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CV: V21N10: Fort Harrison

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.


Fort Harrison.1

BY J[AMES]. D. PICKENS [3rd Arkansas].

I notice in your April edition an inquiry from a comrade asking if Field’s Division occupied Fort Harrison, a few miles below Richmond, in September, 1864, at the time it was suddenly and unexpectedly captured by the Federals. For his information I will state that no part of Field’s Division occupied the fort at that time. I was under the impression at the time that all of Field’s Division was north of the James River, but it appears that only a part of it was across.

On the night before the fight I was in command of all the pickets of Hood’s old Texas Brigade, composed of the 1st [Texas], 4th [Texas], and 5th Texas Regiments and the 3d Arkansas. I was fully convinced that the enemy was crossing with a heavy force to the north side. All night we could hear distinctly the rolling of artillery and wagons over the pontoon bridge. I notified General Gregg, our brigade commander, of the facts about midnight, sending one of my pickets with the information. Later on we could plainly hear the enemy forming in our front. About two or three o’clock in the morning I went in person to warn General Gregg of the danger of a sudden attack at daylight. He replied in effect that headquarters had been notified and that we would he prepared to meet the attack. Just before day I had the outer pickets withdrawn to reservation line, with instructions to hold the line as long as possible and then to fall back slowly. As anticipated, just at the break of day the enemy charged us with a solid line of battle. In fact, I think there were two or three lines, all negro troops. We had a brisk running fight until we reached the breastworks, where we found our brigade all in the works ready for the charge. I want to say in this connection that, in my opinion, no troops up to that time had fought us with more bravery than did those negroes.

That morning our brigade occupied the valley of Deep Bottom Creek, the left of the 3d Arkansas rested on the creek, which was the left regiment of the brigade. General Gary’s cavalry was to our left. I think Benning’s Georgia Brigade was to our right. The fight lasted only about one hour. I am sure there were several hundred dead negroes left on the field. The dead almost dammed up Deep Bottom Creek at one place. We certainly repulsed them with great slaughter. Soon after this we were withdrawn and double-quicked up the road toward Richmond; and when we got to Fort Gilmer, we learned that Fort Harrison had been captured. This fort is between Gilmer and the [James] river, and our brigade had taken position in works between Gilmer and Harrison. At that time there were no troops to the left or east of Fort Gilmer. The negro troops and some white assaulted Fort Gilmer and the works to the left of the fort.2 I have thought that the 3d Arkansas Regiment saved Fort Gilmer on that occasion. There was a race between the 3d Arkansas and the 9th Maine Regiment for possession of the works to the left of Fort Gilmer, and our regiment occupied the works in time to save the fort. We had a hand- to-hand fight with the 9th Maine, in which we captured their colors and drove them back with considerable loss. The negro troops assaulted Fort Gilmer, and in attempting to scale the walls a great many lost their lives. The Federals continued to hold Fort Harrison to the end of the war. We made an effort to recapture it, but failed with considerable loss.3

All this was a long time ago, and it may be my memory is not correct on all points. I have written the facts to the best of my memory.

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  1. Pickens, J. D. “Fort Harrison.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 21, Number 10, p. 484
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: The four Black regiments which assaulted Fort Gilmer were the 5th USCT first along with three White brigades, followed later by the 7th USCT, 8th USCT, and 9th USCT of William Birney’s Colored Brigade.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: This effort to recapture Fort Harrison took place on September 30, 1864, but the failure of Field’s and Hoke’s divisions to cooperate led to the unsuccessful result.
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