By Companion H. Seymour Hall, Brevet Brigadier-General United States Volunteers.
October 3, 1894.
Editor’s Note: A significant portion of this essay prior to the Petersburg Campaign is not reproduced here at Beyond the Crater: The Petersburg Campaign Online. Only that portion specifically pertaining to the subject matter of this web site is included. For the entire article, please see Google Books.
Having on the 19th of April been assigned to the Fourth Division, Ninth Army Corps, commanded by General Edward Ferrero, the 7th day of May I reported to Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried, of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who was in command of the First Brigade, to which we were assigned by verbal orders, and took position on the right of the army at the forks of the road from Chancellorsville to U. S. and Ely’s fords. From this time till we crossed the James River the supply and ammunition trains were the especial care of our division, and we were too of the Army of the Potomac. At the Wilderness May 6th and 7th; Spottsylvania May 8th to 18th, on our right near Salem Church, repulsed an attempt on our trains the 12th; Chancellorsville the 13th; Silver’s farm the 14th; Salem Church and Fredericksburg road the 15th to 18th; Guinney’s Station May 22d; Milford the 23d; North Anna the 23d to 27th; at Wright’s Tavern on the 25th to 28th; then to Milford; Totopotomy the 29th; Dunkirk the 30th; near Hanover Court House the 31st; Cold Harbor June 1st to 12th. Other troops were ordered to report to me, giving me command of a brigade for detached service, and we went out to the front passing the birthplace of Edmund Ruffin, who fired the first gun on Fort Sumter and committed suicide when the rebellion was crushed, one mile beyond this old roomy plantation house I established my line, fortified it well, the house of Mrs. Peyte, being about half a mile outside, which position we held through the most desperate battles at Cold Harbor; then took up position at Old Church Tavern midway between White House and Mechanicsville, 13 miles from each; moved to White House June 12th; to Kent Court House the 13th; toward Williamsburg as far as Slatersville the 14th; and
to Windsor (or Window) Shades on the Chickahominy the 18th, where we crossed to make our final trial of the James River.
After midnight of the 17th, everything else having crossed the river, the bridges had all been taken up, my regiment was the last body of troops to cross from the north bank of the James, which we did on a New York steamer ferry-boat, and debarking on the other side, marched to near City Point, where we joined the Ninth Corps, of which we had been nominally a division, but were detached the entire time since May 8th, and received our orders direct from General Grant, who complimented us for the repulses that we had given the enemy, and after the Ninth Corps was made a part of the Army of the Potomac, we received our orders direct from General Meade till we joined the corps after crossing the James River.
During this time the army of which we were a part fought some of the most desperate and bloody battles of the war, and in the six weeks since the opening of the campaign 55,000 men had been lost by it in the casualties of battle; 6,000 men more than one half of the number present for duty equipped when the campaign was entered upon.
The loss of the enemy is only given in part, and as we were generally the attacking party, and they were behind strong fortifications, their loss was probably considerably less; but only 24,100 are reported.
Failing to capture Petersburg by rapidity of movement, its siege was undertaken, in which we participated, both as builders and defenders of our fortifications, till the 5th of July, when I went with our brigade commander, under the guidance of General J. F. Hartranft, the general officer of the trenches, to examine the ground in our front under which a mine was projected, that it would be familiar to me in the assault which was to be made when our mine had been extended under the enemy’s works and exploded as contemplated.
Soon after this, my regiment, then consisting of seven companies, was honored by being selected to lead the assaulting column, and I am able to substantiate that declaration, by quot-
ing from a letter from my brigade commander, in answer to my inquiry if there was a written order for me to lead with my regiment, and he also states why the Forty-third was given the dangerous post of honor. He says: “There was no order from corps headquarters as to any specific regiment taking the lead, and no written order as to which of the two brigades was to take the lead, but it was a verbal order from Burnside to General Ferrero, commanding the Fourth Division, that my brigade was to lead. I gave you the order to take the lead of the brigade, for while I do not wish to disparage either of the other colonels or their regiments, I knew that I could rely on you in any emergency. You had full control of all your men, the discipline in your regiment was high up, your officers and men had implicit confidence in you as their colonel.”
The work that was expected of me was fully explained, and to do as ordered, my command was to take position, just before the mine was to be fired, as near our front line as possible, in double column by division closed in mass, at the head of the division, and when the mine exploded, was to move quickly forward, pass through the breach in the enemy’s works made by the explosion, then turn to our right behind his works, take him in the flank and roll up his line with the bayonet, by taking half distance, right companies right into line wheel, left companies on the right into line; and from the time of my assignment to the day before the assault, I practiced these movements till they could have been executed as perfectly in the dark as in the light, and, the flank being cleared of the enemy by my bayonets, the entire army could advance through the interval to the crest two or three hundred yards beyond, when Petersburg, through which one of the railroads largely supplying Richmond ran, and that portion of General Lee’s army on our right, between us and the Appomattox River, would have been at our mercy. The evening of July 29th our division moved down to the left of the entrance to the covered way leading out to our most advanced line in front of the mined salient of the enemy, and, with my regiment in advance, formed double column closed in
mass in readiness to lead the assault. No hint of change of plans had reached me and General Ferrero does not state when he was informed of it, but he writes me that he had been absent in Washington, hence was not present at the conference between Generals Grant, Meade, Burnside, and the other three division commanders of the Ninth Corps when the change of plans was discussed and agreed upon, and probably did not know of the change, as he writes me that he returned barely in time to take command for the action after we were in place for assault as first planned. The commander of our other brigade says that he was not informed of any change till near midnight of July 29th, and as his line officers were apparently in quiet sleep, they were not aroused to be informed of what would do them no service. I did not know of any change till the morning of July 30th, when our brigade commander, accompanied by two or three of his staff, came to me and in person gave me this order: “Be ready to advance when I order you forward, with muskets loaded, but not capped, bayonets fixed, and when the order is given, move your regiment by the flank, through the covered way over our outer works, directly to and through the breach made by the mine, form line beyond, and strike for the cemetery.” I ordered the regiment to “load,” “fix bayonets,” and while waiting for the order to advance, Lieutenant A. A. Shedd, of our brigade commander’s staff, came to me and gave again the orders that his chief had already given me, and with an unusual care, knowing that the Forty-third was leading the division, called my attention to them by a second repetition of them before he left me. He states that he went with General Sigfried into the crater, and was sent out several times by him with orders to the brigade.
