Military Resource Center
The Otsego Republican.
NEBRASKA CORRESPONDENCE.AURORA, Neb., April 1, 1896.
On the evening of July 10th, 1864, my regiment, the 30tb U. S. C. T., occupied that portion of the line of entrenchments in front of Petersburg that had been vacated at an earlier hour by the 121st New York Volunteers.
The lst division of the 6th corps had been ordered to City Point to embark for some other place, unknown to all except those high in authority. The change was a welcome one, let the destination be whither it might. Since May the 4th they had been facing the flower of the rebel forces, battle after battle had been fought and long lines of breastworks had been built, weary marches by night and by day had been made, their ranks had been decimated time and again and no change could be made that would not be an improvement on what these troops had been passing through. Rapidly embarking on the vessels provided, down the James River they swiftly glided, past Fortress Monroe, into the Chesapeake Bay and then up the Potomac River, the early morning found them near Mount Vernon and a few hours later at the wharves of Washington.
CANNON WERE BOOMING
in the distance, the city was in the greatest confusion, business was at a standstill, some houses were closed and hundreds of teams were hauling merchandise and valuables of every kind out of the nation's capitol.
GEN. WRIGHT AND STAFF
galloped towards Halleck's headquarters, ten thousand veterans were soon formed in companies, regiments and brigades, and with guns at a "right shoulder shift," forty rounds of cartridges on their belts and with the easy swinging gait of the route step, were marching out on Seventh Street. - Confidence came at once to the entire population. "The red cross; why this is the old sixth corps. Who cares for old Jubal Early now?" Such remarks were heard on every side.
Yes, it was the cannon of Gen. Lee's most valiant lieutenant who, with eight thousand of Southern soldiers, were at the very gates of Washington; nearer than Grant had been to Richmond, and had it not been for the gallant fight made by Gen. Lew Wallace - the same who wrote Ben Hur - at the Monocacy River, the city would doubtless have been taken. Early had been sent by Gen. Lee, immediately after the battle of Cold Harbor, to drive back the Union forces under Gen. Hunter that were threatening Lynchburg. This he easily did, and then struck northward for Maryland. Gen. Grant, no doubt, knew of his whereabouts all the time, and when the proper time arrived, sent troops from Petersburg to check his further progress. Gen. Early made things count on this trip in Maryland.
HE LEVIED $200,000
on the little city of Frederick, and had he taken Washington, he would have squeezed that metropolis for all there was in it. But when he reached the line of defences that surrounded the city, deployed his skirmishers and formed his line of battle to attack Fort Stevens, which was only defended by government employees hastily armed, home guards and a few reserve batteries, behold in his front was formed another line of battle that apparently knew exactly what to do on such an occasion, for, with a firm, quick step - it wasn't the route step now - the new line advanced to meet Lee's favorite legions.
came out in the forenoon to watch results and encourage the defenders by his presence. Occasional shots were fired by rebel marksmen, and one man was hit only a few yards from the President. What a feeling of relief came to all when Bidwell's brigade deployed in front of the fort and moved out to meet the rebel lines. Brigade after brigade made ready for action, but only Bidwell's did any fighting, for Gen. Early wisely concluded to retreat after a short time of light skirmishing. In the morning the rebel army was nowhere to be seen, and now came another opportunity for Gen. Grant to display his capacity as General-in-Chief of the Union forces.
A GENERAL WAS WANTED
to lead an army in pursuit of the retreating rebels and to desolate the Shenandoah Valley so that no future event of this kind should ever occur. Gen. Sheridan was the man selected, and, although the Secretary of War objected, on the 7th of August he assumed command of the "Army of the Shenandoah."
I think perhaps the "Onesters" passed over nearly the same line of march as we did in September, 1862, only striking the Potomac River opposite Harper's Ferry in place of Bakersville.
