Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 02/July/Diary of Captain R. E. Park
Diary of Captain Robert E. Park, of Twelfth Alabama Regiment.
[Continued from June Number.]
September 19th, 1864—Battle of Winchester. Early this morning our cavalry pickets on the Opequon were driven in, and it became evident that an attack was threatened. News came that the cavalry under Fitz. Lee and Lomax, and Ramseur's division of less than 2,000 infantry, were engaged by the enemy near Winchester, and Rodes' division left Stephenson's depot to go to their assistance. Gordon's division preceded us. and as soon as we reached Ramseur we were ordered to "forward into line," and almost as quick as thought we were rapidly hurried to the attack. General C. A. Evans' Georgia brigade meeting overwhelming columns of the enemy, was forced back through the woods, and the Yankees were pressing after them, demoralizing them considerably, and came near capturing some of our artillery, when Colonel Carter and Lieutenant-Colonel Braxton opened on them with grape and canister, and the Yankees halted and then fell back. As they began to fall back, Battle's brigade, which had formed in rear of Evans', rushed forward, and swept, with loud shouts, through the woods, driving the enemy swiftly before it. I commanded the right company of our regiment and brigade in the charge. Colonel Pickens was not far from me, and General Early himself rode near me as we entered the action. I lifted my hat to the old hero as we ran forward, and noticed how proudly he watched our impetuous advance. The enemy soon ran precipitately before us, and officers and men were in the utmost confusion. We raised our well known "Rebel yell," and continued our onward run, for we actually ran, at our greatest speed, after the disordered host in our front. We could see they had a much larger force than ours, but we cared not for numbers. We had never regarded superior numbers since we entered service; in fact, rather enjoyed it. The victory was then the more creditable to us. We learned afterwards that the Sixth and Nineteenth Army Corps, with their full ranks and splendid equipments, were our opponents. As we moved forward we passed scores, yes, hundreds, of dead and wounded Yankees, and a large number of prisoners were captured. We passed entirely through the woods, and into the open space beyond, when we halted for a moment, and then formed our line in the edge of the woods. While the lines were being established, Major Peyton, A. A. G. to General Rodes, rode up, and an indescribable, unexplainable something, I know not what, carried me to his side as he sat upon his horse. I had heard nothing, not even a rumor nor whispered suggestion, yet something impelled me to ask, in a low tone, "Major, has General Rodes been killed?" In an equally low, subdued tone, that gallant officer answered, "Yes, but keep it to yourself; do not let your men know it." "Then who succeeds to the command of the division?" I asked. "General Battle," said he, and rode on to the next brigade. The dreaded news of Major-General Rodes' sudden death, at such a critical moment, distressed and grieved me beyond expression. There was no better officer in the entire army than he; very few as brave, skillful and thoroughly trained. His men regarded him as second only to General Lee, excelled by none other. Robert E. Rodes was born at Lynchburg, Virginia, and graduated at the Virginia Military Institute; served two years as assistant professor, and afterwards became chief engineer of the A. & C. R. R. of Alabama. He entered the army as captain of a company from Tuscaloosa, was elected Colonel of the Fifth Alabama Regiment, and soon after promoted Brigadier-General, and succeeded General Ewell in command of the Fifth, Sixth and Twelfth Alabama and Twelfth Mississippi regiments. The latter regiment was transferred, and its place supplied by the Third and Twenty-sixth Alabama regiments. He was wounded at Seven Pines and Sharpsburg. At Chancellorsville, in command of D. H. Hill's old division, he led the advance, and swept everything before him. His clarion voice shouting, "Forward, men, over friend or foe," electrified his troops, and they were irresistible. They pushed on, under his gallant leadership, and completely routed the panic-stricken soldiers of "Fighting Joe Hooker." After Generals Jackson and A. P. Hill were wounded, General Rodes was in supreme command, but he modestly and patriotically yielded to General J. E. B. Stuart, who had been sent for by General Pendleton of the artillery. After this battle he was promoted full Major-General, and put in charge of Battle's, Ramseur's (now Cox's), Doles' (now Cook's), and Daniel's (now Lewis') brigades. General Rodes was a precise and somewhat stern military man, of resolute expression and soldierly bearing, and enjoyed the implicit confidence of his superior officers, as well as his troops. A fragment of shell struck him behind the ear, and in a few hours this brave, skillful and trusted officer yielded up his heroic life as a holocaust to his country's cause. He married the popular and accomplished Miss V. H. Woodruff, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and left also an infant son, his namesake. The young and gallant Colonel S. B. Pickens, of the Twelfth Alabama, took command of the brigade as senior colonel. He has commanded it nearly the entire time since we left Richmond. He was wounded during the engagement. The enemy had Crook's full fresh corps, and all his heavy force of cavalry as a reserve, and they came to the rescue of the defeated and routed Sixth and Nineteenth Corps. Our ranks were very thin indeed, and our lines stretched out far too much. The enemy overlapped us for hundreds, I might say truthfully thousands of yards, and we had no fresh troops in our rear to come to our aid. Sheridan must