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Petersburg Medals of Honor: An Improvised Bodyguard



When on the 30th of July, 1864, the Confederate works at Petersburg were converted by the explosion of Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants’ mine into the horrible “Crater,” Company H, of the Second New York Mounted Rifles, dismounted, was posted about 100 feet away from the enemy’s works and with the crash and tumult of the explosion they received the order to charge with the remainder of the brigade [1/2/IX/AotP] across a small rise of ground and take position at the first line of the Confederate defenses. Second Lieutenant Harlan J. Swift, of Company H, a medal winner in this affair, relates:

“Of course it was hot work, but was in no way a surprise, because our entire line had been waiting long for just such an experience. We reached the objective point in short order, to see the enemy going pell-mell toward their second line of defense, a considerable distance away on the Jerusalem plank road. As we reached the top of the first line I could see several Confederates not far off, and, calling my company to halt, I sprinted on after the fugitives. I was very good on my feet and soon overhauled four of the men who, with guns loaded and bayonets fixed, had given me such a stubborn chase.

“Placing the muzzle of my revolver against the temple of one of the ‘Johnnies’ while still running, I ordered the four to surrender, which they did instantly, fancying, I suppose, that I had my whole company at my back. Then I formed them on either side and in front of me—as a protection against possible shots from their more speedy companions — and so marched them back to our line.”


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. 404
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