|Nesbitt Memorial Library
November 30, 2009
Reminiscences of James Daniel Roberdeau,
Captain in Company B, 5th Texas Infantry
On the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Second Battle of Manassas, James Daniel Roberdeau, who had fought at Manassas as the captain of a Confederate infantry company, wrote a long reminiscence of the battle and mailed it to one of his former sergeants, Benjamin Marshall Baker. Baker was editor of the Colorado Citizen, a newspaper published at Columbus, Texas. He printed the reminiscence in his newspaper on September 14, 1899. Three days later, Roberdeau wrote a second reminiscence, this one covering the Battle of Antietam. Baker published that on October 5, 1899. Both are reproduced below.
|James Daniel Roberdeau to Benjamin Marshall Baker, editor, Colorado Citizen, August 30, 1899, published in the Colorado Citizen, September 14, 1899|
Austin, Texas, August 30.
Editor Colorado Citizen:
By the above date I am reminded of the fact that just 37 years ago the second battle of Manassas (Bull Run) was fought, and your association therewith decided me to write a few notes for publication, if deemed worthy, especially that concerning "B” Co., 5th Texas Regiment, Hood's Texas Brigade, A. N. V., of which we were comrades.
Our (Longstreet's) 1st Corps left Richmond on the 7th day of August, 1862, our command constituted the rear. While our course was not direct, yet generally pointed in the direction of Manassas, halting at several points, notably: Raccoon Ford, where work on some intrenchments was, to the Texans' disgust indulged in. Leaving this point, a detour was made towards the Rappahanock river General Longstreet being charged with watching the enemy at Fredericksburg and going to Pope, while Jackson was engaging him above. Following up the river, on the 26th we arrived at a point nearly opposite White Sulphur Springs, called Freeman's Ford or Hazel Run, where Jackson had been engaged, but immediately left for other fields, leaving us to complete what he had begun.
Freeman's Ford battlefield is located in the forks of the Rappahanock river and Hazel Run, and where we had our first skirmish since leaving Richmond, or experienced any loss. Why it was selected I can not say—unless for its benefits to the enemy—they being well posted on the opposite bank of the Rappahanock with artillery, while we occupied a cornfield, without any. 'Twas here that a shell from the enemy's battery did some damage to our regiment in killed and wounded—amongst the former, Maj. Whaley and Fritz Mathee of Co. B; of the latter, Thos. J. Roberts and D. Hurley of Co. B—while nearly the entire company from explosion of a shell in its front, was prostrated, Here we stayed till 9 or 10 o'clock at night, Co. B being on picket in the cornfield, when march was resumed and continued during the entire night, halting at a ford on the Rappahanock river about one hour before day, and went to sleep. On all forced marches, rations are usually scarce, the troops either being in advance or to the rear of the wagons. But here, it seemed most acute, since we were reduced to nothing, not even salt, no rations since three days previous issued. In consequence, a goodly share of corn was stored in our haversacks, and upon which we fed during the night's march, without fire or salt. How much each ate is not necessary to state, beyond that it was equal to filling a void of several days' creation.
Promptly at sunrise the command waded the river and continued the march in an effort to overtake General Jackson, who had preceded us. Our route was by Orleans and foot of Big Cobbler mountain—on to Salem, where we bivouacked for the night of the 27th. Salem is the place where some unpleasant courtesies passed between General R. A. Pryor of the Florida brigade and Lieutenant-Colonel John C. Upton of the 5th Texas regiment, resulting in a draw, with the latter on top, and all about camping ground for headquarters. No rations were issued, the command drawing on the corn of the previous night. On the morning of the 28th we resumed march to Manassas, via Thoroughfare gap, arriving at the gap about two hours before sundown. You remember, upon a high point under a tree stood General Lee and staff, and our Webb Shepherd, tired and mad, remarked that h--l would soon begin since the officers and cavalry were halting. Some one in the group of officers replied that it was not much of a fray, and that we'd soon dislodge the enemy. This was said to have come from General Lee, and upon Webb hearing it, was very greatly troubled that he had spoken so rudely in his presence. Moving forward, we soon met evidence of the conflict going on in the gap by the wounded being brought out. Save deploying skirmishers and a few shots, we were not engaged, the Georgians having driven the enemy through the pass. We camped for the night in the pass, but in seeking a place, had to cross a stream flowing through the pass so often that is was confusing, it being serpentine. Still no rations, and a resort or fall back on the corn diet of the 26th.
