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Battle of Sailor's Creek.1 [from the Richmond Dispatch, April 12, 1896.] part taken in it by the Savannah guard. But few survivors now of the guard.

To the Editor of the Dispatch.
The Savannah Volunteer Guards Battalion fought its last battle at Sailor's Creek, in which engagement many Savannahians were killed and wounded. [251]

The Guards were known in the Confederate army as the 18th Battalion of Georgia Volunteers, which was commanded by the gallant Major (afterward Colonel) W. S. Basinger, a distingushed lawyer and citizen of this city, but now residing at Athens.

The battle of Sailor's Creek was one of the several battles which took place after General Lee evacuated Petersburg, and just before the surrender of the army at Appomattox. The Confederate army, says the Savannah News, of the 5th, decimated and starving, was bravely trying to make its way through the cordon which General Grant's hosts were forming around it. The 18th Battalion was hemmed in, and attempted to break the enemy's lines, but was annihilated in the attempt, every officer and man being either killed, wounded, or captured.

The Guards went to Virginia when every available armed man that could be spared was needed to reinforce Lee's army. Although in service from the beginning of the war, the operations of the battalion had been confined to the coast, in the neighborhood of Savannah and Charleston, where there was much unpleasant duty, but very little fighting. The battalion had done some good service in Charleston harbor, however, where it distinguished itself in the repulse of the attack on Battery Wagner, on Morris Island, after which it did service for several months on Morris and James Islands, in the defence of Charleston.

In May, 1864, the order came for the battalion to go to Virginia, and was received with rapturous cheers by the men, who were tired of the monotony of garrison life. In the fall the battalion was joined with six other battalions, which were stationed with it at Chaffin's Bluff, on the James river, into a small brigade, commanded by Colonel Crutchfield, which was attached to the division of General G. W. Custis Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee. On this account General Custis Lee has been an honorary member of the corps since its reorganization after the war.

The battalion had the same hard experience with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia during the winter of 1864-‘65. Its only shelter was a few ragged old tents, and these were not sufficient for all. Fuel was scarce, and very difficult to obtain. Their only rations were a pound of corn-meal and a third of a pound of bacon a day. The duty was also very severe. How would the 250 young fellows who looked so brave in the last annual parade of the Guards enjoy soldiering under such circumstances? But it was the same class of men who composed the battalion in 1864, and their successors would do the same thing now if it were necessary to do so. [252]

When Lee evacuated Petersburg on the night of April 2d, the Guards marched out with the rest of the army. It was an all-night march and all the next day, then a few hours' rest, and the march resumed before dawn. This continued until April 6th, when Lee's retreating army was brought to bay at Sailor's creek. General Gordon's Corps was the true rear guard, but in the various operations and movements of the day, General Ewell's Corps, of which Custis Lee's Division was a part, got into the rear, and in its turn became the rear guard. The army was hemmed in, but the men did not know it. The Guards were fording Sailor's creek, with the colorbearer in the middle, carrying the color-staff inclined upon his shoulder, when a spent bullet struck the staff, splitting it exactly in the middle and just burying itself in the crack. The bullet came from ahead, and the men saw that they were surrounded. Custis Lee's Division was the rear of the corps, Crutchfield's Brigade in the rear of the division, and the Guards at the rear of the brigade. The brigade was halted a few hundred yards from the creek, about half way up the slope of a long acclivity, and the line formed, with the Guards on the extreme right of the line.

Major Basinger in his review of the history of the Guards, gives a brief, but interesting, account of the battle:

When the enemy's infantry began to ascend the slope to attack the Confederate troops holding their fire until they should get quite near, a strong body was discovered making its way through a thicket of pines on the right of the Guards so as to take them on the flank and rear. Fortunately, they were impeded and disordered by the thickness of the grove, Major Basinger happened at the moment to be near the extreme right of the Guards.

There was no time for deliberation. He immediately marched the battalion by the right flank obliquely to the rear, fixing bayonets as they went, so as to face this unexpected enemy, and, reforming his line, attacked at once with the bayonet, while they were yet entangled in the wood. The Guards were but eighty-five that day, and nothing but the disorder of the enemy in the thicket saved them.

