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 N.C. TROOPS, DAVIS’ BRIGADE.
In consequence of the transportation of troops (mentioned in the last number of this paper) Davis’ brigade, which the reader left in position on the north side, between White Tavern and the river was ordered to march with dispatch at once to Petersburg. Soon after daylight, on the morning of the 31st of July, the brigade was on the road to the south side of the James river, marching by the same hot, dusty route we had twice before traveled. Late in the afternoon, after a weary, fatiguing march we arrived in Petersburg and took position in the front line of works about one mile to the right and south of the city. Gen. Grant’s combination of plans for the immediate capture of Petersburg having been completely foiled, his army remained for the time comparatively quiet, continually strengthening each fortified locality, and awaiting coming events to reveal some further plan by which he might be assisted in carrying into effect his egotistical design of capturing Richmond by circumvallation. As the Confederate General was necessarily, in the main, operating on the defensive alone, this inactivity on the Federal General, prevented army movements to any considerable extent.
Thus far the position of Davis’ brigade since at Petersburg had not been of much exposure to the enemy’s artillery or sharpshooters, but on the 2nd day of August the 55th N.C. Troops was order to relieve a part of Walker’s Virginia brigade in the exact front and east of the city of Petersburg, and during the same day the rest of the brigade also took position near the same locality. We were now in a very exposed position, and the enemy’s artillery continued to annoy us from day to day. However a local truce had been effected a few days before we came into the new position and a mutual agreement, between two lines of infantry picket entered into, to the effect that no rifle firing was allowed between the two lines of defenses, while both parties remained quiet. The picket firing, for the time, having been discontinued, we were forced to endure an occasional shell from a three and a half inch Parrott with all the equanimity possible. These were sure to try our nerves, when we inadvertently allowed ourselves to group together in squad of more than three or four when in sight of the enemy, and generally when a shell would announce its arrival by tearing and plowing up the ground, we scattered to our holes. The duty was exceedingly heavy on all parties as long as we remained in this position. Those who were not on picket duty were every day forced to assist in rendering more tenable the long line of fortifications we were necessarily compelled to hold. —New redoubts, chevaux de frize, or rather stockades, were constantly to be erected, which sorely tried our patience. Each night might be seen the sublime spectacle of mortar shelling, which, however, harassed us very little, as the mortar firing was generally between us and the Appomatox river, but always plaintly in view.
Everything now remained in stata quo until the night of the 17th of August when the brigade was relieved by Clark’s N.C. brigade and ordered about one mile to the right into a more desirable position, though still on the front line to enjoy rest or at least a cessation from our hitherto arduous labors and dangers. During the night at about two o’clock, A.M., at a preconcerted signal, the deep mouthed thunder of Yankee guns was opened along the entire Federal line, which was soon responded to with spirit by the opposing confederate batteries. The scene was one of terrific sublimity. The thunder-like reverberations from at least four hundred pieces of cannon and the train of fire emitted by the burning fuses of the many shells discharged by so large a number of heavy guns was truly exciting and interesting.
Day broke and the regimental bands were ordered up to cheer our drooping spirits, occasioned by the heavy duty of the past two weeks. “Dixie,” “The Bonnie Blue Flag” and the “Southern Marseillaise” soon infused new life into the command. About 11 o’clock, A.M., the low, distant rumbling of the enemy’s cannon in an attack upon our cavalry outposts on the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad occasioned “a change to come over the spirit or our dream.” In less than twenty minutes we were on the march, in fighting trim for the field of action. Marching to the right along the line of fortifications, until we reached the Petersburg Landworks we debouched to the left and south along the line of the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad in the direction of the Davis House, which has since been totally destroyed by a wanton enemy. It was now near one o’clock, P.M., and a line of battle was immediately formed and the brigade ordered forward with a cheer, expecting to find only a small force which might be easily driven off the rail road. But to our surprise we found Gen. Warren’s whole corps of Federal troops, our Bristow friends (?) securely posted behind model fortifications and which, with two small brigades, it appeared as child’s play to attempt to draw off. The object of the Confederate General was, therefore, completely foiled by the overwhelming numbers of his adversary, and after advancing very alone to his position, we were compeled to fall back.
This action entailed upon the brigade serious and heavy loss. Among the wounded was Col. Reynolds of the 45th, Lieut. Col. Blair and Maj. Buchannan of the 2d Miss., while the rank and file suffered terribly. The gallant Lieut. W.H. Townes of the 55th N.C.T., and the enduring Lieut. J.J. Hoyle of the same regiment were both mortally wounded. For Lieut. Townes the author, as did every one else who knew him, entertained the deepest feelings of friendship which was only severed by his death. At all times his manners were courteous, his ability acknowledged, while his affability and true politeness rendered him an agreeable companion to all. No eulogy of mine could pay a just tribute to his exalted worth, or depict the heart-felt sadness which pervaded his command after his death. It is, perhaps sufficient for me to say that the loss of no officer or man in the regiment would have been felt more keenly than his. May the sod rest lightly on the breast of him who, by his actions, resolved to follow the honored ensign of his bleeding country, until the precious boon of freedom and independence should be secured, or wrapped in the sacred habiliments of his own glory he should (as he was) be consigned to a martyr’s grave.
