57th Virginia Company B
© Copyright Raymond Pickett - 2009
PVT. Sanford B. Duff, 57TH VIRGINIA Co. H.
Sgt. James Anderson, 57TH VIRGINIA Co. E
       Franklin County, in southwestern Virginia, was and remains the most rural of Virginia’s counties.  In 1860, its people, hardscrabble red clay farmers of Scotch-Irish descent thought little about government. Richmond was more than a week away, and Washington D.C City an almost foreign city.   But even in isolated Franklin County, where plantations were absent and slaves at a modicum, there was no escape from the political storm that arrived with the 1860 election.  Rumors had filtered west of the dire consequences to Virginia should the Lincoln Republicans prevail.   Lincoln’s victory, in fact, had already triggered the rapid secession of the lower South.  When the news arrived in Rocky Mount that Lincoln had demanded that the non-seceding states supply 75,000-armed volunteers to repress the “rebellion,” Franklin County, like most of its sister counties, reacted with shock and horror.  Virginia, the largest of the southern states, opted to resist any invasion of sister states and joined the southern Confederacy. 

       Franklin County men quickly responded to Virginia’s call for volunteers.  The ante-bellum men’s social club whose primary qualification for membership was expert marksmanship, enlisted en masse to repel the planned Northern invasion. These men would become the nucleus of a Company within Maj. Elisha Keens’ Battalion of 3 full Companies.  Described as the most “natty” company of the Newly formed “Keens’ Battalion”, embarked for Richmond in June, 1861 completely outfitted by patriotic neighbors with new gray shell jackets with distinctive black piping on the cuffs and collar, drab slouch hats, shirts, trousers, blankets, knapsacks and canteens.  The volunteers marched to the railroad at Big Lick Depot, (modern Roanoke), where they boarded “the cars” for Richmond. 

       Soon after arriving in Richmond in September 1861; Maj. Keen was asked to resign and a full 10 Company Compliment was herded together to form the now Official designation of  “The 57th Virginia Infantry”. The boys of Franklin County were designated “Company B” and in the tradition of the Armies of those times, picked the sobriquet name of their Company to be “The Franklin County Sharpshooters”. Their new Commanding Officer; Colonel Lewis Addison Armistead, a seasoned and respected officer who had resigned his U.S. commission upon the secession of Virginia. 
        Soon after the 57th Virginia had completed training, the Union launched the largest amphibious assault in history by landing 120,000 Federals on the Virginia Peninsula and moving them towards the Confederate capital of Richmond.  As the Federals approached the Capital, the Confederates began the fierce fighting known as the Seven Days Battles. After an initial victory at Mechanicsville on June 26th, the Federals took a severe beating at Gaines Mill.  As the Federals continued to retreat towards their ships, the Army of Northern Virginia attempted to block their escape.  At Frayser’s & Nelsons’ Farms, the 57th Virginia, now part of Huger’s Division, closed with the Federals along the Charles River Road.  After fierce fighting, the Federals escaped and withdrew to the south.  Three days later, the Army of Northern Virginia attacked the Federals who had dug in powerful artillery emplacements along the top of the long slope known as Malvern Hill.  In the face of canister and shot, the Army of Northern Virginia, taking enormous casualties, launched attack after attack.  The 57th Virginia, however, by chance, advanced across a depression that dropped the Confederate line below the artillery line of fire. Consequently, its losses were far lower than the regiments on its flanks.  By nightfall, even though the Confederate assaults had failed, the dispirited Yankees moved south and withdrew from the Peninsula. The 57th now had their “Baptism Of Fire”!    

      In August 1862, the Army of Northern Virginia, rested and reinforced, moved towards the old Manassas battlefield.  On August 28th and 29th, Union General Pope founds himself struggling with Jackson’s Corps, which had positioned itself up against an unfinished railroad grade.  Unobserved by Pope, the 57th Virginia and the rest of Longstreet’s Corps came through Thoroughfare Gap and took positions on Jackson’s right flank.  Pope, ignorant of the substantial reinforcement of the Confederate line, directed Fitz John Porter’s Corps to conduct a frontal assault.  After massed Confederate artillery smashed the Porter’s attack, Longstreet’s Corps, sending 28,000 men in the largest mass assault of the war, crushed the Union left flank and drove the Federals from the field.  The 57th Virginia performed well in this decisive Confederate victory.

