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The battle of Fort Gregg. [from the New Orleans Picayune, December 18, 190.]

By Captain A. K. Jones, of Port Gibson, Miss.
(See Ante Vol. XXIII, Southern Historical Society Papers, p. 74.)

It may be justly said there was no defense in any war, at any time, which crowned the defenders with more luster than that of Fort Gregg.

The story of the two hundred Mississippians who defied, and held at bay for two hours, five divisions of the enemy, will forever be recalled with the proudest satisfaction.

There has never been a more determined assault, and there will never be a more determined defense.

Those men were as valiant and strong of soul as the Christian martyrs of old.

Nothing in the annals of war excels their conduct, and their names should be inscribed on the new Capitol walls at Jackson, Miss.

Captain Jones has recorded a great event, which the people of the South cannot too highly appreciate.—Editor Picayune.

All who are familiar with the history of the Army of Northern Virginia know that but for the stubborn defense, unparalleled, at Fort Gregg, made by the 12th and 16th Mississippi Regiments, on Sunday, the 2d day of April, 1865, checking the advance of the Army of the Potomac, flushed and jubilant over the defeat and capture of the whole right wing of our army, and now pressing forward upon Petersburg, General Lee would have been compelled to surrender in his trenches; for it was a physical impossibility to have withdrawn his army across the Appomattox except under cover of night.

General Lee, in his dispatch of that day to the Secretary of War, said:

‘It is absolutely necessary that we should abandon our position to-night. It will be a difficult operation, but I hope not impracticable.’

The battle of Fort Gregg was the last great battle between the two armies, and was decidedly the bloodiest of them all. On the [57] 1st of April, 1865, our brigade (Harris'), composed of the 12th, 16th, 19th and 48th Mississippi Regiments, was doing service in the trenches on the north side of James river.

About dark we got orders to cook all the rations we had on hand, and to be ready to march at a moment's notice. The orders came at midnight to leave the pickets on duty and to move out quietly to the rear, and to leave everything but canteens and cartridge boxes.

We moved on the road to Richmond, conjecturing that we were going to intercept a raiding party; but after crossing the James the column was headed toward Petersburg, and soon was doublequick-ing.

We crossed the Appomattox on a pontoon bridge about four miles above Petersburg, at a little factory village, Matoaca; and when we lined up on the south bank of the Appomattox, the sun was ushering in a beautiful and charming holy day, and little did we reck what would happen to us before it went down. All kinds of rumors were flying, some that our right, composed of Johnson's, Pender's and Picket's Divisions, had the day before turned the enemy's left, and won a great victory; others that we had at first driven the enemy, and then had been driven by them, sustaining a great loss. After waiting an hour or so, we were moved about four miles to the trenches, about one mile west of Fort Gregg. Here we were fronted at right angles to the line of trenches; our left on the trenches, and our right thrown back toward the river. We were the only organized forces in sight.

Then it was evident to all that a great disaster had overtaken General Lee's right, for men came running back, singly and in squads, most of them demoralized, and reported that the enemy had, by a daylight attack, succeeded in breaking through our lines, and had captured the whole right wing of the army, and that General A. P. Hill, our corps commander, was among the killed. In the course of a few hours the enemy came in sight, directly in our front, their battle line more than a mile long; the glint and glimmer of their guns shone like a wave of silver.

When they got within the range of our rifles, they halted and began a desultory firing, and ten or twelve pieces of artillery came in a gallop to the front. Then the command was given to fall back to the two forts, and for the 12th and 16th Mississippi Regiments to occupy Gregg, and the 19th and 48th to occupy Baldwin.

When we reached Fort Gregg we found there two pieces of field artillery, manned by twelve or fifteen men, and about one hundred [58] infantry, who had made their escape from the right. They begged to go to the rear, and we hesitated whether to let them go or make them stay and help to defend the fort; but concluded that in their demoralized condition it was better to let them go, provided they left their guns with us, which they readily consented to do.

While we were getting into position, ‘on the right by file into line,’ beginning with company A, of the 16th, which arrangement placed my company on the opposite side of the driveway from company A, and its duty to protect the entrance, I was told that General Wilcox wanted me. When I got to him he had dismounted, and was standing in the entrance way. He asked me if I was the commanding officer. I replied that Colonel Duncan was. He said: ‘Send for him.’

Before Duncan arrived he got on his horse so that he could be better heard, and then in loud, exciting voice, said:

‘Men, the salvation of Lee's army is in your keeping; you must realize the responsibility, and your duty; don't surrender this fort; if you can hold the enemy in check for two hours, Longstreet, who is making a forced march, will be here, and the danger to the army in the trenches will be averted.’

