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groes, or to the whites taken with them, and so to be shut up with blacks in the crater was equal to a doom of death. The officers began to scheme for a retreat. At the time there were one general of division and four brigade commanders on the spot,- R. B. Potter, E. G. Marshall, S. G. Griffin, W. F. Bartlett, and John F. Hartranft. Orders came to withdraw the men, but the space between the hole and our works was commanded at every point by Confederate artillery and sharp-shooters. The road was corduroyed with bodies of the fallen. The commandant of the First Battalion of the 14th Regiment, Captain Houghton, Company L, proposed to lead his men back, but they all preferred to remain, and the general officers advised all hands to wait. One plan was to send for spades, and have two parties at work at either end digging a ditch for passage. Another was to wait until nightfall. Both plans were cut short by the action of the enemy. Two or three small parties advanced on the crater, and were repulsed; yet reënforcements were coming up, and it was evident that the spot must be abandoned. Captain Houghton watched the men who attempted to cross back to the works and saw that a gun throwing case-shot did most of the damage to the retreat. After a discharge of this gun he started and passed its range before another discharge came. In crossing the space he found it planted so thick with the fallen that he could not avoid stepping on them. As soon as he reached the works, he directed a sharp musketry fire upon the points whence the hottest Confederate fire came and partly silenced it, so that a few more men got home safely. Colonel Marshall and General Bartlett were among those who remained in the crater and were captured.
The experiences of these men at capture must be told from recollections of survivors after a long captivity ending with the war. It has been positively asserted that white men bayoneted blacks who fell back into the crater. This was in order to preserve the whites from Confederate vengeance. Men boasted in my presence that blacks had thus been disposed of, particularly when the Confederates came up. Many of the prisoners died in Andersonville, and it is impossible to get good accounts of the closing moments, the time of hand-to-hand work between whites and blacks in the crater and the Confederates who came in. A man who kept tally when the bodies in the hole were buried by the enemy recorded one hundred and fortyseven white and black Union soldiers found in the pit itself. Some of them may have been mortally wounded outside, and some were killed
by shots falling into the crater. Sergeant Hill, our comrade who captured the Confederate flag, met death that morning, and a medal of honor was awarded for his action. This flag is now in the War Department collection fully identified on the record.
There were many scenes here to move the strongest hearts. When the débris of the explosion was in the air men's bodies could be distinguished, and of course it flashed upon every mind that a horrible fate had overtaken fellow-men. On one of the elevations in the crater, a Confederate was seen struggling with his head and shoulders buried and held fast. Our men attempted to relieve him, but were driven away by Confederate bullets. On each side of the hole were counter-shafts about fifty feet deep standing open. Down one of these a Confederate had fallen and lay there alive and moaning, but there was no means for his relief at hand. These counter-shafts had been run perpendicularly and abandoned. The Confederate prisoners stated that the fort was full of men that night, for our movements in front had been noticed, and an assault was expected and preparations had been made to receive it. The explosion, however, was wholly unexpected.
The wisdom of selecting the Ninth Corps for the assault has been questioned by high authority. The quality of men for this kind of work depends on their present spirit, commonly called the morale. This condition is easily affected and is an uncertain quantity among the very best troops. Three points may be noted as to the spirit of our corps at the time, and the same would be true of the other corps of the army. First, there was a feeling that the soldiers had been pushed persistently into slaughter-pens, from the Wilderness down, and needlessly sacrificed by such methods. Second, there was a determination to rebel against further slapdash assaults. Third, the strongest element of all, as affecting the general spirit, was the all-powerful ambition to take Petersburg and end the struggle. It was universally felt by the men in the breach that the explosion of the mine was a means to that end. But the first assaulting columns would not go on and seize the crest without supports, and these supports did not come. There was not an instant from the moment of the explosion up to the time when the negroes came on that the whites would not have rallied to a man and risked everything in a combined and well-directed charge upon the crest. The men knew that success lay in a strong movement, and they refused to go out in weak detachments.
George L. Kilmer.
THE COLORED TROOPS AT PETERSBURG.
AST of Petersburg, on
E other reasons, most strenuously urged
training and experience. General Burnside, for
ing like the ugly horn of a rhinoceros, stood the Confederate earthwork, fortified as a battery, which we underGUIDON OF THOMAS'S BRIGADE OF mined and exploded July 30th, 1864. It did a good deal of goring before we destroyed it. Its position enabled the garrison to throw a somewhat enfilading fire into our lines, under which many fell, a few at a time.
THE COLORED DIVISION - SHADED PARTS, GREEN; THE FIELD, WHITE.
For some time previous to the explosion of the mine it was determined by General Burnside that the colored division* should lead the assault. The general tactical plan had been given to the brigade commanders (Colonel Sigfried and myself), with a rough outline map of the ground, and directions to study the front for ourselves. But this latter was impracticable except in momentary glimpses. The enemy made a target of every head that appeared above the work, and their marksmanship was good. The manner of studying the ground was this: Putting my battered old hat on a ramrod and lifting it above the rampart just enough for them not to discover that no man was under it, I drew their fire; then, stepping quickly a few paces one side, I took a hasty observation.
