« PreviousContinue »
against the danger of an overlapping breadth of attack, the brigade of General Walker, which, having nursed the genius of Jackson, is known as the "Stonewall," formed at some distance from Stafford's left flank, covering it by a front at right angles to that officer's line. In this position the division of General Edward Johnson, of Ewell's corps, stood on the morning of the 5th to receive the enemy's onslaught.
Johnson's skirmishers were driven in. Those of the enemy took position in the advancing column. The Fifth corps of the Federal army, accompanied by two pieces of artillery, that came thundering along the turnpike, assailed the Confederate line at the intersection of that road. Receiving, as it advanced, a terrible fusilade without any sign of wavering, the rear ranks pressing forward those of the front, the attacking masses delivered from a forest of rifles a fast and furious fire upon Johnson's line. Closing in upon it with great spirit in front, and threatening to envelop it on its right, they succeeded, after a brief struggle, in forcing back part of the brigade that had been formed across the turnpike-that of General J. M. Jones. Two of his regiments-the Twenty-first Virginia, commanded by Colonel Witcher, and the Twentyfifth by Colonel Higginbotham-holding their ground resolutely. Jones strove in desperation to rally his broken troops. Threatening, entreating, shaming, were of no avail in arresting their disordered flight; and as he saw his men rushing from the field in hopeless confusion he fell from his saddle a bleeding corpse. Captain Early, of his staff, unwilling to desert him, had but a few moments previously wheeled his horse from its retreat; but only to share with his gallant chief, while in the act, the same red burial.
Stewart moved from his position in the line of battle to close the gap left in it by the brigade of Jones. As the Federal masses poured through, his men rushed forward with a cheer; and, driving them back by the impetus of his charge, captured their guns.
Almost simultaneous with the first signs of weakness in. Jones's line, Daniel's brigade of North Carolinians, and Gordon's brigade of Georgians, both of Rodes' division, were placed rapidly in line upon the right. Ordered immediately afterward by General Ewell to charge, Gordon, holding com
mand of the movement, crushed through the enemy's first lines and captured as he went forward a whole regiment, men, officers, and colors. Driving onward furiously he struck back the Federal front in confusion upon its supports; and scattering both like leaves before a storm, forced them off the field in utter route for a mile and a half. His front thus cleared, Gordon found the enemy's lines firm on both of his wings. Dividing his men into two bodies he formed them at right angles to the lines of his original advance, and sending them both forward back to back, took the masses on his right and on his left in flank. Pressing on them so energetically as to have prevented their formation across either of his lines of movement, he swept them in disorder from the Confederate front for a width of a mile.
At the moment of Gordon's brilliant charge the enemy attacked the brigade of General Stafford. A deadly conflict on that part of the field raged for some time doubtfully. marksmanship of Stafford's Louisianians, however, shot truly to the buckles of the Federal belts, and strewed the field with death and agony. Reeling under its deliberate fire, the enemy finally fled, marking his route with his killed and wounded, and adding to his other disasters the loss of six hundred prisoners. In this repulse, however, the Confederates have to mourn the loss of Brigadier-general Stafford. He fell mortally wounded. He had been a planter of Louisiana; but having gone through most of the battles in Northern Virginia, had become an excellent officer, and was not more beloved by his men for his gentleness than he was admired by them for his daring. Soon after the onslaught upon the Confederate front the Sixth corps of the Federal army advanced upon its left flank. Coming up at right angles to the line of movement of the Fifth corps, its skirmishers were encountered by those thrown out in anticipation of attack in that direction, from the Stonewall brigade. Sedgwick, commanding this movement on Johnson's flank, soon afterward threw the whole weight of his dense column upon those stout souls; but, though threatening to envelop it on the left, failed to force back the men who had learned heroic constancy from Jackson. Sorely pressed, however, Pegram's Virginians and Hays' Louisianians deployed rapidly on their left. Charging immediately upon the Federal
right, those fresh troops drove it back. The furious onslaught of Hays' men did not expend itself until they had forced the enemy to retreat in confusion for nearly a mile. In advance of all others on that face of the attack, these splendid troops, having left nearly one-third of their number on the field, fell back with Pegram's gallant men to the general line of battle.
The enemy routed with great slaughter from all points of his advance, Ewell proceeded to select ground for the morrow's battle. Assisted by General Smith, of the engineers, he reviewed his position, and proceeded at once to cover his front with a line of fieldworks and an abattis of felled trees. Skirmishing continued murderously outside the lines. Immediately before the close of the evening, the skirmishers of General Pegram, on Johnson's left, came running in, and soon afterwards his sharpshooters sprang back from their rifle-pits in his immediate front. A column, three lines deep, moved upon him from the depths of the forest, and, firing heavily as they came on, pressed towards his works furiously. His staunch Virginians, however, met the attack resolutely, and, covered partially by their works, hurled volley after volley in withering blasts, breast high, into its serried ranks.
