The beginning of the second volume of Kershaw’s Brigade sees South Carolina’s Regiments during the American Civil War in a brief period of respite in winter quarters. Behind them - the battles of Fredericksburg Gettysburg and Chickamauga among others. Yet to come is The Wilderness, Cold Habour and the conclusion of the War. An essential book for those interested in the great conflict of the American nation, the history of South Carolina and especially of the South Carolinians themselves.
The Brigade was formed in line of battle in some timber at the edge of the opening and ordered forward. The frowning redoubts lined with cannon and their formidable breastwork, behind which bristled the bright bayonets, were anything but objects to tempt the men as they advanced to the charge. As soon as we entered the opening the shells came plunging through our ranks, or digging up the earth in front. But the Brigade marched in good order, not a shot being fired, the enemy all the while giving us volley after volley. The men began to clamor for a charge, so much so that when we were about half way through the old field the command came charge. Then a yell and a rush, each man carrying his gun in the most convenient position, and doing all in his power to reach the work first. The angle in front of the Third was nearer than the line in front of the other Regiments. Just before we reached the works the enemy fled to a grove in rear under an incline and began firing on our troops, who had now reached the work and began to fire from the opposite side. The firing in this way became general all along the line. The Artillery had withdrawn to the heights in rear and opened upon us a tremendous fire at short range. The enemy could be seen from our elevated position moving around our right through a thicket of pines, and some one called out to the troops immediately on the right of the Third Regiment, The enemy are flanking us. This caused a momentary panic, and some of the Brigade left the captured work and began running to the rear. Colonel Rutherford ordered some of his officers to go down the line and get the demoralized troops to return to the ranks, which was accomplished without much delay.
The enemy in front began slackening their fire, which caused some of the men to leap over the works and advance to the brow of a hill just in front of us to get a better view. The enemy rallied and began pouring a heavy fire into the bold spirits who had advanced beyond the lines, wounding quite a number. General Kershaw, with a brigade of the division, crossed over the turn-pike and began a counter-move on the enemy's right, which caused such panic, that in a few minutes their whole line withdrew beyond the little town. Acting Assistant Adjutant General Pope, on the brigade staff, received a painful wound in the cheek, but outside of a sprinkling throughout the brigade of wounded, our loss was slight.
That night the enemy was reinforced, and about 9 o'clock next day there was a general advance. The enemy had changed his direction, and now was approaching parallel to the turn-pike. I was in command of the brigade skirmishers during the night, posted in a large old field on left of the turn-pike. Just as a detail, commanded by an officer of the Twentieth, came to relieve me, the enemy was seen advancing through a forest beyond the old field. The officer, not being familiar with the skirmish tactics, and never being on a skirmish line during action before, asked me to retain the command and also my line of skirmishers and conduct the retreat, which I did. The brigade at that time was on the retreat, and this double skirmish line covered and protected the rear. If there is any sport or amusement at all in battle, it is while on skirmish line, when the enemy is pressing you. On a skirmish line, usually, the men are posted about ten paces apart and several hundred yards in front of the main line of battle, to receive or give the first shock of battle. In our case the line was doubled, making it very strong, as strong, in fact, as some of the lines of General Lee's at that time holding Petersburg. When the enemy's skirmishers struck the opening our line opened upon them, driving them helter-skelter back into the woods. I ordered an advance, as the orders were to hold the enemy in check as long as possible to give our main line and wagon train time to get out of the way. We kept up the fire as we advanced, until we came upon the enemy posted behind trees; then, in our turn, gave way into the opening. Then the enemy advanced, so forward and backward the two lines advanced and receded, until by the support of the enemy's line of battle we were driven across the turn-pike, where we assembled and followed in rear of the brigade. There is nothing in this world that is more exciting, more nerve stirring to a soldier, than to participate in a battle line of skirmishers, when you have a fair field and open fight. There it takes nerve and pluck, however, it is allowed each skirmisher to take whatever protection he can in the way of tree or stump. Then on the advance you do not know when to expect an enemy to spring from behind a tree, stump, or bush, take aim and fire. It resembles somewhat the order of Indian warfare, for on a skirmish line all is fair in war.
We returned without further molestation to the vicinity of Winchester, the enemy not feeling disposed to press us. It was never understood whose fault it was that a general engagement did not take place, for Early had marched and began the attack, and pressed the enemy from his first line of works, then the next day the enemy showed a bold front and was making every demonstration as if to attack us.
