|Vol. VIII NO 1.||THE ELLER FAMILY ASSOCIATION||FEB 1994|
Page - 54
BEHIND THE LINES
With the Ellers in the Civil War
Byron H. Eller
This is the story of six Rowan County, North Carolina men. Two, Moses and James were the sons of Charles(4), John(3), John Melcher(2), Jacob(1) Eller. Two, Eli and Samuel, were sons of Andrew and Catherine Eller. Joshua was a son of Charles and Catherine Eller, and for Richard E. the family in unknown.(1) We cannot call them boys for they were all 26 years of age or older, their average age being 28.7 years.
This is also the story of the 23rd North Carolina Volunteers Regiment, which was known as the 13th Regiment North Carolina until 17 May 1862, at which time the Confederate Conscription act went into effect. it was organized originally at Garysburg, Northampton County, for a duration of twelve months. Men of the 13th were among the first to respond when the state called upon her sons to repel invasion, the companies being organized prior to the ordnance of secession of 20 May 1861. An act was passed authorizing ten companies, empowered to elect their own officers, but their commissions would be bestowed by the Governor.
Our six young men were all from Rowan County: Eli Eller, 27, Samuel Eller, 26, and James Eller, 27, all enlisted on 3 September into company H, known as the "Gaston Guards" because the majority of the men enlisting into this company were from Gaston County. Moses Eller, 34, Joshua Eller 28, and Richard Eller, 30, were mustered into company D, which was known as the "Pee Dee Guards", most of whom came from Richmond County. Obviously there were men from other counties who were accepted into these companies(2)
On 14 November 1861, the designation of the regiment was changed from the 13th Regiment North Carolina Volunteers to the 23rd Regiment North Carolina Troops by special orders from the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office, Richmond. The six Eller men did not join the 23rd until, as their enlistment dates certify, the 3rd and 6th September 1862, therefore the men missed the earlier battles of the Civil War: First Manassas, the Peninsular Campaign, Seven Days Campaign, Second Manassas, and the First Maryland Campaign. These soldiers were not even present for the Battle of Antietam. After Antietani the 23rd withdrew across the Potomac and returned into Virginia and lay encamped till late in October along the Opequon Creek. "Here the army was recruited and reorganized, the 23rd received its share of recruits". (3) Some of these new recruits were our Eller conscripts. Colonel Alfred Iverson was commissioned Brigadier General and assumed command of the brigade, which was composed of the 5th, 12th, 20th, and 23rd North Carolina regiments. In November came the March southeast to Fredericksburg, passing through Winchester, and here Richard Eller, after only two months in the service, was the first Eller to succumb; cause of death not reported but probably due to exposure and disease, (typhoid fever).
The 23rd took no active part in the Battle of Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862. However the regiment was placed in the front lines the last day of the battle and observed the retreat of the Federal forces. After the battle, the Confederate army went into winter quarters near Fredericksburg, towards Guinea Station. Here the second Eller, Moses, the oldest of the Eller men died 22 December 1862 of "Abscessus" (actually at Mt. Jackson, Virginia). It is possible Moses did not make it to Fredericksburg, for if the abscessus had been of a long duration producing great discomfort, he may have gone directly to Mt. Jackson from Winchester, a distance of approximately forty miles.
This winter was one of great rigor, snow had fallen and with the wind it was bitterly cold, the men suffering severely from want of proper clothing and food and from exposure. In January the regiment was marched to Mine Run, and though they did only a little desultory fighting, they suffered much hardship from cold, being held in line in the snow for several days and nights. The suffering was intense.(4) Eli Eller, weakened from these extreme conditions succumbed to the dreaded disease, typhoid fever. He died 2 February 1863, in a hospital at Richmond, Virginia.
Next came the brilliant victory for the out numbered Confederate army over the highly optimistic army under "Fighting Joe" Hooker. The 23rd played a very important part in Jackson's immortal march around the unsuspecting Federals. The attack on the Federals the evening of 2 May, made with the 23rd in the very front line, carrying it as far as any other towards the goal of Chancellorsville. Darkness brought a cessation to the fighting of that day, but the marrow would see the culmination of the mighty conflict.
