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Battle of the Wilderness
Southern Historical Society Papers


In reply to a letter written to Comrade Putnam Stith, now in Florida, I received from him a communication sent me from Fort Meade, Florida, under date of February 9, 1892, in which he says:

          "I was present at the Wilderness fight, and remember that orders to 'charge' were brought by General (then Lieutenant-Colonel) Sorrel, of Longstreet's staff. I remember that our part of the line was ordered to move forward by Sorrel in person. I think he attempted to take our colors out of the hands of Ben. May to carry them himself, but he did not know the stuff that Ben. was made of, one who could carry colors where any other man could. Of course Ben. refused to give up his colors and carried them as gallantly as we were led by Sorrel. The bearing of Sorrel was such as to attract my attention, and I think the attention of every man in the brigade. More conspicuous gallantry on the field I never saw.

          "I claim that we made a brigadier of him that day. His conduct on that field certainly entitled him to the distinction soon afterwards conferred on him by General Lee.

          "In making that charge we got far in advance of the balance of our command. A halt was ordered. Soon afterwards we were fired into by our own men. who, coming up, mistook us for the enemy. I think that was the time when Longstreet was shot. Hugh Smith saved us serious damage by waiving his handkerchief on the point of his sword. I have always thought that, had it not been that Longstreet was shot then by his own men, we would have put the Federals across the river that night and changed the whole of Grant's flank movement, which terminated in the siege of Petersburg.

          "I don't remember that we saw Sorrel after that day, until the evening we marched into Petersburg from across James river. On the march to Petersburg we met people going out of town. Some of them knew that the Federals were at the water-works. Others knew that they were even in town and by that time had full possession. By these accounts we were worked up to a high pitch of excitement. We finally crossed Pocahontas bridge and marched through town, greeting our friends on every side. I, and I reckon most of the command, fully expected to charge the Federals on the heights. In going up Sycamore street, when we reached Marshall, we saw Sorrel riding up Marshall and close to us. He was recognized at once. I believe every man took off his hat simultaneously and cheered, calling out, 'Lead us, Sorrel! Lead us as you did in the Wilderness!' He removed his hat and bowed very low, remarking that nothing would please him more than to lead those men in another charge, but that no fighting was to be done that evening, as we were only going out a short distance to form a line and rest.

          "I have met the general since the war and talked with him about this incident, which he remembered perfectly, and if I am not very much mistaken, he remarked that it was a proud day for him.

          Now, John, I am not a good hand at either writing or talking, but, if I have succeeded in giving you any pleasure by this simple narrative, I am amply repaid for the time and labor it has cost me."

          A letter to Mr. William C. Smith, of Nashville, Tennessee, of Company B, Twelfth Virginia regiment, requesting his recollection of the engagement, brought me a reply under date of February 26th, 1892, from which I take the following extracts:

          "I cannot recall much of the route along which we passed except that we moved in a northeasterly direction, somewhat; nor can I recall the place at which we bivouacked on the night of the 4th. On the night of the 5th, however, we bivouacked near a place called Vidiersville. In the meantime, reports reached us that fighting was going on in that part of Orange county known as the Wilderness, and from the early start taken on the morning of the 6th and the rapidity of the march, it became evident that the Wilderness was our destination.

"After reaching the plank-road, which was about 9 o'clock A. M., we were hurried along to the scene of action. By 10 o'clock or a little after, on the 6th, we were on the ground, but we had no sooner arrived than we filed to the right from the plank-road, moving quite rapidly in a direction apparently at right angles to it, and after going some distance, about a third of a mile I suppose, we formed line o battle very quickly, and at once commenced a forward movement on the enemy. We had not proceeded very far, however, in line of battle, when Colonel Sorrel (afterwards brigadier-general), General Longstreet's assistant adjutant-general, appeared on the scene, and placing himself in front of the right wing of the Twelfth Virginia regiment, with his hat in one hand, and grasping the reins of his horse with the other, he exclaimed, ' Follow me, Virginians! Let me lead you!'

