[BTC Editor’s Note: The official report of James Lane in this article appears in the Official Records, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 1285-1286. Lane’s Report is Number 272 in the list of Appomattox Campaign reports. I have chosen to include the Southern Historical Society Papers article in its entirety here due to some interesting eyewitness accounts in letters which follow the official report.]
Defence of Fort Gregg.1
[The heroic defence of Fort Gregg showed the spirit of the remnant of our grand old army, and illumines the sad page of its history which tells of the closing scenes of the “Defence of Petersburg.” We have never seen in print [a]ny official account of the brilliant affair, and are glad to be able to present the following from the original MS. report kindly furnished us by General James H. Lane.]
BRIGADIER-GENERAL LANE’S OFFICIAL REPORT.
APPOMATTOX COURTHOUSE, April 10, 1865.
I have the honor to report that on the night of the 1st of April, four regiments of my brigade, with intervals between the men varying from six to ten paces, were stretched along the works
between Battery Gregg and Hatchers’ run, in the following order from right to left: Twenty-eighth, Thirty-seventh, Eighteenth, Thirty-third—the right of the Twenty-eighth resting near the brown house in front of General McRae’s winterquarters, and the left of the Thirty-third on the branch near Mrs. Banks’.
The enemy commenced shelling my line from several batteries about nine o’clock that night, and the picket lines in my front opened fire at a quarter to two o’clock the following morning. The skirmishers from McGowan’s brigade, who covered the works held by my command, were driven in at a quarter to five o’clock, and my line was pierced by the enemy in strong force at the ravine in front of the right of the Thirty-seventh near General McGowan’s headquarters. The Twenty-eighth, enfiladed on the left by this force, and on the right by the force that had previously broken the troops to our right, was forced to fall back to the Plank road. The enemy on its left took possession of this road and forced it to fall still further back to the Cox road, where it skirmished with the enemy and supported a battery of artillery, by order of Brigadier-General Pendleton. The other regiments fought the enemy between McGowan’s winterquarters and these occupied by my brigade, and were driven back. They then made a stand in the winterquarters of the right regiment of my command, but were again broken, a part retreating along the works to the left, and the remainder going to the rear. These last, under Colonel Cowan, made a stand on the hill , to the right of Mrs. Banks’, but were forced back to the Plank road, along which they skirmished for some time, and then fell back to the Cox road, where they supported a battery of artillery, by order of Lieutenant-General Longstreet. That portion of my command which retreated along the works to the left, made two more unsuccessful attempts to resist the enemy, the last stand being made in the Church road leading to the Jones House. It then fell back to Battery Gregg and the battery to its left; but under Major Wooten, and assisted by a part of Thomas’ brigade, it soon after charged the enemy, by order of Major-General Wilcox, and cleared the works as far as the branch on which the left of the Thirty-third rested the night previous. Here we were rejoined by Colonel Cowan, and we deployed as skirmishes to the left of the Church road and perpendicular to the works, but did not hold this position long, as we were attacked by a strong line of skirmishers, supported by two strong lines of battle. A part of us retreated to
Battery Gregg, and the rest to the new line of works near the “Dam.” Battery Gregg was subsequently attacked by an immense force, and fell after the most gallant and desperate defence. Our men bayonetted many of the enemy as they mounted the parapet. After the fall of this battery, the rest of my command along the new line was attacked in front and flank and driven back to the old line of works running northwest from Battery 45, where it remained until the evacuation of Petersburg. We were here rejoined by the Twenty-eighth, under Captain Linebarger.
On the afternoon of the 3d, we crossed the Appomattox at Goode’s bridge, bivouacked at Amelia Courthouse on the 4th, and on the 5th formed line of battle between Amelia Courthouse and Jetersville, where our sharpshooters, under Major Wooten, became engaged. Next day, while resting in Farmville, we were ordered back to a fortified hill to support our cavalry, which was hard pressed, but before reaching the hill the order was countermanded. We moved rapidly through Farmville, and sustained some loss from the artillery fire while crossing the river near that place. That afternoon we formed line of battle, facing to the rear, between one and two miles from Farmville, and my sharpshooters were attacked by the enemy. During the night we resumed our march, and on the 9th, while forming line of battle, we were ordered back and directed to stack our arms, as the Army of Northern Virginia had been surrendered.