Sheridan's motto was always to "push things," and his cavalry kept the rebel Gen. Early continually on the lookout for something new. Sept. 19th Early concluded to make a fight near Winchester, and the old 2d brigade was in it for keeps. Gen. Russell was killed, Gen. Upton was severely wounded by a piece of shell, and the 2d Conn. Heavy Artillery lost their major, five company officers and one hundred and thirty enlisted men.
Although Gen. Upton had been in the artillery before he was commissioned as colonel of our regiment, he would always speak lightly of the shells, apparently having but little confidence in their doing much damage. While wounded he was at the Ebbitt House in Washington City. This was in September, 1864. I had been wounded in July, and on returning to my command, called on him. "Well, General," said I, "you will have more respect for the Napoleon guns after this, won't you?" "Col. Bates, this was purely accidental," was his reply. I saw the wound; a piece of solid flesh as large as two fingers had been taken from the thigh, and his recovery was about the same length of time as mine, with a minie ball through the head.
Do the boys remember about the first of October, when
GEN. MEIGS' SON
was shot by a guerilla? What was Sheridan's order the next morning? Every building within five miles of where the murder was committed should be burned to the ground. Of course innocent ones had to suffer, but it taught the people not to allow any more work of that kind unless they were willing to take the consequences. Such little events as this are only thrown in as side lights, that those unfamiliar with the arts and practices of war can see that the responsibilities falling upon the commanding general of an army are many and varied.
Not a day passes in time of war but what questions arise that need prompt and vigorous action. An officer who can solve all such questions in the best possible way is a success, and he who cannot, is sooner or later a failure, and when you hear persons say that there were hundreds of officers who could have done as well as Grant, Sherman or Sheridan, had the opportunity only been theirs, take my word for it, they don't know what they are saying. Three such men as they were could not have been found elsewhere in the Union armies. These three were head and shoulders above all others. Grant was the great directing mind while the other two could successfully execute any plans the great chieftain saw fit to entrust them with. This is the opinion of.DELEVAN BATES.
The Otsego Republican.
WAR REMINISCENCES.AURORA, Neb., May 15, 1896.
COL. EGBERT OLCOTT.
At the battle of Cedar Creek the 121st N. Y, Vols. were under the command of Captain J. D. V. Duow - not Dunn, as the compositor made my last article read. He was of the old Duow family of Albany, and received his commission as a lieutenant in our regiment through the influence of Col. Franchot. He was killed in this action.
Col. Olcott was in command of the brigade. I have said but little about this officer as my acquaintance with him was slight. He was of a high-toned, wealthy parentage, and had a liberal education. - Outside of the art of war he was probably in all respects the equal of Col. Upton. As a man of the world he was Upton's superior, being far better adapted to meet the demands of society, and especially at the festive gatherings which sometimes were indulged in by congenial spirits, was Col. Olcott always at home, while Upton was more reserved, and not inclined to participate in the "jolly good time" which is an essential in making such occasions a success. - His taste in dress was as refined as that of any lady, and not a wrinkle could ever be seen upon his elegant uniform. He was
OUR FIRST MAJOR,
and, like all the rest of the regiment, not over well posted in the tactics at the first of our term of service.
Who will ever forget the battalion drills at Bakersville before Col. Upton came to us? Col. Franchot never attempted to drill us, but Lieut. Col. Clark and Major Olcott had seen a little duty in other commands, and did the best they could to teach the regiment the mysteries of the evolutions of the battalion. Once in a while they would get things mixed, then Olcott would pull from his pocket a copy of tactics and study out a solution of the proper move, but generally the movements had been well studied in advance that were to be given in the day's lesson.
When Col. Upton assumed command he and Clark did not work well together, so much so that Col. Clark soon resigned, but Major Olcott was an apt pupil, and with Upton's assistance, soon became competent to handle a regiment or a brigade as well as the best.
Col. Upton had been an artillerist, in which branch of the service it is an essential to be an accurate judge of distances, so as to give the correct elevation to the gun when firing, and also tell the length of fuse a shell should have to make it explode in the right place. Sometimes the two would for an hour test their skill in estimating the number of paces from point to point and verifying each estimate by actual measurements.