          "The gallantry of this officer on that occasion is as vivid to me now as if it had been but yesterday. I do not remember to have seen during the whole period of the war a finer exhibition of prowess than I witnessed that day in Colonel Sorrel, in the Battle of the Wilderness. During the charge of Mahone's brigade on the 6th, and just a few minutes before it reached the plank-road, the writer received a slight, but very painful wound on the ankle of his right foot, which disabled him for two or three days, and hence cannot speak from personal observation as to what occurred during the remainder of the fight. Soon after reaching the field infirmary, however, which I found about three-fourths of a mile to the rear from where I was wounded, I was informed by a member of my company, who had been brought from the front wounded, that the left of the Twelfth Virginia regiment had become detached from the regiment of the brigade on its left (I think it was the Forty-First Virginia) during the charge, and the Twelfth Virginia was far in advance of the brigade when it was discovered, and that in returning to resume its proper position, the Forty-First Virginia, supposing it to be a part of the enemy, had fired into the Twelfth Virginia, killing and wounding quite a number of its members.

          "I can recall the name of but one only who was killed by this unfortunate mistake, and that was John Mingea, who was a member of my company. A more gallant and faithful soldier, or a more perfect gentleman, was not known in the ranks of the Twelfth Virginia regiment. He was a resident of this city (Nashville, Tennessee), at the commencement of the war, and in company with the writer left this city April 29th, 1861, for the purpose of enlisting in a company in his native State. Together we returned to Petersburg in 1861, and together we went to Norfolk and enlisted May l0th, 1861. He was my personal friend, and in camp one of my constant companions It is not strange, therefore, that his death, and the circumstances attending it, should be so readily recalled while writing my recollections of the Battle of the Wilderness. My recollection is there was very little fighting, if any, after 2 o'clock P. M. of the 6th, on that part of the line in which Mahone's brigade had been engaged before 12 o'clock. I was at the infirmary, not over three-quarters of a mile distant from where I was wounded, and where the brigade had its hottest fire, lying in a tent bathing my foot, which had become very much swollen, and I remember distinctly there was very little firing during the afternoon after 2 o'clock on the right of the plank-road.

"Early the next morning, the 7th, I was informed by Dr. Claiborne that he had orders to move, and that some time during the day we would leave, as the army was moving. Being unable to walk, and being unwilling to be left behind, I sent word to Hugh, my brother, the adjutant of the Twelfth Virginia, to send me his horse, that I wanted to keep up with the army. He complied with my request, and I went along with the brigade to Spotsylvania Courthouse, where I rejoined my company, though my wound was still very painful, and took a part in that engagement.

          "There was one feature of the Battle of the Wilderness that impressed me very much, and that was the meagre use of artillery. The nature of the country thereabouts and the thick undergrowth throughout that section may account for this, no doubt, although the loss of men, especially on the Federal side, was very great. Quite a number of Federals were brought to our infirmary, among them General Wadsworth, who was mortally wounded."

          Comrade Joseph E. Rockwell, sergeant Company A, of the Twelfth Virginia regiment, having had the foregoing correspondence submitted to him, sent me a reply, in which he says:

          "Our movements forward were made with all possible haste, but owing to entangled undergrowth in some places, and the marshy nature of others, our line of battle was not well preserved, as in our impetuosity to get forward many of our extreme right became separated from our main forces in the charge.

          "The enemy were in retreat, and we had the pleasure of seeing their backs for a considerable distance, except at intervals, when the smoke from the burning woods would conceal them from view, as the woods by accident or design had been fired by the enemy, and many of their dead and wounded comrades lying about the fired wood; but we had no time to help them then.

          "Pressing on for a few yards further, for some reason we came to a halt, that is, our part of the command, which I am under the impression was in advance of our colors. Here the retreating enemy came upon their reserves, and we had it quite hot, until many of our comrades were shot down. I was fortunate enough to catch a friendly ball myself, and as no surgeon would take the responsibility of cutting for it, I have carried it from that time to the present with special affection and as a cherished memento of that sanguinary battle. My thoughts then very naturally reverted to our brigade surgeon, Dr. James W. Claiborne, whom I found at his infirmary, about a mile to the rear, and principally occupied in attending the enemy, of which he had a large number, many of them desperately wounded, and among them was General Wadsworth, of New York, who was brought to our infirmary with a minie wound in the forehead, and was placed alone in an officer's tent, which had been put in position for his especial benefit. He died, however, in a few minutes after being placed on his back in this tent.

"Permit me in closing to mention the name of Private Dillon, of Company A, Twelfth Virginia regiment, 'a low private in the rear rank,' when out of action. His conspicuous modesty gave place to conspicuous gallantry while in the field, and his peculiarity being that of crying while fighting, he was crying in earnest and fighting hard when I left the field."


