Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte and graciously provided by NPS Historian John Hennessy.
For the Journal.
THIRD VERMONT LIGHT BATTERY.
CAMP NEAR CITY POINT, Apr. 4, 1865.
Dear Journal:—At 4 o’clock Sunday morning [April 2, 1865] the entire 6th corps, estimated at about fifteen thousand strong, made an assault upon the enemy’s works in their immediate front. The corps was drawn up with the Vermont brigade in lead, the 5th [Vermont] and 6th Vermont being in the front column, and connected at a certain angle. It having been planned that after reaching a given point the corps should attack two forts simultaneously, one-half of it following the 5th [Vermont] regiment, and the other half the 6th [Vermont] regiment, the corps was massed some hours before the appointed time, and the signal gun was fired by our battery [3rd Vermont Battery] for the columns to move. It moved slowly, without noise, and with loaded but uncapped guns across the intervening ground, and on reaching the point, divided, and with a yell captured the forts with but very slight resistance. Without losing time, nor allowing the enemy to recover from the surprise—one portion pushed on towards Petersburg and the other toward Hatcher’s Run. At noon the firing had somewhat died away, and [Sixth Corps commander] Gen. [Horatio G.] Wright reported 16 pieces of artillery and 2,600 prisoners, captured. (I learned from prisoners captured that the celebrated batteries, “Norfolk Lieut. [sic, Light] Arty. Blues;” “Washington Art’y, of New Orleans,” and Percell’s [sic, Purcell’s] Battery of Richmond,” were among those captured.)1 The 1st division made a charge which was stubbornly contested. It was said that men were picked to hold the fort at all hazards and after about an hour and a half of bloody fighting our men entered the works. We lost many men, and only possessed ourselves of the work by placing the entire garrison hors du combat.2 So desperate were the me who held the position that after they were surrendered and no possibility of escaping, they declared there was no such word as surrender, and fell in their places.3 Our battery [3rd Vermont Battery] occupied the nearest position to the work and ploughed it up fearfully with solid shot. The bravery here shown by our battery and the accuracy of its fire brought a compliment from Genls. [John] Gibbons [sic, Gibbon] and [Truman] Seymour, and has given it a high reputation through this portion of the army. Although bullets whistled and shells were flying, the firing was as steady and as accurate as though at target practice. One piece was considerably damaged—the trail was splintered with a shell. The battery was engaged from 9 a. m. until dark and fired over a thousand rounds of shot and shell. All the officers and men engaged merit great praise, and I have the pleasure of announcing that we are as fortunate as ever—not one man injured in the command. Captain [Romeo H.] Start [of the 3rd Vermont Battery] was placed in charge of all the captured artillery of the corps and removed them to this place yesterday. They amount to twenty guns and caissons, some of which the rebs captured of us in different engagements, but most were of their own make. Today the Captain turned them into the ordnance depot at this place. He has been chosen for his gallantry to take command of four batteries of the 6th corps, which was not considered necessary to accompany the corps in their hasty pursuit of the rebels. They are now at City Point inside of the defences.
Yesterday morning [April 3, 1865] a portion of the 25th corps (colored) charged the works and found them empty. The city had been evacuated during the night. The 6th corps had laid pontoons across the Appomattox, and had crossed, as well as the 2d and 5th corps, and the cavalry under Sheridan, who are now in hot pursuit of Lee. I visited Petersburg yesterday. The President was at the residence of Mr. Wallace, and the curious inhabitants were eager to see the great man. The inhabitants were all left in the city, they not knowing Lee intended to evacuate, but mistrusted it from the fact of his firing the cotton, tobacco, the shops, and rolling stock of the railroad. (The road running to Richmond is several inches narrower than the Southside railroad, so it became necessary to destroy the stock to prevent it falling into our hands.) I was very much surprised to see that the larger share of the inhabitants were well dressed—the gents as well as the ladies. All whom I conversed with declared themselves loyal, and there is no doubt but what there are many loyal in the city. They are very short of eatables, and are not permitted to furnish only a limited amount of any food at a time—(ten pounds of flour at two dollars and a half per pound.) I learned from a confederate soldier that Gen. A. P. Hill was killed, and which is reliable.
