Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Refusing Capture: Capt. Theodore Gregg, Co. F, 45th Pennsylvania

It is perhaps not surprising that many of the accounts that I am finding involving soldiers captured during the Petersburg Campaign have an association with the Battle of the Crater. That particular fight is probably the most well known of the engagements during the 292-day campaign. The battle's unconventional approach and its dramatic nature of Union attack and Confederate counterattack in a relatively confined space helped ensure that an abundance of prisoners would result and that its participants would record their experiences.

Included in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Series 1, Vol. 40, Part 1, page 553) is the report provided by Capt. Theodore Gregg of Company F, 45th Pennsylvania Infantry, made 10 days after the Battle of the Crater. The 45th Pennsylvania was in the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, IX Corps and were among the regiments who made it into the virtual earthen deathtrap.

During the fight, Capt. Gregg reported:
"We heard the cheering of the men as they dashed forward; in a few minutes the works were filled with negroes. A major of one of the negro regiments placed his colors on the crest of the crater, and the negro troops opened a heavy fire on the rebels, who were at that time charging on the ruined fort. In a few moments the rebel force, headed by several desperate officers, dashed into the pits among us, where a desperate hand-to-hand conflict ensued, both parties using their bayonets and clubbing their muskets."

As mayhem and madness swirled around Capt. Gregg and his men the opportunities were ripe to become a prisoner of war. In fact, Gregg was too close for much comfort. He relayed that, "A large rebel officer, who appeared to be in command of the force, rushed upon me, and catching me by the throat, ordered me to surrender, at the same time bringing his revolver to my head. I succeeded in taking his revolver from him, and after a sharp struggle left him dead on the spot. A rebel soldier who had come to the rescue of his officer attempted to run me through with his bayonet, but was killed by Sergeant [David] Bacon of Company G. His sword was taken from him, but after a sharp contest he succeeded in recovering it and killing his antagonists."

Gregg's account, while vivid, pales into comparison in some details to that provided by Gregg's comrade, Lt. Samuel Haynes. Included in History of the Forty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry are some of the letters Haynes wrote during the war. Haynes' letter five days after the fight kicked up the intensity of the situation a bit. "Captain Gregg came down with me day before yesterday and took supper with me. He did some big fighting in the Rebel pits on Saturday. He killed a Rebel officer who led the charge. The Rebel caught Gregg by the throat and placing his pistol at his head demanded him to surrender. Gregg said: 'You impudent scoundrel, how dare you to ask me to surrender?' and wrenched the pistol from out of his hand, knocked him down with it, drew his sword and ran him through the body and left the sword in him. Then Gregg said 'You _________, I guess you are my prisoner now.'"

Capt. Gregg also mentioned that Capt. Rees G. Richards of Company G gallantly rallied his men, but "was fired at by a rebel and was seen to fall." Richards, however, was not killed or wounded. He literally dodged a bullet, but became a prisoner. Eventually incarcerated in South Carolina, he escaped in February 1865 and made his way to Union lines in Chattanooga the following month.

While Capt. Gregg escaped capture at the Battle of the Crater, his good luck ran out during the Battle of Peebles Farm on September 30, 1864. Captured in that fight he was exchanged and returned to the 45th in February 1865. After the war Gregg returned to Center County, Pennsylvania, married and started a family.  He died in 1878 at age 58.

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