With spirits buoyed by the great victory at Chancellorsville, Lee took his men on another invasion of the North. Hope gleamed brighter for the Southern cause than at any time prior to this in the war. The spirit and morale of the army was superb, expectant of another great victory. The route of the 23rd N.C. up the Shenandoah Valley, across the Potomac and into Maryland would parallel that of the 53rd N.C. regiment as outlined in Jesse Franklin Eller's story in the Eller Chronicles.(5) The farthest point north on the march was to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with Harrisburg, the state capitol being the eventual goal. Orders had already been given for the march on Harrisburg, when on the night of 29 June, Lee, then at Chambersburg, ordered the brigade to be put in rapid motion southward, with orders to proceed to Cashtown or Gettysburg, as circumstances might dictate. The goal turned out to be Gettysburg. When the battle began early on the morning of Wednesday, 1 July 1863, the brigade, of which the 23rd N.C. was a part, again led the corps onto the field of battle to take up position along the mummasburg Road on Oak Hill, which today is located in the northern portion of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Along the eastern border of an open space known as Forney's Field, in which the regiment found itself, ran a ridge along which a stone fence extended for several hundred yards. This became the Federal defensive line at that point in the battle. About 2:30 p.m. the brigade, about 1,450 strong, advanced under artillery fire through the open field, apparently without knowledge of the Yankee force crouching behind the stone wall. To attack across any open field on an enemy in a woods some hundreds of yards distant would have been disastrous in itself. Then finally the regiment reached a hollow place in the field.
As the Union troops peeked over the wall they could hardly believe what they saw: a lone brigade-1,470 men and officers- wandering on an erratic course, seemingly not knowing where it was headed. The Union men waited, crouched behind the wall until the Carolinians marched to within 80 yards, exposing a flank as they advanced with no direction. The doubled ranks of blue stood and poured fire down the length of Iverson's abandoned brigade, and ripped his troops to shreds.(6) The brigade suffered over 800 casualties. Three of the four regiments were almost annihilated before they escaped, the dead and wounded on a line as straight as at dress parade. "Unarmed and unled as a brigade, we went to our doom," recalled Sergeant H.C. Hall, of the 23rd N.C. "Deep and long must be the desolate homes and orphan children of North Carolina due the rashness of the hour."(7)
The Federals now charged across the stone wall, down the slope through the high grass of Forney's Field and dealt the death blow to Iverson's regiment. "We got the order to charge and we struck the 23rd N.C. and captured nearly the entire regiment (approximately 400)", wrote Sergeant Edward L. Gilligan.(8) In addition to the 23rd, nearly all that State's 5th and 20th regiments were taken prisoner.
"Hundreds of Confederates toppled to the ground, the dead and wounded lying in a distinct straight line as if they were in a dress parade of the macabre", wrote one of the Yankee observers. The hour was 3:00 p.m.(9)
In the "return of killed and wounded in Army of Northern Virginia", the 23rd N.C. lost 41 killed, (second highest number of a regiment in the entire division), 93 wounded, total 134.(10) No report on the number missing or captured is given. The brigade suffered 130 killed, 382 wounded and 308 missing, a total of 820 casualties among the 1,400 engaged, though many in the unit thought that count was too low. From another source it is summed up this way, "Iverson had sent 1,384 men into a fight that lasted 15 minutes, no more than 400 were present when the brigade was finally reassembled."(11)
Long, shallow trenches were dug and the men rolled in just inches from where they died. As with most of the Confederate dead, they remained buried on the battlefield until the early 1870s when southern "Literary Societies" or wives and orphans of the veterans had raised enough money to have the remains exhumed and brought home. Needless to say, after several years in the rich Pennsylvania soil, un-embalmed, buried without much more than a hat over their faces, there wasn't much left to send. But the area where they were buried had become a shallow depression, and was named by the locals "Iverson's pits."
Lt. Montgomery of the 12th N.C. said he returned to Fbrney's Field in 1898 and learned from Mr. Forney himself that the place was then known throughout the neighborhood as the "Iverson's Pits" and that for years after the battle there was a superstitious terror in regard to the field and that it was with difficulty that laborers could be kept at work there on the approach of night on that account."(12)
Lt. Montgomery could trace with his walking stick, where the grass grew greener in long rows as wide as the height of a dead man. He may have remembered the statement of another officer in the brigade who had said that there at Gettysburg, was the only place in the entire war where he saw the blood and gore nun in actual rivulets. Mr. Forney assured him that when the crops were planted in the area, they flourished on the unique fertilizer.(13)
If you were to visit Gettysburg National Military Park today and go with a park guide to the area of Iverson's Pit, the spot on the battle field where over 500 North Carolina soldier boys were sent on the last long march toward eternity, you will be told about the experiences as reported on Forney's Field. But the guide will be prompt to go beyond these stories and say that unseen stirrings, and misty figures have appeared and been observed in the area of the Iverson's Pit in recent times, even to our day.(14)
It was probably here in "Iverson's pit" that Joshua Eller was wounded on that fateful afternoon of 1 July 1863. Fortunately his must have been a walking wound for he was able to make his way north out of that terrible pit of death, and was evacuated with the wounded of the Army of Northern Virginia, after its decisive defeat on the fields of Gettysburg. What the wound was is not known but he was able to return to duty "prior to 1 May 1864" after a ten month convalescence.
