CLARK NC: 27th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg

   

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CLARK NC: 27th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg

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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As I was severely wounded at the battle of the Wilderness 5 May, and did not return to duty until 12 September, I am unable to give any detailed account of the movements of the regiment during the summer campaign of 1864.

I have tried to supply this blank, but have been unable to get any account of our movements from officers and men to whom I have written and I can find no publications from which I can get the desired information.

Even the “Records of the Rebellion” gives a very meagre account of this memorable campaign.

During this campaign this regiment [the 27th North Carolina] took part in many battles, skirmishes, etc., and I very much regret that a history of them cannot be given.

We were engaged in the battles of Wilderness, Spottsylvania Court House, Gary’s Farm, Pole Green Church, Cold Harbor second, Weldon Railroad [August 18-21, 1864], Reams Station [on August 25, 1864], and others.

About the middle of July, 1864, we found ourselves in the trenches before Petersburg.

August 24 [1864] we were moved from the trenches and took up the line of march from Reams Station on the railroad below Petersburg—having been told before we started, that as we had been in front in nearly all the fights during the summer, we should simply be “lookers-on in Venice” on this occasion. Soon after reaching Reams Station a charge was made upon the enemy’s works by certain of our troops. They failing to capture them, General A. P. Hill ordered forward Cooke’s, McRae’s and Lane’s North Carolina Brigades. A part of our brigade (Cooke’s) having to pass through the open field and the other through undergrowth and fallen trees. General Cooke ordered his two left regiments, the Twenty-seventh [North Carolina] and Forty-eighth North Carolina, forward first, and when they had gotten sufficiently advanced directed the other two, the Forty-sixth [North Carolina] and Fifteenth [North Carolina], to advance. Upon striking the enemy’s works we found they would not give way, and a hand-to-hand fight across the breastworks ensued for a minute or two. Three times Captain Shade Wooten, Company C, finding one of the enemy poking his gun up to shoot him, grabbed a handful of dirt from the embankment and dashed it in the eyes of his opponent and thus saved his life. This state of affairs was ended when the Forty-sixth and Fifteenth North Carolina, which charged through an open field at double-quick, reached the works when the brigade went over in line. I have it from the mouth of General Cooke, our Brigadier, that the first colors seen at the works were those of the Twenty-seventh North Carolina, carried by Sergeant Roscoe Richards, Company G. The enemy immediately fled in confusion, and turning their own artillery, which we had captured, we endeavored to use it upon them, but owing to the want of friction primers, etc., it was useless to us. The troops engaged on our side numbered 1,750, and after taking the enemy’s works we found ourselves in possession of over 2,100 prisoners, besides thirteen pieces of artillery, which we forwarded that night to the headquarters of our Corps Commander, General A. P. Hill.

In General Lee’s dispatch to the War Department he states that the charge was made by Cooke’s, McRae’s and Lane’s North Carolina Brigades. Our loss was severe in proportion to our numbers. The Twenty-seventh North Carolina only numbered seventy, or about that, certainly not over, after this engagement. One company I know had only one corporal and two men at the end of that fight. This was, undoubtedly, the most brilliant dash—for indeed it was a dash—of the war; and be it remembered that North Carolinians, alone, were engaged in it. After this fight we returned to our position in the trenches, where we remained until the latter part of September, 1864, when we were moved further to the right. 20 [sic, 29] September, 1864, leaving the trenches we were moved to the right, and on the next day [September 30, 1864] took part in a skirmish—about half a fight—just below Battery 45.1

After this our brigade (Cooke’s) occupied the extreme right of our lines, being moved still farther to the right as the lines were extended to meet the movements of the enemy, and other troops put in to fill the vacancy until we reached Hatcher’s Run near Burgess’ Mill about 1 December, 1864. On 15 October, 1864, “I saw a letter from General R. H. Chilton, Inspector General on General Lee’s staff, to General Cooke, in which—although the letter was written principally on other matters—he stated that General Lee looked upon Cooke’s North Carolina Brigade as the brigade and Cooke as the Brigadier of his army.

27 October, 1864, the enemy attempting to turn our right flank again, we moved still to the right, having to march two miles behind our breastworks half bent, in order to keep out of view of the enemy’s sharpshooters who were within seventy-five yards of our works, and made it almost certain death for any man to show his head above the works.

