Defence of Battery Gregg.1
By Gen’l N. H. Harris.
Besides my natural dislike to controversy, I have an additional dislike when such controversy is with any of my former comrades in arms. For I cherish with peculiar pleasure the memories connected with the days when I marched and fought with the glorious army of Northern Virginia. And now, after the lapse of years, since we put aside the harness of war and have become quiet and plodding citizens, our ways those of peace, I much prefer to avoid a collision, although it be one on paper. And only for the sake of truth and justice am I willing to disturb the kindly relations that should exist between old comrades; and for that reason, and that alone, am I willing to place myself in antagonism with those with whom I served.
In the December number, 1876, of the Southern Historical Society Papers, page 301, Capt. W. Gordon McCabe says, in a foot note to his address made before the “A. N. V. Assoc’n,” that the defence of Battery Gregg, April 2d, 1865, had wrongfully been attributed to Har-
ris’s Mississippi brigade, and that the defence was made by Lane’s North Carolina brigade. The source or manner of his information he does not state, but advises “by all means” the publication of General Lane’s official report. In the January number, 1877, page 19, appears the official report of Brig.-Gen’l J. H. Lane, accompanied by statements of several officers of his brigade. In the February number, 1877, page 82, is an extract from “A Soldier’s Story of the War,” by Napier Bartlett, giving an account of the defence of Fort Gregg. The July number, 1877, page 18, contains an account from the pen of Maj.-Gen’l C. M. Wilcox of “The defence of Battery Gregg and Evacuation of Petersburg.”
As the defence of Battery Gregg, April 2d, 1865, has thus been made a matter of controversy, I shall now state facts from memoranda made in writing in the latter part of the year 1865.
On the night of April 1st, 1865, I received orders from Maj.-Gen’l Mahone, whose division occupied the lines between Swift Run Creek and the James river, to hold my command in readiness to move at a moment’s warning.
About two o’clock A. M. of the 2d, received orders to move at once with my command to Petersburg, cross at the Upper Pontoon bridge, and report to General Lee. I arrived at Petersburg a little after sunrise, crossed at the bridge as directed, and found General Lee a short distance therefrom, mounted, with some of his staff around him; and reported as ordered. General Lee asked a staff officer who just then rode up, if Gordon wanted any help; the officer replied that Gordon directed him to say that he thought he could hold his lines without further aid. General Lee then ordered me to report to Major-General Wilcox, near the Newman house on the Boydton plank road. I moved my command at quick time and found Gen’l Wilcox on the plank road, not far from the Newman house. As I approached I saw that the enemy had broken through his lines in heavy force, and was extending in line of battle across the open fields in the direction of the Southside railroad.
General Wilcox says (July No., 1877, page 16):
“Colonel Venable, aid-de-camp to General Lee, soon joined me, with a message that Harris’s brigade would report in a few minutes; it numbers over five hundred muskets. Heavy masses of the enemy were soon seen moving forward from their entrenched lines in a direction to cross ours near the Carnes House. It was useless to attempt to engage them with the force I had; Harris was therefore ordered
forward a little beyond the Banks house—advanced skirmishers, but with orders not to become engaged with his line of battle. It was the purpose to delay the forward movement of the enemy as much as possible, in order that troops from the north side of James river might arrive and fill the gap between the right of our main Petersburg lines and the Appomattox. The enemy, moving by the flank, crossed the Boydton plank-road near the Pickerell house, north of it; then continuing the march across an open field of six or eight hundred yards wide halted, faced to the right, and, preparatory to their advance, fired a few rounds from a battery. Several pieces of artillery were placed in rear of Harris, and opened fire on the enemy, over a mile distant; they moved forward unchecked, and but little annoyed by this fire. The fragments of Thomas and Lane’s brigades were withdrawn. ****** The lines of battle of the enemy, imposing from their numbers and strength, advanced; slowly, but steadily, our artillery—that in rear of Harris’s brigade—was withdrawn, and the brigade, after a slight skirmish, retired.”