Col. Olcott always had a supply of choice literature in his tent which I often envied but never had an opportunity to examine, as there was as much difference between his position and mine at that time as there was between the captain of a company and a non-commissioned officer.
At Hazel River he had his quarters made of straight poles hewn on one side and laid up like a log cabin. It was not only commodious but elegant and nicely furnished inside. Good carpenters could be found in every company who were always willing to work around headquarters, thus getting excused from ordinary fatigue duty about the camp. I was in this beautiful habitation but once, which was enough to leave a picture on my mind which has not yet been effaced. The floor was neatly carpeted; a comfortable cot, an easy chair, a couple of camp chairs and a center table, upon which was a full set of Christopher North's
elegantly bound. How I wished that some day I could be a major and live in such style as that.
On the battlefield Olcott knew no such word as fear. The night that Gen. Bartlett's headquarters were attacked in September, 1863, with a Deringer cooked in his hand, far in advance of his regiment, he galloped toward the heaviest firing. In the Wilderness he was wounded in the heat of action. At Cedar Creek he kept the 2d brigade right to their work, giving the 121st N. Y. and the 2d Conn. the warmest places, while the 95th Pa. and 65th New York backed them up as the occasion demanded. In Feb., 1865, he no doubt saved the rout of the corps by his prompt action, when the fifth corps gave way near Hatcher's Run. Like many others, he did not receive the promotion that he deserved for gallant conduct and efficient service on the field of action. After Cedar Creek he was given a leave of absence for a time.
CAPTAIN DANIEL D. JACKSON,
who I think entered the service as a non-commissioned officer in company D, was in command of the "Onesters." All the other captains were absent, wounded, and no field officers were present, and, in fact, I believe Olcott was the only field officer that belonged to the regiment at that time. The 121st N. Y. Vols, had seen
AWFUL HARD TIMES.
There were not men enough for duty in the regiment to make two full companies. Captain Jackson and Chaplain Adams were the head and front of the field and staff. And yet through the balance of October, November and the first week in December, the campaigning was quite enjoyable.
and plenty of foraging. The only objectionable feature was the continual orders for "picket duty," and the many severe storms. Rains were abundant in October, and in November and December snow came occasionally, which no one can say is enjoyable for an army in the field.
For a time while in camp near the battle ground of Cedar Creek, the rains were more dreaded than after the move was made to higher ground. Some commanding officers do not appreciate the value of a good drainage when selecting a camping ground. In dry weather it makes no difference whether the surface is level or undulating, but when the windows of heaven are opened and the rains descend, if a fair outlet for the waters is surrounding the pitched tents, the inmates are always happy. No one could tell
HOW LONG THEY WOULD STAY,
but all fixed up as much as possible so as to guard against the wet and cold, and then as usual came the orders to strike tents, and just a little nearer Winchester the tents were pitched again. The report was that the rebel army was coming back in force and perhaps
BREASTWORKS WOULD BE NEEDED.
Trees were felled, dirt was thrown up, and now let them come if they dared. - The "Onesters" are put to the front. A whole week's duty on picket during which time the weather was almost unendurable, severely cold and an occasional storm. But the rebels found all the entertainment they cared for with the cavalry, and no fighting occurred in which the infantry were needed.
Thanksgiving a turkey dinner was enjoyed by all, a generous recognition by the commissary department that was appreciated.
The last of November a visit was made by
MAJOR GENERAL UPTON,
who had been promoted and assigned to the command of a division of cavalry in the Western Department. While all were pleased to hear of his advancement, it was with regret that the "Onesters" parted for the last time from the gallant officer who had made for them a record second to no other regiment in the service. The name of
that appears upon the regimental monument at the base of Little Round Top at Gettysburg is one of which every soldier is proud whose name appears upon the muster roll of the 121st New York Vols., and those who left the regiment for higher honors in other fields yet speak with pride of the command in which they took their first lessons in the art of war.