To Comrade E. M. Feild, lieutenant-colonel of the Twelfth Virginia regiment at the Battle of the Wilderness, and subsequently its colonel, I next submitted the foregoing correspondence, and here is his reply:


          "I was present at the Battle of the Wilderness, in command of about one hundred and seventy of the picked men of Mahone's brigade, who had but a short time before been organized by General Mahone into a battalion of sharpshooters, composed of five companies. Soon after the brigade reached the Wilderness, on the morning of the 6th of May, we moved out to the right and south of the plank road, and so extended our line of battle that was then formed in the woods facing east. I then advanced the battalion of sharpshooters as skirmishers about one hundred and fifty yards in front of the brigade.

          "I do not know exactly how long we had been there, when General Mahone, riding up, informed me that an attack was about to be made on the flank and front of the enemy's lines on the south side of the plank-road; that General Longstreet had sent two brigades through an old railroad cut to attack the enemy on his (the enemy's) left flank, and that with his (Mahone's) brigade he would attack in front. He directed me to move forward slowly and gently with my sharpshooters until I heard the cheers of the flanking brigade, when I was to advance quickly to the front and attack.

          "Ordering the men forward, we moved very slowly to the front for some distance, when, hearing a tremendous ' rebel yell' on our right, we pushed forward as rapidly as the thick undergrowth would allow, but did not go very far, when, coming to a slight opening about forty yards wide and seventy long, which looked as if it were the site of an old pond, I saw the enemy's line of battle on the opposite or eastern side of this opening, moving to their right in column of fours at a double quick. Seeing this, I gave the order to the sharpshooters to commence firing, which order was repeated in a loud tone by all of the commissioned and non commissioned officers of the battalion, which I saw attracted the attention of the enemy. I saw four men just at this time step out of line and prepare to fire, and thinking it the part of a good skirmisher to seek protection when possible, and seeing a dead tree about the size of my body about three feet from me, I stepped quickly behind it, but not in time to escape a bullet which passed through my clothes, grazing my spine slightly, giving me great pain at the time and causing paralysis of my lower limbs that evening, so that I could scarcely use them. I came near leaving the field, thinking that I had been shot through, but was obliged to smile after finding the extent of my injury, and thought how I, who had been selected to command the picked men of Mahone's brigade, would have been laughed at had I left the field for so slight an injury. A sergeant of the Sixty-First regiment, just as I was struck, fell at my feet, shot through the brain.

          "The enemy's line at this place was somewhat broken by our fire, but a much larger number than composed my force of sharpshooters halted and returned our fire. While this was going on I could hear our brigade behind us advancing, and judging from the sound made by the canteens of the men striking against the bushes that the brigade was in easy supporting distance of us, I gave the order to the sharpshooters to charge, which order being repeated by all the officers of my command, was, I thought, mistaken by the brigade for an order for them to charge, as they immediately came forward very rapidly.

          "I had gotten nearly across the opening, above referred to, when our brigade reached it, and as the men in our rear opened fire on the enemy before us without regard of the sharpshooters being in their front, I quickly withdrew to the rear with my men, and in that position went forward with the brigade until we reached the plank-road. Before we moved forward, and whilst we were about this opening, I was particularly struck by the coolness and gallantry of General Mahone. Our brigade had about reached the point at which we first saw the enemy, as above described, and a considerable number of the enemy being gathered in knots at short range (about seventy-five yards distant) on our left flank and firing into it, this caused the left of the Sixth Virginia regiment to double back until it had gotten to be twenty-five or thirty ranks deep. At this time General Mahone dashed up on his horse and in a clear shrill voice, which could be heard above the rattle of the muskets, asked, ' What regiment is this in this confusion?' Being answered that it was the Sixth Virginia, he exclaimed, 'The Sixth Virginia regiment of my brigade--that splendidly drilled regiment--in this condition?' It is needless to tell that the men were in their places as quickly as possible, and promptly moved forward.

