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The men of the 31st making the charge were being mowed down like grass, with no hope of any one reaching the crest, so I ordered them to scatter and run back. The fire was such that Captain Dempcy and myself were the only officers who returned, unharmed, of those who left the works for that charge.*
We were not long back within the honeycomb of passages and bomb-proofs near the crater before I received this order from the division commander: "Colonels Sigfried and Thomas, if you have not already done so, you will immediately proceed to take the crest in your front." My command was crowded into the pits, already too full, and were sandwiched, man for man, against the men of the First Division. They were thus partly sheltered from the fire that had reduced them coming up; but their organization was almost lost. I had already sent word to General Burnside by Major James L. Van Buren of his staff, that unless a movement simultaneous with mine was made to the right, to stop the enfilading fire, I thought not a man would live to reach the crest; but that I would try another charge in about ten minutes, and I hoped to be supported. I then directed the commanders of the 23d, 28th, and 29th regiments to get their commands as much together and separated from the others as possible in that time, so that each could have a regimental following, for we were mixed up with white troops and each other to the extent of almost paralyz ing any effort. We managed to make the charge, however, Colonel Bross of the 29th leading. The 31st had been so shattered, was so diminished, so largely without officers, that I got what was left of them out of the way of the charging column as much as possible. This column met the same fate in one respect as the former. As I gave the order, Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Bross, brother of Lieutenant-Governor Bross, of Ohio, taking the flag into his own hands, was the first man to leap from the works into the valley of death below. He had attired himself in full uniform, evidently with the intent of inspiring his men. He had hardly reached the ground outside the works before he fell to rise no more. He was conspicuous and magnificent in his gallantry. The black men followed into the jaws of death, and advanced until met by a charge in force from the Confederate lines.
The report of the Confederate General Bushrod Johnson, to which I have had access, says that the Confederate troops in this charge were the first brigade of Mahone's division, with the 25th and 49th North Carolina and the 26th
*My brigade guidon, which Lieutenant Pennell held when killed, was captured by Private John W. Niles, Company D, 41st Virginia, was stored in Richmond, VOL. XXXIV.—107.
and part of the 17th South Carolina regiments. It was no discredit to what was left of three regiments that they were repulsed by a force like that.
I lost in all 36 officers and 877 men; total, 913. The 23d Regiment entered the charge with 18 officers; it came out with 7. The 28th entered with 11 officers, and came out with 4. The 31st had but 2 officers for duty that night.
The First Brigade worked its way through the crater, and was halted behind the honeycomb of bomb-proofs. Here the 43d charged the intrenchments, capturing a Confederate flag and recapturing a Union stand of colors and a few prisoners. Owing to the crowded condition of the bomb-proofs, it was impossible to get the rest of the brigade on. Too much praise cannot be awarded to the bravery of officers and men; the former fearlessly led, while the latter as fearlessly followed, through a fire hot enough to cause the best troops to falter. But few of the field-officers escaped. Colonel Delevan Bates fell, shot in the face. Major Leeke stood, urging the men on, with the blood gushing from his mouth. Adjutant O'Brien fell, shot through the heart. Captain Wright of the 43d Regiment himself captured a Confederate stand of colors and 5 prisoners, and brought them in. Lieutenant-Colonel Wright with two bullet wounds retained the command of his regiment. Colonel Sigfried concludes his official report thus: "Had it not been for the almost impassable crowd of troops of the other divisions in the crater and intrenchments, Cemetery Hill would have been ours without a falter on the part of my brigade."
Nor was the giving way a willing movement on the part of the colored troops. One little band, after my second charge was repulsed, defended the intrenchments we had won from the enemy, exhibiting fighting qualities that I never saw surpassed in the war. This handful stood there without the slightest organization of company or regiment, each man for himself, and impelled by his individual instinct, until the enemy's banners waved in their very faces. Then, and not till then, they made a dash for our own lines, and that at my order. Speaking of this stand, General Burnside says in his official report: "But not all of the colored troops retired; some held the pits behind which they had advanced, severely checking the enemy until they were nearly all killed.”
The engagement was over. We not only had been four times cut to pieces, but repulsed. The enemy having retaken their former lines, the troops, black and white, in the crater were and there retaken by our troops when we entered that city on April 3d, 1865, and is now stored in the War Department.— H. G. T.
cut off from our army. Squads there occasionally made a dash for our lines, but as many fell as reached them safely. By direction of officers in the crater the men began a covered-way toward our lines (that is, a deep trench running somewhat diagonally between the two lines with all the dirt thrown toward the enemy's side, so that a man passing along it was almost sheltered from musketry fire). Another, by direction of General Burnside, had been started from our lines to meet it. This was the situation when the enemy made their last charge on the crater. Its inmates had repelled three charges. They were weak, exhausted, and suffering from want of water. They succumbed, and most of them fell into the hands of the enemy. Of this last scene in the battle the Confederate General Bushrod R. Johnson, commanding the opposing forces at that point, says in his official report:
"Between 11 and 12 A. M. a second unsuccessful charge having been made by Wright's brigade of Mahone's division, I proceeded to concert a combined movement on both flanks of the crater. A third charge a little before 2 P. M. gave us entire possession of the crater and adjacent lines. This charge on the left [our right] and rear of the crater was made by Sanders's brigade of Mahone's division, the 61st North Carolina of Hoke's division, and the 17th South Carolina of this
division. . . These movements were all conducted
by General Mahone, while I took the 22d and 23d South Carolina into the crater and captured 3 colors and 130 prisoners. Previous to this charge the incessant firing kept up by our troops on both flanks and in rear had caused many of the enemy to run the gauntlet of our cross-fires in front of the breach, but a large number still remained unable to advance, and perhaps
afraid to retreat."
