CLARK NC: 24th 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.
[Benjamin] Butler retreated to Bermuda Hundred [in May 1864]. [P. G. T.] Beauregard followed. About the first of June , we had a heavy skirmish fight at Bermuda Hundred, and the fighting was kept up from day to day for several days. On one occasion Company E was sent to reinforce Company H on the skirmish line. Soon the whole regiment [the 24th North Carolina] was sent and drove the enemy back. Reaching a road, Colonel Harris gave the order to lie down, and just here happened a little incident that we will mention for the fun of the thing. When the order came to lie down, the writer crossed over the road and took a position behind a forked oak, and began firing at the Yankee colors about one hundred yards off. Soon we were joined by Tom Toler, who also began to fire soon after. Looking around we saw that the regiment was going. Calling to Tom to let’s go, he said, “No, we are going up.”
We shook hands and parted and on reaching the regiment, I told the boys Tom was gone up; that he was a prisoner, but in a few moments up came Tom, out of breath, puffing and blowing, and said the next time he offered himself to the Yanks, they would be sure to have him. The boys gave a loud yell at Tom’s expense.
18 [sic, must have been earlier than the 18th] June  below Richmond, near Bottom’s Bridge, doing picket duty on a creek. This was as bad picket duty as we ever did, the two lines being divided by the stream and not more than forty yards apart. All that was necessary for the exchange of shots was to show yourself or shake a bush.
21 [sic, 15 or 16] June , left Chaffin’s Bluff and went to Petersburg, fighting every day. On reaching the city, we were hastened forward to reinforce some militia that had withstood the Yankee forces around Petersburg up to this time, and had been driven to our last line of works. Soon after our arrival [on June 16, 1864], the enemy charged our regiment in heavy column. We let them come sufficiently near, when we mowed them down so fearfully that hundreds threw down their guns and surrendered.
At night [of June 16] the firing was kept up on both sides. Just before day [on June 17, 1864] the enemy [Potter’s Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac] broke Johnson’s (Tennessee) Brigade and came in our rear before we knew it. The result was that all of the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] that were asleep were captured, being over one hundred. It was now day and the remainder of the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] fell back to a new position, and were ordered to build new works and support Miller’s battery [aka Miller’s Wilmington NC Artillery]. We worked during the day [of June 17] with our hands and bayonets, and by night we had a strong work. At night Colonel Faison, in command of the brigade, ordered us to move to the left, and soon after to take back a portion of the works that Wise’s Virginia Brigade had been run out of. The Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] Regiment was led by Major [Thaddeus D.] Love. This was a desperate struggle, it being necessary to club the enemy out with the butts of our guns. It was soon over, however, and our loss was light, considering the situation. We remained here in this captured works until just before day [of June 18, 1864], the enemy’s dead and wounded in piles among us, when we were moved to the right. This brought day of the morning of the 23rd [sic, June 18th], and we were again ordered to build breastworks which was again done during the day with bayonets as our only tools. The enemy massed their columns all day in a deep ravine in our front.
About sunset [of June 18] they advanced several columns deep. Our lines were doubled also. On they came to within seventy-five yards before we gave them the first fire; still they came until the third round, when they weakened and fell back down the hill, still firing but to no effect, as the balls passed well over us. About 9 o’clock at night, we were relieved by General Longstreet’s corps, and sent out near the reservoir for rest, the first we had had for several days. On leaving the works, we came in range of the enemy’s bullets and suffered considerable loss. The siege of Petersburg now began by General Grant, and the line of breastworks built this day [June 18, 1864] by the Southern army was the line maintained and held by them during the remaining nine months of the war. During this nine months, there was scarcely a moment, and certainly not an hour, but the sound of arms could be heard on some portion of the lines. Time rolled on. Ransom’s Brigade occupying that portion of Lee’s line from the right bank of Appomattox river to and beyond the iron railroad bridge, east of the city. Skirmishing was now an every day occurrence.1
In many places the two lines were not one hundred yards apart.