December lst tents were struck once more and at an early hour the regiment marched toward Winchester. From thence to the railroad at Stephenson, where box cars were in waiting to transport the first division of the 6th corps to Washington. No stop this time, but hastily embarking on boats that were in readiness, down the Potomac into the Chesapeake Bay, past Fortress Monroe, up the James River to the old wharf at City Point, which the regiment left on July the 10th and reached again December 4th. The brigade was placed on cars and taken out several miles to relieve a part of the 5th corps which were needed elsewhere, and what was the first thing recognized?
that the 2d brigade had built just before they started for Washington. Five months had made but little difference in the surroundings. There was the same long line of earthworks, the same rebel entrenchments in front and the same opportunity of getting shot that existed when there before.
Gen. Grant was well pleased when they arrived, for where the Greek Cross was, he knew his lines were safe.DELEVAN BATES.
A Record to be Proud of.
From the "Libby Prison Chronicle"
Gen. Delevan Bates, president of the 1st National Bank of Aurora, Neb., donates to Libby Prison War Museum two flags of great interest and two large photographs of himself - one taken in 1865, the other in 1890. One of the flags belonged to the 1st brigade, 4th division of the 9th army corps. It was given to the brigade at the time of the organization of the division, in May, 1864, by the War Department, and was carried at the head of the brigade during the campaign of Gen. Grant from the Rapidan to Petersburg. It floated over the breastworks of the front at Petersburg and the Bermuda front until the organization of the 25th army corps in 1864. It is rectangular, instead of being a triangle, as is given in the official records of the Quartermaster General, in his book called "Military Commanders and their Designating Flags," which shows that man makes mistakes. The other flag, designating the 1st brigade, 3d division, 10th army corps, army of Ohio, was not furnished by the War Department, but was made by order of General Delevan Bates from rebel bunting obtained in Wilmington, N.C. It was carried at the head of the brigade as far as Raleigh, thence to Beaufort and then to New Berne, N.C., where the brigade was disbanded in December, 1865.
In looking up the war record of Gen. Bates we find the following: "Helped recruit the 121st N.Y. Volunteers - Upton's Regulars, Aug., 1862; commissioned 2d Lieut. August 18, 1862; 1st Lieut. July 4, 1863; Colonel 30th U.S. (Colored) Troops March 1864; Brev. Brig. Gen. U.S. Volunteers July 30,1864; assumed command of 1st brig. 4th div. 9th army corps, Oct. 11, 1864; 1st brig. 1st div. 25 corps, Dec. 2, '64; 1st brig. 3d div. 25 corps, Dec. 24, '64; 1st brig. 3d div. 10th corps, April 3d, '65; 3d div. 10th corps, July '65; mustered out Dec. 23, '65. He took part in thirteen battles and many skirmishes; was captured May 3, '63 and confined in Libby Prison from May 7 to May 23, '63; shot through the head inside the rebel lines July 30, 1864. His photographs show a large wound on his left cheek. He received an Medal of Honor for gallantry displayed on numerous occasions.Ex-prisoners of war are invited to contribute to the Libby Prison Chronicle.
Jm. S. Ransom (signed)
A DAY WITH THE COLORED TROOPS.
The Test of Negro Mettle in the Fight of the Crater.
Editor National Tribune: July 30, 1864, was a red-letter day In the life of the writer of this reminiscence. On this day his regiment, the 30th U. S. Colored Troops, led the charge of the colored division at the battle of the Mine. Col. Delevan Bates was shot thru the head with a minie ball, was given a Medal of Honor for distinguished services, and on his return from the hospital was made a Brigadier-General of Volunteers by brevet and assigned to duty according to his brevet rank, which position was honorably filled until his muster-out In December, 1865.
The 30th U.S.C.T. was organized at Camp Belger, Baltimore, in the early part of the year 1864, from the colored people, and most of the recruits had been slaves until the Emancipation.
The Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln made them free. The commission of the Colonel was dated March 1, 1864, and was signed by C.A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War.
