Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars/14
The battles and military operations in which I was concerned have heretofore been fully written about and published. The only application for service I ever made during the war was for service in the field of the army of northern Virginia. This I made when Pemberton was placed in command of Mississippi and its forces, and I renewed it by every influence I could bring to bear, until I became absorbed in the active operations of my own department. At any time I would have given up the higher position I held in service to take command of a division in the army of northern Virginia. General Early kindly explained to me that it would have been felt an injustice to the generals who had been so long and actively engaged in Virginia, to place me over their heads, as would have been the case with several of the major generals of that army.
Great as was the compliment and the opportunity, I deplored my promotion to the trans-Mississippi department, and did all I could properly do to have the order suspended. As soon as I joined Van Dorn, I told him that while I would do everything in my power to organize his forces, I was not willing in such a war to do only office work. In his hearty, generous way, Van Dorn replied, " I appreciate your soldierly feelings, and assure you I will not disappoint you by keeping you in an office any longer than may be necessary for the organization of my army, when I will secure for you a proper command in the field. " I was accordingly promoted to brigadier-general after the Elkhorn campaign, and had an opportunity to make up a fine brigade, and very soon after a fine division.
When General Van Dorn and I went to Corinth to confer with General Albert Sidney Johnston, Van Dorn said to him: " General, I met upon the river a fine Texas regiment, the Second Texas, Colonel John C. Moore commanding. I ordered it to come at once to you for this impending battle. Please remember that it is to be one of the regiments of the brigade I am going to make up for General Maury. " General Johnston replied: " I will remember; but I wish you would leave Maury with me now, and I could at once make up a good brigade for him. " Van Dorn said he could not spare me then, and so I escaped the disastrous battle of Shiloh. General Johnston was a high and great man. No man could have met him without feeling respect, confidence, and love for him.
It was on the day before Christmas, 1862, that the news came to us at Granada of the complete success of Van Dorn's bold dash around Grant's army and of Grant's precipitate retirement from our front. On Christmas Day, a prominent and prosperous gentleman of Grenada, a native of Maryland, gave a grand dinner to General Price and his generals, and a sumptuous table it was that we sat down to. All were in fine humor to enjoy it, for Grant was gone.
We had just taken our seats, when a courier arrived with a telegram from General Pemberton, ordering 'Maury's division' to march at once to reinforce General Stephen D. Lee at Vicksburg, who with only 2300 men was attacked by Sherman with a corps of 30,000. General Price handed the dispatch to me, and I arose at once, bade farewell to Mr. Mister and his brilliant company of generals and colonels, and proceeded to put the First Division in motion to seccor Lee, as noble and gallant a soldier as ever bore that name. We had to go by rail to Jackson, thence to Vicksburg with the advance train, bearing only 400 men; the rest of the division were distributed along the route from Jackson.
The train bearing the Thirty-fifth Mississippi and Bledsoe's battery was detained in Jackson several hours. Colonel Barry and Captain Bledsoe were capital fellows and good friends. Barry was one of the most popular and eloquent men of the Mississippi. Genial, gentle, and humorous, he never seemed to harbor an unkind thought. Bledsoe was one of the most distinguished battery captains of Price's Missourians. They were convivial that night, and occupied a box-car together, in which, after some hours of congenial enjoyment, they rolled themselves in their blankets and slumbered. Bledsoe was about six feet three inches tall, and paid but little attention to any elegance of attire. He wore boots of extraordinary size and length, which came half-way up his long legs, and were very innocent of any coloring save the native yellow of the unpolished hide. Barry awoke first, and seeing Bledsoe's great boots standing by, called a negro and gave him a dollar to black them. The darkey performed his task well, replacing them carefully. Then Barry aroused Bledsoe, told him it was time to be up, and lay chuckling as Bledsoe searched the car for his yellow boots.
When at last he realized that the freshly blackened pair before him were his own, and that he had furnished fun for the company, his wrath arose against Barry, and he challenged him to a duel. But that jovial colonel declined to fight him because he " was only a captain, and he could not think of waving rank. " Poor Barry died of consumption soon after the war, loved and lamented by all classes of people. Bledsoe, when I last heard of him, was a prosperous business man in Missouri, where everyone respected him.
