Editor’s Note: In the mid-1940’s the Baldwinsville (NY) Messenger reprinted a lengthy series of articles on the 185th New York and other New York Civil War units from 50 years earlier, originally published in the Baldwinsville Gazette, which detailed the history of the town of Lysander, New York. This article is one part of a sub-series in this set detailing the 185th New York and its experiences at the Siege of Petersburg. I found these articles while searching through the always fascinating Fulton NY Postcards site. This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
Augustus M. Rice, the original author, was a member of Company A, 185th New York. Rice enlisted at the age of 18 as a private on August 22, 1864 in Lysander, to serve for one year. He was mustered into Company A on September 19, 1864 and was discharged on June 3, 1865 in Washington, D. C.1
HISTORICAL REVIEW OF THE TOWN OF LYSANDER
Part 201: Col. Sniper Orders Men Of the 185th Forward
By Miss L. Pearl Palmer
Until the morning of the 25th of March , nothing aside from company duty transpired, but upon that date, long before daylight, we were ordered out with our corps and massed with the Sixth.
The rebels had made an attack upon and captured Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman], a small redoubt to our right. The order stated that the attack would probably be general. Lee’s plans failed here and the fort was recaptured with about 2,000 prisoners.2
About 3 o’clock in the afternoon an attack was made upon our extreme left end and a terrible battle soon raged along the whole line, but here also the enemy was repulsed with heavy loss. In the evening we returned to camp.3
From now on we knew by signs unmistakable that some movement was about to take place. The mules of our wagon train were kept in harness and everybody was on the alert. On the 28th [of March 1865], orders were received to be ready to move at 3 o’clock next morning. We broke camp and moved out of our works. Then we started on the grand movement that crushed the rebellion.
[On March 29, 1865] We moved out around our extreme left, crossing Rowanty Creek and up the Quaker road about ten miles southwest of Petersburgh. We halted about 10 o’clock and skirmishes were thrown out. This was the first assault in four days’ fight which resulted in the destruction of the right wing of Lee’s army.
A fierce engagement ensued. During the action our forces were repulsed, the Second Division being crowded back with some disorder.
General [Joshua Lawrence] Chamberlain, in command of our brigade [1/1/V/AotP], rode up to Col. [Gustavus] Sniper [of the 185th New York] and exclaimed: “For God’s sake, Colonel, can you save the day with your regiment?”
The Colonel replied, “General, I can try.”
He immediately formed the regiment in line of battle under a heavy fire, and ordered a charge. The charge was made up, and over an eminence where we met the enemy in hot pursuit of our retreating forces. This struggle was terrible. Five men were shot from beneath our colors. Col. Sniper, seeing the colors fall, instantly rushed forward. Seizing the staff, he whirled the flag above his head and shouted, “Men of the 185th, forward.”
A wild yell went up from the ranks and we rushed forward with our gallant leader who planted the colors on the saw dust pile behind which the rebels had their rifle pits, and the position was ours. Twenty-nine years after, on the anniversary of this battle, Col. Sniper died.4
After this engagement Col. Sniper was complimented in person, upon the field, on the gallantry and valor of his regiment, and was breveted brigadier general. Our losses were terrible, the regiment losing two hundred-and-ten killed and wounded. Every commissioned officer of our company was either killed or wounded, our total loss being 27 killed and wounded, some of the latter dying later. Nearly all of the wounds received were severe, as it was at close range and the rebels shot to kill. We lost force. The dead were buried on the field where they fell.
Here Capt. Howards acted as a major. He had command of the right wing of the regiment and was seriously wounded in the thigh. He bravely faced the enemy despite his injury and stayed with his men until, faint from loss of blood, he was carried from the field. He was subsequently breveted major for gallant and meritorious conduct.
Henry W. Porter was also seriously wounded, a ball piercing his side and passing through his left lung. He was borne from the field apparently lifeless, and taken to the hospital. The doctors, thinking his case hopeless, he was placed outside the tent, where he lay in a drizzling rain all night. Next morning, while gathering up the dead for burial, it was found that Comrade Porter still lived. He was sent to the general hospital and his wounds dressed twenty-four hours after he was wounded. Despite all this, and his fearful injury, he still lives, being a resident of Baldwinsville. (Mr. Porter was a resident of Syracuse street for many years after 1894 when this article was first published.)
Gideon Davis, brother of William Davis of Euclid, lost a leg that day. The brigade we encountered here, consisted of four regiments of Pickett’s division.
We held the ground that had been taken until ordered to fall back and reform our lines. As we were without a commissioned officer, Lieut. H. Wadsworth Clarke was assigned to us. At this time our corps was under the direct command of General Sheridan. March thirtieth , there was slight skirmishes, but no casualties in our company. On the thirty-first [of March 1865] we were engaged at the White Oak Road or Gravelly Run. The First and Second Divisions [sic, Second and Third, Rice’s own division was the First, he must have “misremembered” this] having been repulsed, our division [Griffin’s First] was ordered forward to their relief, and the ground they had been driven from was regained and held, our company having several men wounded.5 We kept pushing steadily forward around the enemy’s right, and the next morning moved rapidly toward Five Forks, where the enemy was strongly entrenched.6
The Baldwinsville NY Messenger 185th New York Series, 1945:
- NP: October 4, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 1
- NP: October 25, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 2
- NP: November 22, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 3
- NP: November 29, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 4
- December 13, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 6
- 185th Infantry CW Roster. The NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 26 July 2016. Accessed Augustus M. Rice entry from the 185th New York Roster. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Fort Stedman was located far from the Fifth Corps, over on the eastern side of Petersburg on the right. It was a last ditch attack by the Confederates to buy some time to allow them to escape. It was a massive failure. Click here to read more on Fort Stedman. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: After Lee’s failed attack at Fort Stedman, Grant and Meade realized the Confederates were probably weak at other places along the lines. They ordered probes, and this resulted in a day of heavy skirmishing all along the lines on March 25, 1865. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Rice is here describing the March 29, 1865 Battle of Lewis’ Farm, aka The Battle of Quaker Road, where Chamberlain’s Brigade and the rest of Griffin’s Fifth Corps division faced a Confederate attack south of their Whit Oak Road line as it probed to the north over Hatcher’s Run. The 185th New York was heavily involved in the middle of this fight, an eventual Union victory. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Rice finishes this portion of his reminiscence by discussing the March 31, 1865 Battle of White Oak Road in surprising brevity. The Fifth Corps fared badly early in the day. The divisions of Crawford and Ayres moved forward to probe the Confederate White Oak Road defenses, and promptly collapsed to an inferior numerical force. Griffin’s Division and the Corps artillery massed behind Gravelly Run and allowed the survivors of the other two divisions to rally behind them. In the afternoon, Griffin’s Division and Miles’ Division of Second Corps drove the Confederates back into the White Oak Road line, clearing the way for Fifth Corps to move on Five Forks. ↩
- “Historical Review of the Town of Lysander.” Baldwinsville Messenger. December 6, 1945, p. 3, col. 3-7 ↩
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