"'Fighting Dick Anderson:Lee's Most Maligned General," Larry Hewitt

Oct 1 2019 - 7:00pm

The Brunswick Civil War Round Table continues its monthly meetings on Tuesday, October 1st when guest speaker Lawrence Hewitt, Ph.D., takes center stage with an engaging presentation about one of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s favorite and least known generals, Richard H. Anderson entitled, “Fighting Dick Anderson: Lee’s Most Maligned General.” The featured speaker will be preceded by entertainment by the popular singing group, the Coastal Harmonizers, an eclectic group of 22 members who sing acapella/barbershop style. Registration, refreshments, and singing will begin early at 6:00PM at Hatch Auditorium on Caswell Beach. The main presentation begins at 7:00PM.

As background for the presentation, it was on a bleak hillside overlooking the battleground of Sailor’s Creek where Gen. Robert E. Lee watched as hundreds of his men fled through fields and wooded valleys below. “Men without guns, many without hats,” one witness recalled, “all mingled with teamsters riding their mules.” A relentless barrage of Union attacks on the afternoon of April 6, 1865, had sent the remnants of the once-proud Army of Northern Virginia scrambling wildly toward safety. “My God!”  Lee wondered aloud. “Has the army dissolved?”

Most of this gray-clad mob belonged to Lt. Gen. Richard Heron Anderson’s Corps. After Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal army shattered the Confederate defenses around besieged Richmond and Petersburg, Va., four days earlier, Anderson’s soldiers had joined Lee as he retreated west along the Appomattox River. When Anderson rode up to Lee in the aftermath of the Sailor’s Creek battle, the distraught army commander merely moved his head toward his defeated subordinate without looking directly at him. With a wave of his arm Lee ordered his general to “take the stragglers to the rear…I wish to fight here.” As Lee turned toward his troops, Anderson turned his horse and joined his ruined corps in its retreat. Lee later joined what was left of Anderson’s Corps with the Fourth Corps, leaving Anderson without a command. He was then allowed to return home the day before the surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

This was the same Gen. Anderson that was praised for his aggressive leadership at the Battle of Seven Pines during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign when Anderson earned his nickname, “Fighting Dick.” Highly respected, a “steady and reliable fighter” and “as pleasant a commander to serve under as could be wished.” In fact, in May, 1863, Lee recommended to President Jefferson Davis that Anderson would make a “good corps commander,” and subsequently served under Lee in every one of his major battles, including Antietam, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.

The period after the war was particularly unkind to “Fighting Dick.” He died in virtual poverty on June 26, 1879 in Beaufort, S.C.  Nearly ten years would elapse before his grave was marked with a simple monument.

Speaker Larry Hewitt has been Historic Site Manager of the Port Hudson (the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River) and the Camp Moore State Commemorative Areas; a member of the faculty of Southeastern Louisiana University; and, served as Managing Editor and Book Review Editor for North & South Magazine. In addition he is the author of several Civil War books, including his most recent, “America’s Foremost Hispanic: David Glasgow Farragut,” and “The 14th Louisiana Infantry: The Fightingest Regiment in the Civil War.”