I met Stephen Lee upon the battlefield from which he had driven Sherman. The night was as black as a wolf's mouth, a cold rain was falling, and all around us lay the dead and wounded, whose piteous moans went out for help to the surgeons and litter bearers, the flickering light of whose battle lanterns appeared here and there about the field.
On reaching Vicksburg, I said: "Lee, I am here with only four hundred men, but the whole division will be up soon after daylight. Please dispose of my force where and how you think best, for though I rank you I don't know anything about the conditions here. I don't know where your line lies, I don't know where the enemy is; in fact, I don't know where I am. I entrust everything to you with the assurance that you shall have all the glory, and I will be responsible if anything goes wrong." This surprised and pleased him, too. He said, "General, that is very generous, and I thank you; and he went to work accordingly, my only suggestion being to urge him not to expose himself so much as he continually did.
Stevenson came up in a day or two with a large force - over eight thousand men. We had carried on a light skirmish with Sherman until all of Stevenson's division arrived, when we resolved to attack the enemy; but at early dawn we discovered Sherman's smokes along the Yazoo as he retreated. I sent Lee with six or seven regiments to worry his retiring forces. Lee won great praise for his admiral conduct of this expedition, and after my warm endorsement and earnest request was promoted to major-general. He is a splendid fellow, and is now president of the admirable Agricultural College of Mississippi.
The day before Sherman's retreat, a flag of truce brought us a letter with permission to bury his dead. The letter was signed by General Morgan, and the permission to bury was signed by Lee, who immediately after the fight had attempted to remove Sherman's wounded, but had been forced to desist in his humane efforts because his people were fired upon by the enemy. His litter bearers therefore retired until after dark, when all the Federal wounded were brought to our hospitals.
I did not realize the good name of Price's corps until, on one occasion when Grant seemed to be preparing a descent in force upon our lines, General Stevenson ordered me to place two regiments of my division on picket to defend the expected point of attack. After the usual tour of twenty four hours, I was informed that the rations were all gone, and went to see Stevenson about relieving them with some other troops. He said confidentially, "We are not willing to entrust any other troops with the defense of that point. "
" Oh ! " said I, delighted; "just let me tell them that, and they will stay there till Gabriel blows his horn, " and galloped off to tell the colonels to let their regiments know that they held a post of honor.
In organizing that division, Van Dorn appointed Generals Moore, Cabell, and Phiffer, excellent disciplinarians, to command its three brigades, and in October at Corinth they had shown great tenacity, being in action three days. They went in with 4800 Rifles the first day, and on the third three fourths of their numbers were gone, yet the remaining 1200 fought from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. with unfaltering devotion. General Rosecrans himself paid a marked and generous compliment to the bravery of that division. When Van Dorn, after the battle, detailed a party under Colonel Barry to bury our dead, Rosecrans courteously replied that "he could not admit them within his own works, for reasons which General Van Dorn could appreciate, but that the latter might rest assured that all possible care would be bestowed upon the wounded and all respect shown the dead, especially those who fell so bravely as the men of Maury's division. "
Rosecrans was a great soldier and a generous gentleman. He had been my instructor at West Point, and our relations had always been of a very cordial nature. After the battle, he sent me a message through one of my most gallant battery captains, Tobin, who was captured that day, bidding him, "Tell General Maury, with my regards, I never used to think when I taught him, a little, curly-headed boy at West Point, that he would ever trouble me as he has to-day. " Rosecrans buried Colonel Rogers of the Second Texas, which led the assault, with the honors of war, and marked and enclosed his grave.
