The Tenth Georgia's March to Big Bethel
By James W. Anderson
In May, 1861, I joined the "Benjamin Infantry," a fine company which was made and organized at Jonesboro, Ga. I was not a resident of Jonesboro, but went there on business during the latter part of April. The war excitement was on and military companies were being formed all over the state. Fort Sumter had fallen and the new Confederate government at Montgomery, Ala. was working rapidly to get matters in shape to meet the great crisis that was upon the country.
I had not been in Jonesboro many days before Mr. A. J. McBride, Mr. S. S. Fears and some other young men undertook the work of raising a company for the war. The enthusiasm of the young men was so great that but a few days elapsed before they had nearly 100 men enrolled for the company. The organization took place at once and George G. Crawford, a young medical student who had just returned from Paris, was elected captain: A. J. McBride first lieutenant, J. Thomas Key second lieutenant and Joe Hall third lieutenant. Joshua Haynes was elected orderly sergeant, but I do not now remember the other non-commissioned officers. The company then had two drills a day each, lasting from one to two hours.
In the meantime the government at Montgomery was notified of the organization of the company, but the secretary of war replied that the government had no arms and could not receive the company. This information cast a great damper over the boys, and by a unanimous vote they selected Lieutenant McBride as a special envoy to go to Montgomery and in person tender the services of the company to the government. The gallant young envoy hurried to Montgomery, where he met the Hon. Judah P. Benjamin, secretary of war, and informed him that he had a fine company organized at Jonesboro and that they had named it the "Benjamin Infantry" in his honor. Mr. Benjamin was much pleased at this compliment and directed Lieutenant McBride to return home and report with his company at Richmond, Va., at the earliest possible moment.
When Lieutenant McBride returned to Jonesboro and reported the success of his mission the enthusiasm of the company, as well as of the entire community, and especially of the ladies, was at once raised to fever heat, and preparations were immediately begun for the company's departure to Richmond. The ladiesset to work to make uniforms for the men, for almost everybody had a husband, son, brother or "lover" in the company. Knapsacks, canteens, mess chests and other needful articles were ordered and in a few days everything was in readiness for leaving, and thousands of people came from the surrounding country to see the boys off. It was a pathetic scene that was presented when the parting hour came and many were the prayers and good wishes offered by the mothers and sisters and sweethearts of those going away, many of them never to return.
Many of the ladies went with the company to Atlanta, where several hours were spent before the train left for Richmond. I had secured permission from Captain Crawford to visit my old home in Northeast Georgia, before going to Richmond, and left the company at Union Point. After spending a few days at my father's home in Madison county, my youngest brother joined me, and we left for Virginia. When we arrived in Richmond we found the city full of soldiers, and everything was excitement and enthusiasm. The battle of Big Bethel church had just been fought, on the peninsula, below Richmond, and the confederates had won a signal victory over General "Beast" Butler, who was in command of the Federals. This stopped the advance of the enemy upon Richmond at that time and cleared the country of the Federals, as far down the peninsula as Newport News and Fortress Monroe.
Our company was located in the camp of instructions in the suburbs of Richmond, were many thousands of confederate volunteers were now assembled. We remained in this camp for several weeks, where we had company drills for several hours each day. Most of the other troops there at that time had been organized into regiments in the states from which they came, and they were sent to the front as soon as they were suffi ciently drilled to be of service. The Benjamin Infantry, having gone to Richmond as an independent company, was not organized into a regiment until a sufficient number of other independent companies arrived to organize a regiment. This occured, I think, about the 10th of June, when nine other independent companies having arrived from Georgia, we were organized into the Tenth Georgia Regiment, and our company was designated as Co. E. From that time on we were known as Co. E and not by our original name.
LaFayette McLaws, of Augusta, was appointed Colonel; Alfred Cumming, lieutenant colonel , and J. B. Weems, major.
