150 years ago, the Battle of Gettysburg was over, Lee’s army in retreat, allowed without injunction by Meade to march back to Virginia [with over 15,000 Federal prisoners].
My uncle Eppa Hunton was in a carriage for the wounded with the wagon train headed south. 190 out of his 205 soldiers in his 8th Virginia Infantry were lost. He would spend 6 weeks at his home with his wife and 8 year-old son recovering from his wounds and then rejoin his reconstituted brigade with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Eppa had strong feelings about the loss at Gettysburg. He considered it the beginning of the end of the Confederate States of America. He laid blame firmly at the feet of General Longstreet, his Corps commander. Longstreet would go on after the war to be a leading Republican and Eppa held him in great disregard. From his journal…
It is beyond dispute, it seems to me, that if Longstreet had made the attack earlier in the morning, even with Pickett’s Division and the North Carolina Division, he must have captured Meade’s position and driven him from Cemetery Ridge. It seems equally clear that if, when he did make the attack late in the day, he had supported Pickett by the rest of his corps consisting of two divisions, and by a part of Hill’s corps - or all consisting of two divisions, and by a part of Hill’s corps - or all of it, if necessary - even at that late hour he would have penetrated and held the lines of Meade; and General Lee’s idea was that if he could divide Meade’s army by penetrating the line at the left center, he would drive him in confusion from his position, and the Confederate Cavalry on the right and left of his flanks would follow up the advantage, and he would gain a glorious victory, which as he told me on the march in Clarke County, would probably result in the independence of the Confederate Government.
It is very sad to contemplate our failure at Gettysburg. It is sad to think of the loss of so many heroes as fell at Gettysburg, even if their death accomplished a great victory; but when their death accomplished nothing, it makes the reflection still more sad.
When he arrived back at Lee’s army after convalescing, he would learn that he had been promoted by Lee and Jefferson Davis from Colonel to Brigadier General. He spent the fall and winter of 1863/64 in protection of Richmond as he reconstituted his brigade, which was wiped out in the charge at Gettysburg. The time at Chaffin’s Farm outside of Richmond was calm enough that he sent from his wife and 8 year-old son, Eppa Jr. From his journal…
While I was at Chaffin’s Farm there were two raids on Richmond which were very alarming, and I was ordered with my brigade to the defense of the city on both occasions. General Sheridan’s cavalry had become a very formidable body. The Federal Cavalry for the first half of the war was of little use, but Sheridan’s cavalry was composed of picked men from the whole army, and constituted a splendid body of horsemen and they launched a daring raid on the capitol. General (Jeb) Stuart immediately started out to intercept Sheridan, and in a very considerable fight at the Yellow Tavern he was mortally wounded, and died the next day at the home of his brother-in-law on Grace Street near Monroe, Richmond, Va. Poor General “Jeb” Stuart! What a magnificent man he was. he was the finest cavalry leader this continent ever saw. Forrest was his equal in fighting, and his equal in strategy, but was not his equal as an outpost commander. “Jeb” Stuart was the best “eyes and ears” that the army ever had. He has had no equal as a commander of cavalry since the field marshals of Napoleon. He was a warm, merry-hearted man, always ready to sing or dance or fight, and General Lee could not supply his place.
During the first of these raids my wife and son went with me to Richmond and stayed at the house of a relative of hers, Mrs. Harvey. I was two or three miles in front of the city, near the place where The Brook crosses Brook turnpike, guarding against this raid, and my wife started Eppa with a basket of provisions for me, prepared by herself and some ladies of Richmond. He didn’t know where I was - didn’t know in what direction to seek me, and nobody whom he met could tell him, but notwithstanding that I got my basket of provisions and enjoyed it very much.* The next time I was ordered out to meet this raid my place at Chaffin’s was taken by a brigade of home guards formed of the Department Clerks in Richmond. My wife and son were left at Chaffin’s under the care of the commanding officer. The commandant soon discovered Eppa and found that he was a Captain on my Staff. He immediately gave him promotion, making him Major, with a star on his collar - a most unfortunate thing for the boy, for when my brigade returned to Chaffin’s Farm the men all called him a militia Major, and it nearly killed him. He wished a thousand times that the star had never been put on his coat collar.
