MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_
NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865
THE CONFEDERACY IN STRAITS--JOHNSTON COMMANDS IN THE CAROLINAS--OUR OPERATIONS FROM NEW BERNE--BATTLE OF KINSTON
The Confederates lose
Columbia--Facing a crisis--Hopeless apathy of Southern people--Mr. Davis's perplexity--Beauregard startles him--Lee calls Johnston to command--Personal relations of leading officers--Dwindling armies--The cavalry--Assignments of generals--The
Beaufort and New Berne line--Am ordered to New Berne--Provisional corps--Advance to cover railway building--Dover and Gum swamps--Bragg concentrates to oppose us--Position near Kinston--Bragg's plan of attack--Our own movements--Condition of railroad and river--Our advance to Wise's Forks and Southwest Creek--Precautions--Conference with Schofield--Battle of Kinston--Enemy attack our left front--Rout of Upham's brigade--Main line firm--Ruger's division reaches the field--Enemy repulsed--End of first day's fight--Extending our trenches on the left--Sharp skirmishing of the 9th--Bragg's reinforcements--His attack of the both--Final repulse and retreat of the enemy.
occupation of Wilmington, Bragg retreated northward along the line of the railroad toward Goldsborough, which was the crossing of the Wilmington and Weldon Railway with that from New Berne to Raleigh. Sherman had captured the capital of South Carolina, and in his movement northward his left wing had followed the railroad from Columbia toward Charlotte, N. C, as far as Winnsborough, forty miles, for the purpose of making a permanent break in that line of communication before turning his columns eastward toward Cheraw and Fayetteville on his way to Goldsborough, the rendezvous he had fixed for his junction with Schofield's army.
Beauregard, whose command now included South Carolina, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1202, 1204.] had moved with the forces under his immediate command from Augusta, through Columbia to Charlotte, and was calling to him all the Confederate troops operating against Sherman. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1193, 1202, 1217, 1238.] On the 14th of February he had ordered
Hardee to evacuate Charleston, and the unwelcome proof that South Carolina was lost so alarmed Mr. Davis that he urged Hardee to hold on as long as possible. But both Lee and Beauregard became uneasy lest Hardee should be caught before he could join the rest, and despite Mr. Davis's bitter disappointment, the evacuation was made in the night of the 17th, Hardee being sick abed for a few days, and turning over the command to General McLaws. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1177, 1181, 1195, 1201-1202, 1204, 1223, 1258.]
The loss of Charleston, the original cradle of secession, seemed a portent to the people of the South, and well-nigh destroyed all hope. Governor Magrath of South Carolina had written Mr. Davis, a month before, that the fate of the Confederacy was involved in the early movements of
Sherman's march from Savannah, and that he was in earnest correspondence with the Governors of North Carolina and Georgia, urging extraordinary efforts. "Richmond will surely fall when Charleston is lost," he said, adding emphatically, "To retain Richmond until Charleston is lost is to sacrifice both." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1035.] Davis was not blind to the consequences, or to the nature of the crisis. A week before Magrath's letter was written, the Confederate President had sent a dispatch to Governor Brown of Georgia, declaring the absolute necessity of making Hardee strong enough to stop Sherman on the line of the Combahee, which he rightly said was stronger than any position that could be occupied further north. He ended with the appeal, "We must look forward, and leave discussions of the past to a more convenient season." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1016.] Governor Vance of North Carolina issued a proclamation powerfully appealing to his people for a final rally, using the failure of the recent peace conference at
Fort Monroe as proof that there was only subjugation offered us, the mere details of which they [Lincoln and
Seward] proposed to settle. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. p. 1189.] But the whole South was already in apathetic despair under the conviction of their helplessness to check the triumphant march of Sherman's 60,000 veterans or prevent his junction with Schofield's 30,000. Instead of growing by an enthusiastic rally of the old men and the boys, the Southern army was dwindling by steady small streams of deserters, no longer able to repress the impulse to go to their helpless families within the Union lines. [Footnote: Lee to Vance, Id., p. 1270.] The appeals of the governors produced no result, or only called out responses in the press, never ventured before, saying the desperate efforts had already been made, the physical power of the States was exhausted, it was vain to talk of independence, it was time to make real overtures for peace. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1250-1255.]
The military outlook for the South was certainly gloomy enough. Distrusting Beauregard's ability to deal with his perplexing problem, Mr. Davis had asked Lee (on the 19th) whether it was possible for him to get away from
Petersburg long enough to go to
Gen. Beauregard and advise him after a personal conference. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1222.] But Lee could not leave his post for a moment with any confidence that
Grant's iron grip would not crush the defences of Petersburg and bring the final struggle. Davis became still more troubled when, on the 21st, Beauregard sent him a dispatch indicating his belief that Lee must join him at Salisbury with part of his forces, say 20,000 men, give Sherman battle there," crush him, then to concentrate all forces against Grant, and then to march on Washington to dictate a peace." Beauregard's evident opinion that he was wholly unable to cope with Sherman was much more depressing than his light-hearted suggestion of marching on Washington to dictate a peace was inspiring. Davis sent it to Lee, saying it was "of a startling character," and urged that the General-in-Chief should direct the concentration of the forces in the Carolinas. He sent also General Gilmer, his chief of engineers, to Beauregard to examine the situation, to advise with him and report. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1229, 1237, 1238.]
