Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 27/Orr's South Carolina Rifles

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[From the Abbeville, S.C., Medium, July 20, 1899]

ORR'S SOUTH CAROLINA RIFLES.


Brief Sketch of the Famous Regiment from the Pen of One who Fought in its Ranks.


By J. W. MATTISON, of Company G.


Orr's Regiment of Rifles went into camp of instruction at Sandy Springs camp ground, ten miles above Anderson C.H., July 19th, 1861, with the following field officers: James L. Orr, colonel; J. Foster Marshall, lieutenant-colonel; Daniel Ledbetter, major; Ben. Sloan, adjutant; T.B. Lee, sergeant-major; Company A, J.W. Livingston, captain; Company B, James M. Perrin, captain; Company C, J.J. Norton, captain; Company D, F.E. Harrison, captain; Company E, Miles M. Norton, captain; Company F, Robert A. Hawthorn, captain; Company G, G. McD. Miller, captain; Company H, George M. Fairlee, captain; Company K, G.W. Cox, captain; Company L, J.B. Moore, captain.

The regiment was composed of the ten companies of one hundred men each—Companies B and G from Abbeville county; Companies A, C, E, F, Pickens county; Companies D, K and L, Anderson county; Company H, Marion county. On July 20th the regiment was mustered into Confederate service for three years, or during the war, being the first, I believe, to enlist for the war. Few, if any, thought that the war would continue for three years. The general impression was that six to twelve months would end the war and secure our independence. Some of us were afraid it would all be over before we reached the front.

The drills and camp duty we thought very hard. In a few weeks a majority of us thought we had at least learned all that Hardee knew about tactics.

During our stay at Sandy Springs we learned very little of actual camp life. We were all quartered in tents used by tent holders at camp meetings. We had plenty to eat, such as it was, and it was roughly prepared in many cases.

While we were drilled very hard, we had many pleasant hours in camp. Friends and relatives of the members of the regiment visited the camp daily by scores and hundreds.

Dress parade at 6 P.M. was the hour to see the ladies out in large numbers to witness our military evolutions and soldierly bearing.

The regiment remained in camp until the first week in September. One detachment left September the 4th for Summerville, twenty-two miles above Charleston, another the 5th, and the balance the 6th. We remained at Summerville ten days, and from there we moved to Sullivan's Island and occupied the dwellings then standing on the island. Part of the regiment was quartered in the old Moultrie House. Daily drills were still the order of the day. About the last of November, Companies B and G were sent down the coast about twenty-five miles to picket on the Edisto river. Company B was stationed at Willtown Bluff and Company G at Pineberry, doing picket duty on Jehossee Island. During our stay at Pineberry, our pickets on the island were fired at on two occasions, but no one hurt.

Some mounted low country negroes on Edisto Island attacked our picket commanded by Lieutenant Higgins and fired a few shots one morning. One of their number was killed. On another occasion a party of the enemy came up the river in yawl boats and fired on our pickets commanded by Lieutenant Latimer. After a few shots were exchanged the enemy retired and left us alone afterwards.

About the last part of January, 1862, Company B and G were relieved by other troops and rejoined the regiment on Sullivan's Island. During the winter Colonel Orr resigned his commission and entered Congress. Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall was now Colonel of the regiment.

Colonel Marshall received orders on April 19th, to report with his command at Richmond, Va., at once. Our surplus baggage was packed and sent home at once. On Sunday, April 20th, we left the Island rejocing that we were going to the seat of war.

The regiment was called by other troops "The pound cake regiment," because of our easy position. Our trip to Richmond was slow and tedious. We left Charleston on the evening of April 20th. When we reached Florence we were delayed the balance of the night. Monday night we reached Wilmington and remained there all night. Tusday we made Weldon. Wednesday morning we took breakfast at Petersburg, Va., and reached Richmond about 12 o'clock noon. We left Richmond in the afternoon on the Fredericksburg road, reaching Guiney's Station after night. Tents were pitched in short order and a good night's rest obtained. The next morning (April 24th), when reville sounded we formed line in about three inches of snow. After remaining stationed a few days we were moved nearer Fredericksburg, to a point near Massaponax church, picketing the roads towards Fredericksburg.

We remained in this camp until the last week in May, when General Johnson evacuated Yorktown and Peninsula and withdrew his forces to around Richmond. The commands near Fredericksburg were ordered to Richmond. When we reached Ashland we met some of our cavalry who had that day engaged the enemy on our extreme left wing. Branch's brigade and the cavalry had driven the enemy back before we reached the field.

The next day we reached the Chickahominy above Richmond and camped in a low marshy piece of Woodland. The night of the 29th was a night of continued downpour of rain, our camp was a pond of water, and slop was out of the question. The Chickahominy bottom lands were overflowed and the water extended from hill to hill.

The battle of Seven Pines was fought May 31st and June 1st.

Our command was moved down the Chickahominy Saturday, May 31st. We could hear the battle of Seven Pines raging as we moved down the river. We were not engaged in the fight. A few shells were thrown by the enemy in our direction.

After the battle was over we went into camp near the nine mile road, a few miles east of Richmond.