Petersburg is a very pretty city, and is larger than Alexandria. There are many fine residences and blocks of stores. The gas works are totally destroyed, as well as a large portion of the buildings in the east part of the city, from our shells, which were thrown from the celebrated gun called the “Petersburg Express.” The citizens removed from that portion of the city, and it is now only occupied by negroes, who have bomb-proofs into which they crawl whenever the dreaded gun opens. Confederate money in not now taken—nothing but greenbacks will purchase anything. Previous to our taking the city, greenbacks sold for forty dollars confederate.
While in the city we learned that Richmond was also in our hands, and President Lincoln had started for that city. Squads of overtaken rebs were being brought in as prisoners at different times during the day. Citizens of Petersburg who were pressed into the rebel service improved the opportunity to remain behind when the army evacuated. No negro military organization had been started in the city, and there are none in Lee’s army, but there were nearly a regiment in Richmond recruiting at the time of the evacuation.
I left Petersburg last night [April 3, 1865], and the railroad from here [to] there was nearly completed. The road to-day runs into the city. The telegraph gives you the news and I will not attempt to say more. The latest reports however are that we have sent from City Point twenty thousand prisoners—more on the road (about three thousand just passed our camp.)
I have nothing about the loss in the V[ermon]t. brigade. Gen. L. A. Grant wounded. Capt. Morey of the 2d [Vermont] reported killed. Sergt. Dan. George, [Co.] F, 2d [Vermont], was wounded, and also Noyes and Hobart of Montpelier. Lt. Hawkins, 3d [Vermont], wounded. The 17th Vermont suffered very heavily as a matter of course—its usual fortune. I met Capt. Robinson, A. Wilder and A. Voodry in Petersburg—all uninjured except Capt. R. who was slightly injured by a piece of shell—nothing serious. I learn nothing from the 10th Vermont. J. B. L.
Extract from a private letter, dated City Point, April 4.
* * I am so tired that you need not expect much from me at this time, but we have had such glorious success since Sunday morning that I cannot contain myself, besides I wish to let you know we are all well, which, under the circumstances, is one of the wonders of the world. We have had to fight the “rebels” with their guns behind works of the most formidable kind, while ours were in the open field, hour after hour. But, I can tell you, it was done with a hearty good will by all. Man never stood better or fought harder than ours did. With such soldiers it is nothing but exciting pleasure to fight the dirty rascals who have given us so much trouble. Oh how I do wish you might have seen them “git up” and run after we once got them started! It took many a bloody charge to do it, but everything worked like a charm. I have not slept for some time, and cannot give you the details now but will soon. The army has gone on in pursuit. I do not know where we shall bring up, but think we shall remain here awhile. We were ordered to take the guns captured by the 6th corps (twenty-two in number) to City Point.
Some of us went over to Petersburg and found it to be a splendid place.4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This portion of the April 2 fighting on the Sixth Corps front is known as “The Breakthrough.” For more on this fighting see my battle summary page on The Third Battle of Petersburg as well as Wil Greene’s book The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign: Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This portion of the action on April 2, 1865 is known as the Battle of Fort Gregg. For much more on the battle see my battle summary page on The Third Battle of Petersburg and John J. Fox’s book The Confederate Alamo. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Being present at the defense of Fort Gregg as a Confederate veteran became a badge of honor for those who were there, so much so that intense wars of words played out in postwar newspapers and magazines. For a discussion of this phenomenon, see my post “Who Defended Fort Gregg: A Confederate Controversy.” Also see Confederate Defenders at Fort Gregg: April 2, 1865 by Bill Furr and John J. Fox’s book The Confederate Alamo for more coverage of this topic. Similar arguments played out in postwar Union veteran newspaper The National Tribune regarding claims as to which Federal regiment first planted its flag on Fort Gregg. This little fight was intensely important to the men who were there in the postwar years, but has been nearly forgotten today. To me, it is very similar to South Mountain, fought three days prior to Antietam. See Brian Jordan’s excellent book on that topic for more discussion of how seemingly important battles to veterans were mostly lost over the last 150 years. ↩
- “Third Vermont Light Battery.” Vermont Watchman and State Journal (Montpelier, VT). April 14, 1865, p. ? col. 4 ↩