|View single post by HankC|
|Posted: Fri Jan 26th, 2007 03:40 pm||
Difficult to beat Freeman's books on Lee and his Lieutenants for readability, detail and , yes, drama. They can be read in vignettes or toto. Here's a Wilderness snippet from one page of "Lee", Vol.3 detailing the confusion, exhaustion, fear and exhilaration of battle...
" At 3:30 A.M., however, Wilcox became alarmed over the non-arrival of the expected reinforcements. He sent a summons to the rear for all the corps pioneers to come forward and entrench. Before they could reach the front, day had broken, and by the time they had started felling timber, they were visible to the enemy and were quickly driven from their work. Sunrise found the men of the Third Corps still scattered through the Wilderness, with little semblance of a line and with no cover except that afforded by the young trees. At 5 o'clock, almost with the sun, the Federal infantry opened fire at close range and soon was attacking hotly in front and on both flanks. The Confederates made such resistance as they could — here good and there feeble — and contrived for perhaps half an hour to retard the enemy. To their calls for assistance, Lee sent back an urgent appeal that they hold on until Longstreet was at hand. Soon stragglers began to leave the front; their number multiplied; presently Wilcox's line began to give ground; then it went to pieces, except directly on the road, and men came pouring to the westward. Some were running. Others walked swiftly to the rear with never a look at the enemy. A few loaded and halted and fired and moved on. It was a sudden crisis of a sort the army had never known except at Sharpsburg. The minds of the weary men were in flux. In a minute they might be in a mad panic.
One glance showed Lee that the fate of the day and the control of the army were in the balance. Swiftly he ordered Taylor to gallop to Parker's Store and to prepare the wagon train for instant retreat in case the corps could not be halted. Then out into the road he hurried to help rally the retreating soldiers. He found himself in the midst of McGowan's South Carolinians who so often had proved their valor.
"My God, General McGowan," he cried in a loud voice to their commander, "is this the splendid brigade of yours running like a flock of geese?"
"General," answered McGowan, "these men are not whipped. They only want a place to form, and they will fight as well as they ever did."
Still Wilcox's men were rushing down the road and across the fields. A little more and the whole divisional front would be bare. The enemy would sweep on — and what was there to stop him? Only the hope that Longstreet would come up at that moment! If the old luck of the Army of Northern Virginia held, and reinforcements arrived before actual rout began, all would be well. But if Longstreet were delayed much longer, then . . . here was General Wilcox telling of the break and asking for orders.
"Longstreet must be here," Lee told him, his voice anxious, and the strain showing plainly now in his face, "go bring him up!"
Wilcox turned and made off. Lee rode back into Mrs. Tapp's field. There were still some Confederates east of the house, though the number was small — wounded men mostly. Should the artillery wait until these troops passed, or should it open now and try to keep off the Federals who were gathering thickly, there where vision ended in that maze of green boughs and blue coats? Not one minute longer, said Hill, could the artillery delay! If it did, the guns would all be captured.
Open, then, Colonel Poague, with your valiant old batteries — give them canister! Poague's guns were already loaded; the command rang out; twelve belching pieces filled the woods with fire. Another round, and then another, Colonel Poague, if there's time; the enemy is still 200 yards away.
Around Lee the choking smoke and the excited cannoneers; behind him a wild scene of confusion, officers shouting and waving their sabres, soldiers numbed with exhaustion or with fear, scarcely conscious of the orders given them. A long, agonizing minute of this, and then, through the smoke, twenty or more ragged soldiers running with their muskets in their hands — not to the rear but into the space where Poague's guns were still vomiting grape.
"Who are you, my boys?" Lee cried out as he saw them gathering.
"Texas boys," they yelled, their number multiplying every second.
The Texans — Hood's Texans, of Longstreet's corps, just at the right place and at the right moment! After the strain of the dawn, the sight of these Grenadier Guards of the South was too much for Lee. For once the dignity of the commanding general was shattered; for once his poise was shaken.
"Hurrah for Texas," he shouted, waving his hat; "Hurrah for Texas."
In rising excitement, he yelled to them to form line of battle at once. As the willing veterans sprang into position, a brigade of them now, he rode to the left of the line. He would lead them in the countercharge. The line started forward. He spurred frantic Traveller through an opening in the gun pits, and was on the heels of the infantry men.
Then, for the first time they realized what he intended to do. "Go back, General Lee, go back!" they cried. He paid no heed to them. They began to slacken their pace: "We won't go on unless you go back!" He did not hear them. His face was aflame and his eyes were on the enemy in the front. General Gregg tried to head him off; a tall sergeant seized his bridle rein; nothing stopped him until Colonel Venable arrived. Longstreet was at hand, Venable shouted into the General's ear; had he not better turn aside and give Longstreet his orders? For a moment there was a hard conflict between the impulse of the warrior and the commander's sense of responsibility. Then, like a man coming out of a trance, Lee slowly pulled back his horse, his glare still to the front; he waved his hat to the onrushing Texans and went back to Longstreet — to be told bluntly that he should go farther behind the lines."