The above is substantially correct; instead of five hundred muskets, I had about four hundred, as I had left about one hundred men on picket on the lines between Swift Run creek and the James river. Instead of “Barnes’ ” house, it should be “Newman’s” house.
After receiving instructions from General Wilcox to retire my command from its advanced position on the Flank road I fell back, and, by his orders, placed two regiments, the Twelfth and Sixteenth, numbering about one hundred and fifty muskets, in Battery Gregg, the first commanded by Captain A. K. Jones, the second by Captain James H. Duncan. I placed Lieutenant-Colonel James H. Duncan, of the Nineteenth regiment, in command of the two regiments in Battery Gregg. I placed the Nineteenth regiment, under command of Colonel R. H. Phipps, and the Forty-eighth regiment, commanded by Colonel James N. Jayne, in Battery “Whitworth.” These two regiments numbered about two hundred and fifty men. These works were situated in an open field, about three hundred paces apart, the surface of the earth sinking gradually to a point about equi-distant between the two works. The enemy, making dispositions carefully, advanced slowly. I rode to the front of Battery Gregg, and instructed Colonel Duncan to have plenty of ammunition brought into that work, telling him where the ordnance wagons were located (having derived this information from General Wilcox or one of his staff), and that he was to hold the work to the last extremity. After having the cabins (quarters of my brigade the preceding winter,) located in front of Whitworth set on fire, so that they would not be a cover for the enemy, I assumed immediate command of Whitworth, as the larger part of my command occupied
that work, having Gregg under personal observation as I have stated. The enemy advanced in heavy force against Battery Gregg, and its heroic and determined resistance is now a matter of history. A few moments after the fall of Gregg, I received an order from General Lee, at least I understood it as coming from him (General Wilcox says he sent the order), to abandon Whitworth, and retreat to the inner line. The enemy had nearly surrounded Whitworth, and under a heavy crossfire I withdrew the two regiments, and retired to the inner lines running from battery forty-five to the Appomattox river. This statement of facts is made as brief as possible, and I will now review the statements made by General Lane and others.
General Lane says, January No., 1877, page 22, “Harris’ brigade formed on my right,” &c. This is an error, for when I moved forward and took position on the Plank road, as above described, there were no troops of any kind either to my right or left.
Again, same page, “that brigade retired to the fort above Fort Gregg; I think it was called Fort Anderson,” &c. There was no such fort as “Fort Anderson;” I suppose the general means Battery Whitworth, which was not above Fort Gregg, but on a parallel line therewith.
Further he says: “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.” This is altogether erroneous, as the regiments in Whitworth were not withdrawn until after the fall of Gregg, and then by orders. During the assault on Gregg, the two regiments in Whitworth were not idle, but assisted their comrades in Gregg by a heavy enfilade fire on their assailants, besides holding the enemy in check in front of Whitworth. As Gregg repulsed assault after assault, the hearty cheers of their comrades in Whitworth encouraged them to renewed effort.
Lieutenant George H. Snow (same No., page 23) says he only—
“Saw two or three officers of Harris’s 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 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 [the italics are mine.] I do not think Harris’s brigade should be mentioned in connection with its defence.”
Lieutenant F. B. Craige (in same No., page 24) writes as follows:
“Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan and his adjutant, of Harris’s brigade, both of whom were wounded in the head and acted with conspicuous gallantry, had with them not more than twenty men.”
I can only account for Lieut. Craige’s defective vision by the supposition that the immense and imposing numbers of the enemy had, by comparison with the small number of the garrison, so dwarfed his visual organs that he could only see the small number of my command he mentions.
Lieutenant A. B. Howard (same No., page 25) states as follows:
“I fully concur with Lieut. Snow in his statements concerning the number of men from Harris’s 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.”
This officer seems to have been suffering from “snow” blindness also. Same No., page 26, Lieut. D. M. Rigler says:
“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’s Mississippi brigade came up; the enemy fired on them and they retreated. * * Harris’s men came in with a lieutenant-colonel and about fifteen men. * * * I think there were twenty-five of Harris’s Mississippi brigade with a lieutenant-colonel; do not think there were any more. The lieutenant-colonel was wounded.”
