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The battle of Honey Hill.

By Colonel C. C. Jones, Jr.

Address before the survivors' Association of Augusta, Georgia, April 27th, 1885.

Friends and Comrades:
Since our last annual convocation two members of the Confederate Cabinet have died. On the 7th of May, 1884, within the quiet walls of his apartments in the Avenue Jena, in Paris; the Hon. Judah P. Benjamin, full of years and of honors, entered upon his final rest. With a lucidity of intellect, a capacity for labor, and an ability quite remarkable, he had, during the existence of the Confederate Government, occupied in turn the offices of Attorney-General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. The struggle ended, he repaired to England, where, claiming the privileges of a natural born British [356] subject, he was admitted to the bar and rose rapidly to the highest eminence capable of attainment by a practitioner in the most august courts of that realm. His success was most phenomenal. When he laid aside his gown and wig, there was no one in the long list of advocates, lawyers, barristers, and Queen's counsel who could claim superiority over him. When, moved by age and warned by physical infirmities, he determined to seek that repose which had been fairly earned by long, laborious, and conspicuous service, the English bench and bar—distinguished beyond all others—united in public testimonials to his unsurpassed professional learning and abilities, and gave cordial expression to the general regret at his retirement from a practice which he had done so much to dignify and adorn. With our flag at half mast, on the 10th of May, we participated, at this remove, in the last tributes paid to this noted Confederate, as his body was committed to the earth in a land far distant from that which, during years of privation and peril, had claimed and received his loves and devotion.

A little more than three months afterwards he was joined in the realm of shadows by the Hon. Leroy Pope Walker, who, on the morning of the 22d of August, fell on sleep at his home in Huntsville, Alabama. He was the first Confederate Secretary of War. His was the difficult mission to mobilize and arm the forces of the Confederacy at a formative period when that nation was little more than a political name. Volunteers there were of the most exalted spirit and capable of the highest endeavor, but the problem was, how to equip them for immediate and efficient service. In the language of the venerable historian, Mr. Gayarre, of Louisiana: ‘If Minerva, with wisdom, courage, justice, and right, was on the side of the Southern champion, yet it was Minerva not only without any armor, but even without necessary garments to protect her against the inclemencies of the weather; whilst on the other side there stood Mars in full panoply, Ceres with her inexhaustible cornucopia, Jupiter with his thunderbolts, Neptune with his trident, Mercury with his winged feet and his emblematic rod, Plutus with his hounds, Vulcan with his forge and hammer.’ It is even now a marvel, passing comprehension, how the Confederate States were able so rapidly to equip and to place in the field large bodies of troops. Equally astonishing is it that a government, born in a day and erected in the midst of a population almost wholly agricultural, could so quickly establish machine shops and foundries, compass the importation and manufacture of munitions of war, man heavy batteries, supply field artillery, [357] and place muskets and sabres in the hands of expectant soldiery. That in this difficult business of arming for the war General Walker evinced a patriotism, an energy, and a capacity worthy of special commendation, will be freely admitted.

But it is not only of these Confederates who held high commission in that service which belongs now to history and to our hearts that we would speak on this memorial occasion. Alas! the ‘fell sergeant death’ has advanced his pale flag within our lines, and has served his summons upon some who were knit to us alike by the ties of Confederate brotherhood, by the bonds of a common citizenship, by the attractions of personal friendship, and by the endearments of this our special fraternity. On the 4th of November last our comrade, Captain Joshua K. Evans, in the prime of manhood and while actively engaged in the discharge of the duties appertaining to his calling, was suddenly snatched from our companionship. He was an early and a devoted member of this Association, loyal to the memories which it is designed to perpetuate, and proud of the privileges which it extends. In his demise we mourn the departure of a friend, a useful citizen, and a gallant Confederate soldier, who, at first as a Lieutenant in the Georgia Light Guards, and subsequently as a Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General on the staff of General A. R. Wright, knew no fear, and neglected no duty either in camp or on the field of battle.

