47th Regiment

North Carolina Troops

Descendants Association

Hill's Third Corps, Heth's Division, MacRae's Brigade

Battles

By John H. Thorp, Captain, Company A

 

ATTACK ON NEW BERN


Thus inured to the vicissitudes of war, except actual battle, the Forty-seventh was, early in 1863, brigaded with the Eleventh, Twenty-sixth, Forty-fourth and Fifty-second, under that splendid General, J. Johnston Pettigrew, and returned to Eastern North Carolina. The points of Rocky Mount, Magnolia and Goldsboro, as they were threatened, were quickly covered, and thence v e were marched in D. H. Hill's army to the vicinity of New Bern which town Hill threatened. Here about the middle of March I863 after a forced march of several days in bleak winter Pettigrew in the early dawn, drove in the enemy's pickets and passed one of his block houses, which protected New Bern but by failure of other troops to co-operate time was lost and the enemy got one of his gunboats in action, with which our brigade was shelled. Pettigrew being unable to reply with cannon, or to cross the water with his infantry, withdrew his brigade in regiments by echelon in such masterly manner, the men exhibiting the utmost coolness, that not a man was lost, though the retreat was a long way over an open, level field. Soon after this we went to Greenville and thence to Washington, crossing the Tar in canoes in high water, when the regiment threatened the town and waked up the enemy's gunboats again; we lost one man killed and several wounded.

But the main object, on the part of the Confederate authorities, of these operations in Eastern North Carolina, to wit: to gather in the supplies of this rich section, having been accomplished and General Lee making preparations for his second invasion, Pettigrew's Brigade, early in May, 1863, became a part of Heth's Division in A. P. Hill's Corps.

Thus after more than a year, perhaps well occupied, both in doing arduous, but less conspicuous service as in becoming thoroughly efficient for the sterner activities of actual battle, the Forty-seventh Regiment is at length, and henceforth to the end, will be with the Army of Northern Virginia. It was well it had a thorough training, for soon it was to go through fiery trials, its ranks to be torn by shot and shell, to be depleted of its officers, leaving it to be led in great emergencies by a Captain, and the companies some times by a private. Whenever and wherever tried it was equal to the emergency. It responded with promptness to the command "Charge!" to the very end.

It was early in May, 1863, when we arrived at Hanover Junction, thence we marched to Fredericksburg, thence to Culpepper Court House, across the Blue Ridge mountains, through Winchester, and crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown. On the north bank of the Potomac the disciplinarian, Pettigrew, delivered his strict commands against interfering with private rights and property, and right well were these commands obeyed. As we passed through Hagerstown, the eyes of our men were dazed by the fullness of an opulent city, one dared to loot it. On 29 June we camped near Cashtown, and on the 30th were marching rapidly into Gettysburg with the avowed object of shoeing our barefooted men. Already the non-combatants had gotten (as they always do when danger is far off) to the front, and we were almost at our destination when a person in citizen's dress, on a farm horse, rode leisurely from the adjacent woods up to the fence, on the other side of which we were moving, inquired for our commander, and paced up to the head of our column. On his arrival there the command "Halt!" rang down our line. Was this a spy? "About face-quick time, march-and back we went but not without several shots at long range being fired at us from both sides of the road. So we escaped the ambuscade that had been set for us.


GETTYSBURG

Early on 1 July the Forty-seventh was in the line which opened the battle of Gettysburg. It is remembered that Company A had eighty-two trigger pullers, each with forty rounds of ammunition, and the other companies were perhaps as large. The morale of the men was splendid, and when it advanced to its first grand charge it was with the feelings of conquerors. We were met by a furious storm of shells and canister and further on by the more destructive rifles of the two army corps confronting us. One shell struck the right company, killing three men, and exploding in the line of file closers, by the concussion, felled to the earth every one of them. The other companies were faring no better. Still our line, without a murmur, advanced, delivering its steady fire amid the rebel yells, and closed with the first line of the enemy. After a desperate struggle this yielded and the second line was met and quickly broken to pieces. The day was a hot one, and the men had difficulty in ramming down their cartridges, so slick was the iron ramrod in hands thoroughly wet with perspiration. All expedients were resorted to, but mainly jabbing the ramrods against the ground and rocks. This, with the usual causes, undressed our advancing line; still all were yelling and pressing forward through the growing wheat breast high, toward a body of the enemy in sight, but beyond the range of our guns, when suddenly a third line of the enemy arose forty yards in front as if by magic, and leveled their shining line of guns, when suddenly a third line of the enemy arose forty yards in front, as if by magic, and leveled their shining line of gun-barrels on the wheat heads. Though taken by surprise the roar of our guns sounded along our whole line. We had caught the drop on them. Redoubled our yells and a rush, and the work is done. The earth seemed to open and take in that line which five minutes ago was so perfect.