Just here an old gray horse belonging to a mess of the Fourth Texas stampeded. It was loaded with cooking utensils, which were not in demand that night, and the fight occasioned by an empty barrel rolling down the mountain. It was contagious, for the Fourth commenced to circle, but were soon calm. One of the Fifth suggested if they had started for Texas the Fifth would have fallen in. A like incident occurred to the Fifth one year later near Raccoon ford, when the lead mules of a team became detached and ran down a road we were traveling, and so imitated cavalry in noise that precaution was taken. Then it was that the Fourth handed back the remark.
On the morning of the 29th we emerged from the gap and moved on to Manassas through the village of Haymarket, where some skirmishing was done. Upon reaching the Warrenton pike we were double-quicked until we reached the battlefield, the point being on the Warrenton pike, we deploying to the right, our left, Law's brigade, connecting with Gen. Jackson's right. Here we remained during the day, witnessing some charges upon Gen. Jackson's line.
Towards night the enemy began to mass their forces in front of Jackson's right, with the view of turning it. To counteract this move, our division, Law's and Texas brigades, about 9 or 10 o'clock at night were advanced to relieve Gen. Jackson's right, which we did by pushing the enemy back fully a mile, after some ludicrous episodes and sharp skirmishes. All fighting is attended with indescribable sensations, but when Lieut.-Col. Upton of the Fifth ordered the guns uncapped and to make the charge with bayonets, the climax was reached. Having accomplished the purpose for which the move was made, we lay down in line, remaining until 4 o'clock in the morning of the 30th, when we returned to our position of the day previous, until 4 p.m., at which time our final charge was made. The day was intensely hot. Added to this, water was scarce and we were still without rations, nor did we get any until just at the moment of advancing, which we ate as we moved. Added to these was witnessing the many charges upon Jackson and chafing under the restraint and other surroundings, had the effect of irritating the soldier, making him restless and mean. He used his time in whetting his anger so soon to be appeased. At 4 p.m. that peerless soldier, Col. W. H. Sellers, of Hood's staff, appeared in our front to advise the regimental commander to advance and the direction to be taken, and at the same time took occasion to say: "Boys, be of good cheer; you can whip the world!" Never before or since have I seen such alacrity displayed by soldiers. The result as known. Of the details of the battle (the parts we witnessed) I may have something to say later—and return to Co. B (bay.)
Co. B, Fifth Texas Regiment, Hood's Texas brigade, A. N. V., went into action with captain, second and third lieutenants, 42 non-commissioned officers and privates. Of the former the captain and third lieutenant (yourself) were wounded; of the latter 3 were killed and 21 wounded, several of whom died in the hospital soon after.
In looking over the company roll I find those now living and known of the 142, to be 14—S. R. Bostick, B. M. Baker, J. S. Bruce, A. H. Carter, T. J. Roberts, J. Hahn, D. M. Curry, J. C. Kindred, J. H. Whitehead, J. Ratican, J. C. Smith, J. W. Johnson and J. D. Roberdeau. Of those participating in the second Manassas six are living viz: Baker, Whitehead, Bruce, Smith, Johnson and Roberdeau, and all were wounded. Of the 14, Bostick, Hahn and Roberts were discharged in 1862, while Dr. Bruce was promoted to assistant surgeon to Forty seventh Virginia Infantry regiment. After the battle of second Manassas of incidents many could be recalled, but here I shall allude to only one, which to me was one of premonition. About 2 p. m., while lying in line of battle, bullets from the skirmishers in front often reached us. Billy Pinchback (noble boy) sat near me, when one gave him a close call. I suggested the protection of a small sapling. He replied that it made no difference, since he would be killed during the day, indicating with his finger the spot where he would receive the wound. Knowing that others of our company had made similar predictions which were verified, it made me sad, and all my efforts to dispel the thought proved unavailing, he adhering to his assertion and preparing for the event. I recall vividly my visit to field hospital the next Sunday morning, when I found the gallant soldier and dear friend lying in death, lying by your side, shot as indicated by himself. He was the fourth who had made similar predictions that were verified: Denny and Sherer at Eltham's Landing, Gaines at "Gaines' Farm" and Pinchback at Manassas. After having my wound dressed, I followed the company (now under command of Lieut. Collier) to Chantilly, where Jackson was engaged. My mother lived near by, with whom I stayed one night, following the regiment and coming up with the company at Leesburg on September 5th, en route to Maryland. And now I leave you, to resume at this point in my next, which will comprehend the entire campaign in Maryland.
