Orr's Rifles Through the Eyes
of J. F. J. Caldwell
McGowan's men have broken and who should show up but Kershaw... and then the afternoon, and the death of Micah Jenkins...the Wilderness would be a strange battle for South Carolina.
Edited by: Steve Batson
The book that provides the facts quoted here was printed for the first time`over one hundred years ago. As with all books of this type, history as told by the men who lived it never grows old. Like fine metal, which has been polished for generations, the patina only enhances the beauty of the product and the craftsman. Little could ever be added to Caldwell, but enough can never be said about the boys who fought with Gregg and McGowan. What follows is but a tease, the tip of the treasure that lies within Caldwells masterwork, A Brigade of South Carolinians indulge yourself and read it. The Morningside Press edition is the best I have seen. But as Sam Watkins from Tennessee might say, "Hush now! Be still, tell us what the book says of Orrs Men, those magnificent barefoot boys from Pickens who followed Bobby Lee and his strong right arm." And so I shall, and so I shall.
[Gaines Mill] [Fraysers Farm] [Second Manassas] [Ox Hill] [Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg] [Shepherdstown] [Fredericksburg] [Chancellorsville] [Gettysburg] [ The Wilderness] [Spotsylvania]
First blood for Orrs Rifles came at Gaines Mill on June 27, 1862. All of the early battles were filled with errors that more experienced soldiers would not make and Gaines Mill was no exception. As Greggs Brigade advanced late in the afternoon, he met with resistance from a battery on his right. Given the conventional wisdom of the time he ordered the Rifles, under Marshall, to silence the battery. Six companies of the Rifles were ordered to the works. The Rifles advanced and drove back the line and forced the battery to retreat. "The fighting was very heavy, and at one point the clubbed musket became the weapon of the day." A unit, which Caldwell identifies as the New York Zouaves, moved against the flank of the Rifles, and they too were checked. However, the bloody affair was not exploited, as no support was forthcoming. For the day, the Rifles lost eighty-one killed and two hundred and thirty-four wounded. It would rank the Rifles among those units who took the heaviest losses in a single battle during the war.
Thus was Gaines Mill or First Cold Harbor, there could be no greater sacrifice made, and few units could pay this price and continue to function.
As was Caldwells custom, he lists the casualties in officers.
Captain James H. Henagan Killed
Lieutenant B.M. Latimer Killed
Lieutenant W.C. Norris Killed
Major J.W. Livingston Wounded
Captain G.M. Miller Wounded
Captain F.E. Harrison Wounded
Captain G.W. Cox Wounded
Lieutenant W.C. Davis Wounded
Lieutenant G.W. McKay Wounded
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Orrs Rifles was involved at Fraysers Farm late in the day in support of Longstreets Division. They supported Pryor and Featherson. Caldwell states a total of nine wounded for the Rifles.
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Following the movements of Hills Division, Jacksons Corps, Greggs Brigade, the Rifles now move toward their next engagement with the enemy. Colonel Marshall is commanding the unit. The Rifles, along with Greggs Brigade, found itself in the railroad cut with Orrs Rifles in reserve, a reserve that was quickly committed to battle. In a day of fierce fighting, Colonel Marshall and his men were more than noteworthy in handling the many charges made by and against the enemy that morning. Recalled to the railroad cut to avoid full battle, all awaited the arrival of Longstreet.
Finding a break in the line along the railroad cut, the brigade was cut off. But an attack by the Fourteenth and a Georgia Regiment restored the line. Finally about three in the afternoon came the final drive. Caldwell states the pressure became particularly heavy on the Rifles. Again the fighting was close and ugly.
This is, of course, the famous fight where many of the men were without ammunition and some were reduced to using rocks. Late in the day Greggs Brigade and the Rifles fell back in reserve. Longstreet arrived late, and Pope’s men surrendered the field. The following day Lee gained one of the great victories of the war. Greggs men had been heavily used and were held in reserve. Caldwell states that the Rifles lost 19 killed and 97 wounded. These were by no means the heaviest losses by a regiment of Greggs Brigade that day, but it was certainly bad enough. Thank goodness the numbers are not nearly so overwhelming as Gaines Mill. The greatest losses for the Rifles were Colonel Marshall and Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Ledbetter. Marshall was killed the day after his forty-fifth birthday. He was a lawyer and native of Abbeville. He had served in the Mexican War as a Captain in the South Carolina or Palmetto Regiment.