In this condition of affairs, Beauregard's retreat into North Carolina, where Bragg commanded and was senior in rank, made a new complication; whilst the fall of Wilmington and the danger of Hardee's being cut off before he could unite with the Confederate forces trying to resist Sherman, made a climax of embarrassments which imperatively required the appointment of some one to command in chief in the Carolinas. The same current of opinion in the Confederate Congress which had resulted in Lee's assignment by law (February 9th) [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 1.] to command all the Confederate armies, indicated General Johnston for the post second in importance. Indeed, the knowledge of Mr. Davis's determination not to intrust Johnston with another army in the field entered into the motives for taking the military command out of the President's hands, for it was understood that Lee believed Johnston to be the man best fitted for the second place. Action could be no longer delayed, and the very day of our occupation of Wilmington, Lee telegraphed to Johnston to assume command, concentrate all available forces, and drive back Sherman. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 1247.] For the moment Bragg was not directed to report to Johnston, but consideration for the unpleasant personal relations between them since the Atlanta campaign could not stand long in the way. Beauregard accepted loyally his subordination to Johnston, and, his health not being very strong, was assigned at his own request to administrative duties at Raleigh, including the collection and forwarding of troops, their supply in the field and the management of the relations to the civil authorities of North Carolina, with nominal position of second in command. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1248, 1399.]
Johnston had been at Lincolnton, N. C., when notified of his appointment, and in accepting the call to duty, gave his opinion that it was too late to concentrate troops enough to drive back Sherman. He promised, however, to learn from Beauregard the actual situation, and to do all in his power to collect the army and resist Sherman's advance. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1047.] He met Beauregard at Charlotte, and on the 25th of February assumed command. As to his means of resistance, the returns show a significant dwindling in each of his corps. Hardee had reported, on January 20th, 25,290 present for duty in his department. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1032.] Hood's army at Tupelo, at the same date, returned 18,708 infantry and artillery, which were soon nearly all in motion for the Carolinas. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 664. General Taylor volunteered to send the whole to Beauregard except French's division, which he said was very weak. Some Mississippi troops were given a short furlough, others took "French leave" (_Id_., vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 1059, 1174, 1194), and delays in transportation occurred, so that it is very hard to say how many of the Army of Tennessee were actually in the final combats in North Carolina. They all seem to have gathered there before the final surrender at Greensborough.] Bragg's return for his command in North Carolina on February 10th was 11,206. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1154.] Besides these, there were some militia from Georgia and South Carolina estimated at 1450, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1084.] and Butler's division of cavalry, more than 3000 strong, had been sent from Lee's army in Virginia. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] Here were, then, between 55,000 and 60,000 men apparently available to oppose Sherman, and making a larger army than the Confederate generals attributed to him when he started from Savannah. [Footnote: When Beauregard took command of the forces in South Carolina, etc., on February 16th, he reckoned them at "about 20,000 effective infantry and artillery, more or less demoralized," and said of Sherman's army that it numbered "nearly double our force." (Dispatch to Lee, Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. p. 1202.) This would make Sherman about 40,000 strong. Beauregard's underestimate of his own force is in accordance with the common habit of officers who are somewhat discouraged and wish to be reinforced.] It was not strange, therefore, that when, at a conference of Beauregard with Hardee and others in Augusta on February 3d, the troops relied on for the campaign were estimated at 33,450, [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1084.] Mr. Davis noted by his indorsement on the paper that the previous returns showed a larger force present for duty. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1086.] He however added that the language "relied on as effectives" might account for the difference. But when on the 21st Beauregard, in the dispatch proposing that Lee should send part of his army to Salisbury, N. C., said, "Hardee and myself can collect about 15,000 exclusive of
Cheatham and Stewart, not likely to reach in time," [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1238.] the startling effect on the Confederate President was the most natural thing in the world. Armies seemed to vanish in thin air.
