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Private Samuel Drake

Private Samuel Drake
Company M, Infantry Battalion

Samuel Drake was born in Hancock County Georgia in 1833 to Cargill Drake and his wife Martha. The family had relocated to Cobb County Georgia sometime prior to 1850 and took up farming in the countryside northwest of Marietta. Sam married Serena Holley Hales in 1858 and the 1860 census shows them running a small farm in the same area where Sam had grown up. They had started a family with the arrival of a daughter, Melissa, in October 1859.

With the outbreak of war in 1861, the younger men, mostly single, took up arms and headed off to fight the Yankee oppressors. Everyone understood that this would be a short war by virtue of the clear superiority of southern manhood and gallantry. As the month's dragged on into 1862 it was becoming clear that this would be a much longer war than anyone had thought. Lincoln was greatly enlarging the Union army and it became clear that the south needed large infusions of new troops for it's armies.

Colonel William Phillips had returned to Marietta from western Virginia in late 1861 to recover from a near fatal bout of typhoid. As Phillips recovered he worked closely with his mentor, Governor Joseph Brown, to lobby the Confederate War Department for approval to enlarge his Legion. This approval was soon forthcoming and Phillips began to recruit men for three additional infantry companies and two additional cavalry companies. The new infantry company soldiers were mostly Cobb Countians. As opposed to the recruits of 1861, many of these men were older family men. Thus it was that Samuel Drake said farewell to his pregnant wife and joined Legion infantry Co M, The Denmead Guards. The company mustered into service in April of 1862 and entrained east to Hardeeville, South Carolina to join the rest of the Legion which was involved in guarding the important Charleston and Savannah Railroad. The new recruits were drilled and began to become proficient soldiers.

In late June 1862 Sam received word that wife Serena had delivered a second daughter. The new baby would be named Sammie Alma to honor her father. Other, darker news began to arrive in late June. A series of major battles had been fought around Richmond, Virginia. A large Federal army had been pushed away from the Confederate capital but the cost in casualties was astronomically high. General Robert E Lee needed to rebuild his force and calls for reinforcements went out. In response a new brigade was cobbled together in the Charleston/Savannah coastal area. Brigadier General Thomas F Drayton would lead this unit which was comprised of the 50th and 51st Georgia Regiments, and Phillips Georgia Legion. South Carolina contributed the 15th SC Regiment and the 3rd SC (James) Battalion. The brigade entrained north on July 17th and would begin arriving in Richmond in early August.

After some minor skirmishing and fortification building east of Richmond, Drayton's command received orders to join James Longstreet's wing of the army as it moved out to reinforce Stonewall Jackson near Gordonsville, arriving there on August 14th. The opposition, a large Federal army commanded by the bombastic John Pope, was slowly advancing into central Virginia. To counter this threat, Jackson secretly marched around Pope's open northern flank while Longstreet held Pope's attention at the Rappahannock River. The Legion was engaged in skirmishing on August 23rd and 25th but Sam's company suffered no casualties. Now ensconced between Pope and Washington, Jackson ravaged the large Union supply depot at Manassas Junction alerting Pope to his dangerous position. Pope quickly turned his army around and went after Jackson, hoping to annihilate Jackson's smaller force before Longstreet could come to his aid. Now it was the Legion's turn to march hard and fast. Following Jackson's earlier route, they swung through gaps in the Blue Ridge and headed northeast to rejoin Jackson near the old Manassas battlefield. Punching through a Federal holding force at Thorofare Gap, Longstreet was able to rejoin Jackson before he could be overwhelmed by Pope. Drayton's brigade was held out of the vicious fighting on the 29th and 30th watching for Federal movement on Lee's right flank. Then, late on the 30th with the Federal line starting to crumble, Drayton was ordered to come forward and hit the Yankee's left flank. Due to some miscommunication, Drayton did not get his men into position on the far right flank of the army until dark and this caused the Legion to become involved in a confusing night action where no one quite knew where anyone else was. The Legion Infantry lost 23 men at Second Manassas, but Company M escaped without harm. The Federal Army had been thoroughly defeated though and retreated back into the defenses of Washington.

Almost without pausing, Robert E Lee turned his army north into Maryland, crossing the Potomac River at White's Ferry on September 4th. Some of the southern soldiers were not happy about this. They felt that they had enlisted to defend the south, not invade the north and had to be coerced to cross the river. Some drifted away and did not rejoin their units until late in the month when the army recrossed into Virginia. At this point, the southern army had been moving fast and fighting hard for two weeks and the supply system was beginning to break down. Many soldiers had worn out their shoes and uniforms and presented a very ragged appearance. With irregular supply, the soldiers began to live off the land and their primary diet during this period was green apples and corn from the fields of local farmers. The water supply was also of questionable quality. Thus, it is not surprising that the army began to suffer severely from stomach ailments and diareah, losing men all along their line of march. They began moving into Frederick, Maryland on September 6th and Lee decided to rest his men there for a few days while he decided what to do next. We can only surmise how Sam Drake was holding up, but it is certain that he was glad for the break.