The artillery of the Federals cut short his speech. The response was: ‘Tell General Lee that Fort Gregg will never be surrendered.’

The cannonading lasted about thirty minutes. Our two pieces did not fire more than two shots before both guns were dismounted, and the gunners took shelter in the bomb-proof.

When the cannonading ceased, the infantry advanced in beautiful order until they got in range of our rifles, when we pelted them right merrily, and so effectively that they retired out of range; but soon their lines were reformed, and then they came in a run. Their battle lines were three-fourths of a mile long, but before getting to the fort they were solid masses of men.

In these charges there was no shooting but by us, and we did cruel and savage work with them. When they got in twenty-five or thirty yards of the fort they were safe, for we could not see them again until they appeared upon the parapet.

Those that first reached the fort were content to lie quietly in the ditch, which was about fourteen feet wide and about eight feet deep, and about eleven feet to the top of the parapet.

When General Gibbon saw that the fort was not captured, he [59] started his second column of a thousand or fifteen hundred men, and we gave them the same warm welcome that we gave the first, and more of it.

As soon as this column reached shelter and recovered breath they attempted to climb over the parapet, but no sooner was a head seen than it was withdrawn with a minnie ball in it. When it was realized that nothing more could be expected from the men in the trenches around the fort, then the third and stronger column started, and we had harder work to keep them out. When these several charges were made the troops in the rear cheered most lustily. There were six of these assaulting columns, and they followed each other about every thirty minutes, and each successive one was harder to drive off the parapet, and when the fort was finally captured, the parapet was covered with dead men in blue.

I am satisfied that the last assaulting column walked on the heads of the other columns, who were packed in the ditch like sardines in a box, for they made no halt at all, but rushed right on over the parapet into the fort.

Before the last assault was made the battle flags of the enemy made almost a solid line of bunting around the fort. The noise outside was fearful, frightful and indescribable, the curses and groaning of frenzied men could be heard over and above the din of our musketry. Savage men, ravenous beasts!

We felt that there was no hope for us unless we could keep them at bay. We were prepared for the worst, and expected no quarter.

Many of our captors were under the influence of whisky, and all were exasperated that we should have made such a stubborn fight, entailing on them a bloody massacre, when resistance was useless and vain.

So the cry was to kill, and but for their officers, who with cocked pistols made the men desist, all of us would have been murdered, and then too the jam of men in the fort gave us some protection, for it was impossible almost to shoot a Confederate without hitting a Federal. We lost about forty men killed in the fort after its capture, and fully that many Federals were killed by their own men.

It was ten minutes before the shooting could be suppressed.

I have been often asked how many men we had in the fort, and what was our loss, and what was that of the enemy. I am sure that we did not have exceeding two hundred men in both regiments. If all the twenty companies in the fort were equally as strong as Companies [60] G and K, which together had nineteen men, and which I think were fair averages, there were 190 men, including officers, in the fort. We lost in the two regiments about forty men, nearly all of them killed after the capture of the fort.

The records show that the whole of Gibbon's Corps and two divisions of another corps were in the fight of Fort Gregg.

The dead of the enemy lay literally in heaps, much thicker than they were in front of the stone fence at Fredericksburg, or in the angle at Spotsylvania Courthouse. I think I am conservative in saying that General Gibbon lost 1,200 men killed outright around Fort Gregg.

The following named members of the Claiborne Guards, Company K, 12th Mississippi Regiment, were in Fort Gregg, and assisted in its defense: Captain A. K. Jones, Corporal H. K. Fuller, H. M. Colson, W. W. Coutch, H. W. Porter, J. H. Roberts, A. J. Sevier, G. W. H. Shaifer, J. H. Simms, W. R. Thompson, and Pearson Wells.

W. D. Brown was wounded before we got into the fort, and did not enter, but went on to the rear.

John H. Roberts was shot some minutes after the capture of the fort, as many of our men were.

For some time the Natchez Fencibles, Company G, were attached to Company K, and both regarded as one company.

There were of the Natchez Fencibles present in Fort Gregg: Lieutenant Glasscock, Sergeant Barlow, Sergeant Lecand, Corporal Murray, Naftel Underwood, Joseph Vandyke, and West.

O'Brien and Podesta were wounded in front of the fort, and did not enter it. James Vandyke was wounded in the fort, and got out and went to the rear before the assault was made.

King was on the front line. If he was in the fort he was killed.

He was not with us a prisoner.

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