Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 08.djvu/307
Battle of Williamsburg. 295 .
the firing and were now hastening to an awful destruction in their zeal to share that glorious field. The enemy, too,. fall back more quickly as they see reinforcements coming up, and run into and behind the redoubt, to which they have all retreated now. Confusion has seized upon them there, for the Virginians are within twenty yards and show no signs of halting. The fire of the enemy slackens, and as their assailants reach the fence of substantial rails with a rider, ceases entirely. The order to their artillery to "cease firing" and u limber up "is distinctly heard, and some of the guns are actually run off; the infantry, too, are in great tumult, their bayonets seem tangled and interlocked, some run into the fort, many make off to the rear, and voices calling to others to halt and stand steady are clearly heard. In a word, General Winfield Han- cock's five regiments and ten guns have been attacked and driven in by a single Virginia regiment, and are now on the point of being routed.
As the Twenty-fourth gains the fence just spoken of, the enemy having ceased firing entirely, it pauses a moment to breathe and reform its scattered line, preparatory to a last dash no man thinks of turning back, for the enemy is retreating before them and heje, too, now are their gallant comrades fresh and eager for a share in the struggle. While the men were in the act of climbing this fence, the writer seeking a gap where his horse could pass, Adjutant McRae communicated to him General Hill's order to retire immediately; whereupon, anticipating that the enemy would reform and open with terrible effect at such .short range as soon as the backward movement was perceived, the regiment was obliqued into the woods upon which its left flank rested, and, retiring thus under cover, came off without further damage.
Not so its gallant comrades, who,- having advanced with but little loss, and just rectified their alignment behind the fence, were now in perfect line right .under the enemy's guns. .Their retreat was across a broad, open field; and as they faced about, the foe, quickly rallying and reforming, more than five or six. times their number, hurled shot and shell through their devoted ranks with awful de- struction. The retreat was the signal for slaughter, and, as Colonel McRae says, the regiment " was scarcely harmed at all till the re- treat began " the loss was desperate in a few moments afterwards. [Southern Historical Society Papers, August, 1879, page 362.] Before they recrossed that fearful field, the best blood of all the Old North State fed the fresh young wheat at their feet, and a hundred Caro- lina homes were cast into direful mourning and distress.