As Lee moved north, he had bypassed a 12000 man Federal garrison at Harpers Ferry on the assumption that these troops would retreat towards Washington once he moved to their north. The Federals were not cooperative, however, and remained at Harpers Ferry astride Lee's lines of communication and supply back to Virginia. In a daring plan to eliminate this threat, Lee divided his forces sending Stonewall Jackson's wing of the army plus McLaws' and Anderson's Divisions from Longstreet's wing to capture Harpers Ferry while the rest of Longstreet's men remained at Boonsboro, near South Mountain to keep an eye on McClellan. The attrition of men to illness continued. When the army headed west out of Frederick, Sam's Company M had to leave Sgt W.S. Bell and Private Joseph Stancell behind to be captured by the advancing Federals.

Then, one of those twists of fate occurred, that can change the course of history. A careless Confederate officer or courier dropped a copy of Lee's Special Orders 191 at a campsite near Frederick when the southern army headed west from that city on September 10th. These orders detailing Lee's plans to divide his army and capture Harpers Ferry fell into the hands of the Federals when they arrived in Frederick.

McClellan, normally a very cautious General, realized the opportunity he had to attack Lee's army while it was widely scattered and began to move forward aggressively. Early on the morning of September 14th he had the IX Corps' Kanawha Division moving into position to seize a key pass over South Mountain at Fox's Gap. The rest of Jesse Reno's IX Corps and Joe Hooker's I Corps were not far behind. In the meantime, Lee had been apprised that Federal forces were moving south from Pennsylvania to intercept him and had ordered the majority of Longstreet's men (including the Legion Infantry) to shift 10 miles north from Boonsboro to Hagerstown, Maryland, leaving only D H Hill's Division at Boonsboro to guard the two critical South Mountain passes there. Hill had posted Colquitt's Georgia brigade at Turner's Gap on the evening of September 13th and left his other four brigades in the valley to the west expecting no significant Federal movements for several days. Colquitt advised Hill of increased Federal activity that evening and Hill ordered Samuel Garland's North Carolina brigade to arrive at the top of the mountain on the morning of the 14th.

When Hill and Garland arrived at Turner's Gap, the sunrise presented them with an astonishing sight. The valley floor to their east had become a moving carpet of blue clad soldiers. Hill quickly ordered Garland to take his 1000 man brigade a mile south to guard the pass at Fox's Gap while Colquitt's Georgians continued to cover Turners Gap. He also sent orders back to get his remaining brigades moving up to the passes and sent word to Longstreet and Lee that he was in deep trouble and required reinforcements. Longstreet promptly got most of his troops up and moving south from Hagerstown towards Boonsboro. The Legion's chaplain, Reverend George Gilman Smith says of this morning, "On the Sunday morning on which the battle of South Mountain began, we were in camp at Hagerstown. We were expecting quite a time of repose when the order came to return towards Boonsboro. I had not the remotest dream of any hot work, nor do I think any of us had, for we had no idea that the army of the Potomac could be reorganized and mobilized so soon. We thought the assault on our lines a mere feint of cavalry. This was evidently General Lee's opinion, or else he would not have allowed Jackson to have crossed the Potomac; but it was soon evident from the rapid motion of the artillery and infantry that hot work was before us. My regiment had gone and I ambled off as rapidly as I could toward the front." Drayton and G T Anderson's brigades marched rapidly down through Boonsboro and on up the winding mountain road to Turners Gap. They were met there with great relief by D H Hill who personally guided them south to Fox's Gap where a disaster had occurred that morning. Attacked by two Federal brigades with 4000 men, Garland's 1000 North Carolinians were overwhelmed and pushed west out of the gap and off the mountain. Garland was killed in the fight. Only a gutsy holding action by two of G B Anderson's regiments and a few survivors from Garland's brigade kept the Federals from moving north from Fox's Gap to capture Turners Gap. The Federals paused to regroup for another attack, two of D H Hill's brigades (George B Anderson's and Roswell Ripley's) arrived late in the morning and the situation stabilized for the moment.