          "The brigade having swung around to the left, we soon had the entire force of the enemy on the south of the plank-road routed, leaving in our hands a large number of dead and wounded, among the latter General Wadsworth, whom I remember seeing lying on the ground as we passed along. I reached the plank-road with the Sixth regiment, where we halted and commenced to reform on the south side of the road. I saw coming down the plank-road from the west General Longstreet and staff, followed at some little distance by a column of men, which extended as far as I could see, and was moving at a double quick. General Longstreet, when about one hundred yards to our left, left the plank-road with his staff and others, moving diagonally into the woods on the north of the road in our front. He had with him a large and beautiful headquarter flag (which was something new in the army). I was now on the extreme left of the brigade, ordering the sharpshooters to assemble on the left, when I heard someone say, 'Look out, boys, they are coming back! There they come! There they come!' General Mahone was at this time to my right, saying to the men, all of whom as well as General Mahone, thought those in the immediate front were the enemy advancing, 'Steady, men, steady! Get in your places! Get in your places!' Suddenly one or two of the regiments to my right opened fire. This firing soon ceased, as the men found out they were firing upon their friends, but not until they had killed General Jenkins, mortally wounded Ben. White, (*) of the Twelfth Virginia, and wounded General Longstreet and others severely.

          "So much time elapsed after the wounding of Longstreet and before General Anderson assumed command, the enemy had time to re-form their ranks, and we being largely outnumbered, it became necessary for us to fall back to about the position occupied by our line before making the attack. When I was sitting on a log that evening, General Mahone came up, and taking a seat by me, said, 'Colonel Feild, it was very unfortunate for our cause that Longstreet was wounded. Had this not occurred, we would have driven Grant across the river before night in spite of all he could have done. We had two miles of his left thoroughly routed, and this part of the line driven back on the other troops would have demoralized his whole army.'

          "I had almost forgotten to say I was surprised when I learned that the Twelfth Virginia had crossed the plank-road, and that it was on this regiment that a portion of the brigade fired. When the firing was going on I thought that the Twelfth was in its position on the right of the brigade.

          "We had no further fighting that evening. I was left in charge of the sharpshooters in front of the brigade during the night, which I consider one of the most unpleasant of my life. The woods were on fire, and the cries of the wounded made the night hideous. General Anderson being assigned to the command of Longstreet's corps, General Mahone was placed in command of his division, and Colonel D. A. Weisiger, of the Twelfth regiment, assumed command of Mahone's brigade. This left my regiment, the Twelfth, of which I was lieutenant colonel, without a field officer. I, thinking it but right that I should return to it, so stated to General Mahone, who agreed with me, and I accordingly took command of the regiment the next morning. I must state, however, that it was great reluctance that I gave up the command of the sharpshooters, the finest body of men that I had ever seen, the picked men of Mahone's brigade."

          In order that there may be a better understanding of the plan of that part of the great battle in which our brigade and regiment took part, as narrated in the foregoing letters and statements, I have deemed it best to conclude this address by making some extracts from the official records to be found in Volume xxxvi, part 1, series I of "The War of the Rebellion," and from Swinton's Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac."

General Longstreet, in his report (Rebellion Record, Volume xxxvi, part 1, page 1054), says:

          "About 10 o'clock Major-General M. L. Smith and the others sent out to examine the enemy's position reported that the left of the enemy's line extended but a short distance beyond the plank-road. Special directions were given to Lieutenant Colonel Sorrel to conduct the brigades of Generals Mahone, G. T. Anderson, and Wofford beyond the enemy's left, and to attack him on his left and rear (I have since heard that the brigade of General Davis formed a part of this flanking force), the flank movement to be followed by a general advance, Anderson's brigade on the right and Wofford's on the left, Mahone being in the centre. They moved by the flank until the unfinished railroad from Gordonsville to Fredericksburg was reached. Forming on this railroad, facing to the north, they advanced in the direction of the plank-road till they encountered the enemy in flank and rear, who was then engaging the brigades of Gregg, Benning, and Law in front. The movement was a complete surprise and a perfect success. It was executed with rare zeal and intelligence. The enemy made but a short stand, and fell back in utter rout, with heavy loss, to a position about three-quarters of a mile from my front attack.

          "I immediately made arrangements to follow up the success gained, and ordered an advance of all my troops for that purpose. While riding at the head of my column, moving by the flank down the plank-road, I became opposite the brigades which had made the flank movement, and which were drawn up parallel to the plank-road and about sixty yards therefrom, when a portion of them fired a volley, which resulted in the death of General Jenkins and the wounding of myself. I immediately notified the commanding general of my being obliged to quit the field, and the command devolved on Major-General Field.

