Editor’s Note: Base transcription is from the CD-ROM version of The Confederate Veteran at Eastern Digital. Minor corrections were made by Brett Schulte.
What Five Confederates Did at Petersburg.1
BY GEN. GEORGE REESE, PENSACOLA, FLA.
The following incident I have never seen in print. I relate it from memory after thirty-eight years. I cannot give dates, but it was just before the explosion of the Crater at Petersburg [sic, two months after the Crater]. I belonged to Company A (was a lieutenant), Forty-Fourth Alabama, Law’s Brigade, Hood’s old division, commanded by Field. This division had been kept on the move back and forth from Petersburg to the extreme left of Lee’s army, north of the James River, to meet Grant’s flank attacks. At this time it was intended, no doubt, to draw our troops from the neighborhood of the Crater and weaken Lee’s forces as much as possible. The division was marching parallel with, and about two hundred yards west of, the line of breastworks, which was only occupied by our pickets at long distances apart. The writer was in command of the brigade provost guard to bring up the stragglers, as the march was a hard one. All at once we heard a yell in front, and, looking, saw our boys running pellmell without any order for the breastworks, and on the other side saw an innumerable host of negro troops marching in regular double-quick step for the same works. It was a race for life with our boys, and they won. I immediately ordered the guard to join their commands. It was but a little while before we repulsed the negroes, with terrible slaughter. In one place I saw five dead, one on top of the other. In the meantime we heard shots from a fort about two hundred yards on our right, which continued for about fifteen minutes, and then saw a company of negro troops with their white officers march out and stack arms. The gap between our right and this fort was unoccupied. I hastened up to the fort, for my curiosity was excited, and, meeting one of the five Confederates who were in the fort, he led me to the top of the parapet, and I saw thirty-one dead negroes lying in the moat surrounding the fort, all sot in the head. As they attempted to scale the walls, climbing on each other’s shoulders, they were shot by these five Confederates and fell back dead. I was told that these negroes were drunk. They finally yelled out that they would surrender. There were over sixty surrendered to these five brave Texas and Georgia soldiers. The negroes were heard to say in their frantic efforts to get into the fort “Shove Corporal Dick up; he will make them Rebels surrender.” But alas! Corporal Dick met the same fate as the others who showed their heads over the top of the wall. I saw him, a large, bald-headed negro lying on his back with a bullet hole between the eyes. I do not remember the name of this fort, but think it was Fort Gilmer. If any of the five brave soldiers who were engaged in this fight are living, I should be glad to hear from them, and have them correct any mistakes I have made in this account. I write, as before stated, entirely from memory after these thirty-eight years.2
- Reese, George. “What Five Confederates Did at Petersburg.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 12, Number 6, p. 286 ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Author George Reese does seem to be talking about the Battle of Chaffin’s Bluff, where Forts Harrison and Gilmer were assaulted by Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James on September 29, 1864, but he is badly mistaken on the date. This fight took place two months after the Battle of the Crater, during the Fifth Offensive. ↩