Battle Days of the Roundheads. The Civil War Experience of the Famous 100th Pa., a Fighting Regiment. Part II. by J.R. Holibaugh, Denver. Colo. (Transcribed byTami McConahy, Unknown Newspaper and Date [1897?], Possibly Grove City, PA Reporter-Herald)
BATTLE DAYS OF THE ROUNDHEADS
The Civil War Experiences of the Famous 100th Pa., a Fighting Regiment.
[In the issue of Oct. 13 Comrade J. C. Stevenson, 100th Pa., told the story of the Roundheads to the period of veteran furlough, in January 1861. Comrade J. R. Holibaugh in Part II gives in detail the rest of the regiment’s service.]
PART II. - (continued.)
BY J. R. HOLIBAUGH, DENVER, COLO.
For reasons not known to the rank and file the plans were changed at the last moment, and the First Division of the Ninth Corps, under the command of Gen. Ledlie, was thrown to the front. The Third Brigade of this division, composed of the 2d Md., 57th Mass., 14th N. Y. H. A., and the Roundheads, was placed directly in front of the Confederate fort.
About midnight we were taken from the line of works on the brow of the hill about 3:20 o’clock a. m., and the orders were given in whispers to unsling knapsacks and pile them up by companies; next to fix bayonets, and we knew the next order would be “Charge!” By prearrangement the mine was to be sprung at 4 o’clock a. m. The time came and no explosion. Every man’s nerves were strung to the highest tension. Time went on, and no explosion. Orderlies were running in almost every direction, and it has been said that at 4:20 o’clock Gen. Grant ordered the charge to be made regardless of the mine.
Serg’t Henry Reese, of the 48th Pa., entered the mine and found the fuse had
gone out at a point where it was spliced. This information changed the plans, and Lieut. Jacob Douty, with the Sergeant, was ordered to relight the fuse.
The morning was dawning. It was almost 5:30. A dull, heavy rumbling sound was heard followed by a convulsion of the earth. A huge black mass shot 200 feet into the air; tongues of fire leaped from its sides; flashes of light arose and reflected on the sky. The scene was something awful to behold. The mass of earth and rock, military equipments, broken timbers, and 256 human beings, who but a moment before had been quietly sleeping, went high in the air.
The men for the moment were almost transfixed, but we were brought to our senses by the belching for of 200 pieces of artillery, the hissing of solid shot, the bursting of shells, and we were now moving forward on the double-quick to the Confederate fort. It was an easy charge, as we met with no opposition. The entire Confederate army seemed to be on the run, and all we had to do was to follow them and the victory was ours full and complete.
We had cut Gen. Lee’s army in the center, and for the moment were masters of the situation. But for some reason not known to the rank and file at the time our charge was not supported, and we were ordered back to the Crater; back to the “slaughter-pen.” When the Confederates found that they were not being followed they rallied just outside of the range of our artiller and waited for an advance. We who had returned to the Crater were also waiting for an advance of troops to our support, to at least occupy the line of works abandoned by the Johnnies. The grand old Fifth Corps were massed at the base of Cemetery Hill, and I have been told that the rank and file were begging their commanders to let them go to the front. While waiting for something to be done we had time to see the magnitude of the explosion. The opening on the surface was 170 feet long, 60 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
We heard the rebel yell, and Gen. Mahone’s Brigade charged the fort and works in the rear of the Crater. Allow me to say that they did not have to make a charge as all they had to do was march up in regular order and take possession. Then the slaughter opened in all of its fury. First came the ping and zip of the minie-balls; then the artillery got range of us, and we were the targets for every death dealing missile. How a man escaped I cannot tell. I saw my comrades piled up eight deep.
We stood this butchery for over four hours, and lost at the rate of 1,000 men an hour.
About noon there was a lull in this great one-sided battle. Was it possible that part of us were to be saved! We looked to our rear. Yes, troops were advancing. Gen. Ferrera’s Division of colored troops were forming. They crossed the front line of works we had left in the morning, marched up in perfect order, and formed a line between the cheveauz de frise and the Confederate works.