We entered the covered way, moved part way through it, when our progress was delayed for quite a time by white troops filling up the passage in front of me. About half past seven o’clock, General Sigfried ordered me to move past the troops of Humphrey’s brigade. He wrote later to the Philadelphia Press that he called up Colonel Hall, and, that I might know where
to go, pointed out the direction that I was to lead my regiment as the leading regiment of the division, to prevent the accident of getting led in the wrong direction. With considerable difficulty, I crowded my regiment along, passing by those troops of Humphrey’s brigade, to our outer line, where I saw General Ferrero, our division commander, with his staff, to whom he said, “Here comes the Forty-third; let’s give them three cheers,” took off his hat, waved it above his head, and led in the cheering. I call attention to this as this was his position while his division went out over our outer intrenchments, and he knows exactly which regiment was first to go forward, and saw every regiment of his division as each went over our works, saw here the number of prisoners sent in by the Forty-third, and it was at this point that the colors captured by that regiment were delivered to him, in spite of the effort made by one of the commanders of another regiment to take them from their cantor. No preparation had been made to facilitate our passing our line, and my men climbed out over the embankment, which was nearly as high as their heads, with difficulty, and the delay caused thereby elongated the column, and the effort to close up between our line and the crater impaired the momentum.
My adjutant, afterwards Captain James O’Brien, was with me at the right of the regiment, and at the double quick, under a most deadly cross-fire of artillery and musketry, I led the regiment up the slope directly to the plainly visible mass of earth and debris, thrown out of the crater by the explosion of the mine, some of which covered the abatis and facilitated the passage of my command as well as of almost the three divisions of white troops of the Ninth Corps that had preceded me, they accomplishing nothing, but crowding into the crater for shelter from the shot and shell of the enemy, who had now reoccupied their original line on both flanks of the crater, pouring their fire into it, making it a trap in which to hold our helpless men and destroy them at leisure. As soon as I reached and mounted the rim of the crater, I saw all this, realized that to pass through the crater as ordered would be impossible, the attempt to do so
would render my command as helpless as the others, and add to the horrors of their situation. To our right of the crater the enemy held their line fully manned, those of them nearest the crater, directing their fire on the troops within. The impenetrable abatis was behind a line of chevaux de frise fastened together with strong wires, rendering an assault on their front hopeless; but from my position on the crest of the crater’s rim I saw a narrow space at the foot of the outer slope of their intrenchments, beyond which their abatis was staked down, and determined to lead my regiment that way, carry that part of their line, and thereby open a gateway to the nearest and best route to the cemetery, which was the desired point of vantage.
Ordering my adjutant to remain at the crater, to close up the companies and direct them after me, I led the head of the regiment to our right, still at a double quick, along the foot of the enemy’s intrenchments, so close that some of my officers and men were wounded by the bayonets, others burned by the powder flames of the foe, and when the left of my regiment had cleared the right of the crater sufficiently, commanded: “By The Left Flank, March.” As we faced the enemy, I gave the command: “Charge.” In that instant, with resistless valor, officers and men threw themselves over his works upon the enemy, using saber, pistol, and bayonet with the most terrible deadly effect. The men killed numbers of the enemy in spite of the efforts of their officers to restrain them, and we took prisoner in those intrenchments 200 South Carolina soldiers, and with them their colors, and retook from them a stand of National colors that they had that morning captured from a regiment of white troops. These were the only colors or prisoners captured by any regiment of our division that day, as no others are reported by our brigade commander, nor by the commander of the other brigade of our division. After a short time taken to send these to the rear, as was acknowledged by our division commander, I planted my colors and re-formed my regiment inside the captured intrenchments, facing the ridge and cemetery, intending to lead to, carry, and hold that objective position,
though my command had just lost nearly one-half its number in killed and wounded. The fire directed upon us at this moment, and to which we were entirely exposed, was terrible, and as I stood upon the crest of the parapet, to examine and select the route over which to charge to the bridge in front with my command, a musket-ball from the enemy went through the bone of my right arm, near my shoulder, and, turning over the command of the regiment to the reliable and gallant Captain Wilkinson, securing my saber, which had fallen from my hand, I was soon assisted from the field.
It is stated by both Generals Meade and Humphreys that the total number of prisoners captured by the Army of the Potomac that day was 246. The Forty-third Regiment of U. S. Colored Troops is entitled to be credited with the capture of Two Hundred of them, and with One stand of colors of the Two reported by General Meade, besides the recapture of one stand of National colors, all achieved as the result of my leading the regiment to the right and charging the enemy in his intrenchments contrary to the instructions my brigade commander, and in direct violation of orders given him, a fact of which I had no knowledge at the time.
The great loss of blood and my shattered and useless right arm made me suffer from pain and weakness, and a stalwart soldier, supporting me with his arm, held my handkerchief twisted around above the wound as we returned by the same route over which we had charged. Near the crater, between the enemy’s line and our own, I saw at this time the colonel whom Captain Wright and other officers charge with attempting to deprive the captain of the Rebel stand of colors, which he captured in his charge with his regiment, the Forty-third.
Here also I saw the other troops of Sigfried’s brigade, which was my first sight of any of them since my advance with the Forty-third to the assault, and I call particular attention to the fact that General Sigfried says in his official report that the balance of his brigade was halted at this place about an hour, and that it was impossible to advance them to the works
carried and held by the Forty-third Regiment of United States Colored Troops.
These regiments of the brigade to which we belonged lost their connection with mine by reason of Humphrey’s men closing in, after mine had forced their way to his front, so that I had no support or assistance whatever in the operations that have been described, and which constituted the chief successes of the day. After my charge had cleared the enemy from the right of the mine, a large number of the troops of the other divisions of the Ninth Corps came out of the crater and took position on my left, so that when the balance of our own division came up, they could not get forward to the advanced position which we had carried and now occupied. Having a long-ago written account of the facts, when they were fresh in mind, it is a satisfaction to find so perfect a confirmation as there is in the Official Records and in the reports of my officers, neither of which had been seen by me till recently, and a few of them are cited. General J. K. Sigfried, then colonel of the 48th Pennsylvania Volunteers, commanding our brigade, on the 31st of July, 1864, next day after the battle, when everything was fresh in his mind, made his official report, from which I have cited. It says also that his brigade, moving down the covered way, was stopped by the halting of Humphrey’s brigade some time; he moved his troops by Humphrey’s at a flank as directed. The colonel who attempted to wrest from Captain Wright the Rebel colors that Wright had captured from the enemy writes me that he followed Humphrey’s brigade.
