Editor’s Note: Most students of the Civil War associate March 25, 1865 with the Battle of Fort Stedman, the final offensive action of the Army of Northern Virginia. What many do not know is that two other fights occurred along the Petersburg lines on March 25, 1865. I obliquely discussed the westernmost action near the Watkin’s House at Hatcher’s Run in a previous post. The last action, occurring near Fort Fisher on the “fishhook” of the Union line of fortifications southwest of Petersburg, is the subject of this book excerpt from Campaign of the Fourteenth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers by J. N. Terrill, a member of the regiment. Pages 114 and 115 cover the role of the 14th New Jersey and other Third Division, Sixth Corps regiments as they attempted to capture a portion of the Confederate skirmish line. These units were feeling for any weak spots where the Confederates may have weakened their lines to add to the Fort Stedman assault. I’d like to thank Gary Schoen for pointing me in the direction of this source. Often regimental histories, diaries, letters, and contemporary newspaper articles are the only place you’re going to find information on these little known actions and skirmishes.
Just four hours after the repulse of the rebel attack on the right of our line1 , the thunder of artillery and the crash of musketry again rolled loudly on the chilly March air. This time, however, everything was changed, the sound came from the left, not from the right ; we were now the attacking party, not the rebels, and the ground we won was not recovered by them. General Grant, angry at their boldness, determined to let them know that the Potomac army was yet as ready as ever, and the 6th corps, which never knew the word fail, was ordered to the assault for the purpose of preventing the rebels from massing their troops, and at the same time to ascertain if possible their strength ; advancing in three lines, the enemy’s entire skirmish line was captured. They had erected a number of rifle pits in front of their main line ; they were driven out of these works and compelled to fall back or else be captured ; several surrendered at once as they were anxious to enter our lines. The position from which the attack was made by the 6th corps, was at the left of our line and near Fort Fisher ; the thirty pound guns doing terrible execution. At two o’clock in the morning, Major-General Wright and staff reached Fort Fisher, where he was joined by Generals Wheaton, Seymour, Getty, Keifer and other 6th corps officers. The picket line was now held by the 10th Vermont and 14th New Jersey, supported by the 110th [Ohio] and 122d Ohio regiments. The order forward was given, and the first assault was made by the 10th and 14th, under command of Colonel George B. Davison [sic, Damon], of the 10th Vermont. The rebel position was charged with great gallantry and success, entering and occupying the line assaulted. The rebels
were now aware of the weakness of the attacking party, as the two regiments advanced, and they soon massed a column of troops to drive them back ; but the 3d division of the 6th corps was on hand and gave them such a volley that they fell back in confusion, and the entire line remained in our possession. The loss in the 14th regiment was comparatively small, as the fighting did not continue long. The artillery in the different forts by this time became warmly engaged with the rebel batteries, and a company of the 9th N[ew]. Y[ork]. Heavy Artillery, of the 3d division, sent a shell with such accuracy as to blow up a caisson in one of the rebel forts; shells were screaming through the air, and away to the left volleys of musketry told that the 2nd corps was now heavily engaged. Part of the 3d division was placed on the left of the line with the 2d corps. It was composed of the 10th Vermont, 14th New Jersey, 110th and 122d Ohio, 6th Maryland and part of the 9th N[ew]. York Heavy Artillery ; this composed nearly all the 2d brigade, with two regiments from the 1st brigade. The line was now formed for another assault, and when everything was in readiness the flag of the 1st brigade of Colonel Truex was waved as a signal to move forward. From the parapet of Fort Fisher the blue cross of the 3d division, 6th corps, waved, and from thousands of brave men about to risk life and limb came back a ringing cheer, and as onward they swept many a God-speed followed them. The batteries on both sides were hard at work, and not many minutes elapsed before the sharper ring of small arms was heard.
The line was fast closing on the rebel position, and their outer works were soon reached. Major Prentiss, from the 6th Maryland, was the first to enter their works. Scores of rebels preferred capture to running away, and as soon as they saw our troops inside of their lines, they threw down their arms and gave themselves up as prisoners of war. The loss on both sides was heavy ; the 14th, as usual, fought well, losing their share of men in killed and wounded. The result of this fight proved that the enthusiasm and energy of Lee’s troops had dwindled down to zero. They fought like hopeless, not desperate, men ; the spirit which animated them two years ago had been broken by repeated defeats, and tamed by short rations. The new position gained was, on Sunday morning, March 26, held by the entire 6th corps, ready to repel any attack the enemy would make.2
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This refers to the famous March 25, 1865 Battle of Fort Stedman, where elements of Gordon’s Confederate Second Corps launched a dawn assault in an attempt to break the Union lines near the Appomattox River. The hope was that Grant would retract his lines southwest of Petersburg to protect his supply base at City Point, perhaps giving Lee a head start in evacuating Richmond and Petersburg in an attempt to hook up with Joe Johnston’s Confederate army in North Carolina. ↩
- Terrill, J. N. Campaign of the Fourteenth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers. New Brunswick, MJ: Daily Home News Press, 1884 (2nd ed.), pages 114-115 ↩