..”Attention Texas Brigade” was rung upon the morning air, by Gen. Gregg, “the eyes of General Lee are upon you, forward, march.” Scarce had we moved a step, when Gen. Lee, in front of the whole command, raised himself in his stirrups, uncovered his grey hairs, and with an earnest, yet anxious voice, exclaimed above the din and confusion of the hour, “Texans always move them.”
…never before in my lifetime or since, did I ever witness such a scene as was enacted when Lee pronounced these words, with the appealing look that he gave. A yell rent the air that must have been heard for miles around, and but few eyes in that old brigade of veterans and heroes of many a bloody field was undimmed by honest, heart-felt tears. Leonard Gee, a courier to Gen. Gregg, and riding by my side, with tears coursing down his cheeks and yells issuing from his throat exclaimed, “I would charge hell itself for that old man.”
Private Robert Campell, 5th Texas Infantry
The fighting erupted early on the second day of the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant assumed that Hill’s corps had been fought out on the first day and could be overrun with a strong attack. At 5:00 AM Hancock attacked with three divisions, with two in support. By 6:00 AM Hill’s corps was in full retreat and disaster loomed for Lee. At that time the 800 man Texas Brigade, perhaps the elite fighting unit in the Army of Northern Virginia, the vanguard of Longstreet’s corps arrived and saved the day. Longstreet launched a two division counterattack up the Orange Plank Road, with the Texans, who suffered 650 casualties, leading the attack on the north side of the Road.
This action by the Texan Brigade, and similar actions on many other fields, caused Lee to treasure the unit as his shock troops. This caused Lee to deny a request by the Governor of Texas in February of 1865. The request and the denial are contained in this letter from Jefferson Davis to the Governor of Texas:
Governor of the State of Texas.
I have the honor to
acknowledge the receipt of your favor calling my
attention to a communication addressed to you by
Col. JB Robertson touching the furloughing of the “Texas
Brigade” serving with the army of Northern Virginia, and
in pressing your own desire that the command shall be
permitted to return to Texas for the purpose of recruiting etc.
Deeply sensible of the
continued and important services rendered the Country
by that gallant and veteran band it would have been
most gratifying to me to accord with your views in allowing
them to return to their homes where they might recuperate
and again rejoin the army of N. Va. to render additional
service to their Country. [T]o this end your letter was
referred by me to Genl Robert E. Lee. For you
information I give you the answer of Genl Lee in his
“HdQr Army N. Va.”
“Respectfully returned to his Excellency President Davis
I should be much gratified to comply with
the request of Governor Murrah could I do so consistently
with the interests of the service. But small as the
Texas Brigade is, it cannot be spared now. It contains
some of the best troops in the army and its loss would be
severely felt[.] The campaign is just opening, and
our need of men is so great that even a smaller number
than the Texas Brigade could not be spared.
The only way I can see to
allow them to go home, is to send some other troops
from Texas to take their place.
I shall be much gratified
to see the brigade recruited to a division but to
send it away now would be very injurious to the service.”
I trust the reasons assigned [?] by Genl Lee for non compliance
with your Excellency’s request at this time will prove
yours &c &c