I suppose Lieutenant Rigler meant the quarters occupied by General Mahone the previous winter. General Hill was not killed near there. If there was any charge made by General Lane or any other command that morning, it was made before I arrived on the ground, for certainly none was made after I arrived. I advanced, as before stated, four or five hundred yards forward on the plank road, and did not “retreat as soon as fired on by the enemy,” as Lieutenant Rigler states, but held the position until ordered to retreat by General Wilcox, through his adjutant, Captain Glover. However, I must give Lieutenant Rigler
In the same number, page 22, in a letter to General Wilcox, late his division commander, General Lane says. “You may not be aware that Harris’s brigade has been given in print all the credit of that gallant defence.” If such is the case, there certainly must be some good reason therefor, and I shall leave it to those who read this, and the papers annexed, to determine that reason. Sufficient for me to say, that what has appeared heretofore, has not been printed by any one connected with the brigade, or at their instance; and singularly there has been a great unanimity on the part of foe, friend, and stranger in giving the credit of that defence to Harris’ brigade.
With this, and the annexed certificates and statements, we cheerfully submit the facts to our old comrades of the Army of Northern Virginia, and by their decision we are willing to stand. Lieutenant-Colonel James H. Duncan, who commanded the regiments in Battery Gregg, survived the war only a few short years, and his memory is loved and cherished by his surviving comrades. Captain James H. Duncan, who commanded the 16th regiment on that eventful day, a true son of Virginia, has “crossed over the river,” and fills an honored grave in the bosom of his adopted State. The lips of these two noble officers are sealed in death.
Whilst it is far from my intent, in the preparation of this statement, to deprive the gallant soldiers of the old North State of any of the laurels won by them on so many well contested fields, it is my intent to demand and preserve for the gallant officers and men of my brigade the glories they won and achieved. It is somewhat remarkable that during the long term of fifteen years, when public prints, both foreign and American, as well as many eye-witnesses of the day, have accorded the defence of Battery Gregg to the Mississippians and the gallant Louisiana artillerists, that others who at this late day now come forward and claim all the honors of that occasion, should have remained utterly silent. I have obtruded myself most reluctantly upon the public, but I have written only in the spirit of self-defence, and have purposely avoided the enumeration of many facts that might be construed as severe or harsh reflections upon others. Nevertheless it is, and will hereafter remain with me a matter of duty, to defend the reputation and honor of the brave fellows who fought and died at Gregg, as earnestly if not as manfully, as they defended the trust committed to them on that memorable day.
N. H. Harris.
FROM MEMBERS OF THE BRIGADE PRESENT.
We, the undersigned members of the Twelfth, Sixteenth, Nineteenth, and Forty-eighth regiments, Mississippi volunteers, Harris’s brigade, Army Northern Virginia, on our honor as gentlemen and records as soldiers, state that the claim of General Lane of North Carolina, made in the “Southern Historical Society Papers,” published at Richmond, Virginia, supported by the statements of several of the officers and men of his command, wherein it is claimed that the defence of Battery Gregg before Petersburg, April 2nd, 1865, was made solely by that command, to be an unwarrantable claim, and a gross perversion of history. We assert that said defence was made by the Twelfth and Sixteenth Mississippi regiments, Harris’s brigade, and a section of the Washington artillery. There may have been a few men of other commands in the work, but they were without organization.