have had six to our one, yet our weakened forces held their ground proudly and obstinately until late in the afternoon, when Crook's fresh division drove back our small cavalry force under General Fitz. Lee. General Breckinridge, with Wharton's attenuated division, repulsed them, but the troops soon became impressed with the horrible, unendurable idea that they were flanked, and began to retreat in confusion. Just before this idea became prevalent, Private John Attaway, of my company, was shot through the breast by a minnie ball, and called me as he fell to go to him, saying he was mortally wounded. I immediately began to walk from the right towards the left of the company, where Attaway was lying, bleeding and faint. I had gone but a few steps, and while raising my right foot was struck in the calf of the left leg by a minnie ball, which broke the small (fibula) bone, and badly fractured the large one. The ball flattened and came out sideways, severing muscles, veins, tendons and nerves. I was knocked down, but ordered two of my men to carry Attaway off the field, the brave and faithful fellow urging them to carry me off first, declaring he would die anyway, and my life must be saved. However, I had him moved away to the rear before I consented for Privates P. W. Chappell and Tobe Ward to place me on my blanket and carry me to the rear. As I was borne back, Attaway called out for them to hasten with me out of danger, as bullets and shells and solid shot were falling thick and fast around us. His conduct was that of a true, magnanimous friend and generous soldier. Ward and Chappell carried me as gently and quickly as possible towards some ambulances in the rear. When we reached them we were told they belonged to the Louisiana brigade, and I was refused admittance into one. At this time the gigantic and brave Colonel Peck, who had been slightly wounded and retired from the field, rode up, and ascertaining the status of affairs, ordered the men to "take him up tenderly and put him in an ambulance," adding, "he is a wounded brother soldier, and must be cared for." I thanked the Colonel, but he, in his bluff, soldierly way, interrupted me, and said he "had done nothing but what I would have done for him." Bidding a last farewell to my faithful men, I was driven to the Union Hotel, then turned into a hospital. The surgeons examined my wound, pronounced it a serious one, and dressed it, uncertain in their minds whether the leg should be amputated or not. In my own, I resolved I would die before submitting to its loss. The surgeons promised me, in event our army was forced to evacuate Winchester, to send me off in an ambulance, but, a few minutes after, shot and shell were fired into the hospital building, crashing resistlessly through roof, walls, chimneys, etc., and knocking down bricks, plastering, planks and splinters over the helpless wounded and dying, and the demoralized surgeons, hastily detailing two or three of their number to remain with the wounded, fled incontinently, forgetting, in their anxiety to escape capture, all thought of their promise to carry me along with them. Our scattered troops, closely followed by the large army of pursuers, retreated rapidly and in disorder through the city. It was a sad, humiliating sight, but such a handful of worn-out men could not successfully withstand such overwhelming odds. I never saw our troops in such confusion before. It is said that Mrs. General Gordon, Mrs. General Breckinridge, Mrs. Hugh Lee and other patriotic ladies ran impetuously into the streets, and eloquently pleaded with the retreating soldiers to cease their flight and stand and confront the advancing enemy. Night found Sheridan's hosts in full and exultant possession of much abused, beloved Winchester. The hotel hospital was pretty full of desperately wounded and dying Confederates. The entire building was shrouded in darkness during the dreadful night. Sleep was impossible, as the groans, sighs, shrieks, prayers and oaths of the wretched sufferers, combined with my own severe pain, banished all thought of rest. Captain Hewlett, of Company H, wounded in the thigh, lay on the floor beside me. Wat. Zachry, Sergeant Carr and Tom Crawford, wounded men of my company, made their escape from the city just as the Yankee cavalry entered it. A few noble ladies of Winchester ventured, with lanterns in their hands, to walk among the wounded and distribute sandwiches and cups of coffee, with cheering words of comfort and sympathy. One sweet Christian woman came to me, and stooping, placed her gentle hand on my pale forehead, and said: "My poor boy, you seem to be in much pain, though so quiet; take some refreshments, and to-morrow you shall have a better bed than this hard floor." I thanked her, drank some coffee, and inquired what she had heard of General Rodes. She told me his body had been saved and sent on to Lynchburg. Many of my wounded comrades wept aloud and bitterly on learning for the first time the fate of their brave and beloved commander. All seemed overcome with real, unaffected grief. Rodes was Early's right arm in the hour of battle and danger. General Godwin, of North Carolina, and Colonel G. W. Patton were killed, and General York, of Louisiana, lost an arm. The brave Captain Tom Lightfoot, of the Sixth Alabama, by whose side I have entered and stood in many a battle, was instantly killed. He was a younger brother of Colonel J. N. Lightfoot. The enemy lost Brigadier-General Russell killed, and Generals Upton, McIntosh and Chapman wounded. Report says that over 6,000 Yankee wounded are now scattered over Winchester in every available building. Private houses have been seized and turned into hospitals, and their inmates forced to seek other quarters. The churches, too, are used. It has been a victory bought at a fearful cost to them, if it be a victory at all.
