GENERAL LEE TO THE REAR
                                               Letter from Colonel C. S. Venable.*
                                                                     UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, November 24th, 1871.
 
  
To General N. H. HARRIS:

My Dear General - Your letter of August 24th was duly received.   I sought a copy of Major Cooke's life of General Lee and read therein the myth concerning the battle scene of May 12th, 1864, at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Major Cooke has evidently confounded 
(in a distorted way) some incidents of the fight on a portion of Rodes' front on the afternoon of the 10th of May, when Gordon and others urged General Lee to retire from the front, with the great battle of May 12th.   You do right not to permit so gross a misstatement of facts, which robs the brave Mississippians whom you commanded of their proper meed of glory, to pass unnoticed. 

You ask me to relate the incidents of the twelfth of May,connecting General Lee with your brigade in the bloody battle of that day.

General Rodes had immediate charge of the troops who held the enemy at bay in the angle of our works, which they had captured at dawn, and he may justly be called the hero of the battle at the salient.    The enemy, in attempting to press their advantage, massed their troops and made repeated assaults with overwhelming odds on the troops sent to oppose their further progress within our lines. Rodes sent from time to time urgent messages for more troops. Brigade after brigade was ordered to
his assistance as they could be spared from other portions of the line. On the receipt of one of these messages from Rodes, General Lee sent me to our extreme right, occupied by General Mahone, to bring up your brigade. You moved rapidly across the open space in rear of the Courthouse. When we had reached a point on the Courthouse road, near General Lee's position on the 
line, the brigade was halted for a few minutes. General Lee rode up alone during this halt, and gave orders that you should move on at once to General Rodes" assistance; and, as the column moved on, he rode at 
your side at its head. We soon came under the fire of 
the enemy's artillery. This excited General lee's horse,
and as he was in the act of rearing, a round shot passed under his belly, very near the General's stirrup. The men of the brigade cried out: "Go Back, General! Go Back! For God's sake, go back!" and perhaps some made a motion to seize his bridle. He then said, "If you will promise me to drive those people from our works, I will go back!" The men shouted their promise with a will. General Lee then gave me orders to guide the brigade 
to General Rodes. We found General Rodes near the famous spring within a few rods of the line of battle 
held by our exhausted troops. As the column of Mississippians came up at a double-quick, an aide-de-camp came to General Rodes with a message from Ramseur that he could hold out only a few minutes longer unless assistance was at hand. 

Your brigade was thrown instantly into the fight, the column being formed into line under a tremedeous fire and on very difficult ground. Never did a brigade go 
into fiercer battle under greater trials; never did a 
brigade do its duty more nobly. The entire salient was
not recaptured, but the progress of the enemy was checked, and were driven into a narrow space in the 
angle which they had occupied.

The disaster of the morning was retrieved, and our 
troops held their difficult position under a heavy, unceasing fire during the remainder of the day and the entire night. They were withdrawn before daylight on 
the morning of the 13th to the rifle pits constructed 
under Gordon's supervision, while the battle was raging
a short distance in rear of the old line. The enemy abandoned the captured salient on the same day as useless to them. or perhaps as a ruse preparatory to a grand assault on our left, ordered by General Grant at daylight on the 14th (this we learned from captured copies of his battle orders.) His troops, however, failed
to come up to the attack.

The day of the salient, which began in disaster to us, 
did not close without many shattering blows to the attacking column.

Of the incident of the battle of the Wilderness on the
6th of May, in connection with the Texas brigade (often, as you say, confounded with the incidents of May 12th, related above),I was also an eye-witness; and I believe that few battle incidents recorded in history rise in grandeur above those two occasions when General Lee went into the charge with the Texans at the Wilderness and when he led the Mississippians into battle at Spotsylvania.

I am, General, very truly, your friend,

CHARLES S. VENABLE.

It may be well to add that there is really no conflict in 
the several accounts we have published. The incident certainly occurred, under somewhat similar circumstances, upon three occasions, viz: In the Wilderness on the 6th of May with the Texas brigade;
at Spotsylvania Courthouse on the 12th of May with Gordon's division; and on the same morning with 
Harris' Mississippi brigade. 
 
 

*Taken from the Southern Historical Society Papers 
Volume VII - Richmond, Va - March , 1880 
No 3 -Pages 107 - 108 

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