Friday, May 22, 2015

Just Finished Reading - The Confederate Alamo

Since moving back to Petersburg, I have been attempting to expand my knowledge and understanding of the city's nine month campaign in 1864 and 1865. One often overlooked but important engagement was that of Fort Gregg, on April 2, 1865.

I had read several positive reviews of The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg's Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865, by John J. Fox, III (Angle Valley Press, 2010), and was happy to find it to be the well researched and written book that others described.

Fort Gregg sits about two and a half miles from my current residence. It is visible from I-85 (on the left if heading south), which runs between it and neighboring Fort Whitworth. While Fort Whitworth was designed a several-sided earthwork, Fort Gregg was constructed as a southward-facing earthwork bastion, which had a wooden stockaded rear.

Fox does an excellent job of setting the scene and the actions that led up to the battle at Fort Gregg. After the Union VI Corps broke through the thinly held Confederate lines southwest of Petersburg in the dawning light of April 2, 1865, they turned left and cleared the Rebels line of earthworks toward Hatcher's Run. To fill the VI Corps void, the XXIV Corps, led by Gen. John Gibbon, moved toward the main inner ring of fortifications protecting the city of Petersburg. Blocking their way was small Fort Gregg. Inside Fort Gregg was some 330 Confederates; mainly Mississippians, North Carolinians and Georgians. Fox uses a number of primary sources from participant defenders and attackers to effectively tell the Fort Gregg's terrible story.

The men inside Fort Gregg had been informed that they were the Army of Northern Virginia's last best hope of making a safe escape from Petersburg. If the men in Fort Gregg could hold out long enough against the Gibbon's XXIV Corps, perhaps Lee's army could link up with Joseph E. Johnston's force in North Carolina and continue the battle for Southern independence. The Confederate veterans in the fort fought with a desperate fury and held out before finally being surrounded. Those in Fort Gregg not killed (fifty seven) were either wounded and captured (243) or just captured uninjured (thirty three).

One defender, twenty one year old Lawrence Berry, attempted to work an artillery piece as the Union soldiers clambered over the fort walls. As Berry was about to pull the lanyard to fire his cannon, he was told to drop it or they would shoot. Berry exclaimed, "Shoot and be damned," and then pulled the lanyard. Those Union soldiers not killed by the blast, poured a deadly fire into Berry. The young Louisianan was not alone in fighting tooth and nail. Other Southerners rolled lighted artillery shells into the ditch in front of the fort into masses of Union troops stacking up there. Yet others threw bricks and rocks at the enemy, when ammunition became scarce.

Attacking Fort Gregg were some 4,500 Union soldiers. Although they outnumbered their defender opponents by over 12 to 1. They, too, exhibited tremendous bravery in attacking such a fiercely defended position. Fourteen attackers would earn the Medal of Honor at Fort Gregg for their bravery and heroism. In the fight Gibbon lost 122 killed and almost 600 wounded. Particularly hard hit were units from Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York.

In addition to the excellent twenty chapters and epilogue, Fox includes eight intriguing appendices that offer the order of battle and cover a number of controversies. The Confederate Alamo is one of those books that is difficult to put down. It is so well written with rich primary accounts that it provides one of the best military histories that I have read in quite some time. I highly recommend it to those seeking a better understanding of the end of the Petersburg Campaign. On a scale of one to five, The Confederate Alamo gets a five.    

No comments:

Post a Comment