A wound sustained by Samuel at the same time and no doubt also in Iverson's Pit was more serious, receiving three minnie balls in his left leg. He was unable to extricate himself from the site of carnage and was taken prisoner along with the other sixty or more men from his regiment. He was captured and taken to a hospital where his left leg was amputated by Federal surgeons. In the Confederate Veteran Magazine of May 1898 there appears a brief summary of Samuels war service, with an accompanying photo showing he had an amputation of the left leg just above the knee. There is this to say about Samuel:
"When Sam Eller came home from the war minus a leg, he went to work like the hero that he is, and has supported himself and his family in an upright, honorable manner ever since. He is the favorite of the camp at Salisbury, N.C. Comrade Eller enlisted in August, 1862, in Company H, Twenty-Third North Carolina Regiment, Iverson's Brigade, Rodes's Division, and was continually with his command until shot down at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, where he fell in the hands of the Federals, and his leg was amputated. He was exchanged the following December."(15)
Samuel was exchanged on an unspecified date prior to 1 Mar 1864, and was retired to the Invalid Corps on 9 June 1864. He took the Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Government at Salisbury, N.C. on 14 June 1865. His descendants live to this date in Rowan County, N.C., one being Mary Eller-Agner, a great grand daughter.
Of the six Ellers enlisting in the 23rd N.C. the only one to remain in the regiment following Gettysburg was James(5), Charles(4), John(3), John Melcher(2), Jacob(1). SO we will continue to follow the course taken by the 23rd to find how and where James was engaged.
The Army of Northern Virginia returned to Virginia after Gettysburg, and went into winter quarters near Orange Court House. Joshua returned to to the regiment prior to 1 May 1864, so the two men, Joshua and James, were present for the great battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. There followed now Early's raid up the Shenandoah Valley and again into Maryland, arriving at Washington City 11 July 1864, hot, jaded, and footsore with a view of the capitol dome in the distance. It was determined, however, that the works surrounding the city were too strongly manned for the small attacking Confederate force. This is said to have been the only instance in the history of the country in which a president of the United States appeared on a field of battle. Mr. Lincoln came out to the works on Tuesday, 12 July, to view the situation and a surgeon was shot very close at his side, by a Confederate sharpshooter.(16) On the 13th the Rebel troops were forced to retire from their forward positions, and eventually returned to the Shenandoah Valley by way of Snickers Gap. There followed now Early's Valley Campaign with three decisive battles being fought, all disastrous for the South: Winchester (third), Fisher Hill, and Cedar Creek.
The regiment returned to Robert E. Lee's army about the last of November, 1864, going to Richmond, and eventually Petersburg, becoming a part of the troops in the defensive works around that city. They remained here during a severely cold winter participating in several skirmishes about the outer defenses of Petersburg. By the time of the surrender at Appomattox, the brigade (now Brigadier General Robert D. Johnston's) numbered 31 officers and 433 men. The 23rd regiment mustered only 82 soldiers, 10 being from company H, one of those was James Eller. James was paroled at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 9 April 1865, and took the Oath of Allegiance at Salisbury on 10 July 1865.(17)
It is doubtful whether Joshua made it to Appomattox, but just where he ended his service is not known. No members of his company (Company D) are counted on the "Parole List at Appomattox". He was paroled at Salisbury on 13 May 1865.
In summary then, of the six Eller men in the 23rd N.C. Infantry Regiment, three died during the first winter that they were in the Confederate service. Two were wounded at Gettysburg, 1 July 1863, one seriously requiring an amputation of a leg. Only one, James, stayed with the regiment to be surrendered at Appomattox by General Robert E. Lee, with the skeletal remains of his Army of Northern Virginia. This James is the great great grandfather of Peggy Joyce Agner-Troutman of Salisbury, North Carolina, a member of the Eller Family Association.(18)