Captain R. N. Rea has an interesting letter running in the “Confederate Veteran”, which will take about four issues of the magazine to complete, giving in detail his reminisces of his experiences and what came under his observation in the Civil War. The first installment of his article has been highly complimented and Captain Rea has received many letters from old veterans who wore the gray praising the article and who say they are anxiously waiting for the other installments to appear. [The copy of this article from the Confederate Veteran, 1922., is below]
August 1922, Confederate Veteran, pages 287-89
A MISSISSIPPI SOLDIER OF THE CONFEDERACY.
BY CAPT. R. N. REA, LAKE PROVIDENCE, LA.
It was not long before I was off. I stepped over the breastworks into the public highway and marched rapidly to the picket line and was very soon between the lines of the two great western armies. I continued marching right down the road until near daylight, and, feeling that I was not far from the enemy's picket line, I thought it prudent to get into the woods, and when daylight came, I saw that I did not make this move any too soon. I was on a hill, and a small stream was at its base running bright and clear. On the opposite hill many small smokes began to ascend heavenward, and I noticed a narrow, well-used pathway running to the branch, and in a few moments a string of Yankees came down that path with their camp kettles for their ration of water ; and they kept this up during the entire day. It was not my business to capture or shoot soldiers; what I wanted was information. If it had been otherwise, I could have done some business then and there. I now had my business and directions well fixed in my mind. When night came, we recrossed the road in single file, using the utmost care. Halting my men at a point which I could recognize in the distance, I selected one man to go with me, instructing the others to remain in that exact spot until I returned; and if I did not return by the following night they were to return to our army and report to General Sears.
I slipped right through the picket line and very soon was on the bank of the Chattahoochee River, not more than a quarter of a mile above the railroad bridge, the point of my destination. On either bank of the river there was plenty of cane stubble, and I soon sought its protection. While resting in this, I saw a very large force repairing the railroad bridge; no soldiers of any consequence on the Atlanta side of the river and not many on the other side. I had now what I was sent out to secure, and immediately bade adieu to the old Chattahoochee and returned to my men without accident. I was tired, and we lay down to sleep, but by daylight we began our return to Atlanta. After moving slowly and cautiously through the woods, we came to an opening of about fifty acres, where all at once, we heard laughing and talking between men and women. I ordered my men to lie down while I reconnoitered. Upon moving up to the edge of the field, I saw a double log house in the center of the field. On the south side a white woman was washing Yankee uniforms, while, under a cherry tree on the north side, I saw four women entertaining fifteen Yankee soldiers, one of whom had a little girl in his lap, playing with a silver watch. To complete the picture, their arms and cartridges boxes were leaning against the log house. I reported this scene to my men, and that I intended to capture the whole lot. I then marched them to the south side of the field and directed them in a whisper to deploy as skirmishers and to lie down. The following instructions were impressed upon each man, that upon my waving my hand they were to begin crawling up to the house, to preserve their alignment, and to keep this movement up until I waved to them to charge. On reaching the house, I wanted half of them to go to the right and half to the left. I then drew my side arms and we began our long crawl, reaching the corner of the small yard without detection. I was watching the old woman, but she was too busy with her soapsuds to see me. Giving the signal, we bounded forward and around the house, and, before our friends in blue could move from their seats, we had fourteen of them prisoners. One tall fellow, however, made a break for liberty, and, as he passed his stack of guns, he caught one and ran into the door of the house. I was right behind him with cocked pistol. As he reached the door, he
brought his piece to his shoulder, aiming it right at Grantham of my company. In an instant I fired and killed him, then Г jumped over him. We never stopped, but made an immediate rush for the friendly cover of the bushes, leaving their arms leaning against the old log cabin. We reached Atlanta about nine o'clock the following night, delivered our prisoners, and, at the same time, I made a verbal report to General Sears.
The next day General Hood began moving his army to the left, leaving our brigade before Atlanta and stretching out our line until the men were thirty feet apart, and very soon the great battle of Jonesboro was fought. Every command in the army was engaged in this battle. In themeantime our brigade, after leaving a few men in the entrenchments, was in the city destroying the government and railway property. At 2 A.m our brigade left Atlanta at a rapid gait, and just as we were leaving the suburbs the explosion of the magazines shook the city from center to circumference. As we marched along the streets, it seemed that every woman and child in Atlanta was standing in the doors or yards with sad faces and in tears. About four o'clock next evening we succeeded in swinging clear around the army and took our position at Lovejoy, on the Charleston and Memphis Railroad, and very soon all of the Confederate troops that had been engaged in Jonesboro took their position in line with us. The campaign was at an end, and Sherman and his army'took possession of Atlanta. In a few days an armistice often days was agreed upon by our commanders, and Sherman began to depopulate the city, thé women and children being sent out on every train, loaded oш flat cars and box cars—one of the saddest scenes that I saw during the war. The world knows what followed.