But soon enough, Meade was replaced by Ulysses Grant, and the war took a very different path as Grant threw bodies against the Confederacy and the 8th Virginia was called into some of the bloodiest battles of the war. The 8th was called away from the defense of Richmond to rejoin the remainder of Pickett’s Division in May 1864 where they fought Grant in the 2nd battle of Cold Harbor. From Eppa’s journal…
On the 3rd of June, 1864, the battle of second Cold Harbor was fought. It was one of the bloodiest and hardest fought battles of the war. The Federal loss was 13,000; General lee’s loss was 1,000. This loss of Grant’s was incurred in distinct and separate charges of different corps. He became impatient and ordered a general charge along the whole line. His soldiers with one accord refused to make the charge. I have never seen dead bodies lay as thick as in front of our breast-works at second Cold Harbor. I got into a terrible place there. My brigade was ordered to send its smallest regiment to fill up a space in the line, and to hold the rest in reserve. Being held in reserve always means trouble. You are sure to be sent to the worst place along the line. Accordingly, in a short time I was ordered down to the right, some half a mile or three-quarters. The enemy had occupied a swamp which crossed our line and killed a good many of our men. I was ordered to protect that part of the line. When I reached there I found General Clingman, of North Carolina, occupying the line to the right of this swamp, but not up to it. I filled up that gap with my brigade, and the balance I formed at right angles down this swamp. My men were picked off by sharp-shooters from two directions. General Clingman sent word to General Hoke, who was in command of that part of the line, that if he did not drive the enemy from his front he would vacate the line. General Hoke sent word to me to drive the enemy from Clingman’s front. I replied that I would not do it; that I would unite with Clingman in a common movement and drive the enemy from his front and mine. General Hoke then sent me word to arrange for a joint movement with Clingman, and drive the enemy away. Clingman’s line was protected from sharp-shooters by traverses. I sent my dear friend and gallant Adjutant Charlie Linthicum, to Clingman to arrange for this joint assault on the enemy. In going around one of these traverses he was shot through the head and instantly killed.
How I deplored his loss! I never supplied his place. He was the best Adjutant-General in the Army of Northern Virginia. Captain Ed. Fitzhugh succeeded him.
I abandoned this joint movement with Clingman and went down to see General Hoke on my left about three hundred yards. My men were falling all around me. I never made better speed in my life. I arranged with General Hoke that he should send out a strong skirmish line and attack the enemy in this swamp, on its right flank, and that I would detail every other man of my brigade, who would unite in this attack upon their position upon hearing his guns. This was executed splendidly and we got rid of the sharp-shooters in the swamp. That night I received orders from Hoke that upon hearing from Clingman before day the next morning, we were to vacate that line and retire to a line that had been constructed in the rear. I waited most anxiously for an hour or two before day for the message from Clingman. I at last discovered the first stroke of dawn, and hearing nothing from Clingman I sent to him to know if it was not time for him to move. To my surprise and indignation he had vacated the line and retired without notifying me, leaving our whole front open to the enemy.
And then on to the battle of Dewey’s Bluff…
On the 16th of June, 1864, General Pickett was ordered to mark his division as rapidly as possible to save Dewey’s Bluff. This was across the James River from Chaffin’s Farm, and I was familiar with all the byroads, etc. I was ordered to take the lead and go through woods and cross the country without regard to roads, and get to Dewey’s Bluff as soon as possible. I think my march on that occasion was the fastest on record. We crossed the James River on a pontoon bridge, and found Dewey’s Bluff safe. We marched on down the Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike a mile or two below Dewey’s Bluff where we struck the enemy.
General Butler in the meantime had taken possession of Beauregard’s abandoned works and turned them on us. I was in front and when I struck the enemy, I ordered my brigade to left-face and charge. I have never seen anything done so handsomely. We drove the enemy past Beauregard’s abandoned works, and in their own line, and turned our works upon them.
