ST 24 2

ST 24 2

ST 24 2


This post corresponds to the portion of the video called Jasper Thompson’s Destiny Day that begins at 1:47:44 (hour-minutes-seconds)

The illustrated story:…

Robert K. Beecham a white Wisconsin-born officer for the 23rd wrote they had recruited some “pretty hard cases” in Baltimore and Washington, but:

As a rule the men were sober, honest, patriotic and willing to learn and fulfill the duties of soldiers. . . The 2nd Wisconsin was not as sober and temperate as the 23rd U.S. Colored Troops, (in fact) there was never an organization of 1,000 men in all this broad, free America where a woman was held in greater esteem or her honor more sacred.” Beecham added the men “were not filthy, rather the opposite and “for that reason if for no other, I would prefer to command a company of regiment of black, rather than white soldiers.”

The 23rd resumed escorting the infinite train of wagons to the front and returning with wounded to the ships at Belle Plain, facing ambushes en route.

J. Rickard wrote:

There were not ambulances enough for the emergency, and the baggage wagons had to be used. The roads were very rough; it was a most pitiful situation, the shrieks and groans of the men, as the

wheels would strike stumps or sink suddenly into holes in the deep ruts which had been formed. It was necessary to have a strong guard all the way with the teams, to prevent surprise and capture of the trains.

Wrote Capt. James H. Rickard of the 19th regiment on the volume of provisions needed:

Capt. James H. Rickard wrote of the 19th regiment on the volume of provisions needed:

I shall never forget a sight I beheld that morning. The cattle for the Ninth Corps were herded in a valley a mile or two in diameter, and they completely filled it, and at sunrise it was a magnificent sight as I beheld them from an eminence near by. . . .

Before crossing the James they were all eaten. This gives something of an idea what it took to supply provisions for such an army.

The first sight for central Virginians of black men in blue coats with muskets and bayonets drew violence,

consternation, fear or sublime joy for those enslaved. Their Redeemer had arrived.

Wrote Sergeant John C. Brock:

The slaves come flocking to us from every part of the country. You see them coming in every direction, some in carts, some on their master’s horses,

and great numbers on foot, carrying their bundles on their heads. They manifest their love for liberty by every possible emotion.
As several of them remarked to me, it seemed to them like heaven, so greatly did they realize the difference between slavery and freedom.

They were all sent to White House Landing in wagons. From hence they are to be taken to Washington in transports.

We have been instrumental in liberating some five hundred (152) of our brothers and sisters and brethren from the accursed yoke of human bondage

June, 1864 – Pvt. William Johnson of the 23rd confessed his guilt to the charges of desertion and rape and was executed within the outer breast works at Petersburg, on an elevation, and in plain view of the enemy, a white flag covering the ceremony. The site is near where the current visitor center sits.

Wrote blogger historian James Price:

June 15-18, 1864 – 23rd participates in the opening battles outside of Petersburg. Rebels under P.G.T. Beauregard hold on to the city, however, and a siege begins. The 23rd is engaged in building fortifications until late June.

In July, Gen. Burnside’s proposed mine attack against the Confederate lines along the Jerusalem Plank Road was underway.

“Towards the end of the digging, members of the 23rd United States Colored Troops were employed to carry dirt from the mine in sacks.

They also hauled timber to the gallery [of the mine] for framing its sides.”

On the Eve of the Battle of the Crater – July 29th, 1864:

Music notation of the song the African American troops sang to prepare for battle written down by Henry Gordon Thomas.

The black men in blue were in high spirits on the eve of the battle outside Petersburg. But when Gen. Thomas told them higher-ups took away their planned position as the leading attack division – the African-American division – of the four – they stopped singing that song.

Henry G. Thomas:
Until we fought the battle of the crater they sang this song (563) every night to the exclusion of all other songs. After that defeat they sang it no more.

About 3 AM, the morning of the battle we were up after a short sleep under arms. Then came the soldiers’ hasty breakfast. ” This morning our breakfast was much like that on other mornings when we could not make fires: two pieces of hard-tack with a slice of raw, fat salt pork between, not a dainty meal, but solid provender to fight on. And black coffee.


When all preparations were made, we lay down for a little sleep, and were awakened

shortly after daylight by the explosion and the terrible discharge of cannon, that made the ground tremble as by an earthquake.

At 4:45 came a dull, heavy thud, not at all startling;

it was a heavy, smothered sound, (but) here was a mine blown up, making a crater from 150 to 200 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 30 feet deep,


The First Division only went as far as the crater and stopped, and it was nearly an hour before the colored troops were ordered in, having been standing crowded in the covered ways leading up to the breastworks.

Montage: Federal divisions jammed around the Crater, face fire from both sides in the breastworks, and artillery to the right and front, and seek safety in the crater.

