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[265]

The battle at Fort Gregg. [from the New Orleans Picayune, April 1, 1900.]

Louisiana survivors tell the story of the fight.


As there has been some misunderstanding about the battle at Fort Gregg, in front of Petersburg, Va., and doubts as to what Louisiana troops were engaged therein, the matter has been elucidated by reference to a diary which was very carefully kept by a member of the Donaldsonville Artillery, who was one of the occupants of the fort and a participant in the battle. That old veteran showed his diary to one of his comrades who was with him at the time, and the latter, with the data furnished him and the keen recollection which he has of the affair, has written the following statement of facts, which will interest all. In fact, it is a most valuable historical document:

On April 2, 1864 (thirty-five years ago to-morrow), Fort Gregg, situated on a hill at an isolatated spot a little in the rear of the Confederate trenches, near Lee's dam (placed by our generals to flood the enemy in the front), about three miles to the right of Petersburg, was captured by a portion of General Ord's Corps. The original garrison of the fort numbered about seventy-five or eighty men, who had been detached from the artillery of General A. P. Hill's Third Army Corps some time after the battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864. On October 13, following, four men from the Donaldsonville Artillery, namely, C. J. Savoy, G. Charlet, O. Delmer and John S. Mioton, were ordered to report to General Walker, an artillery officer of Hill's Corps, the writer being one of the four. We were then sent to Fort Gregg, under the command of Captain Chew, of Maryland, with Frank McElroy, of the 3rd Company, Washington Artillery, as our lieutenant.

During our stay in the fort we were drilled as infantry by one or two officers of General Mahone's Brigade. Our winter quarters were just back of the fort—that portion being protected by a stockade—the front and sides being an earthwork, with a good sized ditch in front. There was no artillery in the fort at that time, but in constructing it provisions had been made for four guns.

Early on that memorable Sunday morning, April 2, 1864, Generals [266] A. P. Hill and Heth called and examined the fort and its garrison, and gave some instructions to our officers. About eight or nine o'clock A. M. General Walker called and we were ordered out and formed on the right of the fort, towards Hatcher's Run, the order being given to deploy as skirmishers and charge the federal pickets, which was accomplished; having driven the Yanks as far back as a farm, on which was a two-story dwelling, in which a good many United States pickets had taken shelter, and for a time the exartillerists tried their hands as sharpshooters. The order was then given to retreat into the fort. This was accomplished in a somewhat hasty manner, for the Yanks were getting very thick and the situation hot, to say the least.

On our return to the fort we found two guns of the Third Company of Washington Artillery, two three-inch Parrot guns, which had been stationed in our front, but not having the horses, they were rolled by hand into the fort. They occupied the position looking towards Hatcher's Run. We were also re-enforced by a portion of General Harris' gallant Mississippians, the 12th and 16th Regiments, about 150 men, under command of Colonel Duncan. The writer happened to be at what was considered the weakest part of the fort, in the angle where the stockade and earthworks met. He being a small man, was ordered to go elsewhere, so he took his position between the two guns. The assault began on our right flank. They came in three lines of battle, one behind the other, with their flags floating in the center, but it was only after the fourth charge that they succeeded in entering the ditch in front of the fort. For some time we could hear the federal officers ordering their men on the top of the fort; the officers several times got on the parapet, with their colors in their left hands and their revolvers in their right, and demanded of us to surrender; but many of those brave officers were slain before we turned our musket butts up. It was then that the brave and gallant No. 4 on the gun nearest the stockade, which was double-shotted with canister, was ordered by the federals, who had by then swarmed on the parapet, not to pull the lanyard which he held, but quick as a flash the brave Berry, of the Third Company, Washington Artillery, shouted back, ‘Pull and be d —— d.’ Useless to say that all in front of that gun were swept off, and our gallant artilleryman was shot down at once, and thus the heroic Berry sold his life dearly.

After the garrison had surrendered, the federals were so elated at our capture that they discharged their muskets in the air, which [267] action led the Confederates on our left to believe that we were being given no quarter, and they began shelling poor and gallant Fort Gregg. After an hour's hard fighting the garrison of 160 Mississippians and 80 artillerists serving as infantry and two guns, assailed by one or two divisions of Ord's corps, inflicted a loss of about 1000 in killed and wounded. The loss in the fort was about 50 or 60 men.

After being removed from the fort we were taken near Grant's observatory, where each man's name and command was taken by a federal officer, seated in an open buggy, who, to say the least, was the biggest ruffian it was the writer's misfortune to meet. From there we were taken to City Point, and from there to Point Lookout, Md., and remained until the end of July, 1865, when we were paroled.

It is pleasant to say that after all these long years the four members of the Donaldsonville Artillery who were engaged in this desperate struggle are still living and in fair health, two residing in Assumption parish, one in Ascension and the fourth in New Orleans.

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