J. D. R.
|James Daniel Roberdeau to Benjamin Marshall Baker, editor, Colorado Citizen, September 17, 1899, published in the Colorado Citizen, October 5, 1899|
Austin, Texas, Sept. 17, 1899.
Editor Colorado Citizen:
In my last I announced the arrival of our command at Leesburg, Va., which was about 8 o'clock, p.m., and when and where I rejoined Co. "B" From here we moved towards the Potomac river, halting and bivouacking at the Big Springs, several miles distant. (Permit me to digress by saying that they duly entitled to the name, covering, as they did, a space equal to your public square, and furnishing water sufficient to run a mill, situated half a mile distant, the capacity of which had been several hundred barrels of flour daily.)
On the following morning's roll call, to the honor of Co. B be it said, developed the loss of only one man, and he left with a sick comrade, seventeen of eighteen remaining after the battle of Manassas answering to their names. Especial reference is made to this circumstance, since there was so much struggling reaching into the thousands—induced by hard marching, fighting and short rations. Halting one day and two nights, we again resumed the march, crossing the Potomac river at Edwards' ferry, by wading. You well know the pleasant sensation produced, after having marched long enough to warm the blood, and then plunge into a cold stream.
It was somewhat aggravated here by reason of a small island just large enough to conceal that other part, yet to be crossed. Here some religious services were had, winding up with a grand chorus, "Jordan is a hard road to travel!" You are also acquainted with the aftermath, or drying process, with the water sloshing out of your shoes, to be ruffled from the supply in your generous blanket, to continue until relieved by evaporation, heated words and vigorous sunshine.
We moved direct to Frederick City, Md., where another night and day were spent, variously; for instance, destroying the bridge over the Monocacy which the superstructure we were a success, but the stone piers withstood all assaults. I have since been told that, while we were engaged in the pasttime, the railroad company in Baltimore were duplicating the bridge, and one day after we had departed they had put it up and were crossing McClellan's army in pursuit of us. There was another source of employment more generally indulged in, with better results, that of ridding ourselves of those friends who adhered to us under all circumstances, and which we so prodigally gathered in on march, here designated legion. Nor could we rightly be censured for the inhospitality, since, it must be remembered, that we had been marching and fighting since the 7th day of August without sufficient time for that sleep so necessary, much less sanitary care of person, or courtesies due an uninvited guest.
General Jackson left Frederick City on the day of our arrival, going on—then, we knew not where. We marched direct to Hagerstown, where we remained until Sunday, 14th inst. During the stay we had three days' rations issued on Friday, 12th. Just here it is proper to state that General Hood was placed under arrest and we turned over to General N. G. (Shank) Evans. You will remember that at Manassas, among other things captured by our command was a fine, officers' ambulance, which General Hood appropriated to his own use. This riled Shank, and upon refusal to deliver same to him, was placed under arrest. On the morning of the 14th we were put in motion and moved at quick-time to Boonsboro mountain, distant about twelve miles. It was a fearful march, all being sore-foot, tired and more or less suffering from disease incident to camp life. We arrived at the base of the mountain late in the evening and found General D. H. Hill busy entertaining the company which had arrived, and looking for others. Enthusiasm is what he needed, and we supplied the want. We here learned, for the first time since leaving Frederick City, the whereabouts of General Jackson. He had invested Harper's Ferry, and we were here to keep off McClellan until he captured the place, which he did, capturing 11,000 soldiers, 75 cannon, clothing, ordnance, commissariat, etc.