The First Division of white soldiers advanced with little opposition but jammed in the narrow, six foot passageway beside the crater, unable to advance. The 2nd Division, now under fire became stuck similarly and were being fired upon from along the breastworks and artillery in front,

driving them for the safety inside the crater. The same occurred with the 3rd Division of white soldiers. Their orders did not anticipate the jam in the passageways and close range gunfire

and their commander Gen. Ledlie who commanded the lead division was not there.

The Charge of the USCT 23rd to the Crater

Hurd remembered that “it seemed [to take] forever [to move forward]. The whole [division]…filed through a single parallel…

we were hindered by officers and orderlies coming to the rear, the parallel being only six feet wide.” – Diary of Warren H. Hurd, 30 July 1864, Private Collection


The crater was already too full; that I could easily see. . . My brigade moved gallantly on right over the bomb-proofs and over the men of the First Division & as we mounted the pits, a deadly enfilade from eight guns on our right and a murderous cross-fire of musketry met us. Among the officers, the first to fall was the gallant Fessenden of the 23d Regiment

Zelotis Fessenden

John Hackhiser

William Flint

H.H. Aiken

Theodore Rockwood

. . . Liscomb of the 23d then fell to rise no more; and then Hackhiser of the 28th and Flint and Aiken of the 29th. Major Rockwood of the 19th then mounted the crest and fell back dead, with a cheer on his lips.

Nor were these all; for at that time hundreds of heroes “carved in ebony” fell. These black men commanded the admiration and respect of everyone who beheld. (564)

About eight hundred feet from the crater, having been reached, we leaped from the works and endeavored to make a rush for the crest. . . .

Lieutenant Christopher Pennell, hastened down the line outside the pits. With his sword uplifted in his right hand and the banner in his left, he sought to call out the men along the whole line of the parapet. In a moment, a musketry fire was focused upon him, whirling him round and round several times before he fell. . . (and he

probably sleeps among the unknown whom we buried (unrecognized) in the long deep trench we dug.)

ize-medium wp-image-17393″ />After being driven back into the crater, Thomas reorganized his men and followed orders to charge and capture the Confederates at the crest.

I then directed the commanders of the 23d, 28th, and 20th regiments to get their commands . . . together. As I gave the order, Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Bross, taking the flag into his own hands, was the first man to leap from the works into the valley of death below. He had attired himself in full uniform, evidently with the intent of inspiring his men.

John A. Bross 1826-1864

Memorial of Colonel John A. Bross, Twenty-Ninth U.S. Colored Troops, Who Fell in Leading the Assault on Petersburgh, July 30, 1864. 20 October 2003 Web. 10 February 2017.

He had hardly reached the ground outside the works before he fell to rise no more. He was conspicuous and magnificent in his gallantry. The black men followed into the jaws of death, and advanced until met by a charge in force from the Confederate lines. (566)

The 23rd charged forward but could not get past the crater itself.

Lt. Beecham remembered of the crater:

Pvt. George Washington – Henry Kurtz Collection – USAMHI.

“The black men formed up promptly. There was no flinching on their part. They came to the shoulder like true soldiers, as ready to face the enemy and meet death on the field as the bravest and best soldiers that ever lived.”

John Elder’s famous painting of the 12th Virginia

Beecham and the rest of the 23rd held a portion of the crater until around 2 p.m. when the Confederates counterattacked and swept over them, killing many men who were attempting to surrender.

The 23rd sustained the heaviest losses of the entire Fourth Division.

Of this last scene in the battle the Confederate General Bushrod R. Johnson says in his official report:

I proceeded to concert a combined movement on both flanks of the crater.
A third charge a little before 2 PM gave us entire possession of the crater and adjacent lines.

These movements were all conducted by General Mahone, while I took the 22d and 23d South Carolina into the crater and captured three colors and 130 prisoners.


One little band, after my second charge was repulsed, defended the entrenchments we had won from the enemy, exhibiting fighting qualities that I never saw surpassed in the war. This handful stood there without the slightest organization of company or regiment, each man for himself, until the enemy’s banners waved in their very faces. Then they made a dash for our own lines, and that at my order.

B&L 2 p. 675 two image charging line and firing line

It was now too late, as their second line of works was full of men, brought up from each flank, and our men were not only exposed to the terrible musketry fire in front, but to an enfilading fire of shell, grape and canister that no troops could withstand, and the charge was made through a line of white troops going to the rear. The slaughter was terrible….

Gen. H. G. Thomas, who commanded a brigade of colored troops at Petersburg says:
“I lost in all thirty-six officers and eight hundred seventy-seven men; total, nine hundred and thirteen. The Twenty-third Regiment entered at the charge with eighteen officers, it came out with seven. The Twenty-eighth entered with eleven officers, it came out with four. The Thirty-first had but two officers for duty that night.
Had the colored troops led the assault, their subsequent attack proved they would have led the way clear through the enemy’s entire line, on to Cemetery Hill, and the other troops would have followed, and the awful slaughter by an enfilading fire at the crater been prevented.

Hereafter let no man say that black troops, led by graduates of Harvard and Yale, and the sons of the first families of the North, will not fight.

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