I had been detailed as adjutant, and was acting in that capacity, but our captain having been captured in the battle I was promoted to captain and assigned to that duty. At the expiration of ten days, hostilities were resumed, and Hood's; Tennessee campaign was now inaugurated. We left Lovejoy Station without an incident, the Federal army in our front making no effort to attack us. After a day's journey, we were halted by the roadside for review. Our regiment was on the extreme right of the army, and, on account of the narrow space in our front, I had a perfect view very close to those who were to make the inspection. We knew that the President would be present, and I was very anxious to see him. I had seen him upon the plains of Manassas in 1861. Very soon General Hood and the President came riding slowly, side by side, with a large staff in the rear. Upon looking at the President, I was surprised. Time had made a great change in hie appearance. I now saw a man whose face was very sad, hie countenance old, and his body thin and weak, yet he sat on his steed with grace and ease, making a fine figure. I never saw him after this.
In the campaign we passed over the same ground that we we had fought over, and I never saw a living thing, scarcely a house, no fences or anything that would indicate that the country had been inhabited; but I saw in their stead beautiful fields of waving grass. The desolation was complete in all details. When we reached Allatoona Pass, our division was selected to attack the fort, which was commanded by General Corse. In less than five minutes after our entrance into this battle, every field officer in the regiment lay upon the field dead, together with two hundred and fifty others. We fell back under the protection of a hill and fired upon the fort all day. While this battle was being fought, General Sherman, with his signal corps, was on the top of Kenesaw Mountain, and he singaled to General Corse: "Hold the fort, for I am coming." This is the origin of the beautiful song of that name. We retreated about sundown, leaving our dead upon the field .of battle and a surgeon to care for our wounded.
I shall pass over the long, fatiguing march to Columbia and its incidents. We crossed Duck River ten miles above Columbia, and the other two commands crossed the river in front of the town, with Schofield's army before them and pressing them with energy. Before Hardee and Cheatham's Corps could get across Duck River, our corps, commanded by Stewart, was over and very near Spring Hill, where we halted in line of battle and remained near the Spring Hill and Columbia Pike all night long, sleeping upon our arms. General Schofield's army passed on to Franklin just before day, with our army in full pursuit. It was said by our company wag that they stopped with us to light their pipes. We actually pushed them so close that they shot the teams in their army wagons, and finally they abandoned everything in order to reach Franklin. We reached the renowned little capital of Williamson County nearly as soon as the Federal army, and General Hood made immediate preparations for attacking them. It took some time for all the army to come up and take the positions assigned to them, and, as I remember it, the battle began about 3 P.m. on November 30, 1864. The army was massed into columns of'brigades. This formation brought the army in close touch, and I was in a position to see everything of importance that was transpiring, prior to the battle. It was a clear, pleasant day and the men were in finer spirits than I had seen ¿hem for a long time. All of the generals in the army, their .-Staffs, and every field officer, sat upon their horses near us ;0nd in their proper places. Such an inspiring scene was good to look upon.
We had seen that the assault was to be made in columns of brigades. In an instant every band in the army began playing /'Dixie," and our heavy skirmish line advanced and captured the exterior works in front of Franklin. This success acted like a charm upon the men. On they went into the very jaws of death, with Hood's army at their heels, and in a few seconds your humble servant found himself in a living hell. I tried hard to keep a level head, but scarcely knew what to do. I was close up to the breastworks when the thought occurred to me that there was more danger in returning, so I continued until I fell into the big long ditch outside the breastworks. I then got close up to the works so that the Yankees could not bring their pieces to bear upon me. It was now dark, or nearly so, and I stuck hard and fast to my position. The ditch was now full of men, dead, living, and wounded. If I ever prayed earnestly in my life it was then. It seemed to me that the Federals had concluded to kill every man in that ditch. They began enfilading us and to shoot us in every way they could, and I really believe that they killed seven-eighths of us. I am unable to tell you how I escaped, but it was the happiest time of my life when I was finally able to get out from under that pile of .dead and wounded men.
