NP: April 15, 1907 Charleston (SC) News and Courier: The Truth About the Battle of the Crater (64th GA)

   

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Editor’s Note: Transcribed by Brett Schulte. Captain Waller, the writer of this article, writes in a very difficult and choppy style and often refers to himself in the third person.  You have been warned.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE BATTLE OF THE CRATER.

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Major [Creswell A. C.] Waller Produces Documentary Evidence in Support of His Story of this Celebrated Fight.

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In behalf of truth of history I wish to verify and to support by documentary evidence the sketch of the 64th Georgia and semi-official report of Wright’s Brigade at the Crater, July 30, 1864, found in the News and Courier of September 2, 1906.

I do this the more readily in view of the many discordant statements uttered or written by parties laboring under illusions in regard to that battle. The careful historian of the future will find it very difficult to wend his way along the true path amid the mazes and intricacies of all the halucinations and vagaries extant in regard to that event. He will be struck by the amazing positiveness as well of non-participants as of the participants themselves as to controverted facts of which they have, to say the least, the most misty recollection.

It is well to note that during the siege of Petersburg and Richmond there were very few Confederate reports. In fact, there were scarcely any from regimental officers and, outside of Beauregard’s forces, very few from general officers. Those made were limited mostly to mere statements of results.

When, therefore, we see or hear conflicting accounts from Confederates, we must resort to the more disinterested reports of the Federals, rejecting, of course, the balderdash and buncombe so common to volunteer officers of both armies.

Since writing the sketch and report printed in The News and Courier last fall this writer’s attention has been called to an article in a late magazine which has led him to go into the whole matter in relation to the Crater as well as to the railroad wrecking. He was glad to note that its author, in the first place, was absent from command from 30th June to August the 18th and that during that time Lieut Col Huger A. and I. G. of Johnson’s division. (see War of Rebellion, series No 80, page 759.)1 Also that possibly he relied on information he himself had furnished based on report of W. H. Whitner, A. A. and I. G. of Johnson’s division. [(]See War of Rebellion, No 80, page 795.) “There is a great diversity of opinion as to the time the first charge was made by Gen Mahone. But one officer of the division spoke with certainty—Col McMaster, 17th regiment , S[outh]. C[arolina]. Troops.” Real statement lost, but we get it from the letter of Lieut Col McMaster (February, 1872,) found on 589, Vol 2, Roman’s Beauregard: “A short time after I met Gen J. ([division commander Bushrod] Johnson) Gen [William] Mahone came up with a few men. From my present recollection I would say this was, at the earliest, 10 o’clock A. M. It was a considerable time before any number of men came; when they did, they marched up the ravine and laid down with the men Smith had already there. Gen Mahone had a long interview with Gen Johnson, and obtained from him information of localities, etc. It must have been two hours before Gen Mahone got his men ready.” Again: “I think the charge was made about 12 o’clock M[eridian, i.e. noon]. and the whole battle was over in an extremely short time. I never have seen so sudden a suspension of a battle. I remember a little circumstance which impresses the fact upon my memory. My orderly brought my dinner to me about 2 o’clock P. M., certainly not later than 4 o’clock.” Again, page 590: “To enable my orderly to come with safety to the lines, by this time from the wagon camp to the battlefield the battle must have been over by 1 o’clock P. M.”

If true as to time of Mahone meeting Johnson, this statement corroborates this writer’s in his former article where he says “Col Hall came to this writer and was told that he (this writer) had just left a few men on the south side of the traverse and that he was very certain six hundred men could save them and retake the works. Hall went immediately to Mahone and brought back word for them to stay and that he would send for Alabama brigade; when it arrived he would put it in. Mahone immediately left the works, etc. to remarks about coehorns in the trenches.”

