The following Historical Sketch of his company, regiment and brigade was written by Lieut. Charles R. Jones during the winter and spring of 1865, from notes taken at different periods.
FIFTY-FIFTH REG’T. N.C.T., DAVIS’ BRIGADE.
Before daylight next morning we were out on the road. Marching some seven miles we came into the main road leading to Sussex C.H., where we found that our retreating friends (?) had gained eleven hours start of us by marching during the night. Our General deeming it impolitic to pursue them further immediately ordered a retrogade movement The command accordingly countermarched, took the road we had just come and bivouacked for the night, on the southside of the Nottaway river at the “Double Bridges.”
Early next morning, we struck out over the frozen road, and through the chilling winds in the direction of Petersburg. Troops on the road ahead of us (I believe our brigade marched in the rear of the corps) made it necessary to be continually stopping nearly all day, but just before sunset, the road being now clear, the command took up the quickstep, and in some places for miles at a time the double-quick step, and marched without halting about seven miles, when, weary and exhausted, those of us who had kept up with the brigade were marched into a skirt of woods on the roadside to rest for the night, about three miles to the southwest of Dinwiddie C.H. We soon had the cold snow scraped away from our camp-fires, our supper eaten—some went to sleep supperless as the rations due us this evening did not reach us until after midnight—our blankets spread, and laid us down to rest.
Not long after daylight we had shouldered arms, knapsacks, haversacks, blankets, canteens, &c., and were marching in the direction of Petersburg. We passed through the little town of Dinwiddie C.H. about ten o’clock, but did not stop long for we had left our houses, goods, chattels, &c., behind when we started from our camp, and we pushed on and were soon back at our old quarters, about one mile to the north of Hatcher’s Run. These we found occupied by a brigade of Louisiana troops, who supposing their stay must be short, took peculiar pleasure in seeing how much of our bunks, chimneys, and fire places and how many stools they could burn before they were ousted by the legal possessors. We were too glad to get back again to make much fuss about the destruction of our household and kitchen furniture, and set quietly to work to repair damages, as soon as the Louisiana brigade had been removed. Our evening meal was despatched and the camp was soon wrapped in repose.
Everything was quiet until about the wee small hours of night when the cry “fall in,” a “midnight attack,” &c., rang along the lines and in a moment full armed, though many half clad, we were shivering behind the breastworks, awaiting the assault. The alarm, however, proved false and within a half hour Gen Davis road along the lines and ordered the brigade to their quarters. We were soon wrapped in our blankets dreaming of anything but war and the night passed without further disturbance.
Building breastworks and other duties generally assigned to Engineers, with our constant turns of picket and guard duty now took up our time. It is true these every day scenes were monotonous, but as many of us would have been engaged at little else, they served to drive away the dull ennui of camp existence.
Little more than twelve months before Davis’ brigade went into winter quarters on the Rapidan. The year with its hopes, hears and realities had passed. Many of our brave band, who chose to contend for right against power, had been consigned to honored graves on the various ensanguined battle fields of the Old Dominion as martyrs in a glorious cause, and yet many who had perhaps followed the flag of their country’s choice as far as they who had been cut down, through the merciful dispensation of a Divine Providence survived and now prepared the little cabins which were to serve us through the winter. We had spent the three previous winter’s in this climate and well knew what to expect. Old Boreas had already began to whistle his favorite airs around our chimney corners, while the Eolean harps and wind or flutter mills constructed by the boys on the gable ends of their houses during hours of leisure, served each night to lull us to sound and refreshing sleep.
