Sunday, December 22, 2019

Lt. Freeman Bowley's Capture at the Crater

In my search for information on prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I've been hoping to come across some accounts that give an idea of what soldiers experienced as they were being conveyed to the rear. One that I located comes from Lt. Freeman Bowley of Company H, 30th United States Colored Infanry.

Bowley's Civil War field experience was a short but desperate affair. Bowley mustered into the 30th USCI on May 4, 1864. He was just 18 years old when he participated in the Battle of the Crater. During the savage battle Bowley was captured in the crater caused by the mine explosion with some of his men. He remembered: "A Confederate sergeant advised me to 'take off them thar' quipments,' and as his musket was at full cock and his hand very nervous, the advice was taken. Then he kindly told me to go to the right, where I would find a covered way, and not go across the open field, 'as you'uns people is shelling right smart.' I was among the last to leave. All the colored prisoners who could walk were sent to the rear. None of the severely wounded black soldiers were ever brought back.

I started for the rear, toward the covered way, so kindly designated by the Confederate sergeant, but found it full of troops - South Carolinians. A lieutenant gabbed my haversack, pulling it off, and hit me with the flat of his saber, saying to me 'Git across that-a-way, you damned Yank,' sending myself and others over the field where our men were shelling. Before I got across, a black soldier was killed within four feet of me by one of our own shells. A little further back, out of the range of our fire, two Johnnies went for my watch, and got it; another wanted by cap, but, after a wrangle, I retained it. A third line of battle was lying in the ditch across the ravine, and General Mahone, riding a little sorrel horse, was close behind them. A mile in the rear, I found a lot of our comrades, who had been captured in the morning; among them Lieutenants Sanders and Smith, of my own regiment. We numbered 79 officers and 101 enlisted men. When they took the name of the officers many officers of colored regiments gave the name of a white regiment, but Lieutenant Sanders and myself decided to face the music and gave our regiment '30th United States Colored Infantry,' and saw the words 'Negro Officer' written opposite our names."

In a future post I will share Bowley's experience as he and his fellow black and white Union prisoners were marched through the streets of Petersburg while the city's citizens shouted their contempt. Bowley fortunately survived his prisoner of war ordeal and mustered out of the service in December of 1865. He moved to California where he died in 1903 at age 56.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article Tim. The PBF is trying to arrange a tour that includes Fort Bross, named after Lt Colonel Bross of the 29th USCT. He was killed at the Crater.