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. TROOPS, DAVIS’ BRIGADE.
On the 27th of Oct., 1864, before the stars had faded from the sky, the sharp crack of the skirmishers rifles indicated an attack on our right flank, and almost before the order came, about twenty minutes, we were in marching and fighting trim, and within ten minutes more we were double-quicking to the right along the breastworks to meet the enemy in his attempted surprise. His overpowering force, and the fact that our line of breastworks must be held, rendered it necessary to alternate our line in such a manner as to form ourselves behind the works in one rank, and two paces apart, which is little more than a skirmish line. We had never yet fought behind breastworks, although we had constructed miles , but we felt that our line was impregnable. About 10 o’clock a.m., it is thought the enemy attempted to push forward a negro command with the intention of assaulting our works, but be that as it may, as a long line of negro troops did come in sight of our position a few well-directed shots from our line, and a certain knowledge that this was but a foretaste of what would succeed if they came on, soon induced them to change their tactics and scamper off in the opposite direction. This slight attack being over Davis’ brigade was called about half a mile to the right, where the combat was evidently deepening every moment. A considerable portion of dismounted men of the cavalry division of Confederate troops, commanded by Major Gen. Butler, of South Carolina, were here in position and relieved by us they were ordered further to the right. Little time had elapsed before the Confederate General in command countermanded his order, and the dismounted cavalry resumed their position on the line, and Davis’ brigade was order further to the right, to support the evidently faltering troops in their position on the north bank of Hatcher’s run. The brigade, in the face of a determined fire, double-quicked about a mile to the right, in single file, debouched to the right and rear of the breastworks, formed a single line of battle, parallel with the position held by our troops in front, and advanced to the breastworks reinforcing the troops along the line just in time to save it from capture. The Confederate troops, which proved to be a portion of the dismounted cavalry of Gen. Fitz Lee’s division, were in one rank, thinly posted, and were nearly out of ammunition when we arrived on the line, and in many places the enemy were within ten paces of the breastworks. Our boys went into line with their accustomed cheer, and the yankees seeing our line reinforced, withdrew in considerable confusion, leaving many of their dead and wounded behind them. Continued sharpshooting was kept up, but the battle ceased until about 1 o’clock, p.m., when considerable firing was heard on our right, and in a few minutes the gallant Lieut. G.W. Coonelies, 2d Miss., who had been detailed to command a company of skirmishers, some distance to the right of our position, came in hot haste to Gen. Davis and exclaimed, “General they have broken our line and my command has been forced to retreat.” Too true, the enemy had pierced our lines forcing back the men they did not kill, wound or capture, and were thus enabled to get completely in the rear of the line we were holding, and enfilading it at pleasure. Now ensued a scene when stout hearts almost faltered. The command of the regiments occupying the right flank of the brigade was given by Gen. Davis to Col. Stone, and a part of it countermarched a short distance when the head of the column filed directly to the left and rear of the breastworks. Marching some two hundred yards in this direction, the command was halted and a line of battle in one rank formed. During these few moments some of the threw together a few trunks of some decayed trees which were lying near by but were undecided as to the best side for safety. By the success grained in penetrating our line to the right of our position, the enemy was able to place himself immediately on our right flank as well as direct rear, and his balls were falling among us from seven different directions. Col. Stone passing along the line observed the men engaged in constructing a hasty line of fortifications, immediately informed Capt. Whitted, command the 55th N.C.T., to direct his men to cease their labors as the command would advance and would not be benefitted by it, and added, “We are going to advance and I expect will be cut to pieces.” In a few seconds the command “Forward,” came down the line and we immediately advanced about fifty yards and halted, where in consequence of the dense undergrowth it became necessary to reform the line. On account of the proximity of the enemy the Confederate line of battle had almost caught up with the line of skirmishers in front, but soon the battle commenced and they retired to the line of battle and fought with it. Just as the skirmishers were retiring, before the line of battle commenced firing, but during a heavy and determined fire from our foe, Capt. Whitted, commanding 55th N.C.T., stepped up to me (I was commanding two companies near the centre of the regiment at the time) and ordered me to dress my command to the right, and some five or six paces to the front of the position then occupied. I stepped about five paces to the front, gave the command “Company, forward march,” and when it arrived on the proper line, gave the further commands, “Company, halt, right dress, steady front.” At the instant the last command was given, a yankee sharpshooters, posted behind a pine about sixty-five yard distant took cool, deliberate aim at me and fired. (This I was afterwards told by my company.) The ball must have passed within three inches of my right ear, (I was standing with my back to the enemy, and in front of the company.) and struck private B.G. Mason, company I, 55th N.C.T. exactly in the forehead, killing him instantly. Of the many scenes of death that I have witnessed when in battle, I have never seen one which so violently agitated my own feelings, or so completely filled the company with consternation. Private Mason was a native of Franklin county, N.C., a good soldier, and a faithful friend. His loss was much deplored.