Witness our hands at Port Gibson, Mississippi, this first day of November, A. D. 1879:
E. Howard McCaleb, adjutant, twelfth infantry regiment.
T. B. Manlove, lieutenant-colonel, forty-eigth (BTC Ed. Note: sic) Mississippi regiment.
W. R. Thompson, private, company K, twelfth Misisissppi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
R. H. McElwaine, private, company I, sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
R. B. Thetford, company H, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
H. Gilmore, private, company I, sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
John W. Walters, private, company G., sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
Fred. J. V. LeCand, sergeant, company G, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
James G. Robbins, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
John A. Shields, private, company G, sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
H. H. Owing, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
Harry Dey, private, company G, sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
J. D. Bridger, sergeant, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
W. H. Dromgoole, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
John W. Owen, private, company D, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
L. B. Harlin, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
H. M. Colsom, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
C. R. Nesmith, sergeant, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
G. W. H. Shaiffer, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
J. H. Sins, private, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
A. M. Girault, private, company G, sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
Thomas M. Rea, private, company D, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
A. K. Jones, captain, company K, twelfth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
B. F. Chisholm, color guard, sixteenth Mississippi regiment, present at Fort Gregg.
Frank H. Foot, courier for Harris’s brigade.
N. S. Walker, captain, company E, forty-eighth Mississippi regiment.
T. Q. Munce, captain, company G, twelfth Mississippi regiment.
Hazelhurst, Mississippi, January, 1880.
We, the undersigned, endorse the above:
W. L. Haley, lieutenant, company D, twelfth Mississippi regiment.
C. P. Cook, ” ” ” ” ” ”
Jessie Thompson, lieutenant, company D, twelfth Mississippi regiment.
J. J. Johnson, sergeant, company D, ” ” ”
E. G. Peyton, ” ” D, ” ” ”
D. C. Wood, ” ” D, ” ” ”
A. M. Martin, ” ” D, ” ” ”
J. C. Martin, ” ” D, ” ” ”
Norvell Slay, company C, sixteenth Mississippi regiment.
FROM CAPT. A. K. JONES.
Port Gibson, Miss., April 12,1878.
Your esteemed favor to hand, as also three copies of the Southern Historical Society Papers. I have read the papers, and now remail them to you. Thanks for the loan. It is truly sad to think how history may be perverted. I have thought that if there was any one battle of the war in which there could be no doubt as who the participants were, on the Confederate side, it was the defense of Fort Gregg, and it does affect me to think that the men who voluntarily offered themselves a holocaust on that holy Sabbath day to save the Army of Northern Virginia from capture in the trenches at Petersburg should, after the lapse of thirteen years, have to come before the public to vindicate their rights. I have no fear, however, but that posterity will know the true history of the defense of Fort Gregg. The events of the war have mellowed down with time, and many scenes have slipped away from memory. I have looked over a memorandum book I kept during the last campaign, which has greatly freshened my memory concerning the stirring and exciting events of the defence of Petersburg. I find that on the 1st day of April, 1865, my company, “G and K” consolidated, including Lieut. Glasscock and myself, was thirty-five strong. When we left camp at Bermuda Hundreds at 3 A. M., April 2d, I left seven men of my company on picket;
three others were lost by straggling, leaving twenty-five men of my company who were present and participated in the defence of Fort Gregg; that about 9 o’clock A. M. the bombardment of the fort began, lasting perhaps an hour, a section of the Washington Artillery of two guns replying until both were disabled and several gunners killed. When the artillery fire ceased the infantry hastily approached for the assault. The fort was carried about 1 o’clock P. M. We had ample time and opportunity to see the result of our defence, for when the guns in Fort Whitworth were opened on Gregg, after its capture, the prisoners were marched to that side of the fort, and afterwards taken to the front of the fort to be counted off and made ready for the march to the rear. The slaughter was appalling. I saw the field at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and 12th of May, 1864, at Spotsylvania Court-house, and at neither place were the dead half so thickly strewn as at Gregg. The dead were lying two hundred and three hundred yards in front of the fort, and increased in numbers as the fort was neared, until immediately at the fort it was simply fearful. Men shot off the parapet fell back into the ditch, were pitched out behind, and actually lay in heaps.