The regiment was well officered, every one from the Colonel in command to the Second Lieutenant of Co. K having had experience in actual warfare, and passed a creditable examination as to proficiency in the Army Regulations, the tactics and management of troops in the field.
They had come from regiments that had fought under McClellan on the Peninsula, had helped charge the heights of South Mountain; they had been on the bloody field of Antietam, with Burnside at Fredericksburg, Hooker at Chancellorsville and Meade at Gettysburg. They understood well the duties of the picket and skirmish line; they had not only been in the advancing column, but had helped repel charges such as no war ever saw surpassed, either in deeds of valor or in decisive results. They knew what success was and also what it meant to save the rear of an army from the pursuit of an enemy flushed with victory.
Responsibilities of Officers.
The responsibilities of the officers in the colored service were much greater than those incurred by the officers in the command of white troops, and also were their chances for death much greater. The rebels had a special antipathy against the colored troops, which extended from the Confederate Congress down to the private soldier in the ranks of the Confederate army. In 1863 the following resolution was passed at Richmond, Va.: "Resolved, by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, in response to the message of the President, Sec. 4, That every white person being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who during the present war shall command negroes or mulattos in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall train, organize or prepare negroes or mulattos for military service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negros or mulattos in any military enterprise, attack or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court." We laughed at such resolutions.
When the mighty army of Gen. Grant crossed the Rapidan in May, 1864, the colored troops at Baltimore were organized into the Fourth Division of the Ninth Corps, and were assigned the duty of guarding the immense wagon train, 4,000 teams, which if extended in a single line would have reached from Washington to Richmond, 130 miles. These teams were busy, many of them by night as well as by day hauling supplies from the nearest railroad to the troops at the front, and many were the contentions and controversies between Quartermasters and Wagonmasters in regard to the right of way during the six weeks that passed while the army was forcing its was thru the Wilderness, beyond Spotsylvania, across the North Anna River and on the blood fields around Cold Harbor.
One little episode in which the Quartermaster of the 30th C.S.C.T. was involved will give an idea of how the right-of-way question was sometimes solved. Lieut. Baldwin was one of the best Quartermasters in the army, and his teams were generally among the first to reach their destination when the bivouac was ordered. But one day he was bluffed by a Quartermaster from the Fifth Corps, and thus delayed for several hours. The next day he asked for a Sergeant and six men to accompany his train. The detail was given him, and he held his way amongst the wilderness of teams at the point of the bayonet whenever the occasion demanded. He had received his training in the 44th N.Y., one of the best regiments the State sent out, and he understood his business well, feared nothing and could always hold his own when he had sufficient backing.
On the Firing Line at Petersburg.
When Petersburg was reached the colored troops were placed on the firing line in front of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia, the best troops the Confederates had in the field during the entire war. The distance from our lines to the rebel lines was but a few hundred feet; both lines were well intrenched; breastworks, bomb proofs, covered ways and abatis, as was best suited for the surroundings, were seen on every side, and an irregular but continuous firing was kept up both night and day for weeks and weeks. Each side was ever on the alert for what the other might try to do. Finally a rebel battery was undermined, blown up and an assault was the last against the rebel lines of a long series commencing May 5, and all of them against a strongly intrenched foe. These charges were all desperate and bloody, and, including the one in which the colored division participated on July 30, it is safe to say the total loss to the Union army was at least 70,000 men, a large army of killed and wounded, and yet with no decisive results.
The mine was 510 feet in length, and at the terminus under the rebel works had side galleries about 35 feet length. In these galleries were placed 320 kegs of powder of 25 pounds each, 8,000 pounds, strongly, tamped and connected together with wooden tubes half filled with powder. Three fuses were run back about 100 feet; and the main gallery was filled with earth and well tamped for about 30 feet. The original plan of attack was for the colored troops to advance immediately after the explosion, and when the crater was reached the leading regiment should turn to the right and proceed as far as possible down the enemy's line the second regiment turn to the left and sweep down the line in that direction, the remaining regiments of the division to advance rapidly thru the gap in the rebel line toward the city of Petersburg, to be followed by the other divisions of the army as soon as they could be rushed in.
