On the second day of April the brigade was fiercely engaged in the final triumphant attack, which resulted in the evacuation, on that date, of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender, a few days later, of Lee's rebel army. At eleven o'clock on the night of the first, the brigade moved out from camp, passed through the line of works near Fort Welch, and was silently placed in position, in column of regiments, near the intrenched skirmish line captured from the enemy the twenty-fifth of March. The Second Division was in the centre of the Sixth Corps, in advance of the other two divisions, and was to strike the enemy first. The Vermont Brigade was upon the left of the division, and was the guiding brigade. Warner's First Brigade was in the centre, and the Third Brigade upon the right. The order of the regiment of the Vermont Brigade in column, rom front to rear, was as follows:--the Fifth Regiment, Lieut. Col. Ronald A. Kennedy commanding; the Second Regiment, Lieut. Col. Amasa S. Tracy commanding; the Sixth Regiment, Major William J. Sperry commanding; the Fourth Regiment, Captain George H. Amidon commanding; the Third Regiment, Brevet Col. Horace W. Floyd commanding; and the Eleventh Regiment in two battalions, under command of Major George D. Sowles and Capt. Darius J. Safford, respectively,--both battalions commanded by Lieut. Col. Charles Hunsdon.
By one o'clock, A. M., the whole command had taken position and laid down to await the disposition of troops upon the right and left. About two o'clock, a heavy fire was opened along the entire skirmish line, which was vigorously answered by the skirmishers of the enemy. DUring this fire, Brevet Maj. Gen. L. A. Grant was wounded, and the command of the brigade devolved upon Lieut. Col. Tracy, of the Second Regiment. At four o'clock, A. M., the signal gun for the assault was fired from Fort Fisher, but, owing to the heavy cannonading which had been kept up at intervals during the night, it was not understood. It was soon learned, however, that the signal had been given, and that the troops upon the right and left were awaiting the movement of the Vermont Brigade.
The brigade immediately moved forward over the works of the skirmish line and pressed on steadily and silently, and had very nearly reached the first line of the enemy's intrenchments, when they were discovered by the rebel skirmishers, who delivered a weak and scattering volley and fled. The alarm having been given and silence no longer necessary, the command, with their accustomed battle cry and cheer, charged forward, pushing for the main works of the enemy, then about five hundred yards in their front. When about half the distance had been passed, the enemy began to pour in a well directed fire of musketry from the front, and artillery from forts on either hand, which completely enfiladed the line and caused it to waver,--but the hesitation was but momentary, and the troops again pressed forward, under a withering fire of musketry, but with a gallantry unsurpassed. Officer and men vied with each other in the race for the works, and all organization was lost in the eagerness and enthusiasm of the troops. The abattis were passed and the men swarmed over the works with exultant shouts,--the rebels fleeing in all directions. two earthworks, one to the right of the ravine, containing four guns, and the other to the left, containing two guns, were captured.
The honor of being the first to break the enemy's line is claimed by the Vermont Brigade; and the commanding officers of the Fifth, Sixth and Eleventh Regiments each claim, that their colors were the first planted on the works. And it is claimed, that Captain Charles G. Gould, of the Fifth Regiment, was the first man of the Sixth Corps to mount the works. His regiment was in the first line of the brigade, and in the charge he was far in advance of his command. Upon mounting the works he received a severe bayonet wound in the face and was struck several times with clubbed muskets, but bravely held his ground, killing with his sabre the man who bayonetted him, and retiring from the works only after his comrades had come to his assistance and routed the enemy from their lines.
After crossing the works the brigade pushed forward to the crest of the hill, where a short halt was ordered for the purpose of re-forming. The organization obtained was very incomplete, owing to the eagerness of the troops to pursue the enemy, who were making for the woods in the rear; but, with such organization as it had, the brigade, turning to the left, moved forward about half a mile and halted at the edge of a dense wood to re-form. The brigade was here formed in line, the regiments in numerical order from right to left, the left of the Eleventh Regiment connecting with the right of the Third DIvision, and about half a mile distant from, and within, the enemy's works. The line having been formed, the whole command pushed forward vigorously through thickets, swamps and dense woods, soon losing again all organization, in the eagerness of the men to surpass each other in the pursuit of the enemy, who were followed so closely, that they could scarcely fire a shot, and who prepared to have abandoned all thought of resistance and to be only desirous to be taken prisoners. In this manner the pursuit continued for about four miles, in a direction nearly parallel with the line of the works, until Bailey's house, near Hatcher's Run, was reached, where the brigade was halted for a few minutes, and then moved to the left and formed in column of regiments just inside the works.
