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Martin's Brigade, of Hoke's Division, 1863-64. [from the Raleigh (N. C.) State, November 6, 1895.]

In the fall of 1863, Brigadier-General James G. Martin, commanding the district of North Carolina, with headquarters at Kingston, was, by the Secretary of War, directed to organize a brigade from the troops in his district and assume the command for service in the field. This was composed of the Seventeenth North Carolina troops, Colonel William T. Martin; the Forty-second North Carolina troops, Colonel John E. Brown; the Fiftieth North Carolina troops, Colonel George Wortham, and Sixty-sixth North Carolina troops, Colonel A. Duncan Moore.

The brigade staff consisted of Captain Charles G. Elliott, assistant adjutant-general; Major A. Gordon, quartermaster, succeeded by Captain John S. Dancy, assistant quartermaster; Major James DeMille, commissary, succeeded by Captain Lucien D. Starke, assistant commissary sergeant; Lieutenant Theodore Harrell, ordnance officer; Lieutenant William B. Shepard, Jr., aid-de-camp.

Soon afterwards ordered to Wilmington in the department commanded by Major-General W. H. C. Whiting, the brigade was placed in camp near the city, and for several months went through a rigid course of instruction and discipline from ‘squad drill’ to ‘evolutions of the line,’ and became as well drilled as a corps of regulars, and as well clothed and equipped as a Confederate brigade could be. No enemy appeared in front of Wilmington, but when General George E. Pickett was sent with his division to Kinston and ordered to attack and recapture Newbern—on the 2d of February, 1864—General Martin was sent from Wilmington on an expedition to cut the Atlantic and North Carolina railroad and destroy the bridge at a village called Shepperdsville, now known as Newport, a few miles west of Morehead City. General Pickett's demonstration was feeble and completely failed, but Martin successfully accomplished the task assigned to him after a very long and fatiguing but energetic march, most skillfully concealed from the enemy, and a spirited battle with the forces protecting the railroad bridge. His force consisted of two regiments of his brigade, the Seventeenth and Forty-second, a squadron of cavalry, Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffords, and a battery of artillery, Captain Paris. Finding White Oak river bridge destroyed, General Martin's commissary, Captain Starke, [190] acted as engineer and quickly constructed with pine trees a sort of dam over the stream, without nails, over which the command passed going and returning. The enemy was surprised, vigorously attacked, driven out of his forts and block houses, abandoned his quarters and lost cannon arms, and a large quantity of supplies, and many prisoners. The bridge was burned. But as Pickett had failed, Martin was compelled to return to Wilmington.