My regiment, being in the lead of our brigade, did “move by that brigade at a flank,” on over our outer works, to the crater; then, as I have related, and as General Sigfried says: “The 43d Regiment of U. S. Colored Troops moved over the crest of the crater toward the right, charged the enemy’s intrenchments and took them, capturing a number of prisoners, a Rebel stand of colors, and recapturing a stand of National colors. This line was part of the continuous line connecting with the crater. The balance of my brigade was prevented from ad-
vancing into this line by the number of troops of the First, Second, and Third Divisions in front of them.” As I have stated, these troops of those three divisions came out of the crater, and formed on the left and rear of my regiment, after our charge had routed the enemy, before the other colored regiments of our division had reached the crater. Continuing his report, Sigfried further says the balance of his brigade was halted by the Rebel line of intrenchments, which was filled with the troops of the First, Second, and Third Divisions; behind this line it formed in good order. Here it was very much exposed for at least an hour, and, owing to the crowded lines of troops of the stated divisions immediately in front, it was impossible to get my brigade on (to where the Forty-third was advanced). Just as the troops in front were about to make a charge, a white color-bearer, with his colors, crossed the Works in retreat.
My brigade held its position until pushed back by the mass of troops, black and white, who rushed back upon it, and until the enemy occupied the works to its left and front, when it fell back to the line where it originally started from. In this same report General Sigfried further says: “Lieutenant-Colonel H. Seymour Hall, commanding the 43d Regiment of U. S. Colored Troops, lost his right arm bravely leading his regiment. His adjutant, First Lieutenant James O’Brien, deserves honorable mention, having displayed the most heroic courage and daring, standing on the summit of the crater cheering the men on amidst a terrific fire of shot and shell. He received a severe wound through the breast. Captain A. D. Wright, of the Forty-third, in charging the Rebel line with his men, personally captured a stand of Rebel colors and five prisoners, bringing all safely to the rear, although receiving a wound through the right arm. I regret that it was not possible for me to see every officer and man well enough to describe the gallant conduct of each, for they were heroes every one, and those who passed unnoticed through that fiery trial won imperishable fame could their deeds be known.” I have made efforts to perfect the record of
their achievements, and will supply what is possible, which is very little, in a brief summary of the evidence that I have been able to obtain. Adjutant O’Brien was carrying out my orders to close up and direct the regiment to follow me when he so conspicuously displayed his gallantry spoken of by the brigade commander. He mounted an elevated mass of debris, and with voice and sword sent them after to charge with us in front, while himself was a shining mark for the bullets of the enemy. He later received a shot through the left breast, that went entirely through his body, a frightful wound, from which he never fully recovered, and which doubtless hastened his death some fifteen years since in San Francisco. Before he came to my regiment he had served in the 61st New York Volunteers, when General N. A. Miles, U. S. Army, was its colonel. While he was still in the hospital, he was at my request promoted to captain, and ordered by the War Department to report to me at Camp Casey, Washington, D. C, for duty as adjutant of that post; he rejoined the regiment with me in March, 1865, in front of Richmond, entered that city with the command on the 3d of April, and served with it in Texas till its muster out of service.
In giving brief mention of the gallant company officers, I shall follow the order of companies from right to left. Following my adjutant and myself, came my senior captain, Jesse Wilkinson, a most brave and reliable officer, who says: “We went over our works by the flank to the crater. Colonel Hall called my attention to a stand of Rebel colors on the Rebel works about fifty yards to our right, and ordered me to move in that direction. We passed down along the Rebel works, within reach of their bayonets, their shots carrying off one boot heel, my sword scabbard, and some of my hair, some going through my hat. In getting over their works with my company I received a slight bayonet wound in the neck and left arm. Six or eight men in one group surrendered to me, and another squad, one with a white towel on his bayonet, gave themselves up, and I at once sent them all to the rear. Captain Wright went over the works in rear of my company, and got one of the flags. I then
went to the angle of the works, opposite the woods, to try to cut off a cross-fire, and cleared the angle. Lieutenant Hayman was killed, and Lieutenant James Scully was wounded in the leg and lamed for life; a squad of Rebel prisoners carried him to our lines. While in the Rebel works, I was informed that our colonel had been shot, and was notified to form the regiment for a charge on the Cemetery Ridge, with General Thomas’ brigade, which would form on my left, and to guide on his colors. We had advanced but a few steps in a rather broken line, when the Rebels poured over the hill from a ravine in our front, in solid column, firing with deliberate aim; advancing to within a few feet of us, they started on a double quick, with a yell, in such numbers as to drive us back to the trenches, where, standing on the works above us, they clubbed their muskets, and eventually drove us out of the works the Forty-third had captured, back to our own works. They being on higher ground, their constant fire kept us under cover, and they directed their fire on the helpless wounded between the lines who showed any signs of life. On the morning of August 2d, a truce was had, and with a detail of 300 men I participated in the burial of the dead.”
Lieutenant James Scully, who bravely led his company after Lieutenant James T. Hayman was killed and Captain Wilkinson had a higher command, relates that when we were at the extreme right of the brigade he heard the order to advance, and that we went with alacrity directly to the crater, where huddled the remnants of the forces that preceded us. “We at once changed direction to the right, along the foot of the enemy’s front line, which we charged headlong upon, capturing a number of prisoners. Lieutenant Hayman was killed. Lieutenant Scully had his sword broken in his hand, and some time after, while in the works, was shot through the right leg. While trying to get to the rear, I saw Colonel Hall, who had just been shot through the right arm, but could give him no assistance. I was taken to our lines by a party of Rebel prisoners.”
Company E followed A. Lieutenants George R. Williams
and Sherman P. Hand of that company, in most gallantly endeavoring to hold the right of our line against the flank attack, were overwhelmed and made prisoners by the enemy. After enduring indescribable horrors. Lieutenant Williams escaped from prison and rejoined his regiment after a long series of thrilling adventures and marvelous escapes. Unfortunately, his story was not obtained in his lifetime and cannot now be told here. He was a most gallant and accomplished officer, whose career of honorable service was terminated by his resignation after the surrender of General Lee.
Lieutenant Hand had a most horrible experience, the details of which are so historically valuable and so intensely interesting that they ought to be published to the world. In the limits of this paper the bare outline can scarcely be given.