We were halted at the base of the mountain, preparatory to advancing, and for the first time in its history murmurs of insubordination were heard in the brigade—men asserting that, without Hood, they would not move. Of course the officers, while partaking, of the sentiment, employed themselves in allaying it. The situation was conveyed to General Lee, at whose request General Hood accepted a temporary release and rode to the head of the command. Never during my military experience had I witnessed such general satisfaction, and for the first and only time did I doff my hat and yell! Soldiers are quick to discern a defect in an officer, and equally as prompt to resent an injury offered one of their officers. We were in a fix—led to the very verge of battle by one in whom we had no confidence, and stung by what we deemed an insult to our cherished leader, should and dies command us. With that familiar command, "Tention!" we soon deployed and moved up the mountain, on the left of the pike, going east, under heavy cannonading, and pushing the enemy back.
While halting at base of mountain Lieut. Collier was taken seriously ill, and was sent to a private home, where he was captured. Dr. T. T. DeGraffenried was wounded while ascending the mountain, and sent to the rear. The command was transferred to the right of the pike, and after some skirmishing both armies rested in place.
During the night our army gradually withdrew for Sharpsburg, and, as usual, leaving our command the duty to bring up the rear, which we did, leaving just before daylight. It fell to my lot to be of the rear guard, and you well know what experience I had with those who had fallen out to take a nap—the officers being the more difficult to move. John B. Harvey, being bare-footed, was left to come at his opportunity. During our march to Sharpsburg we (rear guard) were at times closely pressed by cavalry, but the old Washington artillery, from eminences in our front, would soon relieve us by shelling them over our heads.
We arrived at Sharpsburg late in the evening of the 15th, bivouacked on the field, sleeping upon our arms. On the morning of the 16th we were moved north about one mile, where we remained during the day, supporting batteries, etc. The enemy having employed the day in disposing his forces, and having completed his alignments, threw forward the Fifth Pennsylvania reserve corps, when we were advanced, the 5th regiment deployed in front. Some desultory skirmishing was began about dark, resulting in a few casualties —among them Hardy Allen of Co. E, the color bearer. Then preparations for the morrow's strife were begun by throwing forward two men from each company for observation and picket, Hunt Terrell and Geo. Monroe were Co. B's detail and went forward. A detail to go to Sharpsburg for rations being ordered, Co. B named W. J. Sloneker, J. E. Obenhaus and Geo. Gegenworth. They did not return before the battle began. This was Tuesday night, 15th, the last rations issued having been on Friday, 13th. On taking position in the morning of the 16th in a field of Irish potatoes, plowed up for gardening, we secured a mess or two. The brigade was then (about 10 a.m.,) relieved by General Drayton's brigade, when we withdrew to a skirt of timber in the rear of the famous Dunkard's church, and lay down to sleep the last sleep for many. W. H. Carlton sent to the rear on surgeon's certificate, being quite sick.
The battlefield, as seen before the conflict, presented a scene of beauty to the lover of the beautiful and grand—surrounded by mountains and high ranges of hills, and dotted over with elegant farm-houses, barns, orchards, natural groves, of great beauty, and, with all in a high state of cultivation, rendering it not only pleasant to look upon, but remunerative. How changed the scene twenty-four hours later! You imagine shattered groves and orchards, burned houses and barns, lone chimnies, as sentinels on the ruins of man's wrath; the earth strewn with the dead and wounded dismantled batteries, and the debris peculiar to an army generally.
The battlefield proper lies west of South Mountain, running nearly north and south, at the base of which was formed the federal army, while ours occupied a high ridge immediately in their front and to the west, and between them flowed Antietam creek, spanned by a bridge, the subject of a heated discussion on the 17th, it being one of the main points of attack by the enemy. Our right rested on Antietam creek, and extending north some four or five miles, I suppose. On the 18th the view of the panorama spread before me was one to inspire admiration and delight, but for the purpose of assaulting; still it was grand to look upon. Bright uniforms, with dashing officers riding the lines, with bayonet and sword flashing in the sun, with cavalry and artillery flying hither and yon, made it a scene long to be remembered; all seen under a clear sky and just such weather as we have now, and equally as hot. Dotted along the slope and rising to the crest were many batteries, from which we suffered so much. To our rear was a succession of farms; the Potomac river, three miles distant, which here was shaped something like a horse-shoe. By critics the position was pronounced as well chosen, which was verified, since from the 16th to 18th, inclusive, Gen. Lee, with 35,000 soldiers, held it against 85,000 of the enemy. Of the battle, both sides named it as the bloodiest, since the percentage of losses, in proportion to the numbers engaged, was greater than any other of the war.
