Recollections of Confederate Officers for The News

Today we are pleased to welcome back guest author, Joe Owen. This post concludes Sergeant Val Giles’ newspaper account originally of published in the Galveston Daily News on May 16, 1897. You may read the first part here.

As our brigade stood in line just before Longstreet made his charge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, my attention was attracted by the fine appearance of Colonel Freemantal. He was an officer in the British army, colonel of the Coldstream guards, one of the finest regiments in the service of the queen. He had been sent to the confederacy by his government to take observations. At Gettysburg he was mounted on a dark bay and looked every inch a soldier. He wore an elegant scarlet uniform, with Wellington boots that came above his knees. He set on his horse by the side of General Longstreet, apparently indifferent to the shells that were bursting all around him. In a few moments the order came to forward and ten thousand confederates moved steadily down the hill toward the mountain across the valley. That must have been a grand sight to a spectator, as Colonel Freemantal(*) was supposed to be. While clambering over an old rock fence that extended along the edge of the woods about one hundred yards from the base of the mountain, whom should we see dashing along the line at full speed, cap in hand, shouting to the men to “close up, keep in line,” etc., but the elegant spectator, Colonel Freemantal of her majesty’s royal army! The bellow and roar of three hundred pieces of artillery and a hundred thousand muskets in that awful conflict evidently made him forget his neutral mission, and he sailed in to help the “Johnnies out. In Pollard’s history of the war you will find his account of the battle of Gettysburg, but it reads like it was written by an observer instead of an actual participant in the battle.

General Longstreet sat heavily in his saddle and had but little grace about him, but his power of endurance was wonderful. He could ride all day and all night if duty required it. He – like nearly every other general officer, had his nickname and was known in the army as “Bull of the Woods,” and was just about stubborn as that animal when he thought he was right, and on military matters he was generally correct. The soldiers had confidence in his ability and faith in his judgment, but he was not a man of much personal magnetism, like Lee, Jackson or Hood. I had a personal interview with him since, but it didn’t last long. One cold, drizzling evening we went into camp near Hanover Court House, and as soon as we stacked arms the men scattered in every direction in search of firewood. About three hundred yards from camp I discovered an old rail fence, and as they were dry pine rails, I shouldered about half a dozen of them, all I could wag under, and start back to camp. I had not gone fifty yards before I ran into General Longstreet and staff, or he into me. I don’t know which. Anyway, we met face to face in the piney woods. He checked his horse, gave me the “frozen eye” and sung out in a voice equal the animal he was named after and said, “Throw down these rails, sir. How dare you disobey orders in this manner?

And do it quick.” I again obeyed orders, shouldered the rails and turned back. He spurred his horse into a gallop and he and his staff soon disappeared from my view.

Once, near Culpepper, my brigade was halted on the road to let a brigade of Virginia troops pass to the front. One of the regiments that passed us on that occasion was the Forty-ninth Virginia, commanded by “Old Extra Billy Smith.” He was dressed in a shabby-genteel suit of citizens’ clothes and sported a beegum hat. He was mounted on a plain horse, which corresponded pretty well with the colonel’s rig. If one man that crowed hallooed “come down out of that hat,” five thousand did. The old gentleman lifted his beaver and gracefully bowed to the right and left as he road along, making the men actually ashamed of themselves. After Jim Barker had hallooed himself hoarse he said “anybody that would poke fun at that old man was a d—d fool.” At that time “Extra Billy” must have been 70 years old.

Colonel Little of the Eleventh Georgia regiment was a man that always attracted attention. He was a fine horseman and always well mounted. He commanded the Georgians against my brigade at the great snowball battle fought at Fredericksburg in January, 1863. More than 6000 soldiers participated in that engagement. Colonel Little led his gallant goobers down the hill and was everywhere in the thickest of the fight. He got mixed up with the First Texas regiment and in attempting to ride out of the trouble he had ridden into his horse, stumbled and fell, dumping the colonel off in the “beautiful snow.” The old “ragged First” closed in on him and actually built a monument on him as big as an ordinary hay shock. As soon as the Georgians discovered the enemy erecting a monument over a live goober they rallied to the rescue and there, over and around their commander, occurred the greatest snowball battle ever fought. Poor Little, I have often thought of him since the war and wondered if he is still living. The last time I ever saw him he was lying under a tree on the battlefield of Chickamauga, covered with blood and dust, apparently riddled with bullets. He was about 100 yards from the fly tent, where the surgeons were amputating General Hood’s leg. I heard afterward that four stalwart fellows from his old regiment put him on a litter and stared with him to his old home somewhere down in Georgia.

“Belle Boyd the Spy” was a good rider and always dressed handsomely. I saw her at a grand review near Winchester after the return of the army from the first Maryland campaign. She was mounted on a beautiful chestnut sorrel and rode by the side of John Eston Cooke. She wore a dark green riding habit trimmed with gold lace and buff, with the ensign of her rank embroidered on her collar. On that occasion she presented a picture that Bill Calhoun said was “good for sore eyes.” As the glittering pageantry dashed down the line in all the romp of glorious was the men cheered lustily, banners waved, bands played and cannon boomed.

The night before we reached the pontoon bridge across the Potomac at Falling Water on our retreat from Pennsylvania still lives in the memory of every living soldier who followed Lee back from Gettysburg, all night long the rain came down, sometimes in torrents. All night that long, dark line of silent infantry plodded along through the soft Maryland mud, many times up to their knees in the yellow slush and red clay. Kilpatrick was on the right of us, to the left of us and in the rear of us, but he didn’t “volley and thunder” much, but kept mighty shy. Our orders were to “keep silently and move steadily on.” Just as the gray dawn was breaking through the mist of the morning of July14, 1863, the head of my regiment reached the bridge. I noticed a group of horsemen to the left of the road, and a little in front of them sat General Lee. He had always appeared to me before that morning as a model of neatness, but on that gloomy occasion he looked  pale, haggard and old, spattered with mud from the spurs on his boots to the crown of his last hat, but he sat there on “old Traveler” as knightly as Chevalier Bayard.

There was a look of anxiety on his noble countenance which he could not conceal as he spoke in a low, hurried words to the men as they passed, telling them to “close up and keep on the middle of the bridge.”

There was not a finer silver cornet band in the confederate army than the one attached to the Fourth Texas Regiment, and when the head of the column reached the Virginia side of the river, old Collins, the leader ordered his men to play “Dixie.” I have heard that ground old southern melody applauded in camp, on the battlefield, on the streets of the cities and in theaters, but I have never heard it greeted with anything to equal the cheer that went up on that misty, dreary morning that the Army of Northern Virginia recrossed the Potomac at Falling Water.

The echoes of “Dixie” and the cheers of Longstreet’s weary corps had hardly died away on the bosom of that old historic river before the roar of cannon and the rattle of musketry came rolling up front the Maryland side, resounding over the hills and valleys of two great states. The enemy had attacked the rear guard, and the gallant Pettigrew of North Carolina, who held the post of honor on that memorable morning, gave up his life for a cause that very time was virtually lost, for when the last gun was fired at Gettysburg and the white flag went up at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, the fate of the confederacy was sealed.

Val. C. Giles.

(*) Correct spelling of last name is Freemantle.

This entry was posted in Armies, Battlefields & Historic Places, Campaigns, Civil War Events, Leadership--Confederate, Leadership--Federal, Memory, Newspapers, Primary Sources and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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