Petersburg Medals of Honor: The Story of a Youthful Hero



in Deeds of Valor, Volume 1




Corporal, Co. I, 188th Pa. Infantry.
Born at Reading, Pa., July 27, 1846.

“The narrator of the following story, Corporal William L. Graul, of Company I, One hundred and eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, was a mere boy of eighteen when he earned his medal for an act of distinguished bravery and dash at the storming of Fort Harrison, Va., September 29, 1864. He writes:

“On the night of the 28th of September we were ordered to cross the James River on a muffled pontoon bridge at Akren’s [sic, Aiken’s] Landing. Just at the break of the next day we commenced a cautious advance upon the enemy, whose pickets were soon encountered and driven back, and pushing on at quick time through a wood with tangled undergrowth we at last emerged upon open ground in front of the rebel works, which were only a few yards away. Fort Harrison, strongly built and bristling with cannon, was in our immediate front, and we were ordered to charge. A long stretch of open ground was passed at a run, and though the enemy brought all their guns and small arms to bear they failed to get a good range on our advancing troops, firing for the most part too high.

“At a point within fifty yards of the fort was a slight ravine, stretching along in its front, and affording some protection. Here the line was re-formed and the men took breath. We were now under a desperate fire and an advance was sure to entail heavy slaughter, but pausing only for a moment the word was again given to charge, and without flinching the line sprang forward. A terrible volley swept our ranks and many a brave man fell. For an instant we seemed to waver, but only for an instant, and recovering we dashed on and up the hill.

“I was on the color-guard, and when about half way up the color-bearer, William Sipes, was killed and the regimental flag fell on me. I at once threw my gun away and seizing the colors ran up the hill, jumped into the ditch of the foe, then climbed up on the flag-staff and placed the colors of the One hundred and eighty-eighth Pennsylvania alongside of the rebel flag.

“I saw that the enemy were weakening, and cheered our men on. We captured Fort Harrison and then advanced on Fort Gilmore [sic, Gilmer] under the fire of the rebel gunboats. We were compelled to fall back in the evening, however, and in our retreat, the color-bearer of the Fourth New Hampshire being hit, I brought their colors back with me.”


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. 435-436


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