Now see Mahone’s War Talk, page 216, just after remarks about Wright’s piecemeal charge: “At this juncture, now a little after 10 o’clock. Gen Johnson came upon the ground in the depression in which my brigade had formed the charge, and sent for the [?] to come to him from the breastworks. I met him there and came to an agreement as to charge of Alabama brigade.” On the same page Mahone mentions the fact that he sent Col J. C. Haskell in with two coehorns.

This tallies with my article as to time also. I had told, many years ago, Mr. Griffith, owner of the Crater grounds, about the coehorns or little mortars, and also about the loss of the 6th Virginia flag. He readily agreed as to the coehorns, saying that his father was with one, but he strenuously held out against the loss of the flag. I told him that I had not read any books then on the subject, but upon a certain condition would undertake to prove it by War of the Rebellion records when they covered that event. He accepted, but whilst I was pointing out places where Capt Redd and others of the 64th [Georgia] fell there was a man present (whom I did not at first recognize) who said: “There is where he was when picked up.” Hearing this, Mr. Griffith very graciously backed down and very generously offered to allow us to place markers where they fell, provided it was done in marble or iron. Upon inquiry, the gentleman approving was found to be W. H. Lloyd, a good man and true soldier of Company B, 64th Georgia, then living at Social Circle, Ga.

The reader has, perhaps, noticed McMaster’s words, “Mahone with a few men.” Now Bernard, in War Talks, page 199, says that McMaster here has confounded the charge of the Alabama brigade with that of the Virginia. This writer agrees with Bernard and further says right here that if there were any “jocose remarks of the Alabamains [sic, Alabamians] and Georgians,” he is certain, however, and that most positively, that the 3d, the 22d and the 64th Georgia were not in the crowd as regimental organizations. He cannot say positively as to the 48th and 2d Georgia battalion.

Now we all agree. Mahone, McMaster, Bernard and this writer, that the time of this meeting of Johnson and Mahone was 10 o’clock or a little after (if at all) and that the next and last charge, (whether by Alabamians or any other party or parties,) was the last, whether it took place at 12 M[eridian, i.e. noon] or between 1 and 2 o’clock P. M. By reference to Gen. Johnson’s report, Series No 80, [Part 1], page 792, he admits the meeting in the words: “By arrangement,” but calls the last charge the third by Sanders, having said that the Virginia charge failed in completely dislodging the enemy. He called Wright’s a second and Sanders’s the third and made a little before 2 P. M. He further says that he put Major Culp in charge of 17th South Carolina and it charged with Sanders whilst he took up the fragments of the 22d and 23d under Capts Shedd and White and with two of Wise’s Virginia regiments added on the south, taking 130 prisoners. Sergt J. W. Connelly of 22d South Carolina, getting one flag and Patrick Sweeny, of 46th Virginia, getting two.

According, then, to best Confederate authority, the charge of the 64th Georgia took place between the Virginia brigade charge and 10 o’clock, and if at all, immediately after that of the Virginians.

Now we have from Gen. Hartranft, commander of 1st brigade, of 3d div, 9th corps, on page 579, Series No 80:

“After passing crater I pushed my troops to the left as far as possible, occupying that part of the enemy’s works not blown up. The length of this part was about 90 feet, and contained two guns (cannon.) Partially covered with dirt. I immediately ordered it removed and had them served by men of the 14th New York heavy artillery and men of my command, under direction of Sergt. W. Stanley, of the 14th New York heavy artillery.* * * The captured gun on the left was fired to the left along the line of enemy’s pits.”

Now he gives account of the advance of colored troops and charge of [Mahone’s] Virginians, and part of the [Wright’s] Georgians. “The colored troops now advanced through the crater, passing to the right, and formed line for advance, the enemy charged the colored troops as well as the pits previously occupied by the white troops, and our troops on the right gave away. The enemy soon reoccupied his pits to our right of the crater.” Now we hear of the charge of the 64th Georgia. “Soon after the enemy made another assault in line of about 500 strong, heading for the crater, and coming directly from the front. My men gallantly mounted the work and poured their shots into their line, which, with the canister given them by Sergt Stanley, almost annihilated the column, so that but few of them came up and they for protection. The ammunition was now about expended, but the want was soon supplied upon reporting to the general (Wil[l]cox) commanding the division.”