On comparing notes that night (2d of April) at Warren Station, U. S. M. R. R., we estimated that we had lost about thirty men in our two regiments killed, and that the enemy had suffered not less than one thousand killed. In my company I had one killed and four wounded; one of the wounded has never been heard of since. Only one man was wounded during the fight, the other three were wounded and one killed after the fort was carried and we had thrown down our arms. There were no bayonets used at Fort Gregg. Small arms were in the greatest abundance—averaging at least two for each man who assisted in the defence. The parapet was eight or ten feet broad, and as no dead men remained on it, none, in consequence, were bayoneted. The fact is, that when an assaulting column reached the fort and made an effort or two to scale the parapet they kept pretty quiet until a new force reached them, and during this seeming lull it gave us ample time to reload all the extra guns.
The account of Lieut. Snow is quite a romance. I exceedingly doubt, if he were present, of his participating in the defence of Fort Gregg. There were no rocks or stones in Fort Gregg; our winter quarters, if we had any, were immediately in the rear of the fort, and I do not recollect of seeing any in that vicinity. Nor was it possible for any one to leave the fort at any time after the first assault much less to leave just at the last assault, with a battle-flag flaunting. I speak positively, having had ocular demonstration that the entire ditch surrounding the fort was filled with the enemy. There was, however, a stand of colors belonging to a North Carolina regiment taken out of the fort; and in fact small groups of men were continually leaving up to a short while before the cannonading began. Just before General Wilcox left the fort I was told that he wished to speak to me (I was senior Captain present of the Twelfth regiment). On approaching him I was asked if I were in command of the Mississippi troops. I replied
that I was not, and called to Colonel Duncan, of the Sixteenth Mississippi regiment, who was near. General Wilcox said to him, speaking loudly so that many might hear, I presume, “If you will hold the fort two hours Longstreet’s corps will be up, and all will be well.” As I said before men were continually leaving, remarking that they were separated from their commands and would be considered deserters, and if hurt away from their friends would not receive proper attention, &c. As soon as General Wilcox rode away, at my suggestion no more men were permitted to leave, no matter what the excuse.
The enemy were massing their artillery, and their assaulting columns were well up, and it was known by every man present that when Forts Gregg and Whitworth were out of the way that Petersburg lay in full view, without any other works of defence in that direction.
There is no questioning the fact, that brave, gallant men assisted in the defence of Fort Gregg, who were not of our brigade, but to say that they were in an organized state, or were in respectable proportion to us, would falsify facts. We formed our regiments, the Sixteenth on the right, beginning at the entrance “on the right by file into line,” so that when in position, my company, which held the left of the Twelfth regiment, was on the left of the entrance. The loose men (without organization), including the artillerymen, held no distinct position, bat were scattered all through our regiments. General Wilcox is wrongfully informed when he says the enemy first got into the works from the rear, or from the parapet of the trench which connected the two forts. The last assaulting column was twice driven off the parapet, but the third time the whole front was carried simultaneously. No enemy entered the works from the rear until we had thrown down our unloaded guns. I have the names of the men of my company who were in Fort Gregg—that is, of companies “G” and “K.”
I am truly glad to know that you intend to reply to General Lane’s article, for I know that you are competent to vindicate and make memorable the deeds of your old brigade.
Yours, with greatest esteem,
A. K. Jones,
Captain Commanding Twelfth Mississippi regiment at Fort Gregg.
To General N. H. Harris, Vicksburg, Mississippi.
FROM CAPT. APPLEWHITE.
House Of Representatives, Jackson Miss., Feb. 20, 1880.
Your favor calling my attention to the communication of General Lane and others, in the January No., 1877, of the Southern Historical Papers, relative to the defence of Battery Gregg before Petersburg, Virginia, April 2d, 1865, duly received. I must confess to great surprise at the statements made by General Lane and other officers of his brigade, when they state that there were not more than fifteen or twenty-five Mississippians in Gregg. The facts are as follows:
After retiring from the advanced position on the Plank road, yon placed the Twelfth Mississippi regiment and the Sixteenth Mississippi regiment in Battery Gregg, and the Nineteenth and Forty-eigth (BTC Ed. Note: sic) regiments in Battery Whitworth.
