General Robert F. Hoke proved to be one of Lee’s most capable commanders. Hoke was detached to his home State of North Carolina where he liberated Plymouth from enemy occupation in April 1864, and very nearly accomplished the same at New Bern. Sent by Lee to defend Fort Fisher from enemy attack in late 1864, Hoke’s veteran division effectively opposed the enemy march on Wilmington, forcing them into wide flanking movements. Read more at: http://www.ncwbts150.com/AtWarBattlegroundsHomefront.php
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Living Skeletons Defending Petersburg
“After the Union disaster at “the Crater,” the armies returned to three weeks of uneventful trench warfare. During the first twenty days of August , “nothing occurred with us to break the monotony in the trenches, such as it was,” according to [General Johnson] Hagood. [General Alfred H.] Colquitt’s brigade was permanently returned to Hoke on August 2.
On August 19, [Colquitt’s, Hagood’s and General Thomas L. Clingman’s brigades were assigned to General William Mahone] in Lee’s unsuccessful three-day effort to dislodge the Federals from the Weldon and Petersburg Railroad. Of the 681 officers and men Hagood sent into the battle, only 292 emerged unscathed. General Clingman was seriously wounded in the leg on the first day of the engagement and was lost to Hoke for the remainder of the war.
Because of deadly attrition and the casualties sustained on August 21, Hagood asked that he be allowed to take his survivors “to some quiet camp where rest and access to water might recruit their physical condition.” His request was granted by Lee.
When the 740 frail soldiers of his command emerged from the Petersburg trenches on August 20, they represented just a third of the complement that had entered the works sixty-seven days earlier. The brigade inspector was delighted when a local citizen offered his forty-acre estate in nearby Chesterfield County for a camp site.
In mid-September, Hoke was granted permission to pull his other weary brigades from the trenches and take them to the utopia being enjoyed by Hagood’s men. Of the twenty-two hundred soldiers on hand when Brigadier-General [James G.] Martin put his soldiers in the trenches, seven hundred “living skeletons” scrambled out under the command of General [William W.] Kirkland on Thursday, September 15.
For ten days, Hoke and the worn and jaded men of his division enjoyed overdue pleasures. In a letter to his sister, Lieutenant Edward J. Williams of the Thirty-first North Carolina expressed the excitement that abounded: “The most pleasant topic amongst us . . . is that we are at last clear of the ditches, shells, & [bales] of every description & are lying at ease on a beautiful hillside washing our faces at least once per day and no work to do. Since the 15 of June we have held a portion of the works in front of Petersburg & have never been relieved until now.”
The brief respite from war ended all too soon on September 28, when the men returned to the trenches. As a climax to the period of rest and relaxation, the division was honored with a grand review by General Lee . . . dressed in full uniform with a yellow sash, was atop Traveller as he rode past the remnants of Hoke’s four brigades.”
(General Robert F. Hoke, Lee’s Modest Warrior, Daniel W. Broadfoot, John F. Blair, 1996, pp. 218-219)