My officers and men behaved well throughout this trying campaign, and superiority of numbers alone enabled the enemy to drive us from the works near Petersburg. Colonel Cowan, though indisposed, was constantly with his command, and displayed his usual gallantry, while Major Wooten nobly sustained his enviable reputation as an officer.
We have to mourn the loss of Captains Nicholson, Faine, McAulay and Long, and other gallant officers.
Captain E. J. Hale, Jr., A. A. G., and First Lieutenant E. B. Meade, A. D. C., were constantly at their posts, displaying great bravery and giving additional evidence of their efficiency as staff officers.
I am unable to give our exact loss at Petersburg. I surrendered at this point fifty-six (56) officers and four hundred and eighty-four (484) men—many of the latter being detailed, non-arms-bearing men, who were sent back to be surrendered with their brigade.
I am, Major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES H. LANE,
Major JOSEPH A. ENGELHARD,
A. A. General.
Extract from a letter written by General Lane to General Wilcox.
CONCORD, N. C., MAY 20, 1867,
I received a letter from Major Engelhard not long since, in which he says you wish me to furnish you, as far as I can, the names of officers killed and wounded in my brigade, and the number of men killed and wounded in the different battles from the Wilderness to the surrender, as General Lee had desired a report of you.
I beg also to call your special attention to the defence of Fort Gregg, as you may not be aware that Harris’ brigade has been given in print all the credit of that gallant affair. Relative to that, I send you a letter recently received from Lieutenant George H. Snow, of the Thirty-third North Carolina regiment, who commanded the detachment from my brigade which was in the fort at the time of its fall. Harris’ brigade formed on our right after Thomas and I had cleared the works of the enemy as far as Mrs. Banks’, and when we were driven back that brigade retired to the fort above Fort Gregg—I think it was called Fort Anderson—while mine retired along the new line of works to the “Dam,” a sufficient number, however, being sent to Fort Gregg (with the supernumeraries of Walker’s artillery armed as infantry) to man the entire work. You may perhaps recollect my calling your attention to this, and that after looking into the fort, you approved of my turning back other men of my command, though you had previously ordered my whole brigade into that fort. There were, I think, eight or nine commissioned officers of my command in the same fort.
The honor of the gallant defence of Fort Gregg is due to my brigade, Chew’s battery and Walker’s supernumerary artillerists, armed as infantry, and not to Harris’ brigade, which abandoned Fort Anderson and retired to the old or inner line of works before Fort Gregg was attacked in force. Unsupported, I saw our noble
fellows repulse three ass[a]ults in force in front and one from the rear; and the enemy did not succeed in mounting the work until the fire of the fort had ceased, which, as Lieutenant Snow says, was due to want of ammunition. The enemy, after crowding the parapet, amid the wildest cheering and waving of numerous flags, fired down upon our men inside the works.
Chew’s battery behaved splendidly; even before I left the work, two or three men were shot down in rapid succession while attempting to discharge a single gun. My men were on the right and centre, the supernumerary artillerists on the left, and Chew’s battery was in the centre, so as to give the pieces the widest possible range of fire.
Yours, very respectfully,
JAMES H. LANE.
Letter from Lieutenant George H. Snow, Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment.
RALEIGH, May 13th, 1867.
General JAMES H. LANE:
Dear sir—Your letter I received some time ago, and would have answered it earlier, but was prevented by unforeseen circumstances.
You desire to know the details of the fight at Fort Gregg. I think it due to the men of that noble old brigade, which stood the contest from Newberne to the surrender, that some true lover of patriotism and valor should espouse their cause, and place them second to none among the true defenders of that memorable fort. History does not reveal names more deserving of honor and praise than those of that detachment which I had the honor to command, and my mind painfully reverts to the agonizing adieu of each hero as he closed his eyes in death.