The conduct of the officers and men in this second charge is represented to have been above all praise; singly, or in squads of three or four, the men would charge upon whatever obstructions came in their way. Brevet Major Elijah Wales, of the Second Regiment, with two men, captured a piece of artillery, turned it upon the enemy, and fired at them the charge,which they had themselves placed in the gun. Major William J. Sperry, of the Sixth Regiment, and Lieut. George A. Bailey, of the Eleventh Regiment, assisted by a few men, captured two pieces and turned them upon the retreating rebels. Unable to procure primers, the pieces were discharged by firing a musket into the vent. In this manner twelve rounds were fired, when a section of artillery coming up, the guns were turned over to its commander. Capt. George G. Tilden, of the Eleventh Regiment, with about a dozen men, captured two pieces of artillery, eleven commissioned officers and sixty-two enlisted men of the 42nd Mississippi Regiment. Sergeant Lester G. Hack, Company F, 5th Regiment, charged a squad of rebels who surrounded a stand of colors, knocked down the color bearer, and captured the colors. Corporal Charles W. Dolloff, Co. K, Eleventh Regiment, also captured a stand of colors.
About nine o'clock, A. M., the brigade moved back, along the line of works, beyond the point at which the works were entered in the morning, and formed in line of battle, about three miles south of Petersburg, on the left of a road leading to the city,--the Eleventh Regiment upon the right, with the Second, Third, Fifth Sixth and Fourth Regiments upon its left, i the order in which they are named. The ground between this point and the city consisted of a series of hills and marshy ravines, and the enemy could be distinctly seen, making disposition of their troops and artillery to contest the advance. A skirmish line was thrown forward, under Captain Darius J. Safford, of the Eleventh Regiment, and the brigade advanced, its right resting upon the road. The enemy opened a heavy fire of shot ans shell from a battery upon the right, which completely enfiladed the line, and a storm of canister from a battery of four guns in the garden of the Turnbrell House, where Gen. Lee had his headquarters, directly in front. Brevet Col. Floyd, commanding the Third Regiment, threw forward a few men as skirmishers, with orders to advance upon the double quick, and shoot the horses of the battery, to prevent its being removed. This was accomplished, the brigade in the meantime wheeling to the left and rapidly closing in upon the guns. the commander of the battery, finding it impossible to escape with his guns, raised a white flag, when Col. Floyd ordered the firing to cease and pressed forward to receive his surrender. At the same time Captain Robinson Templeton, of the Eleventh Regiment, with a small squad of men, came up gallantly from the right flank to seize the guns,--and the honor of having planned and executed their capture is claimed by him. At this moment the skirmishers of the First Brigade of the division coming up on the left, and not observing the white flag, opened fire on the battery, when the men turned and fled. THe guns were seized and a guard from the Vermont Brigade placed over them.
This was the last stand made by the enemy outside the line of defences immediately surrounding Petersburg. The brigade moved forward to the bank of Heroic creek, about a mile south of the suburbs of the city, under an enfilading fire from batteries on either hand, and a desultory fire of sharp shooters posted in the inner defences. A few of the sharp shooters of the Fourth Vermont, who were on the extreme left of the brigade, crossed the creek on a fallen tree, crept up the precipitous bank on the opposite side, and soon silenced the battery on the left.
The men, being then worn out by want of sleep, having eaten nothing since the night previous, and completely exhausted by the labor of the day, were withdrawn to a ravine to the right of the road, and the brigade was re-formed and moved again to the left of the Nottingham House, where intrenchments were thrown up and the brigade went into camp for the night. Gen. L. A. Grant rejoined the brigade that evening, and the head quarters of the brigade established at the Turnbrell house, where Gen. Robert E. Lee had had his head quarters during the winter.
When the brigade was re-formed, after having passed the enemy's works, the command was turned over to Brevet Colonel Charles Mundee, Assistant Adjutant General of the division, who is reported to have led it through the subsequent movements of the day with conspicuous gallantry and daring. When the troops were moved into position for the night, the command was again turned over to Lieut. Col. Tracy,--who had led the brigade, in the first assault upon the works, with distinguished bravery. Lieut. Col. Hunsdon, of the Eleventh Regiment, Captains Bonett, Sessions and Baxter, of the Brigade Staff, and Sergeant Thomas McColley, Co. F, Second Regiment, the color bearer of the brigade, are also mentioned as having been conspicuous for bravery and rendered distinguished service. And the entire brigade, officers and men, received deserved commendation for their bravery, endurance and daring.
Colonel Lincoln, in his report of the Sixth Regiment, names Major William J. Sperry, Capts. Henry N. Bushnell and George W. Burleson, Adjutant Hiram S. English, and Color Sergeants Peter H. Begor and Pardon A. Whitney, as deserving special mention for their gallant conduct and cool courage during the day.
The captures of the brigade, during the day, comprised two battle flags, nineteen pieces of artillery, horses, mules, harnesses and equipments, great quantities of quartermasters' and medical stores, and several hundred prisoners.