Thus ended in disaster what had at first promised to be a grand success. We were back within our old lines and badly cut up. We had inflicted a heavy, but by no means equal, loss on the enemy.
A ridiculous little incident happened directly after these terrible scenes which helped us all to forget for a moment our wretchedness. My cook, an elderly African, was a most abominable and unerring destroyer of raw material, and when called to account his usual reply was: "De meat was so tough, sah, I done parbiled a little fust, sah"; so his camp companions nicknamed him "Old Parbile." It was now noon; we had had our breakfast at 3 A. M. Being hungry, I sent several times for "Old Parbile," and finally dispatched a giant sergeant, Adam Laws, with instructions to bring "Parbile" at the point of the bayonet if necessary. In due time I heard the sergeant's mighty voice uplifted with, "Git up you dar!" and simultaneously a hearty peal of laughter rang along our dejected line. Turning, I saw poor "Parbile" writhing along on his knees in an agony of fear. In one hand he had a tin pail with my dinner, and in the other he held a palm-leaf fan to shield himself from anticipated missiles of the enemy. The sergeant was accelerating his speed with the muzzle of his gun and with a "Hurry up dar now, de cunnul will be lovin' glad to see yo'!" Nothing could have been happier in its effect on the whole command than this trifling incident, and the scanty ill-cooked meal was the better for the sauce.
ASSAULT AND REPULSE AT FORT STEDMAN.
O follow the history of the siege of Petersburg in outline, one should picture the Union army creeping closer and closer to the last citadel of the Confederacy. The commander of that citadel was Lee in person, and with him was a host of veterans. As months rolled by, our line of investment grew from a short streak on the east side of the town, in June, 1864, to a vast intrenched camp with lines sixteen to twenty miles long in the spring of 1865, when the final contests took place. This remarkable attenuation of the line of the Union besiegers involved the weakening of the line at every point, for reënforcements did not come forward as rapidly as there was need of them. During the autumn and winter of 1864-5 our corps, the Ninth, now commanded by Parke, held the original position first occupied the June previous. Here the Stars and Stripes had been planted by the desperate charges, made by Hancock's Second and Burnside's Ninth corps, immediately on the arrival of the army before the
After the mine fiasco, July 30th, 1864, the operations of the army were confined to the single object of securing Lee's lines of communications south and south-west of the town. In August a lodgment was secured on the Weldon railroad, running into North Carolina, compelling the Confederates to use the wagon road for some miles. The right of the Union army was pushed forward on the north bank of the James, and in September General Ord took Fort Harrison, one of the outworks of Richmond. In October and November movements were made against the wagon roads between the Weldon railroad and the South Side railroad south and west of Petersburg, and the Confederate positions covering the latter railroad were attacked with some success. It was the completion of this work of cutting the South Side road that Grant was entering upon when the spring campaign was opened by the initiative of Lee.
At the time of which I shall particularly write,- March, 1865,- the eve of the forward movement ending at Appomattox, we could muster but one rank deep on the front line. The Confederates, being on interior lines, could concentrate rapidly. The reader of history has doubtless wondered, as many of us were wont to wonder at the time, why Lee made no attempt during that long siege to break out through the investing columns. Or if not Lee, then his men, for they were cooped up there and all but starving, within sight of plenty. Whenever Confederate soldiers came out from their sheltered camps on the heights and ridges to relieve pickets and guards, their eyes could follow the winding track of our military railway far away to City Point, and could the more readily mark its course by the great stacks of boxes of bread and barrels of meat, sugar, and coffee stored at points convenient to the forts that now dotted the region from the South Side around east and north to the Appomattox River. Such sights might well have created in half-famished men the desperation which goads to recklessness. But to all outward appearance there was nothing to indicate the forging of fiery bolts to be hurled upon our unsuspecting pickets and garrisons. As the mild springtime came on, a truce was made between the outposts, and a long and bloody campaign of murderous picket-firing ceased for a season. Soldiers of either army basked in the sun, lying peacefully upon the warm sand-bags that topped out the ramparts. This cheering situation was of about ten days' duration, and the cause of it the fact that the troops that had so long been opposed to us in the trenches were at this time relieved, and a new command, John B. Gordon's corps, came to occupy the line. These men introduced the picket truce, and that truce it was that paved the way for Gordon's night sortie at Fort Stedman on the 25th of March.
