The Artillery at Bentonville
By James G. Holmes, 1895
Charleston, S. C.
To my mind THE VETERAN, our Veteran, the Veteran of Veterans! is subserving no better purpose than in enabling old comrades, and even old enemies, to find each other out, and reconciling the natural differences of old soldiers as to “who led Lee to the rear."
And now as to what branch of the service drove the Yankees back from our extreme left at Bentonville, N. C., on the third day of the fight (second day of the Infantry fighting). We read the account in January VETERAN, by Capt. B. L. Ridley, of Gen. Stewart's Staff, and comment in February number from Capt. George Guild, Texas Cavalry Brigade. I suggest that not only the cavalry and infantry, but the artillery, too, had something to do with it, and I believe the enemy thought that dear "old Joe Johnston" had prepared yet another surprise for Sherman, and that the falling back of the skirmishers of Butler's Cavalry Brigade, dismounted at the time, was merely a ruse. If Maj. Gen. E. McIver Law, who is now at Bartow, Fla., at the head of the military school established by himself and two sons, will write on the subject, he can definitely settle the matter, for he was in charge of that part of the line at the time.
I purpose reconciling the accounts of the two Captains. I was acting temporarily as A. I. G. on Gen. Law's Staff, who was in command of Butler's division of Cavalry, Butler being sick. Wheeler's and Butler's Cavalry held the extended left of the infantry line. Wheeler's men were in temporary breastworks, and ,Butler's were dismounted and in skirmish order in the open woods to their left. Gen. Law realized the want of strength of this most important part of Gen. Johnston's louped-line, and being within a few hundred yards of one of the two bridges, only by which the army could cross the creek in its rear, rode to the right, accompanied by the writer alone of his staff, and reported the conditions to Gen. Hampton, who was then moving to the extreme right to initiate some cavalry movement. This caused Gen. Hampton to refer Gen. Law to Gen. Wheeler, and, riding down the line of breastworks to the left, in search of Gen. Wheeler, the Major General commanding, Wheeler's left was found, but he refused to extend his line to the left, claiming that it was thin enough to resist infantry. Just then one gun of Earl's Battery placed upon the skirmish line in a commanding position by order of Gen. Law, and commanded by Capt. Earl in person, opened, and Gen. Law rode direct to it at a gallop, and seeing the moving line of Yankee infantry, said: "Capt. Earl, get your gun out of here." This was done, but the reserve caisson, in turning, got a tree between the wheel and the limber chest, and had to be temporarily abandoned. The enemy in line of battle—how many lines deep I could not see—swept our line back until it reached our field hospital on the side of the road leading to thc bridge, and in sight of it. The enemy, evidently fearing a Joe Johnston trap,. for they knew he was once more in command, allowed themselves to be driven back by the splendid charge of the Texas Cavalry, led by the chivalric Lieut. Gen. Hardee, aided by a little Brigade of some two hundred and fifty infantry, and by the fire of two pieces of artillery put in position by Gen. Law, by the stubborn fighting of Butler's men on foot, and largely by the dashing charge of Young's Brigade, dismounted, with the fearless Col. "Gib" Wright in command, which struck the left of the enemy (as they emerged from the swamp), squarely on the left flank, and routed them, throwing their line into confusion.
The writer had been sent with orders for Col. Wright, and on his way back met the said brigade of infantry just as they were passing Gen. Johnston, who had ridden to the point of attack. The brigade cheered him ]ustily, but he motioned with his hand for them to cease, and lifting his hat.—God bless the memory of this grand soldier!—said, " Don't cheer me, boys. I should cheer you for this welcome you have given me back," and then, well, the "Rebels yelled, " and perhaps prevented the routed yanks from trying it again.
It was a “hands-round-all;" the three branches supported each other, and fought together that dashing fight of only a few minutes.
This article is from the Confederate Veteran, Vol. III, No. 4, Nashville, Tenn., April, 1895.