The artillery company

The forty Minutemen and others in the 13th who Newt Nash wrote Mollie wanted to form an artillery company apparently were inspired by Robert Stiles of the Richmond Howitzers.

Stiles, in his 1903 memoir Four Years Under Marse Robert, recalled that Gen. Hill had ordered him to take charge of some Mississippi troops and teach them the manual and use of both field and siege artillery.

Both types of guns defended Fort Johnston, a new star-shaped earth-work on a ridge about a mile west of Leesburg. Stiles mentioned only one MississippianĀ  by name, a sergeant in the Twenty-First regiment, but the privates apparently were from all four Mississippi regiments at Leesburg.

“The Mississippians,” Stiles recalled, “were glad to come. They liked the noise and smoke and uproar of the guns. There never were two such field artillery detachments as they made after a brief period of drill.

“We passed a good deal of time running up and down the river with the field pieces….appearing first on one commanding hilltop and then another, and firing across at the railroad trains and canal boats on the other side.

“On two or three occasions we stirred up a hornet’s nest in the shape of Federal batteries which happened to be drilling in the neighborhood, and once [we] were compelled to withdraw with more speed than dignity; but my irrepressible Mississippi artillerymen made fun of it all, actually playing leap frog down the steep Loudon hillside, under a galling fire from perhaps eight or ten guns….

“I never witnessed an exhibition of bounding, buoyant power and unshakable bodily soundness and stamina that compared with this performance of the Mississippians.

“The men were all, or most of them, over six feet in height and averaged, I should say, over 200 pounds in weight, and yet they ran down the steep slope, keeping abreast of galloping horses, and leaping over each other’s shoulders, the head of course inclined, but the column of the body almost upright; and as the leaper would strike far below, with a jar calculated to jolt a man’s vital organs out of gear forever, he would instantly assume position again, with a shout, while two hundred pounds of yelling, human trap-ball would in turn execute the perilous flying leap over his head.”

The fun and games did not last long. Nash said the 13th’s “leading officers” were opposed to the idea of a new Mississippi artillery company because “the man is a Virginian who is making it up.” In any case, Stiles was soon ordered to release the Mississippians and instead teach a newly-arrived Virginia militia outfit to be artillerymen.

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
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