The ground now occupied by the Ninth Corps had been fought for most desperately
GRACIE'S AND COLQUITT'S SALIENTS FROM A POINT ON THE UNION PICKET LINE TO THE FRONT AND LEFT OF FORT HASKELL,-SEE MAP, PAGE 765.
(FROM A RECENT SKETCH.)
by Lee at the opening of the investment. It was really his second line of defense as originally planned, and he had been forced away from it back to an interior line on the heights commanding the town and commanding all the railroads so important to the Confederacy. To this last ditch our Ninth Corps batteries and trenches held him. Our works were under Lee's guns, but were so strong that the poundings they got made little impression, and open assault on them was simply foolhardy. Hence we held on there while the movable left wing closed in and tightened the grip. In stratagem, however, the South had a chance, and a point so gained would open to greater things.
The First Division of the Ninth Corps, led by General O. B. Willcox, occupied trenches and forts from Cemetery Hill to the Appomattox. The fort directly facing Cemetery Hill was Morton, a bastioned work, high and impregnable. The next down the line, on lower ground and quite under the best guns Lee had on the crest, was Haskell, a small field redoubt mounting six rifled guns and holding a small infantry garrison. Eighty rods farther was Fort Stedman, a stronger work than Haskell, but not well commanded from Cemetery Hill. Two hundred rods from Stedman was Fort McGilvery, near the river and out of range of Lee's heavy ordnance. In front of Haskell, woods, marshes, and a sluggish stream completely obstructed the passage of men and guns from the enemy's works eastward, but at Stedman, where the lines were but forty rods apart, the ground of both lines and all between was solid and feasible for rapid movements of bodies of every arm of service, even to cavalry, and so here was a road that a master-stroke might open. Stedman and Haskell were garrisoned by the 14th New York Heavy Artillery with muskets, the 3d New Jersey Battery of rifled cannon, and a detachment of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery with Cohorn mortars. The men of this Connecticut detachment also carried muskets. The headquarters of the 14th were at Stedman, where our leader, Major George M. Randall, U. S. A., had command. The acting major of the Second Battalion commanded at Fort Haskell. This officer was Charles H. Houghton, a volunteer of 1861, and now a veteran. Houghton had just returned from a furlough at the time of the surprise, and while at home in the North, away from the bustle of trench warfare, he had had a clear vision of things on the line. To his mind, then, it seemed an easy matter for the Confederates to make a sortie from Cemetery Hill. Accordingly, as soon as he reached the front, he increased vigilance all around, doubled the pickets and guards, and ordered the fort under arms at 4 o'clock each morning. The morning of March 25th was heavy and foggy, a good one for sound sleeping, and therefore just the time for a movement of surprise. Fort Haskell stood on a knoll overlooking the rifle-pits of the picket line. The work was guarded by two rows of abatis, and at the gap where the pickets filed out and in the outer sentinel was on duty. The man who served the last watch that morning on this outer post was Private Hough, Company M, 14th Regiment. Soon after Hough went on post at 3 o'clock, the sergeant of the
guard came out on his rounds. officer was unaccountably nervous and kept consulting his watch, and in a short time started back to the fort to order reveille sounded. It lacked fifteen minutes of the time appointed by Houghton's special order. The sergeant's watch was fast, and he didn't know exactly how it stood, but concluded it was "better to be too early than too late." The call sounded and aroused the garrison, and it proved to be three-quarters of an hour earlier than had been customary on this line for months. When the sergeant went into the fort, Hough looked to the front and saw blue-lights flash up along the picket-pits. He also heard the sound of chopping on the lines between Stedman and the Confederate works on its front. He hallooed to the second
sentinel, whose post was at the bridge across the moat, and again an alarm was called out in the fort. Hough then advanced down the picket trail toward the outposts, and as he did so some guns boomed in Stedman, and the muffled sounds of fighting were heard from that work. Some quiet strokes had been given there, for a handful of daring Confederates were in possession, and Stedman's guns were being turned on friends. The foremost of the Confederate surprisers for bands of them were at it in earnest-had gotten through the picket and abatis guards in front of our companion fort, and all the serious mischief of the day was to come from that initial stroke. The reason of the enemy's easy surprise has never been made public. It was caused by poker and whisky. There was a game, with the usual accompaniment, going on all night in the quarters of a staff-officer of
the garrison troops, and the sport was cut short in part by the play of cold steel.* Some of the men supposed to be on watch were huddled around that fascinating board, and so but one man was on the outlook along the front of the fort. The pickets were some fifteen yards distant, and they had all been silenced by stratagem. Confederates, under pretense of surrender, had approached the scattered pits simultaneously, and, after a short parley, had pounced upon their would-be benefactors and disarmed them to a man. The first point had been gained, and the blue-lights that Hough had seen from Fort Haskell were signals to announce this fact to the Confederate leaders and reserves. Now two men crawled along the ground toward Stedman, meeting the
My authority is a commissioned officer who said he was taking part in the game.-G. L. K.