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Petersburg Medals of Honor: The Story of a Youthful Hero




Corporal, Co. I, 188th Pa. Infantry.
Born at Reading, Pa., July 27, 1846.

“The narrator of the following story, Corporal William L. Graul, of Company I, One hundred and eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, was a mere boy of eighteen when he earned his medal for an act of distinguished bravery and dash at the storming of Fort Harrison, Va., September 29, 1864. He writes:

“On the night of the 28th of September we were ordered to cross the James River on a muffled pontoon bridge at Akren’s [sic, Aiken’s] Landing. Just at the break of the next day we commenced a cautious advance upon the enemy, whose pickets were soon encountered and driven back, and pushing on at quick time through a wood with tangled undergrowth we at last emerged upon open ground in front of the rebel works, which were only a few yards away. Fort Harrison, strongly built and bristling with cannon, was in our immediate front, and we were ordered to charge. A long stretch of open ground was passed at a run, and though the enemy brought all their guns and small arms to bear they failed to get a good range on our advancing troops, firing for the most part too high.

“At a point within fifty yards of the fort was a slight ravine, stretching along in its front, and affording some protection. Here the line was re-formed and the men took breath. We were now under a desperate fire and an advance was sure to entail heavy slaughter, but pausing only for a moment the word was again given to charge, and without flinching the line sprang forward. A terrible volley swept our ranks and many a brave man fell. For an instant we seemed to waver, but only for an instant, and recovering we dashed on and up the hill.

“I was on the color-guard, and when about half way up the color-bearer, William Sipes, was killed and the regimental flag fell on me. I at once threw my gun away and seizing the colors ran up the hill, jumped into the ditch of the foe, then climbed up on the flag-staff and placed the colors of the One hundred and eighty-eighth Pennsylvania alongside of the rebel flag.

“I saw that the enemy were weakening, and cheered our men on. We captured Fort Harrison and then advanced on Fort Gilmore [sic, Gilmer] under the fire of the rebel gunboats. We were compelled to fall back in the evening, however, and in our retreat, the color-bearer of the Fourth New Hampshire being hit, I brought their colors back with me.”


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. 435-436
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