Now this writer, instead of seeking protection, was making his way straight for the white man or white negro with his blouse off in the traverse, expecting to follow him or it into crater and thus open a way for his friends on the left to join him in the fray. His article runs thus: “But as he draws his sword, shots from a hornet’s nest of Yankees behind a short work and traverse, just south of the crater, slightly bleeds his left leg, indents his Fribley scabbard and pierces with six balls Second Lieut. G. W. Mitchell, the only file closer. We are in between the swell of the crater and the traverse on the north and out of sight of the hornet’s nest on the south.” But Godwin’s flag, though out of sight of Hartranft, is seen in the distance by Gen Warren and reported at 9.15 A. M., while Hartranft, having examined his ammunition, asks more, thus: See No 82, page 668, Gen Wil[l]cox: July 30, ’64, 9.18 A. M.: “Will you please send us ammunition for rifle muskets? We can hold this position, but cannot advance. We have two guns of the enemy; one firing to our right, the other to our left. I am, General, etc. J. F. Hartranft, Brig Gen of Vols.”

As to Godwin’s flag being on the edge of crater, we have Gen Warren, of the United States, 5th corps, Col Hall, commander of the brigade. This writer, promoted for “distinguished valor and skill,” Capt Company G, Godwin’s company, through the agency of Gen Sorrel, afterwards commander of the brigade, who on page 271 of his book says: “I had heard much of this remarkable (crater) fight from [Wright’s] Georgia brigade, (it had been very conspicuous in it,) that I took command of some days after.”

This writer wishes right here to express the opinion that if Sorrel had been in command of brigade or of the division with Capt. H. H. Perry, as A. A. G., and proper concert of action on the part of the 22d and 23d South Carolina and the 26th and 46th Virginia on the south, that the Alabama brigade would not have been required to render its valuable assistance. Sorrel was always in sight of his brigade in battle and at the right spot at the critical moment, with Perry close at hand or at another. A splendid team. This writer saw one or both or was seen by one or both in every fight. On that bleak day, the 7th February, 1865 [SOPO Editor’s Note: i.e. The Battle of Hatcher’s Run.], this writer’s little Yankee tent (about 4 feet high) had been pierced by two balls, when it was “struck.” Gen Sorrel passing along on tour of observation had ordered a detail made to dislodge some worrying sharpshooters from his front, with Perry close by, and had been requested by this writer to allow the detail of the 64th Georgia to be placed under the officer of the 22d [Georgia] on account of paucity of officers, which being granted, he (Sorrel) was standing most cooly inquiring after comfort of the men whilst shot after shot was fired at him, when suddenly one went with muffling sound through his body and he fell on the tent. In a jiffy the ever alert Perry was at his side receiving his (as he then thought) last words as to the care of his brigade and disposed of his military mementoes among his sister and brothers.

This writer readily admits that Girardey was a brave and gallant officer. He saw him at Deep Bottom trying to accomplish a most difficult manoeuvre in 50 yards of the enemy, when he in a span new brigadier’s uniform fell with a ball through his forehead and the flag of the 64th in his firm grasp. This writer, then in charge of the color company, in his strenuous desire to save his flag, received 6 bullet holes in his apparel whilst urging the gentle but very gallant Draper to jerk it from his unyielding grasp. The command would have been censured had not the gallant Capt Josh Evans, A. A. G., seen it. He, (this writer.) in command of the 64th, saw it (when in 50 yards of the enemy’s breastworks at Hatcher’s Run.) drop from the hands of the gallant but severely wounded Draper, yet it floated across those works in triumph and afterwards waved in the repulse of cavalry at Amelia Court House on the 5th of April and Miles on the 7th and was forever furled at Appomattox.

