In Their Own Words
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
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
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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