Open main menu

Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 31.djvu/36

This page needs to be proofread.

28 Southern Historical Society Papers.

easy musket range, but though they were guarded by a small force it was too large to be dislodged by skirmishers.

It required more than an hour for the entire division to come up and form into line; and it was sunrise before we were ready to ad- vance.

The attacks by the other Confederate columns were either not made, or if made, were unsuccessful, and these troops came to my aid in the neighborhood of Fort Stedman. By the time the sun was above the horizon the enemy had poured forth from their camps in rear, and filled the forts and breastworks of the second line with troops, both infantry and artillery. They sent out a heavy skirmish line which engaged ours and a brisk and angry skirmish fire was kept up until our troops were withdrawn.

Their artillery, too, came into play, and the guns of their forts in the second line and on our right and left concentrated their fire on Fort Stedman, and such a storm of shot and shell as fell into and around the old fort has seldom been seen. We had failed to carry the second line by surprise; it was manned by four times our num- bers, and our task was hopeless. Nothing remained but to withdraw to our breastworks.

General Gordon seemed loth to give up his cherished plans, and waited to communicate with General Lee, and for an hour or two longer we held our captured fort and breastworks.

At last the command came to fall back to our lines, and the troops commenced the retrograde movement, which was a thousand times more hazardous than the advance because it was now in the full blaze of daylight, and the seventy-five yards that lay between Fort Sted- man and our shelter was swept by the direct and cross fire of many pieces of artillery posted in both the first and second lines of the enemy's works.

The enemy's missies seemed to fall on every square yard of ground, and to sweep over the open space like the breath of the simoon.

They screeched and screamed like fiends, plowing up the ground on all sides, exploding with a sound like thunder claps, sending their fragments on errand of death and destruction in every direction.

When the order was given to withdraw, I sent one of my staff out to the skirmish line to tell the officer in charge that we were re- treating and to fall back slowly, skirmishing as he returned.

This order was obeyed too well, for he fell back slowly, fighting stubbornly all the way.