General Kershaw having been promoted to Major General, General James Connor was sent to command the brigade. He was formerly Colonel of the Twenty-second North Carolina Regiment, promoted to Brigadier, and commanded McGowan's Brigade after the battle of Spottsylvania Court House. After the return of General McGowan, he was assigned to the command of Laws Brigade, and about the 6th or 7th of September reached us and relieved Colonel Henagan, of the Eighth, who had so faithfully led the old First Brigade since the battle of the Wilderness.On the morning of the 5th we had orders to march. Foragers coming in the night before reported heavy firing in the direction of the Rapidan, which proved to be the cavalry engagement checking Grant at the river fords. All felt after these reports, and our orders to march, that the campaign had opened. All day we marched along unused roadsóthrough fields and thickets, taking every near cut possible. Scarcely stopping for a moment to even rest, we found ourselves, at 5 oíclock in the evening, twenty-eight miles from our starting point. Men were too tired and worn out to pitch tents, and hearing the orders ìto be ready to move at midnight,î the troops stretched themselves upon the ground to get such comfort and rest as was possible. Promptly at midnight we began to move again, and such a march, and under such conditions, was never before experienced by the troops. Along blind roads, overgrown by underbrush, through fields that had lain fallow for years, now studded with bushes and briars, and the night being exceedingly dark, the men floundered and fell as they marched. But the needs were too urgent to be slack in the march now, so the men struggled with nature in their endeavor to keep in ranks. Sometimes the head of the column would lose its way, and during the time it was hunting its way back to the lost bridle path, was about the only rest we got. The men were already worn out by their forced march of the day before, and now they had to exert all their strength to its utmost to keep up. About daylight we struck the plank road leading from Orange Court House to Fredericksburg, and into this we turned and marched down with a swinging step. Kershawís Brigade was leading, followed by Humphreysí and Woffordís, with Bryan bringing up the rear. The Second South Carolina was in front, then the Third, Seventh, Fifteenth, Third Battalion, and Eighth on extreme right, the brigade marching left in front.
After marching some two miles or more down the plank road at a rapid gait, passing Hillís field infirmary, where the wounded of the day before were being cared for, we heard a sharp firing in our immediate front. Longstreetís artillery was far in the rear, floundering along through the blind roads as the infantry had done the night before. Our wagons and subsistence supplies had not been since dawn of the 5th, although this made little difference to the men, as Longstreetís Corps always marched with three daysí rations in their haversacks, with enough cooking utensils on their backs to meet immediate Wants. So they were never thrown off their base for want of food. The cartridge boxes were filled with forty rounds, with twenty more in their pockets, and all ready for the fray.
As soon as the musketry firing was heard, we hastened our steps, and as we reached the brow of a small elevation in the ground, orders were given to deploy across the road. Colonel Gaillard, with the Second, formed on the left of the road, while the Third, under Colonel Nance; formed on the right, with the other regiments taking their places on the right of the Third in their order of march. Fieldís Division Was forming rapidly on the left of the plank road, but as yet did not reach it, thus the Second was for the time being detached to fill up. The Mississippians, under Humphreys, had already left the plank road in our rear, and so had Wofford, with his Georgians, and were making their way as best they could through this tangled morass of the Wilderness, to form line of battle on Kershawís right. The task was difficult in the extreme, but the men were equal to the occasion, Bryanís Georgia Brigade filed off to the right, in rear, as reserves.
The line had not yet formed before a perfect hail of bullets came flying overhead and through our ranks, but not a man moved, only to allow the stampeded troops of Heathís and Wilcoxís to pass to the rear. It seems that these troops had fought the day before, and lay upon the battlefield with the impression that they would be relieved before day. They had not reformed their lines, nor replenished their ammunition boxes, nor made any pretention towards protecting their front by any kind of works. The enemy, who had likewise occupied their ground of the day before, had reformed their lines, strengthened their position by breastworksóall this within two hundred yards of the unsuspecting Confederates. This fault lay in a misunderstanding of orders, or upon the strong presumption that Longstreet would be up before the hour of combat. Hancock had ordered his advance at sunrise, and after a feeble defense by Heathís and Wilcoxís skirmish line, the enemy burst upon the unsuspecting Confederates, while some were cooking a hasty meal, others still asleepóall unprepared for this thunderbolt that fell in their midst. While forming his lines of battle, and while bullets were flying all around, General Kershaw came dashing down in front of his column, his eyes flashing fire, sitting his horse like a centauróthat superb style as Joe Kershaw only couldóand said in passing us, ìNow, my old brigade. I expect you to do your duty.î In all my long experience, in war and peace, I never saw such a picture as Kershaw and his war-horse made in riding down in front of his troops at the Wilderness. It seemed an inspiration to every man in line, especially his old brigade, who knew too well that their conduct to-day would either win or lose him his Major Generalís spurs, and right royally did he gain them. The columns were not yet in proper order, but the needs so pressing to check the advance of the enemy, that a forward movement was ordered, and the lines formed up as the troops marched.