Informed of the Assault.
The day before the assault, the company officers of the 30th U.S.C.T were assembled at regimental headquarters, and the following talk was given them by the Colonel: You all heard rumors of a mine that is to be exploded. That mine is now ready. It will be blown up at a 3 o'clock tomorrow morning. Gen. Burnside has directed that the Colored Division the charge, which will be made immediately after the explosion. Our regiment will lead the division, and will be formed in double column, closed in mass, at our outer line of works opposite the mine. As soon as the explosion occurs we will rapidly advance to the rebel works, and as soon as they are entered the movement will be, "Right companies, right into line wheel; left companies on the right into line, and we will go down the line as far as we can and there remain. I shall expect every officer to do his full duty, and file closers must allow no soldier to leave the ranks."
As the officers returned to their companies a serious smile was, noticed the faces of some, but all were glad that the time had come to try the mettle of the colored soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. The company commanders next informed the men of what was coming in the early morning and what was expected of them, each giving words of advice and encouragement according to his own idea, and most of them closing with. the admonition to "Remember Fort Pillow," and not to give up or surrender under any circumstances, for it would mean sure death, as no quarter could be expected from the rebel soldiers.
All this was well understood by privates as well as officers, and the death loss of the morrow showed the desperate valor with which the colored soldiers fought on that disastrous day.
The Non-Commissioned Officers.
After the company officers had thoroughly, instructed the men in what they should do, some of the more intelligent of the non-commissioned officers made short but pointed remarks to the privates. One of the speakers, a Sergeant, , who had been a preacher on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, was a very good talker, and being anxious to know how the boy's were taking the situation, I walked over to where he was addressing the members of Co.H. His remarks ran something like this: "My deah bredern, dis am gwine to be er gre't fite, de gre'tes'' we'uns hab eber seen; if we'uns tek Petrsburg mos' likly we'l tuk Richmun, and derstroy Mars Gin'ul Lee's big ahmy and den cloz de wah. Ebery man had orter lif up hisself in praher fur er strong hyart. O, bredern, member de pore cullud fokses ober yer in bondage. En 'member Marse Gin'ul Grant, en Marse Gin'ul Burnside, en Marse Gin'ul Meade, en de uder ob de gre't Gin'uls ober yunner watch'n yer, en, moreover, de fust nigger dat goes ter projeckin' es gwine ter git dis byarnut inter him. 'Fore Gawd, hits sho nuff trufe Ise tellin' yer."
Such speeches as these from men of their own color were perhaps of more practical value to the common soldier than all that was said by the officers. But, be this as it may, every man in the 30th U.S.C.T., both white and colored, felt that a great event for the Fourth Division of the Ninth Army Corps was near at hand and that the results of the coming fight would either place the colored troops side by side with their comrades of lighter hue, or else they would never again be given such responsibilities as were now before them.
A Change in the Program.
Morning came and with it a change in the program. A consultation of the leading Generals had been held during the night and it was decided to let the white troops take initiative after the explosion of the mine. Senator Benjamin F. Wade, Chairman of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, did not hesitate to say that this change was the cause of the disastrous result. His words can be found upon page 10 of the official report of that committee. Gen. Grant in his testimony before this same committee Dec. 20th, 1864, uses the following words, viz: "Gen. Burnside wanted to put his division of colored troops in advance, and I believe if he had done so, it would have been a success." The writer, however, has no criticisms to make, he is merely telling the story of what his regiment did on the eventful day.
The explosion of the mine was a success. The crater made by the explosion of 8,000 pounds of gun powder was 135 feet long, 97 feet broad and 30 feet deep. Two hundred and seventy-eight men were buried in the ruins. To add to the terror of the scene, the Union forces commenced a bombardment with 170 cannon and mortars. Elliot's rebel brigade near the crater were panic stricken and fled in every direction. Now was the time for the Union charge, which must be well directed and well executed to obtain the desired results, viz: to make a gap in the rebel lines thru which the reserve troops could rush toward Petersburg. But the white troops selected did not appear to realize the situation and 8 o'clock found them huddled in the crater having made no well-advised attempt to widen the gap as was the intention of the colored brigade.
