The charge of the 5th Alabama could not retrieve the situation. According to Colonel Pickens' report, his 12th Alabama had "suffered severely in this attack. It was impossible for us to hold the position we had gained any longer without being cut to pieces or compelled to surrender." After a combat that may have lasted for only fifteen minutes, the attacking regiments retired in disorder about 300 yards before reforming.

The Brigade's commander had not shown well In this engagement. O'Neal had virtually lost control of the brigade and by so doing committed them to a premature, and useless slaughter.During their abortive charge the losses in killed and wounded were: 6th Alabama, 131; 12th Alabama, 83; 26th Alabama, 130.

The brevity of their charge left Iverson's Brigade virtually alone as it advanced along the slopes of Oak Ridge, Iverson had understood that he was to coordinate his advance with O'Neal. When he sent an officer to watch for O'Neal's advance, that officer returned almost Immediately with the unwelcome news that O'Neal was already under way. Consequently, by the time Iverson's four North Carolina regiments began their advance at about 1430 hours, O'Neal's Brigade had already been repulsed. This would allow the defenders belonging to Baxter's Brigade to turn the full weight of their fire against Iverson alone.

The Brigade marched south through a timothy grass field that was devoid of cover. The men carried shouldered muskets and proceeded "as evenly as if on parade," There were no skirmishers leading the way. The soldiers had no idea that hidden behind a stone wall, a Federal line stretched at right angle to their line of advance. Having suffered heavily at Chancellorsville, the Brigade was short of officers. Worse still, Iverson, like O'Neal, did not join them but instead remained behind at the start line.

At ranges of about 100 yards, the hidden Federals opened fire. A sheet of flame and smoke rose from the wall as hundreds of bullets poured into the North Carolinians' flank. The shocking fire stopped the Brigade in its tracks. Although men "were falling like leaves in a storm," they attempted to make a stand and return the fire. It proved futile. An officer in the 20th North Carolina wrote, "I believe every man who stood up was either killed or wounded." Leaderless, small knots of men huddled in a shallow swale about 80 yards from the stone wall and here they were slaughtered. A few hours later a rebel gunner passed through the field and counted 79 North Carolina soldiers dead on the ground, arrayed in a perfectly dressed line. Iverson's fallen would later be burled here and the local population would retain a dread fear of venturing near the ground they called 'Iverson's Pits.'

The men's courage now cost them dearly: "Unable to advance, unwilling to retreat, the brigade lay in this hollow or depression in the field and fought as best it could." So feeble was their resistance, that when the Federal troops scampered over the wall and rushed through the swale, they easily collected about 300 prisoners. Meanwhile, well to the rear, Iverson witnessed his men's ordeal. Possibly because he was drunk, or perhaps because he was badly unnerved, Iverson reported to Rodes that one of his regiments had raised a surrender flag and gone over to the enemy!

Only the 12th North Carolina, by virtue of being farthest away from the wall, escaped the terrible carnage. Suffering 56 casualties, it lost fewer than half as many men as the other three regiments. A surviving officer spoke for the balance of the brigade when he opened his account of the history of the 20th North Carolina with the words, "Initiated at Seven Pines, sacrificed at Gettysburg, surrendered at Appomattox." Most of the Brigade's losses occurred during this phase of the fighting. They totalled 12 officers and 118 men killed, 33 officers and 349 men wounded, and 20 officers and 288 men missing. This grim total represented 60% of the Brigade's strength.

A survivor of Iverson's blunder later wrote, "Deep and long must the desolate homes and orphan children of North Carolina rue the rashness of that hour." The dying Colonel Christie of the 23rd North Carolina had his men gathered about him and pledged that they would never again have "the Imbecile Iverson" command them in battle.

General Rodes had perceived a Chancellorsville-llke opportunity to crush an exposed Federal flank. Because he had been in a hurry to capitalise, he was forced to lead the charge with his two least experienced brigades. Worse, he had not properly scouted his line of advance. O'Neal and Iverson, in turn, had failed to position skirmishers in front of their advancing lines and then failed to accompany their men into battle. The hasty assault along Oak Ridge was a staggering debut for the entire Division. Because of his failure at brigade leadership on July 1. Robert E. Lee would return O'Neal's commission as brigadier-general to Richmond. He never advanced beyond colonel.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment