Leaving the Ground Strewn in Red: The 18th Georgia at Second Manassas

The 18th Georgia, serving in the famous Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia, captured two stands of Federal colors during its two days of action of the Second Battle of Bull Run. The Georgians captured their first set of colors, belonging to the 24th New York of Hatch’s Brigade, during a furious hand-to-hand fight on the evening of August 29, 1862, an incident “scarcely heard of” but was “ certainly one of the most daring and brilliant of the series of fights which resulted in the great victory for our arms on the 30th,” a veteran of the 18th later wrote.

“At the distance of three-quarters of a mile they came upon a brigade of the enemy posted in a ravine in an open field. The night was so dark that they were not discovered until they opened fire which they did at a distance of about ten paces. The Texans returned it with fine effect and with a yell they closed upon them with the bayonet. How shall I describe the scene which followed? A hand-to-hand conflict is awful enough in the daytime, but amid pitch darkness it is absolutely diabolical. Bayonets, butts of muskets, and even fists were used freely. The yells of the victors, the shrieks of the wounded, and the groans of the dying together with the rattle and flash of musketry in the darkness and the unusual confusion of men running to and fro made up a scene which beggars all description,” he wrote.

On the second day of the battle, the 18th Georgia helped spearhead Longstreet’s assault and captured the colors of the 10th New York, part of General Gouverneur K. Warren’s brigade. Three weeks after Second Bull Run, an unknown soldier of the 18th Georgia writing under the nom-de-plume of “Potomac” penned a superb account of the 18th Georgia’s role in at Second Manassas for the Atlanta Southern Confederacy newspaper which first saw publication on page two of the October 11th, 1862, edition. 

Sergeant Richard T. Gilbert of Co. D of the 18th Georgia lost his right leg July 2, 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. He was exchanged November 12, 1863. 

Camp near Martinsburg, Virginia

September 23, 1862

 

          The summer campaign of the army may now be regarded as at an end and a more active one can scarcely be found in the history of wears. The army which in the early spring lay besieged around the city of Richmond now encamps upon the banks of the Potomac, having seen the last remnant of an invading army across the river and Virginia is once more free from the hostile tread of the foe.

          For the last month there has been scarcely any communication between the army and their friends at home, so for the relief of those having friends in the Texas brigade and more particularly in the 18th Georgia regiment I attempt a short sketch of the operations of that brigade confining myself particularly to the 18th Georgia. The brigade was formerly commanded by Brigadier General John Bell Hood, but on his taking command of this division, the command of the brigade fell to Colonel William T. Wofford. It is comprised of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas, the 18th Georgia, and Hampton’s South Carolina Legion.

          The brigade left Richmond on August 7th and on the 16th joined General Longstreet’s forces near the Rapidan, having marched the whole way. Crossing the Rapidan, the army marched to the North Fork of the Rappahannock and found the enemy strongly posted at all the fords to dispute crossing. Seeing this, General Lee very dexterously held them there by threatening to force his way across several; points while General Jackson marched around their right flank and captured Manassas Junction in their rear, cutting off their communication with Washington. As soon as this was discovered, the enemy destroyed all the cars and stores not transportable and sent a strong force to hold Thoroughfare Gap to prevent reinforcements from reaching Jackson while they concentrated their main army upon him and endeavored to crush him. In this, however, they failed. General Longstreet reached the Gap and forced his way through before a sufficient number of the enemy had reached it to seriously dispute his passage.

          On the morning of the 29th, General Longstreet’s corps reached Manassas around 10 a.m. and found General Jackson already engaged with the enemy. Forming on Jackson’s right with the Texas brigade near the center, he pushed forward for a mile but not finding any enemy, the whole line was halted for the remainder of the day. In the evening, a heavy fight took place between the enemy and Ewell’s division immediately on our left which resulted in the repulse of the Yankees with heavy loss. At dark, the order came for the center to advance upon the enemy. In a moment, the old 3rd and the Texas brigade were under arms and off at the double quick. At the distance of three-quarters of a mile they came upon a brigade of the enemy posted in a ravine in an open field. The night was so dark that they were not discovered until they opened fire which they did at a distance of about ten paces. The Texans returned it with fine effect and with a yell they closed upon them with the bayonet. How shall I describe the scene which followed? A hand-to-hand conflict is awful enough in the daytime, but amid pitch darkness it is absolutely diabolical. Bayonets, butts of muskets, and even fists were used freely. The yells of the victors, the shrieks of the wounded, and the groans of the dying together with the rattle and flash of musketry in the darkness and the unusual confusion of men running to and fro made up a scene which beggars all description.


Private James W. Lord of Co. C of the 18th Georgia in this postwar shot wears the typical equipment of a Confederate soldier on campaign including his blanket roll, wooden canteen, and cartridge box worn on his belt. He appears to be carrying a three-band Enfield rifle musket, the preferred infantry weapon of the Confederate soldier. 

    The Yankees stood for a few minutes but finally left with all haste leaving three stands of colors, one of which (belonging to the 24th New York) was taken by the 18th Georgia. Our men followed them as long as they could tell which way they went, leaving the ground strewn with dead and wounded. The loss of the brigade was trifling- only two being wounded in the 18th Georgia while that of the enemy was very heavy both in the killed, wounded, and prisoners. The brigade lay upon the field that night and early the next morning retook their original position. This little affair, which is entirely absorbed in the great battle of Manassas and is consequently scarcely heard of, is certainly one of the most daring and brilliant of the series of fights which resulted in the great victory for our arms on the 30th. (The 24th New York was part of General Edward Hatch’s brigade of the First Division of the 2nd Army Corps.)