THe casualties of the brigade, during the day, were as follows:
Reg't Killed. Wounded. Missing. Total. Second 8 33 0 41 Third 4 19 0 23 Fourth 1 11 0 12 Fifth 6 34 7 47 Sixth 2 19 0 21 Eleventh 5 45 18 50 Aggregate 260 161 7 194
Among the killed was Lieut. George O. French, of the Eleventh Regiment, who fell while gallantly cheering on his men in the first assault, and Capt. Charles C. Morey, of the Second Regiment, an excellent officer, who was killed by a canister shot in final charge of the day.
Among the wounded was Brevet Maj. Erastus G. Ballou, of the Second Regiment, Capt. Charles G. Gould, of the Fifth Regiment, and 1st Lieut. Gardner C. Hawkins, of the Third Regiment, but acting Adjutant of the Fourth Regiment, who was wounded in the first assault upon the works,--Captain Edson M. Raymond, of the Fifth Regiment, First Lieuts. William H. Humphrey, of the Fourth Regiment, and Jerome Gleason, of the Fifth Regiment, and Second Lieuts. William F. Tilson, of the Fourth Regiment, and Cyrus Thomas, William O. Dickinson and John H. Macomber, of the Eleventh Regiment.
The report of this day's operations, prepared by Brevet Major Merritt Barber, Assistant Adjutant General of the Brigade, under the direction of Gen. L.A. Grant, and the letter of transmittal by Gen. Grant, will be found in Appendix C.
Major General Meade, in his official report, speaks of the gallant attack of the Sixth Corps, on the second of April, as "the decisive movement of the campaign." It resulted in the evacuation of Petersburg that afternoon, and of Richmond the next morning. Early on the morning of the third of April, the Vermont Brigade, with the Sixth Corps, started in rapid pursuit of the rebel army. At five o'clock on the afternoon of the sixth, they came up with the enemy at Sailor's Creek, and an engagement ensued, in which the Brigade did not participate. The enemy were routed, and the Brigade encamped near Burkesville Junction for the night. In the evening of the same day Colonel Tracy, with the Second Regiment and a regiment from the First Brigade, advanced through thick woods to a small stream about two and a half miles to the front, when the enemy opened fire, which was returned with such effect as to completely drive them from the front, and leave Col. Tracy in possession of the ground, which he held until daylight the next morning. He reports that the last shot fired at the enemy by the Sixth Corps was fired by the Second Vermont in this engagement. On the morning of the seventh the enemy were followed to Farmville, where a cavalry engagement was had. The Brigade crossed the Appomattox and took position for the night, and were then detailed to remain at Farmville, to guard supplies, and continued at that place until after the surrender of the rebel army of Northern Virginia on the afternoon of the ninth. During this march the men exhibited an endurance which was wonderful,--in one instance starting at five o'clock in the morning and marching over twenty-two miles before noon. From Farmville the Brigade returned to Burkesville Junction, where they remained until the twenty-third of April, when the left for Danville, Va., a distance of 105 miles, which they marched in a few hours more than four days.
The Brigade remained at Danville until the eighteenth of May, when they moved by railroad to Manchester, Va., arriving at that place on the nineteenth, and remaining there until the twenty-fourth of May. They then marched to Washington, D. C., and went into camp near Munson's Hill, Va., where they remained until mustered out of service.
On the seventh of June I had the pleasure of being present at the review, by the Governor of this State, at Bailey's Cross Roads, Va., of the Vermont Brigade, with the Eighth Regiment, which had been attached to the Brigade a few days previously, the Tenth Regiment, and the First Vermont Regiment of Cavalry. The occasion was one of deep interest,--not merely as a fine military display of admirably drilled troops, executing every movement which the utmost precision, but as a review, by the Governor of the State, of the scarred, sunburned, and war-worn veterans, whom the STate had sent into the field, entrusted with the maintenance of her honor, who had met and fought the enemy in many a fierce and sanguinary conflict, and some of them to nearly every battle, in which the Army of the Potomac had participated, from the first Bull Run to the final surrender of Lee upon the banks of the Appomattox. There were officers and men there present, whose names have been household words in Vermont for the last four years, and will stand upon the roll of honor of the State so long as the State shall have a history. Numbering scarce six thousand officers and men, they were all that remained in active service of nearly twenty thousand, who had been sent from the State in the regiments reviewed.
On the eighth of June the Sixth Corps was reviewed by the President of the United States at Washington.
On the same day the Governor of the State issued his address to the Volunteers from the State of Vermont in the service of the United States, which was published in General Order No. 11 (Appendix A.)
On the twenty-fourth of June Brevet Major General L. A. Grant issued his final address to the brigade, which he had so long commanded, and with whose history he had become identified. The address is published in Appendix C.
On the twenty-eighth of June, 1865, the Vermont Brigade, as an organization, ceased to exist. Battalions of the Second, Third and Fourth regiments, remaining in the service, were temporarily assigned to the third brigade, first division, of a Provisional Corps created on that day by orders from the War Department, and the battalion of the Eleventh Regiment, remaining in service, was transferred to the defences of Washington.
Troops in the Field (Part 1) Troops in the Field (2d Regiment)