The other brigades of the division followed mine, and they fought on my right and left, and before night we had recaptured the whole of Beauregard’s abandoned line.
We remained in this fortified line for a long time. General Butler’s troops were opposed to us. Our skirmish lines were within 35 yards of each other at one time, and dear old General Lee rode around the lines with me on one occasion, and said, “Who are those people out yonder?” I said it was the Yankee skirmish line. He said, “What are they doing there? We are in the habit of believing this country belongs to us. Drive them away sir; drive them away.” I told him, “All right.” That night I made a night-attack on their skirmish line and did drive it away, some distance back.
Eppa was impressed by Grant’s aggressive strategies that he witnessed in these battles, realizing that Grant’s superior numbers and willingness to use them would eventually catch up to Lee’s army. But they pressed on, trying to save the capitol of the CSA, Richmond. From his journal…
In the meantime Grant laid siege to Petersburg, and while he was not a brilliant military man, he was the first to conceive the best mode of subjugating the South. He saw that we could not supply the loss of our men, while he could get recruits to any number. He, therefore, determined that he would wear Lee out by attrition, and if he lost 10 men to Lee’s one, he saw that the end was certain, and that Lee must eventually surrender. Acting on this idea, he extended his line until General Lee’s line became so thin it was hardly able to resist attack. General Lee’s line at this time extended from in front of Richmond beyond Petersburg - a distance of nearly 35 miles.
Three brigades of Pickett’s Division, which had been relieved by Mahone, were on the south side of James River; while my brigade returned to the north side. In March, 1865, General Lee had 35,000 men and Grant about 150,000. Pickett was ordered to Five Forks to meet the extended line of General Grant. I was ordered to report of General Lee on Hatcher’s Run. General Pickett had a good force of infantry and Fitzhugh Lee’s and William H. F. Lee’s cavalry. He drove the enemy back to Dinwiddie Courthouse.
While Pickett was fighting near Dinwiddie Courthouse, on March 31, 1865, I, with two other small brigades was ordered out on the road which led to Five Forks, with the view of keeping communication with Pickett open. We had hardly formed our line of battle when a division of Warren’s Fifth corps marched upon us. We had no orders to attack, and my idea was to hold our ground and receive the attack from the enemy; but a Lieutenant in the 18th Regiment named Holland who had been promoted for gallantry, rushed out in front of his company and waving his sword said, “Follow me boys!” This was all the order that the three brigades had to charge, but they did charge, in magnificent style, and drove this division back to Gravelly Run, nearly a mile.
I think every man in my brigade acted heroically in that charge, only a short time before the surrender. As we were driving the enemy, Captain E. C. Fitzhugh, my Adjutant, who had succeeded poor Linthicum, was struck in the forehead and down he fell. Colonel Green, of the 56th Regiment, said, “Poor
Fitz! Forward Boys!” and on we went; but not long afterwards we were joined by Fitzhugh who was only stunned, and he continued in the charge General Lee was delighted at our success and sent word to me to hold my position, if possible, and sent Wise’s brigade to extend my line to the left.
Warren sent out another division. I ordered my men to hold their fire until they came close. The order was obeyed, and when we opened upon this fresh division, the line of the enemy gave way and one-third of them broke and ran. The other two-thirds stood under fire, reorganize their line, and charge us with great gallantry. If we had not retired in great haste all of us would have been captured. I have rarely seen more gallantry than was displayed by Warren’s division on that occasion.
We went back to the fortification at Hatcher’s Run. I had three bullet holes through my clothes in the fight. One bullet went through my flannel shirt. Its direction was changed by my sword belt which it pierced. Another struck my scabbard and bent it nearly double. When I reported to General Lee, he looked at my clothes all torn by the bullets, and said: “I wish you would sew those places up. I don’t like to see them.” I said, “General Lee allow me to go back home and see my wife and I will have them sewed up.” He said,”The idea of talking about going to see wives; it is perfectly ridiculous sir”; and was rather amused at it.