In the report of Lieutenant Hand, he states: “I well remember the gallantry of Colonel Hall in the fatal charge he led at the ‘Mine explosion.’ Our direction in the charge he ordered was somewhat diagonal, and toward our right, along the Rebel breastworks, at the double quick, till he earnestly and distinctly gave us the order to charge by the left flank, at which we carried the line of Rebel intrenchments, which we held till I was captured, I should think about 11 or 12 o’clock. This position was about 200 or 250 yards to our right of the mine, and was the extreme right of our line of battle. The last I saw of our colonel, he was being assisted to the rear in consequence of wounds which incapacitated him from doing more.” “Nothing impeded our advance but the missiles from the enemy’s line until we reached the line of their intrenchments, where a large percentage of our men fell in less time than it takes to tell it. Finally the ‘Graybacks’ broke in upon us, finishing or capturing the few left. I was pinned to the earth by a bayonet wound through the arms and ribs. My assailant withdrew his steel and raised his arms to strike, when an officer by his side angrily cried out, ‘Unbuckle that belt and give up your sword, if you don’t want to die.’ I obeyed with alacrity, and was boosted over the parapet and made my way painfully to the Rebel rear,
where I found Lieutenant Williams and many other prisoners, both black and white. The officers were at once put under guard, and about 10 o’clock next morning were formed in double file, two officers between four ‘niggers,’ and marched through the principal streets of Petersburg, much after the style of a circus.” “The people gazed at us as curiosities, and we were greeted with insults and sneers all along the route, and greeted with cries of, ‘See the white and nigger equality soldiers!’ ‘How do you like it, Yanks ?’ ‘Yanks and niggers sleep in the same bed,’ etc., etc. We were paraded thus for two hours and more. The colored soldiers were confronted with the officers drawn up in line, to have them point out their officers for disgrace, but not a lisp or hint as to identity was given. Their mouths were sealed in honor and fidelity to their friends. After being starved for three days, we were huddled into rickety box-cars and started south; the only thing Williams and I had to eat in the meantime being a loaf of sour bread, half the usual size, for which we paid a greenback dollar, those who had no money not getting even that.” From Danville to Columbia, S. C, where his quarters, like all others, were in Richland jail, no distinction being made between the officers of colored and white troops. From this jail Lieutenant Williams made his escape. His friend and companion, Lieutenant Hand, being too weak from his wounds, lack of food, and medical treatment to accompany him, drained the bitter cup of his prison life to the end. As cold weather of December set in he was transferred to the Asylum yard, wounded, sick, starving, nearly naked, almost dying, with no shelter but the cold pitiless sky, no food but coarse corn meal, ground cob and all, this without salt or vessel to cook it in. That he survived the unspeakable horrors, privations, and sufferings of that winter is most wonderful. But he says there are some slight gleams of hope even in the darkest days, and that one of his comrades in this place of horrors, Lieutenant S. M. H. Byers, wrote both the words and music of “Sherman’s March to the Sea” at the time that both were enduring the miseries of the frightful place. He was hastily removed from Columbia to
Charlotte a few days before General Sherman’s army occupied the former city, was paroled in a few days, and finally rejoined his regiment at City Point, Va. The writer has urged him to publish his wonderfully interesting experience in full.
Next came Company C, my color company, Lieutenant W. F. Silverwood in command, Lieutenant Daniel J. Hogan also serving with that company. Lieutenant Silverwood was so severely wounded in defense of the colors, a most heroically gallant deed, that he was never able to return to duty with the regiment. His opinion differs somewhat, from that of all the other and more experienced officers of the command, and he thinks there were two or three other regiments in front of ours, and that they stopped at the crater, but he is positive that no other charged to the right except the Forty-third. He says, just as he reached the right of his company, Colonel Hall gave the command, “Right face, charge,” or “By the rear rank, charge.” “I forced my way through my men, and took a course to strike the line of works at the angle to our right by those trees. The firing was so heavy that I sat down in an out picket post. The colors and some men gathered around me, a dozen muskets were shoved over the breastworks by the enemy and fired. I gave the order to charge, and we were soon in the works, capturing 15 prisoners.” He proceeds, but cannot be quoted in full for lack of space, but says in part: “I planted the colors farthest to the right; the staff was shot off between my hands. Company A was the extreme right of our line. At last the enemy appeared to rise out of the ground; the first line was repulsed, the second halted, the third broke our line between me and the crater, were closing in on both my flanks. I ordered the colors to the rear, and kept the enemy in check with my smoking revolver. I was hit as I sprang over the works, my sword knocked from my hand, two ribs and part of a third cut off left side. I walked back to a small ravine and attempted to stop and organize my men, but when I began to speak the blood gushed from my mouth and nose, hemorrhage of the lungs being caused by the concussion.”
Lieutenant Daniel J. Hogan reports that at the battle of
the Mine he saw General Ferrero and staff at the front line. The lieutenant at that time was with C, the color company, and is positive that the Forty-third had the right of the division and led its advance, and that his company followed the right of the regiment, which Colonel Hall led so close to the enemy’s works that they could reach us with their muskets, and Captains Wilkinson and Brown were wounded by Rebel bayonets. We got the order to charge from the colonel, dashed upon the enemy’s works, and carried them, capturing prisoners and colors. The enemy resisted the gallant assault of our regiment with the most determined courage. Captain Wright captured a Rebel color, and Lieutenant Armstrong recaptured a National color. The enemy brought up fresh troops and finally we were compelled to retreat, which all did reluctantly, frequently turning to exchange shots with the enemy, whom I gave a few shots from my heavy Colt’s navy pistol.
Conspicuous among these were Captain Burr and Lieutenant Warson. Lieutenant Silverwood showed great coolness and bravery, had the regimental colors saved, and as he stepped up on our works was struck by a bullet in the ribs, and fell severely wounded. Other wounded officers were Colonel Hall, Captain Wright, and Lieutenants Steele and O’Brien. Lieutenants Williams and Hand were taken prisoners, and Lieutenant James T. Hayman killed.
It is my fortune to have reports from the two most gallant and efficient officers who that eventful day served with the company next on the, left of the colors. Company F was commanded by its brave captain, Horace F. Burr, and from his clear and concise report it is stated: “The officers were called together by the colonel, and advised of the work in hand, just before the Forty-third advanced to the assault. It was the leading regiment of the Fourth Divison, and we went forward at the double quick, by the right flank, Company A leading, Colonel Hall at the head of the regiment. We were under a hot fire as we left our lines, and our men began to fall as we moved direct to the crater, which was literally packed with
white troops who had preceded us. The Forty-third pushed on to our right, still by the right flank, along the enemy’s front works, under a hot fire, at close quarters, till the regiment was fairly clear of the crater and beyond, when Colonel Hall gave the order to march by the left flank and charge. He was at the center and in front of the regiment as he gave the command, and led in the execution. Adjutant O’Brien was near him, and as we faced to the left I saw the adjutant spring forward, then drop. Our regiment went over the works at the command, so quickly that a great number of the enemy were unable to escape, and we captured certainly not less than one hundred. One squad of about ten gave up their arms to me, and I saw groups of them scattered along the regiment and going to our rear. The colonel next re-formed the regiment in the intrenchments we had captured, some 250 yards or more to our right of the crater, and there were none of our troops in front or to the right of our regiment in those lines that day. I am very sure that the right of the Forty-third might have shaken hands with the Rebs in the works beyond, had the proper frame of mind existed on both sides. Word was soon passed along that the colonel was wounded and taken to the rear, his final order being for the regiment to keep steady. We were in those works an hour or more, exposed to a destructive fire of artillery from our right and a most spiteful and galling fusillade of musketry on our front and flanks. The line was first broken on the left of our position, and it was there the retreat commenced, our falling back, not being all at once, but successively as our flank was uncovered. I am positive that the Forty-third was the first to occupy the Rebel lines to our right of the crater, and equally sure that it was the last to leave them.” After reading it, he writes: “The colonel’s letter published in the Century Company’s war book, ‘Battles and Leaders of the Civil War’, is admirable, and my recollection is quite in accordance therewith.”
