Defending Richmond

There’s little extant information about the activities of the 13th Regiment and the rest of Kershaw’s division from November 1864 to early April 1865.

Historians report no more than that the division was posted on the Nine Mile Road near Garnett’s Farm, a few miles northeast of the city, in late November. There they dug defensive entrenchments facing Grant’s invading army and began to construct their winter quarters.

But, close to Christmas, they moved about a dozen miles south where they dug similar entrenchments between the New Market and Darbytown roads, and there they remained until the spring.

These were days of little military activity but much privation for the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia: there was little food or clothing as winter snows and rains pelted the troops in their makeshift shelters. Water stood several inches deep in the wet trenches. Rats and mice plagued the men.

“For firewood,” wrote historian Joseph T. Glatthaar in his ‘General Lee’s Army,’ “soldiers often had to hike a mile to the rear and carry the wood… Off-duty soldiers would have to make two or three trips just to collect enough firewood for the night.

“In  the past men had gone cold or barefoot in winter and hungry for extended periods of time, but nothing compared to the winter of 1864-65.

“…inspection after inspection uncovered a lack of shoes and clothing in serious, often critical numbers…in Kershaw’s division ‘Some of the men are without pants and others nearly so,’ an inspector reported.”

Some of the 13th Regiment’s old brass band was still intact, however, and there were other diversions. On Dec. 27, 1864, 3rd Sergeant Wilborn P. Smith of the Pettus Guards wrote his sister back in Mississippi. The mails apparently still worked, for the letter made it home and was preserved, though independent historian Jess N. McLean found it barely legible.

“Christmas has come once more,” Smith wrote, “and I assure you I spent it far different from what I did last Christmas. Last Christmas I was at Point Lookout [the Union prison camp in Maryland] thinking of home-sweet- home and of all the fine times the people at home were having.

“Well, this Chistmas at least I spent it in the Confederacy. On Christmas our band got permission to go to Richmond on a serenade to play for some of our officers. I…have to pay $2 for a quart of meal. I reckon you can buy a bushel for that. I have money about $150 in cash can make that do me for some time…[the rest was illegible].”

Smith wrote again on Jan. 25, 1865, commenting on a letter received from someone else at home: “…I wrote you by Wallace [1st Lieutenant William Wallace McElroy]…I expect you have been expecting me home. When Wallace left, we had a furlough started up and he felt certain that we would get them, but it failed.

“I would like to get home again very much. I suppose now we will not have one until another long year rolls around, if the war is not ended sooner…”

On March 1, 1865, Newton Rifles 2nd Lieutenant Marcet Watkins was in Richmond where he wrote a brief history of the company which became part of its final records. He concluded it this way:

“Many of our boys, noble heroes, have fallen a willing sacrifice in their country’s cause. while others wear the wooden leg or empty sleeve; but others yet remain a small remnant of as brave and patriotic an army as ever trod the earth to avenge the loss of our comrades by emulating their devotion and heroism in a cause that deserved if it may not achieve success. It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.”

About Dick Stanley

Retired Texas daily newspaperman
This entry was posted in Humpreys Mississippi Brigade, Jess N. McLean, Siege of Petersburg, The Pettus Guards and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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