It was a grand sight, and I counted the stands of colors floating to the breeze. The order was given: “Forward - Charge!” They crossed the line of works, but had not gone 20 steps when they met a volley of musketry, grape and canister that appeared to wipe them almost off the face of the earth, and the day was lost. The Confederates followed up their advantage and recaptured everything. Those of us who were still alive in the “slaughter-pen” made a run for our line of works. Many fell, and some were taken prisoners.
The next morning opened a sad day for the Roundheads. We had lost almost all the line officers, killed wounded or prisoners. Our battle flag torn in two and the lower part captured. Our State banner was riddled with bullets. There we were camped with less than 100 men. Where were our comrades? But one answer can be given. They had sacrificed their lives on the altar of liberty.
The prisoners from the regiment were taken to Danville, Va., where they succeeded in overpowering the guards and making their escape, and hiding in the swamps reached the Union lines in East Tennessee.
During the day of July 31, Dr. A. Maas, the Surgeon of the Roundheads, and other officers of the brigade, were sent out with a flag of truce for an armistice to remove the dead. Our flag of truce was met in the field by a Confederate officer, who after a formal introduction, produced a bottle from his pocket, from which he drank a toast, “To an early termination of the war,” a sentiment in which all most fervently joined.
According to my recollection the armistice was not granted until the afternoon of Aug. 2, and then for but two hours. Owing to the intensely hot weather and mutilation of the dead, it was almost impossible to identify comrades. Capt. Dr. W. C. Oliver, Co. B, had been killed early in the engagement, but we only knew it was he by finding in the pockets of his uniform an order detailing him as officer of the day a few days previous.
Confederates brought a brass band and posted it on their front line of works. We had a band on our line. So for two hours the bands played alternately, the Federals playing National airs and the Confederate Southern airs. The armistice closed by the two bands joining and playing “America,” and many boys joined in singing the words. The scenes and incidents of that day certainly made a lasting impression on all who were there.
The Roundheads were taken to the extreme left of the line, near the Weldon Railroad, and engaged in the battles of the Weldon Railroad, Aug. 19 and 21, and on Sept. 30 the battle of Poplar Grove Church; Oct. 20, Squirrel Hill Road, and Oct. 27, Hatcher’s Run.
After this we were taken back to the right of Cemetery Hill and occupied the front line of works between Forts Haskell and Stedman. Here we built as comfortable Winter quarters as possible by digging down below the surface of the ground and keeping the top of our huts below the line of works. As were constantly under fire, and at times the artillery duels were terrific, not a day passed without someone being killed or wounded.
Our hardest work here was picket duty. The pickets were changed in the evening, after dark, and they had to go out to the line in trenches and stay for 24 hours. At some places the lines were so close we could throw hardtack from our pit to a Johnny’s.
Sometimes during the day the pickets would agree to an armistice for one or two hours. Then we would get up on our pits and have a social chat. I have seen two Yanks and two Johnnies meet in front of lines and play a game of “seven up”; but when the time was up someone would call out “Hunt your holes.” It was amusing to see us get into our pits, pick up our guns and commence shooting. In December the Johnnies were getting short of rations, and they were willing to take chances of meeting us at night between the lines to exchange tobacco for coffee and hardtack. We had strict orders against making this exchange, but the “blue and gray” would meet almost every night.
In this way the boys became acquainted and in January, 1865, the Confederates, commenced to desert, and the pickets were instructed to get as many to desert as possible.
A COLD NEW YEAR’S EVE.
I can recall being on the picket-line a little to the left of Fort Stedman New Year’s Eve of 1865. This was the coldest night ever known in Virginia. The pickets had made great preparations for “shooting’ the old year out and the new year in. Capt. Joe G. Knox, of Co. B of the Roundheads, was officer of the day, and the detail from Co. B was at the “bombproof,” which was headquarters.
As the town clock in Petersburg commenced to strike 12 we commenced firing, and kept it up for an hour. After that everything was quiet, and we had all we could do to keep warm.
