The following excerpt from: Last Stand at Fort Gregg, by Neal West ©Copyright by Neal West, 2001 is provided for background; the article is on the web at: http://www.unknowncivilwar.com/
“As the battle raged only 2 miles away, Pickett and Fitz Lee were blissfully unaware that anything was amiss. Due to some sort of atmospheric anomaly, the site of the fish bake was enclosed in some sort of “cone of silence,” where the sounds of the battle could not be heard! It was only when Pickett was returning to his command, and witnessed a courier being surrounded and captured by Yankee troops, that he became aware of what was happening. By then it was too late, Warren and Sheridan had destroyed his command as a fighting force and Five Forks was in Union hands.
The news must have stunned Lee in Petersburg. In a matter of hours, the entire right wing of his army simply ceased to exist. Nothing stood between Sheridan and the capture of Petersburg and the Army of Northern Virginia with it. If the bridges over the Appomattox River in Petersburg were captured, Lee’s army could not escape and was doomed.
Lee took action immediately, firing off a message to General Longstreet in Richmond to send the nearest unit at hand to Petersburg immediately. Longstreet ordered Major General Charles Field’s division to march at once. But with over 15 miles to march, Field’s 4600 men would not be in position until around 7:30 am on April 2nd.
The news of the Union victory at Five Forks sent spirits soaring at Grant’s headquarters. The siege was on the verge of being broken, the end was in site. Grant ordered a general assault along the entire Petersburg line for 4:45 am on April 2nd.
The Federal assault began with the greatest artillery bombardment of the siege. The noise was so great that some attacking units could not hear the guns signaling them to move forward. But go forward they did and within a couple of hours Lee’s lines west of Petersburg, General A.P. Hill's sector, had been breached in several places. On the Union 6th Corps’ front, the Confederate defenders were, according to Hazard Stevens, “swept away and scattered like chaff before a tornado.” The 6th corps shattered the thin Confederate fortifications and crossed the Boydton Plank Road, then the Southside railroad a mile further on. Lee’s escape route southwest to North Carolina and Johnston was cut. The 6th soon linked up with John Gibbon’s 24th Corp and began to advance toward Petersburg itself. On the east edge of the city, the Confederate had better fortunes, John Gordon’s men, outnumbered 2 to 1, still held their positions against furious Federal assaults.
That fateful morning, Generals Longstreet and A.P. Hill were meeting Lee at his headquarters when a courier rode up hard to inform them that Hill’s line had broken and Federal skirmishers were approaching. The Confederate situation was now desperate, with their escape route southwest out of the city cut, the army would now have to cross to the north bank of the Appomattox River using only the two bridges still intact in Petersburg. They would then have to outrun Grant’s pursuing army to a rail link 35 miles west of Petersburg called Appomattox Court House. There they could take the Richmond & Danville railroad to attempt their link with Johnston. But first the Federals had to be kept out of Petersburg until nightfall, because only then could Lee attempt to disengage his troops from the pressing Yankees and escape across the Petersburg bridges unmolested (night attacks during the Civil War were very rare).
Fortunately, there was a final strong line of defenses in place on the west side of the city, but there were no troops to man them. Field’s 4,500 men, who had been set on the road the previous night from Richmond, were just now beginning to arrive, the problem was the Union 6th and 2nd Corps were also racing for the same line. Longstreet needed two more hours to position his troops to hold the Federals out of Petersburg. Directly in the path of the two Union Corps were earthen forts called Fort Gregg and Fort Whitworth (also called Fort Baldwin), it would fall on the shoulders of the defenders of these strong points to give Longstreet his two hours.
The task of delaying the Federals fell to Confederate General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s division. Grabbing the closest men at hand, Wilcox ordered the four decimated regiments (12th, 16th, 19th and 48th) of General Nathaniel Harris’ Mississippi brigade, to occupy and hold the forts, this tiny force of about 400 men, was bolstered by about 100 of General James Lane’s North Carolina brigade and two artillery pieces(*). Together approximately 214 men were placed in Gregg, the rest in Whitworth. These 214 men in Fort Gregg faced 6,000 soldiers of two Federal Corps.
At 12 p.m. the Federals attacked Fort Gregg. The defenders, veterans of the holocaust at Spotsylvania, were prepared. Private Frank Foote of the 48th Mississippi recalled that, “each defender had two or more rifles at hand and while the rear rank loaded them, the front rank handled them with most deadly execution.” D.M. Rigler, in a postwar letter to General Lane describes the scene. “The enemy commence charging with four or five lines[,] we did not fire until the came in fourty [sic] yards and then we gave them one deadly volley, they then wavered and the first line gave way, the second came forward and came [with]in thirty yards of the fort. We yelled and fired[,] they stood a few seconds and then broke[,] the 3rd retrated [sic] also[.] But the forth [sic] and fifth came to the ditch around the Fort. While this fighting was in the front[,] one line came in the rear and almost got inside the fort through the door[.] [A]bout twenty men charge[d] them and drove them back.”