That night we were relieved and moved up the creek (Hatcher’s Run) to Burgess’ Mill, and were told that next morning at daylight [October 28, 1864] we would have to charge the enemy across the creek. The only means of crossing was a narrow country bridge, about twelve feet wide, and it was not at all a pleasant prospect to think of having to cross that place in front of the enemy’s artillery, posted on a hill about 100 yards off, and their sharpshooters and skirmishers within twenty steps of the bridge. Just at daylight on the morning of 28 October, our sharpshooters were ordered forward, and it was most welcome intelligence to us to hear their shout as they marched up the hill and entered the enemy’s works which had been abandoned during the night. Again Grant had failed in his flank movement and had returned to his camp.

This was considered the end of the campaign of 1864.

Our brigade entered the campaign with 1,753 muskets for duty, as was shown by the report of our Inspector General, made 4 May, 1864, and lost up to this time 1,786 killed, wounded and missing. Of course, in order to make up this number some men must have been wounded more than once, each time of wounding counting as a separate loss, and others who were absent, sick or on furlough at the beginning of the campaign, had returned. During that time we had only lost thirty-five prisoners, everyone of whom were captured from our skirmish line; not a single prisoner having been taken from our line of battle; nor had we in ‘that whole campaign yielded an inch of ground to the enemy, always coming out victorious or, at least, holding our own.

Returning soon after to our position on the left of Hatcher’s Run, a mile and a half below Burgess’ Mill, we put up winter quarters and remained quiet, performing picket duty and drilling, till 8 December, 1864, when the Second [sic, Fifth Corps and only one division of Second] Corps of the Federal army having started on a raid to Belfield, on the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, our corps was ordered to oppose them. Leaving camp on the evening of 8 December [1864] we marched until about 2 o’clock a. m. [on December 9, 1864], when we bivouacked. The weather was bitter cold and that night it snowed and sleeted, making the marching very rough. When we came within a few miles of Belfield we found that the enemy had retreated and we were ordered back to Jarrett’s Station to try and intercept them. Just as we reached this point we found the enemy’s cavalry passing. Immediately throwing forward our artillery, under the gallant Pegram, and putting Cooke’s Brigade in line for support, we prepared for action. As we were in the woods the enemy did not see us and charged upon the artillery just as it got into position; but our skirmishers, posted about a hundred yards in front of the artillery, soon showed them that they were supported. The enemy were driven back without a gun being fired from the line of battle, and as they retreated we pursued. Crossing the railroad we pushed on for some three miles, hoping to intercept their infantry who were going up the Jerusalem Plank Road. When we reached this road we learned that they had passed about three hours before. As it was about dark we bivouacked for the night and next morning [December 10?, 1864] started on our return to camp, which we reached on the afternoon of 13 December. Our rest was not again broken into until Sunday, 5 February, 1865, when Grant, making another of his forward movements, was within 600 or 800 yards of our works before his movements were seen. Immediately the “long roll” was beaten and we were in line in a few minutes behind our works.

About the middle of the day [on February 5, 1865] Gordon’s Corps having been brought to our side of the creek, Davis’ Mississippi Brigade, which held a position about a mile to our left, was marched down to our position and relieved us. We then started up the line, Cooke’s Brigade being in the lead, and after going a mile and a half or two miles, crossed our works and moved to the front.

Several times, as we passed up the lines, the question was asked, “What brigade is that?” and when we answered “Cooke’s North Carolina,” the reply always came back, “Oh, yes ! you are the fellows that have got up such a reputation for fighting. You’ll get enough of it yet before you are done. They’ll keep you in front until the enemy cuts you to pieces.”

Passing a mile or more to the front, we turned to the right and formed line of battle. Our skirmishers being immediately thrown out were soon moved to the right to protect the flank, which left the skirmishers of some other brigade in our front. Soon the order to advance was given, and after going a short distance we struck the enemy’s skirmish line. The skirmishers in our front gave back through our line, and we had to drive the enemy’s skirmishers with our line of battle for more than half a mile. When we struck the enemy’s line, posted behind a little earthwork upon a hill in a field beyond the wood through which we had advanced, the order was given to charge. As we started up the hill and were within sixty yards of their works, the command, “Dress to the left,” which had been given all the time, was repeated, and finding that the brigade on our left did not come to time we fell back to the edge of the woods and took position behind a fence. Again the order to advance was given, and again starting up the hill and getting near enough to the enemy to see their knapsacks over the small embankment, behind which they were lying flat, finding that our left was unsupported we were ordered back. After a short while, the enemy making a strong demonstration on our right flank, we were ordered to fall back. When we reached our reserve line, about half a mile to our rear, we halted, and soon after fresh troops were ordered forward, Cooke’s [sic, Cook’s] Georgia Brigade taking the place of ours. As they advanced, the three left companies of the Twenty-seventh North Carolina (Companies H, G and B) thinking the command was given by our Brigadier, went forward with them and fought through the remainder of the afternoon, losing several men. After dark we returned to our breastworks, and upon reaching them found that we had been fighting not more than six hundred yards from and directly in front of our camp. Why we were moved two miles up our line and then to the front to take the lead in the charge immediately in front of our position, which was then held by other troops, I never could understand. The next morning (6 February, 1865), we again moved to the front and passing quietly, about daylight, along a path on the bank of the creek, formed a line some five hundred yards in front of our works. We lay here in line of battle all day to prevent the enemy from crossing the creek and turning the flank of Gordon’s Corps, who were driving them from their side of the creek. Although the enemy were very near we had no engagement except a little skirmishing and picket firing. Returning to camp that night we enjoyed about six weeks of quiet and rest.

