January - December 1864
Camped in winter quarters in Eastern Tennessee, Longstreet's men soon suffered multiple hardships that few had endured during the previous two winters of the war. Because the Confederate commissary had little means of supplying such a large body of troops in a remote area of operations, food had to be procured locally. The difficulty of supplying two divisions of infantry from local resources in winter was compounded by the unsympathetic nature of the pro-Union population of the region. The country around Longstreet's command abounded with bushwackers, guerrillas, and deserters from both armies.
By early January, food and fodder in the immediate vicinity of Morristown became critically short. Consequently, large foraging parties supported by equally large guard details were dispatched far and wide from the camps in a continuous effort to sustain Longstreet's hungry army. Pvt. Joseph Polley of the Fourth Texas was a member of one guard detail on New Year's Day, 1864. Before leaving camp, Polley reported that he had a scanty breakfast of ``blue beef and flour [biscuits] made of sick wheat just issued us.'' Polley belonged to a 40-man detail commanded by Capt. Thrasher of the Third Arkansas, whose mission it was ``to wander broadcast over the country as a protection to foraging parties or quartermasters and commissaries.'' Few duties seemed so undesirable.
Clashes between Confederate foraging parties and bands of renegades and bushwackers continued throughout the army's stay in East Tennessee. Even with the organized mass foraging, the troops were often on short and unpalatable rations. Pvt. John C. West of the Fourth Texas recalled that part of the time the Brigade ``lived on corn issued to us in the ear from the wagons -- three or four ears for a man per day; that we shelled, parched, and ate and received nothing else. Parched corn, a pipe of good tobacco, [and] clear water, was the menu for several days.'' Illicit foraging by smaller groups occurred as it had in so many other places, but in East Tennessee even the master foragers from Hood's old brigade often returned empty handed.
Although the poor food situation was rough on the soldiers, the total lack of shoes, clothing, and blankets was worse. By early January, the temperatures had dropped below zero and the muddy ground had become solidly frozen. At least 2,000 of Longstreet's men were without shoes, and bloody footprints stained the frozen ground. A resident of Skoggston, 14 miles east of Knoxville, wrote after the war that ``she never forgot those barefoot, ragged Texas boys, who left bloody footprints in the snow as they marched past her home one their retreat [from Knoxville].'' John C. West of the Fourth Texas remarked that although he had seen ``barefooted men making bloody tracks in the snow,'' he heard ``but little murmuring and saw no signs of revolt.'' A shoeless man's only solace was being exempt from picket or forage duty.
Gen. Longstreet tried to combat the crippling shoe shortage by ordering the emergency construction of moccasins from green rawhide. To fit properly, these ``Longstreet Moccasins'' had to dry slowly while on the foot. Although this effort somewhat eased the awful shoe situation, the clothing situation remained critical. Many men were reduced to campaigning half-naked, or, at best, in ragged and threadbare uniforms. Miles V. Smith of the Fourth Texas complained,
``We felt like orphans, and had been treated like orphans. Not one stitch of clothing had we received ... and now in snow-clad East Tennessee [we fought] thinly clad, with a large bay window at the seat of each man's pants, some entirely without shoes and many others with shoes from which the sole had departed.''
By mid-January, a few new uniforms had been shipped to Longstreet's command when the railroad from the Richmond Quartermaster depots was re-opened. Replacements for worn out underdrawers and undershirts were not received, however.
The hardships experienced by the Texas Brigade at this time were exacerbated by their concern over the fate of Gen. Robertson, who was currently under arrest at Bristol and awaiting trial by court martial. On January 6, all officers present for duty in the Fourth and Fifth Texas signed a petition to the Secretary of War asking that Gen. Robertson be restored to the command of the brigade. About the same time, the Third Arkansas forwarded to Richmond a similar petition. No such petition was sent by the First Texas, which was without a field grade officer at the time.
On January 10, the Texas Brigade was ordered to pack up and prepare to move west toward Knoxville. This movement was part of a general order by Longstreet to counter a new Federal sally from Knoxville, led by Gen. Gordon Granger, against the Confederate forces in East Tennessee. Leaving their warm winter huts, the Texans and Arkansans marched to Russellville on January 11, and then to Panther Springs. They remained at Panther Springs several days, and on January 15 moved southward toward Dandridge on the French Broad River. Longstreet ordered his cavalry to attack Granger's force just east of Dandridge. While the horsemen slowed the Federal advance, Longstreet deployed his two infantry divisions toward Knoxville in a flanking maneuver designed to cut off Granger's communications. Granger soon detected this maneuver, withdrew his forces from Dandridge, and started back toward Knoxville. Longstreet's cavalry pursued the Federals closely, but muddy roads and inclement weather allowed Granger to reach Knoxville without serious loss. The cavalry did manage to capture from the Federals 800 beef cattle and 31 wagons, thereby alleviating somewhat the hunger of Longstreet's army.
By the time the Texas Brigade reached Dandridge, the Federals had evacuated the town. The brigade was then ordered to return to their winter quarters at Morristown, which they reached by January 19. Shortly afterwards, the men of the Texas Brigade were given an opportunity to reenlist for the duration of the war. As an inducement, a furlough home was offered to every tenth man that signed up. As miserable as they were over their condition in East Tennessee, the entire Brigade reenlisted with but few exceptions.
By late January, the railroads connecting East Tennessee with Richmond had been fully reopened, and limited supplies of food, forage, and clothing were sent to Longstreet's Army from Virginia. Pontoons and flatboats for bridging the Holston also arrived, enabling Longstreet to embark on a long-awaited second Confederate effort to take Knoxville. Longstreet's reason for this mid-winter counteroffensive ``was to show the strategic strength of the field, and persuade the authorities that an army of twenty thousand in that zone [East Tennessee] could be of greater service than double that force on the enemy's front or elsewhere.''
On February 3, a court martial was at last convened at Russellville, Tennessee, to review the charges against Gen. Robertson that were preferred by Gen. Jenkins on December 18, 1863. Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner presided over the court, which included Brig. Gen. John Gregg, who had been rescued by the Texas Brigade after his severe wounding at the Battle of Chickamauga.
On February 10, Jenkins' Division was ordered to Strawberry Plains to lay the recently received pontoon bridge across the Holston River. This order would be the last given to the division while under Jenkins' command. On February 12, President Davis finally settled the dispute between Jenkins and Brig. Gen. Evander Law over the command of Hood's old division by assigning the command to Maj. Gen. Charles W. Field. (Field was a jovial Virginian who was seriously wounded at the Second Battle of Manassas and had recently returned to the army as an amputee.) Both Law, who had resigned over the dispute in December, and Jenkins were reassigned to the commands of their old brigades in Hood's, now Field's, Division.
The Texas Brigade left its camp at Morristown on February 10, helped bridge the Holston River, and then crossed to the north bank of the river on February 14. With McLaw's Division following, Field led his brigades westward along the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad toward Knoxville. By February 15, the Texas Brigade was bivouacked 17 miles east of Knoxville and posted a picket line at Flat Creek some four miles to the front. The brigade maintained the advance infantry picket line for Longstreet's Army until February 20. Texas scouts operated beyond this line and skirmished daily with Federal pickets posted three miles from the city.
On February 19, Longstreet received a dispatch from Richmond cancelling a previously ordered movement of Pickett's Division from Virginia to East Tennessee. President Davis also ordered Longstreet to return William T. Martin's Cavalry Division to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee, now in winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia. Deprived of his cavalry and infantry reinforcements, Longstreet had no choice but to cancel the attack on Knoxville and withdraw his force eastward. On February 22, the retreat was begun, with Field's Division and the remaining cavalry covering the withdrawal.
The Confederates withdrew unharrassed by Federal troops back to the safety of the Bays Mountains. The Texas Brigade went into position at Bull's Gap between the Holston and Nolachucky rivers on February 26. They remained in this barren, mountainous country for the remainder of the month.
The miseries of wintering in East Tennessee continued. By this time, Longstreet's hungry and scantily clad men were further victimized by a severe infestation of lice. Not since their first winter at Dumfries, Virginia had the lice been so bad. From the various personal accounts describing the parasites, they were a larger species than those the men remembered back in Virginia.