Five waves of Federals advanced only to be repulsed. Finally, Gibbon called upon a reserve brigade to join in the attack on Fort Gregg, The Federals, now 8,000 strong, began to overwhelm the gallant defenders. Surrounding the fort and scrambling up its steep sides, eventually 6 Federal regimental flags were seen on the parapets, but still the rebels fought on. Captain Jones of the 16th MS remembered, “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!”
With the Federals gaining toeholds within the fort, hand-to-hand fighting broke out. For 25 terrible minutes, wounded Confederates in the fort gathered rifles and ammunition from the dead and continued loading and passing them to the defenders on the walls. When ammunition ran out, the rebels grabbed bayonets, bricks and rocks and fought on. Union Sergeant Albert Leach from the 12th West Virginia leapt on the parapet and shouted for the rebels to surrender, “See you in Hell first” came the reply. Finally, the horror sputtered out as the Federal soldiers swamped Gregg and the surviving rebels dropped their rifles and surrendered, it was 3 p.m. Lee had needed two hours; the heroes of Fort Gregg bought him three.
A New York soldier entering the fort was presented with this vision, “The interior of the fort was a pool of blood, a sight which can never be shut from the memory. The rebels had recklessly fought to the last.” An officer of the 39th Illinois recalled. “When we rushed over the top, the sight was truly terrific, dead men and the dying lay strewn all about, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we could prevent our infuriated soldiers from shooting down and braining all who survived of the stubborn foe.” Inside the fort lay 55 dead defenders, and 129 wounded – only 30 men surrendered unhurt. Gibbon’s Federals suffered 714 dead, wounded and missing.”
This article shows that Thomas H. Everngam, a Confederate Private from Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, died in the battle for Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865
[Christopher Goodhand Lynch, May 3, 1900, Centreville, MD, The Record]
LETTERS FROM THE PEOPLE
Roster of Queen Anne's Confederates.
The death of John H. Gardner, which occurred a few days ago near Queenstown, deserves more than a passing notice. He was a member of the Fourth Maryland Battery, Early's Brigade, Ewell's Division, Stonewall Jackson's Corps, C.S.A.
This was known as the famous "Chesapeake Battery," which served with signal glory throughout the civil war.
There was quite a number from Queen Anne's County, who saw service in this distinguished command, and the writer appends hereto the "muster roll" of this celebrated battery, (those from Queen Anne's County being marked with an asterisk *) having secured the same from the War Department at Washington.
Captain, William Dorsey Brown; John E. Plater, First Lieut.; Walter Scott Chew, Junior First Lieut.; *John Grayson, Senior Second Lieut.; *Benjamin G. Roberts, Junior Second Lieut.; Martin L. Harvey, Orderly Sergeant; Thomas LeCompt, First Sergeant; Robert Crowley, Second Sergeant; Phil. A. H. Brown, Third Sergeant; James Wall, Fourth Sergeant; Thomas Conbray, Corporal; Alex. Hopkins, Corporal; Henry C. Buckmaster, Corporal; Daniel Dougherty, Corporal; John P. Hickey, Commissary Sergeant; *George McCubbin, Quartermaster Sergeant; Henry Wilkinson, Bugler; Thos. Brady, Artisan.
