« PrejšnjaNaprej »
through which the Corps had passed, many of its officers were complimented with promotion to brevet rank. Among these were Colonels Christ, Curtin, Humphrey, McLaughlin of the 57th Massachusetts, and Blackman of the 27th colored troops, who were advanced to the grade of brevet Brigadier General. Several gentlemen of the staff were also recognized as worthy of promotion. Captain Roemer, of the artillery, was brevetted Major.
The Ninth Corps retained its place on the right of the army until the final assault. Through the autumn and winter, although it was not called to the severe service in which some other portions of the army were engaged, it yet performed all required duties with promptness and fidelity. Our soldiers were subjected to constant annoyance from the enemy's sharpshooters, and skirmishing took place almost daily. Artillery duels were also frequent. The neighborhood of "Fort Hell" was especially hot, and appeared to be the object of most spiteful attack. The 7th Rhode Island formed a part of the garrison of the fort, and Colonel Daniels was at one time in command. Up to the 1st of December, 1864, the casualties of the Corps amounted to over sixteen thousand, a sufficient attestation of the bravery and self-sacrifice with which its career was everywhere and always marked. On every scene, the well-tried courage of the officers and men had been conspicuous. As the fate of the rebellion approached, the Corps prepared to take its part in the decisive, final struggle. Faithfully and well had its former work been done. It continued faithful unto the end, and won the illustrious prize of honorable and unwearied service.
THE CLOSING SCENES.
THE opening of the spring was understood by all to be the signal for entering upon the closing struggle of the war. The rebel government itself had become somewhat discouraged, and General Lee had already intimated his opinion of the hopelessness of continuing the strife. The magnificent campaign of General Sherman had demonstrated the inherent weakness of the "Southern Confederacy." The brilliant operations of General Terry and Admiral Porter, which resulted in the capture of Fort Fisher, on the 15th of January, and the subsequent occupation of Wilmington, had their effect upon the counsels of the insurgent government. The interview of the peace commissioners from Richmond, with the President and Mr. Seward at Hampton Roads, was a virtual confession of weakness. Yet the enemy still showed a resolute front, and, as subsequent events proved, still contemplated desperate measures. But it was evident on all sides that the critical moment was drawing near. There might be other attempts on the part of the enemy to avert the long-threatened blow. Possibly he might deliver some heavy blows himself; but every struggle which he should make was felt to be but the expiring throes of a cause, to which only despair could give a momentary strength, and the certainty of defeat a resolution to die with firmness.
During the month of March, as through the preceding month, the Ninth Corps occupied the right of the intrenchments, extending from the Appomattox to Fort Howard, a distance of seven miles. General Willcox's division occupied the line from
the Appomattox to Fort Meikle. General Potter's division extended from Fort Meikle to Fort Howard. General Hartranft's division was posted in the rear, in reserve. The intrenchments held by General Willcox and General Curtin's brigade of General Potter's division were those which had originally been taken from the enemy, and were in very close proximity to the opposing lines. The works were necessarily somewhat defective. Especially was this the case with Fort Stedman. This work was situated at the point where our line crossed Prince George Court House road. It was a small earthwork without bastions, immediately adjoining battery number ten. It was not a compactly built work in the first place, and the frosts and rains of winter had weakened it considerably. Yet the nearness to the enemy prevented even the slightest repairs, except in the most stealthy manner. The ground in the rear of the fort was nearly as high as the parapet itself. The enemy's line was distant only about one hundred and fifty yards. Our own picket line ran about one-third of this distance from the fortified front. This portion of our defences was held by the third brigade of the first division, under General N. B. McLaughlin.