Lieutenant W.C. Davis Killed
Captain Miles M. Norton Wounded
Lieutenant James S. Cothran Wounded
For more information see The Southern Historical Papers, Greggs Brigade in the Second Battle of Manassas, Vol. XIII, (1885), Edward McCrady, Jr.
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In an attempt to catch and destroy the Union Army following Second Manassas, Jackson pursued Pope and caught him at Ox Hill. Jacksons line of attack placed Hills Division on the right. Orrs Rifles were supporting the Thirteenth in the assault, but the lines mixed at the point of attack. The Rifles suffered 5 killed and 25 wounded.
Lieutenant Robert Junkin Wounded
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Harpers Ferry and Sharpsburg
The Brigade was involved with Jackons in the capture of Harpers Ferry, but suffered no killed or wounded. Once again, Orrs Rifles were at the point of history, racing as part of Hills command, to relieve Lee at Sharpsburg. They arrived just in the nick of time to meet Burnsides men, as they spilled across the bridge that bears his name. The Rifles drove them back and with the aid of the others in the division they saved Lees army to fight another day.
Once again at Sharpsburg, Captain Perrin took the Rifles into the breech. Rushing on the field from the forced march from Harpers Ferry, Greggs First found itself about to be flanked and Perrin was able to flank the flankers and hit them hard. The end result was that the right of Lees army was saved, it was one of those rare dramatic moments in warfare when the "cavalry" did arrive at the perfect moment. It was a near thing, Lee was used up and Little Mac had a lot left. Thank goodness it was "Little Mac", for a more audacious commander would have won a great victory. The Rifles suffered only three killed and nine wounded, a very light bill to the hangman at a place like Sharpsburg. The sun set on a draw and the bloodiest day in American warfare was over.
Captain James Perrin Wounded
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At Shepherdstown, Hills Division engaged the Union forces with great success. The loss to all units had been great since Second Manassas. The brigade was commanded by Colonel Edwards of the Thirteenth S.C.V. Orrs Rifles entered the battle as skirmishers in advance of the line. To quote Caldwell, who was quoting A.P. Hill, "The rifle regiment drove the infantry before them gallantly shooting large numbers of them and forcing many others into the whirlpools of the river, where they drowned. The rest of the brigade did not fire a gun." The Fourteenth did suffer severely from the artillery. The Rifles suffered one wounded and none killed.
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In December, Greggs Brigade and the entire Army of Northern Virginia moved to stop Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg. As a result of lack of understanding concerning his orders, Gregg thought he was the second line of advance at Fredericksburg. Men therefore stacked arms and relaxed. As is widely known, the Union forces appeared through the woods and surprised Greggs Brigade. Many felt that Greggs hearing difficulty caused the error, but at this late date it is difficult to know if Gregg did not know or did not hear. The point is unimportant, as the result would have been the same.
The Rifles were the first unit to be hit by the Union forces coming through the woods. To quote Caldwell, "These (The Rifles) sprang to oppose them. But General Gregg, who was rather deaf, not being able to see the true state of affairs, and anxious to prevent firing into the first line of our own troops, (who must in reason, fall back over us before the enemy could reach us,) rode rapidly to the right and ordered the men to quit the stacks and refrain from firing. In fact, he rode in front of the line, and used every effort to stop them."
"By this time the Federal line was right upon the Rifles, and before one could scarcely reason, much less act, they precipitated themselves upon the stacks of arms. Then ensued a scramble and hand to hand fighting. The Rifle regiment was, as a body, broken, slaughtered, and swept from the field. General Gregg, was, of course, an object of note, riding in full uniform in front of the regiment. The enemy fired upon him and he fell - mortally wounded through the spine. It is pretty well ascertained that the man by whose hand he fell met a speedy death at the hands of the brigade."
"The left company of the Rifles under Lieutenant Charles, and such men as could be rallied from the rout, closed upon the First regiment, which with the other three regiments, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth, stood their ground. General Hill says they stood firm as on parade! Sergeant Pratt of Company G, Orrs rifles, is mentioned as bravely rallying a squad of men, and fighting upon the right of the First regiment."