On taking command, Johnston had accepted his predecessor's estimates of both his own forces and those of Sherman. From Charlotte, N. C., he wrote Lee that his opponent now seemed to be moving eastward, aiming at Fayetteville. This place he thought he might make the point of concentration for Hardee's troops, coming from Charleston to Cheraw by railroad, and those with Beauregard, which were in the main the divisions of Hood's army, coming forward piecemeal, and now amounting to something over 9000 men. He suggested that Bragg should join him at Fayetteville also. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1271. At the end of February, the portions of S. D. Lee's corps which had joined Beauregard had 2502 present for duty, Cheatham's 4697, Stewart's 1694, Engineers 185; total, 9078. (_Id._, pp. 1285, 1326.) The rest of the Army of Tennessee were still in Georgia on their way to the front.] The Confederate cavalry was now led by
Wade Hampton, who was made lieutenant-general to outrank
Wheeler, who was not regarded equal to the responsibility. The latter retained two divisions, and the rank of corps commander under Hampton. [Footnote: The complaints of marauding by Wheeler's cavalry had been loud and bitter, and inefficiency was charged. D. H. Hill to Hardee, Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. p. 1046; Do. to Iverson, pp. 1047, 1068; Beauregard to Lee, p. 1165; Davis to Hampton, 1207. For
Gen. Wheeler's earnest defence, see _Id_., pp. 987, 1004.] As soon as it was evident that Sherman was likely to reach the North Carolina border, Johnston was authorized to control Bragg's operations also. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1320.] This was, of course, a personal grief to the latter, who asked to be relieved; but in the critical condition of affairs personal feelings had to give way, and Bragg's request went unanswered. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1328.] He did not insist upon it and gave loyal support to Johnston. General D. H. Hill had been sent from Virginia to report to Beauregard, and was commanding at Augusta, Ga., when Sherman's march eastward from Columbia relieved Augusta from danger, and Hill at his own request was ordered to join Beauregard. S. D. Lee was absent from his corps by reason of a wound he had received at Nashville, and Hill was assigned to its temporary command. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1002, 1003, 1272, 1317.] The growing decay of discipline and organization was shown by the irregularity of reports, and for the few weeks the war still went on, Johnston had to content himself with abbreviated returns, which contained only the numbers of effectives and aggregates present. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1382.] Even these were not regularly sent up, and could not be made to agree with the lists of paroles when the surrender finally occurred. [Footnote: See chap. li. _post_.]
Upon our occupation of Wilmington, Schofield turned his attention at once to the opening, of the line from Beaufort and New Berne to Kinston and Goldsborough.
Terry's troops were sent to follow Bragg northward. Couch's division of the Twenty-third Corps joined mine at Wilmington. Meagher's provisional command of detachments of Sherman's army had reached New Berne; but its commander had given such dissatisfaction by his failure to remain with it and conduct its shipment from
Annapolis, that Grant directed that he should be relieved and sent home. Such had been the result of a spicy correspondence between Grant and
Halleck which called up poor Meagher's notorious failings. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 305-306, 316-318, 501, 509, 561.] Schofield had asked for the assignment of Terry to a corps to comprise the troops in the department not belonging to the Twenty-third Corps, and of myself to the permanent command of the latter corps;[Footnote: _Id._, p. 559.] but, pending action on this, he determined to send me to New Berne to take command of the so-called District of Beaufort and the troops assembling there, which would constitute three divisions. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 579, 580.] General Palmer, who had been there for a long time, coming in the small steamer "Escort" to visit Schofield and consult concerning the advance from that base, I went back with him, and was accompanied by General Carter, whose coming from Tennessee has already been mentioned and who was to supersede Meagher. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. i. pp. 930, 931.] As my assignment to this duty was intended to be temporary, I took only part of my staff with me, and assigned General Reilly, who had now joined us, to the temporary command of the division. General Couch was assigned to command the two divisions of our corps which were at Wilmington. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. ii. pp. 581, 607, 620.] A storm delayed the departure of the "Escort" from Cape Fear Inlet, but we reached New Berne in the evening of the last day of February. Next day I formally assumed command and organized the forces, distributing the garrison troops and Meagher's men between the two divisions to be commanded by Palmer and Carter, but keeping Ruger's division of the Twenty-third Corps intact. This last had been sent direct to Beaufort and arrived there about the same time with myself. It had not been with us on the Cape Fear River. An immediate advance was ordered for the 2d of March, to cover the work of railroad building. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 607, 620, 637, 638.]
Colonel Wright, chief of railway construction, had joined
Sherman at Savannah, and from thence had been sent to Schofield to rebuild the New Berne-Goldsborough road under his directions. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 157, 356, 384.] Palmer's forces occupied a position at Batchelder's Creek, nine miles above New Berne on the road to Kinston, and the railroad building began there. Had we been well provided with wagon-trains, it would have been easy to march at once to Kinston, on the left bank of the Neuse, a little over thirty miles from Newberne, and hold that place whilst the railroad was built, obstructions removed from the river, and easy communications opened both by rail and by water. But we were almost destitute of wagons, having only ten to a division. This tied us close to the end of the rails, for after carrying our necessary baggage to the camping-place, it was the utmost the few wagons could do to bring rations and ammunition a very few miles from the nearest temporary station on the railroad. Dover and Gum swamps were practically continuous to within three miles of Kinston, and steady rains had put most of the road under water. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 654, 683.] This necessarily slow progress gave the enemy time to arrange for concentrating upon us.