Meanwhile, the court martial of Gen. Robertson had reached a decision in Russellville. On February 25, the court acquitted Robertson of ``improper motives'' but disapproved ``his conduct.'' The court reprimanded Robertson and permanently relieved him of command of the Texas Brigade. He had commanded the Texas Brigade longer than any other officer. Robertson was replaced by his judge and fellow Texan, Brig. Gen. John Gregg. (Gregg's old brigade was eliminated in the reorganization of the Army of Tennessee in late September 1863.) After his trial, Robertson went to Richmond to await a new assignment. While there, he received much support from his fellow division officers and men of the brigade. Miles V. Smith of Co. D, Fourth Texas, reported "This action [court martial] came very near destroying the efficiency of Hood's Texas Brigade....The Texans were about to revolt en masse, and had not General Robertson intervened, with all the persuasion he could command, a meeting would have certainly resulted....The boys love Aunt Polly and would have fought for him to the last extremity. "
By the end of February, a shipment of 3,000 pairs of shoes was finally received from Gen. A. R. Lawton, the Confederate Quartermaster General. At last, one of the many deficiencies of supply in Longstreet's Army had been resolved. It was not enough, however, to impress Lt. John Shotwell, Assistant Adjutant General of the Fourth Texas. On the February 29, the regular Bi-Monthly Muster and Inspection of Longstreet's Army was held at Bull's Gap. Company E of the Fourth Texas, typical of all the companies in the regiment, received the following ratings: ``Instruction'', ``Arms'', and ``Accoutrements'' -- GOOD; ``Discipline'' -- NOT GOOD; ``Military Appearance'' -- SHABBY; and ``Clothing'' -- VERY INFERIOR. Of the 47 men remaining in Co. E that day, only 22 were present for duty. This low percentage of ``assigned versus present for duty'' (47%) was average for the rest of the Texas Brigade and Longstreet's Army in general.
For most of March 1864, the Texas Brigade remained in winter camp at Bull's Gap enduring the lingering harsh winter, chronic shortages of food and clothing, and an infestation of lice. After inspecting the Texans in early March, Maj. C. M. Winkler of the Fourth Texas noted that the greatest need of the men was underwear. This dire need was made known to the public by means of letters sent to various relief agencies and newspapers throughout the South. Moved by the plight of the Texas boys so far from home, the ladies of Virginia and Georgia in particular shipped in boxes of underclothing, which Winkler reported as being ``very acceptable.''
Pvt. Joseph B. Polley of the Fourth Texas later provided a detailed description of the typical Texas infantryman in East Tennessee in March 1864:
This representative soldier carried an Enfield rifle with forty rounds of ammunition. He had, rolled up in a threadbare blanket that was looped over one shoulder and tied at the ends, a scrap of tent cloth and a leaky poncho. His ``uniform'' was well worn with one trouser leg torn off at the knee, and he had on a pair of homemade shoes that were worn out at the toes exposing his sockless feet. On his head was perched a ragged, greasy hat of nondescript appearance. This was the man who was carrying on his shoulders the hopes and prayers of the Confederacy for ultimate victory. He was hungry, he was dirty, he was in rags and often times he was barefooted but in spite of all these handicaps he was one of the best fighting men to charge through the pages of American history.
By mid-March, there was so little food for men and animals that Gen. Longstreet requested immediate aid from Richmond. On March 19, he wrote to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper:
We shall not be able to keep our animals alive more than a week or two [without corn] ... our rations, too, are getting short, so that we will hardly be able to march ... I beg that you will send us supplies at once, in sufficient quantity at least to enable us to march ... These are perhaps the best troops in the Confederate armies and should not be left where they must starve.
The authorities in Richmond answered Longstreet's plea with orders to break up winter quarters and move toward Virginia. The news was received with cheers from the Texas Brigade and morale in the ranks improved greatly. On March 28, Field's Division left the Bays Mountains via Howard's Gap and marched northeast along the tracks of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad to the vicinity of Greeneville, where it bivouacked for the night. The Texas Brigade continued to trudge northeastward through mud, rain, and snow until the end of the month.
So ended the East Tennessee Campaign. It had been one of disappointment, hardship, and frustration. Major Winkler of the Fourth Texas would afterwards write that the campaign was a period ``of greater suffering and privation than anything experienced by the Texas Brigade during the whole struggle. Not only was food scarce and innutritious, but [the men] suffered for want of clothing during the cold weather, many of them [were] barefooted.'' The postwar recollections of other officers, NCOs, and privates in the Texas regiments echoed Winkler's assessments completely.
On April 1, the Texas Brigade reached Zollicoffer, Tennessee, about 10 miles south of Bristol. Here, within one day's march of Virginia, the men went into camp. One of the highlights of the brigade's stay near Zollicoffer was a music and dance program performed on April 5 by Mollie Bailey, her husband, her brother-in-law, and Hood's Minstrels.
On April 9, just before leaving Richmond for Texas, Gen. Robertson wrote a poignant farewell to his old brigade. The last sentence was, ``With a mind saddened by the remembrances of ties broken, and with the prayer that God, in his mercy, will guard, protect and bless you, I bid you farewell.'' With this, Robertson left the Army of Northern Virginia and his beloved troops. On April 10, Gen. Evander Law wrote to Robertson, ``I feel that I can ask nothing better for you in the future, than that your happiness and prosperity may be commensurate with the gallantry, ability, and patriotism that you have displayed in the service.'' On April 11, Gen. Hood wrote of Robertson, ``I know him to be an officer of great energy and faithful in the discharge of his duties. He has great experience as an officer and has taken part in many battles. His troops are very much attached to him.''
On April 11, Gen. Longstreet received orders from Richmond to report with the ``original portion of the First Corps to General R. E. Lee.'' Longstreet immediately set his corps in motion. John B. Kershaw, now in command of McLaws' Division (McLaws' also fell victim to Longstreet's ire in East Tennessee), led the way, and Field's Division brought up the rear. The Texas Brigade was the last of Longstreet's brigades to leave Tennessee. The Texans and Arkansans boarded the train at Zollicoffer on April 20. They arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia, on April 22 and then continued on to Charlottesville the same day.
On April 26, the Texas Brigade marched north 16 miles to Cobham Station (Depot) on the Virginia Central Railroad. Here, about 8 miles below Gordonsville, the brigade went into camp and remained for the remainder of the month. Shortly after arriving at Gordonsville, the men drew new uniforms and shoes, and received ample rations of food. Their spirits soared. On April 28, Gen. Field held an inspection and review of his five brigades. The following day, Gen. Lee and his staff arrived to welcome Longstreet's Corps back to Virginia. A second review took place in a broad-pastured valley near Mechanicsburg. As Lee on Traveller rode down the lines of Field's Brigades to the sound of booming artillery and lusty cheers, ``he paid the Texas Brigade a high compliment, speaking of it as the best fighting brigade in the corps.''
On April 30, a third and final inspection of Longstreet's Corps was held. The last day of April was the Confederate army's regular Bi-Monthly Muster and Inspection of individual companies. The occasion did have its compensation, as the men signed the payroll and collected their Confederate currency. For many in the Texas Brigade, it would be the last pay they would ever receive.
On May 1, the Army of Northern Virginia was deployed on a wide front, with the First Corps (Longstreet's) near Gordonsville on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, the Second Corps (Ewell's) along the Rapidan River near Mine Run, and the Third Corps (A. P. Hill's) posted on Ewell's left further up river. On May 4, the 120,000 man Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George Meade, but closely supervised by Commander-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, crossed the Rapidan at Germanna and Ely's fords and commenced its long awaited spring offensive against Lee and Richmond. Lee, who had anticipated the crossing since May 2, did not dispute Grant's and Meade's movement. Instead, he let the Army of the Potomac march into the thick, tangled forest known as ``the Wilderness,'' where the Federals' advantages in artillery and manpower would be greatly diminished.
Midmorning on May 4, Lee ordered Ewell to move his corps east along the Orange Turnpike, which ran straight from Orange Court House through Verdiersville to Wilderness Tavern, where it intersected the Germanna Ford Road. At the same time, Lee ordered A. P. Hill's Corps to march south to Orange Court House and then east on the Orange Plank Road, which closely paralleled the Orange Turnpike, toward the Wilderness. At 11 am, Longstreet ordered Field and Kershaw to prepare to move at once from the Gordonsville area. Longstreet optimistically told Lee that he hoped to reach Richard's Shop, on the Cartharpin Road some 32 miles northeast of his current position at Mechanicsburg, by noon the following day.
After cooking three days' rations, the Texas Brigade left Mechanicsburg late in the afternoon of May 4. Field's Division, which trailed Kershaw's, consumed what was left of the day marching 16 miles along winding country roads to Brock's Bridge over the North Anna River. Here Longstreet's men rested while their commander sought a guide for a cross-country march to Richard's Shop. Having found one in the form of a local sheriff, Longstreet ordered his corps to prepare for the remainder of the march before dawn the next morning. With a ``swinging step'' and ``occasional rests'', Longstreet's Corps marched hard for sixteen miles and reached Richard's Shop by 5 pm on May 5. Exhausted from their 32 mile march in 24 hours, the men collapsed in their tracks. Few bothered to pitch tents.
