Petersburg Medals of Honor: Under Special Protection of Providence



in Deeds of Valor, Volume 1




Private, Co. F, 133d Ohio Vol. Infantry.
Born in Circlevllle, O[H]., Jan. 5, 1841.

On the morning of June 16, 1864, while General Grant was crossing to the south side of the James River, and General Lee was endeavoring to reach Petersburg before Grant could occupy it in force, the First Division of the Tenth Corps, commanded by General Robert S. Foster, was pushed out to destroy as much as possible of the Richmond and Petersburg Railway, and delay the Confederate advance led by General Pickett’s Division, until Grant could complete his crossing, and again get his army together.2

The One hundred and thirty-third Ohio, which formed part of the division, was placed in support of a battery which fired over the men as they lay in a rifle pit lately occupied by the enemy, the division holding it against repeated assaults by Pickett’s forces until about 3 o’clock P. M. Heavy re-enforcements enabled the enemy to turn the position of the Union forces, who were forced to fall back across the open, level field about one-half mile to the edge of the woods, where they formed a new line of defense. The enemy followed in close pursuit, and their skirmishers occupied the abandoned works, while their main body began to form in their immediate rear for another assault upon the Union lines.

It was then reported that Companies B, K and G, of the Ohio regiment, had not returned with the main body, and were probably in imminent danger of capture by the advancing foe. As a matter of fact, however, the companies mentioned had retreated by a different route and were safely posted in another place in the new line.

Colonel Joshua B. Howell, of the Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania, commanding the brigade, directed Colonel G. S. Innis, of the One hundred and thirty-third Ohio, to procure a volunteer to go back in the direction of the abandoned position, make a search for the missing men, and order them in. He insisted that the messenger make haste, as another assault was imminent.

Private Joseph O. Gregg of Company F, offered to go. The subsequent events are narrated by Adjutant Alanson N. Bull, who issued the call for the volunteer:

“Gregg had been quite ill the night before. The surgeon had ordered him to remain in his quarters, but when he learned that we had been ordered out to a possible fight he disregarded the surgeon’s orders and took his place in the ranks.

“I hesitated about accepting his volunteer service, as he looked frail; but the exigency of the case required quick action and I directed him to discard everything which might impede his movements, and without delay go out in the direction of the abandoned breastworks a short distance and look for our missing men.

“Through a misunderstanding of my instructions Gregg walked directly across the field in full view of the Confederate lines, climbed upon the crest of the breast works, then partly occupied by the foe, and stood looking about him as coolly as if the battle lines of the enemy did not exist at all. He apparently paid no heed to the rapidly advancing foe, whose skirmishers were already in part of the works upon which he was standing. Our anxiety for the missing companies and the imminently perilous mission of Gregg caused Colonels Howell and Innis and myself to closely watch his movements through our field glasses.



“We saw him mount the breastworks, look about him for a moment, then run along the crest about 100 feet to the left and suddenly spring from the embankment over which a large number of men in gray could be seen leaping in an effort to head off his retreat, while many others were firing at close range at their active young foeman, who, dodging with zig-zag rushes to avoid the blows aimed at his head, quickly gained the lead and successfully made his escape to our lines, all the while under a concentrated fire, several balls having passed through his cap and clothing, but without injury to his person other than a few bruises.

“We considered it a truly remarkable exhibition of daring. Alone, surrounded by hundreds of [Confederate division commander George] Pickett’s best marksmen, surprised by finding himself in the midst of enemies instead of friends, and ordered to surrender, Gregg’s quick decision and prompt, bold action, together with his skill in keeping a portion of his pursuers between himself and their marksmen, alone enabled him to escape with life and limb, when to us who were watching his struggle there did not seem to be a chance in his favor.

“We rode out to meet Gregg as he reached our line, and he reported to us that he had seen men behind the breastworks and imagined them to be the companies he had been sent after. He had also observed the rapidly approaching battle lines of the enemy, and, fearing they would reach the men first and capture them before he could warn them of their danger, had run along the crest of the embankment and ordered them to fall back to the woods, as we were retreating, only discovering his mistake when a voice called to him: ‘Surrender, you Yankee!’ He found himself surrounded and being fired at so closely that the powder almost burned his face as he leaped from the embankment, dodging others who were striking at him, and fighting himself clear of the crowd of pursuers, until he reached our lines. After hearing his report the colonel commanding said to him: ‘ That was bravely done; you must have been under special protection of Providence.’

“The enemy assaulted us a few minutes later, partly breaking our line, but were driven back after a sharp fight.”


Read about even more Medal of Honor winners at the Siege of Petersburg:


  1. Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor…, Volume 1 (The Perrien – Keydel  Company: 1901), pp. 361-363
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Often overlooked due to the Second Battle of Petersburg occurring to the south over the Appomattox River, the action on Butler’s Bermuda Hundred front on June 16, 1864 might have proven useful to the Union and disastrous to the Confederates had Butler had been more aggressive.  P. G. T. Beauregard had pulled his two divisions, Johnson’s and Hoke’s, from the Bermuda Hundred line, leaving the important Richmond and Petersburg Railroad nearly undefended, in order to fight off Grant’s army at Petersburg to the south.  Lee would need to use this railroad to reinforce Beauregard quickly, and more importantly, if the Federals held the railroad permanently, Lee more than likely would have lost Petersburg and Richmond shortly thereafter.


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