The camp was in a low, swampy piece of timber land, which proved to be a very unhealthy location. A large number of our regiment and brigade were on the sick list in a few days. Orr's Rifles lost during the summer quite a number of men by disease; nineteen of Company G, died in the hospital with fever. June, July and August quite a number were unable for duty during the campaign of the summer.

Some time in June, Orr's Rifles were transferred from J.R. Anderson's brigade to Gregg's brigade. The brigade was now composed of 1st, 12th, 13th, 14th and Orr's Rifles.

During the month of June we were quiet, until the 25th, when we received orders to prepare for a move. Rations were issued and cooked and all made ready for a march. Soon after dark we formed line. And our Chaplain, Rev. H.T. Sloan, offered an earnest prayer, asking the God of battles to be with us in the conflict that was soon to come. We moved out of camp early in the night and marched up the Chickahominy somewhere north of Richmond, and near Meadow bridge. We remained at this place the balance of the night and until two or three o'clock next evening. All the while concealed from the view of the enemy posted on the opposite side of the river.

About 3 o'clock P.M., June 26th, skirmish firing commenced near the railroad bridges. Soon the artillery opened on each side. We were now ordered forward to support the advance line, composed of North Carolina troops.

The enemy were soon dislodged from the bridge, and retreated to Mechanicsville. Our command crossed the stream and followed the advanced line which was engaged with the enemy at Mechanicsville. Our position at this time as support was trying to men not yet iniated into the horror of war.

The shells from the enemy's guns came thick and fast, and kept us awake and uneasy. We expected every minute to be ordered to the front.

S.C. Reid, of Company G, was mortally wounded by a shell just before night. I think he was the only man killed in our regiment on the 26th.

The enemy made a stubborn resistance around Mechanicsville, but were finally driven to their strong defence on the east side of the Beaver Dam creek, at Ellisons Mill.

This was a strong position. The enemy were posted behind heavy earthworks on the hill. One line of defense was on top of hill, another lower down on the hill side. Both lines were well manned and protected from the fire of our men.

Our loss in front of this position was very heavy. The troops making the attack failed to dislodge the enemy. On the morning of the 27th, Stonewall Jackson turned their right flank, which caused them to hastily abandon their strong works and retreat to Gaines's Mill without much resistance.

Gregg's brigade was put in advance on the morning of the 27th, the 1st and 12th in advance, Orr's Rifles and 13th, support. The 14th was left on picket line near our old camp. After crossing the creek we entered the deserted camp of the enemy, where we found immense piles of flower and bacon burning. We pushed on from this place to Walnut Grove church, something over one mile from the Mill.

There we halted and rested for an hour or two. It was at this place that we first saw Stonewall Jackson. He passed us as we rested by the roadside, and his troops and Hill's Light division were now united. After a delay of some time, Jackson's command moved out along a road bearing to the left, while Hill's Light division followed the road leading direct to Gaines's Mill, some three miles distant.

Between Walnut Grove church and Gaines's Mill in an open field the pontoon bridges of the enemy were abandoned and fired. Their retreat was so rapid that they did not attempt to save army supplies but applied the torch to everything that they could burn, and hurried on to their next line of defence. About 12 o'clock we reached Gaines's Mill without any opposition. Our skirmishers encountered the rear guard of the enemy at the Mill, and soon drove them off, without much loss on our side. After our skirmish line passed the Mill, about twenty-five Yankees were found in the mill-house, and sent to the rear, and on to Richmond, I suppose.

On the hill west of the Mill large quantities of army supplies and sutler stores had been destroyed or partially destroyed. We found coffee, cheese, can goods, and a general assortment of eatables not entirely destroyed, that we soon appropriated to our personal use. We had cheese on toast for dinner. The fire and hot sun had toasted them thoroughly. This was our first meal at Uncle Sam's expense, but not the last with some of us.

After a short rest at the Mill, we crossed Powhite creek and moved in the direction of Old Cold Harbor, leaving New Cold Harbor to our right. Just after we crossed the creek and reached high ground, and were advancing in line of battle, one Yankee was seen running across the old field in our front, some 200 yards distant, I suppose. Several shots were fired before he fell.

When we had gone about a half mile beyond the mill and reached high ground, we could see the enemy in line of battle beyond a small stream on a hill.

Their artillery opened on us at this point and threw some shells uncomfortably near, and gave us what is called bomb ague.

Dr. Frank Clinkscales was killed by a cannon shot near the road running from New Cold Harbor to Old Cold Harbor, making two men of Company G killed by cannon shot before we had fired a gun.

Our command soon reached the swampy ground, where we were allowed to rest, where we were protected from the artillery fire also. Crenshaw's battery was planted on the hill in our rear and replied to the guns of the enemy with good effect.

The fire was kept up for some time with vigor. Our command remained in the ravine about one hour, I think. All the time we remained there the artillery fire was heavy on both sides.

There was heavy firing also to our right near the Chickahominy and back towards Gaines's Mill. General Longstreet's command was hotly engaged on that part of the line. About three or four o'clock we were ordered to advance. It was generally understood that we were to charge and take a Yankee battery in our front. No calculations were made that we would fail. The advance was made by the brigade, Orr's Rifles on the right wing.

