No. 189. Report of Captain Theodore Gregg, Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Infantry, of operations July 30.1
HDQRS. FORTY-FIFTH Regiment PENNSYLVANIA VET. VOLS.,
Before Petersburg, Va., August 9, 1864.
COLONEL: I have the honor to inform you that on the 30th day of July, 1864, at 3.30 a.m., while on picket duty in front of the rebel fort mined by Colonel Pleasants, Forty-eighth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, I received orders from you, through Captain E. T. Raymond, one of your aides-de-camp, to leave a strong line of skirmishers in front of the enemy’s works, under command of an efficient officer, and to march the remainder of the regiment back to the edge of the woods in rear of the works as soon as possible, as the mine was to be immediately sprung. The effective strength of the Forty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, under my command, was 210 men. I left 100 men on the skirmish line, under the command of Captain A. J. Fessler, of K Company, and marched the remainder (110 men and 11 officers) back to the woods above mentioned. Immediately after the explosion of the mine, destroying the rebel fort, I received orders from you, through Captain Peckham, to follow the Fourth Rhode Island Regiment to the scene of action. We marched by the left flank through the covered way. On arriving at the front line of works I gave the command to march double-
quick across the field to the rebel fort. In crossing the field we were exposed to a severe fire from the enemy’s works on our right and left. The whole space was literally swept with canister, grape, and musketry. On arriving at the ruins of the fort, I attempted to march the regiment by the right flank across them in order to charge a rebel battery stationed at some buildings in rear of the rebel works, but found it impossible to do so, as the crater formed by the explosion was some 200 feet in length, 50 feet in breadth, and from 30 to 35 feet in depth. The crest of the crater and ruined slopes and parapets were covered with the dead, dying, and wounded of the First and Second Divisions of the Ninth Army Corps. The crater and intrenchments in rear of the fort were crowded with soldiers of different regiments. I then received orders from Captain Peckham to march by the left flank and form a line of battle, under cover of the parapet in rear of the fort, in order to make a charge in rear of their line of works, so as to make a diversion in favor of our brigade, which was to charge forward at the moment they saw the colors of the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. At the same time I received orders from General Bartlett, who had command in the ruins of the fort, to charge a battery in our immediate front. I attempted to do so with my small command, composed of about eighty or ninety men and seven officers. As we advanced, the enemy opened with batteries stationed at several different points on the right and left flanks and in front, accompanied by a heavy fire of musketry from the rifle-pits, and as the other troops in the front did not advance to our support we were compelled to fall back into the intrenchments. Generals Bartlett and Griffin, and Captains Peckham, Raymond, Brown, myself, and other officers made every forward, but found it impossible to get them to do so. I then received orders from Captain Peckham to form my regiment and await further orders, as the negro troops were to charge the works on our right. We heard the cheering of the men as they dashed forward; in a few minutes the works were filled with negroes. A major of one of the negro regiments placed his colors on the crest of the crater, and the negro troops opened a heavy fire on the rebels, who were at that time charging on the ruined fort. In a few moments the rebel force, headed by several desperate officers, dashed into the pits among us, where a desperate hand-to-hand conflict ensued, both parties using their bayonets and clubbing their muskets. A large rebel officer, who appeared to be in command of the force, rushed upon me, and catching me by the throat, ordered me to surrender, at the same time bringing his revolver to my head. I succeeded in taking his revolver from him, and after a sharp struggle left him dead on the spot. A rebel soldier who had come to the rescue of his officer attempted to run me through with his bayonet, but was killed by Sergeant Bacon, of Company G. Captain Dibeler, of Company B, was attacked by two rebel officers. His sword was taken from him, but after a sharp contest he succeeded in recovering it and killing his antagonists. Captain Richards, of Company G, while gallantly rallying his men, was fired at by a rebel and was seen to fall.* He was a noble officer, and will long be remembered by all who knew him. Lieutenants Vanvalin, Gelbaugh, Seely, Campbell, Catlin, and Eyde behaved nobly during the contest. In the rear of the fort Lieutenants Campbell and Eyde were severely wounded. During this brief contest the negroes in the crater kept up a heavy fire
*Richards was taken prisoner.
of musketry on the advancing enemy, compelling them to the shelter. Many of our men being killed and wounded, and the enemy pressing us hard, we were compelled to fall back into the crater in order to save our little band, while the negroes kept up a heavy fire on the rebels outside the fort.