During this time, Ewell's and Hill's corps had been engaged in desperate fighting with the Federals along the Orange Turnpike and Orange Plank Road, respectively. After the fighting halted at dark, Ewell's men strengthened their position by entrenching. Hill's men, exhausted from the fight and expecting to be relieved by Longstreet's Corps by the morning of May 6, did not entrench and instead went into bivouac. They did not know that Longstreet was still 10 miles short of the battlefield at Richard's Shop.
Late in the afternoon of May 5, Lee dispatched his aide Maj. Charles Venable to locate Longstreet and inform him of a revised plan to use the First Corps in a flank assault against the Federal left. When Venable found Longstreet, he instructed him to change his direction of march northeastward, through the woods, to Parker's Store. At that place, Longstreet was to turn east on the Orange Plank Road and and then hook up with Hill's Corps. Although Venable later recalled that the order was to be executed by daylight of May 6, Longstreet perceived no such urgency. Consequently, Longstreet decided to wait at Richard's Shop for stragglers and allow his men to rest for the next days' fight. He issued orders to march at 1 am.
When Venable returned to Lee, the latter had grown increasingly anxious about his army's situation. Lee dispatched his chief of staff, Maj. Henry B. McClellan to Richard's Shop and told him to instruct Gen. Field to move immediately to reinforce A. P. Hill's divisions under Heth and Wilcox. Field, who was resting his men and who had just received Longstreet's 1 am marching order, received McClellan coolly. Before McClellan returned to Lee, Field received a second order from Longstreet to march at 1 am. Field told McClellan that he preferred to obey Longstreet's order. Instead of seeking Longstreet, McClellan rode back to Lee and angrily reported of Field's insubordination.
At 1 am, Longstreet started his corps through the thick underbrush toward Parker's Store. Kershaw's Division led the march, followed by Field's Division and Alexander's artillery. The march was slow, treacherous, and frustrating. Guides lost their way in the thick brush and inky darkness. Consequently, the lead elements of the First Corps did not reach Parker's Store until nearly dawn. They were still an hour's march from Hill's precarious position.
At 5 am, Grant and Meade opened an assault all along the Confederate lines. For six hours, assaults by two Federal corps under Maj. Gens. John Sedgwick and G. K. Warren were repulsed by Ewell's well fortified Second Corps deployed across the Orange Turnpike. The situation with A. P. Hill's Third Corps positioned across the Orange Plank Road, however, was completely different. Hill's men were strongly attacked by converging Federal brigades from Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's Second Corps and Brig. Gen. James Wadsworth's Division of Warren's Fifth Corps. With no entrenchments and inadequate pickets, Hill's surprised men were quickly routed by attacks to their front and both flanks. Some of Hill's brigades retreated in order, but most ran in disorder westward along the Orange Plank Road and beyond a cleared farm belonging to the Widow Tapp.
When Longstreet's column reached the Orange Plank Road and turned east they heard the sounds of the furious battle coming from the east. ``Thinking the emergency might be great,'' Field drew the head of his division along side and 100 yards to rear of Kershaw's lead brigade. From then on, the two divisions marched in parallel columns of four along each side of the road, with Field's on the left and Kershaw's on the right. Instinctively, the leading brigades -- the Gregg's Texas Brigade of Field's Division and Humphreys' Brigade of Kershaw's Division -- increased their pace until a race toward the battle had begun between them.
After an hour of continuous onslaught, Federals from the 4th and 17th Maine of Hay's Brigade appeared at the eastern edge of the Widow Tapp's farm. On a rise across the clearing stood Gen. Lee, A. P. Hill, and an artillery battalion under Lt. Col. William Poague, which served as the last line of Confederate defense. Poague's gunners fired their pieces furiously and frequently enough to slow the Federal advance. A desperate Gen. Lee sent Maj. Venable to the rear to locate Longstreet. A critical moment in the existence of the Southern Confederacy had arrived.
Venable met Longstreet, who had ridden ahead of his corps, about a half mile to the rear. Longstreet immediately gave the order for his men to advance the last mile and a half at the double quick. Longstreet's coolness and the First Corps' discipline deeply impressed Venable. Fifteen years later he wrote, ``It was superb, and my heart beats quicker to think about it even at this distance of time.'' Before long, Longstreet's men began to encounter the shattered ranks of Hill's Corps trickling, then streaming, by as they fled to the rear. Longstreet's men never slowed their pace. On onlooker later wrote, ``In perfect order, ranks well closed, and no stragglers, those splendid troops came on, regardless of the confusion on every side, pushing their steady movement onward like a river in the sea of confused and troubled human waves around them.''
Reaching the Widow Tapp's farm, Kershaw's Division began forming for battle south of the Orange Plank Road. Before Field could follow suit, Longstreet ordered Field to deploy his front north of the road. Field acted with dispatch and ordered Gregg's 800-man Texas Brigade to execute a right wheel into line perpendicular to the road and behind Poague's guns. The Texas Brigade was arranged in its usual battle order -- from left to right, Third Arkansas, First Texas, Fourth Texas, and Fifth Texas. These regiments were commanded by Col. Van Manning, Lt. Col. Frederick Bass, Col. John P. Bane, and Lt. Col. King Bryan, respectively. Behind the Texas Brigade were stacked, in order, Benning's, Perry's (Law's), and Jenkins' Brigades.
As Gregg ordered the Texas Brigade forward through Poague's guns, a much relieved and excited Gen. Lee rode toward him and asked, ``General, what brigade is this?'' ``The Texas Brigade,'' Gregg proudly answered. Lee replied, ``I'm glad to see it! When you go in there, I wish you to give those men the cold steel. They will stand and fight all day, and never move unless you charge them.'' When Gregg received Longstreet's order to advance, Gregg saluted Lee, rode to the center of his command, and boomed for all to hear, ``Attention, Texas Brigade! The eyes of General Lee are upon you! Forward...march.'' Lee could not contain his excitement. Rising high in his stirrups, and waving his hat, he shouted, ``Texans always move them!''
After Lee's exhortation, ``a yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heartfelt tears.'' Lee, moved greatly by this response, moved through an opening in the brigade and attempted to lead the Texans in their charge. When the Texans realized this meant almost certain death for Lee, a cry of ``Go back, General Lee. Go back!'' spread across the entire line. As Lee urged his horse Traveller on, several men nearest him sprang from the ranks and grabbed at the reins and saddle. Hearing calls of ``General Lee to the rear'' and ``We won't move until you go back'', Lee finally acquiesced, but not before Maj. Venable and Gen. Gregg ``forcibly'' persuaded their leader to leave the field and join Longstreet on a knoll near Poague's artillery.
The Texas Brigade received the command to ``load and cap your pieces'' and ``hold them well up.'' One Texan recalled, ``The jingle of hundreds of iron ramrods up and down the line denoted that something horrible was soon to take place.'' Moving almost as one body, Field's and Kershaw's divisions advanced in columns of brigades toward the approaching Federals. With no brush to impede its progress, the Texas Brigade quickly advanced well ahead of Kershaw's men. Federal skirmishers and sharpshooters took a deadly toll on the exposed ranks of the brigade, but onward the Texans and Arkansans charged, at the double quick, into the first line of Federals. That blue line broke, and the Texas Brigade streamed forward -- unsupported -- into the main Federal line in the woods beyond the Widow Tapp's farm. There came a terrible crash of musketry, as Gregg's severely outnumbered troops exchanged a brutal, stand-up fire with the enemy no more than 20 yards away. ``Death seemed to be our portion,'' one Texan later wrote.
The Texas Brigade charged again, and the main Federal line bowed back to a second line of breastworks. Face-to-face fighting ensued. During the charge, a strong enemy force posted south of the Orange Plank Road opened heavy enfilade fire on the Fourth and Fifth Texas. Gregg ordered the two regiments to swing right across the road to attack their assailants. Union artillery posted in the road raked the regiments with double-shotted canister as the line of Texans moved diagonally across their front. The Fourth and Fifth Texas moved steadily forward until coming within 100 yards of entrenched Federal infantry south of the Orange Plank Road. Learning that a large Federal force was advancing down the road and fearing the regiments would be cut off, Gregg led the Fourth and the Fifth back north of the road.
``For 25 minutes we held them steady,'' boasted a Texan who lived through the carnage, ``and at the expiration of that time more than half our brave fellows lay around us dead, dying, and wounded, and the few survivors could stand it no longer.'' Gregg was nearly killed as his horse was shot beneath him. At his command, the brigade grudgingly gave ground. Only 250 men were able to follow Gregg's order and return to the Widow Tapp's farm. These remaining men reformed about 300 yards in front of Poague's artillery and replenished their ammunition.