The importance of trying to check our columns advancing from the sea-coast was seen by General Johnston as soon as he learned the situation in North Carolina. On the 3d of March, when he supposed Schofield to be continuing his movements up Cape Fear River, he had inquired of Bragg whether it were not feasible to interpose between Schofield and Hardee. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. p. 1318, 1329.] As soon as it was known that Schofield was not marching against Hardee, Bragg sent Hoke with his division to Kinston, and on the 6th telegraphed to Johnston that my forces were advancing and were within nine miles of the town. He believed that the union with him of the troops near Goldsborough would "insure a victory." [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 1334.] Johnston immediately ordered all the forces he was moving towards Hardee to report to Bragg at Goldsborough for use in a quick effort to defeat us, with the purpose of uniting them with Hardee immediately afterward to strike at Sherman's advancing columns. [Footnote: _Ibid._.] It was boldly conceived, and was manifestly the best plan the circumstances admitted. All the detachments of the Army of Tennessee were hurried without change of cars toward Kinston. D. H. Hill had command of them as ranking officer present. It was not pleasant for him to report to Bragg, for a bitter quarrel begun in the Chickamauga campaign had never been appeased, and in giving him the order, Johnston added, "I beg you to forget the past for this emergency." [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1338.] From Davis downward, personal griefs had to be smothered in the crisis, and it is due to them all to remember that they did work together earnestly for their dying cause.
On the 7th of March, Hill reached Kinston with Lee's corps. Hoke's division had preceded him and advanced to Southwest Creek and occupied the lines of intrenchments earlier made along its left bank. This stream was a tributary of the Neuse River and was then unfordable. It described roughly a curve with a radius of about three miles around Kinston, and had for a long time been regarded as the principal defensive line against National troops advancing from New Berne. Several roads radiated from Kinston, crossing Southwest Creek. The Neuse road kept near the bank of the river, going east. Then came the railroad following a nearly straight line to New Berne. The Dover road forked from the Neuse road not far from the town, and took a devious way through the swamps in the same general direction. The upper Trent road ran more nearly south toward Trenton, and followed the course of the Trent River. The Wilmington road went southwesterly toward the city of that name. The several bridges over the creek were from a mile to two miles apart, but had been destroyed or dismantled, and earthworks for artillery had been prepared commanding them. The whole constituted a formidable line of fieldworks when held by an adequate force. Whitford's brigade and a detachment of cavalry had been the only Confederate force at Kinston at the beginning of our campaign, but Bragg had now assembled there Hagood's brigade, which had numbered 2000 in front of Wilmington, and a similar force of North Carolina militia under General Baker, besides Hill and Hoke. [Footnote: Hill's Report, Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 1086.] Johnston had also informed Bragg that Cheatham's corps and more than half of Stewart's were on the way by rail, under the same orders as Hill's. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 1339.] These constituted in fact all of Johnston's army except Hardee's column, which was still in South Carolina.
The necessity for haste was such, however, that upon Hill's arrival in the night of the 7th, Bragg determined to attack me at once, in the belief that he was strong enough to do so successfully. Hill's corps was accordingly marched to Southwest Creek before day, and relieved Hoke's division in the works extending from the Dover road crossing to the railroad, whilst Hoke, with Clayton's division of Lee's corps besides his own, marched to the upper Trent and Wilmington bridges with orders to sweep down and attack my lines in flank and rear. The plank had been relaid on the bridges which had been held by outposts, and a new bridge had been built of felled trees between the Dover road bridge and the railroad. At the sound of Hoke's attack, Hill was to cross by the last-mentioned bridges, and fall upon our front with all the rest of the Confederate forces. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 1087.]
On our side, Colonel Wright had found that some miles of the railroad had only been partially destroyed, and as iron for six miles had been received when I reached New Berne, he was able to put seven miles of track in passable condition by the evening of the 4th. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. pp. 654, 683.] On that day I had concentrated at Core Creek, twenty miles from New Berne by the wagon roads, and the head of the rails was only one or two miles behind. On the 6th Palmer's and Carter's divisions were advanced to Gum Swamp, seven miles further, taking four days' rations, and Ruger's was to follow on the 7th. On this march I found that for five miles beyond Core Creek the railway had only been capsized, ties and rails together, and was lying in the ditch by the roadside. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 706-708.] Relying on the more rapid construction this would enable Colonel Wright to make, I ordered a still further advance for the 7th, hoping to reach Southwest Creek. There we must expect to halt for several days, for the total destruction of the railroad for the last ten or twelve miles from Kinston made it probable that a mile a day was the utmost the construction corps could rebuild, to say nothing of the bridging which would also be necessary.
For our own sake, as well as to provide for getting forward large quantities of supplies for Sherman's army when we should join him, it would be necessary to organize a line of river transportation to supplement the railroad. Heavy obstructions to navigation had been placed in the Neuse River, a little above New Berne, as a defence against an iron-clad ram the Confederates had built at Kinston. As, however, she could only come down the river on a freshet, owing to her great draft, I had, upon leaving New Berne, ordered that the obstructions be removed, and light-draft steamboats and flats procured to bring supplies to some point near our camp, or to ferry troops across if I found it advisable to shift my line of operations to the north bank of the river. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. p. 707.]
