The Sixth South Carolina at Seven Pines

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By the movement to the left alluded to a moment ago the field of my last conflict was left uncovered in our front and in the direction taken by the five regiments of the enemy that I had seen retiring rapidly but in good order across the Williamsburg road, and it was still being probed by the fire of the artillery up the road which, I concluded from its continuance after I had sent to have it stopped, was from a battery of the enemy. (It seems, however, that it was in fact D. H. Hill's battery.) The wounded left on the field gathered around me, the noble fellows striving to assist me, when they needed assistance themselves. Knowing that there was nothing to prevent it, I expected the five regiments alluded to to return and retake the field. To avoid their capture and also danger from the artillery fire, I ordered all who could possibly do so to go to the rear and not wait for litter-bearers or ambulances. All who could obeyed the order except Boyce Simonton, of Company G, and Gandy, of Company E. They mutinied and refused to leave me, saying that those who had gone to the rear were to send for us all. I made the effort to go at least far enough to the rear to save these brave boys from capture; Gandy had with him a prisoner, Captain John D. McFarland, One Hundred and Second Pennsylvania Regiment.

(Finding that we could not spare guards for the prisoners taken, they were sent to the rear sometimes without them, but generally in charge of our wounded who were able to go back. Some of them escaped through the gap between us in our advanced and constantly advancing position, and our supports). The only member of our party capable of helping another was this prisoner. He rendered every assistance in his power.

Our progress was interrupted and delayed by fainting spells, and from the same cause, perhaps, we were diverted from our course to the right towards the railroad (our left as we went in.) At any rate, my first consciousness after a faint was of some one tugging at me, and the next was hearing the voice of our prisoner captain saying, ‘Handle him tenderly, boys, he was kind to me, and is badly wounded.’ The boys, two in number, belonged, if my memory is correct, to a New Hampshire regiment, and were detailed as a hospital guard. They said that their hospital was not far off, but it was being moved, and they and our Pennsylvania captain, although apprehensive of capture themselves, helped and urged us on to reach the hospital before the surgeon left. But we made slow progress, until they saw their chaplain and called to him for assistance. He quickly brought a litter, on which they took me to the hospital, which was presided over by Dr. Gesner, of New York. I shall never forget the kindness and tender attention of this surgeon and the chaplain. I here learned how seriously Simonton was wounded. After making us as comfortable as the state of the case would admit of, Dr. Gesner left, informing me that I was behind our own lines, and that he had to go before the gap through which he had moved his hospital was closed. Late in the night, I think after midnight, General Birney came in, and I learned from him that they had been heavily reinforced from the other side of the Chickahominy, and were reoccupying the positions from which they had been driven. This excited my alarm for you, for without knowing exactly where I was, there could be no doubt in my mind that you were some distance in advance of where these reinforcements were being posted. Nor was I relieved until sent to the rear, where I had access to their newspapers. In these I saw nothing in relation to you, but glowing accounts of the resistless advance of the Sixth Regiment and Palmetto Sharpshooters giving their specific names. Your prowess on this field won for your colonel, a prisoner in their hands, the consideration of those who encountered you here. General Birney took sufficient interest to have his surgeon, Dr. Pancoast, examine my wound, and he discovered that I would not die before morning, as we all expected before his examination, and they both exhibited the kindest pleasure over the discovery. To say nothing of innumerable attentions paid by officers and men of a large camp near which I was lying the next day, and among them were some who had been captured by us, and escaped while going to the rear, I was the recipient of the most generous and courteous consideration from the knightly General Phil. Kearney. On learning that my wound was not fatal, as at first reported to him, he took the trouble to send a special messenger to the rear to see that I was properly cared for. All of these distinguished attentions and generous courtesies were extended to the colonel of the Sixth South Carolina Regiment. They did not even know my name.

When in the midst of raging battle trophies were brought to me. I remember three regimental standards were brought to me almost simultaneously. (Three more were brought to me during the battle, making six in all.) I leaned them against a tree, saying, ‘Press on, boys, we have no time for these baubles now.’

But these attentions to a wounded, helpless prisoner, who was only known by the prowess of his regiment in the fight, were the knightly courtesies of a gallant enemy, and were accepted as such with feelings of profoundest gratification and pride. They are, indeed, the noblest trophies of war, as they can be won only from a brave and worthy foe.