We put in the time from day to day with nothing to break the monotony except sharpshooting, social chats during the day, and exchanging hardtack and coffee for tobacco at night. In February and March we received about 400 recruits in the Roundheads. They were mostly drafted men or substitutes, but we had to take them. Some proved to be good men after a little training, but they lacked the experience of the old boys.
The next encounter was the battle of Fort Stedman the morning of March 25. The Johnnies stole a march on the picket under pretense of an entire regiment deserting, so captured the picket line and made rush for Fort Stedman and captured the 14th N. Y. H. A. without firing a shot. They turned the artillery on Fort Haskell, and the first thing the boys knew they were firing down our line from the right to the left of the regiment.
The boys were asleep in their bunks at the first volley, but grabbed guns and cartridge-boxes, not even stopping to dress. Some were barefooted; some only with shirts and pants on, so that the uniforms were not fully up to the Government standard, but the fighting qualities were above par.
The regiment had been practically cut in two. The right took shelter in the rear in some old rifle-pits, while Cos. Band G ran into Fort Haskell. But the regiment, the 3d Md. and the 21st Mass. soon got together in the rear and formed a line.
A COUNTER CHARGE.
At the first assault Gen. McLaughlin, the brigade commander was captured, and our Lieutenant-Colonel, J. H. Penticost, was mortally wounded. This left Maj. Maxwell, of our regiment, the ranking commander.
Just at daylight Maj. Maxwell made an advance on the fort with his small force of charge, recapturing the fort with a lot of prisoners, and the old Roundheads came out with five stands of stars and bars to their credit before breakfast.
One incident occurred that was amusing. Just as Charles Oliver, the Color Sergeant of the Roundheads, entered the fort a Confederate grabbed the colors carried by Oliver and said “Surrender.” Charley landed a knockout blow with is fist and at the same time said, “The H--- you say,” and took the Johnny a prisoner.
History does not always give credit to whom it is due, as the credit of the recapture of Fort Stedman is given to gen. Hartranft’s Division of new troops, or one-year men, who arrived on the ground 20 minutes after the capture, and took charge of the prisoners.
The loss in this engagement was 21 killed and 57 wounded, and a few prison-
ers, who were paroled and returned. On the day of the final assault, April 2, the boys acted as spectators. April 3 we entered Petersburg, where we should have gone July 30, 1864. From Petersburg we marched to Wilson’s Station, on the South Side Railroad, where we remained until after the surrender of Gen. Lee at Appomattox.
We moved back to Washington, and participated in the Grand Review, and later went to Harrisburg and were discharged, July 25, 1865. Then the Roundheads passed out of existence as a fighting organization. During their time of service they were engaged in 26 regular fought engagements - three in South Carolina, two in Maryland, two in Mississippi, three in Tennessee and 10 in Virginia.
The muster rolls show an enlistment of over 2,000 men, and to-day there are perhaps about 400 of the old boys living. The regiments brigaded with the Roundheads during the war are: 46th and 79th N.Y. (the latter known as the Highlanders), the 45ht and 50th Pa., the 2d, 8th, 17th, 20th and 27th Mich., the 21st, 36th, 57th and 59th Mass. , the 2d Md. and the 14th N. Y. H. A. The New York Highlanders and the Roundheads were known
as the twin regiments, and first met at Kalorama Hights in 1861, and became fast friends.
The Highlander’s term of three years service expired at Spottsylvania, but they could not be mustered out while on the move. May 9, 1864, just after we crossed the Ny River, the 79th boys, whose time had expired several days previous, came to spend a few days with us before going home. Col. Leasure, our brigade commander, in forming a certain line, found he could not form a junction with other troops to cover the enemy’s front. Col. Morrison, of the Highlanders, saw the situation and volunteered his assistance. Riding back to his boys he said, “Col. Leasure wants us to fill a gap in his line,” and the Highlanders came in on the double-quick with a cheer. The enemy was driven back, but not without the loss of several of the brave Highlanders killed and wounded. Col. Morrison receiving a severe wound. This seemed sad, as the boys should have been on their way home. They proved that they were true comrades to the Roundheads.
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