"Who are you, my boys?"
General Robert E. Lee inquired after trotting over to a cluster of gray-clad infantry. Appearing out of the smokey woods, they quickly filed past him to form a defensive line.
They answered, "Texas boys !"
The small group was followed by a column of hundreds. The 1st Corps, commanded by General James Longstreet, had arrived after a forced march. Leading the way was the famed Texas Brigade under the command of Brigadier General John Gregg.
"Hurrah for Texas !" Lee waved his hat in a rare moment of exuberance then proclaimed, "Texans always move them!"
It was May 6, 1864. The Wilderness Campaign was in its second day. It was General Ulysses S. Grant's first battle with the Union Army's most lethal foe, Robert E. Lee. Content to let his subordinates manage the fighting, the famed Union general coolly spent most of his time whittling on a stick of wood. Meanwhile, both armies became ensnared in the dense woods. Their lines became intertwined, disoriented and hopelessly lost. To make matters worse, the gunfire touched off raging fires that consumed wounded soldiers who couldn't crawl fast enough or be carried away by their comrades. After a day of heavy fighting and a night of ghastly horrors, both armies were at a stalemate. The Confederates, however, were at a distinct disadvantage. They were heavily outnumbered and their line was like a dilapidated wooden fence: full of holes and ready to collapse at the slightest push. The push would come from a morning attack led by General Winfield Scott Hancock. A line of blue appeared within view of Lee's headquarters; a ramshackle cabin owned by the widow Catharine Tapp. It would appear all was lost and Lee's Army of Northern Virginia would be irreparably split in two.
General Gregg exhorted his troops. "Men of the Texas Brigade! The eyes of General Lee are upon you! Forward!" The Texas Brigade, arrayed in attack formation, advanced toward Hancock's line. Much to their surprise, Lee was advancing with them, a perilous move for any commanding general on horseback. "Go back, General Lee, go back. We won't go forward until you go back." Brigade members grabbed Lee's horse bridle to turn him around. "Lee to the rear!" Lee complied and headed back to confer with his officers. The Texas Brigade plowed into the Union line at a frightful cost. The Union attack was stifled but over half the brigade was lost. Lee had won the first round against Grant, but the fight was far from over.
This special moment, in Texas Civil War history, is wonderfully captured in a new diorama acquired by the Texas Civil War Museum. Those talented students, from Gilbert Arizona's Highland High, constructed a superb depiction of the Texas Brigade's most heralded moment. Like the popular Battle of Palmito Ranch diorama, the figures and landscape are finely detailed. Robert E. Lee, astride his horse "Traveler," stands out amidst the advancing Confederates. Check out these pictures then stop by the museum for a firsthand look.