The battle raged now in terrible earnest until sun down, and in recording this event, it is fair ts say that the Confederate troops never acted more gallantly, and as we were nearly completely surrounded, and expected every moment to start on a jaunt as prisoners of war, yet we were sternly resolved not to give up the field as long as there was a possible chance of holding it. An imperfect knowledge of our position on the part of the enemy, and a considerable amount of effrontery on our part, alone saved us from being literally whipped. Night at last put an end to the engagement, and we took care to erect temporary protection from the bullets we expected to have shot at us on the morrow.
The gallant Lieut. M.C. Stevens, company G, 55th N.C.T. fell during this engagement shot though the head. His coolness and daring in the hour of battle and danger, was the admiration of the brigade, and he has justly won a name which shall last as long as North Carolina shall honor or respect the brave, undaunted, self-sacrificing spirit which animated her heroes and patriots in this her second war for independence. He was buried by private D.W. Price of the same company, not far from where he so gallantly fell, but was subsequently re-interred with military honors by the company, about one mile to the left and northeast of the battle-field. Peace to his ashes.
We expected a renewal of the battle the next day, which, however, did not occur. Sharpshooting was kept up steadily until about 11 o’clock, a.m., when the enemy withdrew. The fight was over and those of us who escaped were truly thankful that our lives had been spared through the terrible ordeal. Late in the evening the brigade moved back to its former position. Thus was spent the 28th of October, 1864.
By this time the trees had, one by one, released their claim upon the “sear and yellow leaf” which had fallen to the ground, and we began to feel the necessity of having at our disposal some place to protect us from the rigorous inclemencies of a Virginia winter. Accordingly, on the 10th of November, we began the construction of winter quarters, just behind the line of breastworks, and which would have been a much more pleasant task if we could have had any assurance that we would have been allowed to remain in them all winter. This assurance, however, was impossible, but we went to work with true soldier-like zeal, and soon had our huts, cabins, or houses ready for the incoming tenants.
Our Generals now put the brigade to work in earnest, building fortifications. Engineers made new surveys, old lines were straightened, other and stronger forts were erected along the lines, new abattis were made, all to render our position more easily held. This species of labor now engaged our attention until about the 7th of December, when, with little warning, we took up the line of march towards Bellfield on the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, a distance of sixty miles. Tired and exhausted, when night came, we went into bivouac in an old pine field, about four miles to the south of Dinwiddlie C.H. Early on the succeeding morning the line of march was resumed in a southwesterly direction, crossing the Nottaway river at Double Bridges. Soon after 12 m., a cold rain commenced falling, which saturated our clothing and rendered the roads very muddy. Towards night it ceased raining only to commence snowing. This made the roads in worse condition still, but we still marched on. Night at length came on but we did not halt. The darkness seemed almost impenetrable and on we went. About eight o’clock, p.m., we discovered along the roadside many bright fires which had been built by other troops. We began to think our camping ground not far off, and our surmises were correct. The command was soon marched into the roadside to spend the night. We had been marching all day through the cold wind, rain, sleet and snow—for it had commenced sleeting at sundown—over a long muddy road, sometimes compelled to wade through water a foot deep, everything to burn was as wet as could be, while the trees and bushes were covered with ice, and yet we were told that this was to be our stopping place for the present. Writers of history may speak of the sufferings of other but not nobler armies. The sad history of the armies of the Confederate States must stand pre-eminent when it becomes fully known what we endured, and under what circumstances, and that with thousands human fortitude was overtaxed, and the numbers that fainted and fell by the wayside, the immortal honor, glory and renown won by these troops will be appreciated.
Some few of us by the aid of large fires, notwithstanding a sleet fell nearly all night, managed to sleep a little. The next morning the low rumbling reverberations of the yankee cannon, in the direction of Bellfield, with an occasional sharp rattling of musketry, was heard, and we were soon marching down the road towards that place. Arriving within a few miles of the station (Bellfield) we turned to the left and moved in a northerly direction towards Jarratt’s. Near noon the atmosphere became warm enough to thaw some of the ice on the ground, and we marched, or rather struggled on until within half mile from the station. Here the command halted, and the arms were examined and loaded. Moving about two hundred yards further on Davis’ brigade was thrown into line of battle on the right of the road. A line of skirmishers were advanced at the same time, and as the main line halted occasionally to readjust the alignment, the skirmishers soon left us “in the cool”—among the icicles and snow. Half dozen shots from a yankee vidette post were all that our enemy fired, when he took to his heels. We were soon informed, to our surprise, that there was no enemy in our front. The line of march was resumed and we marched down to where the railroad station had had been, for the yankees had destroyed all the buildings by fire. Here we built a few fires with the hope, groundless alas it was, of being allowed to remain until we got dry, but were ordered to “fall in” and in a few minutes we were off on the same muddy road in pursuit of the flying yankees. Travelling some seven miles, night overtook us, and we marched into a thicket of pines to rest until day. Our evening meal was enjoyed with fine relish, and we soon cast ourselves down on the wet pine straw to sleep until the morning reveille should call us to pursue a retreating foe, who was traveling in hot haste and who knew that well he might, for Harry Heth, Jo. Davis and Johnny Cooke were after him.
[10. “Historical Sketch.’” Our Living and Our Dead (Newbern, NC). May 13, 1874, p. 1 col. 4-6]
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jack Phend.
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