Pickett was driven back from Dinwiddie Courthouse to Five Forks. Sheridan was reinforced by Warren’s corps which I had intercepted, and Pickett suffered a terrible repulse. His command was all scattered in every direction. I was ordered by General Lee to go to his support, and to cross the fields, without regard to roads. He furnished me with a guide. We made a very rapid march. When I reached the rear of Pickett’s position at Five Forks - I could not hear where Pickett or his men were, but I did meet with some portion of Fitz Lee’s cavalry. I was joined that night by Bushrod Johnson with two brigades, and we were under his command. He was a Major General.**
The next day we heard the melancholy news that Petersburg and Richmond had been evacuated and we began the mournful retreat towards Appomattox Courthouse. Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry was with us. It was several days before I met with and joined Pickett’s Division. The enemy pressed us very hard, and once, at least, I had to form line with my brigade for the cavalry to reorganize behind it. Bushrod Johnson became demoralized and I told Fitzhugh Lee that he must take command of the cavalry and infantry or we would all be captured. Lee did so and conducted the retreat very well.
We came to a very deep stream, with a bridge across it, the enemy pressing us very hard. I was ordered by General Fitzhugh Lee to hold the enemy until all the command (both infantry and cavalry) had passed over the bridge, and when I attempted to cross, I had to fight on three sides. I had flankers out on each side, and a skirmish line in the rear. Captain Charles U. Williams, who was on General Corse’s Staff, witnessed this crossing, and he never ceased to talk about it. He said that I formed a hollow square and crossed the bridge in that formation, fighting on four sides.
We united with Pickett’s Division and marched on towards Appomattox. At Sailor’s Creek we were guarding a wagon train, and on the other side of the creek Colonel Huger had been attacked and lost some of his artillery. Pickett’s Division was ordered across the creek to recapture his artillery. We did recapture a portion of it, and formed our line of battle to resist Custer’s cavalry. Custer made very many gallant charges upon our line with his cavalry, but we had no trouble in repelling them. But every time we would face to the right and resume our retreat, Custer would charge us, and we would have to turn and fight. This was done that the infantry might surround us.
My line was very thin - a single line - and the men not very near together. My dear and gallant friend General Terry rode up and asked me to lend him a regiment to extend his line. I told him I could not spare one. He said if he did not get a regiment he would be flanked. I sent him the 8th Regiment - the smallest I had - and had to increase the space between my soldiers to fill up the gap left.
While we were fighting General Custer, I reported to General Pickett and to General Anderson that the enemy were surrounding us with infantry - I caught the gleam of their bayonets through a gap in the woods. When it was too late, General Anderson issued the order to Pickett, that his men should cut their way out the best they could; but every time we attempted to move forward Custer would charge, and we would have to turn and fight.
While this was going on, some six or eight troopers of Custer’s had gotten in our rear. They made a charge on our line. This charge happened to be where General Pickett and his Staff were located, on horseback. They all ducked their heads down by their horses’ necks and galloped ingloriously to the rear.
Gallant General Corse, who was always ready on such an occasion, faced one of his companies to the rear and killed the last man of them*.
Eppa’s 8th Virginia was finally defeated and surrendered on April 6th, 1865, just south of Appomatox [3 days before Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia]. He surrendered to General George Custer [who would lose his own battle at Little Big Horn 12 years later]. From Eppa’s journal…
Very soon, the enemy’s infantry appeared in our rear, and my gallant brigade, fighting front and rear, was compelled to surrender; and to show the splendid metal of my dear soldiers, most of them broke their guns rather than surrender them. I surrendered to General Custer, and when he demanded my sword I threw it as far as I could into the sassafras bushes. It may be in that spot today.
Thus ended my military career - on the 6th day of April, 1865, three days before the end came at Appomattox. I had been in command of the 8th Virginia Infantry, and no man in the army every had a better brigade than mine was.
While we were making our dreary march as prisoners towards Petersburg, the melancholy news reached us early on the 10th of April that General Lee had surrendered on the 9th, at Appomattox.
It is impossible for me to describe my feelings. I rejoice that I was not at Appomattox and did not see dear old General Lee riding through the ranks of his soldiers after the surrender, with tears streaming down his cheeks; it would almost have killed me.