Just then a Federal officer came in view and rode rapidly forward bearing a large Federal flag. The scattered Federals swarmed around him as bees cover their queen. In the midst of a heterogeneous mass of men, acres big, he approached our left, when all guns in front and from right and left turned on the mass and seemingly shot the whole to pieces. This hero was a Colonel Biddle, who (if he were otherwise competent) deserved to command a corps. It was with genuine and openly expressed pleasure our men heard he was not killed. The day is not ended, but the fighting in our front is over, and the Forty-seventh dressed its line and what remained of it marching to the place whence it started on the charge, bivouacked for the night, intoxicated with victory. Many were the incidents narrated on that beautiful, moonlight night.

On the 2d we were not engaged save in witnessing the marshaling of hosts, with much fighting during the day, and at night a grand pyrotechnic display, this being the struggle on the slope of Little Round Top for the possession of the hill.

On 3 July the Forty-seventh was put in the front line preparing to make that celebrated, but imprudent charge, familiarly called Pickett's charge, though just why called Pickett's instead of Pettigrew's charge, is not warranted by the facts. And why it has been said that Pettigrew supported Pickett instead of Pickett supported Pettigrew, is also incomprehensible. It is certain that the two divisions (Pettigrew led Heth's Division today) started at the same time, in the same line. Pickett's distance to traverse was shorter than that of Pettigrew. Both went to and over the enemy's breastworks, but were too weak from loss of numbers to hold them. Pickett's Division was perfectly fresh. Pettigrew's had just passed through 1 July in which even its commander (Heth) had been knocked out.

If further witness be sought, the respective numbers of dead men in the correctly recorded spots where they fell, supply it. But let it be distinctly understood Pettigrew's men appreciated that it was not the brave Pickett and his men, who claimed for themselves pre-eminence in this bloody affair. They remember, vividly remember, how Pickett chafed while waiting to make his spring, like an untamed lion for his prey. Perhaps the assault was a Confederate mistake. So good an authority as General Lee is quoted as saying this much, but that the stakes for which he was playing was so great (it being Harrisburg, Baltimore and Washington) he just could not help it. Later a similar excuse was plead by General Grant for the slaughter at Second Cold Harbor. The late Captain Davis, "Honest Joe," who led Company B in this charge, and who charged over the enemy's breastworks and became a prisoner, said the enemy was literally torn to pieces. But, then our "hind sights are better than our foresights." And may be, after all the best conclusion is that a kind Providence bad heard the prayers for the Union that has ascended from both sides, though uttered not so loud from the South, and in answer, just wrote down in the book of Fate "Gettysburg, 3 July, 1863, the beginning of the end." The writer, who was in the line of sharpshooters which preceded the main line of battle, witnessed an incident which (although not belonging to the Forty-seventh Regiment) ought to be recorded. He saw Brigadier-General Jas. H. Lane, on horseback, quite near the stone wall, riding just behind and up to his men, in the attitude of urging them forward with his hand; a moment later a large spurt of blood leaped from the horse as he rode up, and rider and horse went down in the smoke and uproar. This was about the time of the climax of the battle when darkness and chaos obscured what followed.

Surely the rank and file of the army of Northern Virginia did not realize the bigness of the event that had just happened; nor can we believe the Army of the Potomac did, inasmuch as it behaved so nicely while we spent several days in the same neighborhood.