There was no other organized command in Battery Gregg save the two regiments mentioned, and a section of artillery. There may have been good and true men from other commands who aided in the defence, but they were without organization. Lieutenant-Colonel James H. Duncan, of the Nineteenth regiment, was in command of the two regiments of your brigade in Battery Gregg.
The assertion that “Harris’s brigade should not be mentioned in connection with the defence of Battery Gregg,” under the facts, I consider unwarranted and unjust, coming as it does, from fellow comrades of the Army of Northern Virginia.
R. R. Applewhite,
Captain Twelfth Mississippi regiment.
General N. H. Harris, Vicksburg, Mississippi.
FROM GENERAL WILLIAM MAHONE.
Richmond, January 24, 1880.
General N. H. Harris,
My dear General,—I am proud of your kind words in respect to me personally, and in response to the enquiry made in your letter of the 17th instant, hasten this reply.
Before I proceed, however needless as it may be, I cannot forbear to say that the brigade you commanded, deservedly stood abreast in my opinion with any other of my knowledge for its efficiency, devotion to the cause and its fidelity to duty—as it stood even with any other for conspicuous gallantry.
I do know that when General Lee telegraphed me on the night of second of April in effect, “Can you spare me a brigade of your division,” my answer was, “Harris’s Mississippi brigade is under orders on its way to you,” for I had already, on the receipt of his dispatch, before making that reply, put your brigade under orders to report to General Lee at Petersburg.
My information was, in that trying time, immediately following the retreat of General Lee’s army, that your brigade had done noble work at Petersburg, and that a part of it, perhaps under the immediate command of Colonel James, had gone down in a persistent and glorious defence of Battery Gregg.
The impression then made I have had, time and again, confirmed by officers, whose commands were connected directly with the attack upon and fall of that battery, and I had not supposed there was a dispute as to the fact that such part of your brigade, mainly in conjunction with the artillerymen who had been gathered by General R. Lindsay Wal-
I have never read the article in the Southern Historical Papers to which you refer, and make you this answer therefore without reference to it.
Very cordially yours,
P. S.—Since the above has been written, General Walker has been in to see me, and on showing him your letter and this reply he has furnished the enclosed paper, which he directs me to say is at your service.
FROM GENERAL R. L. WALKER.
Richmond, January 24, 1880.
On the morning of the 3d of April, 1865, I was at Rives’s Salient until about sunrise, when it was reported to me that the lines in front of Fort Gregg had been taken by the enemy. Placing Col. McIntosh in command at Rives’s Salient, I immediately repaired to Fort Gregg and found the lines broken from the dam as far west as I could see. Directly in front of Fort Gregg the lines had been occupied by Lane’s brigade. I manned the fort with a section of the Washington artillery and two companies organized from the supernumerary artillerymen. I called on them to go with me to recover the line evacuated by our infantry, or at least so much thereof as had been occupied by two of my batteries, which had been left in the hands of the enemy. They made a gallant charge, recapturing these batteries and bringing them put. They were then formed as skirmishers in front of Fort Gregg, and led by Captains Chamberlayne and Young, drove back the enemy’s skirmish line, which then had formed perpendicular to our original line. I then fell back to Fort Gregg, and just at this juncture the gallant Mississippians, under the intrepid Harris, came up to my relief. As well as I remember a part of Harris’s brigade, with my men, then occupied Fort Gregg, while the main body went to Fort Alexander, a few hundred yards to the north and right of Fort Gregg. We held our respective positions until I was informed that General Longstreet had come to our relief on the right, when I dispatched my inspector-general, Captain Richard Walke, to General Harris, informing him of the fact, and suggesting the propriety of falling back to the inner lines, as we had done all we could do. At the same time I sent an officer, whose name I will not mention, to Fort Gregg, with orders to evacuate it. The message to General Harris was delivered and he accepted the suggestion—the order never reached Fort Gregg, hence the sacrifice of its gallant defenders.
I do not hesitate to say that the only assistance I received from any source whatsoever, was from the gallant Mississippi brigade under command of Brigadier-General N. H. Harris.