After a lingering illness, during which he manifested the utmost composure, our fellow-member, Lieutenant Charles Spaeth, on the 20th of December, bade farewell to these earthly scenes. As an officer of the Washington Artillery he served the Confederacy well, and, at the memorable battle of Shiloh, encountered a painful hurt. He was a prominent representative of the German element in our population, and, by his integrity, benevolence, probity, and public spirited interest in the welfare of the home of his adoption, commanded the respect, the confidence, and the good — will of us all.

In the death of our companion, Professor Robert C. Eve, M. D., ex surgeon of the Confederate army, which occurred on the night of the 30th of January of the present year, the Medical Department of the University of Georgia has lost an able teacher, this community a practitioner of skill, experience, and of humane impulses, Augusta a citizen of influence and sterling worth, and our Association a prominent member and a valued friend.

On this day, consecrate to the memory of our Confederate dead, we, who survive, drawing still closer the one to the other, and reuniting [358] the chain from which these broken links have fallen, lament the absence of these our companions who have gone before, extend to those near and dear unto them the assurance of our sincere condolence, and place a brother's garland upon their new-made graves.

Farewell brother soldiers! In peace may ye rest,
And light lie the turf on each veteran breast,
Until that review when the souls of the brave
Shall behold the chief Ensign—fair Mercy's flag—wave.

In his quiet home, ennobled by the presence of the live-oak, that monarch of the Southern forest, beautified by the queenly magnolia grandiflora, redolent of the perfumes of a semi-tropical region, fanned by the soft breezes which blow from the Gulf, and hallowed by exhibitions of respect, affection, and veneration most sincere, the exPres-ident of the Confederacy, now well-stricken in years, has recently been confined to a couch of pain, sensible of the infirmities inseparable from old age, and suffering from the effects of a wound encountered in the military service of this nation during the war with Mexico. Since the hush of that great storm which convulsed our land, and in which he was entrusted with the main conduct of the fortunes of the Confederate States, he has borne himself with a dignity and a composure, with a fidelity to the traditions of a consecrated past, with a just observance of the proprieties of the situation, and with an exalted heroism worthy of all admiration. Conspicuous for his gallantry and ability as an officer of the army, prominent as a secretary, senator and statesman in the political annals of these United States, illustrious for all time as the president of a nation, which, although enduring but for a few years, has bequeathed to history glorious names, notable events, and grand memories which will survive the flood of ages, and most intelligent and earnest in his vindication of the aims, rights, impulses, and conduct of the Southern people during their phenomenal revolution, his reputation abides unclouded by defeat, and his more than Spartan virtue unimpaired by the mutations of fortune and the shadows of disappointment.

Brave spirits are a balsam to themselves.
There is a nobleness of mind that heals
Wounds beyond salves.

To him—our venerable and beloved ex-president, our duly constituted leader in that mighty war which consolidated the energies, the patriotism, and the supreme devotion of this land, to him the first [359] honorary member of this Association, and the only one complimented with the badge which we, as active members, so fondly cherish, do we—giving expression to sentiments which are dominant in the breasts of thousands—cordially tender our sympathies in this the season of his declining years and multiplying infirmities, hoping that it will please a kind Providence to lengthen out his illustrious life for the joy of kindred and the further respect and honor of this age.

Verily hath his soul
     ... brooked the turning tide
With that untaught, innate philosophy
     Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,
Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.

With a sedate and all enduring eye,
     he remains
... ‘unbow'd beneath the ills upon him piled.’
     Heaven grant he may never find
‘That life protracted, is protracted woe.’