The Forty-seventh now had had its ups and its downs. On the 1st as it double-quicked on Reynold, it had an equal chance with the enemy and had hurled 30,000 bullets in their faces. On the 3d they had attempted to march 1,000 yards in quick time through a raking fire of cannon and minnies, with virtually no chance to use their minnies--a soldier's main weapon. The skeleton of its former self it returned to the place whence it began its charge and began business without a field officer, and during the balance of the day and the succeeding night welcomed the return of several of our members who, unscathed or wounded in various degrees, crawled from the field of carnage, for the space between the armies continued neutral ground, being covered by the wounded of both. On the 4th General Pettigrew told us that had we succeeded the evening before, no doubt our army would have been on the road to Washington and perhaps negotiations for peace would then be on foot. Surely the esprit de corps of our regiment was undaunted.

On the night of the 4th we moved off leisurely toward Funktown, where we stood up on the 11th to meet a threatened attack which did not materialize, and on the 14th were in the rear guard of the army at Falling Waters to cover the crossing of the Potomac. Here a drunken squad of Federal cavalry rashly rode on us while resting. Of course they were dispatched at once, but in the melee General Pettigrew received a pistol ball in the stomach from which he died in a day or two. Major John T. Jones, of the Twenty-sixth, was now the only field officer left to the brigade, and as we began to retire to cross the river the enemy furiously charged up and took quite a number of prisoners mainly by cutting our men off from the pontoon bridge.

BRISTOE STATION

A few days rest was taken at Bunker Hill, thence we marched to Orange Court House, where we recuperated rapidly by the return of those who had been wounded and a goodly number of recruits from home. So that on 14 October the Forty-seventh carried quite a strong force into the In this battle Kirkland's and Cooke's Brigades, being in the van of Lee's army, overtook Warren's Corps of Meade's retreating army, and without awaiting reinforcements made a furious attack against it thoroughly entrenched. This was a gross blunder on the part of our corps' general (A. P. Hill) who sent us in. Let it be recalled that the ground over which we charged sloped down to the railroad embankment behind which were the enemy's infantry, and sloped up from their infantry to their artillery. Under these circumstances their artillery would have driven back any infantry in indefinite numbers. Of course we were repulsed with heavy loss. An incident in this fight was that the skirmishers of the Forty-seventh, forty strong, in going in this charge, saw a space of the enemy's front, not reached by the left of our advancing line, passed the front of the Eleventh or left regiment, and filled the space. The ground was more favorable for us on this end of the line, and the Eleventh and the skirmishers of the Forty-seventh captured the breastworks with the enemy behind them. The Confederates here were herding the enemy in squads to send them to the rear as prisoners, when the rest of the line being repulsed, these too, wero compelled to retire. Our loss was heavy, including General Kirkland among the wounded. As on 3 July, at Gettysburg, we fell back to the point from which we started the charge, and for the same reason as on that day could not bring off our wounded who lay on the field of battle all night. The next morning, General Meade having made good his retirement on the fortifications at Manassas, we returned to the Rapidan. Here and at Orange Court House we wintered without military incident, save in frequent manoeuvering; Meade and Lee, like two big bulls, each trying to put his head into the other's flank, and once at Vidieraville an imminent battle was avoided by the two generals doing like the king of France who, "with 40,000 men, in arched up the hill and then marched down again." The Forty-seventh lost a man or two at Vidiersville by the enemy's artillery. The health of the men of the Forty-seventh is excellent, perhaps in part, because of short rations, and by the spring regiment is pretty full again by returning convalescents recruits from home.

General Grant is now in command of the Army of the Potomac, and by his hammering process proposes "to fight it out on that line if it takes all summer." which summer ran sharply into the following spring. General Kirkland has returned to the command of the brigade, and Colonel Faribault to the command of the Forty-seventh.

THE WILDERNESS

On 5 May, 1864, Grant moved out on Mine Run and the Forty-seventh Regiment deployed as skirmishers in the van of Lee's army, opens the battle, beginning with that of the Wilderness and continuing (with little intermission in the winter) till 9 April, 1865.

