Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lee's Texans at the Wilderness

(Painting Photo Courtesy of Texas Civil War Museum)
Of all the Civil War fighting units, few obtained loftier status than the Texas Brigade.  Under the command of General John Bell Hood, the brigade gained prominence after breaking the Union line at the Battle of Gaines Mill; a feat that helped force the Army of the Potomac from the outskirts of Richmond.  At Second Manassas, the brigade’s vicious flank attack almost led to the destruction of the Union’s Army of Virginia.  One moment at the Battle of the Wilderness would propel them into legend.
On the morning of May 6, 1864, a powerful Union attack, under General Winfield Scott Hancock, threatened to shatter General A.P. Hill’s 3rd Corps.  “We are driving them sir,” Hancock told a fellow officer. “Tell General Meade we are driving them most beautifully.”  General Robert E. Lee was in a quandary; his troops were falling back in disorder and he desperately needed to reestablish his line.  From out of the smoke, General James Longstreet’s 1st Corps arrived after a forty mile march with no food for twenty four hours.  They quickly began to rebuild a defensive front to hold off a blue tidal wave.  At the Widow Catherine Tapp’s farmhouse, the Texas Brigade (3 Texas Regiments and 1 Arkansas Regiment), under the command of General John Gregg, filed passed an overly excited Robert E. Lee.  “Who are you my boys?” he asked.  “Texas boys!” they replied.  Lee waved his hat in the air and yelled, “Hurrah for Texas! Texans always move them!”  Gregg proudly announced, “Attention Texans. The eyes of General Lee are upon you.  Forward!!!!”  To Gregg’s astonishment, Lee was also going forward.  He wanted to lead the charge. “Lee to the rear!” the Texans yelled.  “Go back General Lee go back. We won’t go forward until you turn back.” A sergeant grabbed the bridle of Lee’s horse “Traveler” and directed him back toward the Widow Tapp’s farmhouse. Other hands grabbed the reins and moved Lee back.
 The 800 man brigade opened a thunderous volley on Hancock’s ranks, stopping them in their tracks.  Two thirds of the Texas Brigade became casualties.  The dead were gathered and buried en masse under a scrap of wood. Its simple carved heading consisted of only two words, “Texas Dead.”  The legend, however, was not buried with them.

For further reading checkout:
The Battle of the Wilderness May 5 -6, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea
Lee’s Lieutenants by Douglas Southall Freeman
The Wilderness Campaign edited by Gary W. Gallagher


Hood’s Texas Brigade: Lee’s Grenadier Guard by Harold B. Simpson