When the Confederates from Lee's army under General Robert F. Hoke assaulted and captured Plymouth, N. C., after a bloody engagement (with the valuable aid of the iron-clad ram Albemarle, which was built at Edward's Ferry, on Roanoke river, under contract with the Confederate States Navy Department, by Lieutenant Gilbert Elliott, of the Seventeenth North Carolina troops, detached), Martin's Brigade was ordered to relieve Hoke's command, which made another demonstration against Newbern without material results. Soon after this all available forces in the Carolinas and at South Atlantic posts were concentrated at Petersburg and south of the James to resist Butler's army. Martin's Brigade reached Petersburg, and reported to Major-General W. H. C. Whiting, on the 14th of May, 1864. The commanding general, Beauregard, was then fighting Butler's army near Drewry's Bluff, having driven the enemy towards the river Beameg, and planned a great general battle to ‘bottle him up,’ and directed Whiting to co-operate. General Whiting's infantry consisted of the brigades of Martin and Wise. He had the valuable assistance of Major-General D. H. Hill, then without a command, and Brigadier-General Roger A. Pryor was serving with him as a mounted scout. As some of General Whiting's staff officers were left in Wilmington, and General Martin had a full staff, he directed me to offer my services to General Whiting, and I rode with him part of the day when his unfortunate failure occurred. Butler's army having seized the main road between Richmond and Petersburg, General Beauregard sent a staff officer by a long detour through Chesterfield county to ride with a battle order to Whiting. I saw General Whiting have the order, and heard him read it. It plainly ordered him to advance from his position, which was then across Swift Creek, on the morning of May 17th, and ‘move rapidly forward in the direction of the heaviest firing’—along the Petersburg and Richmond road and towards Port Walthall Junction—the point where a road crosses the former, and leads to James river. Had this junction been seized, Butler's army would have been cut off. But General Whiting would not advance [191] after forming his line of battle, because he did not hear heavy firing. There must have been a condition of the atmosphere to prevent it, for the sound of the firing was not heavy. From this General Whiting claimed that Beauregard had ceased to fight and feared that he would endanger Petersburg and expose his own right flank—if he moved forward. General Pryor told him he had been seven miles down the Appomattox and there was no enemy to flank him. General Hill, General Martin, and General Wise urged him to go forward, but he would not give the order. There was but a feeble skirmish line of cavalry in our front. The history of the great battle shows that Butler's army retreated by the very road that Whiting could easily have reached and held. General Whiting the next day admitted his blunder—was relieved of the command, and returned to his post at Wilmington. A few days afterwards this brigade and Wise's were placed under the command of General D. H. Hill, and on May 20th, anniversary of the day on our battle-flags, Martin's Brigade was formed on the right of Beauregard's line of battle, with Wise in reserve. After a heavy artillery duel of an hour the charge began from the left, and as the rebel yell came up the line like a tornado, under its inspiration Martin ordered his brigade to forward, guide center, charge!—the Seventeenth on the right, the Forty-second on the left, and the Sixty-sixth in the center.

The General, with Captain L. D. Starke and myself, moved immediately behind the Sixty-sixth, all on foot, the line with great enthusiasm charging through a field of small grain into a pine thicket, where the enemy were strongly entrenched and supported by his artillery. During the charge General Martin ordered me to tell Colonel Moore, of the Sixty-sixth, that his regiment was advancing too rapidly ahead of the right and left, and to preserve the alignment. When I gave the order to Colonel Moore he seized his color, planted the staff upon the ground, and lifted his sword in the air above his head—the well-known signal—and his command halted, dressed on the colors until the regiments on the right and left came upon the same line, then, with a start, all three sprang forward and rushed upon the enemy's ranks. The foe retreated, and our men held the line, subjected to a severe artillery fire. LieutenantColo-nel John C. Lamb, of Williamston, N. C., of the Seventeenth North Carolina, sprang on the breastworks, cheering his men, and fell mortally wounded — a most gallant, able, and efficient officer cut off in the flower of his youth. He fell with shouts of victory from his beloved men resounding in his ears. Observing the enemy moving to [192] our right, General Martin directed me to go to General Hill and ask for troops upon our right flank. Going to the rear, on this errand, I met General Hill coming up with Wise's Brigade, delivered my message, and received his order to direct that brigade to the line at the point of junction with our own, which I did. Our men converted the enemy's works into our own defensive line, Butler being then bottled up at Bermuda Hundreds. We called this action of May 20th the battle of Howlett's House, as a Mrs. Howlett lived on the grounds.

In a few days a new division was organized under Major-General Robert F. Hoke, of North Carolina, promoted for his gallant capture of Plymouth and hard-fighting under Beauregard at Drewry's Bluff, and for his great merit, the division being Martin's North Carolina, Clingman's North Carolina, Colquitt's Georgia, and Hagood's South Carolina Brigades of infantry, with Reid's Battalion of artillery. General Hoke hesitated about commanding General Martin, an old soldier, who, as adjutant-general of North Carolina, had commissioned Hoke as a lieutenant, but Martin insisted that he should include his brigade in the new division, and it so remained until the close of the war.

The personal bravery of General Martin in the charge at Howlett's was so conspicuous, and his bearing so cool and inspiring, that his men after the battle carried him around on their shoulders, shouting, ‘Three cheers for old One Wing,’ he having left one arm on the field of Cherubusco, in Mexico. Although this disturbed his dignity, it was very gratifying to the General, for his strict and severe discipline had not made the men very affectionate towards him. From this time on he was the object of their admiration, and so was Captain Starke, who acted with great coolness and courage on the field, and also, as commissary, always fed them as well as he possibly could. Captain Starke, in addition to his duties as commissary, acted also as assistant inspector, and in every battle accompanied General Martin, and conveyed his orders with coolness and gallantry.

