, who, with only seventy men of his brigade, was attempting to hold the ground we had gained during the day. He ordered Colonel Johnson to go up the road and get possession of as much as possible of a small wood which is beyond the Littleton [218] house. Pushing out gradually, we got the whole wood, and Captain Herbert, company D, was posted in its extreme point, companies A and B being deployed right and left of him, and the reserve of the regiment back at the Littleton house. Then commenced a night of horrors. It appears we were holding ground fought over during the day by North Carolina troops. The ground was covered with their killed and wounded, and during the livelong night the silence echoed with the long-drawn scream of the wounded as they called the number of their regiments. “Fourteenth North Carolina!” “Fourth North Carolina!” “Third North Carolina!” “Thirtieth North Carolina!” rose on all sides in terrible but plaintive tones. As far as possible they were collected and supplied with water, but many a poor fellow lay there till the light came. The morning showed how they had fought. Up the road was a worm fence covered by thick bushes of sassafras and dogwood and blackberry; charging, they had pulled out corners of this fence and leaped through the gaps.

There they lay piled, some flat, some sitting, some resting on the fence rails as they had fallen. In the open ground they lay by file and rank, each man on his face, his musket grasped in front of him, toward the foe. Within ten feet of the Yankee battery was a group which had apparently forced its way there and then all fallen dead. There were no wounded there. All night long the roll of the enemy's artillery showed they were in motion, and it was not until daylight that we could perceive certainly that they were moving from us. Colonel Johnson then ordered the skirmishers not to fire on the Yankees collecting their wounded, but only to drive back any attempted reconnoissance. Soon after daylight a squadron of cavalry rode within two hundred yards of Captain Herbert's outer post, apparently the escort of a General officer, and an officer rode forward a few yards and deliberately inspected our pickets through his glass as far as he could see them. Before he had settled himself fairly in the saddle crack went half a dozen rifles — round wheeled the horse but fell in a few jumps, and the squadron galloped off — very soon skirmishers came up and pressed us but were soon driven off. While this was going on a brigadier sent word to General Jackson that Colonel Johnson was attacking every one that came near him, and if he was not stopped would bring on a general engagement. “He's right,” said Jackson, “that's his business there, attack them whenever he sees them! that's the way!”

On the 3rd of July we marched with Ewell's division. General Early had been ordered to the command of the Old Fourth Brigade, [219] and on approaching Westover on the James, we formed the left of Early. During the evening of the 4th, we pressed the enemy slowly back within sight of Westover Church, where we rested.

The next morning he had entrenched the hills around Westover, covered them with artillery and made an abattis half a mile deep in front of him, by felling trees.

General Lee however did not purpose to push him further, and in a day or two we all marched toward Richmond in the most oppressive heat we had ever experienced. The miasma from the swamps, and the stench of the battle field were beginning to tell on men accustomed to the pure air and cool water of the valley. We camped near Mechanicsville. Colonel Johnson thought this the auspicious moment to endeavor to recruit the regiment again. Since the Spring it had always been his intention to resign and submit his claims for a re-election, so that he might be cleared of any responsibility for the troubles. But as his re-election was a certainty with the same company officers, it would have been a farce, unless they were subjected to a re-organization also.

He had no reason to doubt but that they would be in the main re-elected, but it seemed the fairest conduct to the men.

Companies A and B had been entitled to a re-election of officers on their reorganization as re-enlisted companies, and his object had always been to equalize the condition of all the companies as far as possible.

Had he been able he would have procured the furlough and re-enlistment for all in winter quarters, where the germ of the discontent was engendered by companies A and B re-enlisting and getting furloughs. But this could not be done. The muster-rolls of companies D, E, F and G were made out for the war, signed by Lieutenant-Colonel George Deas, the mustering officer, and placed in the Adjutant-General's office. No such privilege could therefore be given them. Companies A and B were enlisted for twelve months from May 21, 1861. He explained the matter to Generals Jackson and Ewell, and procured their endorsement of his application to the Secretary of War for permission to proceed to Charlottesville, recruit the regiment and reorganize by an election of company and field officers. He had only heard, the evening of the battle of Cold Harbor, from Major Kyle, Commissary of the Maryland Line, that the communication he had sent from Staunton by Captain Murray to the Secretary of War, setting forth the complaints of the men had been handed to him, and that he had not delivered it as yet. He therefore seized this as the first moment practicable to lay that matter also before the Secretary. [220]

Mr. Randolph at once granted the order for reorganization; and the complaints of the men of companies D, E, F and G as to their term of enlistment having been explained to him, he said, as understood by Colonel Johnson and Captain J. Louis Smith, who was present, that that being a question of fact, it could only be determined by a court with jurisdiction competent to try it, and that would be a court martial.

Colonel Johnson therefore published an order requiring all men absent without leave to report in two weeks for duty, or be considered and treated as deserters, and proceeded with the regiment to Charlottesville.

While there, he reported to the Secretary of War that he had explained to the men his conclusion about them as he understood it, and in answer to an inquiry from him fully and distinctly set forth all the facts in relation to the original enlistment at Harper's Ferry, the complaints of the men about them and the statements of the company officers in relation thereto.

Companies E, F and G, claimed to have understood their original enlistment as only for one year. Their officers declared that the time and terms were fully explained to them to be for the war. Company D claimed that the original enlistment by Colonel Deas was not binding because of want of authority in him.

But many individuals of all four of these companies asserted that they understood the facts as alleged by their officers.

