SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin. This series of articles covers the Civil War “Memories” of Private Thomas Moore of the 96th New York. In an article accompanying this series, I discuss how the clues provided in these articles allowed me to figure out the regiment to which Thomas Moore belonged.
MEMORIES OF A CIVIL WAR VETERAN
The fourth installment of the Civil War Memories of Thomas Moore, uncle of the Rev. Herbert Moore, is presented below. Enlisting at the age of 16, he took part in the siege of York Town, and recounts his experiences during the winter of 1863 when he was in North Carolina helping to build Fort Gray at Plymouth, N. C. His outfit became a part of the Grand Army of the James, participating in the siege of Petersburg, and he tells of the tragic results of the fighting there.
Attack on Richmond
We were taken off the Petersburg line again one night about twelve o’clock,—crossed the James on a pontoon bridge, and made the first attack on Richmond [on September 29, 1864]. We started to drive in their pickets at four o’clock in the morning. The Tenth New Hampshire and 118th New York were on the skirmish line. They had repeating guns. Our regiment [the 96th New York] supported them. It wasn’t daylight yet, when the Rebs began to shoot at us, and it seemed as if some of their guns must have been loaded for a month, for when they would shoot, we could see a streak of fire for about ten rods long. We drove in their pickets and formed a line of battle about two miles from our side-line of works. In Richmond our regiment came square in front of Ft. Harrison with 32 pound guns. When we took a view of the situation, it looked as if we couldn’t make it.1
“You Can Take It, Boys”
Our Brigadier General [Hiram Burnham], after a careful view of the works, said: “You can take it, boys,—there is nothing there but school boys and pickups,” which proved to be true. We weren’t sent there to take the fort, but to make a showing, while Grant made a break at Petersburg, but the Rebs were watching Grant and all their force was over there, or we never would have taken the outside line of works around Richmond with the force we had. About the third shot from the fort killed our Brigadier General.2 My brother (Walter) was carrying the State Flag, and was wounded before we went 50 rods. We lost one man more than half out of our company in being killed or wounded. The Johnnies made a mistake in letting us get too close before they opened up on us with grape and cannister, they couldn’t depress their guns enough to hit us, so they had to shoot over.
TAKE FORT HARRISON
When we got into the fort we only got sixteen prisoners, but we had not time to lose as their reenforcements were in sight. We turned these sixteen 32 pounders on them and brought them to a stop. C.O.S.K. and Cf. Af. Our regiment was drilled in heavy artillery and it came in good play here. I had the honor of sighting a 32 pounder myself. We took Ft. Harrison about one o’clock. Gen. Grant was in the Fort about five o’clock, and ordered us to hold the Fort if possible, but to take all the heavy guns out and take them across the James River. Inside of the Fort were log barracks, which we tore down and made breastworks of.
We were sure the Rebs were going to try and take the fort back, so we worked the rest of the afternoon and all night building breastworks. We did not have shovels enough, so the boys used their tin plates—anything with a handle to it. It was claimed by some of the prisoners we took that Rebel General Lee said if the Yanks got to stay in Ft. Harrison over night there would be no use in them trying to take it back, and they found that Lee was right. About 2 o’clock the next day [September 30, 1864] they opened on us with solid to try and knock our breastworks down. They seemed to know what they were made of. The shot came like hail for a short time.
Protected by High Bank
The lay of the country around the fort was very much like it is west of my house; calling the Republican River the James River where they had a gun boat that had a raking fire on our line. All that saved us was the high bank of the River. They had to let their shells strike the bank, then they did not know where they would land. The Rebs formed on line of battle behind a hogsback, or hill, very much like the one west of my home on Fourth street. We could see the tops of their flag staffs and hear the officers giving commands, but we couldn’t shoot them for this hill. When they began to come over the hill, our officers said: “Let them come, boys, let them come closer.” But the boys wouldn’t wait. The 118th New York and the 10th New Hampshire wanted to try their seven shooters, so we all cut loose. I was in the front rank, and Cap. Paterson said to me, “Tom, if you will do the shooting, I will do the loading.” I told him ‘alright’ so I did the shooting for Paterson. Our Capt. Harris had a large Navy revolver for which he had no holster, so he carried it in his hand. With that in one hand and his hat in the other, he began to holler, “Give them hell, boys,—sock it to them, fellows.” Sargeant Sherrow had the flag my brother (Walter) had been carrying before he was wounded, and he was waving it back and forth and hollering,”Give them hell, boys,—sock it to them; they can’t come over.” Then when they got close enough, all the boys began to holler, “Throw down your gun and come in. Don’t try to go back, come in men; come in!” Five flags came in, and I think about a thousand men came in and surrendered.3
Reb Battery Opens Fire
The Rebs then started in on us with a mortar battery, and they got such a good range on our line that they dropped their shell right among us. Some of the boys broke and wanted to leave the breastworks, but the officers drew their swords, and told them to go back, and stay with it. One of the sargeants told the boys in our pit to watch the shells. You can see a mortar shell if you watch for it, and you can hear them whistle, so he would point his finger at it, and tell the boys where it was going to fall. Some of them would fall short and some go over. When he thought one was coming in our pit, he would say, “That is coming here,” and we would all run out. When a large shell like they were throwing doesn’t burst in the air, they don’t do so much harm. When they strike the ground, they generally make a big hail, so that when they burst the pieces fly up. We had one man who fell on one of these shells and it blew part of his body 40 feet high and lodged it in a pine tree. This man belonged to the 1st New York Engineers, and was laying out and remodeling the fort.
(to be continued)4
Thomas Moore’s Siege of Petersburg in the Sandy Creek (NY) News:
- Finding Thomas Moore: An Army of the James Soldier’s Account of the Petersburg Campaign
- NP: March 26, 1953 Sandy Creek (NY) News: Thomas Moore (96th NY) at the Siege of Petersburg, Part 3
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Moore is describing the Battle of Fort Harrison, part of the larger Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, fought on September 29-30, 1864. Moore and others in the Army of the James successfully stormed Fort Harrison on September 29, 1864. Moore, his 96th New York, and a large portion of the rest of the Army of the James served as Grant’s right jab in a right-left combo during the Fifth Offensive. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: BG Hiram Burnham was, as Moore describes, killed on September 29, 1864 while leading his brigade against Fort Harrison. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Moore is describing the September 30, 1864 Confederate counterattack on Fort Harrison. Robert E. Lee massed two full divisions, those of Field and Hoke, in an attempt to regain the important position. Poor Confederate coordination and a spirited Union defense combined to thwart this effort. Fort Harrison became the center piece of the new Union line in the area and was renamed Fort Burnham in honor of Moore’s fallen brigade commander. ↩
- “Memories of a Civil War Veteran.” Sandy Creek (NY) News. February 26, 1953, p. 2, col. 4-6 ↩
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