The Virginia in the Civil War Message Board

Brown's battery of horse artillery at five forks

By David Cardwell
Confederate Veteran
Volume 22 #3
March 1914

Page 117

So much has been said about the morale of the Army of
Northern Virginia after the battle of Gettysburg that I
cannot refrain, as a humble private in that army, from describing
as best I can the battle of Five Forks.

To say nothing of the splendid fighting of A. P. Hill's men
and the cavalry at Reams's Station in August, 1864, and the
almost daily fights that W. II. F. Lee's Cavalry had along the
Boydton plank road and the Weldon Railroad at Reams's Station,
we swept Hancock's celebrated 2d Corps away from
our front like a whirlwind. Nothing stopped us. and our
force was far inferior to theirs. Col. Robert Aldrich says that
Gen. A. P. Hill sent to General Hampton (or Butler) for a
mounted man who was familiar with the country, and he
(Lieutenant Aldrich) was sent. When he reported to General
Hill, the General said : "Lieutenant, how many men have you
with the cavalry?" Lieutenant Aldrich told him that he had
about two thousand and then asked: "General Hill, how many
men have you?" The response was: "About eight thousand,
1 think." Then the General said: "How many men do you
think are in front of us. Lieutenant?" To which the Lieutenant
replied: "All of Hancock's troops. I should say about
twenty thousand men." Lieutenant Aldrich then insinuated
that the General was attempting a big job with the force he
had. General Hill then said: "Lieutenant, if we can't whip
them with this proportion, we'd better stop the war right

History shows how well he figured. General Hancock,
when he returned from the hospital, testified to the completi
ness of the defeat and told his corps that the Confederate
army could not be beaten, but must be worn out. So youi see
that up to August, 1864. the army had a good deal of fight in
it, and so on till the spring of 1865. I was with the cavalry and
on the right of General Lee's Petersburg line. After leaving
the breastworks, the cavalrj patrolled the line and fought
almost daily, and fought with spirit, too.

On the 31st of March the cavalry found itself way down
the line toward Dinwiddie Courthouse, and they put their
artillery into position on the south bank of a stream called
Chamberlain's Run. I was No. 4 at one of these guns. In
a few minutes Barringer’s Brigade, the 1st North Carolina
Cavalry (a splendid regiment under Col. Cowles in the lead, came up. At once a heavy fire was opened on
them from the other side of the run. We opened with our
guns, using short fuses. As the brigade of General Barringer
charged across the run, which was three or four feet deep,
our gun was in position on a little knoll on the right of the
ford by which the cavalry charged, and I had a splendid opportunity
to see the whole fight. In all my experience (and
I had been in over sixty fights, great and small) I never saw
a more splendid charge. They simply swept everything out
of their way. Every field officer of Barringer's Brigade was
shot, yet on pushed these soldiers. The splendid cavalry of
Sheridan fled before them until they almost reached Dinwiddie
Courthouse, where their infantry was in large force.
Now, this was long alter the battle of Gettysburg. Colonel
Cowles was shot through the head and fell into the creek,
supposedly dead; but I met him after the war pretty much
alive. One of our men, a splendid soldier, Ashton Chichester,
was shot through a thigh. It was a pitiful sight to see the
dead and wounded dragged from the creek. General Barringer,
when writing a history of the North Carolina Cavalry years ago,
asked me to write him an account of this fight, of which he was justly proud.
The soldiers covered themselves with glory.

But now we must come to our story, the battle of Five
Forks. This is, I believe, said to be one of the decisive battles
in all history. At any rate, to my mind it was the turning
point in the fighting in the immediate defense of Peters
burg and Richmond. After the Chamberlain's Run fight we
lay down on the red clay of Dinwiddie County and thought
we could whip anything alive. We had taken care of our
wounded, buried our dead, and were ready to go to sleep.
We went to sleep and slept as only soldiers can. The matter
of bedclothes did not concern us. We "traveled light." and
when the reveille sounded at dawn on April 1 it was soon
followed by "Boots and saddles!"

We were up and in the saddle after a hasty breakfast of
grapefruit, eggs ,au gratin, hot rolls, beefsteak. German fried
potatoes, and coffee— 1 reckon not! B What we had was corn
pone cooked three days before, raw Nassau pork (some
times called "mule" by the boys, who worshiped it and got so
little of it. 1 was hungry -"hungry" is not strong enough. I
was so hungry that I thanked God that I had a backbone for
my stomach to lean up against.

Well, as 1 said, we were up and in the saddle. We sat in
the saddle for hours waiting— for what. 1 didn't know. What
ever it was, we were ready for it tor anything, and nothing
would have surprised us. We were past all such emotions
We found later that we were on the extreme left of a line
that was forming, and we found this out by being ordered to
the extreme right at a gallop. As we galloped down the line
we recognized among the infantry Pickett's men. Bushrod
Johnson's men, and the foot artillery that belonged to those
commands. We passed just in the rear of them all. They
were behind very light earthworks, just enough to insure
them a wound above the knee.

We recognized many men in the infantry and artillery,
many who never left that field alive. One man particularly
I noticed, sitting on his horse just at the forks of the road
(Five Forks). He hail on a brand-new uniform of gray,
with a red collar, and on the collar were three gold stars.
He was a young man—O so young he seems to us old soldiers
now! To my boyish eye (1 was nineteen) he was simply
grand. Think of it! A full colonel of artillery! Could anything
be more exalted than that? He had on gold spectacles
and looked like the god of war. It was Col. Willie Pegiam.
of old Virginia. He was one of the gallant men who gave
up their lives there. Before the day was done he was shot
through the breast of his beautiful gray coat; and I was
told that he died that night in the arms of his friend, Capt.
Gordon McCabe, in Ford's Depot. the pity of it! He had
great and good company there

We galloped down the entire line, and on the right we
found our division (W. H. i. Lee's) already dismounted
and in position. They too were behind breastworks just
high enough to insure them a death wound. The works were
about three feet high. Space was made for us at once and
our four guns went into position. "On the left fourteen
yards; close intervals; forward into battery!" was about the
command our captain (Wilmer Brown) gave, and we unlimbered
for one of the history-making battles of the world.
Little did we think of this; we were simply doing what we
were used to. If anybody said anything, it was about this:
"Well, boys, it looks like we are going to have a good-sized

Page 118

We dismounted, gave our horses to the horse holder, and
proceeded to rest ourselves and to make remarks. One said:
"No fight to-day, boys; only an April fool." Our commissary
rode down the line on a good fat horse with such cries as:
"No fight to-day. Company Q is at the front." Another fellow
cried out : "Look at that horse. How fat he is ! That's
where the feed goes." The careless, jolly humor of the
men almost in the presence of death is hard to understand in
these piping times of peace.

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