Despite its already devastating losses, the Texas Brigade was again called upon to enter the battle. Gregg was ordered to attack along the Orange Plank Road to stop a new thrust by Hancock's Corps. The brigade, now reduced to little more than a skirmish line, advanced at a right angle to the general line of battle. Moving down a slight elevation, Gregg's men crossed a swamp to the summit of another rise where they engaged and dispersed a heavy line of Federal skirmishers. At this point, the Texas Brigade was relieved by other elements of Field's Division and saw no more action except for a brief encounter with Federal skirmishers toward evening.
Although the performances of Longstreet's other brigades had too been admirable, the bold and unsupported attack of Texas Brigade can be credited for halting the momentum of Hancock's advance along the Orange Plank Road. What the Texas Brigade began north of the road, the remainder of Field's Division was able to complete. Kershaw's Division accomplished similar results, though less efficiently, as the brush on the south side of the road was much more tangled and dense. Together, Longstreet's Divisions reversed the Federal onslaught against Lee's right on May 6, and probabley saved the Army of Northern Virginia from destruction.
Although no official casualty reports for the Texas Brigade survive, the Galveston News reported on May 7, 1874 that Gregg's command lost 565 of 811 men that went into action on May 6, 1864. If correct, this 70% casualty rate would be the highest incurred by the Texas Brigade during the war. According to Miles V. Smith of Company D, the Fourth Texas had 207 men present for duty at the battle and lost 130, including four color bearers. All the officers of the Fifth Texas were lost. Col. Manning of the Third Arkansas was badly wounded and later captured. Afterwards, Gregg confided to Postmaster General John Reagan that if Longstreet had not recalled his men ``he believed the old brigade would have been annihilated, for in his opinion the Texans had not intended to go back alive.''
Perhaps the most significant of Lee's losses during the Battle of the Wilderness was that of Longstreet, who, during a flanking maneuver later in the day, was shot along with several of his staff and brigadiers by unwitting Confederate troops. Longstreet was seriously wounded in the neck, and Brig. Gen. Micah Jenkins was killed outright. The incident of friendly fire was eerily reminscent of the fatal wounding of Stonewall Jackson almost exactly a year before on the other side of the Wilderness at Chancellorsville.
On May 7, both armies lay behind their breastworks, too exhausted for further offensive moves. Special details prowled the ``no man's land'' between the lines bringing off the dead and wounded. The Texas regiments brought their dead to a central location adjacent to a large oak tree north of the Orange Plank Road, near where they had stopped Hancock's advance the previous morning. The bodies were buried in a long and shallow trench with headboards displaying each man's name and unit. On the oak tree above the trench was nailed a board inscribed with the simple words, ``Texas Dead, May 6, 1864.''
By mid-afternoon of May 7, cavalry intelligence confirmed Lee's suspicions that Grant intended not to withdraw across the Rapidan but to place the Army of the Potomac between Lee and Richmond by sidling 12 miles south to Spotsylvania Court House. Lee promptly ordered his army south toward the same objective. With a head start, Lee hoped to be in position by the time the Federals reached their destination. Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson, now in command of the First Corps, was ordered to march first, as his new command was positioned farthest to Lee's right.
After supper on May 7, the Texas Brigade was issued an extra day's ration of one pound of corn meal and one half-pound of bacon before commencing their night march. Around 10 pm, Field's Division followed Kershaw's southward along a freshly cut trail from the Orange Plank Road. Anderson's orders from Lee were to march his men a little way and then let them sleep until 3 am, at which time they would continue the march along Catharpin Road and Shady Grove Church road to Spotsylvania Court House. The march along the swampy and stump-choked trail was miserable, and the stench from the battlefield was overpowering. Unwilling to rest his corps in this environment, Anderson chose to press on out of the Wilderness to a more suitable campsite.
Anderson's veterans continued to march all night and, at dawn on May~8, stopped to bivouac along the Shady Grove Church Road at the Block House Bridge over the Po River. Spotsylvania Court House lay 2 miles to the east. No sooner had they arrived than a courier from Maj. Gen. J. E. B. Stuart arrived with orders for Anderson to reinforce Confederate cavalry posted along Laurel Hill, about one mile northwest of the courthouse. The cavalry had successfully delayed Warren's Fifth Corps for hours as it advanced down the Brock Road to Spotsylvania Court House, and was about to be assaulted by Warren at Laurel Hill. Kershaw's Division was sent to assist Stuart, while Field's Division was ordered to Spotsylvania to drive off Federal cavalry which had been spotted there.
Warren's piecemeal assault against Stuart and Kershaw was repulsed with great Union losses, and the Federal Cavalry withdrew from Spotsylvania Court House without incident. Field's Division was ordered to take position on Kershaw's left along Laurel Hill. The Texas Brigade, posted on Field's extreme left along the Po River, used boards, tin cups, plates, and knives to hastily dig entrenchments. The race to Spotsylvania Court House was won by the Confederates, but only barely.
By early afternoon of May 9, all three Confederate corps had reached the vicinity of Spotsylvania Court House. Ewell's Second Corps took position on Kershaw's right. The Third Corps, now commanded by Maj. Gen. Jubal Early instead of the very ill A. P. Hill, was posted to the right and behind Ewell's men. Anticipating an attack on Anderson's left by Hancock, Lee sent Brig. Gen. William Mahone's (formerly Anderson's) Division of the Third Corps into position to the left of the Texas Brigade to bolster Lee's anchorage along the Po. Heth's Division was sent far around the Confederate left flank and across the Po to lay in wait for Hancock's attack. Meanwhile, Anderson's and Ewell's Corps strengthened their fortifications along Laurel Hill and north of the courthouse.
At 8:30 am on May 10, while Hancock continued to probe the Confederate flank across the Po, Warren began an assault against the Confederate left wing on Laurel Hill. Positioned on Warren's right, Brig. Gen. Samuel Crawford's Division advanced toward Field's entrenched division, which was backed by Col. E. Porter Alexander's artillery. The Confederate gunners and riflemen quickly routed Warren's men all along their line of attack. By mid-morning, Warren called off the attack. Finding the Confederates in strength across the Po, Hancock's divisions were slowly recalled back across the river.
While Hancock withdrew his men, Warren appealed to Meade and Grant to let him resume his assault on Laurel Hill. Despite Warren's earlier failures, Meade agreed. At 2 pm, augmented by Brig. Gen. John Gibbon's Division from Hancock's Corps, Warren commenced his second attack of the day. Gibbon's First Brigade, under Brig. Gen. Alexander Webb, assaulted the formidable abatis and breastworks constructed by the Texas Brigade. Supported by the Richmond Howitzers, the Texans and Arkansans tore bloody gaps into Webb's line, and forced the Federals to lie on the ground. Pine needles around them ignited, and Webb's men beat out flames with their caps as they crawled on their bellies to escape Gregg's bullets. The story was the same all along the Federal line, and after an hour, Warren called an end to this latest disastrous attack.
Anticipating another attack, some men of the Texas Brigade climbed over their barricades and took rifles and ammunition from the dead and wounded Federals to their front. The extra rifles were sorely needed, as the brigade's losses in the Wilderness forced the men to stand five feet apart just to cover their sector of the line. According to Miles V. Smith of the Fourth Texas, ``each man gathered to himself two Enfield rifles for long range and a musket loaded with buckshot for close range.''
At 5 pm on May 10, Grant ordered a full-scale attack against the now well-fortified Confederates. The attack against Field's sector was begun at 7 pm by Hancock's Corps. The Texas Brigade was busy preparing its supper when it caught sight of the brigade of Brig. Gen. Hobart Ward marching at the double quick toward their works. Jumping for their guns and smashing open fresh boxes of ammunition, Gregg's men waited for the Yankees to reach their position. Once reached, the Texans and Manly's North Carolina Battery soon began raking the Yankees with bullets and canister. Despite the shock, Ward's three lead regiments -- 86th New York, 3rd Maine, and 124th New York -- plunged through the abatis and toward the Gregg's ramparts. The Fourth and Fifth Texas and the Third Arkansas managed to hold the Federals in check, but the First Texas could not prevent the bayonet-wielding Yankees from breaching their works via a 40-foot wide gap over a gully. Bloody hand-to-hand fighting ensued. The Texans, lacking the bayonets they discarded in Tennessee, wielded their rifles as clubs.
As the Federals poured through the breach, they were met with enfilade fire from the Third Arkansas on the left and the Fourth and Fifth Texas and ``Tige'' Anderson's Brigade on the right. Two Napoleons from the First Richmond Howitzers swung around and fired down the trench with double canister. Unable to stand the flanking fire, the Yankees withdrew in confusion through the breastworks. As they fled in disorder back to their lines, the Federals suffered severely from artillery and small arms fire. The breach was sealed. A similar breach in Ewell's front was also repaired, and elsewhere along Lee's line the Federal attack was a complete and costly failure. After watching the performance of the Texas Brigade, Field commended his troops. ``Men, it was perfectly magnificent. If the line had been broken here I don't know what we should have done.'' Indeed, the Texas Brigade had no reserve.