          "To the members of my staff I am under great obligations for their valuable services. They conducted themselves with their usual distinguished gallantry. Much of the success of the movement on the enemy's flank is due to the very skillful manner in which the move was conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Sorrel."


          General Joseph B. Kershaw, in his report (Rebellion Record, Volume xxxvi, part I, page 1061), says:

          "The lines being rectified, and Field's division and Wofford's brigade, of my own, having arrived, upon the suggestion of Brigadier-General Wofford a movement was organized, under the orders of the lieutenant-general commanding, to attack the enemy in flank from the line of the Orange railroad, on our right, with the brigades of General Anderson of Field's division, and Brigadier. General Wofford's, of my own, supported by Mahone's brigade, while we continued to hold the enemy in front, who was at intervals bearing down upon our lines, but always without any success. This movement, concealed from view by the dense woods, was eminently successful, and the enemy was routed and driven pell-mell as far as the Brock road, and pursued by General Wofford to some distance across the plank-road, where he halted within a few hundred yards of the Germanna road. Returning with General Wofford up the plank-road, and learning the condition of things in front, we met the lieutenant-general commanding coming to the front almost within musket-range of the Brock road. Exchanging hasty congratulations upon the success of the morning, the lieutenant-general rapidly planned and directed an attack to be made by Brigadier-General Jenkins and myself upon the position of the enemy upon the Brock road before he could recover from his disaster. The order to me was to break their line and push all to the right of the road toward Fredericksburg. Jenkins' brigade was put in motion by a flank in the plank-road, my division in the woods to the right. I rode with General Jenkins at the head of his command, arranging with him the details of our combined attack. We had not advanced as far as the position still held by Wofford's brigade, when two or three shots were fired on the left of the road, and some stragglers came running in from that direction, and immediately a volley was poured into the head of our column from the woods on our right, occupied by Mahone's brigade. By this volley General Longstreet was prostrated by a fearful wound; Brigadier General Jenkins, Captain Alfred E. Doby, my aid-de-camp, and Orderly Marcus Baum were instantly killed.

          "As an instance of the promptness and ready presence of mind of our troops, I will mention that the leading files of Jenkins' brigade on this occasion instantly faced the firing and were about to return it; but when I dashed my horse into their ranks, crying, 'They are friends!' they as instantaneously realized the position of things and fell on their faces where they stood. This fatal casualty arrested the projected movement. The commanding general soon came in person to the front and ordered me to take position with my right resting on the Orange railroad. Though an advance was made later in the day, my troops became no more engaged, except General Wofford, who moved against the enemy in the afternoon on the left of the plank-road, and met with some success in that quarter and suffered some loss."


General William Mahone, in his report (Rebellion Record, Part I, page 1090), says:


          "The next day (May 6th) we were with our troops on the plank-road, and where the fight was already earnestly progressing at an early hour. We were at once assigned a position in support of a part of the line of Lieutenant-General Longstreet's front, but very soon after we were ordered to join and co-operate with Anderson's and Wofford's brigades, of that corps, in an attack upon the enemy's flank. As the senior brigadier, I was, by Lieutenant-General Longstreet, charged with the immediate direction of this movement. Wofford and Anderson were already in motion, and in a few minutes the line of attack had been formed, and the three brigades, in imposing order and with a step that meant to conquer, were now rapidly descending upon the enemy's left. The movement was a success--complete as it was brilliant. The enemy were swept from our front on the plank-road, where his advantages of position had already been felt by our line, and from which the necessity for his dislodgment had become a matter of much interest. Besides this valuable result, the plank-road had been gained and the enemy's lines bent back in much disorder; the way was opened for greater fruits. His long lines of dead and wounded which lay in the wake of our swoop furnished evidence that he was not allowed time to change front, as well as the execution of our fire. Among his wounded, Brigadier-General Wadsworth, commanding a division, fell into our hands.

          "Lieutenant-Colonel G. M. Sorrel, of General Longstreet's staff, who was with me in conducting this movement, and Captain Robertson Taylor, (*) Assistant Adjutant-General of Mahone's brigade, who was wounded in the fight, specially deserve my earnest commendation for efficiency and conspicuous gallantry on this occasion.

