Lane’s Brigade by James A. Weston

    In Their Own Words
    Lane’s Brigade
    Brigadier General James Lane
    James A. Weston
    The Landmark, Statesville, N.C.
    July 6, 1893
    The following sketch of Lane’s N.C. Brigade was written by General Lane 
    himself and recently published in the Charlotte Observer and will prove of 
    special interest to many of the Landmark readers.
    Lane’s Brigade was organized in Kinston and left for the State of Virginia as 
    a North Carolina Brigade under General L. O’B. Branch and was never 
    re-organized.  After reaching the Old Dominion it was ordered over the 
    mountains, ostensibly to reinforce Jackson but did not cross the Blue Ridge.  
    It was marched backwards and forwards between the foot of the mountains 
    and a little town called Criglersville to deceive the enemy whose signal station 
    was in full view and whose flag was kept constantly waving during the day.  
    It was then suddenly ordered back to Gordonsville from which point it was 
    moved rapidly by rail to Hanover Court House.
    Shortly afterwards it made a galling fight at (illegible word-Black’s?) Church 
    and Kinney’s Farm against an overwhelming force of infantry and artillery 
    and cavalry under Fitz John Porter and was handsomely complimented by 
    General Lee in a written communication which was read on parade.  It was 
    then assigned to A.P. Hill’s Light Division.
    It was the first brigade of Lee’s army to cross the Chickahominy which it did 
    at “Half Link” and sweeping down its eastern bank it cleared the way for the 
    division to cross at Meadow Bridge.  The official reports tell how nobly it 
    fought and how terribly it suffered in those memorable seven days fights 
    around Richmond.
    At Cedar Run, it was the first brigade of Hill’s Division to go into action there 
    and gallantly repulsed the enemy infantry and cavalry and restored Jackson’s 
    disordered left.
    At Manassas Junction, in the rear of Pope’s army, it chased, with Rebel 
    yells, Taylor’s New Jersey Brigade after it had been broken by the artillery
    fire and made many amusing captures in the swamp of Bull Run.
    On the extreme left of Manassas Plains, it and McGowan’s splendid South 
    Carolinians fought repeatedly over the same grounds, while Jackson anxiously 
    awaited the arrival of Longstreet.
    It was one of the brigades that met the enemy at Ox Hill and fought them 
    successfully in a pouring rain.  
    It was the brigade that scaled at midnight the cliffs of the Shenandoah and 
    lay concealed in the woods on the left and rear of the enemy on Bolivar 
    Heights, ready and eager to charge but Harper’s Ferry being surrendered 
    under our concentrated, murderous firing, it had no opportunity to do so.
    It was also that rapid march of the Light Division from Harper’s Ferry to 
    Sharpsburg where it arrived just in time to hurl back the fresh troops of the 
    enemy and save the right of Lee’s grand but hard pressed army.  Here it was 
    that the peerless Branch gave up his life in defense of ones he loved so well 
    and Lane was called upon to take command of the heroes upon the battlefield.
    It was one of the three brigades that formed the rear guard of the Army of 
    Northern Virginian when Lee retired from Sharpsburg and re-crossed the 
    Potomac.  They held their ground until every ambulance and wagon had 
    safely crossed—its own little corps hauling an ambulance of brave wounded 
    Georgians across the turbulent river as the drivers and others had mounted 
    the mules and cowardly deserted them.
    It was the brigade that chased the finely dressed Pennsylvania (illegible 
    word—Corn?) Exchange Regiment over the banks of the river in 
    Shepherdstown and, under a heavy artillery fire from the opposite side of the 
    river, made the Potomac run red with Yankee blood at the old dam just 
    above the ford.
    It was also this brigade that fought so stubbornly on the right at 
    Fredericksburg, driving back two lines of battle as a large force of the 
    enemy had penetrated the unfortunate opening left between Archer and 
    himself, turned its left and caught its support with their arms stacked.
    It was this North Carolina brigade that was ordered to the front to make a 
    night attack in the matchless flank movement of Jackson at Chancellorsville, 
    but the attack was abandoned on account of the wounding of Jackson and 
    Hill.  This brigade and Pender’s braves constituted the front line that terrible 
    night until after midnight and it was Lane’s men that repulsed Sickles’ 
    formidable midnight attack on their lines.