The regimental formation from the right at Deep Bottom was first, 3d Georgia, 22d, 64th, 10th, 2nd battalion and 48th Georgia on the left. At Appomattox it was exactly reversed.

Le[t] us return to the remnant of the 64th, between the crater and that high traverse on the north (it was really that part of the retrenched cavalier, about 76 feet long, not blown up on the north.) After the severe hammering given it by the eight regiments of Hartranft it now seeks protection at the muzzles of its rifles and end of the bayonets. Let us quote [Captain Theodore] Gregg, who, in command of the 45th [sic, 49th] Pennsylvania, had killed Capt Broadbent or perhaps Major Luckie, of the 3d Georgia, and whose man Frank Hogan had captured the flag of the 6th Virginia and who, when the 3d Georgia and 22d had bursted the lines, perhaps about the left of Griffen’s [sic, Griffin’s] United States brigade, fled to the right and into the crater for safety instead of to the left (ours) into danger of being slaughtered by the Carolinians, pinioned on the fixed bayonets carelessly handled by the frightened negroes, or surrender to the gallant Virginian. On page 555, Series No 80, he says, after an account of hand to hand fighting in the trenches north of the crater:

“Many of our men being killed and wounded and the enemy pressing us hard, we were compelled to fall back into the crater in order to save our little band, while the negroes kept up a heavy fire on the rebels outside the fort. I found Gen Bartlett inside the crater and told him that the enemy had gained the intrenchments on the right of the fort and was preparing to drive us out the crater.  ** * He then succeeded in rallying some 25 or 30 negroes also, who behaved nobly, keeping up a continual fire of musketry, thereby holding the rebels on the right of the fort at bay and keeping them from entering it. * * * Through the exertions of Gen Bartlett and myself and other officers we succeeded in forming most of the men around the crest of the crater and all were determined to hold the fort to the last. * * * The enemy got the range of the crater with their mortar batteries: therefore their shells in exploding killed and wounded many of our brave soldiers. * * * It appeared in a short time impossible to hold the fort. The traveses around the fort were filled with the enemy attempting to charge into the crater, but they were driven off by the bayonet. They succeeded in killing and wounding a great many of our soldiers and the negroes were almost destitute of ammunition.”

The want of men behind his rifles and the slacking of fire from the crater by want of ammunition caused this writer to think of the situation between 9.30 and 10 o’clock, and becoming convinced that 600 men could end the affair he sought the commanding officer. (See his article.) Now as to part of Wright’s brigade going on right of Mahone’s we have, first, the letter of Col Hall, commander of the brigade, written August 2d and published in the [Petersburg] Express on August 3d, saying a regiment and a half went in on Mahone’s right, and J. E. Laughton, 1st Lieut Virginia Sharpshooters [SOPO Editor’s Note: i.e. the sharpshooter battalion of Mahone’s Brigade], says: “I distinctly remember that a small number of Wright’s brigade made the charge along with our brigade and was immediately on the right of the battalion of sharpshooters. This writer affirms it, and the fact of Corpl Herndon, of the 3d Georgia, getting the 58th Massachusetts regimental flag and A. J. Sadler, a Virginia sharpshooter, getting the 58th Massachusetts State flag verifies it. That, ‘Negari non potest.’ and no hazy recollection can upset the fact.”

That the 22d Georgia went in along with the 3d Georgia is claimed by Wm Mountcastle, of Cartersville, Ga, and corroborated by many Georgians. He says it was a hand [hard?] fight that was hand to hand to the death and cites the deaths of Adjt Levy and Capts Logue and Rush, with Capts Thomas and Forsythe wounded among many others. I believe it did, and think the balance rushed soon to the aid of their comrades, but of this I am not certain. The right of the Virginia brigade was, according to a[ctu]al measurement, as said, 441 yards from the northern edge of the crater, and extending to its left: it covered only its front according to Gen [David A.] Weisiger, its commander. Thus Wright’s had more to cover north of the crater than the Virginians, leaving out the crater itself, Hartranft’s, a triangular fort, and the flankers north and south.