From this point Hoke's Division marched to Cold Harbor to reenforce Lee, arriving at Turkey Ridge, and taking position on the right of the line, under fire, on the evening of June 2d; Martin's Brigade on the extreme right, the Seventeenth on the left, Forty-second in the center, and Sixty-sixth on the right of the grand army, all digging for dear life, and by next morning completing a fair line of entrenchments. [193]

Breckinridge's Division coming up, one of his brigades, Echols', was put on the right of the Sixty-sixth, and Finnegan's in reserve. Artillery from A. P. Hill's Corps supported our line, firing over our heads. Among these was Major Charles R. Grandy's Battery, Norfolk Light Artillery Blues.

Just at dawn on June 3d the enemy's line advanced. Echols' Virginia Brigade, on our right, broke and ran away. General Martin sent me to Colonel Moore with an order to protect his flank by retiring his right wing to the rear. The Sixty-sixth nobly held its ground and fired hotly upon the enemy in front and on the right. Finnegan's Florida men came gallantly to the front and recaptured the trenches from which Echols' men had ingloriously fled. Then the fierce battle raged, of which so much has been written. General Martin cheered his men, and their enthusiasm was great. Mostly armed with smooth-bore muskets, they poured an incessant fusilade of buck and ball into the brave lines that charged and re-charged, and fell, many of them, on our works. The slaughter was terrific. I did not see one man on our side falter. It was a great victory from the start, but deeply saddened by the death of Colonel A. D. Moore, of the Sixty—sixth, killed by a sharpshooter after the charge—a noble, brilliant, gallant young officer.

A few days afterwards, meeting a Federal surgeon under flag of truce while burying the dead in front of Martin's Brigade, he told me that his command—Corcoran's Irish Legion from New York—had but twelve men who escaped death or wounds in that charge, our buck-shot peppering nearly all of them. No men or officers ever made a braver charge than did these Federals on the 3d of June. But the flame of continuous fire from Martin's Brigade was too much for them or any men to overcome, and our line would not yield an inch. My position in the centre and on a ridge gave me a splendid view of the grand encounter, and I could see the battle far down to the left. Never will the inspiring sight be effaced from my memory. For about ten days we remained in these trenches, enduring and exchanging the sharp-shooting combat, strengthening the works in every way possible, as General Lee fully believed Grant would assault him again at this same point. It was very uncomfortable and beginning to be quite warm and dusty, and good water was scarce. But General Lee caused full rations of onions to be issued, causing the men to cheer as if they had gained another victory.

While occupying the trenches at Cold Harbor, our headquarters [194] being in a ditch a few feet from the line, General Martin had a visit from a General Smith, an engineer officer, serving with the Commander-in-chief, General R. E. Lee. Old army soldiers, they greeted each other familiarly as ‘Smith’ and ‘Martin.’ In my presence General Smith said: ‘Martin, I come to you with a message from General Lee, who desires me to say that he regrets that his duties prevent his calling on you in person to say that he is glad to hear you have come to his army. He directs me to come, not through your major-general, but directly to you, to say that he is deeply concerned about this point in the line occupied by your brigade, which he considers the key to his position. He believes that Grant is massing his army in your front, preparing to make an attack to carry this point if possible. I am ordered to place eighteen-inch siege-guns in your works, and strengthen them in every way possible, and you must assist me in doing so. And further, as yours is comparatively a new brigade, not having seen much hard field service, he desires you to candidly let him know whether you can rely upon your men in case of such a powerful assault. If not, he will relieve your command, and send here another (veteran troops), as he wishes to take no risk whatever at this point.’