As soon as the organization of the regiment was perfected, we were ordered to Yorktown on the peninsula, and marched out of camp with over 1,100 of as fine looking soldiers as ever met an enemy on the field of battle. We were armed with Springfield rifles, and presented a splendid appearance as we marched through Richmond to the York River Railroad depot where we took a train for West Point, on the York river. From West Point we went by steamer to Yorktown. Upon the historic fields of Yorktown we were encamped for several days, when we were suddenly ordered to the ancient and historic city of Williamsburg, which was for a long time the capital of Virginia. The distance was about ten miles, the afternoon was exceedingly hot, but we made the trip without a single mishap and with but one short stop for rest.
We established our camp in a strip of woods near the edge of a large wheat field and soon had the grounds cleaned up and everything in good shape for a permanent camp. And right here I might say our real soldier life began. We had company drill in the morning, regimental drill in the afternoon, and camp and guard duty by detail. In addition to these duties the entire regiment was detailed to build Fort Magruder, which was a large earthwork, covering several acres of land. It was constructed by digging an immense ditch, about ten feet in an octagon shape, around the entire ground inclosed by the fort, and throwing up the dirt like a railroad embankment on the inside of theditch. This work we had to do in addition to our drilling and other camp dutieseach day. It was a big job, and to say the boys did some kicking about the work is putting it mildly. The weather was extremely hot and the work was not finished until sometime in the fall.
One night we received orders to cook up three days rations and prepare for a march. Next morning early the regiment was formed in line, and started down the peninsula toward Big Bethel church andNewport News. I had been very sick for several days with mumps, and had a burning fever, but when I saw the regiment march away I could not bear the thought of being left behind, and so I arose from my bed, on the ground, and started after it. It was many miles to Big Bethel church, and we arrived there the next day about 1 o'clock. We went into camp by the edge of the church cemetary. There were many old graves there, some of themdating back to the first settlement of Virginia. They all had large marble slabs over them, and many or our boys slept on them that night. I cooupied one of them myself. But there was no injury done to them, and no desecration. The only "outrage" committed was in simply sleeping on a tomb stone over a grave. But I was too sick to take much thought about my surroundings. I had suffered terribly on the march through a low open and sandy country, with a hot fever upon me. I was obliged to have the doctor me me that afternoon, and he was very angry because I had come on the march, when I was so sick; and the next morning he had me placed in a large army wagon with 24 other sick men, and taken back to Williamsburg. Just think of that easy trip, without stopping, in abig road wagon, with no covering to keep off the blistering rays of the sun, and 25 sick men crowded into the body, with no chance to move or change position, and you can only have a faint idea of our suffering. When we arrived at our camp at Williamsburg, which had been left in charge of the sick, we found Dr. Willis Westmoreland, of Atlanta, there on a visit, and in temporary charge of the sick. He expressed great surprise, when he examined me, and saw how I was suffering, thatI had undertaken such a trip, and thought I was fortunate in being able to get back.
When we were on the march to Big Bethel, and were near it, we came to a piece of woods at the summit of a step decline in the road, and stopped for a short rest. The road, from where the head of the column rested, was straight, and quite steep for about 100 yards down to a small stream. Company "E" was at the head of the colums, and while we were resting, an old citizen came up the hill, meeting us, with a cart load of apples. He saw the troops resting, and stopped his team before he reached the level, and just opposite the head of company E. The men being tired, hot and thirsty, began to approach the cart, and asked the old gentleman to sell them some apples. In a few minutes the cart was surrounded and all were endeavoring to buy at once. The man was confused and did not seem to understand what it all meant, when suddenly some one lifted the hind gate of the cart and the apples shot out on the ground and went bounding down the inclined road toward the stream below, like ten thousand frightened rabbits, and the further they went the faster and higher they bounded, until they reached the stream, all battered and bruised, and disappeared in the water and mud. The cart body was emptied of its precious load of apples almost in the twinkle of an eye, and the astonishment and indignation of the old man at the loss of his apples was beyond all description. But when he saw the troops moving up he wisely concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, and quietly went on his way, minus his stock of apples.