The Federals attacked Lee's lines several times after May 10, mostly notably against the ``mule shoe'' salient held by Ewell's Corps on May 12, but none of these engagements directly concerned the Texas Brigade. Throughout the campaign, however, active snipers forced the Texans to stay under cover and behind their breastworks during daylight hours. Under such conditions, the dead had to be buried immediately behind the entrenchments, and their shallow graves scooped out by comrades lying flat on the ground or kneeling.
Anticipating another sidling maneuver by Grant around his right flank, Lee prepared his troops for a move southward. Stationed on Lee's left, Field's Division would be the first to move. On the night of May 14, the Texas Brigade received its movement orders. At noon on May 15, Gregg's men marched southeast across the rear of Lee's army to a position south of A. P. Hill's Corps along the Brock Road. Here they remained until May 20, when Grant began withdrawing his Fifth and Sixth Corps from the Spotsylvania lines. The Texas Brigade was ordered to go south of the Po River ``in support of the guns there,'' and to connect with Ewell's Corps moving down from Spotsylvania Court House.
On the afternoon of May 21, the Texas Brigade continued its movement south on the Telegraph Road with Field's Division. Except for a two-hour rest in the early morning hours of May 22, Gregg's men marched continuously for the next 20 hours, covering 25 miles. The brigade crossed to the south side of the North Anna River and, after marching a mile, halted near Hanover Junction on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. By the night of May 22, Lee's entire army was below the North Anna. As expected, Grant appeared on the north side of the river the next morning. Both armies hastily dug in and prepared for battle. Once again, Lee had correctly interpreted Grant's movements and, taking advantage of interior lines, blocked the southward movement of the Army of the Potomac.
Between May 23 and 26, Grant launched a series of simultaneous probing attacks against the flanks of Lee's strongly entrenched army. The uncoordinated attacks were easily driven off, but Lee, who had become seriously ill, was unable to exploit Grant's tactical blunder of dividing and isolating segments of his army across the North Anna. The Texas Brigade held a sector of the Confederate line near the railroad. Except for some skirmishing along the picket line, Gregg's men saw little action during the North Anna Campaign.
On the night of May 26, Grant again abandoned hope of defeating the entrenched Confederates and ordered a southeastern movement around Lee's right flank. When Grant's disappearance was discovered on the morning of May 27, Lee ordered a similar movement southward to keep his army between Grant and Richmond. Field's Division lead the march of the First Corps along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad from Hanover Junction to Ashland Station. The division then turned southeast and marched to Atlee's Station on the Virginia Central Railroad. On May 28, the Texas Brigade, after crossing the railroad, moved east to the vicinity of Hundley's Corner and Walnut Grove Church near Totopotomoy Creek. Here, the brigade bivouacked.
Believing the Confederate position at Totopotomoy Creek too strong to attack, Grant continued to move southeast toward the Chickahominy River. Lee followed on a parallel route. By May 31, both armies were approaching Cold Harbor, near the old battlefield of Gaines' Mill -- where Hood's Texas Brigade had first gained fame two years before.
By June 1, the Union and Confederate armies confronted each other at Cold Harbor in positions opposite to those they assumed two years before. Instead of facing southeast as they had during the Battle of Gaines' Mill, the Confederates now faced northeast. Lee's line extended from Totopotomoy Creek on the north to the Chickahominy River on the south -- a distance of eight miles. Ewell's Corps occupied the left wing of army, Anderson's Corps the center, and A. P. Hill's corps (commanded by Jubal Early) the right. By remarkable coincidence, the Texas Brigade took up a position on the same ridge from which it had helped drive Fitz John Porter's Corps on June 27, 1862.
For the fifth time in a month, Lee had blocked Grant's attempt to outflank the Army of Northern Virginia. However, Lee had given up valuable ground in the process. Richmond was only 12 miles to his rear. Lee's thin ranks were bolstered by the arrival of Robert F. Hoke's Division of 6,000 men from Drewry's Bluff. Unfortunately for the Confederates, Grant had also been reinforced. The Federal's strength rose to 108,000 men, or almost twice Lee's strength of 59,000 men.
Late on June 1, six Federal divisions under Gen. W. F. ``Baldy'' Smith attacked the Confederate line held by Kershaw's and Hoke's Divisions. Taking advantage of a wooded ravine where the Confederate divisions joined, the Federals broke through the Confederate line. The Texas Brigade and Eppa Hunton's Brigade of Pickett's Division were rushed to the area of the breakthrough and helped seal the breach, but not before several hundred prisoners were taken from Kershaw's and Hoke's commands.
By morning of June 2, both armies had erected strong breastworks. The opposing lines were so close in the sector held by the Texas Brigade that Gen. Gregg did not advance his pickets. As a precautionary measure against surprised attack, Gregg had his men construct an abatis in front of their works. Miles V. Smith of Co. D, Fourth Texas, said that each company had to provide a detail of two men to top the trees behind their works for the purpose of building the abatis. No general attack occurred on June 2, but the Texans and Arkansans were exposed to long-range rifle fire and an unusually heavy artillery barrage.
Gregg's men were up early on June 3, many of them breakfasting on ``clammy corn-bread and raw bacon'', when Grant struck in force at 4:30 a.m. Some 40,000 Federals from the corps of W. S. Hancock, Horatio Wright, and ``Baldy'' Smith advanced first against A. P. Hill and then Anderson. The men of Smith's Eighteenth Corps assaulted the position held by Gen. Evander Law's Brigade of Alabamians. The Texas Brigade, posted to Law's right, poured a destructive enfilading fire into the ranks of Smith's advancing men. According to J. B. Polley of the Fourth Texas,
"[The enemy] came forward in four lines, about fifty yards apart, and thus presented the fairest of targets for Texas and Arkansas marksmanship. But they essayed the impossible; men could not live in the fire poured on them from front and flanks, and although in the first rush a few came within seventy yards of our lines, they halted, about faced, and fled as fast as legs could carry them. The slaughter was terrible!"
All along Lee's line, the Federal assault whithered under deadly Confederate fire. Double-shotted canister swept away entire Federal companies with each barrage. In a little over it eight minutes, Grant lost over 7,000 men. The grand assault was a dismal failure and won for Grant the sobriquet, ``The Butcher.'' After the war, Gen. Law would remark, ``It was not war, it was murder.'' Law counted over 1,000 dead and wounded in front of his works at a loss of not more than 20 in his command.
After the attack, the Federals established a line that in places came within 100 yards of Confederate entrenchments. On June 6, after three days of watching the wounded bake and smelling the corpses rot between the lines, Grant finally asked for and received a truce to retrieve the Federal casualties. A Federal deserter quipped to a group of Confederates that Grant intended ``to stink Lee out of position if nothing else will suffice.'' During the brief truce, soldiers from both sides fraternized and traded between the lines, and opposing bands vied for attention by playing patriotic tunes. After two hours, the men scrambled back to their works, took down their white flags, and commenced shooting again. From June 1 to 9, Maj. C. M. Winkler of the Fourth Texas reported eight casualties in his regiment.
For the next six days, the opposing armies sniped at each other without a general battle. On June 12, Grant decided that it was impossible to take Richmond by going over or around Lee's army. Changing his objective, Grant withdrew the Army of the Potomac from its position and set it in motion southward across the Chickahominy and James Rivers toward Petersburg. That city, a rail hub located on the Appomattox River 23 miles south of Richmond, controlled a vital supply line to the capital and to Lee.
On June 13, the Texas Brigade and the rest of Anderson's Corps left its position at Cold Harbor, crossed the Chickahominy on McClellan's Bridge, and bivouacked that night just north of the old Glendale (Frayser's Farm) battlefield. Being near the main Confederate supply depots in Richmond had its privileges. According to Lt. W. D. Williams of the Fifth Texas, the Texas Brigade was getting better rations in mid-June 1864, ``than anytime since the beginning of 1862. They drew half a pound of bacon, a pound and quarter of bread besides coffee, sugar and peas and a variety of vegetables.''
The Texans remained camped near Glendale until 5 a.m. on June 16. The brigade then marched to the James River, crossed it at Drewry's Bluff, and moved south with Field's and Pickett's Divisions down the Petersburg Turnpike. Their objective was to occupy the trenches in the vicinity of Bermuda Hundred that had just been abandoned by Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard's Confederates as they rushed to meet the leading elements of Grant's army before the Federals entered Petersburg.