    This brigade was charged by some of the heroes of the rear with being 
    unduly excited on that occasion because the 18th, under the misapprehension 
    caused by the darkness, had fired upon its friends; and yet it stood its ground 
    under three terrific and prolonged artillery fires which doubtless made those 
    self-constituted critics in the rear quake; and it gallantly repulsed that 
    formidable attack on Sickles; taking from him the colors of the 3rd Maine 
    Regiment and a number of prisoners, officers and men.  It was this brigade 
    that carried the enemy’s works next morning in a direct assault but was 
    forced to retire because its intended support broke under the tremendous
     fire in the teeth of Lane’s men while the Potomac was on a (illegible words) 
    its rear it withdrew in a rain and after a weary march was ordered to act as a 
    rear guard to that portion of the army which crossed the Potomac on the 
    pontoon bridge at Falling Waters.  There, it stood alone with the spirited 
    young Cromwell of the 28th in charge of the skirmish line, unerringly backing 
    off every man who tried to show himself too close until every other command 
    had crossed safely; then it retired to the Virginia shore in perfect order and 
    General Heath, in honor of such fortitude and success, doffed his hat to those 
    veterans as they proudly marched by him in columns of four.  The next day 
    when Heath greeted Lane in the rain while on the march he told him it was 
    an unexpected pleasure as he felt when he ordered him to cover the rear that 
    his whole command would be killed, wounded or captured.
    It was the guns of this brigade as it went into action in the Wilderness late in 
    the afternoon of the 5th May that caused Col.. Venable to remark to Col. 
    Palmer:  “I will go back and tell General Lee that Lane has just gone in and will 
    hold our ground until other troops arrive to fight”.  The brigade not only held its 
    ground, but drove the enemy some distance.
    It was this brigade that reached the works, formed a new line and piled the 
    Yankees in front of it at Spottsylvania Court House early in the morning that 
    May day after they had broken through Johnson’s fort.  Its gallantry on that 
    occasion caused a London correspondent to write to his paper that “Lane’s N.C. 
    veterans stopped the tide of a Federal victory as it came swinging to the right”. 
     Later it was this brigade that General Lee selected to cross the works and strike 
    at Burnside’s corps in flank in which assault it captured between 200 and 400 
    prisoners, three flags and a battery of six guns but was unable to bring off the
    latter as they were without horses and could not be dragged through the woods.  
    General Lee acknowledged the receipt of the flags in a complimentary note, 
    written on the battlefield, which was read to the command by the brigadier in 
    person; and it was received with the wildest of Rebel yells.
    Still later in the day it was this splendid body of tired men—the sharp shooters 
    of Lane’s brigade—under the dashing and accomplished Nicholson who were 
    “requested” by General Lee, through the brigadier, to make an important 
    reconnaissance for him in front of Spottsylvania Court House though they 
    had been fighting all day and there were fresh troops at hand.
    At Jericho Ford, this brigade advanced as far, if not further, than any other 
    body of troops and held the ground until relieved that night.
    At the second Cold Harbor, it behaved as it did on the first.  Here, General
     Lane was severely wounded—it was felt at the time mortally—and had to be 
    borne from the field.
    Around Petersburg, it was not kept in the trenches but used as “flying infantry” 
    or “foot cavalry” under Colonels Barry and (illegible name-Speer?).  It behaved 
    with its customary bravery in the fights at Riddick’s Shop, Petersburg, Grand 
    Hill and (illegible word-Possell’s?) Mill.
    Under General Connor, it was one of three North Carolina brigades that handled 
    Hancock so roughly at Ream’s Station after the failure of the attack by other 
    troops.  It was this sight that got General Lee to write that handsome letter to 
    Governor Vance about the gallantry of this brigade and also caused that grand 
    old chieftain to tell General Lane when he re-joined his command just after the 
    battle at Jones’ Farm that those three brigades, by their gallantry at Ream’s 
    Station, had placed not only North Carolina but the whole Confederacy under 
    a debt of gratitude which could never be repaid.
    It was in the Pegram(?) House fight the next day that the modest but daring 
    young Wooten with his sharp shooters dashed into the enemy works, which 
    were being shielded by Brander’s (?) artillery and returned with more prisoners 
    then he had men in his command.  It was around that beleaguered city—
    Petersburg—that the sharp shooters of this brigade became still more famous 
    and Wooten’s name was made so familiar on the enemy’s skirmish line by his 
    frequent and unexpected (illegible word) calls.  It was Wooten’s brilliant Davis 
    House surprise that elicited congratulatory letters from his corps, division and 
    brigade commanders all of which were read on parade.
    It was this North Carolina brigade that, after its attenuated line on the right at 
    Petersburg that had been broken by Grant in the spring of 1865 fought the 
    enemy from behind the winter quarters in old Indian style as it fell back towards 
    the interior lines, some of the men being ordered to Battery Gregg and others 
    to the dam near Battery 45(?).  it was chiefly the brave men of this brigade who 
    were in Battery Gregg, assisted by the supernumerary artillerists that made the 
    stubborn defense of that little earthwork one of the most brilliant events of the war.