I must not forget to chronicle the fact that the warm hearted people of old Virginia, particularly in Richmond and Petersburg, set a movement on foot to give us (the whole Army of Northern Virginia) a Christmas dinner. From what we could hear of the proposed feast, through the newspapers, we were led to suppose there was “a good time coming” when we should once more revel in roast ducks, baked pigs, mince pies, currant tarts, and the usual luxuries pertaining to a Christmas dinner of olden time. Christmas at last came, but brought nothing but our usual cornbread and bacon. We were told that our dinner had certainly been sent from Richmond already prepared, and consequently looked forward to our coming repast with a great deal anxiety. Day after day now passed until the 2d day of January 1865, before we heard anything from our promised meal. On this day Gen. David was ordered to send his ration wagons to Petersburg and the grand Christmas dinner was distributed. When an equal division was made it was found that the amount of edibles according to the number of men was totally inefficient, so much so that no one person derived any benefit whatever, but the generous spirit displayed by the citizens of the Old Dominion, was worthy of emulation by our other and more Southern friends.
On the first of February, 1865, the 55thd N.C.T., bade their old friends in the brigade with whom they had served so long a heartfelt farewell and were transferred to Brig. Gen. John R. Cooke’s North Carolina Brigade. Our old associations were at once broken, and we were to form others as a constituent part of Cooke’s Brigade. They were not entire strangers to us, however, we had been in the same division of more than a year, and on many a hard fought field we had been side by side.
I must now leave the history of Davis’ brigade of gallant Mississippians, whose long list of honored dead tells too truly how they acted when under fire, and for which many lasting ties of friendship has been formed, perhaps too strong to be severed but in the cold embrace of death itself. Memory will, in leisure hours, revert with pride and pleasure to the duties performed and the scenes enacted, perils braved and hardships undergone during the two years of association with the patriots which composed Brig. Gen. Joseph R. Davis’ Brigade.
Aware of the fact in writing the history of the gallant men of the 2nd, 11th and 43nd Miss., 1st Confederate Battalion and the 56th N.C.T., that [he] had a theme worthy of the pen of a Prescott or Hume, the author feels sensibly his inability to meet the subject as it deserves. Were he able it would be a pleasure unutterable for him to portray, if possible, in characters of living fire the bright deeds and unimpeachable record of the brigade. In this concise compend he is sensible of many errors both of omission and commission, but with a clear conscience of having discharged a sacred duty, and with a pure intention he submits this little sketch to his warm hearted and generous associates, confident that his omissions will be overlooked and his mistakes pardoned as errors of the head and not of the heart. May the green turf of old Virginia which covers the heads of many of the heroes of the old brigade rest lightly until the last trump shall summon them before
“The awful Judge of quick and dead.”
May the living ever look back to the four long years during the contest for Freedom and the struggle for Independence. Vale, Vale.
The 55th N.C.T., as has already been stated was transferred to Brig. Gen. Jno. R. Cooke’s brigade, on the 1st of February 1865, and proceeded to erect comfortable winter quarters for the second time this winter. Everything passed off quietly until the morning of the 5th of February when an advance of the enemy on the extreme right flank caused considerable stir in the Confederate camps in and near this locality. The 55th N.C.T., with their new associates, prepared at once for action. Late in the evening it was ascertained that the enemy were only advancing their lines, and did not intend in immediate attack. To let them remain in their new position was decided by our Generals as unwise, and an attack was therefore ordered immediately. Cook’s brigade was among the troops to make the onset. A desperate engagement, at close quarters was fought—many a brave heart fell to rise no more on earth, but the enemy’s position was found to be so secure, rendered so by the breastworks and entrenchments constructed within the last two days as to be almost impregnable, and the Confederate troops were compelled to abandon the idea of carrying the enemy’s works. The gallant Captain Walter A. Whitted company “G,” commanding the 55th N.C.T., was severely wounded through the throat, by a piece of shell.
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And the regiment was compelled for a time to be deprived of his most valuable services. The command suffered heavily in the engagement. After falling back some two hundred yards to a little more secure position, the Confederate lines were reformed and held until late at night the dead having been buried, and the wounded, as far as was possibly consistent with the future welfare of the sufferers, having been removed, the General ordered a retreat to our breastworks. Noislessly did each man grope his way through until the beacon lights of his own quarters loomed up in the distance.
These fires had been made by the sick and wounded soldiers, who had been left at camp in the morning, or by those who had been fortunate enough to be able to make their way here after having been slightly wounded on the battlefield. The night passed away without further interruption, and the command remained quiet until about the first of April.
