Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Confederate Captive at Five Forks

Confederate Soldiers Captured at Five Forks, Virginia, and their Guards
Union and Confederate offensive assaults during the Petersburg Campaign, and often the counterattacks that followed, produced thousands of prisoners of war. Grant and Lee's moves late in the campaign proved particularly effective in converting fighters into captives. The Battle of Fort Stedman, on March 25, 1865, cost Gen. John B. Gordon's attacking force almost 2,000 men. George Pickett's force lost even more men a week later on April 1 at Five Forks. One of the soldiers gobbled up at the April Fool's Day battle was Joshua Staunton Moore of Company B,15th Virginia Infantry.

Moore was an eager and early enlistee. He signed up on May 14, 1861, in Richmond, his home town. Absent sick for a significant amount of his service, Moore returned from the hospital due to a severe case of diarrhea on January 2, 1865.

The 15th Virginia, part of Gen. Montgomery Corse's Brigade in Gen. George E. Pickett's Division, served on the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula during much of the campaign. However, they were transferred to Dinwiddie County in late March 1865 and ordered to hold the important crossroads at Five Forks. On March 31, Pickett's Division battled Union Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's force near Dinwiddie Court House. The Confederates did well, but due to pressure from the V Corps on other Southern forces along White Oak Road, Pickett fell back to Five Forks. Ordered by Lee to hold Five Forks at all hazards, Pickett and other Confederate commanders neglected to maintain proper vigilance. When attacked by Sheridan's cavalry and the V Corps, the Southern resistance proved too meager to make a stand.

Caught up in the turmoil west of the Five Forks intersection was Corse's Brigade, the 15th Virginia, and of course, Pvt. Moore. In his reminiscences, published at the beginning of the 20th century, Moore explained the situation: "We were in a cul de sac produced by the forks of the roads. I continued to fire as before, but after firing about ten or twelve rounds my ramrod got hung in the gun, and I was about to fire ramrod and all into a cavalryman, who was about to shoot me, when someone dismounted him. I got the ramrod down again and resumed my position on the ground."

Moore was about to fire into a group of enemy soldiers when he heard a "click, click" and received an order to surrender. Moore claimed, "I threw up my hands in token surrender, and with many others was ordered to the rear. Nearly half of our division (Pickett's) captured.

As was often the case with battlefield captives, they were marched off the field to a relatively safe location away from the fighting. Moore said that, "I confess when ordered to throw down my rifle and go to the rear I felt very sad, but I also felt a relief that it was over, and that the inevitable had come . . . . As I threw my half emptied cartridge box into a ditch I breathed a prayer of thankfulness to God, Who had spared my life."

During my research I've located numerous accounts from Union soldiers who were robbed of their equipment, food, and money from their Confederate captors. However, Moore claimed that he was "ordered to open our haversacks and surrender their contents." Moore told them that as he was now a prisoner he needed his surplus clothes. They let him keep his underwear but he had to give up half of his tobacco and the little food he had. Moore borrowed a pocket knife from one of the guards and conveniently forgot to return it, "which proved useful in prison."

Moore and the other Confederate prisoners were marched from Five Forks to City Point, the Union supply base and command center located at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers in Prince George County. Moore remembered plodding along the muddy road, not allowed to walk in fields beside the roads. Escorted partly by Union cavalry, he felt an attempt at escape was futile. When he arrived at City Point, Moore was amazed at the Union's stock of wagons, artillery, and  reserve troops.

From City Point, the prisoners were put aboard ships for transport to Point Lookout, Maryland's POW camp. Moore and the others were issued hardtack and salt pork rations to eat on the trip. His service records tell us that he took the oath of allegiance on June 15, 1865, and was released.

After the war, Moore married, had a son, and worked in the grocery business in Richmond. He died on May 13, 1913, just about a month shy of his 70th birthday. He now rests in peace in Hollywood Cemetery. 

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