      No sooner had the Federals moved away that Lee launched the Army of Northern Virginia on his first invasion of the north.  On September 15, 1862, after undergoing an artillery bombardment, the Federal garrison in Harpers Ferry surrendered.  Colonel Armistead and the 57th Virginia; performing Provost Marshall Duty for Longstreets Corps, secured the town while most of the Army moved towards Sharpsburg. After stripping the surrendered Union garrison force of their uniforms, The 57th in rear tow as Provost, came up with AP Hills “Light Division” to save the day for General Lee! 
After recrossing the Potomac, the 57th went into camp at Martinsburg, Va., a town soon labeled by the troops as the “Massachusetts of VA” due to the openly Yankee sympathies of many of the locals.  In October 1862, the 57th Virginia marched through the Shenandoah to Culpeper Courthouse where it received orders to proceed to Fredericksburg.  The 57th was now part of Major-General Pickett’s Division.  Col. Armistead, promoted to Brigadier, received his own Brigade, which included; by his own hand, his beloved old command, the 57th Virginia.

         Arriving at Fredericksburg, the 57th dug breastworks on the right side of General Lee’s line, not far from his Command Post, and awaited the arrival of the Army of the Potomac.  The opening of the battle on December 13, 1862 saw the 57th on picket duty with a commanding view of the repetitive and disastrous Federal assaults on the impregnable positions of the Army of Northern Virginia.  With the withdrawal of the defeated Union forces, the 57th left Fredericksburg on December 29, 1862 and marched to Guinea’s Station for its winter encampment. 

         On January 12, 1863, 21-year-old Col. John Bowie Magruder took command of the 57th.  On February 17, 1863, General Lee, fearing a new Yankee attack on Richmond, sent Pickett’s Division through snow and freezing weather to Falling Creek on the south side of the James River.  Lee’s concerns had led him to dispatch Longstreet to the Tidewater to garner needed supplies from an ill-conceived idea that there was a pitiful Union Force down in Suffolk County.  When no Yankees appeared, many of the Confederates became foragers, filling their wagons with foodstuffs for Lee’s army.   The 57th pushed into the Dismal Swamp around Suffolk, encountering a strong Union line that barred a frontal attack against Suffolk.  Unable to find a flanking route allowing easier access to Suffolk, Longstreet opted to press the attack from the James River.  Meanwhile, the 57th as part of a Battalion led by Col. Marauder, dug in along the White Marsh Road and repelled several attacks by Corcoran’s Irish Legion; led by the cause-celibre’ and newly released Prisoner -Of- War Col. Michael Corcoran between April 21st and 27th. General Pickett himself issued a flattering commendation to General Armistead about young Magruder! Col. Magruder lost no men in this action and 13 who were forced to flee into the swamp, all returned back to The 57th to a man! 
      The Suffolk Campaign benefited the South by providing substantial foodstuffs for the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia.  While Pickett’s Division still remained detached, Lee’s army scored a smashing victory against the Federals in May 1863 at Chancellorsville.   Meanwhile, the 57th   was moving northward to New Market, where it rested until June 1863 when orders came for Lee’s second invasion of the North.

       On June 25th, the 57th crossed from Maryland into Greencastle, Pa.  From there, the 57th moved to Chambersburg to begin destruction of the tracks of the Chambersburg Rail Road.  On July 2, 1863, Pickett’s Division began a night march towards Gettysburg, where the great battle between Lee and Meade had been raging since July 1st.  By the afternoon, when the 57th found the road choked with wounded and wagons moving away from the fighting, the regiment left the road and began to move through the woods towards the fighting.  At 2:00 p.m., the 57th, in good spirits and eager to join in the fight, received orders to rest at Salem.  At 3:00 a.m. in what the men described as a “Broad Moon”, the orders came to rise and prepare to move again forward towards Gettysburg.  After each man had drawn twenty extra cartridges, the regiment, as rear guard, began its march to Pickett’s Charge and its appointment with destiny.

        When Pickett’s Division reached Seminary Ridge, it turned to the left and took up positions towards the right end of the Confederate line.  By 8:00 a.m., the 57th was in its position in Pitzer’s Woods, and remained in the shelter of the trees throughout the two-hour artillery duel in the early afternoon.  At 3:00 p.m., General Pickett rode down the line, alerting the Division to be prepared to advance.  Shouting his famous line of “Up Men, to your posts!  And remember, that today you are from Old Virginia.” could unfortunately not be heard by the 57th as General Pickett was in front of Kempers Brigade at that time . The 57th would have received their orders by Gen. Pickett’s brother; Charles, his AAG.  The 57th went into formation on the edge of the woods and prepared to advance with the Division.  As they stood awaiting the order to move out, the men could hear a band to their far right playing “Dixie.”  General Armistead called out his usual soliloquy before a battle:  “Remember men, what you fight for.  Remember your homes and firesides, your mothers, your wives, sisters and sweethearts.”  General Pickett then gave the order for “Division Forward”, and the 57th, at the left-center of Armistead’s Brigade, stepped out into sunlight and began to march across open ground towards the waiting Federals three-quarter miles away.   