The second moved forward on the left of the plank road, in support of a battery stationed there, and which was drawing a tremendous fire upon the troops on both sides of the road. Down the gentle slope the brigade marched, over and under the tangled shrubbery and dwarf sapplings, while a withering fire was being poured into them by as yet an unseen enemy. Men fell here and there, officers urging ion their commands and ordering them to ìhold their fire.î When near the lower end of the declivity, the shock came. Just in front of us, and not forty yards away, lay the enemy. The long line of blue could be seen under the ascending smoke of thousands of rifles; the red flashes of their guns seemed to blaze in our very faces. Now the battle was on in earnest. The roar of Kershawís guns mingled with those of the enemy. Longstreet had met his old antagonist of Round Top, Hancock, the Northern hero, of Gettysburg. The roar of the small arms, mingled with the thunder of the cannon that Longstreet had brought forward, echoed and re-echoed up and down the little valley, but never to die away, for new troops were being put rapidly in action to the right and left of us. Men rolled and writhed in their last death struggle; wounded men groped their way to the rear, being blinded by the stifling smoke. All commands were drowned in this terrible din of battleóthe earth and elements shook and trembled with the deadly shock of combat. Regiments were left without commanders; companies, without officers. The gallant Colonel Gaillard, of the Second, had fallen. The intrepid young Colonel of the Third, J.D. Nance, had already died in the lead of his regiment. The commander of the Seventh, Captain Goggans, was wounded. Colonel John D. Kennedy, commanding the brigade, had left the field, disabled from further service for the day.
Still the battle rolled on. It seemed for a time as if the whole Federal Army was upon usóso thick and fast came the death-dealing missiles. Our ranks were being decimated by the wounded and the dead, the little valley in the Wilderness becoming a veritable ìValley of Hennom.î The enemy held their position with a tenacity, born of desperation, while the confederates pressed them with that old-time Southern vigor and valor that no amount of courage could withstand. Both armies stood at extreme tension, and the cord must soon snap one way or the other, or it seemed as all would be annihilated, Longstreet seeing the desperate struggle in which Kershaw and Humphreys, on the right, and Hoodís old Texans, on the left, were now engaged, sought to relieve the pressure by a flank movement with such troops as he had at his disposal. R.H. Andersenís Division, of Hillís Corps had reported to him during the time Kershaw was in such deadly throes of battle. Four brigades, Woffordís, of Kershawís, and G.T. Andersonís, Mahoneís, and Davisí, of Andersonís Division, were ordered around on our right, to strike the left of Hancock But during this manoeuver the enemy gradually withdrew from our front, and Kershawís Brigade was relieved by Brattonís South Carolina Brigade. I quote here from Colonel Wallace, of the Second.
ìKershawís Division formed line in the midst of this confusion, like cool and well-trained veterans as they were, checked the enemy, and soon drove them back. The Second Regiment was on the left of the plank road, near a battery of artillery, and although completely flanked at one time by the giving away of the troops on the right, gallantly stood their ground, though suffering terribly; they and the battery, keeping up a well-directed fire, to the right oblique, until the enemy gave way. General Lee now appeared on our left, leading Hoodís Texas Brigade. We joined our brigade on the right of the plank road, and again advanced to the attack.
ìWe were relieved by Jenkinsí Brigade, under command of that able and efficient officer, General Bratton, and ordered to the rear and rest. We had scarcely thrown ourselves upon the ground, when General Bratton requested that a regiment be sent him to fill a gap in the lines, which the enemy had discovered and were preparing to break through. I was ordered to take the Second Regiment and report to him. A staff officer showed me the gap, when I double quicked to it, just in time, as the enemy were within forty yards of it. As we reached the point we poured a well-directed volley into them, killing a large number, and putting the rest to flight. General Bratton witnessed the conduct of the regiment on this occasion and spoke of it in the highest terms.î