It is well to note that Col Humphrey, commander of the 2d brigade of the 3d division of the 9th corps, says that his Michigander sharpshooters and the 20th Michigan took the works of the 22d and 23d [South Carolina], capturing 30 or 40 prisoners. These works were occupied by the enemy when they opened on the 64th with such terrible results in addition to Hartranft’s eight regiments and Stanley’s cannon. Also, to note that Mahone filed no official report at the time, but wrote from a very hazy recollection 28 years after; he, in the meantime, having been under fire from the Richmond papers and Gen Weisiger on account of a remissness in duties and an insufficient display of courage on that occasion.

It is well to note also the variant statements of Mahone and his adherents and Gen Weisiger and Judge Hinton, his aid, as to positions of those officers at the commencement of the charge, that is, as to where Mahone and Girard[e]y were and who gave the order to charge as well as the time intervening between the battle formation of the Virginia brigade and the charge. Also the discrepancies of the statements of Gen Johnson and those of [F. William] McMaster and their own. Col McMaster, in his last, on March 9, 1899 [sic, March 5, 1899], in the Columbia State, says that Johnson blundered in his report, and in that same paper says he has “modified views heretofore expressed,” and in second column from the last says: “When at 10 o’clock Mahone arrives with a few men.” This is his last sentence. “At about 9.30 A. M. old Virginia—that never tires in good works—with 800 heroes rushed into the trench of the 17th and slaughtered hundreds of whites and blacks, with decided preference for the Ethiopians.”

Thus his certainty passes away as a summer cloud, but not so the damage to historical accuracy. But McMaster was a brave man and he, LaMotte and the other noble Carolinians fought well but as he himself aid in his speech and paper of December 16, 1895, in subsistance [sic, substance], no soldier whilst fighting for life can keep time for or attend to the business of another organization.

Now bear in mind that the Georgia brigade had to go back to its trenches that night and left the Virginians, the Alabamians and the Carolinians in the works and on the field—hence the reporters got in all the balderdash and ex-parte braggadocio of vauntful heroes who, perhaps, were not in gunshot of the battle.

Mahone flatly asserts that he made the Georgia brigade subservient to the safety of the Virginia brigade in his letter August 29, 1892: “I put the Georgia brigade in position to meet any possible reverse to which the Virginia brigade might be subjected.” He was only obfuscated as to time, manner of disposition and position. He or some person in forty steps of the man speaking that morning sent the 64th up south to place opposite the crater.”

Now as to time, Johnson in his report says: (See “War of Rebellion,” 80, page 789.) “As soon as I was aware the enemy had sprung the mine and broke my line, etc. at the same time I dispatched staff officers to the divisions on my flanks for the reinforcements. From the left I received response that none could be sent, as Gen Hoke’s line was already too weak. Capt Smith, who went to the right, promptly reported that Gen Mahone was moving up to our support with two brigades, (Mahone’s and Wright’s.)” Gen Humphreys, in his book, notes this time as before 6.30 in a dispatch from Duff, signal officer, who reported them as passing 20 minutes before 6.20 A. M. Mahone in a letter says that when the head of the column of the two brigades reached the entrance of the covered way leading from the Hannon pond to and across the Jerusalem plank road, “I rode over to Johnson’s headquarters * * * to see Gen A. P. Hill, my corps commander, but he not being there, (not expecting to see Gen J.,) I saw Beauregard and said, ’General, I have, by direction of Gen Lee, two brigades on the way near at hand for the reinforcement of Gen Johnson.’ * * * Calling up Gen J., who appeared about ready to take his breakfast, Gen B. said: ‘General, you had better turn over,’ etc. I then asked Gen J. to show me the way to the crater. Turning to a lieutenant staff officer, he said, ‘Show Gen M. the way to Elliott’s salient or Pegram’s battery.’ I hurried back, etc.”