          The morning of the day which was to close with such a glorious victory was unusually calm and beautiful. Not a gun was heard, and all were led to believe that the Yankees had decamped and fallen back on his fortifications at Centreville. But about noon we were undeceived by a heavy firing on the left. The enemy, with a strong force, attacked General Jackson’s position to the left of the road and for several hours a furious fight continued. At about 2:30 p.m., General Jackson repulsed the enemy and drove them before him a considerable distance. At that moment, General Longstreet ordered the right and center to advance which they did in handsome style, the Texas brigade as usual leading the way. One would have thought they considered fighting the chiefest of their delights.

          Now running, now walking at quick step, they rushed forward at a charge from the word go, all the time keeping up an unearthly yell. The enemy’s pickets retired rapidly on their main body while on rushed the Texans. At about a mile they came upon the 10th New York in the woods which fired one volley and fled, closely pursued. Suddenly they charged through the 5th New York (Duryea’s Zouaves) who awaited in fine order the attack. As soon as their front cleared, they poured a most destructive fire into the ranks of the 18th Georgia, then a little in the advance. At this first fire, at least 40 Georgians fell, but the remained returned the fire with equal effect, and with a wild yell rushed on the foe with the bayonet, literally pushing them back and forcing them to retire down the hill. In their retreat, the Zouaves suffered tremendously: 144 of them were counted the next day shot dead in the space of 200 yards; besides three or four times that number were wounded and fell into our hands. The colors of both of these regiments fell into the hands of the brigade; the 18th Georgia got that of the 10th New York. (The 5th and 10th New York regiments constituted General Gouverneur Warren’s brigade of Sykes’ Division of the 5th Army Corps.)


This wool bunting Richmond Depot flag was issued to the 18th Georgia in May 1862 and saw action at Second Manassas and Antietam. In November 1862, the 18th Georgia was reassigned from Hood's brigade and the 3rd Arkansas took its place. 

    After demolishing these two regiments, the brigade advanced upon a battery which was posted on the next hill supported by a brigade of the enemy. In this advance, they had to pass through a furious crossfire of grape from two batteries besides the one in front which told terribly upon their ranks. But nothing daunted they rushed forward and took the battery driving back its supports with great slaughter. At this point, they saw they were in direct range of another battery of the enemy on the next hill which was also supported by a large body of the enemy. Upon this they started to advance but after firing a few rounds, they found the enemy too strong for them, their ranks already having been reduced by about one-half their number. As support was not coming up in time, they were obliged to leave the work and retired with their shattered ranks to the rear.

In this last charge, the battle flag of the 18th Georgia was shot down three times within as many minutes, but each time was snatched up by the nearest man and daringly reared in the face of the foe. Nothing could exceed the gallantry with which the color bearer Sergeant Weems bore his flag to the front, until he fell with two painful wounds, the colors being pierced by 17 balls and the staff by one. The brigade drove the enemy about a mile, broke three lines of battle and put them to flight, took one battery, and left the ground for a considerable distance literally red with Yankee uniforms. But they did not escape unharmed. The 18th Georgia alone lost 128 in killed and wounded. Among the former we regret to record the names of Captain Jarrett, mortally wounded, Captain S.V. Smith, and Lieutenant E.T. Brown killed. Braver men never drew a sword in defense of liberty. Major Griffith, Captain O’Neal, Lieutenant Herden, and Lieutenant Colley were badly wounded.

 Potomac

 To learn more about the service of the 18th Georgia Infantry, readers are encouraged to check our General Jerry McAbee's regimental history entitled Stubborn Men and Parched Corn: The 18th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. To learn more about the Northern Virginia campaign, readers are encouraged to read John J. Hennessy's model campaign study Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas

Source:

Letter from Potomac, 18th Georgia Infantry, Southern Confederacy (Georgia), October 11, 1862, pg. 2


Comments

  1. Then 1st Lt. and later Capt. James Lile Lemon of Co. A, 18th Georgia also left a great account of Second Manassas in his postwar memoirs, later published by his descendant, Mark Lemon. "Feed Them the Steel!" (self published, 2013).

    He mentions some interesting details. According to Capt. Lemon, while driving back the 5th New York, a very large sergeant, though wounded, made a grasp for the 18th's flag. It was a tugging match between he and color bearer Sgt. Weems until the New York sergeant was bayonetted and killed. After the battle Adjutant Patton of the 18th GA cut a lock of hair from the dead sergeant and mended a tear in the flag with it. Supposedly it's still in the flag today. The two Federal colors the 18th captured were also taken in close quarters scuffles, according to Capt. Lemon.

    The 18th Georgia's battle flag is of the so-called "cotton issue", made of a wool-cotton blend, part of a small batch of flags made by ladies' sewing circles in Richmond. The supply of silk had run out so they resorted to using other materials. Only a handful of units were issued them; the 1st Texas also carried a "cotton issue" alongside their state colors until both were lost at Antietam. Once the Richmond Clothing Depot started manufacturing Confederate battle flags they used wool bunting on through the rest of the war.

    Btw, this is my first comment here but I just ran across your blog a few months ago and been following ever since. Greatly appreciate your efforts to find and post these accounts.

    ReplyDelete

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