Thursday, June 23, 2011

Before the Crater: The 48th Pennsylvania at Petersburg (Part 2)

Union Troops Attack Confederate Defenses at Petersburg

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From Joseph Gould, The Story of the Forty-Eighth

"On the 16th of June, 1864, the 48th Regiment, after a month’s hard fighting in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, etc., crossed the James River, and about 4 p.m. arrived in front of Petersburg, just in time to see the 7th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Corps make an unsuccessful assault on the rebel works, in which they lost many men killed, wounded and prisoners, also losing their colors. About two hours later we were thrown forward in front of the same rebel position to, as we believed, assault the same but instead of doing so, we were led past the front of their position down the bed of a creek until we came to the left, and at an angle of, the enemy’s line. About this time it became dark, and we were in an old line of the enemy’s works captured , a few days previously, by Butler’s colored troops.

"Although we could not now see the rebel position, we all knew that we were very near them. In fact too near for comfort, so, at about ten o’clock—and it was as dark as pitch—Col. Pleasants ordered Company G and Company B, of which last company Andrew Wren was a sergeant, to cross the creek to the enemy’s to reconnoiter; and, when within about fifty yards of their line, they received a volley which spoke volumes to us. They were ordered to fall back, but before doing so Sergeant Wren, who was on the extreme left of Company B’s line, got to within a few feet of the enemy’s works, and, seeing men pass along behind and on top of them, he so reported to his captain (Ulysses Bast), who sent the same information to Col. Pleasants, there being some doubts by all as to whether these men were friends or foes. Wren was ordered forward to find out; and, in company with Jacob Wigner, also of Company B, went to these works, and, leaning over, was just about to ask whose troops these were, when a big Johnnie grabbed the Sergeant by the collar of his blouse, unceremoniously, and, calling him a Yankees ----------, made him a prisoner, at the same time also gobbling up Wigner. Wren was at once taken to the center of the rebel regiment, where their colonel plied him with questions as to what troops he belonged to, whose corps, etc.

"This was the beginning to Comrade Wren of a period of ten months as prisoner of war, the most of the time being spent at Andersonville, Ga; his comrade being a younger man and a new recruit, not being so well inured to hardship, soon succumbed and died there. The scenes witnessed by Comrade Wren during these ten months in prison cannot be described; and if they could, the people of to-day would not believe them. The wonder now is that a comrade is still alive who went through these privations, and there is not much doubt but our comrade is very much alive, as the moulders in the upper foundry of the Philadelphia & Reading shops, of Pottsville, can testify, and he is numbered as one of the honored survivors of the 48th Regiment.

"About daylight on the 17th, the 48th and the 36th Massachusetts crossed a swamp in single file, in perfect silence, the line formed and joined to that of the second brigade, and, by a quick movement, carried the works in front. It was a complete surprise; the enemy was driven in confusion, four pieces of artillery and six hundred prisoners were captured.

"In the charge on the rebel line on the morning of the 17th of June, 1864, the 48th Regiment captured the whole line in their front, and had more prisoners to take care of than there were men in the regiment, besides having captured the colors of the 44th Tennessee Rebel Regiment, and the 7th New York captured from them the day before. Our victory was very complete. Just after daylight another advance was made, and we captured two brass field pieces, with the gunners belonging to them, and sent them to the rear. These guns belonged to Pegram’s Battery, and the remaining four guns and the men belonging to them were buried at the crater on the 30th of July following, the entire battery being thus destroyed by the 48th."

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