R. L. Walker,
Brig -Gen’l and Ch. Art’y, 3d Corps, A.N.V.
New Orleans, 26th January, 1880.
Gen’l. N. H. Harris, Vicksburg, Miss:
My Dear General,—Yours of 17th inst. came duly, asking me to obtain from Lieutenant McElroy a statement relative to what troops defended Gregg April 2d, 1865.
I addressed McElroy a note stating your request, but up to this date I have no reply to my communication, except on the occasion of the re-union of the Army of Northern Virginia on the 21st inst., he told me en passant that so long a time had elapsed that he could not now recall the numbers of the regiments who were with him in Gregg. I enclose, however, a copy of his report to me, of his operations just before your men entered the fort, and think a letter addressed by you direct to him will bring him out. Address, Capt. F. McElroy, N. O. Bee office.
I wrote up what I remembered of the Gregg affair some years ago, and it was published in Bartlett’s book on the war, which I think you have seen. C. J. Lewis, one of your old soldiers tells me he was in the fort and that there were portions of the 48th, 12th, and 16th Mississippi, and two pieces of artillery (W. A.) I know that Captain Chew was in the fort with some of his disbanded Baltimore Artillery, but did not serve the guns.
I have always understood that the fort was held by Mississippians and Louisianians—the ranking officer a lieutenant colonel of one of the Mississippi regiments. I can’t see what General Lane had to do with Gregg.
I enclose you a card of invitation to the unveiling of our monument on 22d February, and hope you will be present.
Very truly yours,
W. M. Owen.
FROM LIEUTENANT MCELROY.
New Orleans, March 26, 1866.
To S. M. Owen,
Dear Sir,—About 6 o’clock on the morning of April 2nd, 1865, by order of Colonel Owen, moved my command (sixty-four men) from Fort Gregg to Fort Owen, to support a section of the Washington artillery under command of first lieutenant Battles. About a half hour after my arrival at Fort Owen, our lines were broken about one-and a-half miles to our right, and the brigade stationed at that point retired in disorder. After our lines were broken, by order of Colonel Owen, moved my command back to Fort Gregg, placed my men in position around the fort, and opened fire on the enemy in my front and right. There being no artillery in the fort, and my ammunition reduced to one thousand rounds, and no prospects of receiving more, I was
compelled to slacken my fire. The enemy in the meantime having captured Lieutenant Battles and command, turned one of the pieces (three inch-rifle) on my position, Concentrating my fire on that piece, they abandoned it as well as the position, seeing which, I formed two detachments, and gaining the position, opened with the two pieces on the enemy, who were in force about two hundred yards to my right. The enemy having retired, I was ordered to move the two pieces to a position to the right of Fort Gregg; procured horses, moved forward about a mile. Seeing the enemy advancing in three or four lines of battle inside of our lines, and about four miles to the right of Gregg, came in battery, commenced firing, fired about thirty-five rounds from each gun. Ordered by Colonel Owen to move out on the road and take position in rear of Harris’s brigade. Then moving down the road to meet the enemy—had not gone over two hundred yards—ordered by Colonel Owen back to Fort Gregg with my two pieces, which, by his order, were put in position on the work.
* * * * * * *
I remain your obedient servant,
(Signed) Francis McElroy,
First lieutenant second company battalion Washington artillery,
FROM MAJOR-GENERAL JOHN GIBBON, UNITED STATES ARMY.
Fort Snelling, Minn., January 17,1880.
Dear Sir,—I have your letter of the 14th inst., and regret that I can give you no information in regard to the garrison of Fort Gregg. I have merely a vague recollection that I heard at the time the garrison was composed of Mississippians. Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan, the commander, I recollect perfectly well, having met him immediately after the surrender. He was slightly wounded in the head. I have to regret that this answer to your enquiry is necessarily so unsatisfactory, and am,
Very respectfully yours,
Gen’l N. H. Harris, Vicksburg, Miss.
- Harris, N.H. “Defence of Battery Gregg.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 8, pp. 475-488 ↩