          "The casualties of the brigade were as follows: Officers, one killed and three wounded; men, nineteen killed, one hundred and twenty-three wounded, seven missing; total, twenty killed, one hundred and twenty-six wounded, seven missing."


          The historian Swinton, in his work above mentioned, at page 433, says:


          "The contest that signalized Longstreet's arrival on Hancock's front, and restored the integrity of the shattered Confederate right, now died away; and for some hours--up to nearly noon--there was a lull. During this time Longstreet's troops continued to arrive, and when at length his line had acquired breadth and weight by the incoming force, it was advanced, and Hancock's troops, which had first halted, now began to feel a heavy pressure. The attack first fell on the left of the advanced line, held by the brigade of Frank. This force Longstreet's troops fairly overran, and brushing it away, they struck the left of Mott's division, which was in turn swept back in confusion; and though Hancock endeavored, by swinging back his left, and forming line along the plank-road, to secure the advanced position still held by his right, it was found impossible to do so, and he had to content himself with rallying and re-forming the troops on the original line, along the Brock road, from which they had advanced in the morning. Wadsworth, on the right of Hancock, opposed the most heroic efforts to the onset of the enemy; but after several ineffectual charges, his troops broke into the retreat, and while striving to rally them, that patriotic and high-souled gentleman and brave soldier received a bullet in his head, and died within the enemy's lines the following day.

          "But in the very fury and tempest of the Confederate onset the advance was of a sudden stayed by a cause at the moment unknown. This afterwards proved to have been the fall of the head of this attack.

          "Longstreet had made his dispositions for a decisive blow; for while advancing one force in front, he sent another to move around Hancock's left, and lay hold of the Brock road. At the time the Union troops were giving ground, and the Confederates were pushing on, that officer, with his staff, rode forward in front of the column, when suddenly confronting a portion of his own flanking force, the cavalcade was mistaken for a party of Union horsemen, and received a volley, under which Longstreet fell, severely wounded." In a foot note to the last paragraph Mr. Swinton says:

          "General Longstreet stated to the writer that he saw they were his own men, but in vain shouted to them to cease firing. He also expressed, with great emphasis, his opinion of the decisive blow he would have inflicted had he not been wounded. 'I thought,' said he, 'that we had another Bull Run on you, for I had made my dispositions to seize the Brock road.' But on my pointing out that Hancock's left had not advanced, but remained on the original line, covering that road, he admitted that that altered the complexion of affairs."

          Before concluding this address it is due to General Mahone, and to the officers and men of his brigade, by whose fire General Longstreet was struck down at the critical moment of the Battle of the Wilderness, as has been narrated in the foregoing accounts of the engagement, to say that no blame attaches to him or to them for the unfortunate accident, which no ordinary forethought, it seems, could well have avoided, but which must rather be considered one of those mysterious interpositions by the Almighty in the affairs of men deemed necessary to shape for His own purposes the course of human events. The brigade--men and officers--won laurels in this action; and it has afforded me much pleasure to contribute what has been read this evening towards the history of its famous career, and in so doing to record specially the splendid conduct of the gallant Sorrel and no less gallant May, the ensign of the Twelfth Virginia.




          Since the foregoing address was delivered, several letters and statements from participants have been received. From these it has been deemed proper to make some extracts, under the belief that they will throw light upon and add interest to what has been already said:

          Colonel (now General) V. D. Groner, of Norfolk, Virginia, who, as colonel of the Sixty-First Virginia regiment, commanded that regiment at the Battle of the Wilderness, in his letter dated March 5, 1892, says:

"The Twelfth was on the right, the Forty-First next; then came in order the Sixty-First, Sixteenth and Sixth regiments. We moved in this direction at right angles with the road some little distance, and then wheeled to the left, the Twelfth being on the extreme right, Forty. First next, in echelon, and then the Sixty-First, Sixteenth and Sixth. Mahone, I think, had been given another brigade, but what it was I do not remember. In front of the Sixth and Sixteenth we met General Wadsworth's command. There was considerable fighting on the left of the Sixty-First, but Wadsworth being mortally wounded and a large number of his command captured or killed, our entire front was soon cleared of the enemy.

          "I discovered on the report Lieutenant Colonel Minetree, (*) in command of the Forty-First, that the Twelfth had been lost. I halted the brigade, reported to Mahone, and went forward myself, to see if I could find where the Twelfth was. We had halted only about sixty or seventy yards from the road, but there was a dense woods in front of us and a great deal of fire and smoke. In fact, I do not think I have ever seen a battle-field where there was more destruction to life and more horrors than that of the Wilderness."