Reaching Beauregard's trenches on June 17, Field's Division occupied the right wing of Anderson's Corps and Pickett's Division occupied the left wing. Anderson's men were exposed to constant sharpshooting and shelling from Union forces entrenched to their front. Annoyed by the Federal fire, the Texas Brigade and several of Pickett's bigades spontaneously charged from their earthworks ``with one of the grandest rebel yells heard in a long time'' and drove the enemy from its position. The Fourth Texas lost two men in this ``Battle of Howlett's Farm,'' including its adjutant, Lt. W. H. Brown, who was mortally wounded.
On the morning of June 18, the Texas Brigade left Bermuda Hundred and marched west to the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, where the boarded the cars bound for Petersburg. Field's and Pickett's men were ordered to assist Beauregard, who was single-handedly staving off assaults by four Federal corps outside Petersburg. The Texas Brigade halted in Petersburg long enough to avail itself of hogsheads of coffee that had been hauled on wagons to its line of march by grateful citizens. Late in the day, Gregg's command moved into the trenches east of the city and south of the Appomattox River. The Texas Brigade, on the left of Field's Division, was positioned to the right of Kershaw's Division. The brigade was located mid-way between the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and the Jerusalem Plank Road about 1.5 miles east of Blandford Cemetery. The right of the brigade rested on Taylor's Branch. Here Gregg's men would begin a weary month of duty in the trenches.
Miles Smith of the Fourth Texas reported that Yankee sharpshooters were deadly, killing at least a man a day in the brigade. Smith also reported that the lines were so close that at least one-third of the men were on watch night and day. J. B. Polley wrote, ``To stay in the trenches alive, was to suffer with heat, smother with dust [and] keep the heads below the top of the breastworks...'' Maj. Winkler reported that, during the first two days in the Petersburg trenches, the Fourth Texas alone lost ``four killed and three wounded'' and added that ``when a shot takes effect, it is generally fatal.''
According to Winkler, not only were their fortifications well constructed, but the Confederates had placed ``obstructions of different kinds beyond [the works] calculated to tangle the enemy's feet and retard progress... The Federals [had] as many chances in favor to getting into heaven as to Petersburg.'' Although their duties were primarily defensive, the Texas Brigade did at least once leave their entrenchments and take the offensive. In his diary entry for June 24, Robert Lowry of Co. G, Third Arkansas, wrote that the brigade engaged in ``some fighting, charged a battery.''
Two Fourth Texans described what it was like to man the defenses at Petersburg. Major C. M. Winkler wrote,
This thing of duty in the trenches is anything but pleasant...During the day the heat is oppressive, and not infrequently the Texan sighs for the refreshing breezes of his own prairie home. At night one-third of the officers and men are on the alert, at a time, each usually taking one-third of the night, and at the first indication of the approach of morning, all hands are up and in readiness to meet any attempt at a surprise - everybody literally living beneath the surface of the ground, and constantly on the qui vive. Here we eat, drink and sleep as best we can...
Private Joseph B. Polley also wrote,
Here for thirty long, weary days the Texas Brigade stayed on guard, under a hot, almost blistering sun, and with only the shade made by blankets and tent-cloths, stretched across such rails and planks as could be brought long distances on the shoulders of its men through an incessant storm of bullets, to protect them from its heat and glare. There was little breeze, scant rain, and much dust. The opposing lines too close together to permit either side to send pickets to the front, the watching of each other and the guarding against surprise was done in and from the main lines, and lest the vigilance exercised there prove insufficient, each side maintained a rifle fire, which, although in the daytime somewhat scattering and perfunctory, was at night an unceasing volley.
Although the conditions in the trenches were hot and dry, the Texas Brigade received adequate food - certainly much better than the fare they had received the previous winter in East Tennessee. The meals consisted mainly of corn meal, bacon or lean beef, beans with cow peas, and, from time to time, rice. Occasionally, an issue of coffee and sugar was received. The coffee was especially welcomed and was ``parched in a frying pan, beat in a cloth and then boiled in a tin cup.'' One pound of corn meal was issued per man per day and was baked into bread by a special cooking detail. The meat ration was 1/4 pound per man per day. Both bread and beef were carried to the front lines on the shoulders of the commissary sergeants. It was almost impossible to forage while confined to the trenches, so the Texans had to be content with the government issue.
A religious revival that swept through Lee's army in the summer of 1864 had mixed effect on the Texans. O. T. Hanks of the First Texas wrote of ``a good sermon'' given by the brigade chaplain, the Rev. Sam Davis, but doubted the value of the revival, stating that ``we are all pretty good Christians by this time and will be until the quiet future...[After the war,] some of us will return to `wallow in the mire'.'' Maj. Winkler of the Fourth Texas reported that a popular pastime in his regiment was singing religious songs. Winkler also noted with pleasure that chess was ``fast superceding'' cards as a recreational pursuit and that gambling was becoming most ``unfashionable.''
While in the trenches at Petersburg, the Texas Brigade heard a rumor that the Federals were tunneling and constructing a mine under the Confederate lines. This rumor prompted some ingenious methods of detecting the subterranean diggers. Behind the Confederate entrenchments, pegs were driven deep in the ground. By biting and holding these pegs in his teeth, a Confederate could detect the slightest vibration in the ground. O. T. Hanks reported that he detected no tunneling or mining in the sector of the defenses manned by the Texas Brigade.
The Texas Brigade remained in or just behind the front lines east of Petersburg without relief until July 20 - longer than any other brigade. On this date, they were relieved of trench duty and transferred to a quiet sector a mile southeast of town near Old Town Run. Here the brigade remained until July 28, when Gen. Gregg received orders to move to the trenches on the extreme left of the Confederate line. The brigade was to participate in a proposed assault against one of the Federal forts there. The attack never took place, but the brigade was exposed to heavy fire most of the afternoon.
Soon after dark on July 28, the Texas Brigade and the rest of Field's Division left the Petersburg trenches and began an all-night movement to join the rest of Anderson's First Corps, two divisions of A. P. Hill's Third Corps, and Fitzhugh Lee's Cavalry Division near Richmond. (Two days before, Gen. Lee had ordered the other divisions north across the James River to counter a threat by Union Gen. W. S. Hancock's Second Corps and Gen. Philip Sheridan's Federal Cavalry.) The Texas Brigade passed through Petersburg at midnight, crossed to the northside of the Appomattox River, and then marched along the tracks of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad.
The next morning, the Texans and Arkansans boarded the train and rode to Rice's Turnout opposite Drewry's Bluff. From there, Gregg's men marched toward the James and crossed the river on the same pontoon bridge they had used on June 16 while travelling south. By sundown of July 29, the brigade was in position at Fussell's Mill near Deep Bottom.
At 4:30 am on July 30, the rumors of a mine were validated as the Federals exploded 8,000 pounds of black powder under a part of the Confederate's Petersburg line known as ``Elliot's Salient.'' The explosion, which created a crater 170 feet long, 60-80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep, was followed by a uncoordinated and unsuccessful Federal assault on the breached Confederate works. Although the Confederates successfully sealed the breach, the Battle of the Crater had been costly. In the explosion alone, some 300 Confederates from Bushrod Johnson's Division and Pegram's Battery were killed, wounded, or otherwise lost.
The explosion occurred in the immediate vicinity of the position held by the Texas Brigade at Petersburg until July 28. Had they not been ordered northward across the James, Gregg's men would surely have shared the fate of Johnson's and Pegram's men. In fact, some of the Federal prisoners were reported to have been disappointed because the Texas Brigade was not ``extinguished'' in the ``grand upheaval and collapse.''
When the members of the Texas Brigade heard the explosion, they mulled over their good fortune. Bill Calhoun of the Fourth Texas spoke for all the men of the brigade when he said,
Well, boys, hit's a d---d sight more comfortabler ter be stannin' here on good old Virginny terror firmer than ter be danglin', heels up an' heads down, over that cussed mine, not knowin' whether you'd strike soft or hard groun' when you lit.
During the night of August 13-14, the Union Second Corps, Tenth Corps, and Gen. David McM. Gregg's Cavalry Division, all under the command of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, crossed the James River at Deep Bottom to threaten Richmond. This movement was coordinated with another movement against the Weldon Railroad at Petersburg. On August 14, the Tenth Corps closed on New Market Heights while the Second Corps extended the Federal line to the right along Bailey's Creek. During the night, the Tenth Corps was moved to the far right flank of the Union line near Fussell's Mill.
On August 16, the Federals assaulted the Confederate line held by Field's Division near Fussell's Mill. The assaults were initially successful, but Field's men successfully counterattacked and drove the Federals out of a line of captured works. Heavy fighting continued throughout the remainder of the day. The fierce action of this day was later known by several names, including the Battle of White Oak Swamp, White's Tavern, Charles City Road, and (Second) Deep Bottom.