The well-deserved praise which Lieutenant M. L. Warson has received from his brother officers gives added value to the
brief extracts submitted from his report: “The Forty-third had the honor of being selected to lead the division, and Did lead it in the charge, for which we had been especially drilled, the object of this drill being well-known to every officer of the command, all of whom felt proud of the honor of our being chosen for the dangerous distinction. We took our place on the night of July 29th, massed near the entrance to the covered way, into which we moved next morning, to find our way obstructed by white troops, whom we finally pushed and crowded by, went to their front, where and when the line officers of the regiment first knew that a change of plan had put our division in the rear of the white troops of the Ninth Corps. My view of the explosion was unobstructed, and was preceded by one or two slight motions of the earth, something like a heavy swell at sea, a dull rumbling sound (not loud) like distant thunder, then the uplifting of earth like an island which seemed suspended in the air and held as by invisible hands, supported as it were by gigantic columns of smoke and flame; all this but for a moment, then, like the vomiting of a volcano, it burst into innumerable fragments and fell a confused inextricable mass of earth, muskets, cannon, men; an awful debris. Nearer we moved and awaited orders; my breakfast was brought by my servant (other officers state the same fact). After eating, the colonel called the officers to the right of the regiment, and quietly said: ‘Gentlemen, we have a little work to do this morning. I hope every man will do his duty. Good morning, gentlemen.’ Modest words, modest as the man who spake them, for a braver and more gallant officer never led soldiers into action than Colonel H. Seymour Hall. He lost his right arm in that charge.” “Over our works, up the slope, swept by the fire of the enemy to the crater, to its right the colonel led the regiment, along the front of the enemy’s works, so close that both officers and men were wounded by bayonet thrusts and their clothing burned by powder flashes from the guns of the enemy, faced us by the left flank, and charged; the regiment went over the intrenchments, capturing more prisoners than we numbered men. Was this achievement ever surpassed or even equalled? Later a con-
fused mass of troops were to our left, near the crater, white and black mingled; seven flags were in close proximity there. Some of the Forty-third remained till the final charge of the enemy, about 2 p. m, And Think It Was The Last To Leave The Enemy’s Works.” He concludes by saying that he was proud of the regiment, and felt that it had done its duty, capturing the only prisoners and only flags, and achieving the only semblance of success in that disastrous battle.
The fifth company from the right had only been with us a few days when we crossed from the north side of the James, and its captain, Albert D. Wright, has the proud distinction of having captured and brought off a stand of Rebel colors, which I am informed he delivered to General Ferrero, our division commander, in person. It is reported that he worked his way through a picket passage in the abatis, and went over the enemy’s works toward the right of the regiment, followed by about ten men, some of G and some of F Company, saw a Rebel color sticking above a rifle-pit in rear of the line we charged, jumped, up on the mound of earth, aimed his empty pistol down at the color guard, and demanded their surrender. He says that at the same time some of the men with him came in at the entrance from the breastworks, and the color guard of about six at once surrendered, praying for him to protect them from the “niggers,” and were sent to our lines. “We then went to our right to a curve in the Rebel works, and in throwing sandbags across to protect us from their fire I was wounded in the right arm, and started back, taking my captured flag with me, passing Captain Wilkinson, and as I kept on back along the works I saw the most of our officers who were not killed or wounded. At a point indicated near the crater, where General Sigfried says the balance of his brigade halted, I met Colonel ——- with his regiment, and as soon as he saw the flag in my hands, he asked me for it, and when I refused him, he went so far as to take hold of it and try to wrest it from me. A number of men from our regiment shouted at him to drop it, and I ordered him to do so; he did it, but very reluctantly. I then went
into the crater and back to our line, where General Ferrero received the flag from me. When I first reached the Rebel works they were fully manned, and the fire from them was the most terribly murderous ever encountered by me. Nearly every man who went over the works with me struck down one of the enemy with the bayonet, and thrust every man they could overtake.” It is a satisfaction to the writer of this paper to state that he collected additional evidence of the fact of the capture of this stand of colors by Captain Wright, as stated in the report of our brigade commander, and he recommended to the War Department that a medal of honor be awarded to Captain Wright, which was done.
Lieutenant Robert W. Armstrong was the only other officer with Captain Wright’s company that day, and he distinguished himself by the recapture of a stand of National colors, taken from some other of our troops, that morning. I did not see this, and as the lieutenant was killed a few days later, no report was ever had from him, nor have I been able to get any further information from eye-witnesses. He was a very bright and promising Christian young man, whom we all respected and were coming to love in so short a time as he was with us; but I do not know where was his home, or the name and address of any of his relatives.
To the left of G was Company D, led that day by its captain, Benjamin B. Blackman, who died after a few years of exceptional success in the practice of law. No report of his has been found by me, and I can say nothing of his experience, but his bravery is admitted by all who knew him, and his memory is deserving of honor. His lieutenant, Ezra S. Dean, the only other officer on the field with the company in that battle, has left a brief account. He has failed to give much of his experience, and his coolness and brave devotion to duty entitle him to much higher praise than his brief story shows. It does show that he was doing his duty when it says: “We started forward as the command was given, but the left of the company had to rush to close up; some of my men fell out between the lines. I
went after them, and brought them up to the company just as it turned by the left flank to take the intrenchments. After we carried the works and our colonel re-formed the regiment, our loss was so great that our line was very short; it did not appear to be more than a few yards from me to Colonel Hall when he was hit, A short time after he was taken from the field, an officer started up to give the command ‘Forward,’ which was the last effort, so far as I know, to move forward. Later the Rebel line came steadily forward at trail arms, came up on us, and as we fell back gave us a tremendously severe cross-fire.” This is all that I can find from a most gallant officer and estimable gentleman.