It was about 1 A.M., and a fierce gale was blowing, and it was freezing cold. I was stiff and could hardly walk. Looking over the breastworks, I saw an old ginhouse and a dead Confederate general just in front of me. Of course, the Federals had retreated. I was a little dazed and began looking about. It seemed to be dark, very dark. Soon I began to see lights appear, and the battle field began to show signs of life ; little fires were started here and there, a few lanterns began to shine, and a few people began to move around. Finally there were many persons visible, and very soon thereafter the citizens of Franklin, including the women and children, were on the battle field, seeking relatives who had fallen. I myself sought a friendly fire, and by the time I was somewhat restored to, a little comfort, it was daylight and I saw before my eyes
at least one-fourth of the army of Tennessee lying dead and wounded. Such a sight I never before beheld, and I know that I shall never see another. In sadness and regret, I will only say that during the day after this great battle we collected all of those dead heroes and buried them, eight deep, in long trenches on either side of the Franklin and Columbia Pikes. All of our field officers, the generals and their staffs, rode into this battle on horseback, and six generals were killed there, more general officers than in any battle of the war, not exceping Gettysburg.
It was extremely cold, and when we left Franklin we made fast time to Nashville. We formed our lines and fortified ourselves, and it began snowing until the whole country was deep in snow. General Schofield's army was now heavily reënforced by Gen. George Thomas, and soon after this the Union army advanced on us from Nashville. After two days of fighting and maneuvering, they carried our thin line of gray by assault, and quickly our army was in full retreat and making the best defense it could. But there were too many for us to turn the tide. We could only sting them, and we stung them hard and often; and many times they were only too glad to get away from the Johnnie Rebs of old. I passed near my old Colonel (then general) Sears, who was looking sterner than I ever saw him. An ambulance was near him, and he was sitting on his old roan horse, Billy, with his field glasses to his eyes, looking directly at the Federals ; in an instant a shell took off his leg and at the same time killed the old horse that he had ridden during the entire war. Will you believe me when I tell you that that gallant old man stood upon one leg and said, " Poor Billy," with tears running rapidly down his cheeks. We placed him in the ambulance standing near the scene, and I told him good-by and hurried on to the rear. I never expected to see him again, and you can scarcely realize my surprise whe'h I received an affectionate letter from him, in which he said that he was living in Oxford, and was then professor of mathematics in the University of Mississippi.
On our arrival at Franklin, my shoes had fallen from my feet, and I was now barefooted in the deep snow, with a hostile army pressing. I do not think now that I regarded it with any degree of great misfortune at that time, but I did not get a pair of shoes until we reached Tupelo, Miss., having marched all the way from Franklin, Tenn., to that place in my bare feet, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles. I certainly came near freezing to death. I had no blanket, nothing but my sword and pistol. This part of my life as a soldier is so sad that I do not care to describe the retreat of the army from Nashville to Tupelo. General Hood succeeded in taking his army across the rivers of Harpeth, Duck, Shoals Creek, and Tennessee, which latter we crossed just above Florence, Ala. Three gunboats were shelling us as we crossed on our pontoon bridge to the Tuscumbia side of the river. They might as well have shot popguns at us, as we got over without a single casualty.
On our arrival at Tupelo, General Hood, at his own request, was relieved and his entire army was furloughed for ten days. Having secured transportation for my men and myself, we got on the top of a box car (on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad) and, after having ridden one hundred and thirty miles in very cold weather, disembarked at Marion, where we were at home once more.
It was now January, 1865. Our little "leave of absence" had soon expired, and every man of my small company reported to my regiment at Mobile, Ala. We belonged to the division of Gen. S. G. French, made up of Sears's Mississippi Brigade, which was composed of the 4th Mississippi, Col. Adair commanding; 35th Regiment, William S. Barry, colonel commanding; 7th Mississippi Battalion, Lieut. Col. Jones commanding; 39th Mississippi and 46th Mississippi Regiment, William H. Clark, colonel, killed at Allatoona, Ga.);Cockrell's Missouri Brigade, and Ector's Texas Brigade. I am proud to have been a member of this division; there was none better.