The Confederates Recover.
The Confederates had now entirely recovered from their surprise and were ready for any farther advance of the Union army. We thought all was over, but in response to repeated orders from Gen. Meade to send in more troops, Gen. Burnside now sent in the colored division. The 30th U.S.C.T. was next to the Union breastworks, and in tones loud, clear and in quick succession, came the commands of the Colonel, "Attention, battalion!" The men sprang to their feet; "Fix bayonets!" There was a sharp rattling of steel and then came "Trail arms! - Forward, March!" and the regiment, led by the Colonel and Adjutant, went over the breastworks and thru the opening that had previously been made in the abatis, in columns of four, out onto the fated plain and toward the Crater. The appearance of the regimental colors seemed to be the signal for the enemy's batteries, and it was volley after volley of canister and shrapnel they gave us. Every round they fired took a set of ours and sometimes a double set. The brains of the Color Sergeant were spattered over the flag, but a stalwart Corporal seized the staff before the silken emblem touched the ground. The line officers all shouted "Forward, boys, forward!" It was our only safety to reach the rebel lines as soon as possible. Next came a volley of musketry followed by the "zip," "zip," "zip," of the firing at will, and on every side were men falling, falling, falling like leaves in the forest in the gales of Autumn.
As we neared the rebel intrenchments a change of direction of the head of the column to the right brought us directly in front of the enemy's line, and then came the order, "By the left flank, March!" and over the breastworks clambered the dusky warriors, officers vieing with the men as to who should first be inside of the rebel works. The abatis made but little impression, even the breastworks made but a short pause, and the negroes were in a hand to hand fight with as good troops as the Confederacy had ever mustered. The black faces assumed an ashy hue, the eyes glared like those of wild animals, the lips were tightly drawn, showing the white teeth, and the expression on every face was terrible to behold as over the works we went. "Surrender! Surrender! Surrender!" was heard on every side, and those who defiantly refused were given the cold steel without mercy. For 18 months I had served in "Upton's Regulars" in the fighting Sixth Corps. I had been at South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Salem Church and Gettysburg, but never had seen "lovelier fighting," as Phil Kearny would say, than this at the battle of the Mine. Well do I remember the Confederate Captain who while vainly trying to hold his command to their work kept yelling, "Kill 'em!" "Shoot 'em!" "Kill the damned niggers!" but while endeavoring to help carry out his own commands a bayonet in the hands of a dusky opponent as brave as he, pierced him thru and thru.
Enjoyment in Killing.
It is the only battle I was ever in where it appeared to be just pure enjoyment to kill an opponent. The Southern soldiers view this battle in the same light that the writer does, for Col. F.W. McMasters, of the 17th S.C., says in a newspaper article, "We slaughtered hundreds of whites and blacks, with decided preference to the Ethiopians."
The enemy's works on this part of the line was a perfect honeycomb of bomb proofs, trenches, covered ways, sleeping holes, and little alleys running in every direction, and in each hole there appeared one or more rebel soldiers, some ready to "kill the niggers" when they came in view and some praying for mercy. Such prayers as this were heard on every side while the battle raged the fiercest. "Lord, have mercy on me, and keep them damned niggers from killing me," plentifully interspersed with ejaculations like these "Kill the niggers," "Shoot 'em," "Kill 'em." But such fighting as this never lasts long, and when it was over the colored troops had accomplished a work of which they might well be proud. Two hundred yards of the enemy's strongest line had been carried at the point of the bayonet and 250 prisoners captured with a stand of colors.