Joe Joskins of the Fourth Texas remarked that at the engagement of White Oak Swamp ``[Wade] Hampton's and Hood's Texas Brigade had whipped a Federal cavalry division and nearly every man the The Texas Brigade got a horse, a six-shooter and a saber.''
After continual skirmishing, the Federals returned to the southside of the James River on August 20, maintaining their bridgehead at Deep Bottom. Field's Division returned to their defenses and remained there for the rest of the month.
Nearly a month after the unsuccessful attacks against the Richmond-Petersburg defenses at the Weldon Railroad and Fussell's Mill, Gen. Grant again attempted a two-pronged attack against the ends of the Confederate defenses. The primary purpose of this attack was to prevent Gen. Lee from reinforcing Maj. Gen. Jubal Early's army operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Instead of employing the Army of the Potomac's Second Corps under Winfield Scott Hancock for the attack, Grant assigned the responsibility to the Army of the James, which was under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler.
By late September, the Confederate defenses around Richmond were thinly manned by two brigades (Benning's Georgians and Gregg's Texas Brigade) of Field's Division, one brigade (Fulton's) of Edward Johnson's Division, one Virginia militia battalion, and Gary's South Carolina Cavalry Brigade. Southeast of the capital, the outer defenses were buttressed by Fort Harrison on the Varina Road and the inner defenses were anchored by Fort Gilmer on the New Market Road. The Texas Brigade was posted near a strong line of breastworks about 1.5 miles north of Fort Harrison and 1.5 miles east of Fort Gilmer. The brigade and regimental headquarters were housed in the spacious Phillips House, located near the outer defense line.
On September 28, Butler's Tenth and Eighteenth Corps (commanded by Maj. Gens. David Birney and Edward Ord, respectively) quietly withdrew from Petersburg and crossed the James River under the cover of darkness. That same evening, the Texas Brigade entertained twelve Richmond belles to a dinner-dance affair at their campsite near the Phillips House. Mrs. A. V. Winkler, wife of the commander of the Fourth Texas, chaperoned the fine affair. Mrs. Winkler would later write that the outer defenses of Richmond manned by the Texans consisted of ``earth works about five feet high, [a] ten foot, ditch beyond, [and an] intricate abatis some fifty feet in front...''
Protected by an early morning fog and heavy woods, the two Federal corps struck the Richmond defenses near Forts Harrison and Gilmer at daylight on September 29. As the assault opened, the Texas Brigade was called upon to defend the outer works near Fort Harrison. The brigade was aligned from left to right by the First Texas, Fourth Texas, Fifth Texas, and Third Arkansas. The Texans and Arkansans were attacked by a brigade of Negro troops from Birney's Tenth Corps that charged through an apple orchard near and up a narrow valley near the Phillips House.
The encounter between the Texas Brigade and the Negro brigade was a massacre. The black troops found themselves hemmed in by the banks of a dry creek bed and thus easy targets for the sharp shooting Texans. According to Joseph B. Polley of the Fourth Texas, ``Not a dozen shots in all were fired'' by the Federals, and ``not a man in the Texas Brigade received a wound.'' In just five minutes, 194 Negro soldiers and 23 of their white officers were killed and several times that number wounded. In places, the dead were stacked five deep. Two Federal regimental flags were captured in the debacle, one by the Fourth Texas and the other by the Third Arkansas. The Texas Brigade took 43 of the Negro soldiers captive. According to Polley, most of the prisoners preferred to serve their captors as orderlies rather than risk confinement in a Southern prison.
Although the Texas Brigade had successfully held their sector of the outer defenses near Fort Harrison, the lightly defended fort itself fell into the hands of the Eighteenth Corps. Meanwhile, Benning's and Gary's brigades to the left of the Texas Brigade were beaten back to the inner line of defenses near Fort Gilmer. Unhappy with his advanced and exposed position, Gen. Gregg ordered the Texas Brigade to the rear at the double quick. The Texans and Arkansans reached Fort Gilmer just before the Federal advance units arrived there.
Along with fragments of other Confederate brigades in the area, the Texas Brigade successfully repulsed piece-meal attacks against Fort Gilmer by the Tenth Corps. J. B. Polley wrote that the Texas Brigade ``occupied a line of breastworks a mile and a half long, and to do that, each of its men had to be practically ubiquitous.'' Gregg's Texans and Benning's Georgians together repulsed one direct assault by a Negro brigade and their supporting white troops that reached the parapet of Fort Gilmer. The advancing Federals had approached within 100 yards of the fort before the directed fire of the Confederate defenders took its toll. Although the bulk of the advance retired in the face of the fire, several hundred Negro troops instead rushed forward and tumbled into the ditch at the base of the fort. As the brave Federals tried to lift each other over the parapet, the Texans and Georgians either shot or hurled lighted shells at their attackers. The carnage was great, and only a few of the Negro soldiers remained to surrender.
Birney's uncoordinated attacks continued unsuccessfully until the evening of September 29, when substantial Confederate reinforcements arrived from Petersburg. The Federals had squandered a golden opportunity to capture Richmond that day. If Birney would have better coordinated his attacks, thought Polley, ``Appomattox would have been anticipated by six months.'' All that had been gained by the Federals was the capture of Fort Harrison, and that came at great cost. When viewing the battlefield of New Market Heights the following day, Lt. Col. C. M. Winkler, then commanding the Fourth Texas, wrote, ``The enemy suffered severely yesterday: our losses trifling. The sight I witnessed of dead Negroes and white Federal officers was sickening in the extreme.''
Disturbed by the loss of the outer Richmond defenses near Fort Harrison, Gen. Lee immediately began plans to drive the Union forces from their newly won, but strongly fortified, position. Lee planned a frontal attack by the divisions of Charles Field and Robert Hoke against the Federal lines between the Darbytown Road and New Market Road. Meanwhile, the brigades of Martin Gary and Evander Law (commanded by E. A. Perry) were to outflank the Federal position and assault it from the rear. Lee's objective was a formidable line of Federal entrenchments and barricades lying across the Darbytown Road about six miles southeast of Richmond. Lee would command the operation in person.
The Texas Brigade marched most of the late afternoon and night of October 6. Gregg's men reached their position on the Darbytown Road shortly after daylight on October 7. At this time, Lee ordered Field's Division and several brigades of Hoke's Division down the pike toward the Union position. After a short time of watching the preparations for battle, Lee asked an approaching aide if all the commands were formed for the advance. The staff officer replied, ``None but the Texas Brigade, General.'' Lee's comment to this reply was, ``The Texas Brigade is always ready.'' Although spoken softly, Lee's words were carried by the clear frosty air to the ears of the Fifth Texas, which was formed nearby in a fringe of woods close to the road.
Lee assigned Field's Division and Hoke's brigades to positions north and south of the Darbytown Road, respectively. Field deployed his division with Gregg's Texas Brigade on the right near the road, and G. T. Anderson's brigade to Gregg's left. With a strong skirmish line in front, the Confederates pressed forward against a strongly entrenched composite corps of 10,000 Federals under the command of Brig. Gen. August V. Kautz. The Confederates quickly overran an incomplete Federal fortification a half-mile in front of Kautz's main line, and captured eight rifled cannon, a few colors, and about 300 men. Lee halted the attack for a short time to realign his troops and to prepare for the assault against the main Federal line.
The main Federal defenses featured formidable log breastworks atop a hill, a thick abatis 500 yards in front of the breastworks, and a large swamp in front of the abatis. Gregg was ordered to spearhead the assault straight down the Darbytown Road -- precisely where the Federal entrenchments were strongest. Not since Gaines' Mill had the Texas Brigade been asked to storm such a strongly prepared position. The Texans and Arkansans were to be supported by the rest of Field's Division on the left and Hoke's command on the right.
As the Texas Brigade approached within a quarter mile of the Federal position, it came under heavy artillery fire which forced them to take cover and regroup. After a short pause, the brigade advanced forward and waded through the swamp, but had their mass formation fragmented by the thick abatis beyond. Neither Anderson on the left nor Hoke on the right advanced in support of the Texas Brigade, so Gregg's flanks were left exposed to the enemy's enfilading fire. Kautz's cavalry, armed with new Spencer repeating carbines, poured a destructive fire down upon the Texans. A handful of Gregg's men advanced within 30 paces of the blazing barricade where they were pinned down and either captured or shot. A large group found protection in a depression 300 yards short of the breastworks, but others remained tangled in the abatis and became prime targets for Federal sharpshooters and artillery.