There is another—not a Confederate—who, stricken by a lethal disease, lingers in pain and helplessness on the brink of the dark river, calmly, despairingly, heroically awaiting the summons to join the innumerable throng which peoples the further and unknown shore. Rising grade by grade amid the shock of many battles, he won the leadership of the Federal armies. Ascending still higher, for two terms he filled the office of President of the United States. Not content with these sublime honors, he traversed seas and continents and everywhere received from the statesmen, warriors and potentates of the civilized world such tokens of respect and distinguished consideration as had never before been accorded to a living American. Failing to seek dignified repose, and resting not upon the labors he had accomplished, the celebrity he had achieved, in the heart of a great city he suffered himself to be drawn into the maelstrom of speculation where he speedily encountered financial ruin and mortification most poignant. He who had wielded the supreme command of grand armies in a contest the most gigantic in the history of modern wars—who had presided over the destinies of the most puissant Republic in the sisterhood of nations and consorted with the princes of the earth—now lies trembling between life and death upon a couch of anguish and disappointment. Marvellous mutation in human fortune!

But, my comrades, remembering him now as the generous victor [360] who, at the ever memorable meeting at Appomattox, to our immortal Lee, and to the glorious eight thousand veterans—surviving heroes of the Army of Northern Virginia—on the 9th of April, 1865, conceded liberal and magnanimous terms of surrender, do we—standing by the graves of our Confederate Dead, and mindful of the memories which the observance of this occasion is designed to perpetuate —respectfully tender to General Grant assurances of our sincere and profound sympathy in this the season of his direful extremity.

Let us now, my comrades, refresh our recollection of a battle fought for the salvation of the commercial metropolis of this State— an engagement won almost exclusively by Georgians—a victory which, in the results achieved, may be justly esteemed as decisive, and pregnant with honor to Confederate arms.

The Federals having abandoned any designs which they may have entertained against the city of Macon, and it appearing not improbable that Augusta, with its valuable powder-mill, work-shops, foundry, arsenal and government stores would attract the notice of General Sherman in his onward march toward the coast, on the morning of the 21st of November, 1864, General Hardee ordered the First Brigade, Georgia militia, to proceed with the utmost dispatch along the line of the Central railroad, and, moving by rail or otherwise, as transportation could be secured, to rendezvous at that place at the earliest practicable moment. Major-General Gustavus W. Smith was directed to follow with the Second, Third and Fourth Brigades of Georgia militia, the two regiments of the Georgia State Line, the Augusta and Athens battalions of local troops, and Anderson's Confederate light battery. In the execution of this order, that officer, on the morning of the 22d, put his command in motion with instructions to halt at Griswoldville, and there await further advices.

While detained a few hours in Macon in consummating necessary arrangements for the conveyance of supplies and ammunition, General Smith was informed that large bodies of the enemy still lingered in the vicinity of the town and threatened his proposed line of march. His troops were immediately recalled. The order, however, did not reach them until they were engaged with what was supposed to be an inconsiderable Federal force. In the language of his official report, ‘a collision occurred, we being the attacking party, and though the officers and men behaved with great gallantry, they failed to carry the works of the enemy, but held a position within one hundred and fifty yards of their line until after dark, when they were [361] withdrawn to Macon.’ The First Brigade was not engaged. It had passed beyond Griswoldville prior to the appearance of the Federals. In this affair the Confederates sustained a loss, in killed and wounded, of between five and six hundred—being rather more than a fourth of the men carried into action. They were confronted by Wood's division of the Fifteenth Army Corps; General Walcutt's brigade, with two pieces of artillery, and a regiment of cavalry on either flank, being in advance. The Federals were protected by barricades and temporary works of considerable strength.

Another corps of General Sherman's army was marching from Clinton in rear of the position occupied by the Confederates, so that their situation was perilous in the extreme. This engagement, while it reflects great credit upon the gallantry of the Confederate and State forces engaged, was unnecessary, unexpected, and utterly unproductive of any good. The battle of Griswoldville will be remembered as an unfortunate accident which might have been avoided by the exercise of proper caution and circumspection. It in no wise crippled the movements of the enemy, and entailed upon the Confederates a loss, which, under the circumstances, could be illy sustained.

