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Kershaw's Brigade Volume 1

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Kershaw's Brigade Volume 1
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Author(s): D. Augustus Dickert
Date Published: 09/2006
Page Count: 316
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-104-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-105-7

This is the story of South Carolina regiments in the American Civil War. As such it is essentially the story of the war itself since the state’s forces were engaged from the very beginning at Fort Sumter to beyond and the eventual surrender of Lee at Appomatox. Published in two volumes by Leonaur this substantial work graphically describes the major battles of the war together with much personal recollection, anecdotes, incident, drama and humour. Kershaw’s Brigade will be an invaluable source work for anyone interested in the genealogy of South Carolina. Rolls and Regimental changes, promotions and casualties abound together with biographies of principal characters.

The train was rattling along at a good speed, something like ten or fifteen miles an hour, just above Columbia; a long string of box cars loaded with soldiers; the baggage of the troops scattered promiscuously around in the cars; trunks, valises, carpet bags, and boxes of all conceivable dimensions, holding the belongings of several neighborhoods of boys; spirits flowed without and within; congenial friends in a congenial cause; congenial topics made a congenial whole. When just below Littleton, with long stretches of lowlands on one side and the river on the other, the curling streaks of a little grey smoke made its appearance from under one of the forward cars. At first the merry good humor and enlivening effects of some amusing jest, the occasional round of a friendly bottle, prevented the men from noticing this danger signal of fire. However, a little later on this continuing and increasing volume of smoke caused an alarm to be given. Men ran to the doors on either side, shouted and called, waved hats, hands, and handkerchiefs, at the same time pointing at the smoke below. There being no communication between the cars, those in front and rear had to be guided by the wild gesticulations of those in the smoking car. The engineer did not notice anything amiss, and sat placidly upon his high seat, watching the fast receding rails as they flashed under and out of sight beneath the ponderous driving-wheels of the engine. At last someone in the forward car, not accustomed to, but familiar with the dangers of a railroad car by the wild rumors given currency in his rural district of railroad wrecks, made a desperate leap from the car. This was followed by another, now equally excited. Those in the front cars, clutching to the sides of the doors, craned their necks as far as possible outward, but could see nothing but leaping men. They fearing a catastrophe of some kind, leaped also, while those in the rear cars, as they saw along the sides of the railroad track men leaping, rolling, and tumbling on the ground, took it for granted that a desperate calamity had happened to a forward car. No time for questions, no time for meditation. The soldier's only care was to watch for a soft place to make his desperate leap, and in many cases there was little choice. Men leaped wildly in the air, some with their heels up, others falling on their heads and backs, some rolling over in a mad scramble to clear themselves from the threatening danger. The engineer not being aware of anything wrong with the train, glided serenely along, unconscious of the pandemonium, in the rear. But when all had about left the train, and the great driving-wheels began to spin around like mad, from the lightening of the load, the master of the throttle looked to the rear. There lay stretched prone upon the ground, or limping on one foot, or rolling over in the dirt, some bareheaded and coatless, boxes and trunks scattered as in an awful collision, upwards of one thousand men along the railroad track. Many of the men thinking, no doubt, the train hopelessly lost, or serious danger imminent, threw their baggage out before making the dangerous leap. At last the train was stopped and brought back to the scene of desolation. It terminated like the bombardment of Fort Sumterno one hurt, and all occasioned by a hot-box that could have been cooled in a very few minutes. Much swearing and good-humored jesting were now engaged in. Such is the result of the want of presence of mind. A wave of the hat at the proper moment as a signal to the engineer to stop, and all would have been well. It was told once of a young lady crossing a railroad track in front of a fast approaching train, that her shoe got fastened in the frog where the two rails join. She