On Tuesday, the 7th, the command was in motion, Palmer's division following the railroad, except Claassen's brigade, which had been sent the previous afternoon by the Dover road to Wise's Forks, where it crosses the lower Trent road, which ran diagonally across our front toward the Neuse River. In the skirmish at Wise's Forks, and from a deserter, it was learned that Hoke had joined the Kinston forces with his division, and there were rumors of other reinforcements arriving. Advancing along the railroad, Palmer reached the drier ground near Southwest Creek and came under artillery fire from guns intrenched on the other side of the creek. The country here was wooded, and was traversed by an old road, called the British road, running parallel to the creek from half a mile to a mile from it. The lower Trent road also crossed the railroad not far from the British road crossing. Palmer halted his line in front of the British road covering all the crossings, and advanced outposts and pickets to the creek. Boughton's brigade was on the left of the railroad, and Harland's on the right. The latter detached a regiment to the Neuse road to guard against any attempt by the enemy to cross the creek beyond our right. Major Dow of my staff was also sent with a troop of cavalry to reconnoitre the banks of the river, seeking for a place where steamboats might land supplies and communicate with us. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 723-725.] Ruger's division moved forward from Core Creek to Gum Swamp.
On my left, the Twelfth New York Cavalry, Colonel Savage, reconnoitred both Trent roads, under orders to reach out as far to the south as they could, covering Claassen's position at Wise's Forks and giving early notice of any hostile movement in the vicinity. Carter's division delayed its march till it could load up with rations and then followed the Dover road to Claassen's position. On reaching Wise's Forks we found that Claassen had most of his brigade at the crossing of the British road in front, with a detachment of 300 men at Jackson's Mills, where the Dover road crossed the creek. He had smaller detachments also upon the British road on both flanks. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. i. pp. 976, 981, 989.] I directed General Carter to relieve Claassen's brigade with one of his, that Claassen might rejoin Palmer and make the latter strong enough to spare a detachment to test the condition of the Neuse road crossing of the creek and the presence of the enemy there. Carter sent Upham's brigade to the British road crossing to relieve Claassen, and put the other two in line across the Dover road in front of Wise's Forks, Malloy's on the right of the road and Splaine's on the left with a recurved flank. Upham seems to have marched the whole of his brigade to Jackson's Mills and to have left only a picket post at the British road. He established a skirmish line in rifle-pits close to the creek, and placed a section of artillery which was with him where it would command the bridge site on the Dover road. His picket line connected with Palmer's division on the right, and with the outpost at the British road on the left. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 993, 997.] Toward evening the cavalry reported that they had found a picket post of the enemy at the bridge on the upper Trent road, had driven it off, taken up the plank of the bridge and piled them on the hither side of the creek, and had established there a picket of their own. Their scouting parties reported no enemy at the Wilmington road crossing. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 976.] The division commanders were directed to have Southwest Creek in front carefully reconnoitred, to find narrow places where an infantry crossing might be made by an improvised bridge of felled trees. [Footnote: _Ibid_.]
My habit was to keep my own headquarters well at the front, and I had purposed moving them from Gum Swamp to Wise's Forks on the 7th, but during the day I received word that General Schofield had arrived at Beaufort from Wilmington, coming by sea. We arranged that he should come up for a consultation with me next morning, and to facilitate this, I left my headquarters with Ruger's division, and after a personal visit to Palmer and Carter, I rode back to Gum Swamp in the evening. General Schofield was to come up to the end of the track on the railroad in the morning, and I sent led horses to meet him. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 722-724.] The telegraph was made to keep pace with the progress of the railway, and from its upper station we had the aid of flag signals along the railroad bed to Palmer's headquarters. [Footnote: _Id_., pt i. p. 918.] The information we had received of Hoke's presence made it all the more important that we should get out of the swamps, where we could only operate by head of column, to the drier region along Southwest Creek, where the lower Trent road and the British road would give us communication between our flanks and some chance to manoeuvre. These reasons had made me push forward on the 7th, though the movement put us ten miles above the head of the rails and made it sure that we should be short of supplies. As soon as the troops were in position the few wagons with them were unloaded and hurried back, first for ammunition and then for rations. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 734.] We then had no knowledge of the arrival of any part of Hood's army in North Carolina, and although my provisional corps was far short of being solidly organized, and the troops were either new or unused to field service, I felt no concern lest Hoke should take the offensive alone.
General Schofield had joined me at Gum Swamp about nine o'clock on the morning of the 8th, and after our conference we had mounted to ride to General Palmer's headquarters to see what prospect there might be for securing a crossing near the railroad which would permit preparation for rebuilding the railroad bridge. A note now came from General Carter at Wise's Forks telling of information received from a negro that a large body of the enemy had crossed Southwest Creek at the Wilmington road early in the morning. As the cavalry had a picket at the upper Trent bridge and were supposed to be patrolling beyond the Wilmington road, the information did not seem threatening, but I sent back directions to have the cavalry ordered to do their work thoroughly by instantly testing the truth of the information. Carter was also ordered to support the cavalry with a regiment of infantry. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. p. 734.] The message from the front was followed almost instantly by another, saying that a heavy force of the enemy had penetrated between Upham's brigade and the rest of the division, almost simultaneously with a report from the cavalry that their picket had been driven from the bridge at the Trent road. As that picket was two miles in front of Upham's left on the British road, it was too evident that the duty of the horsemen had not been well done. Ruger was ordered to march his division at speed to the front, and we galloped to Wise's Forks. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. pp. 977, 994.]