The line of the Central railroad being thus in the possession of the Federals, the destination of General Smith's command was changed from Augusta to Savannah. On the 25th of November he moved by rail to Albany, and thence marched across the country to Thomasville. ‘We arrived,’ says General Smith, ‘in Thomasville by noon on Monday, the 28th, having marched from Albany, a distance of between fifty-five and sixty miles, in fifty-four hours.’ There, ‘instead of finding five trains, the number I had requested to be sent, there were but two, and these could not be started until after dark.’ Not until two o'clock on Wednesday morning was Savannah reached. So insufficient was the transportation that he was compelled to leave the Second, Third and Fourth brigades of the Georgia militia at Thomasville to await the return of the train.

Upon arrival at Savannah, and before he had left the cars, General Smith received a peremptory order from General Hardee requiring him immediately to proceed with his command to Grahamville, South Carolina, to repel an advance of the Federals, who, moving up from Broad river, were seeking to cut the line of the Charleston and Savannah railroad. It was absolutely necessary that this communication should be preserved. Upon its security depended the retention of Savannah. Over this road must the garrison retreat in the [362] event that it became expedient to evacuate that city. By this route also were re-enforcements expected. General Hardee had no troops which could be detailed for this important service, except two regular Confederate regiments from Charleston, and it was feared that they would arrive too late for the emergency. Not a moment could be lost, and it was urged upon General Smith that if he would move at once and hold the enemy in check, several thousand troops, en route from North and South Carolina for the re-enforcement of the garrison at Savannah, would appear and ensure the effectual repulse of the Federals. Although the statute organizing the State forces confined their service and operations to the limits of Georgia; although, strictly speaking, there rested upon these troops no legal obligation to move beyond the confines of their own State, whose territory they were instructed to defend; although General Smith had a qualified authority from Governor Brown to withdraw the Georgia State forces under his command from Confederate service in case they were ordered beyond the limits of the State, and although his men were ‘almost broken down by fatigue and want of rest,’ realizing that the battle for the salvation of the metropolis of Georgia was on the instant to be fought on Carolina soil, and, after a full conference with the Lieutenant-General, becoming satisfied that it was right and proper the movement should be made, General Smith issued the requisite orders, and, about eight o'clock on Wednesday morning, the 30th of November, arrived at Grahamville, South Carolina, with his leading brigade. The conduct of that officer and the Georgia State troops in this emergency will be remembered with pride and satisfaction.

On Tuesday, the 29th of November, a Federal force, under the immediate command of Brigadier-General John P. Hatch, consisting of five thousand men of all arms, including a brigade from the navy, proceeded up Broad river to Boyd's Neck, where it landed with the intention of occupying the Charleston and Savannah railroad at Grahamville. This involved a march of only seven miles. This expedition was conceived in aid of General Sherman, who was known to be seeking the coast at some convenient point. By thus severing the communication between Savannah and Charleston, the former city would be completely isolated and Sherman enabled at pleasure, and without hazard, to cross the Savannah river at almost any point below Augusta, and establish communication with Port Royal, then the principal Federal depot on the south Atlantic coast.

When General Hatch effected a landing at Boyd's Neck, the only [363] Confederate force on duty at Grahamville was a part of a squadron of the Third South Carolina Cavalry. All available troops in the district had been sent into the interior to oppose General Sherman's advance. Colonel C. J. Colcock, the district commander, was fifty miles away, superintending the erection of field works at the principal crossings of the Savannah river. The Federals having landed at Boyd's Neck at eight o'clock on the morning of the 29th of November, at a remove of only seven miles from the railroad, and there being at the time no Confederate forces in the neighborhood capable of successfully disputing their advance, had they moved promptly upon Grahamville the Charleston and Savannah railroad would, beyond doubt, have passed into their possession. During the whole of the 29th they were engaged, however, in intrenching themselves at a point distant half a mile from where they landed, and thus the golden opportunity was suffered to pass unimproved.