At four o'clock on the morning of the 25th of March, the picket line was visited by the officer on duty. The men were found to be alert, and no signs of an enemy were visible. General Grant, during the winter, had allowed deserters to come into our lines with arms. Squads of men, taking advantage of this permission, appeared soon after the visit of the officer, stole quietly in with the pretence of being deserters, surprised our pickets and gained possession of the picket posts. The line was overpowered in a moment, and almost without resistance. Immediately following these detached parties, was a strong storming force of picked men, and behind these were three heavy columns of the enemy. It was General Gordon's corps, supported by General Bushrod Johnson's division. The guard in the trenches attempted to check the progress of the attacking column, but was overborne at once, and our main line
was broken between batteries nine and ten. The assaulting force turned to the right and left, with the intention of sweeping away our troops. The right column soon gained battery ten, which was open in the rear, thus acquiring the great advantage of a close attack on Fort Stedman. The garrison, consisting of a battalion of the 14th New York heavy artillery, under Major Randall, resisted with the utmost spirit, but, being attacked on all sides, was soon overpowered, and most of the men were captured. Forthwith the guns of the battery and fort were turned upon our troops. The enemy pushed on towards Fort Haskell, driving out the troops in battery eleven.
The day had not yet brightened, and it was almost impossible in the dim twilight to distinguish between friend and foe. General McLaughlin, aroused by the tumult, endeavored to rally and form his brigade. Passing on down the line, he ordered mortar battery twelve to open upon the enemy. At the same time, the 59th Massachusetts was formed, made a gallant charge upon battery eleven, and recaptured the work. General McLaughlin went forward to Fort Stedman, and was at once seized by the enemy. General Parke, immediately on receiving intelligence of the enemy's movement, ordered General Willcox to form the remainder of his division for resistance, and General Hartranft to concentrate his right brigade to reënforce the imperilled troops. General Tidball, chief of artillery, was directed to post his batteries on the hills in rear of the point attacked. General Hartranft concentrated his whole division with great promptness, attacked the advancing enemy, and effectually checked his further progress.
The left column proceeded along the line to battery nine, attacked the 57th Massachusetts, and drove the men from the trenches. It next struck the left of the 2d Michigan, and threw it into confusion. The regiment, however, soon rallied, and stoutly resisted the attack till reënforcements came up, when the advance of the enemy was stopped. A line was formed of Colonel Ely's brigade, perpendicular to the intrenchments, the right resting near battery nine. By the assistance
of batteries nine and five and Fort McGilvery a heavy assault which the enemy made on battery nine was repulsed, and the attacking column forced back. Foiled in the attempt to sweep our lines in this direction, and to gain possession of the railroad to City Point, the assaulting force withdrew to the rear of Fort Stedman. Here it met once more the column which had gone up to the right, and which had been equally unfortunate. After their temporary surprise, the garrisons of batteries eleven and twelve-the 29th Massachusetts and the 100th
Pennsylvania-rallied, and, uniting with Colonel Harriman's brigade of General Willcox's division, formed a second line perpendicular to the intrenchments, its left resting near Fort Haskell, its right connecting with General Hartranft's division.
By this rapid and skilful disposition, the enemy was not only brought to a complete stop in both directions, but was also forced back, enclosed and subjected to a destructive fire in front and on both flanks. The only works which, he now held were Fort Stedman and battery ten, but his position there was commanded by our guns from Fort Haskell. He made repeated attempts upon the latter work, in order to secure an uninterrupted line of retreat, but was in every case steadily and bloodily repulsed. "At half-past seven o'clock, the position of affairs was thus: Batteries eleven and twelve had been recaptured, a cordon of troops, consisting of Hartranft's division with regiments belonging to McLaughlin's and Ely's brigades, was formed around Fort Stedman and battery ten, into which the enemy was forced. There he was exposed to a concentrated fire from all the artillery in position bearing on these points and the reserve batteries in the rear."
General Hartranft was now ordered to advance his troops and retake the line. The 211th Pennsylvania was selected to advance directly upon the fort, in order to occupy the attention of the enemy while the remainder of the command was to rush in on either flank. A large portion of these troops had
General Parke's Report.