On our retreat before Grant, down through Mississippi, our rear guard had a skirmish with his advance at Coffeeville. My division was ordered to march at 4 P. M., to send all baggage, etc., to a station ten miles below us, and to bivouac there for the night. A cold, sleety rain fell upon us until 10 A. M., when the head of the column halted at Mr. Brooks' large and comfortable plantation home. He was a thrifty planter, and his fields and fences were in good order. On his huge lawn about his house stood several dozen bee-hives, all well stored with honey, and on both sides of his long lane, for a mile or more, high worm fences guarded his broad fields of cotton and corn. The division filled the whole lane. It had been carefully trained to respect private property, and especially never to burn rails, but as soon as we halted I ordered Flowerree, my chief of staff, to send along the line the order that "the division will burn rails to-night. "
A great shout, a genuine Confederate yell, roared along the line, as they charged those fences. In a few minutes, both sides of the lane were cleared of rails, and huge, blazing fires cheered our wet and weary men. The fence around the yard disappeared too, and the bee- hives vanished, and nothing was left but the stile blocks, over which old Mr. Brooks had been passing for forty years, and over which he still uncompromisingly climbed as he came to report some fresh disaster, though nothing was left to bar his passage through his fenceless yard. I heard of no colds or pleurisies caused by that night's march. I told the old gentleman to make a liberal account of the damage to his property and it should be promptly paid, and a few days after he brought in a bill of damages amounting to six hundred dollars. The quartermaster paid it at once, and at that time Confederate money was about as good as green-backs, so Mr. Brooks was happy in receiving ample value for his losses and I was glad my men escaped much illness.
The old gentleman and his wife were kind and hospitable as could be, and we were sumptuously entertained at supper and breakfast, and conformably bedded all of that inclement night. There were more than a dozen of us, generals, and staff officers, who received liberal hospitality at the hands of that old Virginia family.
One night about eleven o'clock I was roused from my slumber upon my saddle blanket under a bush, by the trampling, almost upon us, of a horseman who called out, "Where is General Maury?" Flowerree scratched a match and read, "General Maury will turn over the command of the rear guard to the next officer in command, and proceed at once to the head of the army, assume command of the First Division, and march punctually at 2 A.M." It was my third successive night without sleep. The good and great Father Ohannon, chaplain to Price's Missourians, was near me. He is now in high favor with the Pope, as he ought to be, for he promptly said, "General Maury, you are very tired; take a drop of the cratur'; twill do you good, and then you can get a nap till half-past one." The good father never drank himself, but he was indefatigable in his care for his wounded and wearied people, and always carried into battle a quart canteen full of good whiskey.
Accordingly I was aroused at half-past one, and proceeded to hunt up my new command. I found them peacefully sleeping, the lines of white blankets looking weird in the flickering light of the camp fires. We had some trouble in arousing five thousand men under such circumstances. One fierce old Texan called out to me, "Somebody'll shoot you directly, ef you don't quit goin' about here makin' so much fuss! " But we got them into the road at last, and marched punctually at two o'clock. We expected to encounter the enemy at daylight.
This Texas brigade was one of the finest bodies of men ever seen in any service, but had no idea of accurate discipline. Their colonel was very handsome, poetical-looking young fellow, with voice and manner gentle as a woman's, and the heart of a true soldier of Texas, and the head to raise him afterwards to the Executive Chair of his great State. May Heaven soon send him there again! He had not the least conception of discipline; so I and my staff devoted ourselves to Ross' brigade, for every potato patch and green apple tree drew them from the ranks until we drove them back again. On the march, I usually dressed in an old suit of corduroy and light felt hat, and these Texans had never seen or heard of me before. I heard one fellow say: "I wonder who that fellow is, in that white coat, anyhow? Where did he come from? He's going to keep us closed up, you bet; he keeps on at it." Another called out to his comrades plundering a melon patch, "Look out, boys! Here comes the pro vo! " A third informed Ross, confidentially, to whom he was giving some green peas just foraged, "If that little fellow don't quit his foolishness, he'll get the stuffin' knocked out of him".
I devoted especial attention to this brigade for nearly a month, and they hated me accordingly. But after we had been into action together, they used to cheer me whenever they saw me. One thing in my favor with those Texans was my fine horses, and the way they would carry me over places when some of the staff would have to ride around. That brigade and Ector's brigade of Texans, and the famous Missouri brigade, organized, instructed, and fought by General Henry Little of Maryland, and my Louisiana brigade might have taken the contract for the conquest of the Soudan, and would have kept it, too. It was very certain they would never have formed a square in an aggressive campaign or made, before battle, all of their preparations for defeat. They would never have murdered a wounded man, or destroyed the Abb-bhu-Clea wells when defeated there and compelled to retreat, for they were true men and self-reliant soldiers. Each man with his repeating rifle was a small fortress.