On the night of 24 March, 1865, orders were given for us to march. Leaving our sick and disabled to hold our picket line we took the road for Petersburg—eight miles distant—not knowing whither we were bound beyond that point. Reaching Petersburg about midnight we bivouacked near the Water-works. Next morning [March 25, 1865] about daylight the artillery opened fire and soon it was reported that our troops had carried the enemy’s line and had possession of their works. We were hurried into the trenches to take the place of the troops who had advanced.

Soon after reaching the works we saw large bodies of the enemy moving up their line from their left—our right—both on foot and on the railroad, and soon our troops who had charged were driven back, and we learned that the attempt to carry “Hare’s Hill” [on which stood Fort Stedman] had failed. Our position being just to the right of the troops engaged we had, for the first time during the war, an opportunity of seeing a fight in which we did not take part. The view, at a distance, looks worse than the reality seems while you are actually in it. About 2 o’clock p. m. we were ordered back to camp. Before reaching it, however, we perceived by the firing that there was a fight going on at that point, and on arriving at our camp found the enemy in possession of our picket line. They had charged it in the morning and captured it from our sick and disabled. McComb’s Alabama Brigade was then thrown into our lines and, charging, retook the picket line and placed a heavy force there. In the afternoon the enemy, charging with a heavier force, retook it from them just before we arrived. General Cooke calling out our sharpshooters—-100 men—ordered them to move quietly down the bank of the creek, until they reached the picket line and then to flank it and charge down it. As they raised the yell for the charge, the reserve, or Second Corps of sharpshooters, started from a gap in our works and soon the whole of the picket line of our brigade was again in our possession.2 Next morning, (26 March) our sharpshooters were relieved by a regular picket line. The enemy had in the meantime established their picket line, during the night, within fifty yards in front of the left of our line, while on our left they were on a line with us, the troops on our left having failed to recapture their picket line. The next night our line was thrown back a little on the left so as to prevent any flank or enfilade fire, and thus we remained until Thursday, 30 March, 1865, when several attacks were made upon our picket line, then commanded by Captain John A. Sloan, of Company B, Twenty-seventh North Carolina, but we still held our own. Next day [March 31, 1865], however, after frequent attacks by a large force, our pickets were compelled to yield and fall back to the main line.

The next morning, Saturday, 1 April [1865], about two hours before day, Companies G and H, Twenty-seventh North Carolina, with a detachment from each of the other regiments of our brigade, and the Twenty-sixth Mississippi Battalion, were ordered forward to drive the enemy out of our picket line and to take possession of it and hold it. A double line of skirmishers, from another brigade, was in our front when we advanced. When near where our picket line had been we found nothing in our front but the enemy. It was pitch dark and seeing the men quietly around the fires, we supposed our skirmishers had captured them, when, all at once, when we were within twenty yards some one near one of the fires called out in regular Irish brogue, “Where do you belong?” “To the Forty-eighth!” was the reply. “Forty-eighth what?” “Forty-eighth North Carolina!” was the answer. Immediately the poor fellow was shot down. The rest of us at that place dropped behind some earthworks or pits which we found there, thinking it was our own men, who had captured the pits and were firing upon us by mistake. The other troops with us had turned to the right at a little branch, about 200 yards back, and only four companies were here present. Soon the fire from six or eight pits to the right and left of us was poured in upon us; and we saw that it was enemies instead of friends who were firing upon us; but in the dark they did but little damage. What became of the skirmishers in our front who were to take the line which we were to occupy we never knew. We found Yankees alone at any point where we struck the line. Finding we had no support, and knowing that four companies could not capture a picket line more than half a mile long, we withdrew quietly as soon as the firing slackened. Soon after we returned to our line Captain [Henry R.] McKinney of the Forty-sixth North Carolina, commanding our sharpshooters, who were only ordered to protect the right flank, reported, by courier, to General Cooke that he had captured four pits and wanted reinforcements. Immediately our detachments were ordered forward again, but before we had proceeded far, another courier announced that Captain McKinney had been compelled to give up the captured pits and we were not needed. All that day (1 April), we had a continuous picket and sharpshooter contest with the enemy, losing several men who seemed to think they could not be hit and exposed themselves unnecessarily. Just before day [on April 2, 1865] we were relieved by Davis’ Mississippi Brigade, and crossing the creek took position in Fort Euliss. Here the enemy were on three sides of us—our only protected side being that from which we had just moved—and as soon as day opened they began to fire upon us with both infantry and artillery. Our breastworks were prepared in such a way as, to some extent, to meet these flank fires; but they did not always suit, as some of our men were killed during that morning by shots which, striking a limb above them, glanced directly downward inflicting death wounds.