Frederick Aleston, Washington Acton, Dr. Jack Bryan, Dr. John W. Bryan, Henry Baker, W. W. Burchess. Walter L. Burk, *J. J. Blunt, I. F. Cork, Frederick Cusick, Edward C. Cottrell, E. K. Culver, William Culver, John W. Canfield, *Allen J. Covington, Thomas A. Carberry, H. Curry, Henry Chessler, Chas. F. Dallem, Lambdin T. Dawson, James E. Deane, Thomas Deane, Joseph Dempsey, *John R. H. Embert, Andrew H. Eagen, Louis Ennis, *Thomas H. Ennis, *Thos. H. Everngam, Frank M. Fairbanks, Jos. Forrest, Wizzie Gwynn, Robert Goldsborough, John W. Gore, Edward Graham, Vincent Green, *John H. Gardner, George W. Goodhand, A. Green, Robert Grimes, John F. Green, *Phil. L. Harrison, Richard Hardesty, Paul Huber, James Kent Harper, John W. Hill, John J. Hough, William H. F. Holtzman, W. F. Hermantrout, John J. Hooff, J. C. Hass, John Irving, Thomas G. Jackson, Robert C. Jones, Frances M. Kirby, John A. Lane, John L. Loud, *C. G. Lynch, Richard E. Langley, Chares Lucas, Douglas McClure, Andrew J. McElwee, John Montgomery, *Thomas W. Mummy, James G. Moore, James Malsney, John K. Mowbray, William H. Mason, Thomas McLure, John Myres, Charles Mittee, F. Maccummings, James Oldner, *Wm. Oldson, Thaddeus Parker, Peter H. Parker, John Posel, Perry John G. Perry, Geo. Phillips, Charles Phillips, *James J. Pratt, *William Pratt, Jr., *Gustavus Porter, *Joseph L. Peters, Samuel H. Phillips, Samuel Pike, Nicholas T. Richardson, George Rice, William T. Renshaw, Henry Renshaw, *John D. Richardson, Michael M. Raley, Henry Russell, John Randall, Edward Stansbury, John H. K. Shanahan, George Stewart, Henry Schaeffer, Robert Shields, *James H. Sparks, James P. Stewart, *Bedenfield Spencer, William Smith, Morris N. Suit, George A. Smith, Frank M. Stewart, Charles S. Tinges, Thomas B. Toy, John Trigger, *William Tarbutton, C. P. Trigoe, *John Vansant, Smith Washington, Lewis Warrington, Henry Wilson, R. R. Watson Webb, Peter Williams, *J. Henry Willson, Benjamin Young, W. F. Yeates.
This battery occupied a very conspicuously dangerous position at the bloody battle of Gettysburg, and that they suffered from this baptism of fire, the following list of casualities will clearly demonstrate. It will be observed that among those killed was Lietuenant Benjamin G. Roberts, half-brother to the senior editor of THE RECORD, and a gallant officer as well as a polished gentleman.
KILLED AT GETTYSBURG
W. D. Brown, Captain; Benjamin G. Roberts, Lieut.; Frederick Cusick, Daniel Dougherty, Dr. Jack Bryan, Thaddeus Parker, James Oldner, Richard Hardesty.
Phil. A. H. Brown, Thomas LeCompt, J. Henry Wileson, Smith Warrington, John F. Green, Henry Parker, Nicholas Richard, William Oldson.
Twenty-eight horses killed and one gun disabled.
This Chesapeake Battery was engaged in the last battle -- Fort Gregg -- a fight as unequal, as sanguinary and as desperate as Thermopylae. This little fort, situate between the two main lines of contending forces, was occuped and defended by 250 men; the attacking Federal forces numbering about 5,000.
This large body of Federals advanced upon this devoted little band, expecting no resistance, anticipating an easy, triumphant entry into the fort. They indeed approached so close that the Confederate line in the distance feared the fort was about to surrender without a struggle. But not so, for when in close range the guns of artillery and infantry belched forth, amidst clouds of white smoke, death and terror to the too-confiding foe. Amazed and terror-stricken they retracted, staggering, broken. Reinforcements came to these, and once, twice, thrice, did they clamor up the sides of this little fort, and on reaching the top were beaten back in hand to hand conflict by this band of martyrs to whom no succor could come. But ever such brave resistance could not avail against such overwhelming numbers. They were finally forced to yield. You may read of bloody battles, you may talk of magnificent courage, but think of the defense of Fort Gregg; of the 250 composing this small body of incomparable soldiery, but 30 survived. Pollard in his book on the war says, "the importance of the protracted resistance of the few men in Fort Gregg proved of great advantage to Gen. Lee, as it enabled him to establish what of force remained in the manner best availing of the defense of Petersburg."
Engaged in this battle were the following men from Queen Anne's, William Pinder, Gustavus Porter, John H. Gardner, Joseph H. Peters, James H. Sparks, C. G. Lynch and Thomas H. Everngam. The last named was killed in the hottest of the fight and Lynch was slightly wounded. But three of these comrades in awful times now survive, Sparks, Peters and Lynch.
The history, written and unwritten, of the manly privates and splendid officers of Chesapeake Battery challenges yet the admiration of mankind and lends a lustrous halo to the memory of The Lost Cause.
Among all these brave hearts there was none that beat with higher courage or in stricter time with duty than the subject of this sketch -- John H. Gardner.
His was a life quiet, unassuming and obscure, (except those troublous times), yet such a life it was that all who knew him well could stand up and say "this were a man."
L. Wye Mills, May 3rd, 1900.
[Transcriber's note: Discrepancies in spelling and in roster names as in the original newspaper text. GHH, 26 August 2002. Text courtesy of Philip Lynch, great grandson of C. G. Lynch]