On 30 July , Grant sprung the mine, afterwards known as the “Crater, or Blow-up at Petersburg.” The right of the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] Regiment rested within a few paces of the “Crater” at the time of this explosion, and was among the first troops to engage in repelling “Burnside’s Negro Soldiers” [the USCT regiments of the Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac] from this bloody chasm. We remained here among these dead negroes until they were buried, or partially so, for several days, the stench being unbearable under other circumstances. This portion of the lines was ever after known as Mortar Hill. Subsequently, the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] Regiment was moved to the left, and occupied the line from the iron bridge to the river as before stated. Here it was our daily occupation to watch the enemy through port holes made through sand bags and to dodge mortar shells. At night we did picket duty in the rifle pits between the two lines, in some places not more than forty yards from the Yankee pickets. Often we would meet and exchange tobacco and coffee, and have a social chat with each other.2
In October , the Regiment was recruited by conscripts from Camp Holmes [a North Carolina camp of instruction for soldiers], which swelled our ranks somewhat, and many of these men made good soldiers. Time moved on with its many changes, in men and other things. The Yankees often making desperate efforts to break our lines, but were as often repulsed, and sometimes with heavy loss. About 15 March, 1865, Ransom’s Brigade was relieved and sent about seven miles west of the city. Here we remained for a few days in some houses or huts that had been built by the army. About 24 March, at night, we were ordered to fall in ranks, not knowing what was going to happen next. We took up the line of march in the direction of Petersburg, which place we reached after midnight. We were ordered to the place we had left but a few days before, at the iron bridge. It now became apparent that something had to be done. About one hour to day [on March 25, 1865], the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] Regiment was ordered to mount the works and move as quietly as possible on the enemy’s works.
Moving on in the darkness we soon came in contact with the enemy’s cheveaux de freise [sic, frise] fastened together with wire. Through this we soon made an opening, and entered the works without firing a gun, the Yankees not expecting an assault. As we brought them out in their night clothes we would send them to the rear. A moment later firing commenced to our right, but the enemy was so completely taken by surprise that their effort was but a feeble one, and we had their line for a mile or more.3 For some unknown cause the advantage we had then gained was thrown away, and we were permitted to quietly remain where we were until Grant moved a portion of his army from Hatcher’s Run, some nine miles away.4
It was now 9 o’clock in the morning [still on March 25, 1865]; and when the Yankees came, they presented a sublime scene in their long lines of blue. We prepared to receive them as they came; but soon yelling commenced to the right of Ransom’s Brigade, and later they came in both front and rear and poured into us a heavy, enfilading fire, which was very destructive to our men. It was here that Lieutenant-Colonel [John L.] Harris was severely wounded, and Major Love took command of the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] Regiment. We were now powerless to help ourselves, as the Yankees were closing in upon us from every quarter, and the order was given to fall back by companies, beginning on the left of the regiment; but before the right companies received the order the enemy had cut off all chances of retreat. The writer was present with Major Love at the head of the regiment when the Yankees came, and saw him wrest from the hands of a Yankee color-bearer his colors, but of course he was not allowed to keep them, for we were now prisoners, or at least one-half of the men belonging to the two right companies were. We have never known the number killed and wounded in the Twenty-fourth [North Carolina] in this engagement, but it was very heavy in both men and officers, as there was but a handful of men left under the command of Captain ——- to surrender at Five Forks [on April 1, 1865], a week later. We believe, however, that the Twenty-fourth Regiment was represented at Appomattox in the final surrender by our beloved commander, but by no organized command. Those of us taken prisoners were sent to Point Lookout, Md., and to Johnson’s Island, N. Y., where we remained until June, 1865.5
Thus closed the services to the “Lost Cause” of one of the best regiments that the Old North State furnished during the late war.
OVERSHOT, N. C.,
9 April, 1901.6
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The author of this piece was slightly off on dates for the Second Battle of Petersburg, June 15-18, 1864, shifting everything a few days later than they really occurred. I had a breakthrough when he mentioned the 24th North Carolina’s initial defense of the lines near Petersburg, which occurred on June 16, 1864, and especially the mention of the disaster which befell Johnson’s Tennessee Brigade on June 17, 1864. Once those two items were locked into place, I was able to come up with the rest of the dates fairly easily. Other clues, like Longstreet’s Corps coming up on the 18th, make me positive the dates I’ve listed in the preceding paragraphs are correct. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This paragraph of course describes the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Rose here describes the March 25, 1865 Battle of Fort Stedman. ↩
- Grant’s movement in late March 1865 was the Ninth (and final) Offensive against Petersburg and Richmond. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The author’s wording is really confusing in this paragraph. It took me at least three tries reading it to understand what happened. The previous paragraph mentions Grant’s Ninth Offensive at the end, so my mind skipped forward to Five Forks. But Rose went back again to talk about the March 25, 1865 Battle of Fort Stedman for most of this last paragraph, and couldn’t describe the April 1, 1865 Battle of Five Forks in any detail because he had been captured at Fort Stedman on March 25. ↩
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 286-290 ↩