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Petersburg Medals of Honor: Retained Command Despite Severe Wounds




Colonel, 1st Maine Cavalry.
Highest rank attained: Bvt. Maj-Gen., U. S. A.
Born at Hollis, Me., Nov. 1, 1827.

The battle around Saint Mary’s Church, Va., June 24, 1864, brought the Second Brigade of the Second Division of Sheridan’s Cavalry into a sharp and deadly struggle with superior numbers of Wade Hampton’s Confederate Cavalry.

About three o’clock in the afternoon, after irregular skirmishing all morning, the enemy made an attack in great force on the Second Brigade, to which Colonel Charles H. Smith’s First Maine Cavalry was attached, and from that time until dark the fight was carried on by the brigade with undaunted vigor. The enemy, over-confident because of their overwhelming numbers, charged time and again, only to be met and held in check by the gallant brigade. There were no disengaged men in the Union lines ; all worked with a fury, the cavalry charging, while two batteries in the rear poured load after load of canister into the staggering lines of the enemy. Colonel Smith, at the head of his regiment, was wounded in the thigh, but, keeping his seat, led his brave men into the thickest of the fight, where his horse was shot from under him. Mounting another, he again was in the lead. Again his horse was shot from under him, throwing him heavily to the ground. A third horse was secured, and in the retreat, after two hours of the fiercest cavalry fighting, the colonel, although again wounded, remained with his men, fighting the pursuing rebels until darkness put an end to this unequal contest.


The object of the Trevelian [sic, Trevilian] Raid, Va., June 7-24, 1864, was to go to Lynchburg and open communication with General Hunter. That object was not accomplished and the cavalry returned via the White House Landing, where a large train of wagons was packed awaiting escort to the James River. The cavalry supplied the escort and crossed the Chickahominy at Jones’ Bridge. On the morning of the 24th, Gregg’s Division was sent to Saint Mary’s Church as a flank guard, and, thus became separated from the main cavalry corps. Hampton discovered this fact, and, as he despaired of capturing the train, concentrated all his cavalry to capture or destroy Gregg’s Division.


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), p. 369
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