began to struggle, then to scream, and then fainted. A crowd rushed up, some grasping the lady's body attempted to pull her loose by force; others shouted to the train to stop; some called for crow-bars to take up the iron. At last one man pushed through the crowd, untied the lady's shoe, and she was loose. Presence of mind, and not force, did it.First the skirmishers meet, and their regular firing tells the two armies that they are near together. Then the skirmish fire gives way to the deep, sullen roar of the line of battle. From our position, some three hundred yards in rear and to the right of Mayree's Hill, we could see the Union columns moving down the river, our batteries raking them with shot and shell. In crossing an old unfinished railroad cut the two siege guns played upon the flank with fearful effect. Huddling down behind the walls of the cut to avoid the fire in front, the batteries from Mayree's and in the fields to the right enfiladed the position, the men rushing hither and thither and falling in heaps from the deadly fire in front and flank. Jackson has been engaged in a heavy battle for nearly an hour, when suddenly in our front tens of thousands of 'blue coats' seemed to spring up out of the earth and make for our lines. Near one-half of the army had concealed themselves in the city and along the river banks, close to the water's edge. The foliage of the trees and the declivity of the ground having hidden them thus far from view. From out of the streets and from behind walls and houses men poured, as if by some magical process or super-human agency, and formed lines of battle behind a little rise in the ground, near the canal. But in a few moments they emerged from their second place of protection and bore down upon the stone wall, behind which stood Cobb's Georgians and a Regiment of North Carolinians. When midway between the canal and stone fence, they met an obstruction plank fence but this did not delay them long. It was soon dashed to the ground and out of their way, but their men were falling at every step from Cobb's infantry fire and grape and canister from the Washington Artillery of New Orleans on the hill. They never neared the wall nor did they take more time than to fire a volley or two before they fled the field. This retreating column of Franklin's met that of Hancock's, formed, and on its way to try issues with the troops behind the stone wall, Longstreet now saw what had never been considered beforeóthat Burnsides was determined to possess himself of the key to Lee's position, 'Mayree's Hill,' in front of which was the stone wall. He ordered the two regiments of North Carolinians that were posted on the crest of the hill down behind the stone wall, to the left of Cobb and Kershaw, to reinforce the position with his brigade.
The Third Regiment being ordered to the top of Mayree's Hill, Colonel Nance, at the head of his regiment, entered the Telegraph Road, and down this the men rushed, followed by the Second, led by Colonel Kennedy, under one of the heaviest shellings the troops ever experienced. This two hundred yards stretch of road was in full view and range of the heavy gun batteries on Stafford Heights, and as the men scattered out along and down the road, the shells passed, plowing in the road, bursting overhead, or striking the earth and ricocheting to the hills far in the rear. On reaching the ravine, at the lower end of the incline, the Third Regiment was turned to the left and up a by-road to the plateau in rear of the Mayree Mansion. The house tops in the city were lined with sharpshooters, and from windows and doors and from behind houses the deadly missiles from the globe-sighted rifles made sad havoc in our ranks.
When the Third reached the top of the plateau it was in column of fours, and Colonel Nance formed line of battle by changing 'front forward on first company.' This pretty piece of tactics was executed while under the galling fire from the artillery and sharpshooters, but was as perfect as on dress parade. The regiment lined up, the right resting on the house and extending along a dull road to the next street leading into the city. We had scarcely gotten in position before Nance, Rutherford, and Maffett, the three field officers, had fallen. Colonel Kennedy, with the Second, passed over the left of the plateau and down the street on our left, and at right angles with our line, being in a position to give a sweeping fire to the flank of the columns of assault against the stone fence. From the preparation and determination made to break through the line here, Kershaw ordered Lieutenant Colonel Bland, with the Seventh, Colonel Henagan, with the Eighth, and Colonel DeSaussure, with the Fifteenth, to double-up with Cobb's men, and to hold their position 'at the sacrifice of every man of their commands.'