We were all pleased with the compliment of being chosen to lead in the assault. Both officers and men were eager to show the white troops what the colored division could do. We had acquired confidence in our men. They believed us infallible. We had drilled certain movements, to be executed in gaining and occupying the crest. It is an axiom in military art, that there are times when the ardor, hopefulness, and enthusiasm of new troops not yet rendered doubtful by reverses or chilled by defeat, more than compensate, in a dash, for
* There was but one division of colored troops in the Army of the Potomac - the Fourth Division of the Ninth Corps - organized as follows:
Brigadier-General Edward Ferrero, commanding division. First Brigade: Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried (of the 48th Penn.); 27th U. S. colored troops, Lieu. tenant-Colonel Charles J. Wright; 30th U. S. colored troops, Colonel Delevan Bates; 39th U. S. colored troops, Colonel Ozora P. Stearns; 43d U. S. colored troops, Lieutenant-Colonel H. Seymour Hall. Second Brigade: Colonel Henry Goddard Thomas, 19th U. S. colored troops; 19th U. S. colored troops, Lieutenant
his black division for the advance. Against his most urgent remonstrance he was overruled. About 11 P. M., July 29th, a few hours before the action, I was officially informed that the whole plan had been changed, and our division would not lead.
We were then bivouacking on our arms in rear of our line, just behind the covered way leading to the mine. I returned to that bivouac dejected and with an instinct of disaster for the morrow. As I summoned and told my regimental commanders, their faces expressed the same feeling. I considered it unnecessary to inform the captains that night, and they were allowed to sleep on.
Any striking event or piece of news was usually eagerly discussed by the white troops, and in the ranks military critics were as plenty and perhaps more voluble than among the officers. Not so with the blacks; important news such as that before us, after the bare announcement, was usually followed by long silence. They sat about in groups," studying," as they called it. They waited, like the Quakers, for the spirit to move; when the spirit moved, one of their singers would uplift a mighty voice, like a bard of old, in a wild sort of chant. If he did not strike a sympathetic chord in his hearers, if they did not find in his utterance the exponent of their idea, he would sing it again and again, altering sometimes the words, or more often the music. If his changes met general acceptance, one voice after another would chime in; a rough harmony of three parts would add itself; other groups would join his, and the song became the song of the command.
The night we learned that we were to lead the charge the news filled them too full for ordinary utterance. The joyous negro guffaw always breaking out about the camp-fire ceased. They formed circles in their company streets and were sitting on Colonel Joseph G. Perkins; 23d U. S. colored troops, Colonel Cleaveland J. Campbell; Battalion of six companies 28th U. S. colored troops, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles S. Russell; 29th U. S. colored troops, Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Bross; 31st U. S. colored troops, Lieutenant-Colonel W. E. W. Ross.
This made a division of only nine regiments, divided into two brigades, yet it was numerically a large division. The regiments were entirely full, and a colored deserter was a thing unknown. On the day of the action the division numbered 4300, of which 2000 belonged to Sigfried's brigade and 2300 to mine.- H. G. T.
the ground intently and solemnly "studying." At last a heavy voice began to sing, "We-e looks li-ike me-en a-a marchin' on, we looks li-ike men-er-war." Over and over again he sang it, making slight changes. The rest watched him intently; no sign of approval or disapproval escaped their lips, or appeared on their faces. All at once, when his refrain had struck the right response in their hearts, his group took it up, and shortly half a thousand voices were upraised. It was a picturesque scene, these dark men, with their white eyes and teeth and full red lips crouching over a smoldering camp-fire, in dusky shadow, with only the feeble rays of the lanterns of the first sergeants and the lights of the candles dimly showing through the tents. The sound was as weird as the scene, when all the voices struck the low "E" (last note but one), held it, and then rose to "A" with a portamento as sonorous as it was clumsy. Until we fought the battle of the crater they sang this every night to the exclusion of all other songs. After that defeat they sang it no more.
About 3 A. M. the morning of the battle we were up after a short sleep under arms. Then came the soldiers' hasty breakfast. "Never fight on an empty stomach" was a proverb more honored in that army than any of Solomon; for the full stomach helped the wounded man to live through much loss of blood. This morning our breakfast was much like that on other mornings when we could not make fires : two pieces of hard-tack with a slice of raw, fat salt pork between - not a dainty meal, but solid provender to fight on. By good fortune I had a bottle of cucumber pickles. These I distributed to the officers about me. They were gratefully accepted, for nothing cuts the fat of raw salt pork like a pickle. We moistened our repast with black coffee from our canteens. The privates fared the same, barring the luxury of the pickle.
We had been told that the mine would be fired at 3:45 A. M. But 4 o'clock arrived, and all was quiet. Not long after that came a dull, heavy thud, not at all startling; it was a heavy smothered sound, not nearly so distinct as a musket-shot. Could this be the mine? No; impossible. There was no charging, no yells, neither the deep-mouthed bass
growl of the Union troops, nor the sharp, shrill, fox-hunting cry of the Confederates. Here was a mine blown up, making a crater from 150 to 200 feet long, 60 wide, and 30 deep, and the detonation and the concussion were so inconsiderable to us, not over a third of a mile away, that we could hardly believe the report of a staff-officer, back from the line, that the great mine had been exploded.