We could distinctly hear the shouts of the troops fighting between us and Petersburg, and our feelings would rise or fall in proportion as we would hear the Confederate “yell” or the Yankee “huzza” in the ascendency. After a while the “huzza” seemed to prevail, and soon a courier. Private W[illiam]. A. Hayes, Company G, Twenty-seventh North Carolina, came rushing into our fort. Very shortly afterwards we were ordered out of our works and in a few minutes were on the retreat from Petersburg.

After moving some four or five miles we threw out first one regiment and then another as skirmishers to retard the enemy, who were pressing us hard, and on arriving at Sutherland’s Tavern, a station on the Southside road, about ten miles from Petersburg, we formed line of battle and threw up breastworks of the rails and other stuff we could find near at hand, adding such dirt as we could dig up with our bayonets, tin cups, plates, etc. Soon the enemy charged us, but were repulsed with heavy loss, and, as they started back, our sharpshooters, rushing forward, captured many prisoners. These prisoners told us that the next charge would be made by the negro corps, supported by the Second, and that they would show no quarter. We told them that, having whipped the whites, we could whip the negroes.3

The fighting was heavy till about 4 o’clock p. m., when the enemy, largely outnumbering us, turned our left flank and we were compelled to retreat. Falling back about four or, five miles the Thirteenth [North Carolina], Twenty-second [North Carolina], Twenty-seventh [North Carolina] and Forty-ninth North Carolina Regiments were thrown out to keep the enemy in check, while the balance of our troops—Cooke’s, Scales’ and McRae’s North Carolina Brigades, and McGowan’s South Carolina Brigade, the troops on the right of the break in our lines, forming the corps—endeavored to cross the river so as to join the main army, from which we had been cut off by the break. Finding that we could not cross, these regiments were recalled and we pursued our way up the river until 2 o’clock that night, when we halted for rest.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: The portion of the narrative detailing the Appomattox Campaign has been removed since it does not deal explicitly with the Siege of Petersburg.]

Having received our paroles we started that evening for home, the men of the different companies forming into squads took the nearest route to their own sections, and the Twenty-seventh Regiment of North Carolina Troops passed out of existence.

We had served during the four years of our existence under Brigadier-Generals Robert Ransom, R. C. Gatlin, L. O’B. Branch, J. G. Walker, W. S. Walker and John R. Cooke; Major-Generals D. H. Hill, T. H. Holmes, Elzy, and H. Heth, and were at different times attached to the corps of “Stonewall” Jackson, Longstreet, Anderson and A. P. Hill, most of our services being in the corps of A. P. Hill.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: A lengthy list of those who surrendered at Appomattox Court House has been omitted.]

James A. Graham.

Washington, D. C,
9 April, 1901.4

 

Source/Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Since this narrative contains nothing about the fighting from September 30-October 2, 1864, this reference almost certainly applies to that fighting, almost certainly the September 30 fight Dr. Richard Sommers refers to as the First Battle of Squirrel Level Road. The date is a little off, whether due to a typo or the author “misremembering” exactly when the fight occurred.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: This is another of those small actions which occurred during the Siege, only this time I can identify it. In this case, Grant and Meade, figuring that the Confederates had to weaken their lines to mount an assault at Fort Stedman, had ordered their men to probe the Confederate works elsewhere.  One of those points was near the Watkins House, in the vicinity of the line Cooke’s NC Brigade had been holding before moving over to support the Fort Stedman assault.  As they came back, they became embroiled in this fight, one of numerous skirmishes which occurred all along the lines for most of March 25, 1865.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: There were no Black troops in USCT regiments at Sutherland’s Station.  This was a rumor.
  4. Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 447-463

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