The extreme left of my regiment was Company B, whose able, efficient, and brave captain, John D. Brown, rose from a sick-bed and voluntarily took his place with his company, when utterly unfit for duty, and was compelled to take to his bed again as soon as the battle was over. He has left me no record of what he saw and what he did, greatly to my regret. Some papers written by his lieutenants have come into my possession, that will have to supply the deficiency.
Lieutenant James W. Steele was with the right of his company, and his statement shows that the enemy did hold his works down to the crater when the Forty-third charged to our right and took them. This accomplished officer, who was subsequently a captain of the U. S. Army and is a celebrated author, says: “I know something about the prisoners, for there was a half determination on the part of a good many of the black soldiers to kill them as fast as they came to them. They were thinking of Fort Pillow, and small blame to them. The first batch I saw had been driven together just in front of the line of earthworks we had taken and occupied. I climbed over and rushed out there to save them from the group of men of my own company, who in two minutes would have bayoneted the last poor devil of them. It was a queer place for an argument, but I was met by cries that they would kill us, and had killed us wherever they could find us, and we were going to change
the game. I put up the pieces with my hands, argued and cursed alternately, until the scared little crowd had been got over the earthworks and had scurried off to our rear. For one reason or another I crossed that enfiladed space between the lines four times; also I was spattered with the brains of a soldier who was running beside me. I have since been in some warm regions, but that 30th of July was the hottest day I ever felt in any land. The funniest thing was that old Remington revolver of mine. It would shoot the side off a tree at a hundred yards, and I had it with me. When I saw the game was up, I reluctantly and with a feeling of despair began to get ready to cross the enfilade for the last time. There was one man among the Rebels who were coming who seemed to have a personal feeling in the matter. He would stop to load, and while doing so would grin diabolically, and shake his head. I thought that he thought he was on a ‘nigger’ hunt, and it made me mad. So I climbed to the top of the earthworks, turned round, and deliberately fired four times at that particular soldier. Just at the close of this somewhat boyish proceeding I myself got a little slice taken out of the shoulder. I looked back just as I started to go, amid cries of, ‘Come in heah, Yank, or we gwine to kill yeh,’ to see if I could again discover my man amongst the ranks of the chargers. I do not, after all this time to think about it, know whether I am glad or sorry that he was not there. I remember the scene as the mine exploded, how it appeared after all that it had contained was about 120 feet in the air, and before they came down again I met Colonel Hall on his way out, his arm dangling, and spoke to him.”
In reply to my recent request that he would write up the story, he says: “As leisure permits I am at your service to tell my own story of that day in my own way. But I should like first to go again and see the place. I have always wished to. To many living men the Mine at Petersburg is the most vivid memory of their lives, and for them more than for the establishment of any military fact should the story be told. I was then a boy; I am now middle-aged. To me the story must be told with its
personalities to be of interest and value; I am like others.” The writer awaits with interest Captain Steele’s volume. It will be classic and enduring.
The positive statements of personal experience of the cool, clear-headed, clear-sighted, intrepid officer, First Lieutenant L. H. Parkhurst, fittingly close up the story on the left of the command. He states that Captain Brown was on the sick-list, but took command of his company when it was ordered forward, this placing Parkhurst, as he says, “with the rear of the regiment moving by the right flank. A few of our men took shelter in the crater, whom I drove out, and know that there were no colored troops in the crater, when our left had passed to the right of it, except some wounded of the Forty-third.” “As I reached the left of the regiment, it had faced by the left flank, and was charging over the Rebel works; I did the same. It was some time after this before other colored troops connected with our left, which was some considerable distance beyond the crater, where we remained a long time, when I saw the line of Rebels coming a few rods off, saw that I was nearly alone, and returned to our own line, which had opened fire on the enemy, miraculously escaping unhurt the terrific fire to which I was exposed from both lines. Captain Wilkinson commanded the regiment from the time Colonel Hall was wounded till the arrival of Major Horace Bumstead, two or three days after. I think there were only seven officers left for duty; Captain Wilkinson took one for adjutant, leaving five line officers to command seven companies. Captain Brown was still sick, and I had command of two companies. Before the battle, I was in charge of the detail that finished the covered way through which we advanced, and on the 3d of August, in command of a burial party, laid away our dead, in a wide and deep trench, between the lines, as the Rebs delivered them to me at the truce line. How many I cannot say. Quite a number were blown to pieces by bursting shells, and I could not tell where the fragments belonged; they were buried with the others. After three days the bodies were so black and bloated as to be be-
yond recognition, and colored could only be told from white by the hair. I buried them all side by side, regardless of color or rank, and leveled the ground as smooth as possible.”
The report of General Meade, as well as his testimony before the commission of which General Hancock was president, shows a strong feeling against the colored troops, but space prevents little more than reference to his report and other documents. He has no good word to say for them, although the evidence of the records proves conclusively that my seven companies of colored soldiers captured more than four-fifths of the 246 prisoners and one of the two stands of colors that he reports were taken by his entire army that day; he gives us no credit whatever, but blames the colored division for the failure, though his own orders kept us out of the fight till his other troops had given it up as a lost battle; he refused to allow us whom General Burnside selected, and whom after an inspection an officer of his own staff had pronounced best fitted to lead the assault as Burnside proposed and urged, and which General Grant subsequently stated on oath he believed we would have made a success, though he did hold with General Meade before the action. General Meade admits, while testifying before the investigating commission, with some show of reluctance: “From the reports transmitted I cannot perceive that the colored troops were more to blame than the others.”
General A. A. Humphreys, Meade’s chief of staff, in his “Campaign of ’64 and ’65,” says of our (Ferrero’s) division: “A part of them were led off to the right, and got off into the intrenchments there, where they had some fighting, capturing 200 prisoners and a color.” I repeat that no regiment of our said division is reported as having captured any prisoners or colors, or being in any position where such captures were possible on that day, except the Forty-third. No other regiment went to the right at that time when it charged and carried the enemy’s intrenchments and captured those prisoners and colors.
General Burnside, our corps commander, says: “A part of the column was deflected to the right, and charged and captured
a portion of the enemy’s line with a stand of colors and some prisoners. Of the enemy’s first counter-charge and its result, he states, “But not all of the colored troops retired; some held the pits, severely checking the enemy till they were nearly all killed,” and this corroborates those officers of the Forty-third who state that it was the last to leave the captured works. Captain Sanders, of General Meade’s staff was with General Burnside, and at 8:45 a. m. sent a dispatch to Meade, “One set of colors just sent in captured by the negroes.” As I have before stated, no official report shows any colors or prisoners captured by any colored regiment but the Forty-third that fixes the hour of our charge at about eight o’clock in the morning.