I cannot speak positively when I attempt to give the number of men belonging to your brigade or the miscellaneous commands in the fort, but I speak confidently when I say that at least three-fourths were of your brigade. I think I had between seventy-five and eighty men all told, with Lieutenants Craige and Howard, and two or three other officers whose names I do not recollect. I saw only two officers of Harris’ brigade in the fort fighting bravely, but the number of their command I cannot exactly give, but think that ten will cover the whole. The artillerists fought bravely, resorting to small arms after being unable to use their cannon, and
The enemy charged us three times, and after having expended all our ammunition, rocks were used successfully for over half an hour in resisting their repeated attempts to rush over us. While I would most willingly accord to each man within the fort his just and proper credit, yet I do not think that Harris’ brigade should be mentioned in connection with its defence. I cannot point out a single instance where one of Lane’s brigade failed to perform his duty on that day. The position we occupied (the right wing and centre)were the only parts attacked without one moment’s interval of peace, and we repulsed with great loss an attack in the rear which would have otherwise necessitated our surrender. The credit of that bloody fight is due to your men, and I sincerely hope you may correct so foul a statement as that which appears as history.
With my best wishes for your welfare and success,
I remain as ever, yours most sincerely,
GEORGE H. SNOW.
Letter from Lieutenant F. B. Craige, Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment.
WILLIAMSPOBT, TENNESSEE, June 4th, 1867.
General JAMES H. LANE:
Dear sir—Yours of the 27th ultimo was remailed to me at Salisbury, and received to-day. I am happy to know that you intend making an effort to give our old brigade some of the honor due her, which has more than once been given others to whom it does not belong.
I will give you as correct an account of the defence of Fort Gregg as my recollection will permit. There were but two six-pound guns in the fort, conducted by a few Marylanders or Virginians under command of Captain Chew, and a few Louisianians from the Washington artillery, under Lieutenant Mackelroy. The whole number of artillerists did not exceed twenty-five. Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan and his adjutant, of Harris’ brigade, both of whom were wounded in the head and acted with conspicuous gallantry, had with them not more than twenty men. The remainder of the troops in the fort belonged to your brigade, numbering between one hundred and fifty, and one hundred and seventy-five. The
only other officer present of our brigade, whose name you did not mention in your letter, was Lieutenant Rigler, of the Thirty-seventh regiment. I do not know whether there were any of General Thomas’ command with us or not. Captain Norwood, of Thomas’ staff, was captured the same morning that I was, but I don’t remember whether on the skirmish line or in the fort. We repulsed the enemy three times in front and once from the rear. After our ammunition was exhausted, the men used their bayonets and clubbed their guns until the whole wall was covered with blue-coats, who continued a heavy fire upon us for several moments after they had entered.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
F. B. CRATGE.
Letter from Lieutenant A. B. Howard, Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment.
STATESVILLE, N. C., June 3d, 1867.
Dear Sir—Yours of the 27th instant is at hand, and contents duly noticed. I take pleasure in giving you all the information I can in reference to the gallant defence of Fort Gregg. I am fully confident that three-fourths of the men in the fort, if not more, were from your brigade.
I am glad, indeed, to know that you will give a full and true statement of the affair to General Lee, and that the gallant men of the Old North State, and especially those of Lane’s brigade, may have all the honor and credit that they so nobly won.
I fully concur with Lieutenant Snow in his statement concerning the number of men from Harris’ brigade. I am pretty certain that there was only one officer instead of two from that brigade: his name was Duncan. He said he was lieutenant-colonel, but there were no stars or bars about him to designate his rank.
The three pieces of artillery belonged to Chew’s battery. He was captured and taken with us to Johnson’s island. I am sorry that I am not able to recall the names of the officers from your command. I don’t remember the names of any except those mentioned by yourself. I know there were others besides from our brigade in the Thirty-seventh regiment, &c., but as I was not well acquainted with them, their names have escaped my recollection.
We kept the enemy back for some time after our ammunition
was exhausted with bayonets and brickbats. ‘Tis true, that when they rushed into the fort upon us, they were yelling, cursing and shooting with all the frenzy and rage of a horde of merciless barbarians.
I could give you a full account of the whole engagement from beginning to end, but I suppose you have all the particulars from Captain Hale and Lieutenant Snow.
I remain yours, very truly, &c.,
A. B. HOWARD.
Letter from Lieutenant D. M. Rigler, Thirty-seventh North Carolina Regiment.
CHARLOTTE, N. C., June 17th, 1867.
General JAMES H. LANE:
Dear Sir—Yours of the 14th instant is received, and I hasten to reply. You wish me to give all the information I can in regard to the defence of Fort Gregg. As it has been so long since it occurred, I do not know that I can give all the particulars, but as far as I can I will.