General Gregg died the next day. It should be mentioned that the Rifles, by taking the impact of the attack, allowed the other units to organize and arm themselves. Their sacrifice was great, but so was the impact of the minutes that they bought with their lives. The Rifles lost 21 killed and 149 wounded. It should also be mentioned that Captain A.C. Haskell, was wounded with General Gregg that day.
Lieutenant William W. Higgins Killed
Lieutenant Joseph Berry Sloan Killed
Lieutenant William Irvine Dickson Killed
Lieutenant James A. Pagett Killed
Lieutenant William G. Mace Killed
Captain James T. Robertson Wounded
Lieutenant Robert Junkin Wounded
Lieutenant James T. Reid Wounded
Lieutenant James B. Moore Wounded
It was at this time, following the death of Gregg, that Colonel McGowan was promoted to Brigade command. During winter quarters the Rifles saw Colonel J.M. Perrin, Lieutenant Colonel F.E. Harrison, and Major G. M. Miller appointed to fill the Command positions of the unit. Colonel Livingston and Lieutenant Colonel Norton had resigned due to health.
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As a part of Hills Division, the Rifles took part in the great flanking move against Hooker. They were involved in the attack that drove Hooker from the field and were very near when Old Jack was shot in the evening. As a matter of fact, they were involved in a night assault just before his death. Caldwell says, "Yet the first line captured the works they were attacking, and we were retired to the road, to be carried nearer to the scene of action and bivouacked. About this time, General Jackson was carried past us with the wound that caused his death."
In the assault the next day, the movement was across rough country and the Rifles were on the right of the Brigade. Perrin was in command of the unit. The Brigade came upon a strong Federal position and the Rifles were left hanging, as Archers Brigade had not advanced in support of them. In this action, General McGowan fell wounded, as did Colonel James Perrin of the Rifles. Finally the position was broken, and the Federal line was forced into retreat. The price was heavy for the Rifles.
Colonel James Perrin Killed
Lieutenant I.H. Fricks Killed
Major G.M Miller Wounded
Lieutenant A.A. Leroy Wounded
Lieutenant A. Campbell Wounded
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Orrs Rifles did not rejoin McGowans Brigade until the third day of Gettysburg. They were detached prior to that and missed the primary action of the Brigade in taking the town on the first day. The Rifles had 2 killed and 5 wounded during the campaign. Six more were wounded in the withdrawal to Virginia following the battle.
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Opening the spring campaigns of 1864, the command structure of the regiment was as follows: Colonel F.E. Harrison, Lieutenant Colonel G.M. Miller, and Major W.M. Hadden. This would be the year of Grants Meat Grinder and the ball would open in May at The Wilderness. Unable to outthink General Lee and the South, the only method left was to grind her into oblivion. It would be a method that would become all too familiar in the year that followed.
Late in the afternoon, McGowans Brigade was deployed with the First Regiment on the right and the Rifles next in the line of battle to meet the assault. Going forward to meet the Union line, the First Regiment and the Rifles were halted in a difficult position, leaving the Rifles exposed to Union fire. The left of the line continued to drive and General McGowan halted the advance and determined to fall back slightly to a better position according to Caldwell. Caldwell also admits to some confusion in the command during the action. The next morning found the brigade particularly hard pressed with the Rifles under great pressure. The unit was holding, waiting for the arrival of Longstreet.
Caldwell says only that Lee advanced to the head of the line to lead the charge at this point but was persuaded to go to the rear. Longstreets men gallantly pushed the line back and the old line was recovered. Kershaws Brigade of South Carolinians were among the first to arrive from Longstreets Corps. In the early afternoon, General Longstreet and General Micah
Jenkins were nearby when Jenkins was killed and Longstreet severely wounded by friendly fire. Oddly enough, this incident took place very close to where a like incident had killed Jackson less than a year before. By the end of the day, McGowans Brigade was withdrawn from the line and returned to the position they occupied the evening before. At The Wilderness, Orrs Rifles suffered twelve killed and 81 wounded.