I well remember General Martin's very earnest reply: ‘Smith, say to General Lee, with my compliments, that my men are soldiers, and he has no brigade in his army that will hold this place any longer than they will. I know them, and do not fear their giving way. But tell him further that, in my judgment, he is mistaken. Grant is withdrawing his army from our front and going to City Point, and General Lee should at once return Hoke's Division to General Beauregard for the defense of Petersburg. Grant is going to attack Richmond from the rear, as the Army of the Potomac should have done long ago.’

General Smith replied: ‘No, Martin, our information is different, and General Lee expects another attack right here.’ So our command went to work to strengthen the line and place abattis in front of it and prepare for the attack, which never came. History records that Beauregard was urging the War Department to send him Hoke's Division at that very time, and also begging General Lee for the same, as he looked for Grant to attack Petersburg. But we remained there several days until the enemy disappeared from our front, and then, after some hesitation, doubt and delay, we were suddenly hurried to Petersburg.

If Hancock had not been disabled by wounds from commanding [195] his corps, he would have occupied Petersburg before Hoke could reach Beauregard. But fortunately for our side, Major-General Smith commanded Grant's advance, and the small band under Wise, Ferebee, Graham, and others, heroically held the enemy at bay until our arrival. Our division crossed the James on a pontoon bridge near Drewry's Bluff, and my brigade took the shortest cut, through fields and dusty roads, and reaching the Appomattox, crossed the bridge after midnight and moved out on the City Point road. Bushrod Johnson's Division had also been ordered there, but when we marched out there was not a Confederate line between the city and the Federal army. I walked with General Hoke down a ditch to within a few yards of the Federal pickets and saw no Confederates. Our men could not be formed in line for the immediate night attack ordered by General Beauregard, but fell asleep on the ground from sheer exhaustion. By early dawn they were aroused to meet the fierce onslaughts of Grant's army, so graphically described by General Beauregard in an article entitled ‘Four Days of Battle at Petersburg, June 15, 16, 17, and 18,.864.’

In these great defensive battles General Martin and his brigade displayed a courage, fortitude, endurance, and discipline unsurpassed by any. They held every position assigned them and fought with great coolness and enthusiasm, and when Beauregard retired to his new line they marched in perfect order, and after a few days occupied the salient in front of Hare's house, called by the enemy Fort Steadman—our salient being called Colquitt's, as his brigade held it jointly with ours. Before the siege had progressed very far General Martin showed physical weakness under the severe strain and exposure, and was relieved of command and assigned to command the District of Western North Carolina, with headquarters at Asheville. Later he applied to the Secretary of War, through me, for my transfer to his staff at Asheville. But I decided to remain with the brigade and share its fortunes for good or ill. Malarial fevers, diarrhea, scurvy, and other diseases, hard guard duty every night for every man and casualties from shot and shell, soon thinned the ranks of our brigade, although Colquitt shared our hardships, relieving us three days in each week. This life in the trenches was awful—beyond description. The lines were nearer together than elsewhere, and the sharpshooters never ceased firing, while the mortar shells rained down upon us incessantly day and night. Finally, at the ‘headquarters’ of the brigade—a hole in our embankment—I was left the only staff officer, and the brigade was commanded by one of [196] the junior captains of the Seventeenth regiment, Captain George B. Daniel, of Granville county, N. C., all the field officers being ‘hors de combat.’ I sent for Major-General Hoke and told him the hazardous situation, and he sent to command us Colonel Zachary, of the Twenty-seventh Georgia, of Colquitt's Brigade, an amiable and very brave officer, with whom my relations were very pleasant. I was feeble from exposure, but did not leave the men for a single day. How I survived all this I do not know. In August General W. W. Kirkland, a North Carolinian, was permanently placed in command of the brigade, relieving Colonel Zachary. Kirkland had commanded a brigade in Heth's Division, but was disabled by a wound at Bristow Station, and General William McRae took his place as brigadier. When Kirkland got well he came to us. He made no change in the staff, except to bring an aid-de-camp, Lieutenant Albert Stoddard, of Savannah, a relative of Kirkland's wife, who was a niece of Lieutenant-General W. J. Hardee. He was very courteous and agreeable at all times, and he became greatly attached to his brigade.