After the enemy drove us from the works, a portion of the brigade fell back in rear of General Mahone’s quarters, and was there until you ordered us to the fort. ‘Twas near Mahone’s quarters that General A. P. Hill was killed. When we came to the fort you were there with some of the brigade. You then ordered all of us to charge the enemy. We held the Jones road about fifteen minutes. Harris’ Mississippi brigade came up; the enemy fired on them, and they retreated. Captain Hale then ordered us up to the fort. General Wilcox and some of his staff were there: he remained there until they opened on the fort with artillery. Captain Hale called myself, Snow and Craige out in the rear of the fort and asked how many men we had of the brigade and how much ammunition. He then told us to send some reliable man after ammunition. By this time the Yanks had got the range of the fort, and were doing some damage.
Captain Hale then asked who was the senior officer, and as Snow was, he put him in command and told him to hold the fort. We formed the men around, and had about fifty or sixty. Harris’ men came in with a lieutenant-colonel, and about fifteen men more of our brigade came in, and made in all about seventy-five of our brigade,
About ten o’clock the enemy commenced charging with four or five lines. We did not fire until they were within forty yards, and then we gave them one volley; they wavered, and the first line gave way; the second came forward, and came within thirty yards of the fort. We yelled and fired they stood a few seconds and then broke. The third retreated also, but the fourth and fifth came to the ditch around the fort. While this fighting was in the front, one line came in the rear and almost got inside the fort through the door. About twenty men charged them, and drove them back. About eleven o’clock they scaled the walls of the fort, and for several minutes we had a hand to hand fight. We used the bayonet, and killed almost all of them that came on the top.
About half-past eleven they attempted to scale the walls again. We met them with the bayonet, and for several minutes it was the most desperate struggle I ever witnessed; but it did not last long. Soon they were all killed or knocked back, and then a deafening shout arose from our boys. Near twelve, they tried to force their way through the door in rear of the fort, and succeeded in getting almost in, but we met them with the bayonet and drove them back. By this time the ammunition was almost out, and our men threw bats and rocks at them in the ditch. No ammunition could we get, and after a short struggle, they took the fort, and some few did fire on us after they got possession, but their officers tried to stop them.
I think there were twenty-five of Harris’ Mississippi brigade, with a lieutenant-colonel: do not think there were any more. The lieutenant-colonel was wounded.
There were only two pieces of artillery, and I think they were six-pound rifle pieces, and they did not have more than twenty-five rounds of ammunition. Most of the men were wounded and killed while the enemy were charging. They fought bravely. I do not know whose battery it was.
There were about seventy-five or eighty men of our brigade, and five officers, namely: Lieutenants Snow, Craige and Howard, of the Thirty-third North Carolina regiment: Orman and myself, of the Thirty-seventh regiment. There were about twenty of Thomas’ Georgia brigade, with Thomas’ adjutant-general, or a captain acting as such, and two lieutenants.
I think there were in the fort, including all, about one hundred and fifty, or one hundred and seventy-five men about seventy-five or eighty of our brigade, about twenty-five of Harris’ and about
twenty of Thomas’, and twenty-five or thirty of the artillery. Out of that number at least one-half were killed and wounded.
The adjutant-general or captain of Thomas’ brigade was near me when the fighting commenced, and he said it was ten o’clock, and that it was twelve when they got the fort.
The above, General, I think is nearly correct. It is certain our brigade did the most of the fighting, and I think they deserve the praise. I am glad that you are going to defend it.
Wishing you success, I am very respectfully, yours.
D. M. RIGLER.
Extract from a letter from Colonel Cowan, of Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment.
STATESVILLE, N. C., June 22, 1876.
* * * * Lieutenant Howard has doubtless given you all the particulars more fully than I can, as most of my information was obtained from him.
Color Bearer James Atkinson made his escape from Fort Gregg after the enemy had entered it, and brought the colors away safely.
* * * * * * * *
With much respect, your friend,
C. V. COWAN.
I was an eye witness to the above. Atkinson ran from the fort when the enemy mounted the parapet, and with the colors of the Thirty-third North Carolina regiment flying, he made his escape without being struck, though he was a marked target for the enemy. His exploit was greeted with cheers upon cheers from the men in the main line of works.
JAMES H. LANE.
- Lane, James H. “Defence of Fort Gregg.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 3, pp. 19-28 ↩