With the arrival of George T Anderson's and Drayton's 1900 men, Hill felt he had enough troops at Fox's Gap to mount a counterattack sweeping the Federals back out of the gap to the east. As Hill and the various generals discussed the attack plan, Sam Drake and his fellow Legion soldiers filed into position behind a stone wall facing east. This wall was just north of the Old Sharpsburg Road and some 100 yards below the crest of the mountain to their rear. The 50th and 51st Georgia were in line with them and the South Carolina units of their brigade were formed in the Old Sharpsburg Road facing south looking out over a 4 acre field adjoining the road. No Federals were visible, but everyone knew that they were there, just out of sight beyond the trees at the southern and eastern sides of this field. Hill's plan called for Drayton's brigade, located at the gap, to serve as the pivot point for a left sweeping assault of four brigades which would start from the Old Sharpsburg Road on the west side of the mountain. As the other three brigades (G B Anderson's, Ripley's and G T Anderson's) filed off down the Old Sharpsburg Road to the west Drayton shifted the Phillips Legion into the Old Sharpsburg Road to join the 3rd SC Battalion and part of the 15th SC in an attack southward across the 4 acre field. The Legion completed their redeployment and charged south with the two South Carolina units. The Legion, on the left of the attack force, entered the woods east of the field and quickly ran into trouble, encountering large numbers of Federal troops. The Federals, it turned out, were about to launch their own assault just as the Legion entered the woods. Masses of Federals quickly pushed the Legion men northwest out of the woods and into the open field. Other Federals south of the field now opened up and drove the South Carolinians back. To compound matters, G T Anderson's brigade had shifted too far down the road to the west opening a 300 yard gap between Drayton's right and Anderson's left. Into this opening poured more Federals virtually surrounding the Legion soldiers and South Carolinians on three sides.

Chaplain Smith described what happened. "Soon an order came to change front. We were looking eastward and were to go into the turnpike (the Old Sharpsburg Road) and look southward. We entered the pike, crossed it and entered a wood. As we did, I found the enemy were in our front. As I reached the regiment I heard Cook, my Lieut. Colonel cry out "For God's sake, don't fire, we are friends." I saw a body of our own men about to fire on us thinking we were Federals. I ran back to check them and was pointing out the position of the troops when I looked up the road we had abandoned, and saw a body of Federals moving behind us. I saw their line of battle was moving upon the stone fence we had left, but it struck me from the way they moved that they did not know it was abandoned. I ran to the General (Drayton) and told him about it. He ran up to the fence and said something about charging, but there was nobody to charge. A Colonel Gist (Major Wm. M Gist, 15th SC) was in command of the rear guard. I thought it was the 15th SC. I told him the status. He told me he had only a rear guard. I suggested we make a feint until our troops could be withdrawn. I do not know what he did.I soon saw the Federals were on our right, so we had them in front, on the left, on the right and there was a little gap left" At this juncture, Reverend Smith, seeing Federals circling around them from the east and the west, decided he had better run back to his unit in the field to the south and let them know they were being surrounded. He continues, "The firing was now fierce, but I felt that my regiment must be brought out of that pocket at all hazards and I started to warn it, when I found it retreating. Poor Ellis (Pvt Ellis E. Williams, Co D, KIA at Fox's Gap), a Welchman, had run the gauntlet and given them warning and the regiment was now retreating in a broken and confused manner. One of the boys, Gus Tomlinson, in tears, said, "Parson, we've been whipped. The regiment is retreating." "And none too soon, either," said I, "for we are surrounded on all sides but one." Immediately afterwards, Reverend Smith was hit in the neck by a minie ball which ranged downward coming out near his spine, paralyzing his arm for life. Where was Sam Drake during this chaos? He must have been quick to realize what was happening since he was one of those who made it out of the closing jaws of the Federal attack. Six of his Company M compatriots were captured. Cpl William Bannister and Pvt Hiram Folds of Co M were not so fortunate, being left dead on the field.

The Legion had endured their first major combat action and suffered terribly. Thirty men lay dead on the field, another 37 were wounded (some, like Reverend Smith, Wm Bannister Sr (Co M, lost arm) and W.H. Sauls (Co M, lost arm) so badly that they were out of the war for good), and 45 more marched east off the mountain to a Federal prison. Drayton's entire brigade was decimated, losing 626 men. One of Drayton's other Georgia regiments, the 50th, was caught in the process of redeploying into the Old Sharpsburg Road and was simply shot to pieces losing 181 of it's 225 men.

The Legion's remnant marched on to Sharpsburg and, just three days later, lost an additional 35 men in another last ditch holding action against the same IX Corps Federals they had faced at Fox's Gap. When they recrossed the Potomac into Virginia on the 19th of September less than one in four of the Legion soldiers who had started north from Richmond in August was still in the ranks!