In September our division was relieved from guarding the hard lines they had held, and moved out of the trenches. During the fall and winter of 1864 we were attached to Longstreet's Corps in the works on north side of the James near Chaffin's Bluff. There we built winter-quarters and had some rest. Clingman's Brigade and Colquitt's were in the attack on Fort Harrison made by General Lee to recover that strong position, without success, but we were not engaged. We were marched under Longstreet around Grant's right flank on the Darbytown and Charles City roads, and had some fighting but not very severe.

General Lee gave orders that the earthworks should be strengthened and the camp carefully policed. He rode along the line almost daily. One day he halted on our line and sent for General Kirkland. I rode up with the latter to meet our chief. He asked Kirkland for some couriers and sent for the other generals of the corps. When they came up he pointed to our camp and works and said: ‘Gentlemen, this is the only brigade that has obeyed my instructions. I wish you to make your camp and line conform to this one. General Kirkland, I am glad to see the condition of your command.’ Kirkland, flushed with pride, thanked General Lee for the compliment to his brigade, but added that its high state of efficiency was due to its former commander, General Martin, and he had only tried to maintain the command as he found it. A manly statement from [197] a gallant soldier! General Lee replied: ‘General Martin is one to whom North Carolina owes a debt she will never pay.’ I told this to General Martin after the war, and the old general said he would like to have that saying recorded. It was said in my hearing, and made me proud also. General Lee was fond of General Martin, but I believe President Davis was not, owing to a difference in the old army.

During its eight months service in Virginia this brigade, under Martin and Kirkland, in the armies of Beauregard and Lee, was as as effective, as brave, laborious and faithful as any brigade in the army, and its losses from casualties and disease was very heavy. Almost continuously under fire, it never failed in attack, and was never driven from its position by the enemy. This testimony is cheerfully given by one who was never absent a single day from its front line, having never been disabled by wound or sickness, and is proud to have shared all of its hardships, exposure, and dangers.

Our division commanders were Whiting, D. H. Hill, and Hoke. Corps commanders—Lieutenant-Generals R. H. Anderson and Longstreet.

General D. H. Hill impressed me as a zealous, unselfish patriot and great soldier, who knew not fear and shrank from no duty. His Christian faith was unbounded. He could always be found at the most dangerous place in the line, doing what he could to encourage and also protect the men.

Hoke, as a division commander, was the peer of any in the army. Conspicuous for his bravery, coolness, and good judgment, the youngest major-general in the army, his rapid promotion from the grade of lieutenant was due alone to his gallant and meritorious conduct and fitness to command.

Hoke had many able officers and men under him who have been distinguished in public life since the war. Jarvis, of Clingman's Brigade; Colquitt, of Georgia, and Hagood, of South Carolina, were Governors of their respective States at the same time. One of his gallant young staff officers, Captain S. B. Alexander (taken from the Forty-second North Carolina troops) has honorably represented his county in the Legislature and his District in Congress, and at the same session of the latter Lieutenant W. A. B. Branch, one of Hoke's aides, son of the hero L. O'B. Branch, was his colleague. Lieutenant A. Leazer, of the Forty-second North Carolina troops, and Adjutant George H. Rose, of the Fiftieth North Carolina troops, were both Speakers of the General Assembly of North Carolina. [198]

To the field officers of the regiments was largely due the efficiency of Martin's Brigade. Colonel William F. Martin, LieutenantColo-nel Thomas H. Sharpe, Lieutenant-Colonel John C. Lamb, and Major Lucius J. Johnson, of the Seventeenth; Colonel John E. Brown, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles W. Bradshaw, and Major T. J. Brown, of the Forty-second; Colonel A. D. Moore, Colonel John H. Nethercutt, Lieutenant-Colonel Clement G. Wright, and Major David S. Davis, of the Sixty-sixth, were each and all brave, intelligent, faithful, and true under all circumstances. Nearly all of these are now ‘resting from their labors.’

This communication will be followed by a sketch of the operations of Kirkland's Brigade in North Carolina.


Charles G. Elliott, Late Captain and A. A. G.

[From the New Orleans Picayune, January 26, 1896.]

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