At about 5:30 A. M. a fairly heavy musketry fire from the enemy had opened. Shortly after, as we lay upon our arms awaiting what orders might come, a quiet voice behind me said, "Who commands this brigade ?" "I do," I replied. Rising, and turning toward the voice, I saw General Grant. He was in his usual dress: a broad-brimmed felt hat, and the ordinary coat of a private. He wore no sword. Colonel Horace Porter, his aide-de-camp, and a single orderly accompanied him. "Well," said the general, slowly and thoughtfully, as if communing with himself rather than addressing a subordinate," why are you not in?" Pointing to the First Brigade just in my front, I replied, "My orders are to follow that brigade." Feeling that golden opportunities might be slipping away from us, I added, "Will you
give me the order to go in now?" After a moment's hesitation he answered, in the same slow and ruminating manner, "No, you may keep the orders you have." Then, turning his horse's head, he rode away at a walk.
lant Fessenden of the 23d regiment. Ayres and Woodruff of the 31st dropped, killed, within a few yards of Fessenden. Liscomb of the 23d then fell to rise no more; and then Hackiser of the 28th and Flint and Aiken of the 29th. Major Rockwood of the 19th then mounted the crest and fell back
Fifteen minutes later an aide to the division commander gave us the order and we moved into the covered-way, my brigade following Sigfried's. This was about 6 A. M. For an hour or more we lay here inactive, the musketry growing quicker and sharper all the time. A heavy cannonading opened. We sat down at first, resting against the walls of the covered-way. Soon, however, we had to stand to make room for the constantly increasing throng of wounded who were being brought past us to the rear. Some few, with flesh-wounds merely, greeted us with such jocularity as, "I'm all right, boys! This is good for a thirty days' sick-leave!" Others were plucky and silent, their pinched faces telling the effort they were making to suppress their groans; others, with the ashy hue of death already gathering on their faces, were largely past pain. Many, out of their senses through agony, were moaning or bellowing like wild beasts. We stood there over an hour with this endless procession of wounded men passing. There could be no greater strain on the nerves. Every moment changed the condition from that of a forlorn hope to one of forlorn hopelessness. Unable to strike a blow, we were sickened with the contemplation of revolting forms of death and mutilation.
Finally, about 7:30 A. M., we got the order for the colored division to charge. My brigade followed Sigfried's at the double-quick. Arrived at the crater, a part of the First Brigade entered. The crater was already too full; that I could easily see. I swung my column to the right and charged over the enemy's rifle-pits connecting with the crater on our right. These pits were different from any in our lines a labyrinth of bomb-proofs and magazines, with passages between. My brigade moved gallantly on right over the bombproofs and over the men of the First Division.* As we mounted the pits, a deadly enfilade from eight guns on our right, and a murderous cross-fire of musketry decimated us. Among the officers, the first to fall was the gal
Major Van Buren's testimony, "Report of Committee on the Conduct of the War," Vol. I.
+ While the contemplation of one death so softens the heart, the sight of the myriad dead of a battle-field blunts the sensibilities. During the burial of the dead,
dead, with a cheer on his lips. Nor were these all; for at that time hundreds of heroes "carved in ebony" fell. These black men commanded the admiration and respect of every beholder on that day.
The most advantageous point for the purpose, about eight hundred feet from the crater, having been reached, we leaped from the works and endeavored to make a rush for the crest. Captain Marshall L. Dempcy, and Lieutenant Christopher Pennell, of my staff, and four white orderlies with the brigade guidon accompanied me, closely followed by Lieutenant-Colonel Ross, leading the 31st regiment. At the instant of leaving the works Ross was shot down; the next officer in rank, Captain Wright, was shot as he stooped over him. The men were largely without leaders, and their organization was destroyed. Two of my four orderlies were wounded; one, flag in hand; the remaining two sought shelter when Lieutenant Pennell, rescuing the guidon, hastened down the line outside the pits. With his sword uplifted in his right hand and the banner in his left, he sought to call out the men along the whole line of the parapet. In a moment, a musketry fire was focused upon him individually, whirling him round and round several times before he fell. Of commanding figure, his bravery was so conspicuous, that, according to Colonel Weld's testimony, a number of his (Weld's) men were shot because, spell-bound, they forgot their own shelter in watching this superb boy, who was an only child of an old Massachusetts clergyman, and to me as Jonathan was to David. Two days later, on a flag of truce, I searched for his body in vain. He was doubtless shot literally to pieces, for the leaden hail poured for a long time almost incessantly about that spot, killing the wounded and mutilating the dead; and he probably sleeps among the unknown whom we buried in the long deep trench we dug that day.†
I saw a striking instance of this. A stretcher-bearer, seeing that the trousers-pocket of a soldier long dead contained part of a plug of tobacco, deliberately cut it out, and, taking a chew with an air of relish, transferred the rest to his own pocket.-H. G. T.