My old comrades, in the performance of this duty, which has been so long deferred, I have confined myself to a plain, simple statement of what you did under my own eye. So far from attempting, I have avoided highly drawn pictures of gallantry displayed in this action. If I have succeeded in making that statement intelligible, your deeds, more than any expression of admiration on my part of your conduct, are relied on for that justice which has so long been your due. To sum them up in brief, you advanced over three lines of the enemy, two of them in position behind obstructions of felled timber or slashings, and all of them in superior numbers to you. Although checked and borne down by the weight of fire of the third, without falling back, you rose and continued the advance to a successful result, the only instance of the kind that I know of. When after the third conflict your line was broken, it was done by your own eager and wild pursuit of the enemy, after a terrific contest, and after the loss of one-half of your captains. While in the condition of an advancing, wild, yelling mob, an unexpected volley was poured into your right flank, which had only the happy effect of recalling those on that flank to their senses, for they at once became heedful of orders, and with wonderful promptness, presented a solid front to this fresh foe, and held them at bay until the balance formed on them, and in a short time charged and swept him from the field. All this without once falling back to reform your lines, or yielding at any time an inch of the ground gained.

This advance of more than a mile from where you met their first volley, over four lines of the enemy was effected in less than two hours. The extraordinary prowess of the Second Brigade (Anderson's) on this field excited at the time comment in best informed army circles, and was discussed by our trained and experienced regular officers in terms of highest praise and admiration.

Yours was the leading regiment in this famous advance of Anderson's Brigade.

The fight made by the Sixth South Carolina Regiment on this field was, in the opinion expressed by General Anderson himself, after the close of the war, ‘unsurpassed.’ I concur in that opinion. Considering the difficulties encountered, it was the most rapid in achieving results, and the best and most effective, fair, square, open-field fighting that I ever saw. We had nothing to do with the general plan of battle; knew nothing of it, and are not responsible for general results. Our orders gave us our part to do. Never were orders executed more energetically, promptly or thoroughly.

To all who have followed the story, it must be apparent that such work could not have been accomplished without the most energetic courage and devotion to duty on the part of all the officers and men of the regiment. Of course there were variations and grades of skill and courage displayed in the performance of their duty; but I must refrain from special mention of any, where all deserve honor, for, with scarce an exception, the officers, from Lieutenant-Colonel Steadman, down through the field and staff and the line, displayed that high courage which is shown by earnest undivided attention to duty, without regard to the danger attending it. And how can I express my grateful commendation of the brave men whose devotion to duty enabled them, in order and out of order, to meet with prompt and bold alacrity every emergency of their notable advance?

The cost to us of this glorious work is the sad part of the story. We carried into the battle five hundred and twenty-one officers and men. Of these eighty-eight were killed, one hundred and sixty-four wounded and seventeen missing. The missing were killed or wounded, with one exception. A little boy, Josey Powell, fifteen years of age, remained on the field with his brother, who, in the moment of victory, just after the last line that I charged was broken, was mortally wounded by a shell from that battery up the road (D. H. Hill's). The little fellow was captured, and was not wounded. He was permitted by his guard to join me on the road to the hospital, and by the authorities there to remain with me during our captivity.

Our loss in killed and wounded in this action was really two hundred and sixty-eight out of the five hundred and twenty-one officers and men carried into the battle.

Of this large number time will not allow a detailed statement. Among the killed were those noble heroes, Captains Phinney, Lyles, Walker and Gaston. Among the wounded were your Colonel, and those gallant officers, Captain White and Lieutenants McFadden, Wylie, Moore, J. M. Brice and McAlilly.

Twenty years have passed since the war made its last rugged track over these quiet fields, and the actors in its scenes are fast passing away. A few years ago tidings of the death of our own grand old Commander, General Lee, sped from hamlet to hamlet, and a wail swept over the length and breadth of our Southland, which was not without response from the North. But the other day the great champion of the Union, General Grant, laid himself down to die, and passed quietly to his eternal rest. The flags are at half-mast all over this broad land, and the nation mourns.

None knew better the value of his services to his cause than those who contended with him, and none can more heartily sympathize with the veterans of the Army of the Potomac in their tributes of respect to the memory of their greatest chieftain than their old antagonists, the survivors of the ‘Army of Northern Virginia.’

