CLARK NC: Charlotte NC Artillery 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.
On May 12th  both armies were facing each other on the entire line, and soon became engaged in one of the most deadly battles of the war, the loss on the Confederate side reaching into the thousands, the enemy’s loss being greater than ours. My battery [Charlotte NC Artillery aka Williams’ NC Battery aka 1st NC Artillery, Battery C] occupied a position near the “Horse-shoe” in the early part of the engagement, but changed front to the left when General Edward Johnson’s Division was repulsed, this change of position being to protect our rear. The battery lost several men in this engagement, and the writer was wounded, which incapacitated him for active service until October, 1864. The battery continued to take part in all the engagements of the Army of Northern Virginia until the campaign ended at Petersburg, Va., the army occupying a line of defense from Dutch Gap on the James to a point twenty miles south of Petersburg. The battery was in command of Lieutenant Abdon Alexander until the battle of Cold Harbor, where he was wounded in the head, splitting the minie-ball in two, but not killing him. He moved to Texarkana, Arkansas, after the war, and died there. Lieutenant T[homas]. L. Seigle then took command of the battery until relieved by the writer [Captain Arthur B. Williams], who took charge in October, 1864, in front of Dutch Gap, and remained with it until the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House, 9 April, 1865.
Of all the soldiering experienced by the writer, that of firing on Dutch Gap was the most disagreeable, we being continually under fire both day and night for months from land batteries and gun-boats in the river.1 The low bottom-lands of the James produced chills and fevers and besides mosquitoes by the million to annoy us both night and day. Our sick-list averaged fully 60 per cent. This style of soldiering continued until April 1, 1865, when we were ordered to proceed to Petersburg at once, as the enemy was advancing on our entire line. The battery went into position on the left of the Washington street road, about a mile and a half to the west of the city. We went into action, but could not hold our position long, falling back a few hundred yards and opening again, the enemy still continuing to advance. We succeeded in holding the enemy in check a short time, but were compelled to fall back to our inner line around Petersburg. General A. P. Hill was killed in front of my battery a few minutes before we retired to our last position. Our army remained in line of battle until about 9 o’clock at night on 2 April, and then retired in the direction of Lynchburg, Va.2
On the opposite side of the [Appomattox] river the writer got several sacks of corn meal, strapping the same on the limber-chests of the carriages. This proved to be a great blessing, as we failed to get rations at Amelia Court House, the point to which the supplies were to have been forwarded. We went into line of battle, but were not actively engaged. At this point we destroyed large quantities of army stores to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy. Our army continued to retire. At Farmville, Va., we had two engagements with the enemy, but did not sustain any great loss. Sheridan captured one of my guns, but did not hold it long. Lewis’ (North Carolina) Brigade came to our rescue and we soon had possession of the gun again. We continued to move in the direction of Lynchburg, reaching Appomattox Court House some time before daylight on the 9th of April, 1865. It did not take a Solomon to tell that our army was in bad shape, both as to its organization and the position it occupied. The enemy had us almost completely hemmed in on all sides, our only chance being to cut our way through the left and make for Lynchburg. This, I believe, could have been done if an advance had been ordered at once. My battery happened to be with the advance line under command of Major-General [Bryan] Grimes, of North Carolina. We occupied a position about a mile southwest of the Court House. This portion of the army was hotly engaged, not knowing the army had capitulated. We did not cease firing until our officers had ordered us to do so. I do not know that we could have held out much longer, as the enemy was placing several batteries of artillery in our immediate front, the effects of which would have been disastrous to us. The writer’s battery fired one of the last shots, if not the last, fired by the artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia.
After the surrender our commanders were ordered to furnish a full list of their commands as to the number of men and amount of army stores to be delivered to the officers designated to receive the same. All officers’ personal property and side-arms were to be retained by them. After this was done the men composing the Army of Northern Virginia took foot passage to their respective homes, if not so fortunate as to possess a captured horse. After this time the Confederate soldier was a thing of the past. How well he has acted the part of a citizen, our Southern history since 1865 will show. Our loss in killed and wounded during the war was about seventy-five.
A[rthur]. B. Williams.
Fayetteville, N. C, 9 April, 1900.3
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Dutch Gap was a small piece of land between bends of the James River on which Benjamin Butler tried to dig a canal, bypassing the formidable Confederate batteries upriver. From August 1864 to the January 1, 1865 blowing up of the bulkheads and on to the end of the Siege, Dutch Gap was a “hot spot,” with Confederates trying to disrupt Federal digging activity and Federal artillery responding to the Confederate fire. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain Williams is discussing the April 2, 1865 Third Battle of Petersburg, in which the Confederate lines were broken southwest of the city of Petersburg, with Confederate units holding on in the inner line long enough for an evacuation of the city that evening. ↩
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 1 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 548-550 ↩
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