Discovering our efforts to dislodge the enemy to be futile; the Confederate General ordered the command to fall back to a line of obstructions composed of rails, fallen trees, &c., from which we had driven the enemy’s lines of skirmishers, which being done the severity of the battle somewhat ceased. The shelling, however, from both the Confederate and Federal batteries, (for we were posted between them,) passed over our heads, splintering and riving the branches and bodies of the sturdy trees, continued until nightfall. About eleven o’clock at night the command noiselessly withdrew, resumed the line of march and we soon found ourselves where we started from in the morning, and were ordered to rest for the remaining portion of the night. Thus was spent August 18th, 1864, by Davis brigade, When mentioning the casualties of the brigade, I forgot to record the death of two noble hearts and gallant spirits of my own company—I allude to Sergeant W.F. Grantham and private John W. Powell company G, 55th N.C.T., who fell while nobly doing their duty. Both were very popular at the time of their death and were regarded by all as genuine soldiers. In consequence of the retreat immediately after they were killed, they were necessarily left unburied on the field. It would have been a satisfaction as a last act of kindness, to have buried them, as became their characters, but we were deprived of this privilege. Their honored reputations will last with their surviving comrades, until each shall have been called from earth to eternity.
Some time after reveille on the next morning (Aug. 19, 1864) the brigade was ordered to “fall in,” and during a heavy shower of rain, marched in the same direction, over the same road, fought over the same ground in the same manner, and with the same success. More troops having been sent to the attack to-day, a part of Mahone’s division was enabled to flank one line of the enemy capturing seven hundred prisoners. For some reason there were fewer casualties in Davis’ brigade today than on the day previous. The enemy having been now three days on the railroad, which time was used, as yankees know so well how to use it, in fortifying, it was decided by the Confederate General that the works in front were impregnable. The Confederate troops were consequently withdrawn and Davis’ brigade marched back to the “Davis House” where we bivouacked for the night. Late in the day of August 20th, we marched back to the old position, behind the old breastworks, about one mile to the south of Petersburg. During the night the brigade was ordered to resume its position in the front line, to the east and in front of Petersburg.
The inhuman practice of sharpshooting between the pickets had now been re-established, and we were forced to keep entirely in the ditches and trenches. Whenever a careless fellow chose to disobey the injunction of “keeping low” his head was sure to pay the penalty. This practice was kept up all night. Very many of our best and noblest comrades fell by the unerring aim of the enemy’s sharpshooters. We wisely resolved that what could not be cured must be endured and kept our heads as low as possible. One third of the command was always on alert, night and day, which in addition to our excessive fatigue, in constructing new breastworks or erecting new redoubts, palisades, parapets or traverses generally, rendered the entire command very much exhausted from day to day. Many times the heavy rains or the shots of the enemy artillery made it necessary to repair the old fortifications, which was always done with alacrity.
This state of affairs remained unchanged until the night preceding the 29th September when the brigade was again relieved and ordered to the rear for rest. Many of us at the time were almost physically exhausted. The night passed away without interruption, but with the morning came the order to get ready to march at once. It seemed hard to put us in motion after having undergone so much fatigue for the past six weeks, but the exigencies of the occasion admitted of no delay. We were soon on a march in a southerly direction from Petersburg. Moving only a short distance the command halted and cooked rations the remaining portion of the day. A considerable rain fell during the daylight which rendered the roads excessively disagreeable but notwithstanding this, soon after daylight the brigade resumed the line of march. A line of battle was then soon formed and everything got in readiness for an immediate attack upon the enemy’s position. The command “Forward—guide centre” soon ran along the line from right and left and Davis brigade moved forward with its usual promptness when in the pathr of duty. The dense undergrowth, cane-brambles and swampy character of the ground prevented the command from reaching the enemy’s position in any order, and it was at length withdrawn after a long exposure to the enemy’s fire, which fell with telling effect into our ranks. This with a few other unimportant movements took up the day, and at night the men slept on their arms, on the cold, wet ground near the “Jones House.”
Next morning (Oct. 2nd 1864) we took position on the line which extends from from Petersburg in a south westerly direction to Burgess” Mill on Grand Run, running all the way just to the east of Dinwiddie Court House plank road, and from this time to the 27th spent our time in building new fortifications, cheveaux de frize, stockades, &c. This was really the first rest, as we were not exposed to the enemy’s fire, the brigade had enjoyed since the spring campaign opened the 4th of May 1864.
[10. “Historical Sketch.’” Our Living and Our Dead (Newbern, NC). May 6, 1874, p. 1 col. 3-6]
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jack Phend.
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