    From Petersburg to Appomattox this brigade of brave and starving North 
    Carolinians fought by day and marched by night without a murmur and when 
    at Appomattox it was ordered back from the front and told that General Lee 
    had surrendered, its officers and men burst into tears and some were heard to 
    remark most feelingly, “and we endured all this for nothing.”
    There were other minor engagements all through the war in which this brigade
     took an active part that were not of importance enough to demand particular 
    In a recent letter from a northern military historian asking General Lane for 
    information about the Battle of Chancellorsville, he closed with the following 
    playful but gratifying words:
    “If Lane’s brigade had remained at home, many New England regiments 
    would have been much happier.  It is admitted here that Lane’s boys were a 
    bad, quarrelsome set of fellows and altogether too fond of fighting.”
    General Lee complimentary letters and notes about the Battles at (illegible 
    word) Church and Kinney’s Farm and Ream’s Station and the capture of the 
    flags at Spottsylvania Court House have been published in the Southern 
    Historical Society papers; also General Trimble’s admiration of the conduct of 
    the brigade at Gettysburg.  Copies of the congratulatory letters to Major 
    Wooten are on file in the War Record Office in Washington.  Most of the 
    official reports relating to this brigade have been published by the Southern 
    Historical Society papers in the “War of the Rebellion”, a work authorized by 
    the U.S. government.  
    To the Editor of the Charlotte Observer:
    I have read with interest the sketch of Lane’s Brigade of North Carolinians in 
    your issue in Sunday’s paper.  The writer, General Lane, was one of the 
    bravest and ablest soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia.  He wields and 
    easy, vigorous pen.
    The brigade (originally Branch’s) belonged to A.P. Hill’s Light Division, Stonewall 
    Jackson’s Corps and it is safe to say that no brigade in the Confederate army 
    rendered more efficient and faithful service.
    I beg leave, Mr. Editor, to thank you most warmly for the generous, noble tribute 
    which you pay to the soldiers of this command.  At Spottsylvania on the 12th 
    May, 1864, there can be little doubt that Lane’s Brigade saved Lee’s army from 
    a terrible defeat.  Johnston’s line was utterly broken and the Federals were 
    pouring into the huge gap thus made in our ranks when Lanes’ brigade was sent 
    to the front to check their progress.  I never saw such heroism as were displayed 
    by these officers and men.  It was impossible to surpass it.  The Federals were 
    advancing in large numbers and with deafening yells but Lane’s brigade not only 
    remained true but advanced beyond the entrenchments and drove the enemy a 
    considerable distance to the rear.  General Lane himself rode up to the brigade 
    when the fire was the hottest, his thin lips quivering with the glow and ardor of 
    the battle and told us that we must hold our ground; that the honor and safety 
    of the army demanded it.  Lt. Col. Robert V. Cowan of Statesville seized the 
    colors of his regiment, the 33rd, with a loud shout rushed upon the foe.  His 
    regiment followed him to one man.  The other regiments—17th, 18th, 28th, and 
    37th, behaved with equal intrepidity—and the army was saved.  That fight alone 
    would make Lane’s Brigade immortal.
    At the Battle of the Wilderness, Col. Clark M. Avery of Morganton, 33rd 
    Regiment, was mortally wounded.  The brigade was surprised, though through 
    no fault of General Lane, we were eating breakfast, so called, when the enemy 
    suddenly attacked us.  There was scarcely time to get into line when the enemy 
    rushed upon us with a large, superior force.  
    Col. Avery walked along the line giving orders, encouraging his men.  As he 
    passed me, I said to him:  “Colonel, shelter yourself behind these breastworks.  
    If  you walk about in that way you shall certainly be killed.”  “No, no”, he said,
     “it will make the men fight better’>
    In an instant our line was broken and we were forced to retreat.  I never saw 
    Col. Avery again.  He received five (?) sounds that morning and died a glorious
     death a few weeks afterwards.  I knew him well.  He was a brave and faithful 
    officer and one of the truest, gentlest and most noble of men.
    At Appomattox Court House, as General Lane states, officers and men shed 
    tears when it was announced that General Lee had surrendered.  Some of the 
    officers were tempted to break their swords.  Col. Cowan was very indignant.  
    He turned to me and said “I will not surrender, major.  Take charge of the 
    regiment.”  There could be no more brave man than Colonel Cowan and General 
    Hoke.  He was a born soldier.
    James A. Weston
    Hickory, North Carolina
    Transcribed by Christine Spencer, June 2008

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