Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 08.djvu/301
Battle of Williamsburg. 289
.gruder, 'tis said, although Hancock showed no signs of making use of the position he had stumbled upon, which, in fact, was the key to the entire Confederate line, and opened to the' enemy a road to Williamsburg, as well as to Longstreet's rear, D. H. Hill and Early, anxious to have a share in the day's work, asked and bo- tained leave to assault General Hancock and drive him away. There appears to -have been no necessity for this, however, for Hancock's fire had done no damage all day, and was not more harmful now the fighting was well-nigh over ^and he -himself was preparing to fall back further for the night. (See Hancock's report, battle of Williamsburg.) The Confederates had beaten off every attack made upon them, and the whole line was to be aban- doned before morning. Nevertheless the leave was given, with a charge from General Johnston " to be careful."
Forthwith Hill brings his command to the front. Early's brigade, eager for the first of a hundred battles, coming from the college green at the double-quick through the narrow streets of the old historic town, where the cheers and the tears of the women and the maidens at doors and windows waving adieux as they pass so quickly by, and the unaccustomed sight of dead, wounded and prisoners brought up from the field to which they were hurrying, the rapid motion, the galloping of artillery, couriers and staff, with all the burning excitement of the approach to battle, sent the blood coursing through their veins, which' tingles even now as but the memory of it all flushes the cheek and brightens the eye, though eighteen long years have passed away.
The brigade hurries half a mile or more down the Yorktown. road, files short to the left, passes through a newly plowed, soft and muddy field half a mile further, and forming into line behind a wood, which screens from sight all beyond, breathless, hot and heavy of foot from rapid motion over such .a ground, halts and prepares to load. Thus formed, it consists of the following regi- ments, counting from the right : The Fifth and Twenty-third North Carolina, commanded respectively by Colonels Duncan K. McRae and Hoke; and the Thirty-eighth and Twenty-fourth Virginia^ commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel . Powhatan B. Whittle and Colonel William R. Terry ; the Twenty-fourth Virginia being thus' on the left, and the Fifth North Carolina on the right. This brigade is assigned to the attack, and the remainder of the division the brigades of Rodes, Featherston and Rains, with the second com- pany of Richmond howitzers is held in reserve close by. Major- 4