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Petersburg Medals of Honor: Equal to the Emergency



Included in the operations against Petersburg was General Grant’s effort to cut off the line of supplies for the Confederates by destroying the Weldon Railroad. General Warren, to whom this task was entrusted, was twice fiercely assaulted by General Lee’s army, but succeeded in holding his position and carrying his mission to complete success. During one of the attacks an incident occurred of which Private Soloman J. Hottenstein [sic, Solomon J. Hottenstine], of Company C, One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania Infantry, became the hero.

The Union corps had, on August 18, 1864, made a descent on the Weldon Railroad at Yellow House, driving in the Confederate pickets. When, however, the enemy appeared in force, the One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania was thrown out and deployed as skirmishers to meet them. Then the fighting became general and very intense, and so continued until darkness had set in. Still the Federals held the road and, under cover of night, threw up breastworks.


Sylvester H. Martin,
Lieutenant, Co.K, 88th Penn. Infantry.
Highest rank attained: Captain.
Born in Chester Co., Pa., Aug. 9, 1841.

At 2 P. M. the following day [August 19, 1864] another attack was made, with partial success, and again, two hours later, the enemy made still another attack, flanking General Crawford’s Division, taking many prisoners and compelling the Union forces to retreat. In this series of alternating charges and countercharges, attacks and retreats, the two forces became badly intermingled, and at times the mix-up was so bad that it would have been a difficult matter to discern the men of the two hostile armies. At one time, however, a large body of Confederates had part of the One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania surrounded and virtually captured. Still considerable confusion reigned, especially in the ranks of the Confederates, who at this particular point seemed to lack the hand of a leader, who could bring order out of the chaos and take advantage of the predicament of the Union men. On the other hand there was one soldier among the surrounded Federals who proved to be fully equal to the emergency—he was Private Soloman Hottenstein. He recognized that he was in a locality which he had passed and became thoroughly familiar with the day before while foraging. Utilizing this very opportune knowledge, he decided to resort to a ruse, which was as clever as it was desperate, to extricate himself and his comrades from their precarious position. Espying a Confederate color-bearer, he ran up to him and said: “Give me that flag!”

The rebel complied.

Then waving the Confederate colors aloft, he shouted: “Come on boys; follow me!” And for the Union lines he headed followed by his comrades and several hundred Confederates, who fairly fell over each other in their effort to fall into line and follow their flag. Bewildered by the general confusion, the hail of shot and shell from all directions, misled by the very boldness of Private Hottenstein’s move, they marched right into the arms of the Federal troops, realizing their fatal mistake when it was too late and when they could do nothing but submit to capture.

During the same engagements the Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania and Ninety-seventh New York Infantry regiments found themselves in the same position as the one from which Private Hottenstein and comrades escaped.

”We were,” says Lieutenant Sylvester H. Martin, of Company K, Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, “between two lines of the enemy and entirely isolated from our corps, and after a consultation among the officers of both regiments, the colonel of the ninety-seventh being in command, decided that we should fight our way out. Having accomplished this, we reached our rear in an open field, but were immediately ordered to re-advance and recover our former position.

“The missiles were now coming from our front. Men were falling fast; among them was the commander of our regiment, pierced through the face. The colonel in command of the two regiments then called for an officer to take in a skirmish line, and send word back to him whether it would be safe to advance the line.

“I moved forward with men of my company as skirmishers, reconnoitered the position and made it possible to re-establish the line, which we held during the remainder of that action.”


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. 401-402
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