        Except for one halt to re-dress the line and pivot forty-five degrees to the left, Pickett’s Division never ceased its advance towards the enemy.  Despite the storm of solid shot and canister that tore great gaps in the line, Armistead’s Brigade crossed the stone wall that marked the Yankee line and engaged the Federals hand to hand.  Federal reinforcements came forward continually while no support reached Pickett’s exhausted troops.  With no option but surrender or death, the 57th Virginia and its sister regiments began to retreat to Seminary Ridge.  Hundreds lay dead or wounded beyond the stone wall, including Brigadier General Armistead. The 57th had met its destiny!  Waiting for his men as they made their way back, Lee himself rallied the remnants to meet a countercharge that was never to come. Urging General Pickett “To Look To His Division” General Pickett’s only answer was “General Lee, …  I Have No Division!”         

      The 57th’s Company “B” had entered the battle with 271 men.  The following day, July 4th, only 120 men answered the roll.  Lee’s Army, grievously damaged in the three-day fight, began its long trek through the rain back to Virginia. Pickett’s Division received the unenviable assignment of escorting 3,000 Federal prisoners into Confederate captivity at Staunton Va.
               General George Pickett
                 General L. Amristead 
  Pvt. William Jefferson Bourne
     Company H, 57th Virginia

     By September, the 57th with the remainder of Pickett’s Division was camped four miles from Petersburg.  On September 23rd, General Pickett received appointment as commander of the Department of North Carolina, taking over for General DH Hill.  In February 1864, Lee ordered General Pickett to attack New Bern, NC.  Due to poor coordination, the attack failed.  Thereafter, the 57th marched to Richmond and performed various duties.  When General Benjamin Butler began to press towards the capital, the 57th marched to Chester Station and helped drive Butler back to defeat at Drewry’s Bluff and abandonment of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.   Ironically, General Pickett is remembered for the failed charge at Gettysburg and not for his success in saving Richmond by defeating Butler at Bermuda Hundred. 

      On May 16, 1864, the 57th received orders to march towards Spotsylvania Courthouse where the bulk of Lee’s Army was in mortal combat with the Army of the Potomac.  By the time the 57th arrived, the Wilderness Battle had ended.  The 57th then withdrew with the Army of Northern Virginia and dug in around Petersburg.  After a ten month siege, Lee abandoned Petersburg and withdrew to the west.   With the gates of Richmond open, the Federals took the capital. 
Colonel Clement R. Fontaine (Last Commander of the 57th VA Infantry)

“For Devotion to a just and righteous cause, no regiment .. is more deserving of commendation than the 57th VA. No set of men.. underwent more hardships, or endured more for their country. The history of the Brigade will show that besides regular battles participated in, that it performed more detached service than any of it’s sister regiments… Whether on the march, in bivouac, on the battlefield or camp, it was ever up to its duty and accomplished all that was ever expected of it.”
History of Company B By Ray Pickett Armistead's Brigade Longstreet's I Corps Pickett's Division Army of Northern Virginia
Then began the pursuit, with Lee’s men moving further and further west. General Pickett given a separate Command along with Gen. Lee’s nephew “Rooney” advanced 50 miles south to Dinwiddie Court House and surprised Union General Phil Sheridan and beat him to a fine repulse! Having their supply line stretched too far, Pickett’s Division headed back to Five Forks just below The much needed Southside Rail Road.  At Five Forks, Sheridan & The Union 5th Corps in 3-1 odds, enveloped Pickett’s men in a disastrous defeat for the Confederates.  Much of the 57th avoided capture by moving off to the right.  The 57th found waiting cars and took the train to Exeter Mills where what was left of the Division was waiting.  Lee’s army was desperate. The men had not drawn rations for two days.  Lee moved toward Saylers Creek where the Federals again almost overwhelmed his forces.  Again, the 57th and most of Pickett’s men avoided capture and rejoined Lee at Farmville.  By April 8, the 57th was only two miles from Appomattox Courthouse.  When Lee learned that Sheridan had taken a supply train only five miles from his Army, Lee was left with small choice.  He sent a courier to General Grant under flag of truce.  It was April 8, 1865.  At The Surrender on April 9th, The 57th Va. Inf’y was reduced to only “8” Pardoned Men!