The account I have before given of the enemy's dispositions for the day's work [Footnote: _Ante_, pp. 429, 430.] makes it easy to understand the situation as we found it. Hoke, with his own and Clayton's divisions, had turned northward on the British road after getting over Southwest Creek, and as he approached the Dover road, had deployed and advanced upon Upham's flank. The latter, upon the first intimation of an enemy's approach, had hurried the Twenty-seventh Massachusetts to the British road and placed it in line about a quarter of a mile south of the Dover road, which was, of course, his connection with the rest of the division. He also ordered to the same point the section of artillery, and directed the left battalion of his other regiment (Fifteenth Connecticut) to change front also to the south. These orders were judicious, but the odds were too great to make them successful. Far outflanked on either hand, the
Massachusetts regiment was put to rout, all the horses of one of the guns were killed, and though the men cut the traces and tried to save the gun by hand, they had to abandon it, while the other retreated on the run toward the main position. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. pp. 997-999.] General Hill had crossed the creek at the improvised bridge on hearing the sound of Hoke's engagement, but finding a swamp between him and Upham's right, had to make a circuit of it, driving back our pickets in the interval between Carter's and Palmer's divisions. Turning toward the noise of Hoke's firing, he intercepted the right battalion of Upham's Connecticut regiment, and took many of them prisoners. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1087.] Most of the rest of the regiment finding Hoke's division partly surrounding them, and all other retreat cut off by Hill, surrendered to Hoke. Colonel Upham and most of the Massachusetts regiment succeeded in reaching our main lines, though in confusion. All this was not done, however, without fighting, which took time, and as the whole engagement was in forest or swamp, the enemy was a good deal delayed in his movements and in rectification of lines.
When we reached the field Carter had gone in person toward Upham's position, having first sent a regiment forward on the Dover road to try to reopen communication with him. Palmer was ordered to send his reserve brigade rapidly to extend his left and assist Carter. But as there was still an interval between them, the regiment of cavalry which had come in on the left was transferred to the centre and ordered to make a strong skirmishing fight till Ruger's division could arrive on the ground. Palmer at the same time was ordered to demonstrate strongly toward the creek. Riding forward on the Dover road, I found Carter with the regiment from his division, still energetically striving to reach Upham. As the sound of the battle showed that the enemy was also in front of our centre, it was evident that we must make a concentration of our forces till the divisions were in touch with each other. I therefore directed Carter to make his main line in front of Wise's Forks as solid as possible, concentrating his artillery near the Dover road, and to limit the activity of the advanced regiment to bold skirmishing, drawing it back to the main line as the enemy advanced in force.
Hoke had evidently supposed that Upham's detachment on the British road was the flank of our principal position, and was surprised at finding strong demonstrations from the direction of Wise's Forks, now partly in his own rear. This checked his progress and made him turn upon Carter. The advanced regiment retired as ordered, and when it was within the lines the enemy was saluted with such a fire of artillery and musketry as instantly checked him. Although he repeated his efforts to force the position at the Forks several times, they all were futile, and Carter had at no time the least difficulty in holding his main line firmly.
In Palmer's division, when Hill's advance across the creek drove back the pickets and threatened to pass the left flank of Boughton's brigade, this officer drew back his left to the British road and threw up a hasty barricade there. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 992.] Claassen's brigade was sent to prolong Boughton's line to the left, and Ruger's division having come up, the connection between Palmer and Carter was secured, the latter advancing his brigades so as to make a better continuous line. The attacks of Hoke and Hill extended across Ruger's front, but nothing heavier than brisk skirmishing occurred on Boughton's line. Claassen's brigade was sent forward toward Jackson's Mill, accompanied by my aide, Captain Tracy, in order to locate the left of the enemy's line, and determine the extent of his forces in front of our left and centre. No strong opposition was met till the Dover road came in sight, where the enemy were seen moving toward Hoke's position in front of Carter. Claassen was followed back in his orderly retirement to his position on Ruger's right, and was attacked there, but easily repulsed his assailants. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. pp. 982, 990.]
Palmer had reported sharp skirmishing across his front all the way to the Neuse road on his right, and had drawn his lines back a little, so as to keep them in front of the British road, contracting his right and extending his left, as the sound of the fighting showed that the heaviest attacks were falling upon Carter. By the middle of the afternoon a continuous line of breastworks had been made along the whole of Palmer's division in front of the British road. Ruger had extended it diagonally till it joined Carter's right, the latter continuing it across the Dover road in front of Wise's Forks to a difficult swamp on the extreme left. For our left, the lower Trent road served for our communication along the front, and for our right the British road was used in like manner.
