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Petersburg Medals of Honor: 3 Men Capture 27 “Johnnies”




Private, Co. I, 11th New Hampshire Volunteers.
Born April 1840.

Private Henry W. Rowe, of the Eleventh New Hampshire Volunteers, gives the following interesting description of how he won his Medal of Honor:

“On the night of the 15th of June, 1864, Burnside with his Ninth Corps crossed the James River, and after a twenty-four hour march arrived at the outposts of Petersburg with the advance of his corps. At 6 P. M. an advance was made in the face of a murderous fire, and the Eleventh New Hampshire Volunteers, together with the Second Maryland, succeeded in getting close under a rebel battery. After several hours of continuous firing, during which many men were killed and wounded, the assault had to be given up.

“Not discouraged by this first repulse, Burnside reconnoitered the lines and determined to make a second assault. The point chosen for the attack was a residence owned by Mr. Shand, a large two-story building shaded by buttonwood and gum trees, with a peach orchard in the rear. Fifty yards from the front door was a narrow ravine fifteen or twenty feet deep, with a brook flowing northward. West of the house about the same distance was another brook, the two joining twenty rods north of the house. A rebel brigade held this tongue of land with four guns. Their main line of breastworks was along the edge of the ravine east of the house. South, and on higher ground, was a redan with two guns, which enfiladed the ravine.

“It was Burnside’s idea to take this tongue of land, break the rebel line and compel the evacuation of the redan. General Potter’s Division of the Ninth Corps was selected to carry out his plan, and the attacking column was to consist of General Griffin’s brigade on the right, supported by Curtis’ on the left. Griffin’s brigade contained, all told, only 260 men, and in the front line the Eleventh New Hampshire found its place, including Company 1 with its remaining five privates.

“A little past midnight General Potter led his division into the ravine in front of the house. The soldiers divested themselves of knapsacks, canteens and cups—everything which could make a noise—and moved forward stealthily. All was still and perfectly quiet. We reached the ravine, and there above us, not fifteen paces distant, were the rebel pickets. The night was warm and sultry. The sky was flecked by only a few light clouds, the moon becoming full and clear. Not a sound was heard, save the rumble of a wagon or a stray shot from the enemy’s pickets.

“Finally, a little past three, as the dawn was beginning to light up in the east, the command, ‘Forward !’ was passed along the line in whispers.

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“The men rose in a body from the ground; not a gunlock clicked; the bayonet was to do the work. Forward we started with steady, noiseless step. One bound and the rebel pickets were overpowered. Now toward the Shand House, and over the breastworks! At the right of the house, Comrade Batchelder, of Company I, joined me, and soon we fell in with ‘Sol’ Dodge, Sergeant of Company C. Passing the second corner of the house, we heard the report of a musket from a rebel pit about fifteen feet to the right. We ran around to the rear of this pit and shouted: ‘Surrender, you damned rebels!’ The ‘Johnnies’ were rather rudely awakened from their sleep, and although twenty-seven in number, dropped their guns. Guarded by our attacking force of three, they were finally turned over to the Union officers in the rear, together with a rebel flag captured by myself. The rebel line was broken and Grant’s lines were drawn closer around Petersburg.”


Read about even more Medal of Honor winners at the Siege of Petersburg:


  1. Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes Won the Medal of Honor…, Volume 1 (The Perrien – Keydel  Company: 1901), pp. 366-368
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