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Petersburg Medals of Honor: A Rebel Charge That Failed




Sergeant. Company D, 7th New Hampshire Infantry.
Born at Manchester, N. H., June 27, 1842.

The following vivid description by Sergeant Henry F. W. Little, of Company D, Seventh New Hampshire Infantry, shows how much depends on the personal bravery of the individual soldier in repulsing a charge of the enemy, and also illustrates the futility of a bayonet charge against a body of men well entrenched and armed with repeating rifles.

“It was early on the morning of October 7, 1864,” the sergeant says, “that our troops on the north side of the James River, Va., were aroused. We were quickly ordered into line to repel an attack. We found the cavalry under General [August V.] Kautz coming toward us pell-mell, hotly pursued by the Confederates. We were at once advanced, the lines formed and thus we waited the onslaught.

“Our line was without breastworks or protection of any kind and the Confederates pushed up to within a few rods of us. Our force was not large and our lines extended so far that we were without support, and a wavering brigade or even the falling back of a single regiment on that line would probably have given the enemy an opportunity of taking everything before them on the north side of the James River.

“Much depended on the individual bravery and the courage of the officers. As the rebels came rushing on I advised our men to keep cool and not fall back an inch, and had the gratification to see that during the subsequent events our boys above all others distinguished themselves for their calmness and the deadly accuracy of their fire.

“The charge was desperately and handsomely made and energetically repulsed. Our brigade, which seemed to have been the objective point of the Confederate attack and had borne the brunt of the assault, was armed with Spencer repeating carbines, seven-shooters, and delivered so destructive a fire that it was impossible for the enemy to withstand its effect. The Confederate dead in our front, after the charge, lay in long lines only a few feet away, showing where their battalions had stood at the time of the clash, when they found it impossible to break through our ranks.

“Many of the Confederates found it as much impossible to retreat as it was to advance, and preferred capture to almost inevitable death. The fight, although it lasted but a half hour, was extremely fierce and ended in a complete defeat of the rebels.”

Sergeant Little’s gallant conduct on the skirmish line was such that it commended itself to his superior officers and, later, was fittingly recognized by the award of the Medal of Honor.


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. 457-458
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