CLARK NC: 25th 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.
On 16 June, 1864, the [25th North Carolina] regiment crossed to the South of the Appomattox for the defence of Petersburg and entered at once into the fight in front of Avery’s House, and checked the advance of the enemy who was driving back the Petersburg militia, the only protection to the city at that time. On the night of the 17th the regiment participated in the engagement at Avery’s Farm, and drove the enemy from their breastworks at the point where the Twenty-fifth made its attack.
From 16 June, 1864, until April, 1865, the regiment was constantly under fire, with the exception of about ten days in March, occupying the trenches in front of Petersburg. The position of the regiment on 30 June [sic, July], 1864, was on the right of Ransom’s brigade and to the left of Elliott’s South Carolina brigade. The explosion of Grant’s Mine (the “Crater”) was in the line occupied by the left regiment of the [Elliott’s] South Carolina brigade. Immediately after the explosion the Twenty-fifth regiment, then numbering about two hundred and fifty men moved from the trenches and formed a new line in the rear of the trenches occupied by the South Carolinians, which had been taken at the time of the explosion and which were then occupied by the enemy. The regiment, with a remnant of the Sixth [sic, Twenty-Sixth] South Carolina, was the only force between the enemy and the city, at that point. The enemy massed his troops in our trenches in front of us until he had sixteen regimental flags in our works. He made several attempts to move forward and force our line, but was successfully repulsed and held in check for several hours, until reinforcements arrived. The regiment led Mahone’s men [Weisiger’s VA Brigade] in the charge which retook the works. In retaking the works the fight was hand to hand, with guns, bayonets, and swords, in fact anything a man could fight with. One sixteen year old boy had his gun knocked out of his hands and picked up a cartridge box and fought with that. Major [William S.] Grady, who commanded the regiment, was mortally wounded and Captain Jas. M. Cathey, of Company F, killed.
On 21 August, 1864, the regiment participated in the battle of the Weldon Railroad [Battle of Globe Tavern], between Petersburg and Reams’ Station. The enemy had entrenched himself behind heavy earthworks and had felled the timber in front, crossing the laps of the trees and sharpening the limbs. In order to reach their works the timber had to be removed so as to make a passway for the men. During this time the enemy kept up a constant fire until our men reached the works. The color-bearer of the regiment was shot down and Sergeant J. B. Hawkins, of Company C, caught the colors, rushed forward and placed them on the works. The works were taken and the enemy driven back under cover of his heavy artillery. The loss of the regiment was heavy in killed and wounded. Lieutenant Garland S. Ferguson, of Company F, was wounded in the right shoulder, but did not quit the field.
On 25 March, 1865, a detail of ten men from each regiment of Ransom’s brigade, under Lieutenant Burch, was placed in charge of Lieutenant J[oseph]. B. Hawkins, of Company C, Twenty-fifth [North Carolina] regiment, who received his orders from General Robert Ransom in these words: “I order you to take Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman], not attack it.” Lieutenant Hawkins quietly executed this order and had the fort in possession without the firing of a gun.
The Twenty-fifth was moved forward to the left of Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman] and nearly in front of the position it had occupied in the ditches through the winter ; drove in the enemy’s pickets, took their first works and held them. The fort of the enemy in the field on the left was not taken, and the enemy from that point poured a fearful enfilading fire into the regiment. Several unsuccessful efforts were made from the front to dislodge the regiment. After the enemy retook Fort Steadman and was advancing in front and while the regiment was suffering the effects of an enfilading fire from the left, the Colonel [Henry M. Rutledge] walked along the line of his regiment with his cap on sword, shouting to his men, “Don’t let them take our front, Twenty-fifth, the Twenty-fifth has never had her front taken.” At this time orders were received from General Gordon to fall back to our line of works. The loss of the regiment was heavy. A number of commissioned officers were severely wounded, including Lieutenant Garland S. Ferguson, whose left thigh was broken; many non-commissioned officers and privates were killed and wounded.
After Steadman [sic, Stedman] the regiment moved to the right, marching and fighting; the principal battles in which it was engaged were at Amelia [sic, Dinwiddie] Court House [on March 31, 1865], and Five Forks [April 1, 1865]. I can do no better in giving the description of the battle of Five Forks than to do so in the language of the gallant and beloved Colonel [Henry M. Rutledge] of the regiment. He says: “At Five Forks I was more proud of the regiment than I had ever been before, and that is saying a great deal. I have thought of them and compared them to the ‘Stonewall’ of Manassas. They were surrounded on three sides by many times their own numbers, but there they stood, a solid mass of mountain men, broad sides from the enemy being poured into them, and there they stood like the rock of Gibraltar. When I remember that heroic scene, I cannot fail to compare that gallant company, desperate band, to the line the Great Napoleon saw at Waterloo. Speaking afterwards of the English line of battle, he says: ‘I covered them with artillery, I flooded them with infantry, I deluged them with cavalry, but when the smoke of battle rose, there stood the red line yet.’ Yes, there stood the gray line, the only line that stood that day, that I saw, and finally, after combating five different and separate times over the same field, pine thickets, broom grass, old fields, all sorts of a place, I was going to win. I was attempting to whip the enemy with the Twenty-fifth North Carolina, and I knew I could do it. I thought I was getting along finely, until I happened to look to front, left and right, and saw we were surrounded with but a small loop hole to get through. We backed through that, emptying into their faces the last cartridge we had.”
The regiment’s loss from its enlistment to the surrender was: Killed in battle, 220; died from disease, 280, and 470 were wounded, of which last number 140 were wounded more than once.
When General Lee’s order to surrender was received, the Twenty-fifth [North Carolina] regiment still had its flag. It was furled, and taken down in obedience to the order, but the color-sergeant concealed it on his person, returned with it home and gave it to his captain, and it was destroyed by a fire when Captain Freeman’s house was burned.
I omitted to state that Dr. F. N. Luckey was made surgeon of the regiment in 1862, in place of Dr. Satchwell, who was assigned to hospital duty, and Sergeant-Major J. C. L. Gudger was promoted Adjutant in 1864, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Adjutant Edmondston.
Captain H. A. Boone succeeded Captain T. D. Bryson in command of Company B. Captain Boone was murdered on the streets of Murphy by the celebrated outlaw Morrow, after the close of the war.
Waynesville, N. C.,
9 April, 1901.1
- Clark, Walter. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65, Volume 2 (Nash Brothers: 1901), pp. 298-301 ↩