CLARK NC: 8th North Carolina at the Siege of Petersburg
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt comes from Walter Clark’s five volume Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, published in 1901. The reference work provides mini regimental histories written mostly by men representing each unit, with gaps filled in by editor Clark. These histories often provide a surprising amount of detail on the Siege of Petersburg.
After the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Murchison, Major R[ufus]. A. Barrier was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel and commanded the regiment till the close of the war.
On the 14th Hoke’s Division was ordered to Petersburg. The regiment arrived at that point on the 16th, in the afternoon. There was no time to be lost. The enemy was advancing. The line of battle was formed in the works around that city and the approach of the enemy awaited. We were not long in waiting. Our pickets were driven in and our lines assaulted. Two attacks were made, both of which were repulsed.
This battle was fought over the same ground where the snowball fight took place in March between the Eighth and Fifty-first North Carolina Regiments the enemy occupying the place where the Eighth Regiment camped, the Eighth where the Fifty-first camped.
On the morning of the 17th the firing began early. All forenoon there was heavy skirmishing. About 5 P. M. it was evident that a heavy assault on our line was contemplated. The enemy was massing his troops in our front. Just before dark the assault was made. The enemy succeeded in breaking the line occupied by the brigade on our immediate right and rushed his forces into the breach thus made. The Eighth Regiment was ordered to assist in driving the enemy out and regaining the line. The work was done quickly and the line re-established. After several hours’ fighting the enemy retired, leaving our line unbroken.
On the following morning, the 18th, sometime before day we were ordered to fall back to a new and shorter line. The part of the new line occupied by the Eighth Regiment was in an open field. The enemy appeared in heavy force, advancing with three lines of battle in our front. It was in the forenoon, in the light of a brilliant June sun, that the lines advanced in a clear open field. If there had not been other and more serious things to consider, the military display might have been looked upon as a grand one. But we were not there to look at military displays. The business our men had in view was to spoil such displays. This they proceeded to do. A heavy fire was opened on the advancing lines. They made a rush for a hollow or ravine in our front, some three or four hundred yards distant, and there established their line. No assault was made on our part of the line on the 18th, but during the greater part of the day the regiment was exposed to a heavy artillery fire, but few casualties, however, happening from that cause. On the 16th and 17th, particularly the 17th, the regiment suffered quite severely in both killed and wounded. The regiment by this time did not number many more than a good sized company.
On the 19th the regiment was ordered to take position in the line of works next to the Appomattox River, thus forming the extreme left of the army on the south side of that river. Here we lived practically in the ground. We walked in ditches, ate in ditches, and slept in pits. The enemy’s main line in our front was about three hundred yards distant. The picket lines were much nearer, probably not more than sixty or seventy yards apart. No pickets could be kept out in daytime. Hardly a day passed that the enemy did not fire on us from the battery immediately in our front, or from mortar batteries to our right.
On the 30th of July the mine was sprung. One regiment of Clingman’s Brigade was ordered to the scene of the explosion. The others that remained had to fill the gap thus made in the line. The men of the Eighth Regiment stood one yard apart. This thin line was kept up until the regiment that had been drawn out returned.
On the 19th of August the regiment was drawn out of the trenches to take part in attacking a strong force of the enemy that had moved towards the Petersburg & Weldon Railroad. The line of battle was formed and the charge made. The Eighth Regiment had to advance through a dense thicket, as did the whole brigade, or rather the whole of Mahone’s Division, to which we were attached that day. The division became scattered in the charge and some of the men were captured; some captured and recaptured twice. It was a thorough mixture in the woods. Front and rear seemed to be on all sides. The bullets came from every direction. The victory, however, was on our side. About three thousand of the enemy were captured. Mahone’s Division was ordered to camp in order that the men might be got together. In a few days we were ordered to our old position on the south bank of the Appomattox. In this battle General Clingman was wounded. The Eighth Regiment lost several killed, wounded and captured. Among the wounded was Lieutenant [Henry C.] McAllister, of Company H.
We remained in the trenches on the south bank of the Appomattox till the 29th of September, when Hoke’s Division was ordered to Richmond. Arriving at that point, the division marched in the direction of Fort Harrison, on the road leading down the James Eiver. On the 30th the brigade was drawn up in line of battle for the purpose of assaulting Fort Harrison, which had been captured by the enemy on the 28th [sic, 29th]. Clingman’s and Colquitt’s Brigades were to make the assault directly on the fort, Clingman’s leading and Colquitt’s following. The enemy was well prepared to receive the assaulting lines. The line having been formed, the charge was ordered. It was a charge in open day, over open ground, about two hundred yards to the fort. The Eighth Regiment formed behind a low hill. When the order to advance was given the men moved forward with a rapid run. The order was not to fire until the fort was reached. As soon as the forward movement began, and the regiment had got to the top of the little hill, the enemy opened a terrific fire on the advancing line. Before it got to the fort the regiment was almost annihilated.
The regiment went into the assault on Fort Harrison with, about one hundred and seventy-five men and officers. That night there were only twenty-five, commanded by Lieutenant [John E.] Dugger, of Company F. The others were killed, wounded and captured. The color-bearer, J[acob]. R. Barnhardt, finding that he could not escape capture, tore the old flag that had seen so much service to pieces to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Of the color-guard, Robert W. Sawyer, Company K, was killed, and Joseph N. Spence, Company A, was wounded. John V. Fisher, Company H, was then appointed color-bearer, and carried the flag till the end of the war, Barnhardt having been captured and not getting back to the regiment.
The regiment went into camp for a few days. On the 6th of October orders were given to prepare rations and to get ready to march. Detailed men and others came in after the assault on Fort Harrison, and increased the number of the regiment, but it was still small. At night, soon after dark, we moved out of camp. The next morning, the 7th, we were on the Darby town road. Our forces made an attack on the enemy’s line. The Eighth Regiment was held in reserve. For several hours we were exposed to a heavy artillery fire. No casualties occurred that day. We returned in the evening and went into camp.
When the line was re-established after the fall of Fort Harrison the Eighth Regiment was assigned to duty on that part near the Darbytown road. We were put to work throwing up breastworks. On the 13th the enemy made a strong demonstration against our line, but did not assault it. On the 27th the enemy made another strong demonstration in our front, but did not assault the line. The skirmishing was heavy, but the regiment did not suffer severely. After the 27th of October the regiment continued in the line near the Darbytown road until the latter part of December, nothing important occurring, only an occasional light skirmish.
On the 22d of December we took the train at Richmond, Hoke’s Division having been ordered to Wilmington, N. C. The ride from Richmond to Danville was bitter cold. We were put in box-cars, where it was not possible to have fires. Some of the men suffered very much from the cold. Owing to the lack of transportation, we had to march from Danville to Greensboro. Thence the regiment proceeded by rail to Wilmington, arriving at that place on the 28th.
H. T. J. Ludwig.
Mt. Pleasant, N. C,
26 April, 1900.1
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 1 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 405-409 ↩