General Edward Ferrero, our division commander, was sworn thirty days after the battle, and testified that his leading brigade engaged the enemy a short distance in rear of the crater, where they captured some 200-odd prisoners and a stand of colors, and recaptured a stand of colors belonging to a white regiment of our corps. In a letter to me he says that it is correct in all particulars; that he went to our first line of works, and there remained to see his command go through. The Forty-third was the first over, then Colonel Humphreys’ brigade followed in on the left of Colonel Hall’s regiment, cutting off the rest of my division from its leading regiment, The Forty-Third, for some little time; it went on, charged and carried the Rebel works at the right of the Mine, before the balance of my division could get up to the assistance of the Forty-Third, and it alone, unaided and unsupported, captured a stand of Rebel colors, recaptured a stand of National colors, and took and sent to our lines 200 prisoners, belonging mostly to a South Carolina regiment, the only prisoners and colors captured by my division that day. General Ferrero is referred to in what General Burnside says about the originator of the first plan of assault, and General Ferrero states that General Grant said he believed that it would have given us success had it been carried out.
General Joshua K. Sigfried, then colonel of the 48th Pennsylania Volunteers, who did the mining, was our brigade comman
der, and I use him freely as heretofore, as undoubted authority, and to show how the conduct of the regiment was regarded by others at the time. He writes: “In the evening before, after we had marched down into the woods back of my bomb-proof, General Meade ordered a council of war, and objected to the colored troops making the charge, on account of want of experience, as he put it, but really, as I think, because he was opposed to the colored troops anywhere, and General Burnside finally agreed to leave it to General Grant, who sided with General Meade, and we were kept until the last. Had the original plan been adhered to, I am Perfectly satisfied Petersburg would have been in our possession before 10 o’clock that day. Generals Grant and Meade both admitted that to me afterwards. The Forty-third went farther and did better under the most destructive fire from the artillery and infantry of the enemy, after giving them some three hours’ time for concentration, than could be expected.”
A further recognition of the conspicuously gallant services of those officers and men of the Forty-third on this bloody field was the subsequent promotion by the President, by and with the advice and consent at the Senate, of its commander on that field, Lieutenant-Colonel II. Seymour Hall, to be brigadier-general of U. S. Volunteers by brevet, “for gallant and meritorious services in the assault on the enemy’s works at the Mine before Petersburg, Virginia,” as is stated in his commission. General Sigfried writes, after making his official report:
“No man ever led a regiment under such a severe fire through several divisions of other troops who had preceded them, and who had squatted in a place of shelter, as did General Hall the 43d U. S. C. T., that 30th day of July, 1864. When the order came for us to go in, I asked permission to charge on the line direct, without going through the crater, and I said, ‘I will take it now,’ and I am confident, had I been permitted to do so, with General Hall in the lead, we would have been successful. 1 can see him yet’ brought back to the crater, as he made the remark, T took the rifle-pit, but I am done; my arm is all shattered.’ Major Frank Holsinger, then a captain in
the 19th Regiment of U. S. C. T., states that his regiment was still inside our own works when General Hall was taken past them wounded; that he raised his left hand toward the enemy and said, ‘Go in, boys; there is plenty there for all of you.’ This further proves that the Forty-third must have been far in advance of the rest of the division, as it had already charged the works, captured the colors, and taken the prisoners, which, as Harper’s ‘History of the Rebellion’ says, ‘was the only semblance of success on that fatal day.’ A few weeks after the battle, before he could have forgotten, General Grant was testifying under oath, before the committee of Congress on the conduct of the war, and in answer to a question said: ‘General Burnside wanted to put his colored troops in the lead, and I believe if he had done so, we would have been successful.’
“The reports of the enemy are few and brief, and are silent about any surrender of works, colors, or prisoners to the negroes, but General B. R. Johnson, commanding the division that we assaulted, reports that Elliott’s brigade occupied the Mine and to our right and left, its loss being 698, 351 of whom are reported missing. All the infantry of this brigade were South Carolina regiments, commanded by Colonel McMaster, after General Elliott was wounded. The 200 prisoners taken by the Forty-third were doubtless some of the missing.”
Our accomplished and efficient assistant surgeon, Dr. A. B. Lowe, had no assistance till three days after this battle, when Surgeon A. Waterhouse joined for duty, as did the other three companies, under the scholarly gentleman and gallant soldier, Major Bumstead, then late graduate of Yale, now the Rev. Horace Bumstead, D.D., president of Atlanta University. The major served with honor in the field till the regiment was mustered out in the fall of 1865. He has been solicted by General Hall to write the balance of the record of service of the Forty-third, a task for which he is pre-eminently qualified.
Captain Joseph Forbes was sick, Lieutenant J. C. Hankey in charge of the ambulance train, Lieutenant M. W. Sawyer acting as regimental quartermaster, and many enlisted men were
on detached service. The 43d Regiment went into action with only 18 commissioned officers and 328 enlisted men. Of these, 1 officer and 40 men were killed, 10 officers and 94 men wounded, 2 officers wounded and captured, a total of 147, or 42 1/2 per cent. Our colors were cut in tatters, the lance shot off by musket balls, and the staff of our regimental color partly cut off by the fire of the enemy. Less than 200 of these brave officers and men retired at the last moment, safely bringing off the bullet-riddled remnants of their colors, before an overwhelming force of the enemy, led against our right by Generals B. R. Johnson and Ransom, and against the crater and our left by General William Mahone, leaders and men whose bravery had been tried on many fields, and in its contest with these worthy representatives of Southern valor it cannot be said that the 43d Regiment of United States Colored Troops disgraced the military service, but in truth it must be stated that it won imperishable renown.
The following letter was written by the writer of the foregoing paper before he had the Official Records or the reports of his officers. It was not intended as a criticism on General Thomas, whose warm friend the writer is, but to set right some things of which the general had no personal knowledge. His article as published in the book was changed from the ‘magazine paper in the matters referred to by me, and part of my letter inserted therewith in “Battles and Leaders,” as is referred to by Captain Burr. I quote it from my retained copy in full:
Petersburg Mine—Battle of July 30, 1864.
“Monthall Farm, Carroll County,’ Missouri, “Bogard Post Office, January 11, 1888. “To The Century Co., New York:
“In his article on the colored troops at Petersburg in the last September Century Magazine, General Henry Goddard Thomas states that, ‘The First Brigade (Fourth Division, 9th
Corps) worked its way through the crater and was halted behind the honeycomb of bomb-proofs.’ I can give no account of the movements of the rear regiments of the First Brigade, but as to the advance, this is erroneous. The 43d Regiment U. S. C. T., having the advance of the First Brigade, was leading the division, and besides having only seven companies present, was the newest regiment in the division. After an inspection of the division by an officer of General Burnside’s staff, the Forty-third was selected to lead the assault which was to follow the explosion of the mine, in the first plan of attack, and it still had the advance’ when the division finally went into action. In command of, and the only field officer present with the Forty-third Regiment at any time, in compliance with special orders, I drilled the command and carefully inspected the ground over which we were to advance, for this latter purpose accompanying General J. F. Hartranft in his rounds when he was general officer of the trenches.