Both sides had been badly mauled in Maryland and were content to rest and recuperate on their respective sides of the Potomac. The Legion spent October and November in the area around Winchester, Va. at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley. Men who had been sick and wounded gradually returned to the unit and it's strength rose back up over 300 men. The bungling and unpopular General Drayton was sent west and the Legion was reassigned to the all-Georgia brigade of Athens aristocrat, General T R R Cobb.

Then, just as everyone began to believe that the army would go into winter quarters, the new Federal commander of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose E Burnsides, launched his army south towards Fredericksburg, Va. in an attempt to race around Lee's right flank and capture Richmond. Fortunately for Lee, an administrative foulup caused Burnside's pontoon bridges to be delayed ten days and he pulled up north of the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg. This critical delay enabled Lee to move his entire army to Fredericksburg and entrench it on a low range of hills south of and overlooking the town. Burnside, a solid but unimaginative general, decided that he would attack Lee's position frontally and on the morning of December 13th sent masses of blue infantry against Lee's lines. The main point of attack on the west end of the field was a hill called Marye's Heights. Entrenched at the foot of this hill behind a stone wall in a sunken lane was most of T R R Cobb's Georgia brigade with the Phillips Legion on the left end of the brigade line. Wave after wave of Union infantry assailed this position for hours on end and were relentlessly pounded until the field before the wall was literally covered with thousands of dead and wounded men. Sam Drake and his comrades probably had their best day of the war here, but the cost was not light. The Legion's popular commanding officer, Lt Colonel Robert T "Tom" Cook, was killed near the onset of action and many others were killed and wounded. Company M enjoyed luck in this fight, however, reporting only one man wounded. Unfortunately, that one man was Private Sam Drake who took a serious wound to the shoulder. Sam was sent to General Hospital #4 in Richmond where he died from the effects of his wound on December 24th. He was laid to rest at Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery but someone garbled his name and he is listed in the graves registration as Sam Drink.

And there the tale of Private Sam Drake rested until the March 21, 1901 edition of the Marietta Journal set off a firestorm of controversy with an article titled "Who Killed General Cobb". The article stated that, according to an unnamed Cobb County veteran of the Phillips Legion's infantry battalion, a legion soldier named "Sam" had intentionally shot and killed General T R R Cobb at Fredericksburg. According to this account, Cobb had confronted the unnamed veteran and Sam during a march when they dropped out of ranks to fill their canteens from a small creek. A heated exchange took place between Sam and the general when Cobb demanded they get back in ranks, threatening to shoot Sam if he did not. Sam told Cobb to go ahead and shoot him. Cobb relented and rode away. Sam shouted after the general that he would kill him at the first opportunity. Shortly after allegedly shooting Cobb during the battle of Fredericksburg, Sam was himself mortally wounded. The unnamed veteran went on to relate how he had visited Sam after he was wounded and confirmed that Sam had indeed shot Cobb.

This article produced angry rebutttals from various parties, which were published in the Atlanta Journal over the following months. It is interesting to note that these various "eyewitness" accounts do not agree on how General Cobb was mortally wounded. Some state he was struck by a shell's explosion while others indicate he was hit by a rifle ball. Two accounts place Cobb between 15 and 45 feet in front of the lines behind a house on the Telegraph Road. This house happens to mark the right flank of the sector manned by the Phillips Legion troops. Of possible greater interest is the fact that one of the veterans who wrote to the Atlanta Journal to refute the Marietta article confirmed that the canteen incident actually took place. He went on to state that General's Cobb's reason for taking action at the creek involved possible poisoning or tainting of the water. One can only wonder, if this were the case, why the general did not simply tell the soldiers this rather than threaten to shoot them. It is even probable that Cobb specifically referred to this incident in a letter he penned to his wife dated October 24, 1862. He wrote that two days earlier his troops had marched to the railroad just below Duffield Station and torn up the tracks. He further recounted: "General Drayton, who was along [with his brigade containing the Phillips Legion] allowed full scope to straggling from his brigade and this caused me great trouble." The Sam in the Marietta article was Private Sam Drake of legion infantry Company M who hailed from precisely the same place in Cobb County (Lost Mountain District) as the veteran who in 1901 gave the story to the Marietta paper. We know this is true because he was the only Legion soldier named Sam to be mortally wounded at Fredericksburg.

Obviously, at this distance in time, this must remain just another of history's mysteries. One question that troubled us is why the old legion veteran would come forward in 1901 to relate such a story if it were not true. It is hard to believe that he would have anticipated this would bring him great acclaim, as Cobb had become a revered icon of the Lost Cause.

Photo courtesy of Samuel Drake's descendant, Mr Gerald Lyle

Written by:Kurt Graham

Phillips Legion
Texans in the Civil War