Recollections of Confederate Officers for The News

Today we are pleased to welcome back guest author, Joe Owen. Joe has provided an account from Sergeant Val Giles of the 4th Texas Infantry. It was originally published in The Galveston Daily News on May 16, 1897.

Although I belonged in the infantry I was always a great admirer of horsemanship, and was a pretty close observer of the cavalry branch of the service, especially the general officers who served in the army of northern Virginia.

I thought during the war that the three Texas regiments that went to Virginia ought to have been mounted. Out of the 5000 men who belonged to these three regiments from the beginning to the end, there were not 50 who were not accustomed to horseback riding at home. For a long time we had good reasons to believe that we would be mounted.

President Davis favored it, but after the battle of Gaines’ Mill all hope in that direction vanished.

Lee, Jackson and even Hood who was colonel of my regiment – the Fourth Texas – when the war began, opposed it. He had been made a major general, and knew he would lose the Texas brigade from his division if we were transferred to the cavalry. He came boldly out and gave that as his reason why he disapproved of the change. Lee and Jackson contended that the infantry was the main branch of the service, and flattered us into the belief that we were the finest brigade of “webb-feet” in the army. The reputation of the old brigade made at West Point, Seven Pines and Gaines’ Mill sealed the fate of the Texans, so we tramped through the war as “foot cavalry.” I still remember how many general officers appeared to me, who followed the fortunes of Lee and the confederacy. Everybody who ever saw General Lee on horseback admired him. He rode well, and apparently with ease.

General Joseph E. Johnston was of medium size and a graceful rider, always dressed with great neatness and with his gray, well-fitting coat buttoned up to his chin, and with his black Kossuth titled a little to one side. He was my live ideal of a knight of the olden times.

General Jeb Stuart was not a graceful horseman, but a good one. He was a little too heavy, but he was always mounted on a strong horse, never tired and was always jolly. General Hood was rather tall to appear well on horseback. He was an old cavalry officer, and had ridden hundreds of miles on the frontier of Texas while a lieutenant in the old army. General Johnston evacuated the peninsular, the privates and non-commissioned officers of the Fourth regiment presented him with a “war horse.” Sergeant J. M. Bookman of company G made the presentation speech at dress parade on the evening of April 26, 1862. I have a copy of poor Jim’s address on that occasion, and it is a “towering piece of eloquence.” That horse was a blood bay, with long mane and tail, as pretty as a picture but utterly useless as a cavalry horse.

Hood disliked to ride a large horse, preferring one of medium size. His favorite horse was a short, chunky little roan, about 15 hands high.

On both occasions when he was wounded, at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, he was mounted on his high spirited little roan.

Stonewall Jackson was the worst rider in Lee’s army and the best soldier in it.

General Pickett was a fine horseman and a very handsome man.

President Davis reviewed the army occasionally. He rode along the line with the general officers, and as Bill Calhoun used to say, “on a borrowed horse.” He looked stiff and sat too straight in his saddle to look well. He was usually dressed in black broadcloth, having the appearance of a southern gentleman of antebellum times.

I never say General Roger A. Pryor but once, and that was only for a moment. I was on picket one evening down near Suffolk when he came dashing by, mounted on a black charger. He sat in his saddle as straight as an arrow, was dressed in a dark gray suit with a red sash tied around his wrist. He was going through the pine woods with the rapidity of a Mazeppa and looked to me more like a Virginia fox hunter than a confederate brigadier general.

General Benning (Old Rock) of Georgia was a careless man about his personal appearance and always rode the gentlest old plug he could find. He was an old man and cared little for tactics or style, but he was grit to the backbone. At the battle of Chickamauga, about the time General Hood was shot from his roan, we were getting the worst of it by a very large majority. Companies, regiments and even brigades were wavering and giving way. My brigade was trying to hold our position along the road at the edge of the old field where General Hood fell. During this confusion a squad of about twenty-five men, under the command of a lieutenant, came out of the field at a double quick. They carried their battle flag with them and stuck close together. The young officer succeeded in checking them in the old road, but only for a moment. “Old Rock” came dashing through the woods, mounted on an artillery horse with a blind bridle, collar and harness still on him. His horse had been shot from under him, so he had secured this one from a disabled battery. As soon as he saw the group of men huddled in the road he recognized them by their flag, and sung out to the lieutenant who was gallantly trying to form the men in line saying:

“Lieutenant, is that the old Seventeenth?”

“Yes, general, all that’s left of them,” replied the officer.

Just at that moment a Yankee battery turned loose a wagonload of grape shot and canister, and fence rails, saplings, limbs and trees went down before that awful discharge, and not only the fragment of the “Old Seventeenth” but half of my regiment began to fall back.

“Old Rock” spurred the artillery charger into a gallop, dashed among the men and shouted: “Damn you! Hold on a minute! If you are going back to Georgia I’ll go with you!”

At one time before the war this grand old man had sat at the supreme bench of his state. If my memory serves me correctly he had a son killed in the same battle. The old hero has been dead many years.

4 Responses to Recollections of Confederate Officers for The News

  1. Sgt Giles writing reminds of John Thomason, a fellow horse-riding Texas. Relevant to this posting, Thomason spent as much time writing about the individual horses men rode, and how they rode, just as Sgt. Giles did.

    For those who are unfamiliar with John Thomason, he was a Marine and a Texan – not sure which came first! He was also a fine pen and ink illustrator and his biography of Jeb Stuart and his novel about a fighting preacher in Hood’s Texas Brigade are both outstanding.

    Thomason’s work on Stuart is as good a biography as Emory Thomas wrote, and in many ways better — when Thomason wrote the Virginia back woods were not much different than they had been eighty years before.

    Thomason used pen and ink for his sketches and they jump off the page at you. By all means beg borrow or steal a copy of _A Thomason Sketchbook_.

    _Jeb Stuart_ is dedicated to “The Memory of My Grandfather, Major Thomas Jewett Goree, 1837-1905, Confederate States Army, 1861-1865. This from a Captain of United States Marines.” Mark Switzer, the last sergeant major of the Fifth Texas, was an uncle and a host of Thomason’s relatives had served in Hood’s Texas Brigade.

    Thomason wrote _Lone Star Preacher Being a Chronicle of the Acts of Praxiteles Swan, M.E. Church South, sometime Captain, 5th Regiment Confederate States Provisional Army_ (1945). _Lone Star Preacher_ was a collection of short stories originally published in the _Saturday Evening Post_, basically a fictional history of the Texas Brigade, through the eyes of their unconventional chaplain.

    It was as a vetern of the Old Breed that Thomason brought to his Civil War writings – he had surely seen the elephant. Sadly Thomason was also an alcoholic and he died in the Naval Hospital in San Diego in 1944. However, Admirals King and Nimitz saw to it that a new destroyer was named for this fine Marine.

    “They tell the story of an American lady of notable good works, much esteemed by the French, who, at the end of June, 1918, visited one of the field-hospitals behind Degouette’s Sixth French Army. Degouette was fighting in the face of the Marne Salient, and the 2d American Division, then in action around the Bois de Belleau, northwest of Château-Thierry, was under his orders. It happened that occasional casualties of the Marine Brigade of the 2d American Division, wounded toward the flank where Degouette’s own horizon-blue infantry joined us, were picked up by French stretcher-bearers and evacuated to French hospitals. And this lady, looking down a long, crowded ward, saw on a pillow a face unlike the fiercely whiskered Gallic heads there displayed in rows. She went to it.
    “‘Oh,’ she said, ‘surely you’re an American!’”
    “‘No, ma’am,’ the casualty answered, ‘I’m a Marine.’

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