Their attack was successful; the enemy was driven off, with the loss of two regimental flags and many killed, but with serious loss to the Guards also. The battalion then returned to the original line to take its part in the main battle. But again the enemy came through the thicket of pines, and were met in the same manner as before. But they were too strong, and the corps had suffered too much in [253] the former attack; the enemy were checked, but all of the Guards who escaped with their lives fell into their hands as prisoners. It was afterwards ascertained that these attacks through the pine thicket had been made by a force of three regiments, half advancing at a time, and that their loss in the encounter was about 275 men. The disorder caused in their advance by the pine thicket was the only thing that rendered such a result possible. But without this combat, the whole division would have been assailed on its flank and rear and inevitably destroyed.

As it was, the division, thus guarded on its flank, repulsed two attacks, and finally, attacking in its turn, drove the enemy from the field, and killed and wounded, it was said on good authority, about 5,000 of his men, having itself only 2,250 engaged. But in the very moment of their success a courier came from General Ewell announcing that he had surrendered himself and his entire corps. So the division found itself in the same moment victors, yet prisoners of war.

In this affair the loss of the Guards was very heavy-amounting to thirty killed and twenty-two wounded of the eighty-five engaged, and every officer but one being either killed or wounded.

The killed were buried on the field by the enemy. The wounded were sent to the hospitals, and the unwounded to northern prisons.

General McGlashan, in a lecture delivered at the Guards' Hall, December 5, 1894, gave a graphic description of the battle, in which he participated with his command, closely adjoining the Guards, and in full view of their line. General McGlashan's command fought an equally desperate fight, but with slightly better fortune than the Guards, as the losses were not so severe. In a letter from Major Basinger, read by General McGlashan in the course of his lecture, the former charged that the enemy fired on and slaughtered his wounded men after their surrender. Captain John R. Dillon, who was adjutant of the battalion, and was wounded at the battle, furnishes the following partial list of the killed:

Captain G. C. Rice; Lieutenants G. M. Turner, W. H. King, Fred. Tupper, Eugent Blois, W. D. Grant, G. W. Smith, Sergeants George E. James, Charles Postell, R. Millen, W. C. Bennett; Privates A. O. Bowne, J. W. Myddleton, W. H. Rice, J. McIntosh, B. Abbey, J. Rouse, E. L. Gordon, John Vickers, H. Crook, L. E. Barie, J. Gould.

The year following the bodies of eighteen of the Guards who fell at Sailor's creek were recovered and brought to Savannah. Only [254] seven of these could be identified. These were buried in the private lots, and the other eleven were interred in the lot of the Guards, in Laurel Grove Cemetery. The interment was attended by a large gathering of the citizens, and the ceremonies were conducted by Bishop Elliott and other leading divines of the city.

With one exception (Lieutenant Gue) every officer present at the battle of Sailor's creek was either killed or wounded. Major Basinger and Lieutenants Dillon and Starr were wounded, and Captain Rice and the lieutenants named above were killed; Captain George Stiles was in the camp hospital; Captain Thomas F. Screven was at home on furlough, and Lieutenant P. H. Raynal was on detached duty with a detachment sent out in search of cattle for the army. This accounts for every officer of the command.

There are only a few survivors of that desperate battle. Major Basinger commanded the battalion with the rank of lieutenant-colonel for several years after its reorganization after the war, and is now living at Athens. Among those residing here are Captain Thomas F. Screven, Captains John R. Dillon and John Reilly, both of whom have commanded Co. C, of the battalions, successively since the war; Sergeants Malcolm McLean, and J. G. Cornell, and Private John A. Pacetti. Captain P. N. Raynal, who commanded Co. A for a year after the war, now resides at Thomasville, and Sergeant Bayard McIntosh in Atlanta, being connected with the Agricultural Department. There are probably others, but their names could not be recalled by the veterans who were seen yesterday.

1 for further account of this battle, see ante page 83:—Recollections of a participant as to the part taken therein by Hunton's Brigade.

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