Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“The domned skillipins skeddaddle extinsively — extinsively, sir!”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 21, 2010

One of the great firsthand accounts of Texas troops in the Civil War is Val C. Giles’ Rags and Hope: Four Years with Hood’s Brigade, Fourth Texas Infantry, 1861-1865 (Mary Lasswell, ed.). The book was originally published in 1961, at the time of the Civil War Centennial, and (to my knowledge) has never been reprinted. Copies are hard to find, and correspondingly expensive. That’s a shame, because Giles’ narrative is poignant, vivid, and often very funny.

Giles’ account of Second Manassas shares much with that of his postwar friend and fellow 4th Texas veteran, Lawrence Daffan of Company G.* It’s a harrowing description, and Giles (Company B) was much shaken by the carnage he saw around him within the regiment. That’s for a later time, though; for now, I want to follow-up Daffan’s dramatic description of Captain James Reilly’s Battery D of the 1st North Carolina Artillery with Giles’ description of the same event. As always, Giles (left, in a studio portrait taken in Austin at the time of his enlistment in 1861) has a keen ear for vivid characters and humorous spectacle:

When I say the greatest battles of the world have been fought by the infantry, I don’t mean to reflect on the artillery or cavalry, or intimate that they have ever failed to do their duty. Stuart’s Cavalry was always vigilant. They were the eyes and ears of the army, and while the infantry slept, these gallant fellows were far away on the flanks, watching the enemy, guarding the fords, bridges and crossroads, escorting supply trains, and, for weeks at a time, fighting every day. During the war I used to think that the artillerymen were the bravest men on earth. They could pull through deeper mud, ford. deeper streams, shoot faster, swear louder, and stand more hard pounding than any other class of men in the service. . . .

Attached to the Texas Brigade was a fine battery of six Napoleon guns, commanded by Captain Reilly. Reilly had been an artillery sergeant in the old Army, and when the trouble began in 1861, he cast his lot with the Confederacy. He was an Irishman, rough, gruff, grizzly, and brave. He loved his profession and knew his business.

In this battle of Second Manassas, we witnessed a fine display of his skill and courage. General Hood instructed his colonels to halt their regiments when they reached Young Branch, which ran parallel with our line of battle, but when the Brigade reached the branch, the enemy was falling back, all along the line, and many of our field officers were killed or wounded. Colonel J. B. Robertson, Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Upton, Major Bryant, Captain J. D. Roberdeau, and Adjutant Campbell Woods of the Fifth Texas Regiment had all fallen before they reached the branch. The regiment was left without field officers, so the men pressed over the Zouaves, across the stream, and up the hill beyond.

Lieutenant Colonel [S. Z.] Ruff, Majors [John C.] Griffis, [John B.] O’Neill, [D. L.] Jarrett, and [Joel C.] Roper of the Eighteenth Georgia had gone down. Majors [William P.] Townsend, [D. U.] Barziza, and [James T.] Hunter of the Fourth had also fallen. Colonel [William T.] Wofford of the Eighteenth Georgia, Colonel [Benjamin F.] Carter of the Fourth Texas, Lieutenant Colonel P. A. Work of the First Texas, and Colonel [W. M.] Gary of Hampton’s South Carolina Legion finally succeeded in checking our men and bringing them back under the crest of the hill.

It was then that “Old Tarantula,” Captain Reilly, made his appearance on the field. He turned a point of timber to our left and came toward us in a sweeping run. Every horse in the battery carried a rider and the caissons and gun carriages were covered with red caps holding on like monkeys as they thundered over gullies, rocks, even over dead and wounded soldiers.

“Old Tarantula” rode fifty yards in front of his battery. He hurriedly selected an elevation, and at the wave of his hand, the guns were whirled into position and every artilleryman appeared to hit the ground at once. He threw his field glass to his eye, swept the horizon at one glance, then sang out: “Six hundred yards — shrapnel!”’

The guns bellowed and roared, the shells passing ten feet over our heads. Many of .the men sprang to the top of the hill to see the effect of Reilly’s shells. He was accurate in distance, for every shell exploded right in the midst of the confused and retreating enemy. He sat on his horse, calmly giving his commands, increasing the distance as the broken columns retired.

Major [William] Harvey Sellers, General Hood’s Assistant Adjutant General, rode up to the battery on his wounded gray horse to deliver some order. Old Reilly greeted him with a grand flourish and gleefully said, pointing in the direction of the bursting shells, “See, Major, see! The domned skillipins skeddaddle extinsively — extinsively, sir!”

I have no idea what “skillipins” is a phonetic spelling of, but they skeddaddled — extinsively!


* As with Daffan’s account, I’ve corrected spellings of proper names without further note. Image: Reilly’s Battery in action at Gettysburg, by Dale Gallon.

One Response

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  1. John Hennessy said, on November 22, 2010 at 3:17 am

    I had not seen the Daffan account before. Thanks for sharing this and pointing out the link to Giles’s fine account.

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