Colonel Colcock arrived at Grahamville about seven o'clock on the morning of the 30th, and an hour afterwards General Smith, with his leading brigade, was on the ground. Advices were received that the Federal column, marching up the Honey Hill road, had passed Bolan's Church, and was then only five miles from Grahamville. A line of breastworks, previously constructed for the use of infantry and field artillery, being equi-distant between Grahamville and the church, it became all-important that the advance of the enemy should be retarded in order that the Confederates might occupy those works. With this view Colonel Colcock pushed rapidly forward with a 12-pounder Napoleon gun of Kanapaux's Light Battery, under command of Lieutenant Zealy, and Company K, of the Third South Carolina Cavalry, Captain Peeples. He encountered the head of the Federal column on a causeway a mile and a half in front of the breastworks. It was a favorable position for impeding the enemy's progress. On the left was an impenetrable swamp, and on the right an extensive old field intersected by numerous canals and ditches. Lieutenant Zealy's 12-pounder Napoleon was planted so as to command the causeway, and Captain Peeple's company was dismounted and deployed as skirmishers across the old field. The first shell from the Napoleon gun is said to have killed and wounded nine men of the enemy. In the face of this opposing fire the Federal column halted, and, after some delay, abandoned the highway. A considerable force was detached, which commenced marching across the old field with a view to flanking the Confederate position. To counteract this movement, Colonel Colcock [364] ordered his men to set fire to the broom-sedge, which was dry and covered the entire field. A strong wind, then prevailing and blowing in the direction of the enemy, carried down upon them, with surprising rapidity, a fierce line of flame and smoke before which they precipitately retreated; in their flight abandoning blankets, haversacks and knapsacks. Reforming in the road, the Federals advanced, Colonel Colcock retiring with his little command and disputing their progress from time to time as opportunity occurred.

Meanwhile General Smith had fully occupied the breastworks, and completed his dispositions. To Colonel Colcock, the district commander, was assigned the general charge of the main line.

The engagement commenced about ten o'clock in the morning, and from that time until nearly dark the enemy made repeated but fruitless efforts to carry the Confederate position. The Confederates brought into action five pieces of field artillery and about fourteen hundred effective muskets. There were also three companies and two detachments of the Third South Carolina Regiment of Cavalry, under Major Jenkins.1 The Confederate line of battle extended from the Honey-Hill road, on which its right rested in a semicircu-lar form through an open pine barren to the Coosawhatchie road.

At a remove of one hundred and fifty yards in front of the Confederate line and extending almost its entire length, was a low, swampy ground, about twenty yards wide. As the head of the Federal column appeared at a curve in the Honey-Hill road, less than two hundred yards in advance of the field works occupied by the Confederates, it encountered a murderous fire of artillery and musketry before which it recoiled. [365]

The Federals were approaching in apparent ignorance of this line of field works, and of the serious opposition which they were destined to experience. Staggered by this unexpected and deadly blow, some time elapsed before they deployed in line of battle to the right and left of the Honey-Hill road in front of the Confederate line and just across the swampy ground to which allusion has been made. This low ground was wooded to an extent sufficient to partially conceal the movements of the enemy, but not to protect them from the heavy fire of infantry and artillery which crashed through their ranks causing great destruction and demoralization. So soon as the Federals had formed their line of battle, efforts were made to force the centre of the Confederate line and also to turn its flanks. These attempts were renewed from time to time; but on each occasion resulted in defeat and heavy loss. The Confederate troops in position bravely held their ground, and the gallant Thirty-second Georgia regiment, which constituted a movable reserve, rendered efficient service in repelling these attacks, appearing always at the proper point at the most opportune time.

Wearied with and disheartened by these repeated repulses, and perceiving their inability to carry the Confederate works, the Federals, about four o'clock in the afternoon, slackened their fire, massed their artillery on their left and in the Honey-Hill road to cover their retreat, and commenced retiring. The Confederate left wing was advanced, but his men being greatly exhausted and having been for many hours without food, General Smith did not deem it best to pursue. The retreat of the enemy was effected during the evening and night of the 30th, and the next morning found the remnant of General Hatch's army behind its breastworks near Boyd's landing, covered by the protecting batteries of the Federal gunboats.

