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Petersburg Medals of Honor: A Bayonet Charge Put the Rebels to Flight




Captain, Co. G, 43d U. S. Colored Inf.
Born in Elkland,. Tioga Co., Pa.,
Dec. 10. 1844.

Another body of colored troops, the Forty-third U. S. Colored Infantry, distinguished itself at the Mine, and one of their officers, Captain Albert D. Wright, of Company G, earned his Medal of Honor on that memorable occasion, which he himself recalls as follows:

“At the time of the explosion, our brigade [1/4/IX/AotP] was strung out in the ‘covered way’ leading to the fort, with the Forty-third Regiment in advance. As our troops crossed the space between our lines and the Confederates’, at this point not more than one hundred yards apart, they were exposed to a scattering fire of musketry, and instead of continuing through the Crater directly to Petersburg, as planned, huddled into the Crater and stopped, while the Confederates fled from the breast works, expecting other explosions. When the rebels found that none followed, and their lines were not occupied, except in the Crater, they rallied, and, manning their guns, began a horrible slaughter of our men, by dropping shells into the Crater from every battery within reach, and from a number of little Cohorn mortars in the vicinity.

“Not quite an hour had passed when we were hurried to the ravine immediately behind our works, massed and ordered to perform the same manoeuvre that the white troops preceding us had been ordered to execute. The narrow space between the lines was almost taken up by a line of abatis and one of chevaux-de-frise, in front of and on each side of the breastworks. These lines were impassable, unless the wires binding them together could be cut and the heavy timbers and tree-tops removed, an operation impossible to perform in the face of a line of such men as we had to meet. The break in our line was wide enough only for four men to pass out abreast, while the break in the Confederate lines was only where the abatis and chevaux-de-frise had been covered with earth from the explosion ; consequently we were obliged to cross in column by fours, as if we were marching along a road.

“The balance of the regiment could not remain exposed to the awful fire which enfiladed them on both sides and for some reason they filed to the right and went between the Confederate lines and ours. In a very few moments I saw we were simply being slaughtered without a chance of defense and, seeing a little path through the Confederate lines of abatis and chevaux-de-frise, I crawled through to the Confederate breastworks, lay down on the outside and began firing my pistol alongside of every gun I could reach, as they moved them over to fire at our men. The momentary sight I got of our fellows, bravely trying to rally, drove me frantic. Six of my company had followed me through the little path, and turning to them I said: ‘We cannot go back; they will kill us! If we lie here they will capture us, and they say they will take no nigger prisoners or white officers with them. Let’s jump in.’

“They replied: ‘All right, Cap’n.’ I told them to fix bayonets, gave the word, and in we went.

“It was a surprise. We were stronger just there than they were. The colored men killed everyone within reach, instantly. This created a panic, and, thinking of our poor fellows in the field, we turned to the right, the men yelling like fiends and bayoneting everyone they could reach. We simply cleaned out the breastworks for the whole length of our regiment, the Confederates evidently mistaking our rush for a charge by the troop they knew to be in the Crater.

“While rushing down the breastwork, I saw a flag sticking out of a hole behind the works. Springing on top of the earth around the hole, and, pointing my empty revolver down, I drove out the color-sergeant and guard of six men, took the flag and sent it across to our line. This occupied only a moment, after which we continued driving the enemy out of the works until we came to an angle around the head of the ravine, the line on the opposite side of the ravine continuing straight with the line we had cleared out. There it was that the enemy could see how small our force was, and they at once opened fire on us. From where we were I could see into Petersburg, there being no other works or men between ourselves and that city.

“While throwing sand-bags across the rifle pit to protect ourselves from fire, I was wounded in the arm and went back to the hospital, and on my way back I had the satisfaction of seeing what was left of our regiment crawling through the abatis and coming into the rifle pits in safety.”




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. 392-393
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