          Captain John R. Patterson, who, as first lieutenant of Company E, Twelfth Virginia regiment, commanded that company in the action, in a statement furnished by him, says:

          "I distinctly remember seeing Colonel Sorrel attempt to take the flag from the gallant Ben. May. This occurred when we near the plank-road. Before we reached the plank-road I recollect looking down the line to my left, and seeing Sergeant George J. Morrison, of Company A, one of the best soldiers in the regiment, throw down his gun and start to the rear. Although we were then driving the enemy, the thought flashed through my mind that, if such a man as George Morrison was going to the rear, the bottom of the fight must be out on that part of the line; but as we advanced, swinging around to the left, I learned that he had been shot through the body.

          "Just before I saw George Morrison, as above narrated, I remember hearing General Mahone, who at the time was riding immediately in rear of our part of the line, about ten feet from where I was, whilst we were pressing forward under heavy fire, say in his accustomed calm and imperturbable tone, 'Steady in the Twelfth!'

"Our regiment crossed the plank-road, and I remember seeing numbers of the enemy in utter confusion and route running through the woods. In a little opening about twenty yards in our front, a single man appeared, when one of our boys next to me raised his gun to shoot him, when I said, 'Don't shoot! We will catch him.' Just then the Federal soldier dodged behind a tree, and as we approached jumped out and started to run again. I then said to the man whom I had just before prevented from firing, 'Let him have it!' At the crack of the gun the retreating Federal fell dead. This was on the north side of the plank-road.

          "The regiment was now halted, and we were ordered to return to the balance of the brigade. As we came back over the ground over which the enemy had just been driven, the other regiments of the brigade naturally supposed we were the enemy and fired into us. As soon as this fire opened, knowing what it was, I fell flat on the ground in the plank-road. Some one exclaimed, 'Show your colors!' I shall never forget what I consider one of the bravest acts I ever witnessed. The color-bearer stepped out on the plank-road and calmly waived his colors over his head, although a line of our own men, not more than fifty yards--indeed, not that far--in his front, were at the time pouring a deadly fire into us, which resulted in killing and wounding some of the best men in our regiment."


Judge D. M. Bernard, of Petersburg, of Company E, Twelfth Virginia regiment, furnishes the following statement:


          "I have read with pleasure the correspondence and statements relating to the Battle of the Wilderness, you have handed me for perusal.

          "I was a member of the corps of sharpshooters of Mahone's brigade, commanded by Colonel Feild at the Battle of the Wilderness, and remember well that we passed through marsh, swamp and burning woods. I was struck with the coolness and soldiery bearing of Colonel Feild, and with the dash and gallantry of a mounted staff-officer, who, I believe, was Colonel Sorrel. Whilst we were advancing through the woods, I picked up a fine pair of officer's gloves, which I immediately handed to this staff officer, who was at the time riding near me. Receiving the gloves with a smile he thanked me for them, saying, ' They are the very things I need.'

          "I was not an eye-witness of the May-Sorrel flag incident, but remember hearing of it about the time of its occurrence. So gallant an act was to be expected of Ben. May, as all who knew him can testify. I well remember, too, and can never forget, how, not many days after this battle, when he had received his mortal wound at Spotsylvania Courthouse, my heart was melted while shaking, in our last good-bye, the poor fellows hand, hot with the fever that I knew must and which did in a few hours burn out his noble life."


To the foregoing the following letter from Major Andrew Dunn, of Petersburg, may be added:

PETERSBURG, VA., July 1, 1892.



"DEAR SIR--You have requested me to give you my recollection of the wounding of General Longstreet in the Battle of the Wilderness. As a member of his staff--I was one of his aide-de-camp, I was within a few feet of him at the time he was wounded. We were on our horses on the plank-road. A few minutes previously I had suggested to him that he was exposing himself very much, I thought. That is our business, was his reply, which silenced me. When the volley, a shot from which wounded him, was fired, he fell from his horse heavily to the ground, and I thought he had been killed. I went immediately to him and found him breathing. Drs. J. S. Dorsey Cullen and Randolph Barksdale, of his medical staff, were immediately sent for and took him to the rear.


"Your comrade,


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