Lieutenant B.J. Watkins Killed
Lieutenant J.H. Tolar Killed
Captain R. Junkin Wounded
Captain James Pratt Wounded
Lieutenant J.H. Robins Wounded
Lieutenant J.R. Saddler Wounded
Lieutenant T.B. Means Wounded
For a more complete look at the action in The Wilderness, none is better than Douglas S. Freemans in Lees Lieutenants. In looking at his explanation we begin to see a bigger picture. On the first day Wilcox and Heth knew just how bad the situation was. They were few in number, on terrible terrain, and awaiting an overwhelming assault. Had the Confederates been pushed harder on the first day, they could not have held. The line was a jumble of ill-conceived positions awaiting only a minor assault.
Appealing to A.P. Hill, the ill Corps commander, did little good that evening and Wilcox and Heth sought Lee in vain. With only a handful of odd troops to correct the problems in the line, they awaited dawn and Longstreet with more than a little apprehension. Wilcox men took the shock of the early morning assault and to quote Freeman, "they did not run far or fast, but they did run." With Hill ill, Lee and his staff came to be in direct command. Lee had already sent Wilcox to find Longstreet. Unless Longstreet appeared and quickly, the line would be broken. Again as at Sharpsburg, it was a very near thing.
Glorious morning they appeared. At the head of the column, no less a group than Barksdales old Mississippi boys and Kershaws South Carolinians, both were deployed to the right. The Texas boys came on, and it was a moment in the making when Lee inquired, "who is this?" "The Texas Brigade!" was the quick reply. "You must drive them with cold steel," was Lees order. Gregg, the commander of the Texas Brigade, immediately picked up the moment and said, " Texas Brigade forward, the eyes of General Lee are upon you!" Lee raised his hat and said with some anxiety, "Texans always move them!" When the Texans began to cry out, "Lee to the rear, General Lee to the rear " the outcome was a forgone conclusion.
"The concern for Lee was manifest and Colonel Venable whispered to Longstreet that he should encourage Lee to go to the rear. Old Pete, who knew his match, replied in jest that if the commanding General wished to direct his Corps, then he (Longstreet) would be happy to seek a place of safety." Freeman, Lees Lieutenants The men of Longstreets Corps taunted those who had broken under such pressure asking if they belonged to General Bragg. This measure was beneath them, the hard-pressed men of Jacksons old corps fighting now in Hills Corps, the two veterans divisions of Wilcox and Heth, had just sustained a shocking assault against overwhelming numbers and somehow they had held the line. No one would be more prominent than Kershaw in stopping the oncoming giant. Slowly the Union forces ground to a stop and then, not happy with that, Kershaw began to drive them. Lee was still at the front pointing Laws men forward telling the men of Alabama that he asked nothing of them but that they keep pace with the Texans. So it continued until even Hancocks great Union Second Corps was driven back. It was a moment of supreme heroism.
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Continuing to hammer Lee, Grant flanked and moved on Spotslyvania Courthouse. Grant meant what he said when he said, "If it takes all summer." It would take that and a good bit more. For the moment, it was still May in the year of our Lord 1863. To be exact it was May 12 and General Edward Johnson had a handful. He, two thousand of his men, and a number of pieces of artillery had been engulfed and captured by Grants assault. Holding a difficult position in the line, Grant hit Johnson with the early morning push. At this place, that will soon be known as the "mule shoe" or the "bloody angle", Grant was pushing and pushing hard. Lee must once again buy moments with blood and once again it was the blood of the men from South Carolina and they will not be alone. General Abner Perrin who commanded McGowans Brigade at Gettysburg but now commanded Wilcoxs old Brigade, said of this assault, "I will be dead or a Major General by nightfall." He was correct, he would not live to get the promotion. General McGowan was sent with his men to follow Perrin in the assault and hold the line. McGowan was shortly wounded, as was his usual fate. What followed was an assault on a fortified line that was occupied on one side by Union forces and on the other by Confederate. As the "U" shaped curve developed the Confederates in the "Mule Shoe" were exposed to fire on all sides but would not give way. On and on the fight raged. How hot was the fire? In the Smithsonian today, you can see the fragment of a twenty-two inch oak tree that was cut down by small arms fire in the "Bloody Angle". Only Franklin would exceed this place for prolonged intensity during a battle. Harris Mississippi boys were there shoulder to shoulder throughout the long dark day of fighting. The Rifles occupied the extreme right of the line and when Lee told them to retire slowly to a new position, just before daylight, fifteen of the Rifles were dead, thirty-six wounded and forty-four were missing, it was an ominous note of things to come. The sun had passed meridian, and for the first time it was noticed by the Confederates that the shadows they cast were growing longer. Nightfall was nearing.
