Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Living Skeletons Defending Petersburg

General Robert F. Hoke proved to be one of Lee’s most capable commanders. Hoke was detached to his home State of North Carolina where he liberated Plymouth from enemy occupation in April 1864, and very nearly accomplished the same at New Bern.  Sent by Lee to defend Fort Fisher from enemy attack in late 1864, Hoke’s veteran division effectively opposed the enemy march on Wilmington, forcing them into wide flanking movements.  Read more at:
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Living Skeletons Defending Petersburg

“After the Union disaster at “the Crater,” the armies returned to three weeks of uneventful trench warfare. During the first twenty days of August [1864], “nothing occurred with us to break the monotony in the trenches, such as it was,” according to [General Johnson] Hagood.  [General Alfred H.] Colquitt’s brigade was permanently returned to Hoke on August 2.

On August 19, [Colquitt’s, Hagood’s and General Thomas L. Clingman’s brigades were assigned to General William Mahone] in Lee’s unsuccessful three-day effort to dislodge the Federals from the Weldon and Petersburg Railroad.  Of the 681 officers and men Hagood sent into the battle, only 292 emerged unscathed.  General Clingman was seriously wounded in the leg on the first day of the engagement and was lost to Hoke for the remainder of the war.

Because of deadly attrition and the casualties sustained on August 21, Hagood asked that he be allowed to take his survivors “to some quiet camp where rest and access to water might recruit their physical condition.” His request was granted by Lee.

When the 740 frail soldiers of his command emerged from the Petersburg trenches on August 20, they represented just a third of the complement that had entered the works sixty-seven days earlier.  The brigade inspector was delighted when a local citizen offered his forty-acre estate in nearby Chesterfield County for a camp site.

In mid-September, Hoke was granted permission to pull his other weary brigades from the trenches and take them to the utopia being enjoyed by Hagood’s men. Of the twenty-two hundred soldiers on hand when Brigadier-General [James G.] Martin put his soldiers in the trenches, seven hundred “living skeletons” scrambled out under the command of General [William W.] Kirkland on Thursday, September 15.

For ten days, Hoke and the worn and jaded men of his division enjoyed overdue pleasures. In a letter to his sister, Lieutenant Edward J. Williams of the Thirty-first North Carolina expressed the excitement that abounded: “The most pleasant topic amongst us . . . is that we are at last clear of the ditches, shells, & [bales] of every description & are lying at ease on a beautiful hillside washing our faces at least once per day and no work to do. Since the 15 of June we have held a portion of the works in front of Petersburg & have never been relieved until now.”

The brief respite from war ended all too soon on September 28, when the men returned to the trenches. As a climax to the period of rest and relaxation, the division was honored with a grand review by General Lee . . . dressed in full uniform with a yellow sash, was atop Traveller as he rode past the remnants of Hoke’s four brigades.”

(General Robert F. Hoke, Lee’s Modest Warrior, Daniel W. Broadfoot, John F. Blair, 1996, pp. 218-219)


  1. General A. P. Hill, one of Lee's best officers, was shot dead while reconnoitering. Lee now perceived that he could no longer hold Petersburg or the capital with safety to his army. At 10.30 on Sunday morning (April 2) he telegraphed to the government at Richmond: "My lines are broken in three places; Richmond must be evacuated this evening." Then Lee's troops withdrew from Petersburg, and the struggle there ended. At some point during the battle of Petersburg, Lee wanted to enlist the
    slaves to assist but this was regretfully dismissed.

    1. There were blacks marching in Richmond before this and fighting on the retreat to Appomattox as well as free blacks fighting during the War.

  2. What I had read was the junction of the National armies in North Carolina, and the operations at Mobile and in Central Alabama satisfied Lee that he could no longer maintain his position, unless, by some means, his army might be vastly increased and new and ample resources for its supply obtained. He had recommended the emancipation of the slaves and making soldiers of them, but the slave interest was too powerful in the civil councils of the Confederacy to obtain a law to that effect. Viewing the situation calmly, he saw no hope for the preservation of his army from starvation or capture, nor for the existence of the Confederacy, except in breaking through Grant's lines and forming a junction with Johnston in North Carolina. He knew such a movement would be perilous, but he resolved to attempt it; and he prepared for a retreat from the Appomattox to the Roanoke. So, at this point were there
    slaves fighting for the CSA?

    1. As I remember, every instance of blacks being in the Confederate army is not mentioned one way or other as being slaves or not, except the many who followed Forrest. If you search on my site NamSouth, you should find a good bit about Forrest and more.

      Memories Of Dixie