September 20th—Surgeons Cromwell and Love, of North Carolina, and Surgeons T. J. Weatherly, of the Sixth Alabama, and Robert Hardy, of the Third Alabama, were left in charge of our wounded. Captain Hewlett arid I were removed to a well ventilated room on the second floor, and placed on a comfortable mattress. A short time after an elegant lady came in to see us, and inquired from what State we hailed. I replied, "Alabama," whereupon she said she had lost a favorite cousin, a captain in an Alabama regiment, killed at Seven Pines. He proved to be Captain R. H. Keeling, of my company, and the good woman, Mrs. Hugh Lee, a relative of General R. E. Lee, immediately proposed to take us under her special care, and to have us carried to a private house, where we would be better provided for. We gladly consented, and, after a brief absence, she returned with some litters borne by negroes, who still remained faithful to their owners, despite the corrupting influences of the Yankees, and we were carried to the law office once used by Hon. James M. Mason, our Minister to England, and his able and venerable partner, Mr. Clark. The office was on Main street, near Fort Hill, so-called from the remains of an old fort erected there in the days of the British General Braddock, and near the residence of Mr. Clark and his amiable Christian daughter, Mrs. Susan J——s. The latter sent us some appreciated delicacies, and made us a brief visit. I suffered much from my wound to-day. A party of Confederates, perhaps a hundred, marched by the office under guard on their way to some Northern prison. The sight was a painful one.
September 21st—Major Lambeth, Lieutenant W. H. Hearne, Sergeant Lines and Private Watkins, of the Fourteenth North Carolina, were brought to the office and quartered with us. Captain Frost, of the Fourth Georgia (from West Point, Georgia), died of his wounds in hospital. The ladies gave him much kind attention.
September 22d—Yankees are continually passing our door, and frequently stop to gaze curiously and impertinently at us, and ask rude, tantalizing questions. They do not wait to be invited in, but stalk in noisily and roughly. Their conversation is coarse and insulting.
September 23d—We have many conflicting and unreliable rumors of Early's movements. Six families in the vicinity of the office have agreed to alternately furnish us with our daily meals. They are those of Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Swartzwelder, Mrs. Burrell, Mrs. Kiger, Mrs. Snapp, and Mrs. Marsteller. Three times each day they send us very palatable and abundant meals, nicely cooked and of fine variety. Negro slaves bring them to us, and are very attentive and respectful, sincerely sympathizing with us in our sufferings, and openly declaring their purpose to remain with their mistresses (their masters are absent in the Southern army), and not regard the seductive promises made by the Yankees to induce them to abandon their life-long friends and homes.
September 24th—Several pretty girls called to see us, and entertained us very agreeably by their charming conversation. Among them were Misses N. K—— , G. C—— , O. V——, J. T——, and L. and T. S——. They are true to the cause, and encourage us much. Our meals are most excellent, and the ladies very kind to us.
September 25th (Sunday)—All the churches in the city, except one, are filled with the Yankee wounded. Our surgeons say our wounded will not number over 500, while theirs is between 4,000 and 5,000, nearly ten times greater than ours. Their killed is said to equal our killed and wounded together. Verily, a costly victory for them!
- KIA Sept. 19, 1864 (Wikisource contributor note)
- Chappell and Ward were both afterwards killed at Petersburg, Virginia.