During the first week at Charlottesville there was considerable grumbling and dissatisfaction, but that quieted down and the men were getting satisfied and contented. Colonel Johnson furnished each man who desired it, with a new uniform, his bounty and pay and a short furlough, in consideration of which, the recipient was to go off and hunt up recruits. The plan was working well; many came back before their leave was out, and many who had been absent for months came in, rejoiced to get among their old comrades again.

While this was going on Colonel Johnson took Companies A, B, C and D to Gordonsville in obedience to General Jackson's orders and assumed command there, leaving the residue behind to collect men.

Thus we had every prospect of reorganizing in a few weeks and going into the field, with from three to four hundred men at least.

On the 14th of August came an order from the Secretary of War to disband the whole regiment. No exceptions were made. Companies A, B and C, which had just gone into service, were included as well as those who were discontented.

How this order was procured was never known. It is supposed that [221] some persons, who had recently arrived in the Confederacy, having access to the authorities in Richmond, had produced such erroneous impressions on them and misled them to such an extent as to have been able to procure from them this unjust and extraordinary order. It was not the act of any friend of the regiment nor of any soldier who had ever served in it, as far as could be ascertained.

Elzey and Steuart our first and second Colonels had been wounded in battle and were out of the field. They were never consulted about it. Colonel Johnson had been the sole field officer with it since Lieutenant-Colonel Dorsey had been wounded at Winchester, and having been continously in the field since the war commenced, had neither time nor taste for the Richmond intrigues. No more cruel blow could have been struck at him or his brother officers. They had fronted and fought the enemy for fifteen months, in such a way as to have from them the respect of their commanding officers, and the whole conduct of the command had been such as to place it high in the esteem of the whole army.

Whatever was the intention of the authors of this deed toward Colonel Johnson and his officers it signally failed in injuring them. General Ewell immediately requested a higher rank for him, that of Brigadier-General, and General Jackson placed him in command of the Second brigade of his old division, which he led at second Manassas, and had the triumph of marching into Maryland and into Frederick. All the other officers soon were placed in honorable and responsible positions. But the consequences to Maryland were such as the conspirators did not foresee. The army went there. Thousands wished to enlist. Every one asked “Where is the First Maryland?” The disappointment and chagrin at finding it disbanded was extreme. They had no Maryland organization to rally on. Colonel Johnson tried to organize a force in Frederick, but before a skeleton could be found the army marched, Sharpsburg was fought, Maryland evacuated, and the whole Confederacy filled with complaints that Maryland did not rise; that no men joined our army, and that she was untrue to the South.

Had the First Maryland regiment been with Jackson in Frederick during the three days he was there it would have filled up to two thousand men. Eight hundred, at least joined the cavalry and artillery companies as it was, but with that regiment as a nucleus, two thousand men would certainly have been obtained in three days.

They had no time to get together and organize companies, select captains and choose officers. That was impossible. So they were left behind or scattered through the whole army, and the consequence has been the most widespread distrust of Maryland among the Southern [222] people and army. Before then there had been the warmest enthusiasm and most intense sympathy for our State.

The persons who destroyed our regiment may thank themselves for having inflicted a more deadly blow on the interests and future chances of the State than Hicks, Winter Davis and Bradford combined.

On the 17th August, 1862, the regiment was mustered out and paid off. It had many more men than some regiments. The non-commissioned officers received the colors, regimental fund and other property, which was turned over to them by the Colonel. They appointed a committee of sergeants with the color-sergeant at the head to present the regimental color and bucktail, which they had followed in every fight, to Mrs. Johnson, in token of their appreciation of her efforts for them.

This they did with this letter:

Dear Madam:--Upon the occasion of the disbandment of the First Maryland Regiment on the 17th of August, we, the undersigned, members of the above named regiment, do unanimously agree and resolve to present to you as one worthy to receive it, our flag, which has been gallantly and victoriously borne over many a bloody and hard fought field and under whose sacred folds Maryland's exiled sons have fought and bled in a holy cause. Our attachment to our flag is undying, and now that circumstances have rendered it necessary that our organization should no longer exist, we place in your hands, as a testimonial of our regard and esteem, our little flag which is dear to us all.

For the regiment,

Albert Tolson, Sergeant of Co. C. Richard L. Brown. Geo. Tyler, Sergeant of Co. A. Geo. W. Wentworth, Sergeant of Co. B. F. Farr, Sergeant of Co. F. W. Joseph Franck, Sergeant of Co. D. Calvin Myers, Sergeant of Co. E. Ch. N. Ferriot, Sergeant of Co. G. Edwin Selvage, Color-Bearer.

The large Regimental State Standard, they directed the Colonel to have emblazoned with their battles and deposited with the Historical Society of Virginia, to be by it retained, until Maryland joins the Southern Confederacy, when it is to be turned over to the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. [223]

He found it impossible to have it properly painted, but placed it in charge of Thomas H. Wynne, Esq., of Richmond, to be properly fixed and given to the Virginia Historical Society. On it should be imprinted or painted the names of “Manassas First, Munson's Hill, Upton's Hill, Hall's Hill, Sangster's Station, Rappahannock, Front Royal, Winchester, Bolivar Heights, Harrisonburg (Bucktails), Cross Keys, Port Republic, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill and Westover,” being fifteen battles and skirmishes in which the regiment had been engaged.

The regimental fund in the possession of Captains Herbert and Nicholas they directed to be paid over to the sick and wounded.

Richmond, January, 1863.

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