A famous Confederate commander and the elite force that bore his name
The American Civil War, which split the nation’s small officer cadre in two, inevitably ensured many young officers from both Union and Confederate states would reach high rank. Some of those men earned abiding fame. One of the subjects of this book, John Bell Hood, needs little introduction to any student of the period. Hood, a veritable ‘Viking warrior’ of a figure epitomised the dash, daring and aggressive command in action which typified the cream of the officer corps of the Confederate Army and his leadership qualities elevated him from the rank of First-Lieutenant, USA to Lieutenant-General, CSA. Initially he directly led the equally renowned hard fighting infantry of his ‘Texas Brigade,’ consisting of the 1st, 4th and 5th Texas Infantry together with the 18th Georgia Infantry and, later, the 3rd Arkansas Infantry. There was, of course, a justifiable glamour associated with these men from the ‘wild’ west, particularly when led by the imposing figure, character and military talent of Hood. ‘Hood’s Texas Brigade’ amply justified their reputation as a force to be reckoned with and, along with the ‘Stonewall Brigade,’ were thought of as the ‘shock troops’ of the Army of Northern Virginia. They saw action in many of the pivotal engagements of the conflict including, of course, at Gettysburg where they came under Hood’s divisional command. This book combines a detailed history of the services of ‘Hood’s Texas Brigade’ with a short biography of John Bell Hood, who was ultimately transferred to the western theatre of the conflict and the Army of Tennessee.
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At this juncture, General Lee rode up near our line. Mounted on the handsome dapple gray horse he bestrode at Fredericksburg in 1862, and which he always rode on the battlefield, he was a picture of noble grace that I can never hope to see again. Having given General Gregg an order to advance at once and check the on-coming enemy, he added: ‘The Texas Brigade always has driven the enemy, and I want them to do it now. And tell them, General, that they will fight today under my eye—I will watch their conduct. I want every man of them to know I am here with them!’ Gregg rode out in front of us, and told us what General Lee had said, and then gave the command, ‘Forward!’
The word had barely passed his lips when General Lee himself came in front of us, as if intending to lead us. The men shouted to him to come back, that they would not budge an inch unless he did so, and to emphasise the demand, twenty or more of them sprang forward and made an effort to lead or push his horse to the rear. I was too far from him to join in this attempt, or, like any other man in the brigade I would have done so. Exactly what occurred, not even those nearest Lee can tell, but just as they got ‘Traveller’ headed to the rear, General Longstreet rode up and said something, whereupon General Lee rode silently back through our ranks.
Then General Gregg again shouted the command to forward, and forward the old brigade went. The enemy’s skirmishers discovered our approach before we had gone a hundred yards, and opened a fire on us that killed or wounded many of our best and bravest before they had fired a shot. Three hundred yards further, the leaden hail poured upon us by the skirmishers began to thin our ranks greatly, and five hundred yards from our starting point, we were confronted by a line of battle. This could not withstand our assault, and so fled in confusion. Across the Plank Road was another line, and against it we moved rapidly. The storm of battle was now terrific. Our brigade was alone, no support on our right, none on the left, and an enfilading and terrible fire from the left. The Plank Road ran diagonally across our line of advance, and down the road came the fire of a dozen cannon. But across it we went, and drove the enemy back behind their breastworks, to within a hundred yards of which we advanced.
Then it was discovered that a column of the enemy was coming at a double-quick down the Plank Road, with the evident intention of cutting us off, and General Gregg gave the order to withdraw. But the object of our attack was accomplished, General Lee’s faith in the Texas Brigade justified. The ground from which two Confederate divisions had been driven, had been recaptured, but at a terrible sacrifice, for one-half of our men were killed and wounded. Of the 207 men of the Fourth Texas that went into the action, 80 were killed or mortally wounded, and 100 wounded more or less seriously. I do not know the extent of the losses in either of the other regiments, but they were likely as great in the Fifth Texas as in the Fourth, both of which regiments crossed the Plank Road. The First Texas and Third Arkansas, however, although advancing and keeping in line with the Fourth and Fifth Texas, did not get to the Plank Road, but fought to the left of it.
The Fourth and Fifth Texas, the only regiments in danger of being cut off, fell back hurriedly, but not in confusion, and the brigade was soon in line, a couple of hundred yards in front of the battery near which General Lee came to us. As we were forming, another brigade passed over us on its way to hold the enemy in the position to which we had driven him. Ten minutes later we moved to the brow of a hill on the left, and formed in line at right angle to the general line. Then wheeling to the right, we moved down the hill, across a morass and to the summit of another elevation, where we encountered a heavy line of Yankee skirmishers, and in the fight with them lost quite a number of our men, killed and wounded. The skirmishers dispersed, other troops took our place, and we were given a long rest. That evening, though, the brigade drove back a line of skirmishers, and thus held the attention of the enemy until Anderson’s and Law’s brigades made a flank movement and captured a part of the enemy’s first line of breastworks.
I was not with the brigade in that last affair of the day. Taken sick at noon, I made my way back to the field-hospital, and was there when at 9 p. m. our division marched toward Spottsylvania Court House. Too unwell on the 7th to be fit for duty, I was in the act of leaving the hospital on the 8th to rejoin my command, when Dr. Jones forbade my going, detailed me as a nurse and ordered me to remain there until our wounded were carried back to Richmond. That was not done until the last of April, and before it was, I visited the battlefield twice, once on the 12th, and again on the 24th.
At the time of the first visit, its aspect was terrible and sickening. The stench from the putrefying corpses and carcasses of the thousands of men and horses that lay in every conceivable shape and position on the ground, pervaded the air and made impossible any long stay in the gloomy shades of the veritable wilderness in which the battle was waged. All the Confederate dead that could be found had been buried, but the Yankees had not buried a tenth of their dead.
Vast quantities of clothing, ammunition and arms lay strewn over acres of ground, the enemy, seemingly, having abandoned the field in too great haste to remove them. I counted five lines of breastworks that had been erected for the defence of the Union Army—one, immediately in front of our only line of entrenchments, and the others in rear of that one, at distances of from fifty to a hundred yards apart. In front of the first line the timber had been cleared off for a distance of fifty yards or more. At places, I saw acres of ground, the trees on which were riddled with bullets, and on several portions of the field where small timber and undergrowth only grew, the trees were actually cut in two, and the undergrowth topped at about the height of a man’s head.
The bodies of our Texas boys, brave fellows all, who had fallen, had been gathered together and buried under a large tree by the side of the Plank Road. Although one large opening in the earth received them, at the head of each was placed a board with his name rudely carved on it, while nailed to a tree nearer the road was another board on which were carved the simple but eloquent words, ‘Texas Dead.’