We first struck the enemy's cavalry, dismounted, and gradually pushed them back over five miles, during which we now and then lost a man, till the middle of the evening, when we came up to Cooke's Brigade just engaging the enemy's infantry in the tangled brush, the battle of the Wilderness. The Forty-seventh went in and mingled with Cooke's men in the fight, and so severe was the rifle fire and the opposing armies so near each other that neither advanced on the other. The night was spent in this position, and lines were not put in order; our men having been ordered to rest, as Longstreet's Corps was to relieve Hill's during the night Longstreet did not arrive, and at dawn the enemy having ascertained our disordered condition, promptly advanced. Our men began to retreat sullenly, and fighting back at first, but as the day grew on our confusion increased until about 10 o'clock, when we met the welcome Longstreet. This splendid Corps came into line of battle by the order of "By the right of companies into line," and without any halt continued their advance in the face of the, 'till now, victorious Federals. It was a terrific battle in which the Confederates pushed the Federals over the same ground they had taken in the morning, mingling vast numbers of dead Federals among the Confederates slain a few hours before The Forty-seventh lost no prisoners in this battle, but heavily in killed and wounded.

On the 10th the Forty-seventh was prominent in the battle of Wait's Shop, when General Early pressed Hancock back across the river after an engagement of several hours, wherein the Confederates advanced steadily, the Federals retreating without much resistance. This was a battle in which the powder used far exceeded the commensurate loss of men on either side. The loss of the Forty-seventh was, perhaps, twenty. But the object of the Confederates was effected. Hancock left the important place at which he tried to break through our lines.

On the 12th at Spotsylvania the Forty-seventh was but slightly engaged. It supported our artillery which did great havoc near the bloody angle.

The succeeding fifteen days the regiment was more or less engaged, some of it at least being under daily fire, under which we seemed to grow stronger.


BETHESDA CHURCH

On 1 June Kirkland's and Cooke's Brigades were desperately charged behind breastworks. The Forty-seventh was in splendid fighting trim on this occasion, and as the enemy started across an open field the order was given us not to fire until a certain cannon fired, and company commanders were to order the fire by file. The Federal officers threw themselves in front of their men and most gallantly led them, but when the cannon sounded the signal, our deadly fire opened on them within fifty yards and it was so steady and accurate, for our men were perfectly cool, that before the companies had fired a round, the enemy was completely broken and routed, a large number of them killed and wounded. Our loss was almost nothing as the enemy, depending on giving us the bayonet, withheld their fire, until they were repulsed. The sharpshooters of the two brigades, having previously been ordered, rushed after and harrassed their rear for two miles. This was the battle of Bethesda Church, and amid the tremendous events occurring, was the occasion of a dispatch from General Lee to the Secretary of War complimenting the two brigades.

While the sharpshooters were pursuing, the main body of the two brigades was ordered off towards Cold Harbor and participated in another battle at that place the same evening. In this last fight in which the Confederates charged the enemy out of their good breastworks, General Kirkland was again wounded and did not return to this command. General William MacRae succeeded to the command of our brigade about this time, and through every vicissitude proved the equal of any brigadier in the army. Quite a number of the men of the Forty-seventh were killed and wounded in the engagement.

General Heth, with his division, remained on the ground taken that night, fortified and awaited tomorrow. Early on tomorrow the enemy massed a host in our front and attempted to break through us all day. They were in the weeds, we on the edge of it with a small fleid behind us. This enabled them to get. very near us, perhaps forty to sixty yards, and we learned by sound rather than by sight, when they arose to charge, and kept them in cheek by shooting in the direction of their noise, as they would attempt to encourage their men. It was literally an all-day affair. Among our other embarrassments we were nearly surrounded, and once when the enemy's cannon sent a shell from our rear and our men had craned their necks, General Heth coolly commanded an aid "to go stop that battery-tell them they are firing into my men." Fortune was propitious, and they did stop, doubtless, because they could suppose their own men to be fired into by their shelling, so close were we together. Our loss was considerable during the day, but at length night came. At dark a detail collected every canteen and bayonet and took them out, and as soon as it was dark good, we silently stole away by the only outlet left us.

From Cold Harbor we went to Gaines' Mill, just after Hoke had repulsed the enemy at that place, inflicting heavy loss. From Gaines' Mill we crossed the Chickahominy. Thence about the middle of June we crossed the James and a few days after the Appomattox rivers, and our division took position on the extreme right of General Lee's long line of defense extending from the Chickahominy to Hatcher's a distance of about thirty-five miles.