Now came the grand concentrated attack by Gen Grant, for the capture of Petersburg and Richmond, each opposing element of strength gathering power each day.—Gen Lee found that he could not man the breastworks he had been so long constructing, with more than one rank, and these were compelled to be four or five paces apart.
Oh! would there had been power to recall the honored dead, and their name is legion, who had fallen in the numerous conflicts from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, from the districts of Pennsylvania to the soil of Western Missouri, with their spirit of patriotism, honor and independence, and the devoted LEE, leader, Captain and General, around whose venerable brow the garlands of honor and worth, patriotism and nobility, have been entwined by the praise of even his enemies, would not have been allowed to become an unprofitable sacrifice. Would that my feeble pen could write in indellible characters, and thus emblazon to the admiring gaze of nations yet unborn, his virtues, character and traits, which would, had his sacrificing example been followed, have led to those great blessings of national prosperity and happiness which is the just reward of a patient endurance of suffering and a brilliant exhibition of heroic valor. But why dwell on the excellent worth of this renowned chieftain. Others, if not quite so exalted in the hearts of the people, have laid, perhaps, quite as much upon the altars of sacrifice of a bleeding country as Gen. Lee, and added to it their lives. The sacred memory of Stonewall Jackson and Albert Sydney Johnston rise up and demand a tribute, while thousands of the martyred brave sons of the South speak in trumpet tones through the little grassy mounds which cover all of them that was of earth, and demand to be remembered, and again a still small voice coming from the bleaching bones of those gallant hearts who were denied a burial, saying, we must not be forgotten. May an infinitely wise and omnipotent Providence never cease to shower blessings upon them in their eternal rest, and while any of their comrades survive may they be remembered kindly.
I crave pardon for this lengthy digression from my subject. I will now revert briefly to the sad facts which enshrouded the hopes of the people of the Confederate States of America, and the events which broke every hope of success in securing the boon of liberty and independence. As the history of the 55th N.C. Troops, is from this time forward a part of the history of the Army of Northern Virginia, I hope it will not be considered improper if I touch only upon a few general points of interest relating to that gallant army.
Early on the morning of the first of April, 1865, the combined attack on the Confederate position commenced. Maj. Gen. Sheridan’s corps (Federal troops) were thrown upon the extreme right flank of the Confederate army, between Hatcher’s Run and Dinwiddie C.H. before the action commenced, which in consequence of the lack of troops on the part of Gen. Lee, threatened not only to completely envelop his right flank, but even to prevent his retreat in the direction of Burkville and Danville, should circumstances render it necessary for him to do so. To meet this disposition of forces, finding the cavalry, after reinforcing that arm as much as possible, totally inadequate to the task, it became decessary to detach other troops from the main line of defence, and for this purpose Maj. Gen. Pickett’s division was selected. This heavy detachment of troops from the main line of the Richmond and Petersburg defences, previously thinly manned, left those two cities at the mercy of the foe, who had for nearly four years struggled almost entirely for their capture, and as may be supposed, he lost no time in taking advantage of the weakness. Column after column of Federal troops were hurled upon the devoted legions of Lee until at last the Confederates, overpowered everywhere by overwhelming numbers, gave up the lines of defences, h an hour! Held in defiance so long. What an hour! The last link in the chain of hope was thus severed and although the bright anticipations of a glorious future had been hanging spell bound on the brink of the awful gulf of despair, this final blow, like an avalanche, fell with a crash upon the hopes of a brave people struggling in vain against those cherished ideas of liberty, independence and freedom entertained for the past four years—the American’s birthright inheritance. The Army of Northern Virginia no longer existed. The bulwark which had stood so long between the Confederate Capital and its enemies, which had been led but to victory, had as it were, crumbled to ruin.
[10. “Historical Sketch.’” Our Living and Our Dead (Newbern, NC). May 20, 1874, p. 1 col. 5-6, p. 2, col. 1]
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jack Phend.
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