After we had finished the building of Fort Magruder, which completed a chain of fortifications around Williamsburg (the other forts being built by negro laborers employed by the government), and we were congratulating ourselves that we would now enjoy a rest through the fall and winter, we received orders to braek camp and move further down the peninsula to Young's Mills, on the Warwick river, which was several miles below Williamsburg. Here we soon established winter quarters and remained there until next April.
We had a company in the Tenth Georgia from Savannah, which was commanded by Captain Reed, a splendid gentleman and a fine officer. The men were mostly Irishmen, who had been sailors and stevedores, and were generally a very rough and desperate set. They were desperate fighters, and it was a very quiet morning if they did not have a half dozen fights in their company quarters before breakfast. There was one man named John McGowan, who was one of the most powerful men, physically, I ever saw. He was of medium height, broad-chested, with arms almost as large as an ordinary man's body. He had been a sailor and the captain of a vessel, and was as fearless as a lion. I have frequently heard him say he would allow any man to hit him in the breast with his fist just for fun. He soon became tired of camp life, and refused to do guard and other camp duty. The consequence was he lay in the guardhouse most of the time. He was surly and disagreeable and became a terror to the guard. One day in the fall of 1861 he was drinking heavily, and created a great disturbance in the camp. Captain P. H. Loud was officer of the day, and he went with the guard to arrest him. McGowan walked up to Captain Loud, drew his fist up squarely in front of his breast and struck it straight out, hitting Captain Loud in the breast and knocking him fully ten feet upon the ground. The guard then closed around McGowan and carried him to the guardhouse. For some reason, I don't know why, McGowan was not court martialed for his assault upon the officer of the day, as it was a very serious offense; but he was kept confined in the guardhouse until Christmas eve day. During that time he had made himself very disagreeable and obnoxious to the guard, and he had given them much trouble, while he came very near being shot by the guard on several occasions. On Christmas eve day he had procured whisky, and was acting unusually bad. Lieutenant Redwine, of Fayetteville, who was officer of the guard, and a member of Co. C, from Chattahoochee county, was the sentinel at the door of the guardhouse.
McGowan was boisterous and insulting to everyone on duty, and boasted that when he wanted more whiskey he would brush the sentinel aside and go to the commissary tent and get it. Lieutenant Redwine was a very quiet but brave man, and he bore with McGowan for some time, but finally ordered him to remain quiet or he would have him punished. This angered McGowan, and he walked up to Lieutenant Redwine, caught him by the collar at the throat and gave him a rough shake, at the same time saying: "Lieutenant Redwine, I respect your office and your position, but I do not care for any man. What could you do if I wanted to crush you into the ground?" Redwine was as cool as a cucumber, and looking McGowan squarely in the face, he ordered him to release his hold. McGowan gave him another shake, and Redwine said: "Release me, or I will order the sentinel to fire." McGowan continued his hold, and Redwine ordered the sentinel to fire. The sentinel brought down his gun, but hesitated about firing. McGowan, still holding Redwine by the collar, scoffingly threatened to crush him into the earth, and said he did not fear the sentinel's fire. Redwine again ordered the sentinel to fire, and he raised his gun to aim, but waited to see if McGowan would release his hold upon the lieutenant. Instead of doing so, however, he again gave Redwine a rough shake, and threatened to crush him to the earth, when the officer for the third time ordered the sentinel to fire. This time the sentinel fired, the ball passing entirely through McGowan's body, and he immediately sank to the floor, but did not die until about 8 o'clock that night.
The firing at the guardhouse caused an alarm, and in a few minutes more than half the regiment was on the ground and great excitement prevailed. McGowan's company threatened vengeance against Redwine and the sentinel. Colonel Cumming ordered every man to his quarters, and then ordered companies E and F under arms to preserve order. Lieutenant Redwine and the sentinel were relieved from duty and sent to their quar ters. The two companies remained under arms all night, but there was no further trouble. Captain Reed and his company were soon afterward transferred to the artillery arm of the service, and were given a battery.