Hatcher's Run and its vicinity are henceforth to be the scene of our operations, and it was around this flank and in this vicinity that General Grant did most of his hammering, and near here he finally broke through Lee's lines to begin the Appomattox campaign.

Once, in July, our division recrossed the Appomattox to meet Grant's feigned attack on the north of the river, when the episode of the crater, on 30 July, took place.

On 21 August our division was a part of the attacking column to dislodge Warren's Fifth Corps from the Weldon Railroad. For about two days before and two after this date, the Forty--seventh was under almost daily fire, in which series of fights it lost several killed and wounded.


REAMS STATION

On 25 August MacRae's, with Lane's and Cooke's Brigades distinguished themselves in the battle of Reams Station. Hancock had fortified this place and other Southern troops had failed to dislodge him, when these North Carolinians were assigned the honor of doing so. MacRae pointed out to his men how they could approach under the protection of an old field of pines, and we imagine the heretofore triumphant Federals must have smiled as they beheld the small force advancing against them, and intended to withhold their fire until we should reach a point from which we might be unable to escape. Suddenly MacRae ordered: "Don't fire a gun, but dash for the enemy." The dash was made and behold the assault is successful. The result is several flags and cannon, a large number killed and wounded and 2,100 prisoners. A Federal officer, as he sat a surprised prisoner, remarked to one of our officers: "Lieutenant, your men fight well; that was a magnificent charge." The loss in the Forty-seventh was heavy, and it included an over proportion of our very best men. This was notably so in Company A. Men who seemed to have possessed charmed lives; who struck so quick, and were so cool and daring to pass the danger line, were struck down almost in a body. Many of them returned after recovery, but the regiment was notably weakened after this.

On 30 September General Heth attacked two corps of Federals trying to extend to our right, near the Pegram house, and captured quite a number of prisoners. On 1 and 2 October the effort to extend continued and we continued to resist it; but after several days doggedly fighting and putting in fresh troops, they succeeded and fortified themselves. It was Grant's way, a continual extending his left with fresh troops and making his line impregnable with the spade and cannon.


BURGESS MIILL

On the 27th the enemy again felt for our right flank, and at Burgess' Mill General MacRae's Brigade assaulted them, repulsing the full length of his line of battle, taking a battery of artillery and passing far to the front, discovered that the enemy were closing from both his flanks the gap he had just made. MacRae was on foot leading his command, and pointing to the perilous situation, asked them to follow him out, which they gallantly did by cutting their way out. Our loss here was very heavy in killed and wounded, but none were taken prisoners. Hill's Corps took a great number of prisoners. MacRae complained bitterly about his superiors in command allowing him to be cut to pieces when it could have been prevented.

Winter had now set in, and the men settled down with some degree of comfort in their rudely constructed quarters. Some attended religious worship by our Chaplain. The regiment in early 1864 had a good Young Men's Christian Association, but no sign of it was visible at the close of the campaign-the members of it having been knocked out. Some who could raise a Confederate dollar went to the theatre; yes, we had a theatre in Davis' Brigade, built of logs with a dirt floor and log seats, and such capers the soldier comedians and tragedians cut by torch light, and music by banjo and the fiddle! It was said the theatrical company made money. Camp life, however, in the winter of 1864-'65 was a hard one, and upon the whole a very sad one. These old soldiers of many battle fields, though they murmured not, knew a great deal, and a few who supposed they could bear no more deserted to the enemy, who stood with outstretched arms to welcome them. The Forty-seventh furnished very few of this class.

As General Grant received a steady flow of reinforcements he invariably sent them to extend his left and in the severest weather the Forty-seventh was several times called out to resist the extension.

One of these was on 5 February, 1865. It was sleeting and very cold when a large force of Federals again moved around our right to sever our conamunications. The Forty-seventh formed a part of the attacking force which was successful in driving them back. The regiment's less was a due proportion of our total loss, which was perhaps 1,000, while that of the enemy was double that number.