“When the order to lead out from the covered way was given me, we marched by the flank, scrambled, climbed, or jumped, as best we could, over our outer works, ‘double quick’ swept up the slope, already the center of a tornado of shot and shell, through which leading my command directly to the crater, mounting the crest of the debris, I saw at once the utter hopelessness of passing the enemy’s lines through and over the mass of soldiers in the yawning gulf. Without an instant’s pause, the Forty-third followed my lead to our right around on the crest of the crater’s rim till near the enemy’s main line of intrenchments on our right, which was at that time fully manned by the Rebel forces, who were concentrating on us a deadly fire of musketry, and flaunting their colors defiantly almost in our very faces. Still at the ‘double quick,’ changing direction to the right, leading the command in front of and parallel to the intrenchments held by the enemy, as soon as sufficient distance was taken, I gave the command to march by the left flank, and as the line thus formed faced the enemy, gave the order to ‘Charge.’ Officers and men swept resistlessly on, over the enemy’s intrenchments, without an instant’s pause or waver, capturing nearly all the force in our immediate front, probably over 100 prisoners, the stand of Rebel colors mentioned, and recapturing a stand of National colors. All this occupied seemingly few minutes from the time we left the covered way, but we were exposed to the most terrific concentration of musketry and artillery fire it had ever been my lot to encounter, serving from Bull Run, July 21,
1861, to this 30th day of July, 1864, and our losses were fearful. We had opened a gateway, but the crest of the ridge beyond the crater, our objective point, was not yet gained. Gallantly the survivors closed up their ranks, and nerved themselves for the struggle as I re-formed them inside the captured intrenchments.
“Probably the halt mentioned by General Thomas was when the balance of the brigade was halted behind the line on the left of my regiment as is stated by General Sigfried. Just as I was about to give the order to my regiment to advance and charge Cemetery Ridge, my right arm fell useless at my side, pierced and shattered near my shoulder by a musket-ball. Recovering my saber, which had dropped from my hand, I retired from the field of battle to an ambulance, thence to the amputating-table. This ended my campaigning till my return to the Forty-third in the field in front of Richmond, March 25, 1865, in time to make the entry into Richmond on the morning of April 3d, with General Thomas’ brigade, then in the 25th Corps, and by his order I was provost-marshal of Manchester District.
“At the battle of the Mine before Petersburg, Va., the 43d Regiment United States Colored Troops had not more than 19 officers and 330 enlisted men in line; 1 officer and 28 men were killed, 10 officers and 94 men were wounded, 2 officers and 12 men were missing—total 147. The colors were tattered, and the color lance splintered and shivered into a dozen pieces by musket-balls. No report was made by me of the operations of the regiment, by reason of the loss of my right arm, my transfer to the North, and my subsequent detail by the War Department to command Camp Casey, and as chief mustering officer of the District of Columbia, till my amputation healed. This extract from the official report of Colonel Sigfried, our brigade commander, was sent me in October, 1864 (I have it yet), showing as originally, ‘A true copy. D. Bates, Colonel 30th U. S. C. T.’ It says: ‘The 43d U. S. C. T. moved over the crest of the crater and towards the right, charged the enemy’s intrechments and took them, capturing a number of prisoners and a stand of Rebel colors, and recapturing a stand of National colors. This line was part of the continuous line connecting with the crater. Lieutenant-Colonel H. Seymour Hall, 43 d Regiment, lost his right arm while bravely leading his command.’
“General Thomas was misinformed about my adjutant, O’Brien, being shot through the heart. He was shot through the left shoulder, promoted to captain, served with me at Camp Casey, entering Richmond, in Texas after the close of the war, though
suffering painfully at times from his wound. The limits of this letter forbid mention of names and incidents well worth a place in history. Let me only state here, that no officer of my command hesitated to lead his men to what seemed certain death, and heroes with skins of darker hue grandly proved their title to freedom, on the soil of the State that once ranked many of them as slaves.
“H. Seymour Hall.”
While speaking of General Thomas, I wish my readers to note particularly and investigate; he does not claim, either in his official report or paper, that his brigade, which was the only other brigade in our division of colored troops besides ours (Sigfried’s), captured any prisoners or colors, as he certainly would have done had it done so. Neither does General Sigfried report nor claim that any of the regiments of his brigade except the Forty-third took a single prisoner or color. Major-General Ferrero, our division commander, who was where he could know, confirms all that I claim for my regiment in these reports. After the reading of the foregoing paper, Colonel Brown, U. S. Army, said to me that he was on General’s Turner’s staff, and saw our charge, saw O’Brien as I describe him, and that General Turner and he were lost in admiration of his gallantry. Colonel William H. Powell, U. S. A., was on the staff of General Ledlie, First Division, and tells what he saw, thus: “But the leading brigade (of the colored troops) struck the enemy which I had previously reported as massed in front of the crater, and in a sharp little action the colored troops captured some two hundred prisoners and a stand of colors and recaptured a stand of colors belonging to a .white regiment of the Ninth Corps. In this almost hand-to-hand conflict the colored troops became somwhat disorganized, and some twenty minutes were consumed in re-forming; then they made the attempt to move forward again. Had any one in authority been present when the colored troops made their charge, and had they been supported, even at that late hour in the day there would have been a possibility of success.”
See also the full and very interesting account of the Reverend George L. Kilmer, then a soldier in the 14th New York Heavy Artillery; he had also served two years in the 27th New York Volunteers, General Slocum’s regiment, when I was also a member of that regiment, a fact of which he is not aware; all three papers in “Battles and Leaders.” Dr. Kilmer says: “The last rally was when the colored division moved out from our works in splendid order, which promised us success. Growlers were put to shame now, and most of them fell into line to go forward. Some few declared that they would never follow ‘niggers’ or be caught in their company, and started back to our own lines, but were promptly driven forward again. Then the colored troops broke and scattered and pandemonium began. The bravest lost heart, and the men who distrusted the negroes vented their feelings freely. Some colored men came into the crater, and there they found a worse fate than death in the charge.”
H. S. Hall.
- War Talks in Kansas. A Series of Papers Read Before the Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Volume 1, pages 219-249 ↩