All of the different regiments, with the exception of the Third South Carolina, had good protection in the way of stone walls, this being the sole occasion that any of Kershaw's troops had been protected by breastworks of any kind during the whole war. The Second was in a sunken road leading to the city, walled on either side with granite, the earth on the outside being leveled up with the top. The maneuvering into position had taken place while Hancock was making the first assault upon the wall defended by Cobb. Howard was now preparing to make the doubtful attempt at taking the stronghold with the point of the bayonet, and without firing a gun. But with such men as the Georgians, South Carolinians, and North Carolinians in their front, the task proved too Herculean. Howard moved to the battle in beautiful style, their line almost solid and straight, their step in perfect unison with the long, moving columns, their guns carried at a trail, and the stars and stripes floating proudly above their heads. The shot and shell plunging through their ranks from the hills above, the two siege guns on Lee's Hill now in beautiful play, the brass pieces of the Washington Artillery firing with grape and shrapnel but all this made no break nor halt in that long line of blue. The double column behind the stone wall and the Third South Carolina on the crest of the Hill met them in front with a cool and steady fire, while the Second South Carolina directed its attention to the flank. But the boldest and stoutest hearts could not withstand this withering blast of bullets and shells without returning the fire. The enemy opened upon us a terrific fire, both from the columns in front and from the sharpshooters in the housetops in the city. After giving us battle as long as human endurance could bear the ordeal, they, like their companions before them, fled in confusion.In this column of assault was the famous Meager's Irish Brigade, of New York,all Irishmen, but undoubtedly the finest body of troops in the Federal Army. When the signal for advance was given, from out of their hiding places they sprang from the canal, the bushes on the river bank, the side streets in the city, one compact row of glittering bayonets cameóin long battle lines. General Kershaw, seeing the preparation made for this final and overwhelming assault upon our jaded troops, sent Captain Doby, of his staff, along our lines with orders to hold our position at all hazards, even at the point of the bayonet.
As the rifle balls from the housetops and shells from the batteries along the river banks sang their peculiar death notes overhead and around us, this brave and fearless officer made the entire length of the line, exhorting, entreating, and urging the men to redoubled efforts. How Captain Doby escaped death is little less than miraculous.
The casualties of battle among the officers and the doubling up process of the men behind the wall caused all order of organization to be lost sight of, and each man loaded and fired as he saw best. The men in the road, even the wounded, crowded out from the wall by force of number, loaded the guns for the more fortunate who had places, and in many instances three and four men loaded the guns for one, passing them to those who were firing from the top of the stone fence. Each seemed to fight on his own responsibility, and with the same determined spirit to hold the wall and the heights above. Each felt as if the safety of the army depended upon his exertions alone.
With a firm and elastic step this long, swaying line of Irishmen moved to the assault with as much indifference apparently to their fate as sheep going to the shambles. Not a shot was fired from this advancing column, while the shells from our batteries cut swath after swath through their ranks, only to be closed again as if by some mechanical means; colors fall, but rise and float again, men bounding forward and eagerly grasping the fallen staff, indifferent of the fate that awaited them. Officers are in front, with drawn swords flashing in the gleam of the fading sunlight, urging on their men to still greater deeds of prowess, and by their individual courage set examples in heroism never before witnessed on this continent. The assault upon Mayree's Hill by the Irish Brigade and their compatriots will go down in history as only equalled by the famous ride of the Six Hundred at Hohenlinden, and the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. They forge their way forward over the heap of dead and dying that now strew the plain, nearer to the deadly wall than any of the troops before them. It began to look for the moment as if their undaunted courage would succeed, but the courage of the defenders of Mayree's Hill seemed to increase in ardour and determination in proportion to that of the enemy. The smoke and flame of their battle is now less than one hundred paces from the wall, but the odds are against them, and they, too, had to finally yield to the inevitable and leave the field in great disorder.
From both sides hopes and prayers had gone up that this charge would prove the last attempt to break our lines. But Humphries met the shattered columns with a fresh advance. Those who were marching to enter this maelstrom of carnage were entreated and prayed to by all of those who had just returned from the sickening scene not to enter this death trap, and begged them not to throw away their lives in the vain attempt to accomplish the impossible. But Humphries, anxious of glory for himself and men, urged on by the imperative orders from his Commander-in-Chief, soon had his men on the march to the bloody wall. But as the sun dropped behind the hills in our rear, the scene that presented itself in the fading gloom of that December day was a plain filled with the dead and dying a living stream of flying fugitives seeking shelter from the storm of shot and shell by plunging over the precipitous banks of the river, or along the streets and protecting walls of the city buildings.