One would think this was enough to ask of a single division on such an occasion, while there were 40,000 other soldiers within gun shot that had not been engaged, but before our lines had been reformed an Aid from the staff of Gen. Burnside appeared upon the scene of action and accosted the writer of this sketch, who was the ranking officer present, as follows: "Well, Colonel, what next?" The reply was, "This is as far as my orders go." The officer pointed to a white house in the direction of Petersburg, near which a rebel battery was posted, and said, "That will be your next objective point; advance at once,"
The Colors Rushed to the Front.
The colors were rushed to the front, an alignment attempted by the company officers and an advance ordered. We went but a short distance, for we were met by the First Brigade of Gen. Mahone's Division of Confederates, that had just formed a line of battle in a ravine 200 yards in the rear of the line we had just captured. Gen. Bushrod Johnson was in command of the division that occupied the rebel line in which the Crater was located, but he appears to have taken no part in the reestablishment of the broken line. Gen. Robert E. Lee was among the first to realize the situation, and immediately sent an order by Col. Venable to Gen. Wm. Mahone, whose division joined Gen. Johnson's on the right, to send two brigades at once to the field of action. Gen. Wm. Mahone was one of the best officers In the rebel army, and his division, containing his old brigade of Virginians, Gen. Wright's Georgians, Gen. Saunders's Alabamians, Gen. Harris's Mississippians and Gen. Finnegan's Floridians, were recognized as the best division in Gen. A.P. Hill's Corps.
Gen. Mahone said. "I can't send my brigade to Gen. Johnson, but I will go with them myself," so taking the Virginia and Georgia brigades he went to Gen. Johnson's headquarters, where he found Gen. Beauregard, who was in command of the defenses of Petersburg. Gen. Mahone was at once given command of the line and had just got his Virginia brigade ready for business, was forming the Georgia brigade and had sent back to have the Alabama brigade brought up to the battlefield when the peremptory order came for the colored troops to advance.
Meeting Mahone's Men.
As mentioned before, we started, but upon reaching the open plain, Gen. Mahone's troops, advancing from the ravine in which they were stationed, gave us a volley that decimated our ranks, and this was immediately followed by the old rebel tell and a charge such as veteran troops alone knew how to make. Officers as well as men went down thick and fast. Col. Bates fell shot thru the head, the Major was killed, eight company officers were killed or wounded and every third man in the 30th U.S.C.T. tasted rebel lead that day. Many a dusky warrior had his brains knocked out with the butt of a musket, or was run thru with a bayonet while vainly imploring for mercy. When we came to bury the dead the next day under flag of truce one of our Captains was found with seven ugly wounds on his body, but there were six dead rebels lying near him and his lifeless hand yet grasped his 44-caliber revolver, every barrel of which was empty.
Singly, in couples and squads the survivors of the Colored Division sought refuge in the Union lines, but that night witnessed a sad roll call in every regiment of the Colored Division, for out of 4,500 guns that were carried in the fight in the morning only 2,835 were present when the retreat was sounded at night. Sixteen hundred and sixty-five were numbered among the killed, wounded and missing.
Altho the day's work as a whole was not a success, one thing has been proven, viz, the colored troops dared meet not only in open field the best troops of the Confederacy, but they also dared attack them behind breastworks almost impregnable, and as to results the best standard by which to test the qualities of an army is this: The number killed on the battlefield.
A writer well recognized as authority on war statistics says, "This is a harsh standard, but It is nevertheless true that where the dead lie the thickest there is where the bullets flew the fastest." All of the witnesses before the Congressional Investigating Committee testified that the Colored Division did nobly, while Gen. Robert E. Lee recognized their bravery by promoting Gen. Wm. Mahone from a Brigadier to a full Major-General for the work he did that day. Mahone's fighting was with the colored troops, the fighting of our white division being with Elliott's Brigade of Bushrod Johnson's Division of rebels, and at an hour before Gen. Mahone's troops were on the ground.
-Delevan Bates, Brevet Brigadier-General U. S. Vols., Aurora, Neb.
© 1998-2003 by John G. Saint, Ted & Carole Miller