Here it is deemed proper to give the composition of our semi-division. That of Law's brigade was the 2d and 11th Mississippi, 6th North Carolina and 4th Alabama, commanded by General E. M. Law, a splendid gentleman and efficient officer. That of Hood's Texas brigade were the 1st, 4th and 5th Texas, Hampton's Legion and 18th Georgia regiment, and commanded by Colonel W. T. Wofford of the latter regiment. The Fifth regiment was commanded by Captain Ike Turner, Co. K, and the peer of any.
About 7 o'clock, a.m., while we were preparing to cook rations, we were startled by Drayton's brigade breaking in on us, having been driven in by the enemy. We were immediately formed and moved forward, Law's brigade on the right. As we moved forward Gen. Hood withdrew the 4th, placing it upon the extreme left and somewhat detached, as I learn, from the brigade. So impetuous was the enemy's charge on Drayton that we encountered him within a short distance of our camp, repulsing him and driving him into and beyond the skirt of woods from which he had emerged, but at fearful cost. From that time until relieved by Gen. T. S. Anderson's Georgia brigade it was a continuous "see-saw," the enemy renewing the charge and forcing us back, to be again repulsed and driven back. All this was over the dead and wounded of each army. At what time of day we were relieved there is a diversity of opinion, and I will say that it was far advanced, and after we had exhausted our ammunition and resorted to that of the dead and wounded, besides exchanging guns with them, those carried in being too hot to handle. You are aware that twenty rounds is considered quite a battle. Speaking of the duration of time we were engaged, a comrade of the 4th unites with me in saying, "It was the longest day ever made!"
Of the loss to our brigade, it was particularly severe, that of the 1st Texas being 82.3 per cent, as gleaned from United States war department, and is given as the greatest of any regiment of either army during the war.
When it is remembered that, since the 7th of August we had marched from Richmond, Va., to Frederick City, Md., with counter marches, fought one of the greatest battles of the war at Manassas, with several skirmishes, without sufficient clothing or food, often bare-foot, the wonder is that we put up such a fight against an adversary generously equipped and daily receiving new acquisitions of men, and on his own territory. The conditions considered, stamp it not only the bloodiest, but place it in the fore front, in every particular, of conspicuous battles in modern history.
The following list comprises Co. B's strength on that occasion, as I find from my diary; Sergeant D. E. (Ellis) Putney, Privates A. Hicks Baker, W. J. Darden, W. S. Cherry, John Graf, John Hoffman, John Kolbo, John Morrissey, M. McNeilis, J. D. Roberdeau. Of the nine Baker, Hoffman, Kolbo and McNeillis were killed. Monroe, sent out the night before missing and supposed to be killed. Darden and Morrissey were wounded and captured, and the captain wounded while re-forming, after the battle was over. Of the four killed, three fell in the open field, and your brother Hicks just as we entered the woods, carrying the regimental flag. Here I shall speak of him only to say he possessed all the attributes of the soldier and genuine friend. Of those actively engaged in that battle, this writer only survives, save D. M. Currie, litter-bearer, who certainly was in it. Re-forming at the place from which we entered the woods, the command of the company devolved upon Sergeant Putney.
During the 18th the two armies, with few changes, occupied their respective original ground, busy burying the dead and caring for the wounded; and at night we recrossed the Potomac river at Sheperdstown—on the next day repulsing an effort of the enemy to pursue. General Lee then distributed his army between the river and Winchester, our command being at Baldwin's Spring, from which place I may renew and review in detail the incidents of the campaign.
The writer claims not to be correct in all the statements given, since a lapse of thirty-seven years of busy and varied pursuits have alike claimed a share of memory.
J. D. R.