About this time, Gen. Gregg received a ball through the neck and was instantly killed. Col. Frederick Bass of the First Texas assumed command of the Texas Brigade until he himself was wounded. Command of the brigade then devolved upon Lt. Col. C. M. Winkler, the commander of the Fourth Texas. Finding the brigade unsupported, Winkler led the remains of the command away from the murderous fire to the cover of woods and hollows in their rear. After the Texans fell back, they noticed that Gregg's body lay sprawled in a pool of blood about 100 yards ``in front of their somewhat disorganized line.'' Lt. John Shotwell of Gregg's staff led a small group of enlisted men forward to recover the body. Crawling on their hands and knees through the heavy fire, the rescue party wrapped the dead General in a blanket and pulled him back to their lines.
At noon, the Confederates finally broke off the engagement and retired to the west bank of Cornelius Creek, about five miles southeast of Richmond. The disastrous Battle of Darbytown Road cost the Texas Brigade 119 casualties (11 killed, 90 wounded, and 18 missing) out of the approximately 450 men engaged. The Fifth Texas appears to have fared the worst, as only a handful of officers and 61 men were afterwards present for duty. Company F of the Fifth Texas lost 10 of the 14 men who went into the battle. After the debacle, the remnant of the Texas Brigade took position on the Richmond defense line about four miles southeast of the city between the Williamsburg and Charles City Roads.
Brig. Gen. John Gregg's body was placed in a casket and conveyed to Richmond, where it lay in state in the House of Representatives amid floral offerings and massed Confederate and Texas flags. Hundreds of citizens paid silent tribute. Gen. Lee wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon, ``The brave General Gregg of the Texas Brigade fell dead at the head of his men.'' Lee had regarded Gregg ``as the best brigadier in the army.'' Gregg would be the last general officer to command the Texas Brigade and its only commander to be killed in action. The Texas Brigade was permitted to attend the funeral en masse and, on October 9, marched in the funeral cortege to Hollywood Cemetery for the burial service. (Gregg's body would later be removed and permanently interred in Aberdeen, Mississippi.)
On October 19, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet returned to active duty after being severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in May. Lee assigned to Longstreet the command of all Confederate troops north of the James River. Longstreet's command thus consisted of the commands of Maj. Gens. Richard Ewell and George Pickett, Hoke's and Field's Divisions, and Gary's Cavalry Brigade.
During October 25 and 26, Gen. Grant moved a sizeable Federal force north across the James to attempt another penetration of the inner defense line around Richmond. Early on October 27, the Federals made a diversionary attack on the Confederate entrenchments between the New Market and Charles City Roads, while the main Union force struck around Longstreet's left along the Williamsburg Road. Sensing the Federal plan, Longstreet moved Field's and Hoke's Divisions by the left flank along the defense works to the suspected area of enemy attack.
The Texas Brigade led the Confederate advance and arrived at the threatened point just as a heavy Federal force ``advanced over the open ground on each side of the Williamsburg Road.'' The Confederate position had been defended only by a lieutenant and 20 men of the Virginia Home Guard. At the sight of the Texas Brigade marching at the double-quick to their relief, the lieutenant exclaimed, ``Glory to God, we are saved!''
The Texas Brigade, supported by Benning's and Anderson's Brigades, easily repulsed the initial Federal attack led by two Federal regiments -- one Negro and one white -- advancing in double column. The Federal infantry did not press its attack, but the Yankee artillery, firing from north of the road, did effective work against the Confederate defenders. Col. Winkler ordered two men from each company of the Texas Brigade ``to concentrate their fire on the battery, and, if possible, to kill all its horses.'' The Texans' fire was so effective that the Federals hitched up their teams and removed the artillery, leaving their infantry prone in a depression only 200 yards from the Confederate lines.
Afraid to retreat or advance, the Union infantry exchanged fire with the Confederates for about an hour. Ultimately a spontaneous charge by the Texas Brigade, supported by the two Georgia brigades, overran the Federal position and took several hundred prisoners and at least five stands of colors. Although the engagement along the Williamsburg Road did not develop into a major battle, skirmishing and artillery fire lasted several hours. The Texas Brigade suffered the greatest number of casualties in Field's Division, numbering 4 killed and 15 wounded.
After the engagement, the Texas Brigade returned to its position in the trenches between the Williamsburg and Charles City Roads. Here the brigade remained for the rest of the month.
After the engagements of October, the remnants of the Texas Brigade began settling into winter quarters along the Richmond defenses between the Williamsburg and Charles City Roads. As they had done in previous winters, the Texans built a shantytown of huts, tents, and log cabins. The only building material available was that derived from deserted homes in the area. The Texans did the best they could to construct living quarters from salvaged wood and nails with a minimum of available tools. (Generally only one axe was issued to each company.) The abodes built by the brigade ranged from a ``tent of two covering a hole in the Virginia clay,'' to a spacious log cabin of three rooms. Typically, the structures featured a wooden framework, fireplaces and chimneys made of mud, and roofs of thatched branches, canvas, or blankets. The Texans erected two structures for general brigade use -- a huge log theater and a chapel that measured 60 x 25 feet.
By the late fall, the Texas Brigade had received visits from several distingushed Texans, including John Reagan (Confederate Postmaster General), W. S. Oldham (Texas Senator), Francis Lubbock (former Governor of Texas and now a member of President Davis' staff), Stephen F. Darden (Texas Congressman), and Col. John R. Baylor (frontiersman and Indian fighter). These visitors were well received by the men, but another, Sen. Louis T. Wigfall -- the first brigadier of the Texas Brigade -- was met with coolness and even hostility. Wigfall had publicly opposed Davis' decision to replace Joseph E. Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee with John Bell Hood. His subsequent criticism of Hood's failures in that position further lowered the Texans' opinion of Wigfall. The brigade would not tolerate criticism of their patron saint, especially when it came from a politician.
During November 1864, two subjects heavily influenced the morale of the Texas Brigade. The reelection of Abraham Lincoln on November 8 cast a pall over the entire Army of Northern Virginia, as dreams of a imminent peace with the United States were dashed. Nevertheless, rumour of a possible brigade-wide furlough to Texas for the purpose of recruiting and rehabilitating was cause for optimism within the Texas Brigade. This latest rumour about a temporary return to Texas stemmed from attempts by Texas Governor Pendleton Murrah in May, Brig. Gen. John Gregg in June, and former Texas Brigade commander Jerome B. Robertson in October to persuade the President and Secretary of War to return the three Texas Regiments home for the ``purpose of recruiting their decimated ranks.''
Indeed, many of the companies in the Texas Brigade had been reduced to skeleton strength. On November 27, Co. C of the First Texas had 29 men assigned, but only five privates and no officers and non-commissioned officers present for duty. On the same date, Co. F of the same regiment had nine present for duty of 27 men assigned.
Although the establishment of winter quarters brought relief from the cold weather, another woe of winter was beginning to affect the Texas Brigade. The first heavy frost brought the end of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers, and Lee's men soon became entirely dependent upon the Confederate commissary system under the direction of the inefficient Col. Lucius B. Northrop. As early as December 19, The Texas Brigade Quartermaster, Maj. J. H. Littlefield, reported that molasses and sugar were being used as substitutes for meat. Robert Lowry of Co. G, Third Arkansas, reported that he received no meat from December 17 to 24. Capt. W. D. Williams of the Fifth Texas wrote home that he planned to eat his 1864 Christmas dinner out of his tin cup -- a little bread and bacon mixed together.
Hopes of a furlough continued to pervade the ranks of the Texas Brigade in December 1864. Colonel F. S. Bass, commanding the brigade, revived Gen. Robertson's recruiting plan of the previous October. Bass wrote to Secretary of War James Seddon and once again requested that the entire brigade be furloughed home, recruit while there, and then return for the spring campaign. An endorsement of this letter was signed by all non-commissioned officers and privates present for duty in the brigade.
By December 18, Maj. Littlefield expressed fear that the Texas Brigade would be consolidated with one or more other small brigades. If that happened, wrote Littlefield, ``I am fearful that ... many will attempt to escape the army.'' In late December, Gen. Lee appointed ``Consolidation Committees'' in each of the smaller brigades in the Army of Northern Virginia for the purposes of determining the feasibility of consolidation and assessing the fitness of the junior officers in those brigades for further command. Lt. Col. C. M. Winkler, commander of the Fourth Texas, was selected as chairman of the Consolidation Committee in the Texas Brigade.
While Winkler's committee was at work, the officers and men of the brigade held a mass meeting to protest the proposed consolidation. Private B. S. Fitzgerald of Co. I, Fifth Texas, and Lt. Haywood Brahan of Co. F, Fourth Texas, were selected as chairman and secretary of the group, respectively. A series of resolutions were passed reaffirming the Texas Brigade's faith in the Confederacy. Major William H. ``Howdy'' Martin of the Fourth Texas was appointed to present the Brigade's case against consolidation to President Davis.