After Ross had remounted his brigade, he one day caught a Federal gunboat on the Yazoo River, lying in security with all her fires out. He placed a section of his battery above her and another below, smashed every boat on her, and, driving her people all under deck, compelled her to surrender. He had no boat in which to board her, so the sergeant of the battery -- it was an Arkansas battery -- and twelve men stripped, swam out to the steamer, and, stark naked, received the surrender. She was armed with six twenty-four-pound bronze howitzers, which were sent to me at Mobile, and did great service in defence of Spanish Fort. Ross has now become one of the leaders in politics in his State. He is gentle as ever, and has always been an example of how the gentlest are ever the bravest. He is a man of culture, too, "an excellent thing" in a governor.
After we drove Sherman from Vicksburg, in December, Grant, having been defeated in his invasion of Mississippi by Van Dorn's brilliant coup, was permitted to organize a great army for the capture of that city. He brought Sherman back there with him, and meantime we had assembled all available forces, over thirty thousand effectives, to resist his attack. Our army extended from Haines Bluff, seventeen miles above the city, to Warrington, ten miles below. General Johnston thought this was a faulty disposition. His view was that a strong fort should have been made, commanding the river at the turn above the city, to be garrisoned by two or three thousand good troops, and the rest of the army to operate in the field.
General Carter L. Stevenson, a veteran and most complete soldier, commanded Vicksburg and all its dependencies. He assigned me to the command of all of the forces above the town, including twenty thousand men, while General Barton commanded all below the town, about ten thousand men. Stephen D. Lee commanded all of the artillery of the place.
During the period of high water, all of the streams were in flood, and Admiral Porter availed himself of the opportunity to pass with his light-draft steamers up into one of the tributaries of the Yazoo, get above Vicksburg, and cut off communications with its back country. Sherman supported the movement with a large body of troops, and it seemed very near to success, when General Sam Ferguson, a vigilant and daring young officer, intercepted it, stopped Porter's advance, and caused his abandonment of the whole enterprise. Along my part of the line we could note the progress of the expedition by the smoke of the steamers above the tree tops, eight or ten miles in my front. Ordering Featherston's brigade to reinforce Ferguson, I sent Stephen Lee in a skiff through the overflow to see if it were practicable to throw a force behind Sherman, and so capture the whole expedition. If he found it impossible to move a sufficient force to accomplish this, then Lee was to make a demonstration and create the impression that he was there in strength, and cause the information to reach Sherman, so as to lead him to retreat. This was all that could be done in his rear; Ferguson had done all possible in his front. Had Ferguson been reinforced and left in command, it seems probable we should have captured that whole expedition instead of only defeating it and driving it away.
Our plan was successful, and the whole expedition was a failure, and retreated precipitately out of the country. Ferguson reported the abandonment by the enemy of ten fine boats left on his hands, including the commodore's gig, which he sent to us at Vicksburg, and which we found useful as a flag-of-truce-boat. This was Sherman's second failure with which Lee and I had to do. But Fergunson's fine conduct, Porter might have reached the Yazoo.
Soon after this General Quinby came down through the Yazoo Pass, with a corps, intending to get into the Yazoo at Greenwood. Loring repulsed and detained him there until I could get to him with a force of four thousand men from Vicksburg. The rivers were out of their banks, the lowlands were under water, skiffs were moored to doors of the farm houses, and buffalo gnats swarmed over the horses and cattle. I lost twenty-four mules one night from their poisonous bites. In repulsing Quinby's advance, Loring used the famous Second Texas sharp-shooters, who fought in water up to their waists. I could scarce find dry land enough on which to form a line of battle, and smokes were made all along the line that the horses might stand in them and in some measure be protected from the gnats.
General Lloyd Tilghman was a very gallant brigadier from Maryland, whose brigade joined my right. He proposed that we should try and break up the enemy's headquarters about a mile away from our front. Tilghman had been a civil engineer, and he had a county map showing the position of the farm house where Quinby had his headquarters. He trained his guns by the compass, while I sent in a body of sharp-shooters through the woods upon the enemy's right. We opened at the signal, and broke up the whole establishment, which retreated hastily for the Mississippi by way of the Yazoo.