Monday, July 16, 2018

USCTs Showed Valor at Baylor's Farm Fight

If one stands on the ground today where the Battle of Baylor's Farm occurred early on the morning of June 15, 1864, one sees virtually no evidence of that combat. Yes, there is a Civil War Trails wayside marker near the site, which provides good information to those willing to find it and read it, but sadly, development has removed all vestiges of the valor that was displayed by the United States Colored Troops of Gen. Edward Hinks's Division of the XVIII Corps. 

Marching down the City Point Road toward Petersburg in Grant's First Offensive on the Cockade City, the two brigades belonging to Hinks's Division (Samuel Duncan's and John Holman's) ran into the city's far outer defensive position. Manning this position was Capt. Edward Graham's Petersburg Artillery and about 400 dismounted troopers of the 4th North Carolina Cavalry. Located on a slight rise of ground just to the south of a small swampy stream, the Southerners waited behind hastily build yet sturdy defenses. 

Approaching the fortification, Duncan's brigade formed into battle line. On the left of the line was the 6th USCI, to their right in order was the 4th, 22nd, and 5th USCIs. Behind Duncan was Holman's tiny brigade, which consisted of the 1st USCI and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, who fought dismounted. Battery K of the 3rd New York Light Artillery provided the black brigades with support.

Soon the Confederate artillery started up. Several companies of the 4th USCI moved out of a tree line and toward the belching guns. These brave yet inexperienced soldiers paid for their rashness with severe casualties, not only from their foes, but also from some of their nervous friends in the 5th Mass, Cavalry. The 4th suffered over 120 causalities in the first quarter of an hour of fighting. The 6th, on the 4th's left also caught the Confederate's wrath as shells and canister was thrown at these brave attackers. 

The 5th and 22nd, on the north side of the City Point Road advanced, too. These two regiments, although on more open ground than their comrade units to their left, seemed to receive less Confederate attention.

The 22nd USCI, led by Col. Joseph Kiddoo, charged the Confederate left portion of the fortification, with his men yelling "Remember Fort Pillow!" As the 22nd neared the position, the North Carolinians, feeling their position untenable, fled in retreat and the black soldiers planted their flags on the works. Retreating, too, were Graham's gunners, leaving at least one artillery piece and perhaps two guns, which could not be withdrawn by the Southerners quickly enough.

Sgt. Milton Holland of the 5th USCI, who would later earn the Medal of Honor for courageous fighting at New Market Heights, commented about the Baylor's Farm fight " . . . when the command was given to us, 'Charge bayonets!' Forward double quick," the black column rushed forward, raising the battle yell, and in a few moments we mounted the rebel parapets. And to our great surprise, we found that the boasted Southern chivalry had fled . . . ."

Overjoyed with their success, the victorious black soldiers celebrated by cheering and pulling the guns out of their previous positions. These United States Colored Troops regiments paid for their gains with about 300 casualties (killed and wounded) in almost two hours of fighting.

However, it did earn the black men some begrudging respect from both their Confederate enemies and their white comrades. One officer in a New Hampshire regiment stated "I dislike the negroe as much as any live man, but still I could not help pitying them when I saw them go limping past me all covered with blood." Another white soldier wrote, "Negroes will keep on their feet, and move on, with wounds that would utterly lay out white men, and they stick like death to their guns." The XVIII Corps commander, William "Baldy" Smith, also praised the colored troops claiming that their performance "affords conclusive evidence that colored men, when properly officered and drilled,  will not only make soldiers, but the best of soldiers of the line."

Hinks's Division would go on to even more success in the fighting along Petersburg's Dimmock Line defenses later in the day of June 15.

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