The Confederate losses amounted only to four killed and forty wounded. Those of the enemy are stated by General Grant, in his official report, as seven hundred and forty-six in killed, wounded, and missing.2 The Confederate artillery was admirably handled and caused much execution. In General Hatch's command were several negro regiments. They suffered severely. It appeared upon a subsequent inspection of the field, that they occupied some of the most exposed positions.

‘I have never seen or known of a battlefield,’ says General Smith in his official report, ‘upon which there was so little confusion, [366] and where every order was so cheerfully and promptly obeyed, and where a small number of men for so long a time successfully resisted the determined and oft-repeated efforts of largely superior attacking forces.’

The enemy having been thoroughly beaten back on the 30th, and Confederate reinforcements having, during the afternoon of that day and the morning of the 1st of December, concentrated at Grahamville in numbers sufficient to confirm the fruits of the victory and hold the line of the railway, General Smith regarded the necessity as no longer existing for detaining the Georgia State troops ‘beyond their legal jurisdiction.’ Accordingly, having asked and obtained permission from Lieutenant-General Hardee to lead his exhausted command back to Georgia, he arrived in Savannah with his troops at ten o'clock on the night of the 1st of December. From that time, until the evacuation of the city, this officer and the State forces were posted on the right of the western lines of the city of Savannah where they rendered efficient service and sustained an honorable part prior to, and during the progress of, the siege.

This victory at Honey Hill relieved Savannah from an impending danger which, had it not been averted, would have necessitated its immediate evacuation under the most perilous circumstances— maintained the only line of communication by which re-enforcements were expected for the relief of the commercial metropolis of Georgia—and finally afforded an avenue of retreat when, three weeks afterwards, the garrison, unable longer to cope with the enveloping legions of Sherman, withdrew from the city.

In acknowledgment and commendation of the conduct and services of General Smith and his command, the Legislature of Georgia, on the 9th of March, 1865, passed the following complimentary resolution:

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives, in General Assembly met, that the thanks of the State are due and are hereby tendered to General G. W. Smith, and to the officers and men composing the First Division of Georgia militia, and to the officers and men of the Georgia State Line, for their conspicuous gallantry at Griswoldville in this State; and especially for their unselfish patriotism in leaving their State and meeting the enemy on the memorable and well fought battlefield at Honey Hill in South Carolina.

The State with pride records this gallant conduct of her militia, [367] and feels assured that when an emergency again arises State lines will be forgotten by her militia, and a patriotism exhibited which knows nothing but our whole country.

Twenty years have elapsed, my comrades, since the surrender of the Confederate armies. The shadows are lengthening upon the dial of our fraternity, and there is no hand to stay the going down of the sun upon the generation which followed the Red-Cross to the tented field. Until the night comes, let us see to it that the reputation of virtuous actions so nobly won and so heroically maintained by our companions who have ascended to the stars, suffers no degeneration in our impulses, our characters, and our lives.

1 The following organizations were present on this memorable occasion, and constituted the little Confederate army charged with driving back a Federal force more than three times as numerous:

Infantry.—The First Brigade Georgia Militia, Colonel Willis; the State Line Brigade (Georgia), Colonel Wilson; the Seventeenth Georgia, Confederate Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards; the Thirty-second Georgia, Confederate Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Bacon; the Athens Battalion, Major Cook; the Augusta Battalion, Major Jackson.

Cavalry.—Companies B and E, and detachments from Company C and the Rebel Troop, all belonging to the Third Regiment South Carolina Cavalry, under command of Major Jenkins.

Artillery.—A section of the Beaufort Artillery, Captain Stuart; a section of De Pass's Light Battery; a section of the Lafayette Artillery; one gun from Kanapaux's Light Battery.

2 Rebellion Record, Volume XI, page 344.

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