We were now in camp four miles from the city of Mobile, and very near the beautiful shell road leading down to the bay, and we were having a most delightful time. We were also a part of the "Army of the Gulf," with Maj. Gen. Dabney H. Maury in command. In the following March, General Canby began his operations against Mobile with a large force, and our pleasant surroundings and associations were broken up forever. We were ordered across the bay to Blakely, and on our arrival our regiment, the 46th Mississippi, was ordered on picket duty four miles from the army, where we remained until the first day of April. Captain Winston, a son of ex-Governor Winston, of Alabama, supported us with his fine cavalry company. He and I became warm personal friends. General Canby's cavalry drove in our pickets on April l, 1865, and immediately our regiment was in line.. However, we retreated across a field planted in oats, tearing down the fence and making good strong vidette pens, with Captain Winston's cavalry on-our left. These dispositions took a little while to complete, and in the meantime, all was silent. Captain Hart, who was in command of the regiment, suggested that I go out in front and see what the Federals were doing. Taking a gun out of the hands of one of my men, I proceeded to comply with his request. I had gone parallel to the public road, but was in the woods and perhaps a quarter of a mile in front of my regiment. I finally came to a small, high hill, which I cautiously ascended. Looking intently down at the base of the hill, there sat a Federal cavalryman, with his right leg thrown across the pommel of his saddle. In some way his leg had gotten mixed up with the bridle reins and, in his excitement, he was endeavoring to right it and to bring his piece to bear on me, but I was too quick for him. I gave him the contents of my gun and immediately disappeared over the hill. He never did fire his piece, and it is very probable that I killed him. I was back to my regiment and in line none too soon, for in a few minutes a heavy line of skirmishers advanced from the cover of the woods, and we were at our old trade once more. We had the advantage, because they had to cross an open field, and soon we repulsed them. But they came again in greater numbers. I was wounded in the right hand and left leg, and my friend, Captain Winston, sent me a horse, and in the midst of the fighting my men put me in the saddle. J ust after I was mounted, a large body of cavalry, with drawn swords, came down the road, riding in squadrons of fours at full speed. My horse knew his business, and I thought he was flying. It was the first time I had ridden horseback during the entire war. Captain Winston's little negro boy, Jim, was a good second, right behind me. I was in a good deal of pain and realized that I was in a tight place. I unbuckled my sword belt and let it fall across the back of my saddle, and the weight of my pistol balanced my sword, both staying with me to the end. I then ran my hand and arm through the McClellan saddle and lay down flat on the horse and took the consequences. They kept on coming, shooting and yelling like a lot of demons, and amid all this excitement I could hear the little negro boy say: "Go it, massa! They are about to get us." I thought so too, but I could do nothing, as I was not able to stop my horse. On we went like a prairie fire and finally came to Cockrell's brigade, which had stacked arms parallel to the road, and the men were off a little distance eating dinner. The Federal cavalry
did not pay the least attention to them, but kept right on after me and Jim. In a short time, we met a cavalry company square in the road, and they took to their heels and fled. The Yankee force pursued me with fury and determination, and did not quit until forced to return by our cannon at Blakely. On my arrival inside our lines, I was sent directly to the division hospital, and the surgeon, Dr. Norman, took me into -his own tent and dressed my wounds. Before giving me a dose of morphine, he asked if I did not want a furlough. I replied that I did. "Well," he said, ''take this and you will go to sleep for several hours, and I will write out your leave, sign it, and, by the time you wake up, I will have it approved by the officers here and all ready for you. The boat will be in about that time, and you can go over to Mobile, get General Maury to approve, and you can then go home immediately." Dr. Norman accompanied me to the steamboat, and I never again saw or heard of him. The boat landed us in Mobile, and I went immediately to General Maury's headquarters, where his adjutant general signed my leave. I left for home at eight o'clock P.m., on wounded furlough. Shortly after, the Confederacy passed away. I was duly and regularly paroled by General Canby, major general, U. S. A., at Meridian, Miss., on the 9th day of April, 1865, and my life as a Confederate soldier was at an end.
An error was made in the date of his surrender as given by Capt. R. N. Rea in his article in the August Veteran, pages 287-89, which should have been May 9, 1865, instead of April 9. On calling his attention to this, Captain Rea sends his old parole, with the date of May 9, to show that the error was through inadventence—but it is such little slips that count against a contributor, for the editor does not always catch them. All who write for the Veteran should verify dates especially, and be just as careful in other respects to give "a plain, unvarnished tale."