The Moloch of the North had, however, not yet been sated. In five lines a column renewed the attack after nightfall; but did so without other result than to increase terribly the hundreds of men that, dead or dying outside the Confederate works, lay weltering in their gore. Pegram fell in this last attack severely wounded. The repulse which he guided as he fell, closed the work of war for the day on the left, and witnessed the Confederates still in possession of their improved position and advanced lines.
Hill was ordered to march, on the 4th, from Lee's left. Anderson's division remained behind for the time to guard some fords in its front; Heth, followed by Wilcox, moved eastwardly, through Orange Court-house, along the Fredericksburg plank-road. The divisions of these two officers bivouacked for the night near Verdiersville. Heth in advance, they resumed their march on the following day, still pursuing the line of the plank-road.
The ring of small arms on the right announced, in the course
of the morning of the 5th, a small cavalry affair near the route of Hill's column. The march still, however, continued, until it encountered some dismounted cavalry; but after a moment's pause, brushing those from its way, still went forward. At one o'clock musketry was again heard in front; and, though at first thought to indicate the presence of merely a party of cavalry, proved, after some skirmishing, to have come from a large body of infantry. Kirtland's brigade, of Heth's division, deployed immediately on both sides of the plank-road; and the whole column proceeded to form in line of battle on its flanks; while the sharpshooters of both armies kept up in front a desultory and somewhat languid fire.
Hill's advance followed, on the plank-road, while Ewell's pursued the turnpike. Parallel lines in their general direction, these movements stood at the time of the deployment of Mirt land's brigade, from three to four miles apart. The country intervening, and round about for several miles, is known as the "Wilderness," and having very few "clearings," consists almost wholly of a forest of dense undergrowth. The enemy, apparently bewildered by the character of the site of the approaching conflict, sent out scouts and skirmishers in every direction from his front. Eight or ten of these having strayed in between the column of Hill and that of Ewell, came into an open field in which they might have shot, as he sat with General Hill and other officers on the ground, that idol of the army, General Lee. Those adventurous blue-coats, finding themselves in front of two brigades of Wilcox's division, made a rapid retreat, ignorant, most happily, that a very precious life lay for a moment at the mercy of their rifles.
The interpolation of those skirmishers between his two columns, suggested to General Lee the necessity of opening communications with Ewell. Captain Hotchkiss of the engineers of the Second corps, having come up immediately afterwards, indicated the route for that purpose; and Wilcox's division moving accordingly to the left-having captured two hundred of the enemy on the way-effected, after a march of a mile and a quarter, a junction with Gordon's brigade, on Ewell's extreme right. The line of battle, thus completed, extended from the right of the plank-road through a succession of open fields and dense forest to the left of the turnpike. It presented
a front of six miles; and, with Flat creek in its rear, occupied a very irregular plane along the broken slopes of a broad ridge that rises from the stream known as Wilderness run. The thicket that lay along the whole face of the Confederate array is so impenetrable as to have excluded the use of artillery by the enemy, save only for the breadth of those openings where it is penetrated on the left by the old turnpike, and on the right by the plank-road.
The attack on Ewell having been repulsed, musketry began at half-past two to deepen in volume in front of Hill. Large columns of the enemy, enveloped in clouds of dust, were seen at that time moving up from the rear in the direction of the deafening fire. Possession of the intersection of the plankroad from Germania ford, with that from Orange Court-house, opening, as it would, a favorable line for Federal advance southwardly, was shown, by the enemy's movements, to be about to become the subject of a bloody encounter.
Heth's skirmishers were driven in about three o'clock. They were followed closely by a heavy column that appeared to move forward spiritedly. Firing with great rapidity as it advanced, its musketry, in the ears of a man approaching the field of battle, rolled through the depths of the forest like the roar of mighty waters. Resolute defence on the one hand, and on the other the attack that sought to force its way rather by constant pressure than by dashing enterprise, the struggle in Hill's front continued for two or three hours, unbroken in its terrible monotony by even any disturbance of the rapid regularity with which it added to its masses of grim death or mortal agony.
Heth's division bore, at first, the whole brunt of the Federal onslaught. The heavy columns pressing so obstinately upon its front failed to break its heroic constancy. Thick and fast its men crept to the rear, bleeding, or dropping in the ranks, dead--but still it gave no sign of yielding. One-half of its number of the morning had been placed hors du combat. The weight of the immsense masses hurled against it having excited in Lieutenant-general Hill some fears for its solidity, orders were sent to Wilcox to come up with his division from Ewell's right, at the double-quick. That gallant officer arrived at four o'clock, while the roar of the rifles in front, accompanied by