Twenty years of peace have reigned over this field, and we, the survivors of that stalwart band of 1862, a squad of gray-haired men, I may say the mutilated remnant of a noble regiment, have met here under the walls of Richmond, that long sought goal of our opponents, here on the soil of Virginia, that Virginia which took an equally noble part in framing our grand institutions of liberty, and in our effort to maintain them. We revere her for giving us Washington and Jefferson, Madison and Henry. We love her as the mother of Lee and Jackson, Stuart and Hill, and each and every one of us, individually and collectively, hold her ever in grateful admiration for the heroic courage and pure womanly tenderness of her fair daughters. Time, place and circumstance open up the floodgates of memory, and we are engulfed in a maelstrom of reminiscences, and confused, conflicting emotions beyond the power of human language or human art to depict. And yet, on looking back upon it as a whole, this great mass of experiences and recollections, this past of those who engaged in ‘rebellion,’ so-called, because they resisted the exercise of unlawful power by government, containing, as it does, every shade and grade of emotion, from the most radiant and warmest sunshine of hope and success to the blackness of despair and the chill of death, there is above and beneath, in front and rear, and on either flank, completely encircling it, a halo of glory as steady as the light of truth itself. Uncompromising tenacity to principle, and honest straightforward support of it, and reliance on it, in contempt, perhaps, of the cold practical advantages of diplomacy, characterize this past, and constitute the centre around which its wheel of fortune revolved, shedding a glow over its passage alike through sunshine and through storm.

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The following letters are a part of the archives of the Sixth Regiment Survivors' Association. Although I have not General Bratton's consent, they are so intimately connected with the subject of General Bratton's address that I furnish them for publication:

 

James H. Rion, Chairman Executive Committee.

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Camp near Fair Oaks, Va., June 9, 1862.

Colonel Bratton, Sixth South Carolina Volunteers.

 

Sir,—On the evening of May 31, the regiment under your command being one of those opposed to the brigade under command of Colonel J. H. Hobart Ward, Thirty-Eighth New York Volunteers, (to whose command I have the honor to belong), you were, unfortunately for you, severely wounded, and came under my charge.

 

On that occasion you placed in my charge, for safe keeping, your watch, and now, being in a place of safety, I have the honor, through General P. Kearney, commanding this division, to return the same, and with the hope that your wound, though severe, may not prove fatal.

 

I remain, with sincere sympathy, most respectfully your obedient servant,

 

B. Gesner, Assistant Surgeon Thirty Eighth N. Y. V.

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Camp near Fair Oaks, Va., June 10, 1862.

 

Dear sir,—The fortunes of this unnatural war have made you a prisoner, and it was in the hands of one of my regiments (Fourth Maine, Colonel Walker) that you fell. I take the liberty, in courtesy and good feeling, of putting myself, or friends of the North, at your disposal.

 

I forward by a special messenger your sword, belt and watch, together with a letter from the surgeon, Dr. Gesner, who attended you, who is an acquaintance of your family at the South.

 

If, sir, you will permit me the favor, I also place at your call a credit with my bankers, Riggs & Co., Washington, $200, which may serve you until your own arrangements are made.

 

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

 

P. Kearney, Brig.-Gen. Commanding 3d Division, Third Corps.

 

Colonel Bratton, Sixth South Carolina Regiment.

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Camp near Fredericksburg, Va., January 24, 1863.

 

General,—I beg to recommend Colonel John Bratton, commanding the Sixth Regiment, South Carolina troops, for promotion to the rank of Brigadier-General.

 

His superior capacity and constancy in the discharge of his ordinary duties as a Colonel would strongly recommend him for advancement, but he merits it more particularly for gallant conduct in battle.

 

At ‘Seven Pines’ he was one of the leaders in the intrepid and irresistible charge of the Second Brigade, Longstreet's division, which encountered and beat a greatly superior force of the enemy in four successive combats, driving them two miles from their first line of battle.

 

Throughout the whole action he was conspicuous for skill and courage, coolness and good management.

 

At the close of the fourth and last encounter he received a very severe wound through the arm and shoulder.

 

His conduct excited my admiration, and I am happy to perform this rather tardy act of justice.

 

I am, very respectfully,

 

Your most obedient servant,

 

R. H. Anderson, Major-General Provisional Army.

To General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General, Richmond, Va

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