At 8.20 A. M. Col Evans was not living. The stars from his collar were kept by Mrs Evans (nee Overby, and first husband a Lenoir,) until her death, when they were divided between the Lenoirs and Middlebrooks, her children by her first and third husbands, there being none by Col Evans. This writer hopes that the wife or descendant of Capt Peabody (Edward R.) or one of the Lenoirs or Middlebrooks will write to him in regard to this.

The next time piece noted is that of Capt A. L. Evans, which, according to McMaster and Crowder, says it was 8.30 when Mahone’s men were marching up the ravine. Now this writer, in a talk with Capt Evans at the Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, in 1895, found out that Capt Evans was describing the 64th instead of Mahone’s brigade in his letter of April 24, 1892, to McMaster, which he readily admitted when his attention was called to the fact that the charge was made on the crater, and Mahone’s Virgininians never charged the crater proper, as was confirmed by a Mr. Hadley, who saw the same charge. (See “War Talks,” page 200.)

Meade says (No 80, page 165,) that it was between 819. Burnside says, (page 528) “The enemy gained a portion of his line on the right; this was about 8.45 A. M.”

Gen J. B. Carr, in his testimony before Court of Inquiry, says: (See No 80, page 120.) “About 8.30 o’clock Turner, of the 10th corps, was ordered, etc.” (See also same page, 127.) The finding of the Court of Inquiry: “At 9 A. M. Gen Burnside reported many of the 9th and 18th corps were retiring before the enemy, and then was the time to put in 5th corps. It having just been reported, however, by two staff officers (not Gen Burnside’s) that the attack on the right of the mine had been repulsed and that none of the Union troops were beyond the line of the crater—the commanding general thought differently, and the lieutenant general concurring—Gen Burnside was directed at 9.50 A. M. to withdraw immediately or at a later period.” This was signed as the opinion of Major Gen Hancock, Brig Gen N. N. A. Miles, Brig Gen Ayres and the inspector general of the United States armies, Shriver.

This is enough for the charge or charges of Virginia and Georgia, partly or jointly, with exception of that of the 64th Georgia. Now recollecting that none but the 64th charged, or claimed to have, directly on the crater, that is, from its front squarely and next to the Virginia brigade, or the two together, then we have Major Gen Warren, July 30, 1864, 9.15 A. M., to his chief: “But I think I saw a rebel flag in it (the crater) just now and shots from it coming this way.” This on page 151, same book. Then we have Gen Hartranft’s as shown above at 9.18 A. M.,  and Gregg’s that the shots were 64th’s, they shooting right over the crater in that direction. Then Gregg and men being short of ammunition, overcome with heat and th[ir]st for water, this writer comes around with a message and at about 10 o’clock Mahone meets Johnson and plans attack of Alabama, which takes place at 2 P. M.

It is elementary to say that the first assaulting column was Ledlie’s with Wil[l]cox’s to support him on his left and Potter’s on the right and the 4th, the negro division, last and assaulting. It bore altogether to the right (our left) with the exception of the 19th, colored, which touched the crater on its north. They were mainly in and about it and the traverse. There were no negroes on our right of crater, nor did any fire at approaching Alabamians from the crater.

Gen Girard[e]y, who had been selected by Gen Mahone to be brigadier by request forwarded July 20 [30?], recommended by A. P. Hill and Lee, took command August 3. He instructed that no communication on the subject be published on account of harmony.

C. A. Waller.

     Greenwood, S. C.2

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19070415CharlestonNewsCourierP8C1to5TruthAboutCrater

Source:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Based on that page of the Official Records, Major Waller is referring to E. Porter Alexander, the famous First Corps artillerist, when he states “its author”.  The question becomes, which article did Alexander write on the Crater and “railroad wrecking” which was then brought to Waller’s attention?  I need to find out. If you have the answer then please contact me.
  2. “The Truth About the Battle of the Crater.” Charleston News and Courier. April 15, 1907, p. 8 col. 1-5

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