The regiment passed through some small pines skirting an open field near two hundred yards wide.

When the open field was reached, the enemy opened a destructive fire on us from our right, where they were posted in a piece of oak timber. As we came into the open field, the fire of the enemy was so heavy that we changed course to our right and charged the enemy posted in the forest. As we charged across the field with guns at right shoulder, our men were falling at every step. Numbers were killed and wounded before having a chance to fire a gun. The battery that we expected to capture was nowhere in sight. They had limbered up and gone to the rear.

The enemy held their position until we were in thirty or forty yards of them, pouring volley after volley into our ranks. We succeeded in reaching the forest, and drove the enemy back on their reserve line posted in the undergrowth.

After firing a few rounds, a force of New York Zouaves was seen forming line. Across the open field we had charged through a few minutes before they also opened fire on us with telling effect, killing and wounding a number of our men.

When Colonel Marshall discovered the enemy forming on our left flank and moving to our rear, he ordered the regiment to retreat, which was not heard by all of the regiment. Over one-half of the regiment was killed and wounded in a few minutes. The open field and woodland was strewed with dead and dying and wounded, not able to get off the field.

Companies G and K suffered the greatest. Company G had twenty-one killed on the field and mortally wounded as follows: Lieutenant B.M. Latimer, Sergeant-Major A.H. McGee, L.A. Callaham, W.J. Calvert, Dr. Frank Clinkscales, R.F. Cunningham, J.A. Davis, Samuel Fields, M. Freeman, R.A. Gordon, John B. Gordon, I.L. Grier, E.J. Humphreys, A.P. Lindsay, A.H. McGhee, Jr., J.G. Martin, J. Morrison, E.W. Pruitt, George B. Richey, S.O. Reid (26th), W.H. Simpson, over 33 per cent, killed and mortally wounded, 80 per cent, killed and wounded.

The regiment carried into action 537 men, of this number 81 were killed and 234 wounded. Very few commands suffered in any one engagement so heavily.

The writer was severely wounded about the time the order was given to retreat, and left on the field and fell in the hands of the enemy.

My command had gone but a short distance, falling back, before the Yankees line of battle was reformed in the edge of the woodland where I was. A reserve line was soon brought up to support the line in front, while the Yankees were around me, they asked me several questions, my command and where from, &c. They did not attempt to move and treated me kindly while among them with one exception. One fellow demanded my cartridge box, and enforced the demand at the point of the bayonet. I was slow in delivering it to him, when he threatened to bayonet me if I did not obey his demands at once.

The line in the front and the reserve line both were hard to manage by the officers. They were expecting to be attacked and would not line up, and keep in elbow touch. During the time they were adjusting their lines the conflict was raging in other parts of the field.

The thunder of cannon and roll of musketry along the lines was terrific. After a lapse of thirty minutes, I suppose, I heard the familiar yell of our men near by. The two lines of battle near me fired one volley and gave ground—retreating through the woods in disaster. Our men (a Georgia command I think), succeeded in reaching the edge of the woods but could not hold the position, a flanking column on their left forced them to give way.

The enemy soon formed their lines and advanced beyond their former position. Crossing the open field through which the Rifles charged a few hours before, the wounded were now in their rear for some time. Night was fast approaching and I could hear heavy firing on the left, and the rebel yell plainly indicated that the enemy along that part of the line was giving ground.

The firing gradually passed to the rear of the former line held by the Yankees. The line of battle formed near me soon retreated in the direction of the Chickahominy.

The fighting around the McGee house on our left seemed to be the most stubbornly contested part of the field late in the evening.

The roar of battle was heavy nearer the Chickahominy. The artillery fire was severe; batteries on the south side of the river were shelling the field until dark.

About sundown the ground was cleared of the enemy and I made an effort to get off the field by using a gun for a crutch. I managed to reach the ambulance corps of Hood's Texas troops and was carried to their field hospital, near Old Cold Harbor, where I remained until the evening of the 29th without any attention.

Hood's troops were badly cut up, and the surgeons were kept busy attending to their own wounded. They were kept busy amputating arms and legs of the wounded; other wounded could not be attended to properly. On the evening of the 29th I was moved to the hospital in Manchester and placed in the roundhouse of the Danville railroad. I remained there until the last week in August, when I was given a furlough for thirty days. I came home and remained there for two years before I was able to rejoin my command.

I have written this from memory. I kept no record at the time. May be in error along some lines.

The recollections of the days long past are often called up in memory—days that are never to be forgotten by those engaged in the conflict and those at home watching and waiting to hear from the front.

Members of Company G, Orr's Rifles, who died with disease, summer, 1862: W.D. Anderson, R.S. Ashley, T.J. Beacham, S.N. Bowen, W.T. Ellis, Robert M. Ellis, C.N. Graham, J.B. Graham, J. Moon Jones, T.G. Law, J.R. McAdams, J.T. McWhorter, F.M. McKee, S.L. Pratt, W.N. Shirley, Moses Smith, J.R. Swancey.