Late in the day there were indications of an attempt to turn Palmer's right on the Neuse road, and this, which added to the complexity of the situation, seems to have grown out of an excentric movement of the Confederate left under Hill. In crossing Southwest Creek to make his attack, he tells us the plan had been that when Hoke should strike our flank on the Dover road, he should cut off any retreat on the British and Neuse roads. This would be best accomplished by pushing straight from his bridges for the British road. But having made a circuit about a swamp to the rear of Upham's right, he received a note from Bragg's headquarters saying that Hoke wished he would enter the British road from the Neuse road, which implied a long circuit to their left. As Hoke had himself made the bridge by which Hill had crossed, and knew the field better than the rest by his skirmishes of the previous day, it is evident that there was an error in interpreting his wish. But as Hill was on ground unknown to him, and Bragg's dispatch directed Hoke's suggestion to be carried out, Hill obeyed, and turned his troops down the right bank of Southwest Creek, feeling the way to the Neuse road through swamps and woods. Reaching the outlet of the British road at half-past four without seeing signs of our retreat that way, and the distant firing showing that Hoke was not advancing, Hill thought it too late to venture further, and marched back by the way he had come five miles to his bridge. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 1087.] His presence had been observed by our pickets and skirmishers, and was naturally interpreted by Palmer as the advance of a new column which had crossed the creek by the Neuse road. It, of course, gave an exaggerated impression of the enemy's strength, and as prisoners had been taken belonging to Lee's corps, who reported part of Hood's old army present with Bragg in command of the whole, we had to take into account the contingency of our having on our hands the formidable force thus indicated. Hill was met at his bridge by orders to cross to the left bank and join Hoke by recrossing at Jackson's Mills and following the Dover road. He effected the junction about midnight. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] Hoke had been keeping up a skirmishing fight in the latter part of the day, and at night intrenched himself across the Dover road just in front of the British road. Hill, after joining him, continued the line northward, parallel to ours, and therefore crossing the British road again, recurving toward the creek. Our breastworks were made stronger, and we kept our teams hard at work bringing up ammunition and supplies. General Schofield went back to New Berne to get into communication with the rest of his department, and try to hurry forward the two old divisions of the Twenty-third Corps, who were marching to join us. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 743-751.] My own orders were to remain on the watchful defensive whilst the construction of the railroad toward us went on energetically. On Thursday, the 9th, we husbanded our resources, for our ammunition was running short and the roads through the swamp were nearly impassable. We extended our works on Carter's left, recurving them so as to cross the lower Trent road, and, though we had no troops at the moment except one regiment of Ruger's to put into these intrenchments, they were ready for prompt occupation by any we might send there if another effort were made to turn that flank. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. pp. 978, 995.] With this in view, General Ruger was directed to put one of his brigades in reserve, extending the rest of his troops to fill the vacancy so made, and covering the front with abatis and slashed timber. Pickets were advanced and every effort made to obtain information and keep close watch of the enemy's movements. About ten o'clock General Palmer reported a force moving toward the Neuse road which, after demonstrating there for some time, marched back again. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. pp. 747, 749-750.] This seems to have been an effort to repeat the movement of Hill on the previous afternoon, but this time by Hoke's division. Finding Palmer's line in good earthworks, Hoke made no attack, and returned to his position, though Bragg's order declared that "success must be achieved." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1359.] While this was going on, Hill advanced his line and drove in Carter's skirmishers; but these being reinforced, quickly retook their rifle-pits, and Hill retired to his own works. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 1087.] Bragg's delay in testing conclusions with us was due, in part no doubt, to the fact that Stewart's corps of the Army of Tennessee was _en route_ to him, and the railway was being worked energetically to bring up these reinforcements. They arrived during the day, and the final attack upon us was arranged for Friday, the 10th. Stewart's men were under the command of General Walthall, the senior division commander present. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1088.]
In the night of Thursday and the early morning of Friday, the active skirmishing of the enemy was so continuous as to remind us of the days in the Georgia campaign when the intrenched lines of the opposing armies faced each other in the narrow valley near New Hope Church. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. ii. p. 769.] Bragg ordered Hoke's troops to be relieved by Walthall's, and to make a considerable circuit to their right, seeking to reach the lower Trent road in our rear, and, advancing upon it, attack Carter's division in reverse. The sharp skirmishing had covered these changes of position. Upon hearing the sounds of Hoke's attack, Walthall and Hill were to assist him by strong demonstrations, but, as the latter says, in deference to his report that the men were very unwilling to attack earthworks, "their experience in the late campaign [in the west] not being favorable to such an undertaking," no actual assault was ordered, but doubled skirmish lines were to advance as far as possible. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 1088.]
