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A BATTLE WITH SNOWBALLS

By Thomas Perrett
After the battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, I was laid up for repairs for about four months; and after a perilous trip to Richmond and about thirty days in Camp Winder Hospital, I was granted a furlough to visit my home, in Central North Carolina. Remaining there till in the early part of November, I returned to the Army of Northern Virginia, finding the 26th North Carolina Regiment, to which I belonged, located near Orange Courthouse. I found the regiment in much better shape than I had expected after the great loss sustained at Gettysburg. Many of the wounded had returned to duty, and quite a number of new recruits had been added, which gave it much of its old-time life and morale.

We were soon on the move and bivouacked at several places during the next months, our moves usually caused by raids of the Federals. During the latter part of November, the Federals crossed the Rappahannock in considerable force, advanced up the turnpike in the direction of the Orange Courthouse, and were met by the Confederate forces at a place we afterwards called Locust Grove. No regular engagement, only skirmishes, took place, and after a few days they retreated and left us in possession of the field. During our stay, however, we were constantly on picket duty, and on one occasion I had charge of a part of the picket line in the woods about five hundred yards from the Federal line. While on duty there a flock of wild turkeys got between the Federal and Confederate lines, which excited the boys very much. As the turkeys came near our line the boys turned loose a volley at them. The turkeys then made a get-away in the direction of the Federal line. In a few minutes the Federals let loose a volley, and the turkeys again headed in our direction. This sport was kept up for some time. One of the boys finally killed one of the turkeys. This sport was positively against orders, but so many of us were in it that no one got punished.

The latter part of December our camp was moved to a large wood about four miles northeast of Orange Courthouse, and we were assured that we would have this as winter quarters. The weather was extremely cold, and we had no tents; so it was up to us to do the best we could under the circumstances. I selected three partners, and we at once went to work to build us a “shack”. The ground was frozen hard, and we were too cold to sleep. The moon was shining brightly, and we began cutting poles and setting them up, and by day we had the structure ready for the roof and chimney; and by night the roof was on, a stick chimney built, and the cracks daubed to keep out the cold. We moved in and had a regular “house-warming”. We remained here through the winter, but were called out occasionally to meet some threatened raid or do picket duty on the North Anna River.

A little friction had developed between the brigades of General Kirkland and General Cook, which were located near each other., the whole trouble starting by making raids on each other in fun, which had grown into a bad feeling. The boys must have something up all the time to keep them in good humor, and about everything was tried that would afford any sport. When not on drill they would play cards, drafts, make and fly kites and occasionally made a raid at night.

Early in 1864, at the first heavy snowfall, a challenge was passed for a battle royal between the brigades, snowballs to be the weapons. The challenge was duly accepted, and the rules of battle agreed upon. The brigades, under the command of their respective officers, met in a large field, facing each other on opposite sides of a ravine. At a given signal the battle began in earnest. At first the men contented themselves with using ordinary snowballs, and all was fun and frolic; but the battle had not progressed very far before we discovered that quite a number of Cook’s men had brought along their haversacks and filled them with snowballs dipped in water and pressed as hard as a ball of ice. On making this discovery we captured a number of them and relieved them of their haversacks and snowballs. As the contest waxed more animated, each side struggling for victory, the passions of the combatants became aroused, and the excitement of actual battle seized them. Hard substances, frequently stones, were used with telling effect, in a number of cases doing serious damage. At one stage of the battle about twenty-five of Cook’s men made a charge to capture the colors of the 26th Regiment and were met at the colors by about an equal number of our men. The fight that followed was terrific for a few minutes. We broke the flagstaff into several pieces, fought with those pieces, fists, or anything we could get, but finally routed them and carried off the colors in triumph. I happened to be one of the men engaged in the fight over the colors, but escaped without any serious damage. Colonel McRae, in command of one of the regiments, was pulled from his horse and roughly handled; and the combat ended only with the exhaustion of the men, each side agreeing that it should be considered a drawn battle.

This affair cased some bitterness between the brigades which it took time and comradeship, battles, privation and suffering to destroy. This battle was not compulsory with the men, but most of them engaged in it for the fun. On returning to camp a few slackers who had refused to take part in the fun got to guying the boys about being such fools, when they were taken down and covered up in the snow as a “leveler”.