I found General Bartlett inside the crater, and told him that the enemy had gained the intrenchments on the right of the fort and was preparing to drive us out of the crater. He then ordered me to act as brigade officer of the day and try to rally every man for the defense of the crater. General Bartlett and one of his aides-de-camp, a very gallant and praiseworthy officer, did everything in their power to rally the troops on inside the crater, but found it to be impossible, as the men were completely worn out and famished for water. He succeeded in rallying some twenty-five or thirty negroes, who behaved nobly, keeping up a continual fire of musketry, thereby holding the rebels on the right of the fort at bay and keeping them from entering it. I requested General Bartlett to leave the fort and try and gain our first line of works. He said it would be impossible to do so, and that he would hold the fort until the last. He then ordered me to make every man as well as the officers do their duty, and to give him the name of every officers who refused to rally the men. We felt confident that another charge would be made by our troops upon the enemy on our right and out hopes were to hold the fort until the charge was made. Through the exertions of General Bartlett, myself, and other officers, we succeeded in forming most of the men around the crest of the crater and all were determined to defend the fort to the last. The crest of the fort was swept with canister and grape-shot from the batteries of the enemy. In the mean time the enemy opened a heavy bombardment with their mortar batteries. They had perfect range of the crater; therefore almost every shell exploded in the midst of the dense mass of men, killing and wounding many of our brave soldiers at every explosion.
It appeared in a short time impossible to hold the fort, as our men were overcome with the excessive heat, and the negroes almost destitute of ammunition. We succeeded at last in getting several hundred rounds from the dead and wounded in the fort. The traverses around the fort were filled with the enemy, who attempted to charge into the crater,but were driven off at the point of the bayonet. They succeeded in killing and wounding a great many of our soldiers through the crevices and breaches in the fort. Our brave, heroic soldiers would fill them up as much as possible by putting in blouses, knapsacks, haversacks, and everything that cold be got hold of.
The suffering for want of water was terrible. Many of the negroes volunteered to go for water with their canteens. A great part of them were shot in the head while attempting to get over the works; a few, more fortunate than orders, succeeded in running the gauntlet and returned with water to the great relief of their suffering comrades. I was ordered by General Bartlett to have a stand of colors placed on the fort to show our friends our position. At the hour of 1 p.m. the bottom, sides, and nearly all parts of the crater were strewn with dead, dying,and wounded soldiers, causing pools of blood to be formed at the bottom of the crater. Finding it impossible to get water without great loss of life, General Bartlett ordered a traverse to be cut through the works in order to let the men pass through without being seen by the enemy. After much exertion I succeeded in getting a few negroes to undertake the work, who were put under charge of Lieutenant Seely,
Forty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. About 2 p.m. the loss of life was terrible. There was death below as well as above ground in the crater. It seemed impossible to maintain life from the intense heat of the sun.
General Bartlett received a note from General Griffin to the effect that the crater and other rebel works in our possession were to be abandoned and that he had better get out of the crater and save himself. The color bearer Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, with the color guard, with the exception of Corporal Haynes, who was killed, succeeded in gaining our former position and joined the command under Captain Fessler, who was left in command of the skirmish line, detailed from my regiment, holding the line of works occupied by us before storming the enemy’s works. Many of the men were killed while falling back from the fort to our original position, others were wounded, and many who found it impossible to get back were captured by the enemy. I left the crater about the hour of 2 p.m. and joined the remainder of the regiment that was left on the skirmish line. General Bartlett, Captain Dibeler, and Lieutenant Seely, of the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, and several officers of negro regiments, were in the crater at the time I left. My intention was to procure water for the general and his suffering companions and return, but after running from the fort of our lines, under a terrible fire of musketry, I became completely exhausted and found it impossible to return. Captain Trout volunteered to take a party of men, and if possible take water to them, but before he could accomplish the good work, the entire command began falling back, and shortly after the crater was surrendered to the enemy.
I charged upon the enemy’s works with 110 men. Of that number 6 were killed, 22 wounded, and 39 missing. Among the missing are Captains Dibeler and Richards, and Lieutenants Vanvalin, Catlin, and Seely. I am pleased to say that all the officers and men that were with me in engagement are deserving great praise for their noble conduct and bearing. Much praise is also due Captain Fessler and Lieutenant Cheeseman for their efforts in endeavoring to rally the negroes and other troops while they were retreating back across the front line of works occupied by the skirmish line of the Forty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain Co. F, 45th Regiment Penn. Vet. Vols., Commanding Regiment
Colonel Z. R. BLISS,
Commanding First Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Army Corps.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 553-556 ↩