On our side we were watchful and expectant, my orders to the divisions being that whenever one part of the line should be engaged, the rest should push forward strong skirmish lines to test the extent of the enemy's deployment, and gain the information on which I could act in reinforcing either wing from the other. General Greene, who was on his way to rejoin Sherman, volunteered for duty as a staff officer, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 979.] as did General Stiles of my own division of the Twenty-third Corps, who was likewise returning to his proper command. [Footnote: General George S. Greene, division commander in the Twentieth Corps, had commanded a division in the Twelfth Corps, before its consolidation into the other. He was the same who was distinguished at Antietam (_ante_, vol. i. pp. 321-331). He graduated at West Point in 1823, and was a descendant of General Greene of the Revolutionary War, a military stock well continued in F. V. Greene of the Engineers, a general officer in the late Spanish War.] The absence of most of my own staff made their help most acceptable.
General Schofield was on his way up from New Berne, and horses were awaiting him at the end of the railway when, about half-past eleven, Hoke's attack came with much more energy and resolution than the Confederates had shown before. Ruger's reserve brigade (McQuiston's) was ordered over to the left at once, a brigade he had loaned to Palmer (Thomas's) was ordered back, and Palmer was ordered to send another brigade if the enemy was quiet in his front. Hoke's attack lapped so far over the lower Trent road as to threaten the Dover road also, and lest General Schofield should be in danger of capture, I directed Palmer to signal down the railroad track for him to await further news from us before leaving the train. [Footnote: _Id._, pt. ii. p. 772.]
The artillery of both Carter's and Ruger's divisions were concentrated upon Hoke, who was surprised to find our line so well prepared to meet him. For nearly an hour, however, the fighting was fierce; but it then began to flag a little, and I at once ordered McQuiston's brigade to charge, throwing the left forward upon Hoke's flank. This was decisive, and the enemy broke and fled. Walthall and Hill were now advancing against Carter's right and against Ruger, and as the line of the latter was very thin, I had to recall McQuiston in the full tide of pursuit and send him back to the centre double quick. He brought in nearly 300 prisoners, and our left was relieved of all danger. For a while my headquarters group was in a hot place. General Greene had his horse shot under him, one orderly had an arm taken off by a shell, two others were wounded, and several had horses killed.
The men of Stewart's and Lee's corps were to have co-operated with Hoke, but the difficulty of movement over such blind and wooded country caused delay which gave time for me to reinforce the centre. The artillery was hurried to the same position, and the Confederates were defeated easily, their unwillingness to assault breastworks being increased by the sight of Hoke's men in disordered flight. At half-past twelve I was able to send word to General Schofield that the road was no longer threatened by the enemy, and he joined us before the fighting at the centre was over. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. p. 978; pt. ii. p. 772.] Bragg withdrew to the intrenchments he had occupied on the 9th. The certainty that two corps of the Army of Tennessee were represented in the attack besides the troops of Bragg's own department, added to the lack of supplies and munitions, made us quite willing to remain on the defensive and await the arrival of Couch, who was within a day's march of us with the two veteran divisions of the Twenty-third Corps. The construction of the railroad and the hurrying forward of ammunition were ordered with strenuous urgency, and messages to Couch made him force the marching to join us. [Footnote: The officer who was sent by Schofield to hasten Couch's march found my old division at the head of the column slowly filing over a rickety foot-bridge in the darkness, grumbling at the continued plodding in the mud. He shouted to them the news of our fighting and my possible need of help. The cry went up from the men, "If General Cox wants us, he can have us," and they dashed into the stream in solid column, forcing the pace till they reached the field.] Bragg retreated in the night of the 10th and was speeding back to Goldsborough by rail, for Johnston was now hastening to join Hardee, who was retreating before Sherman out of South Carolina.
The numbers which Hill and Walthall brought to Bragg were smaller than we inferred from our knowledge of the organizations present. We took prisoners belonging to four divisions of Hood's old army. Hoke's division and the brigades of Whitford, Hagood, and Baker had all been stronger in numbers than similar organizations of our own. We were necessarily wholly ignorant of the causes which had reduced the divisions coming from the West, and indeed learned of their presence in North Carolina only through the prisoners we took in the engagement and the deserters who came into our lines. As we have seen, [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 424.] the number of Hood's men in the State at the beginning of the month was over 9000, with other detachments on the way. Bragg's other forces were an equal number. After all the casualties of the campaign, the Army of Tennessee reported 11,442 present on April 7th, of which 8953 were "effectives." When they were paroled at Greenesborough on April 26th, 17,934 appeared and signed the papers. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlvii. pt. i. pp. 1059, 1066. In the table of the paroled, Cheatham's two divisions (his own and Brown's) are listed in Hardee's corps, and with those of Stewart's and Lee's corps, less Anderson's (late Talliaferro's) division, make the total given.] It is impossible to tell exactly what part of these were at Kinston. Hill's claim that he had but little over 1300 effectives in five brigades of Lee's corps is not credible. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 1088. For my criticism of his amusingly erroneous statements in regard to Antietam, see "The Nation," No. 1538, p. 462, and No. 1543, p. 71.] It is certain that Bragg knew I had three divisions and that he believed his force was the stronger. Our losses had been 1337, of which 900 were the "missing" in Upton's brigade and the cavalry. Bragg made no formal report of the campaign or of his losses in this part of it.