There upon that field at Appomattox, the Star of the Confederacy set forever.
Eppa and a set of Confederate officers were sent to Boston Harbor to be imprisoned there.
I was in prison, sick, and had abundant time to look back over the past four years. Just four years before I had gone into the Confederate Army with the highest hopes of success. We had wonderful success on the field of battle. We had won the two battles at Manassas, Ball’s Bluff, Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, Frazier’s Farm, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spottsylvania Courthouse, first and second Cold Harbor, the fights below the Howlett House - down to the siege of Petersburg.
The battle of Gettysburg was a failure; the battle of Seven Pines was hardly a success; the battle of Sharpsburg was pretty much of a drawn battle. Notwithstanding these brilliant successes of the Army of Northern Virginia, the resources of the South had given out. Our soldiers were bare-footed, almst naked and almost starved. General Grant when he found that he could not meet Lee with success in the open field, determined upon the very best course to end the war. He was a man without any brilliant military attainments, but essentially a man of hard, common, practical sense. He saw that he could lose
ten men to Lee’s one, and still succeed. His losses could be supplied not only from the populous North, but from the world at large. General Lee’s army had exhausted the resources (both men and supplies) of the Confederacy. We had been many times charged in northern papers with “robbing the cradle and the grave” to fill our army.
General Grant, therefore, determined upon the tactics of attrition to wear Lee out. It proved to be successful, and the Star of the Confederate States went down at Appomattox.
Meanwhile, Eppa’s wife and son had found shelter with relatives, and did not know whether Eppa was dead or alive. The family had traded their savings that were held in Virginia Bonds into Confederate Bonds in 1861, which were now worthless and the family was destitute. From his journal…
Major General John W. Turner, of the Federal Army, and myself had been opposite to and fighting each other for months, below the Howlett House. We knew each other, though we had never met. He was the first Federal officer to go into Lynchburg after the surrender of General Lee. As soon as he heard that my wife and son were in the town and in very destitute circumstances, he sent one of his staff officers to my wife to tender to her General Turner’s purse and his services. I had then been captured and the only information my wife had of me was a statement published in some newspaper that I had been wounded, probably mortally, and captured. I was ill, but had not been wounded. She was a thoroughly loyal Confederate, as were almost all the women of the South, and was at that time especially bitter to the Yankees, and sent General Turner a curt refusal to accept his offer, and to others said that she and her son would starve before she would accept assistance from him. I was delighted at the spirit she showed, but felt very grateful to General Turner for his magnanimity. After years of inquiry, I found out where he was and wrote him the nicest letter I could frame, to which he replied in very pleasant terms.
I could not hear from my wife for some time after reaching Fort Warren, nor did she hear from me. We wrote frequently, but the Confederate mail routes had been discontinued and those of the U. S. Government had not been established. My wife had united herself to the Episcopal Church during the war and was very much attached to her minister in Lynchburg, Mr. Kinkle. He was a most excellent man and an ardent Confederate. He soon, however, introduced into his service the prayer for the President of the United States. When this prayer was used, my wife and son always rose from their knees - they were not then and never were reconstructed.
The banks of Lynchburg on the approach of the Federal Army, after the surrender of General Lee, loaned out their gold to people of character without security, taking notes from the borrowers. My wife through Mr. James H. Reid (our faithful friend) obtained a loan of $50.00. On this she lived until relief came.
As soon as it was practicable my brother Silas went to Lynchburg and took my wife and son to the home of my sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Morehead, in Culpeper County. She was the wife of Lieutenant Morehead of the Confederate Cavalry, who commanded his company at the battle of Ball’s Bluff. They remained with my sister and my mother and my single sister Mary Brent, until I was released from prison.
Eppa was released from prison in September of 1865. He returned to his beloved Virginia and restarted his law practice in Warrenton, Fauquier County. He went on to serve as a Democrat in the U.S. Congress and then as U.S. Senator from Virgnia. He never forgave General Longstreet for turning his back on “his Confederate bretheren” and becoming a Republican.