Following Spotsylvania, Grant began another turning movement to the south. Hancocks II Corps reinforced by other units, particularly cavalry, moved toward Hanover Junction. This action covered May 23 - May 27, 1864 and was known as Jericho Ford, Jericho Bridge, or Hanover Junction. Wilcox Division was the primary force used by Lee to stall the union movement.
The Rifles would be engaged again on the twenty-third in the action that would be known as Jericho Ford. Colonel J.N. Brown, commanding the brigade, was captured once again. Brown would be one of the most interesting men to come out of the war, captured twice and often wounded; he would push himself to the front like few others. Grant continued to try to flank Lee and Lee moved to face him. As this occurs and accelerates the actions became more and more indistinct. Lees army was bled by the bucket and he will never again have the power to strike with brilliance. However, it should never be forgotten that this was still Marse Robert, and although the day may have arrived, he could still prolong the hour. With that in mind, Lee watched and waited and parried Grants every blow. At Jericho Ford the Rifles suffered 4 killed, 24 wounded, and 5 missing. Major W.M. Hadden was commanding the Rifles
Captain James S. Cothran Wounded
Lieutenant S.M. Poole Wounded
On June 3, 1864, Grant launched his series of assaults at Cold Harbor. Considerable action had taken place around Cold Harbor both in the Peninsula Campaign and in the months prior to this. Lee had launched a serious assault that amounted to little on May 12. Grants actions at Cold Harbor were very complex. In some places his assault was little noted by the Confederates, but at the center it was a blood bath of the highest order for those men doomed to make the assault. No less an authority than Douglas S. Freeman would deem this Lees last great victory. Lieutenant Colonel I.F. Hunt now took command of the brigade and they took up position near Hannover Junction. Mcgowns Brigade continued to move finally taking up a line of battle that found them about a half a mile to the right of the center of Grants assault at Cold Harbor. This was very near the ground that the unit fought over at Gaines Mill and Caldwell addressed this "passage" in his commentary. It was at this time that General James Conner took over command of the brigade, during McGowans recovery from his latest wounds.
On the thirteenth of June the brigade moved to meet the Union Cavalry following the battle at Riddles Shop. The Rifles suffered two killed and nine wounded, being more heavily engaged than other units of the brigade. On the seventeenth, the brigade crossed the James as Lees Army moved on toward the siege of Petersburg and Richmond. Sustaining casualties now became a daily fact of life and between the twenty-first and the twenty-fifth of the month the Rifles suffered three killed and twelve wounded. Most of these causalities were the direct result of the Weldon Railroad Operations, a series of movements by Mahone and Wilcox that are also known as Jerusalem Plank Road.
The Rifles and the brigade under the command of Conner were returned north of the James late in June. The men were placed in the line with the First manning Fort Harrison and on the twenty-third of July they were joined by the Division commanded by Kershaw. Moving toward Fussells Mill the Rifles and the Brigade engaged the enemy near there on the twenty-eighth of July.
The Rifles lost 3 killed, 34 wounded and 5 missing at Deep Bottom. Included in those was Major W.M. Hadden who commanded the Rifles.
Major W.M. Hadden Killed
Captain G.W. McKay Wounded
Lieutenant J.H. Robins Wounded
Lieutenant T.B. Means Wounded.
On the sixteenth of August the brigade moved to the extreme left of the Confederate line, as Grant continued to attempt to flank General Lee. Advancing through a forest in a line of battle, the Confederates came upon the Union works. The Union line was struck first by the Twelfth and the rest of line was turned obliquely to the Union position so that the other regiments in the brigade took longer to reach the line. The attack weakened until the Union line was struck at another point. Caldwell believes this was Brattons South Carolina unit, which would have been Jenkins' old unit. At that point the Union line broke and McGowans men took a good many prisoners and seized the Union works. The battle was called many things, but Caldwell refers to it as Fussells Mill. Orrs Rifles suffered 16 men wounded.
