Action at the Deep Cut
(The Second Battle of Manassas)
By Colonel Robert M. Mayo.
(We cheerfully give place to the following sketch as relating important events which came under the personal observation of a gallant officer and reliable gentleman, and as meeting the rule of publication upon which we have acted: Let the history be written, as far as possible, by those who made it.)
It is said that after General Grant had finished reading Sherman's book on the late war, he remarked that before reading that book he had imagined that he had taken some part in the war, but that he had now discovered that he was mistaken. So we of Jackson's corps had supposed that we did a little towards the repulse of the Federals in their attack on our lines on the 30th of August, 1862, at Manassas, and we would still be laboring under that delusion but for the kindly information from General Longstreet, that his artillery did the whole work.
For the sake of some of our Northern brethren whose eyes may fall upon this article, I could well wish that some other than General Longstreet had made this discovery, as, since that gentleman has gotten on the right side in politics, anything that we poor Southerners may say in contradiction of his promulgations is set down at the North as a "Rebel lie." But I propose that what I am going to say in just praise of that most gallant charge of Reno's division, to which General Longstreet's article has done gross injustice, shall be a setoff to any suspicion of a want of "true loyalty" on my part.
It may be considered very presumptuous for one who rose to no higher rank than that of Colonel to contradict the assertions of a Lieutenant General; and I should probably not dare to do so, were it not that I have an ocular proof of what I am going to state in the shape of the scar of a wound on my right hand, which is staring me in the face as I write this, and which was received in retaking our lines which had been broken by Reno's men after they had been "repulsed" by General Longstreet's artillery.
The facts of the case are about as follows:
The lines of Jackson and Longstreet formed a considerably reentrant angle, and the artillery was placed on a hill just between the two corps. The Federals, in advancing to attack Jackson, were exposed for more than half a mile to the fire of this artillery. Jackson's troops were in two lines - - the front occupying the line of the uncompleted railroad, and the second being in a wood about a quarter of a mile or less in rear of the first. My regiment belonged to Field's brigade (of A.P. Hills division), which was just in rear of the Louisiana brigade and the Stonewall brigade. The former was stationed at a very deep cut of the railroad, and the latter just where the cut ran out, and where there was but little protection. The cut was too deep to fight from, and the Louisiana brigade took position beyond it, behind the dirt which had been thrown out and which formed an excellent breastwork.
Reno's men, advancing under the fire of our artillery, fought the Louisianians until the ammunition of the latter was exhausted, and then drove them back into the deep cut, where they were fighting with stones, when relieved by our brigade. The Stonewall brigade, not having the same protection as the Louisiana brigade, was broken and scattered through the woods. It was then that the second line was ordered forward to retake the position. I do not know how much more of our first line was broken, and I am confining myself to what I know of my own personal knowledge and what I saw with my own eyes.
The charge of the Federals on this occasion was not surpassed in gallantry by any that was made during the war -- not even by Pickett at Gettysburg.
To have passed through such a fire of artillery, which almost enfiladed their line, and to have broken the Stonewall brigade, composed of troops equal to Napoleon's Old Guard, was an act of gallantry not to be surpassed by any troops of any army.
As my brigade advanced through the woods to retake the position, the minnie balls were rattling like hail against the trees, and as we debouched into the field through which the railroad cut ran, nothing could be seen between us and the smoke and fire of the enemy's rifles except the tattered battle flag of the Louisiana brigade; the staff of this was stuck in the ground at the edge of the cut, and the brigade was at the bottom of it throwing stones.
About midway between the woods and the cut I received a wound in the hand; but before we reached the cut, the enemy, who had been terribly punished, commenced to retreat, or, I may say, to fly in great disorder.
We were ordered to halt at the cut; but some of the command, among whom was Major Poinsett Tayloe, of my regiment, with a considerable number of the men, did not hear the order, and continued the pursuit for some distance beyond.
As soon as the battle was over I went to the rear to have my wound dressed, and having found the "field hospital," I slept that night with one of the surgeons under a wagon.
The next day Dr. W.A. Spence (our brigade surgeon) and I rode over the whole battlefield together. So thick were the enemy's dead along those portions of the line where they had fought, that I found myself mentally repeating, as I rode along, those lines which Campbell puts into the mouth of Lochiel --
"Though my perishing ranks be strewn in their gore
Like ocean weeds heaped on a surf beaten shore."
They lay peculiarly thick just in front of the railroad cut; in some instances one on the top of another, and up almost to the very edge of the cut. These were all killed by minnie balls.
Especially for the purpose of ascertaining what destruction had been done by our artillery, the Doctor and I rode over the ground which had been commanded by it. Several hundred yards in front of the railroad cut and near a small persimmon tree, we found four bodies which were lying together and had evidently been killed by the same shell. On a hill about three quarters of a mile from our guns we found another body that had been killed by the artillery. These five were all that we could find, and we wondered at the time, and often spoke of it afterwards, how so many men could march such a long distance under the fire of so many guns and yet so few of them be killed.
Our brigade, on the day of this fight, was commanded by Colonel Brockenbrough of the Fortieth Virginia, General Field having been severely wounded on the day before. We had but little difficulty, and lost very few men, in retaking the line, as the enemy had lost very heavily and had become considerably scattered in their fight with the Louisiana and Stonewall brigades.
Robert M. Mayo,
Late Colonel Forty Seventh Virginia Infantry.
Hague, Westmoreland County, Virginia.Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII. Richmond, Virginia, March, 1879. No. 3.
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