Richards, George Washington (Fort Gregg Surgeon)

   

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BTC reader Bill Czygan was kind enough to send in the following note about his ancestor, who participated in the Siege of Petersburg:

My great grandfather was the Surgeon at the Battle of Ft. Gregg. He was attached to the Washington LA Artillery. His Name was Dr. George Washington Richards. I have the text of a letter he wrote later, to the Richmond Times Dispatch, describing the battle.  Attached please find the text of my great grandfathers letter to the Richmond Times Dispatch.

As Bill wrote above, Dr. Richards wrote the letter to the Richmond Times Dispatch, and it was later picked up by the Southern Historical Society Papers and published in Volume 31 from pages 370-372.  The text of Dr. Richards’ letter about the Battle of Fort Gregg, a last ditch effort to prevent the Union army from reaching Petersburg which allowed Lee’s army to escape that night, is presented here in full.

Dr. George Washington Richards with Lucille Richards Harrison1
Dr. George Washington Richards2

Dr. George Washington Richards3

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A Surgeon’s Defense of the Garrison.4

[From the Times-Dispatch]

From the description of the battle at Fort Gregg, April 2, 1865, by Captain A. K. Jones, of Mississippi, it would appear that the battle was fought exclusively by Mississippians (see Ante, p. 60.) I was surgeon at Fort Gregg all the preceding winter and early spring. I was with my command in Fort Gregg from start to finish, and know by whom it was defended. Captain Chew, of Maryland, with about twenty artillerymen, with two guns, was part of the force. Chew’s other two guns had been taken out of the fort to check the advance of the enemy in our front, but to no purpose; the lean horses could not pull the pieces through the numerous pine stumps in our immediate front, and had to be abandoned.

All this took place before we were reinforced by the men from Hatcher’s Run, on the right. Besides Chew’s men, there were something less than one hundred supernumerary artillerymen from all the Southern States. They were armed with rifles for the time being, with the understanding that they would resume their respective commands when the campaign opened in the spring. Thus we had one hundred and twenty men, and they were the men that Captain Jones found on his arrival at Fort Gregg. They had been placed there by General Lee. They had never made their escape from any place. Jones’ statement is that they had escaped from the right and begged to go to the rear, and after hesitating to comply with their request he at last concluded to let them go, provided they would leave their guns with him; and to that they readily consented.

Surely Captain Chew and others who, I hope, are living, will sustain me in saying that no man left Fort Gregg out of Chew’s command that day. We were reinforced by men who had been defeated on our right. There were no organized regiments or companies entering Fort Gregg. They came in singly or in squads, every man to his liking. Much of Captain Jones’ report is correct in part, and I regret that he has the actual facts mixed in regard to the men garrisoned in Fort Gregg by order of General Lee months before the battle on the 2d of April, 1865.

After being recruited by about one hundred and fifty men, who came from the lines on the right of Fort Gregg, the defenders numbered two hundred and fifty men. With that small number we were opposed by the Twenty-fourth Army-Corps of nine thousand strong. What other forces assailed us that day, if any, I don’t know.

As Captain Jones says, we repulsed several determined charges with great slaughter to the enemy. The New York Herald acknowledged a loss of two thousand and four hundred killed and crippled.

When the Federals were forming for their final charge, I suggested to Captain Chew, of Maryland, to surrender, as there was no chance of ultimate success by holding out any longer. My advice was not accepted, as the captain said he had been superseded by some infantry officers, who had come to his help. There were so many Federals coming over the parapet in the last charge we could not shoot them all; they swarmed in and showed us no quarter. It was not so much their officers who caused them to desist from shooting us.

General Lee was looking at us, and when he saw what was going on he dispatched his courier, William Callerton, to Colonel Poague’s artillery, ordering him to open fire on Fort Gregg with all his guns, which he at once did. The first shell fell close in front of me. Four or five Federals were killed. Then one shot after another in rapid succession drove all the enemy on the opposite side of the fort for shelter. Had it not been for Colonel Poague’s guns I believe they would have killed every one of us. Captain W. Gordon McCabe’s History of General Lee’s Campaigns, on page 500, reports thirty coming out of Fort Gregg alive. As for myself, I counted twenty-seven only, when giving their names to a Federal officer. I could say much more, but enough! What I have said is only in defense of the plucky men that garrisoned Fort Gregg.

GEORGE W. RICHARDS,
Surgeon A. P. Hill Corps, A. N. Va.

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Letters of Dr. George Washington Richards:

Source:

  1. This image of Dr. George Washington Richards was supplied by his great grandson Bill Czygan. This image is the property of Mr. Czygan and may not be used without his express written consent.
  2. This image of Dr. George Washington Richards was supplied by his great grandson Bill Czygan. This image is the property of Mr. Czygan and may not be used without his express written consent.
  3. This image of Dr. George Washington Richards was supplied by his great grandson Bill Czygan with written permission to publish. This image is the property of fellow Richards descendant Lewis George Richards III and may not be used without his express written consent.
  4. Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 31, Pages 370-372

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Richards Miller November 27, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Dear Bill,

As you know, I am also a great grandchild of George Washington Richards, and I enjoyed this web site and I certainly appreciate the genealogical work that you are performing. I received your voicemail and I will try to return your call; however, since I work full-time, it is sometimes easier to reach me by email so I wanted you to know my address: nancyrmiller@aol.com. With warm regards,

Nancy

Michael Thomas May 14, 2013 at 6:26 pm

On May 11, 2013 a service in honor of one of the defenders of Fort Gregg was held at Blandford Church in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg, VA. The Sons of Confederate Veterans presented the Confederate Medal of Honor on behalf of Private Lawrence Berry, 3rd Company, Washington Artillery of New Orleans for his heroism in the Battle of Fort Gregg. The 2010 book “The Confederate Alamo” by John J. Fox III is well researched & presents a wonderfully clear account of the battle. It is the ONLY book ever written on the battle.

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