On the Twenty-fourth of August when a breakthrough was achieved in the battle of Reams Station, McGowans Brigade followed late in the day. The enemy had broken already and the pursuit ran into darkness. Following the assault, the brigade was pulled out of the line and returned to the positions they had occupied near Weldon Railroad. Orrs Rifles suffered five wounded.
Lieutenant H. Rogers Wounded
On September 30, Grant moved against the Confederate position near Poplar Springs Church in an action that is also called Pebbles Farm or Pegrams Farm. Caldwell refers to it as Jones Farm. The Union Division of Griffin had captured a confederate redoubt at Pebbles Farm. In the afternoon the Confederate Divisions of Heth and Wilcox hit Potters Union Division. Potter drove the Confederates back, but was left with a flank in the air. The Confederates attacked and drove the Union force before them. Griffin came to Porters assistance, and the line was stabilized. They entrenched along the Squirrel Level Road and held the position at Pebbles Farm. The line was fluid throughout the first and second of October but was eventually consolidated. The Rifles occupied the center of the brigade in the attack on the 30th of September. In the heavy fighting on the first two days Orr
Rifles lost nine killed and thirty-seven wounded with one missing.
Lieutenant Huger Rogers Killed
Lieutenant J.A. Lewis Killed
Lieutenant B.G. Rollison Killed
Captain James Pratt Wounded
Captain W.H. Holcombe Wounded
Lieutenant C.G. Wynn Wounded
Lieutenant A.C. Sinclair Wounded
On October 2 the Rifles were moved northwest of the Jones House very close to the position where they fought on the 30th of September. Here they constructed breastworks and extended the line toward Hatchers Run. McGowan s Brigade did not participate in the October 27 battle at Hatchers Run.
Caldwell contains an excellent review of conditions and operations in winter of 1864 and any student concerned with the level of privation experienced by the Army of Northern Virginia would do well to look closely at it. As spring approached Orrs Rifle was holding the far right of the brigade line and was commanded by Colonel G.M. Miller with J.T. Robertson serving as Lieutenant Colonel. There was no major because Captain Rogers, the senior Captain was a prisoner. The Rifles were the second largest regiment left in the brigade. Caldwell, writing long before political correctness became an issue, has this to say about the use of black troops by the Confederacy. "Very few of us had any objection to the measure (the use of black troops), but it created considerable despondency by showing us how little hope of success was entertained by the Confederate authorities."
The winter of 1864 was spent in operations in defense of the Petersburg - Richmond line. Lees resources continued to be drained. Grants moves in a series of smaller operations from the night of March 25 announcing his Spring Campaign. His forces push the pickets in along the line on the front held by McGowans Brigade. In the two days of skirmishing the Rifles suffered eight wounded. On March 29, the brigade was pulled out of the line and moved with McRaes Brigade to assist Bushrod Johnsons Division at a different part of the line. The end is near, as Grant continues to push. One last time Lee calls on McGowans men to push this time in an attempt to roll the enemy back across Gravelly Run. The attempt fails and is lost to those who write history today. The Rifles loss four killed and twenty-two wounded.
Lieutenant J.N. George is wounded.
The last blow had fallen at Five Forks, Grant had effectively broken the Confederate line, and the army begins to move toward Appomattox Courthouse. In an attempt to hold the flank during the retreat the Rifles are caught pressed and over one hundred of their number are listed as missing on April second. As Caldwell says, "According to the inelegant, but to us expressive, phraseology of the army, the Confederacy was considered as gone up; and every man felt it his duty, as well as his privilege, to save himself." The movement has become a rout. On the morning of the fourth, Lieutenant Colonel Robertson of the Rifles rejoined the brigade after having crossed to the north of the Appomattox river with a number of men from his unit and other units of the brigade. On the ninth came the surrender and on the twelfth, Orrs First South Carolina Rifles, Gregg/McGowans Brigade, Wilcox Division, Hill Corps turned their eyes south, as a group one last time.
General Order Number Nine was a reality and to quote from it, "You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed; and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection. With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell."
So Mote it be.
The History of a Brigade of South Carolinians, Caldwell, J.F.J.
Lee's Lieutenants, Freeman, Douglas S.
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