Leon Jastremski was an officer of the 10th Louisiana Infantry and one of the main characters in my book, Sons of the White Eagle in the American Civil War: Divided Poles in a Divided Nation. After entering the army from Lafayette as a private at eighteen, Jastremski rose through the ranks to captain. In the Army of Northern Virginia under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, he fought in most of the major battles, was wounded twice and captured three times, always returning to his unit. At one point when he was a prisoner, his Union captors used him and 600 other Confederate officers as human shields. After the war Jastremski was mayor of Baton Rouge and a successful political leader in Louisiana. He was in the thick of the fight at Second Manassas when the Louisiana boys ran out of ammunition and continued their repulse of the Union charge by hurling stones.
The book cover depicts this episode and the following is an excerpt:
Jastremski had fought in five battles over the past two months and was taken prisoner by the enemy twice. Once more he was exchanged quickly and rejoined the regiment again in time for battle. This was the Second Battle of Manassas at the end of August 1862.77
In this decisive engagement, Jastremski and his Louisiana comrades would enhance their reputation as fighters. The 10th Regiment was now in the Second Louisiana Brigade under the command of General William E. Starke, a native of Brunswick County, Virginia, who had lived in Louisiana for years. The native Louisiana soldiers did not immediately accept Starke because they did not consider him as one of their own, but soon after taking charge he had the opportunity to lead the Tigers into action and gain their confidence.78
Jastremski and the men disabled and captured several Northern supply trains prior to the battle. The chaplain from the 14th Louisiana remarked that the convergence of an army on the disabled supply train compared to “the sacking of cities” by an “ungovernable mob.“79 However, they returned to good order and had their first fight under Starke at Groveton where they again performed well in combat. The after action reports complimented Starke and referred to the “gallant Louisianans.“80 They further lived up to this praise when, placed on an embankment at a railroad cut, they had orders from General Jackson to retain their position without fail. Starke re-emphasized Jackson’s orders when he told his men to “occupy the railroad cut,” and it was “to be held at all hazards.“81 After repulsing three Union attacks and practically out of ammunition, they faced a fourth assault. As the next wave of blue clad soldiers approached, they resorted to throwing stones and any rocks they could find as projectiles to repel the enemy. Colonel Leroy A. Stafford reported that when the men found themselves out of ammunition, they “procured some from the dead bodies of their comrades, but the supply was not sufficient.” They then “fought with rocks and held their position.” It was a combination of the rocks, clubbed rifles and bayonets that beat back the enemy’s final assault and put them into retreat.82
The stone-throwing episode at the “Deep Cut” added to the lore that surrounded the Louisiana troops. The unfinished railroad bed had provided an ample amount of ballast as a temporary ammunition supply for the Louisianans. Some of the men chose their projectiles and hurled them on a line, just as a baseball pitcher (the relatively new game of baseball had become popular in both armies) would throw a fastball. Still others arced their rocks to cascade as if they were dummy mortar shells falling into the massed Federal troops.83 An Alabama soldier wrote in his memoirs:
“There were a large number of flint rocks on the Confederate side of the embankment and the Louisianians [sic] fought with them. Such a flying of rocks never was seen. At last the Yankees gave way, and when they turned their backs and fled the ground was blue with their dead and wounded.“84 *
The aid they received that ensured that they would overcome the Yankee charge actually came from artillery fire that enfiladed the Union lines. However, the rock-throwing defensive stand conducted by the Louisiana Brigade became legendary.85 At this battle of Second Manassas, Jastremski with his 10th Regiment comrades and the 14th Louisiana (of the First Louisiana Brigade under Harry Hays), composed of the men recruited to form the original Louisiana Polish Brigade, were arrayed on the same battlefield against Wladimir Krzyżanowski’s 58th New York Regiment. Yet a more direct confrontation between the two groups occurred the following year at Chancellorsville.
* Several of the references in this passage are from the Official Records. The cited passage is from a first hand account William C. Oates of the 15th Alabama Regiment.