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A desperate struggle.

The Alabamians made a grand charge under a terrible fire, reaching the crest of the crater without faltering. Here a short and desperate struggle ensued. They tumbled clubs, clods of earth, muskets and cannon balls into the excavation on the heads of the enemy with telling effect. This novel warfare lasted only a short time before the [84] white flag went up, and about 500 prisoners marched to the rear and three flags were surrendered to the Alabama Brigade.

Hon. George Clark, of Waco, Texas, who was then on the staff of the gallant General Saunders, in a graphic description of the charge, says:

When we reached the scene we were met by General Mahone, accompanied by General Bushrod Johnson, and General Mahone gave directions as to how he wished the brigade formed. It was then about 11 A. M. The rifle-pits to the left of the Crater (enemy's right) were then held by the Virginia Brigade, their right resting at the Crater. I was sent by General Saunders to look over the ground, and went forward to the rim of the Crater. I there met and talked with Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Stewart and other acquaintances in the Virginia Brigade, including Colonel Rogers, if my memory is correct, both of whom I knew well, having served with them upon General Court-Martial the preceding winter. I found that while the Virginians had done their part of the job thoroughly, and were holding their positions heroically, Wright's Georgia Brigade had failed to carry the trenches on the right of the Crater (enemy's left), and the Crater itself was still in possession of the enemy, filled not only with negro troops, but also with a much larger per cent. of white troops, as was demonstrated after the capture. I returned and reported the situation to General Saunders. At this time our brigade was resting on their arms just east of a little branch or marsh under the hill. I was instructed by General Saunders to pass along the line, count the men, and inform them, as well as company commanders, that our attack would begin at 2 o'clock, upon the firing of two signal guns from the batteries in our rear—that every man must be ready to rise and go forward at the signal, slowly at first, and then at a double-quick as soon as we rose the hill—that our object was

To recapture the rifle pits

on our right as well as the Crater, and for this purpose the brigade would be compelled to right oblique after starting, so as to cover the points of attack—no man was to fire a shot until we reached the works, and arms must be carried at a right-shoulder shift. I was also instructed by General Saunders to inform the men that General Lee had notified him that there were no other troops at hand to recapture the works, and if this brigade did not succeed in the first attempt, they would be formed again and renew the assault, and that [85] if it was necessary, he (General Lee) would lead them. As a matter of fact, a large portion of the army was on that day east of the James river. These directions of General Saunders were communicated at once to every officer and man, and by actual count made by me the brigade had in line 632 muskets.

At the boom of the signal guns the Alabama brigade rose at a ‘right-shoulder shift,’ and moved forward in perfect alignment—slowly at first, until we came in sight of the enemy and received his first fire, and then with a dash to the works. For a moment or two the enemy overshot us and did no damage, but as we reached the works many were struck down and the gaps were apparent, but the alignment remained perfect. It was as handsome a charge as was ever made on any field, and could not have been excelled by the ‘Guard’ at Waterloo, under Ney.

On reaching the works the real fight began. Our men poured over into the Crater, and the ring of steel and bayonet in handto-hand fight began. Men were brained by butts of guns, and run through with bayonets. This melee kept up for at least fifteen minutes, the enemy fighting with desperation because they were impressed with the idea that no quarter would be given. The credit of capturing the Crater and all its contents belongs to Morgan Smith Cleveland, then Adjutant of the 8th Alabama Regiment, who now fills a patriot's grave at Selma, Alabama.

A Horrible carnage.

Standing in the Crater, in the midst of the horrid carnage, with almost bursting heart, he said to a Federal colonel who was near him: “Why in the h—don't you fellows surrender?” and he put the accent on the cuss-word. The Yankee replied quickly: “Why in the h—don't you let us.” A wink being as good as a nod, either to a blind horse or a brave soldier, the effect was instantaneous. The enemy threw down their arms, marched out as prisoners, some being killed or wounded by their own cannon as they filed past where I stood, and the day was saved as a glorious heritage for the Southern soldier and those who came after him. I remember helping General Bartlett, who was trying to get out on two muskets inverted and used as crutches. I could see no evidence of physical pain in his face, and remarked to him that he must have nerves of steel, as his leg was shot away. He smiled, and replied that he had lost his real leg at Williamsburg two years before, and the leg he had just had shattered was a cork leg.


[86]

The negro prisoners were very much alarmed, and vociferously implored for their lives. One old cornfield chap exclaimed: ‘My God, massa, I nebber pinted a gun at a white man in all my life; dem nasty, stinking Yankees fotch us here, and we didn't want to come fus!’

The appearance of this rough, irregular hole beggars description. It was estimated that it contained 600 bodies. The importance of reconstructing this broken line of earthworks at once prevented the removal of all of these dead men, therefore 233 of the enemy's dead were buried as they had fallen, in one indiscriminate heap in the pit of the Crater. Spades were brought in, and the earth thrown from the sides of the excavation until they were covered a sufficient depth. By 3 o'clock P. M. all was over, and we were enjoying a welcome truce. The extreme heat of the sun had already caused putrefaction of the dead to commence, and the bodies in our front and rear, and especially the blood-soaked earth under our feet in the trenches, exhaled such a nauseating smell that I was forced to abandon my supper, although I had not tasted a morsel of food since the previous night.

The reports of the losses on the Federal side vary, but as above quoted, it is put down from all the five corps which aided in the assault at 4,400 total; but their loss was estimated at the time to be between 5,000 and 6,000. General Burnside says in his report that his 9th corps lost twenty-three commanders of regiments, four killed, fifteen wounded, and four missing; two brigade commanders, General W. F. Bartlett and Colonel E. G. Marshall, prisoners; fifty-two officers and 376 men killed; 105 officers and 1,556 men wounded; eighty-seven officers and 1,652 men missing; total 3,828.

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