CLARK NC: 17th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg

   

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in Clark's North Carolina Regiments

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt comes from Walter Clark’s five volume Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, published in 1901.  The reference work provides mini regimental histories written mostly by men representing each unit, with gaps filled in by editor Clark.  These histories often provide a surprising amount of detail on the Siege of Petersburg.

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After the battle of Cold Harbor General Grant transferred his army to the south bank of the Appomattox and attempted a coup d’etat at Petersburg.

General Lee, on the 14th [of June, 1864], moved Hoke’s Division near Drewry’s Bluff, in order that it might be in position to act as reserve for his army or go to the support of General Beauregard at Petersburg. The Federals under General Smith had advanced to within a few miles of Petersburg and had swept away all our forces in their front and the city was in imminent danger of capture. The brigades of Hagood and Colquitt had been sent forward by rail and Martin with Clingman was pressing forward by forced marches and arrived after midnight of the 15th [of June 1864] and commenced to entrench.

The Confederates now numbered about 10,000 men behind their hastily entrenched line. The Federal General [William F. “Baldy”] Smith had been reinforced by Burnside’s Corps which came up at noon and raised the Federal forces to 66,000.

The morning of the 16th [of June 1864] was spent in skirmishing and artillery fire. In the afternoon General Hancock, now in command of the Federals, assailed with all his forces and just at sunset broke through General Wise’s lines, whose troops went streaming to the rear. These brave men had fought unceasingly for two days and were much exhausted and only yielded when completely overwhelmed. As many of the men of our division as could be spared were hastily gathered from various points on the line and with the remnant of Wise’s brigade being organized in a compact body were hurled upon the victorious Federals — the right wing of the Seventeenth [North Carolina] joining in the attack. The Federals were driven out and our line re-established. Warren’s Corps had now come up, which increased the Federal army to four corps — numbering 90,000 — and no reinforcements had reached General Beauregard from General Lee.

The battle re-opened on the 17th [of June 1864], at noon. Three times were the Federals repulsed but as often resumed the offensive. At dusk on the extreme right our lines “were again broken and partially restored by the timely arrival of Gracie’s Brigade, the conflict raging until 11 o’clock.

During these engagements Beauregard’s engineers had been at work selecting a line nearer the city — shorter and stronger, being the line afterwards held during the siege. After midnight our troops were withdrawn to this new line. Our skirmishers being left in the old works with instructions to delay the advance of the enemy in order to gain as much time as possible for our troops to fortify the new line. The writer of this had the honor of commanding the skirmishers of his regiment and can testify to their brave and determined resistance, in connection with other commands, which resulted in keeping back the enemy until 3 o’clock p. m. of that day ([June] 18th [1864]).1

Fortunately about this time Field’s and Kershaw’s Divisions of General Lee’s army arrived, which swelled the Confederate forces to 20,000 against 90,000 of the enemy’s.

About 3 p. m. [on June 18, 1864] a general and final assault was given. It was urged with as great pertinacity and was resisted with equal determination as those preceding. Before dark it ended in a complete repulse of the Federals along the whole of our front. In these series of engagements the regiment lost many of its most valued officers and brave men. Lieutenants Perry, Hobbs, Pope and others were among the killed.

The writer would desire to appear not ungrateful to his comrade and friend. Lieutenant W. J. Hardison (now sheriff of Martin county) and at the risk of being personal, wishes to place on record the act of his brave friend, who, at the risk of his own life, sprang over our breastworks during the enemy’s last assault and bore his wounded friend in his arms to safety behind them.

I am indebted to General [Johnson] Hagood’s recent address for much information as to data, etc., of these battles and note with pleasure his closing words: “I have told the story of Petersburg without comment. The narrative itself is an immortelle and a reverently lay it upon the tomb of Beauregard, the soldier.”

Foiled in his attempt to carry Petersburg by storm General Grant now laid siege to the city. I cannot better describe the hardships endured by the brave soldiers than to make extracts from the recent address of Captain Elliott.

“At the beginning of the siege, June 20th [1864], the report of Martin’s Brigade occupying Colquitt’s salient showed 2,200 men for duty. In September [1864], when they were relieved, the total force was 700, nothing but living skeletons. Occupying the sharp salient, the work was enfiladed on both flanks by direct fire and the mortar shells came incessantly down from above. Every man was detailed every night, either on guard duty or to labor with pick and spade repairing works knocked down during the day. There was no shelter that summer from sun or rain. No food could be cooked there but the scanty provisions were brought in bags on the shoulders of men from the cook yard some miles distant. The rations consisted of one pound of pork and three pounds of meal for three days — no coffee, no sugar, no vegetables, no grog, no tobacco, nothing but the bread and meat. No wonder that the list of officers was reduced to three Captains and a few Lieutenants with but one staff officer, (spared through God’s mercy) to this brigade of 700 skeletons. But every feeble body contained an unbroken spirit and after the Fall months came those who had not fallen into their graves or been disabled, returned to their colors and saw them wave in victory in their last fight at Bentonville.”

In July [1864] their beloved Brigade Commander, General [James G.] Martin, was transferred to North Carolina and General [William W.] Kirkland became his successor. General Martin was greatly beloved by his soldiers. They had the most unbounded confidence in his military skill and admiration for his personal bravery illustrated on every battlefield where they had followed him. In October [1864] the brigade was sent to the Richmond front and participated in the minor engagements of Henrico C. H., Charles City Road and others, maintaining its high reputation for bravery.2

Advices having reached General Lee of the preparation by the Federals of a land and naval expedition for the capture of Fort Fisher, Hoke’s division was sent to its relief. The Seventeenth [North Carolina] and parts of the Forty-second [North Carolina] and Sixty-sixth [North Carolina] regiments were the advance of the division and reached Wilmington at 1 a. m. on 24 December 1864, and, after being lunched at the depot by the patriotic ladies of that city, took up the line of march for Fort Fisher, the Seventeenth bivouacking there on the night of the same day.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: The rest of the narrative covers the 17th North Carolina’s time in North Carolina at Fort Fisher and later battling Sherman.]

Wilson G. Lamb

Second Lieutenant Company F.

 

WILLIAMSTON, N. C,

26 April, 1901.3

 

Source/Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The entire sketch up to this point is a nice view of the Second Battle of Petersburg from the point of view of Hoke’s Division.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Hoke’s Division, including the 17th North Carolina and Martin’s Brigade, were involved in the October 7, 1864 Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads and the October 13, 1864 Battle of Darbytown Road.
  3. Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 6-9

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