Toward the end of March Grant had collected an irresistible force on his left, which was daily feeling for our right, and on 2 April broke through our attenuated line nearer to Petersburg and moved in our rear. At this time the Forty-Seventh, lately reinforced by the last recruits from home, were further to the right to try to stem the torrent that appeared in that quarter. Lieutenant Westray, of Company A, with thirty men, were engaged on our old picket line and they held their position so well that even the enemy passed on both sides of them and left them in their rear, from which situation this little body made their way out, and the next day turned up for duty across the Appomattox.

The skirmishers of the Forty-seventh had done picket duty on the extreme of our right the night of the 1st and were returning on the morning of the 2d along the breastworks held by some Floridians. These were dividing out their day's rations, and if they had pickets out, they would evidently have been quietly captured. The head of a Federal cavalry column was approaching the breastworks and was within seventy-five yards, when our skirmishers halted, had a parley with the Federals and ascertaining they were enemies, poured a volley into them, which drove them off, and we moved off again, without having halted five minutes and without exchanging a word with our friends. Thus we saved them from a complete surprise.

Things everywhere on our side were not getting in a desperate fix, the battle raging, seemingly everywhere. Our skirmishers, about 100 in number, of whom thirty were from the Forty-seventh, got up with our brigade near Southerland's Station, where MacRae was so pressed 2 April that he must need turn and fight. Two charges of the enemy were repulsed and the third was being made when a column of the enemy arrived on our left and rear. A fierce struggle ensued in which we were totally defeated, slain, wounded, captured, or scattered. Only a few came out, the river being in front, the victorious enemy in rear. By order all means of crossing the river had been removed. But the next morning when Lee passed up the northern bank toward Amelia Court House, MacRae at the head of our organized brigade, that is a few from each of his regiments, was in the retreating column as chipper as ever. Even the corps of such of his sharpshooters as had escaped retained their organization.

Passing through Farmville on the 7th our men snatched some rations from a government commissary store which they were in sore need of, as none had been issued, except on one occasion two ears of corn to a man. On the evening of the 7th we arrived on the field by a run, when Fitz Lee and Gregg's Cavalry Brigades charged each other, in which Gregg was defeated and himself captured.

On Sunday morning, 9 April, the Forty-seventh arrived at Appomattox, the last ditch, and was surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia. When it was filed to the right of the road the men supposed they were going in line of battle to charge the enemy who were visible in front, but when MacRae commanded "Halt," and without any further order as to rest, etc., so contrary to his rule as a disciplinarian, all stared and wondered what it could mean. He dismounted and lay down, and we, too, began to lay down. The sad news was quickly learned, and then followed that mighty expression of blasted hope, which a witness will never forget. The Forty-seventh Regiment had no field officer. There were two Captains of companies, Faucette, of Company K, who was in command, and Thorp, of Company A. Company A had, in addition, Lieutenant Westray, and twelve men; Company D had three men. The number of men of the other companies not remembered, but were about seventy- five.

The United States troops (now seemingly no longer enemies) flocked among us by the hundreds and showed their highest respects for their late antagonists. To see General Lee was the burden on every tongue. There was no exultation; on the contrary they showed marked consideration for our feelings. If the whole country could have witnessed this sympathetic scene between the old Greys and the old Blues, seas of bitter tears and mountains of hate would have been spared.

A herd of fat, young steers, and many wagon loads of crackers were brought to us, with which we appeased our hunger. Through Monday and Tuesday we received our guests. On Wednesday we were paroled, and late in the evening we formed in our organizations for the last time, marched between the open ranks of the Federals and stacked guns. No Federal officer of rank was in sight. There was no music. 'Twas silent-very sad. We broke ranks for home.

And now old comrades (who may read it) this skeleton of a sketch is an attempt to write only the truth, though a very small part of it, of the Forty-seventh North Carolina Regiment. Praise, criticism or even mention of the heroes who composed it are purposely omitted. The merits alone of these would fill a large volume, and partial mention would be actual wrong. Is it not, therefore, better that whatever of merit, of honor, and of fame the dear old regiment attained we shall share in common?


John H. Thorp
Rock Mount, N. C.
9 April, 1901

 

Return to 47th North Carolina Home Page

 

Copyright 2007-2013. PetersburgBreakthrough.Org. Updated 1 August 2013