No. 55. Brig. Gen. L. O’Bryan Branch.

No. 55.

Report of Brig. Gen. L. O’B. Branch, C. S. Army,  commanding ____ Brigade,
with extracts from his journal.

Hdqrs. Branch’s Brigade,  A. P. Hill’s Division,      
August 18, 1862.

     Sir:   I have the honor to report that on Saturday, August 9, while on the march toward Culpeper Court-House, I was ordered to halt my brigade and form it in line of battle on the left of and at right angles to the road. The formation was scarcely completed before I was ordered to advance in line through the woods and thick undergrowth, a heavy musketry fire being heard not far from my front.  I had proceeded about 100 yards when I commenced meeting the men of a brigade, which had preceded me, retreating in great disorder and closely pursued by the enemy.  Opening ranks to permit the fugitives to pass, and pressing forward in unbroken line, my brigade met the enemy, who had already turned the flank of General Taliaferro’s brigade, which was on the right of the road.  Not in the least shaken by the panic-cries of the fugitives, and without halting, my regiments poured volley after volley into the enemy, who broke and fled precipitately through the woods and across the field.  On reaching the edge of the field I discovered the enemy in force on the opposite side, and halting my brigade in an eligible position, opened fire along the whole line.  For a time the enemy stood their ground, but we were within good range across an open field, and the execution we were doing, clearly perceptible to the eye, compelled them to commence breaking.  Now it was that their cavalry attempted to charge upon General Taliaferro’s brigade, which had partially rallied after I had cleared their flank.  The cavalry moved diagonally across my front, presenting to me their flank.  The combined fire of Taliaferro’s brigade (in front) and mine (in flank) broke up the column and sent it fleeing to the rear.  My brigade immediately moved forward in pursuit of the retreating enemy, and while I was hesitating in the field, in doubt what direction I should take,  Major-General Jackson came up, and by his order I changed front so as to incline to the right, and pushed on to a point some distance in advance of the battle-field, at which he had ordered me to halt.  The battle having terminated in a complete rout of the enemy, my men slept on the ground they had so bravely won.

     My officers and men behaved finely, and I refrain from discriminations.  Such was their steadiness that I was able to preserve my line of battle unbroken throughout the day.

     Capt. F. T. Hawks and Lieut. J. A. Bryan, of my staff, were with me and conducted themselves gallantly.

     Your obedient servant,

L. O’B. BRANCH,        

     Maj. R. C. Morgan,
              Assistant Adjutant-General.


Extract from General Branch’s journal, covering period August 6 — 13.

August 13, 1862.

     I am now with my brigade and the balance of A. P. Hill’s division, encamped 5 ½ miles from Gordonsville, on the road leading to Orange Court-House.  We reached here last night.  I will give you a brief journal of our movements since I wrote:

     On Wednesday (6th) we left the camp on the other side of Gordonsville and marched until 9 o’clock at night, when we went to sleep in a field on the ground.  We travel without any baggage with us.

     Thursday we marched through plantations and by-roads and slept in a field, which we reached about 12 o’clock at night, near Orange Court-House.

     Friday we passed through Orange Court-House and stopped within 2 miles of it on the Rapidan to wait for the commissary wagons to bring up something to eat.

     Saturday morning at 1 o’clock we were roused by picket-firing in front and the brigade was immediately under arms.  In a few minutes I received an order to march forward.  Continued the march [without] stopping until about 2 o’clock in the evening, when our advance came up with the enemy, posted and ready to give us battle.   General Jackson was present in person to command on our side.  General Ewell was ordered to take possession of a mountain on our right.  General Jackson’s own division, commanded by General Winder, was on the left.   General Hill’s division was placed behind General Jackson’s to support it.  The battle commenced and raged for a short time, when General Jackson came to me and told me his left was beaten and broken, and the enemy was turning him and he wished me to advance.   I was already in line of battle and instantly gave the order “Forward, march.”  I had not gone 100 yards through the woods before we met the celebrated Stonewall Brigade, utterly routed and fleeing as fast as they could run.   After proceeding a short distance farther we met the enemy pursuing.  My brigade opened upon them and quickly drove the enemy back from the woods into a large field.  Following up to the edge of the field, I came in view of large bodies of the enemy, and having  a very fine position, I opened upon them with great effect.  The enemy’s cavalry attempted to charge us in two columns, but the fire soon broke them and sent them fleeing across the field in every direction.   The infantry then retreated also.   Advancing into the field, I halted near the middle of it, in doubt which direction to take.  Just at that moment General Jackson came riding up from my rear alone.  I reported my brigade as being solid and asked for orders.  My men recognized him and raised a terrific shout as he rode along the line with his hat off.  He evidently knew how to appreciate a brigade that had gone through a hot battle and was then following the retreating enemy without having broken its line of battle, and remained with me directing my movements until the pursuit ceased.  We returned and slept on the battle-field among the dead and wounded.

     After remaining there and near by until Monday at dark, we were ordered to light large camp-fires, and immediately after dark the army commenced moving back, and our division reached this place last night.

     We gained a splendid victory and the credit of it is due to my brigade.  I was among my men all through the fight and they were brave and cool.  Most of my cowards have been got rid of in one way and another.

     The weather has been intensely hot and we have been exposed to the sun all day, nearly the whole country along the roads being cleared up.  On the day of the battle I was so feeble that I had been riding in my ambulance all day and was scarcely able to walk fifty yards, but the excitement braced me up, and ever since I have been in better health than at any time since we started on the expedition below Richmond.

     On this trip to Culpeper we were accompanied by 1,200 baggage wagons, but they make a column so long that we can make no use of their contents, and they had just as well be left behind entirely.  It is generally supposed that General Jackson travels without baggage, but it is a great mistake.   I think he carries too much.  The secret of the celerity with which he moves is that he spends very little time in camps.

     What I have mentioned about the battle relates only to the part my own brigade took in it.  Other brigades were engaged that did well, but none contributed so much to gain the day as I did.

     It is reported that General Lee is at Gordonsville, and that Longstreet’s division is arriving there as fast as the railroad can bring them.

     This is a hard service we are on, but it is of the utmost importance to our success in the war, for here is the vital point.  I often think how little is seen of the real hardships of war by those soldiers who are stationed about Kinston, Petersburg, and other such places, yet they have far more of the public sympathy and admiration than we do.

     A Philadelphia paper, which I got from a prisoner taken at the battle, contained a letter from Nashville, in which it was stated that among others General Branch had been sent out of Tennessee to the South.  I have no doubt it referred to brother James.

     Speaker Banks was the general I was opposed to.

     We strewed the ground with the enemy, while our loss was comparatively small.  The battle was almost without a precedent for the disproportion between the killed on the two sides.