In the spring of 1865 it was generally believed in the northern army that the war would end with the coming campaign, and most of the officers commanding regiments, brigades and divisions were more than willing to receive promotion on a brevet to take home with them, and believed that the time in which to secure promotion was short. Consequently there was much emulation in seizing opportunities to distinguish themselves.
Gen. Canby issued an order to his general officers suggesting that the enemy might attempt to evacuate Ft. Blakely, and directing them to feel the enemy on the 9th of April and ascertain it such were the case, General A. J. Smith, in communicating this order to Gen. Garrard, added verbally, 'Feel 'round inside the fort."
The signal for the attack was to be three cannon shots from a battery attached to a brigade on our right. My regiment went into the rifle pits left in front, with instructions to deploy as skirmishers, take the rebel rifle pits and hold them till the line of battle came up. There was not room in the rifle pits for all the regiment, so my company was left in the sap - a ditch across open ground exposed to rebel fire, and leading to our rifle pits from the right rear. Col. Kinney passed along the line giving company officers their instructions. When he reached the left of my company and found I was at the right he remarked, "Company A will come anyhow," and left us without orders. When the time had nearly arrived for the signal for the general assault, between 4 and 5 o'clock, I saw the rest of the regiment swarming out over the rifle pits, and called my company out of the sap and followed without deploying. We overtook them at the rebel rifle pits and seeing the "Johnnies" running away through the abatis, and not knowing what the program was as laid down in the orders, I said to Col. Kinney, "Let us follow those fellows into the fort." He responded "All right," and said to the bugler standing by him, "Blow a forward, Steve." We rushed on while Steve Coulter blew the loudest, clearest call he ever did in his life, and all the rest of the regiment started after us. The ground was obstructed with several lines of abatis-young trees and brush with sharpened limbs pointing outward to check an enemy while charging. But we made good progress and were within seventy-five yards of the rebel breastworks when the signal cannon shots for the assault to commence were fired. In the meantime there was something doing all around. Grape shots mowed down Sergt. Tom Watson and John Myers at the left of the company. Musket balls came from the front, the left and right. One-fourth of my company were either killed or wounded within sixty yards of the rebel breastworks. I caught my foot in wire stretched between two lines of abatis and fell flat, while half a hundred grape shot passed over me. We soon reached the breastworks and paused for a breathing spell. A glance to the right rear showed the various brigade lines of battle struggling through the fallen timer. Some of the within 150 yards, others from 200 to 400 away. On the left Capt. Henry with Company D was within twenty yards of the breastworks. Farther to the left Company C with the regimental colors and Captain Nokes with Company E were about in line thirty yards from the breastworks. Meantime the Johnnies burnt our faces, firing through the portholes under their head logs. I emptied my revolver through several of the nearest, which seemed to quiet them some. Then we fixed bayonets and climbed the earthworks. John Winn, a recruit of less than a year's service, was the first man up Sergeant Jud Bean was the second, then all of us. The rebel infantry surrendered immediately to our right fired three shots after we struck the works before we drove them from their guns. Capt. Henry Cross, who had just seen his chum, John Myers, torn to pieces with a grape shot, greased his bayonet with the fattest of the gunners. We stopped them just in time. Our brigade line of battle was coming up in the range. The disturbance was all over in a few moments at our end of the works, but the firing continued until nearly dark on our extreme right. I had just about men left to carry off the wounded men of my company. Three were mortally wounded, one of them my own brother; three severely wounded, and one slightly wounded.
Some of the 11th Wisconsin, under Lieut. McDougall, who were on duty in the rifle pits, charged with us, and went into the rebel works immediately to the right of our section of the artillery. Lieut. McDougall was severely wounded in the charge.
The loss of the rest of the 119th Illinois only equaled that of Company A.
H. S. Davis, of Galena, still has a fine specimen of rebel lead he caught in the leg in that affair.
The hardest part of that battle to me was the gathering up and caring for the wounded. During the night I accused myself of having unnecessarily exposed my men by rushing forward faster then was absolutely required. And it did not relieve the pressure much to think that our sacrifice had probably saved a great many other men by stopping the cannon firing before the main line came within range. But they were comparative strangers - our dead and wounded were brothers. This, however, was only one of the disagreeable features of war, and they were many. Our brigade was credited in the reports with having captured 2,200 prisoners and nine pieces of artillery. The 21st Missouri, on the extreme left, was entirely out of sight around a curve of the breastworks. I do not know what they had to encounter. It was said after the trouble was over that the best rebel troops had been removed from our immediate front and posted opposite the Negro troops in Granger's division on the extreme right of our line, and only conscripts left to fight us. Maybe so.Planting of the flag
And now for a distant point in history. Fifteen or twenty different regiments have claimed at different times the honor of planting the first flag on the rebel breastworks at Fort Blakely. Three histories that I have seen disagree about this. Neither of them are right. The first military emblem from our side was the right guidon of the 119th Illinois, borne by O. W. Hendrickson of my company. He was shot through the muscles of the breast and shoulder. His last military service was to stick the guidon pole into the military escarpment as high as he could reach. At that time Company C with the color guard, one of whom was Sergt. Newton Chadsey (ed note: hard to determine), late of Cherokee, were within seventy-five or eighty feet of the breastwork, about two or three minutes after the signal for the assault was fired, in which time they had come a little over 75 yards.
There are still a number of witnesses who all agree that no regiment starting at the signal, from a distance of a quarter of a mile or more, could have beaten them to the fort. I was too busy to watch them, but I have been assured by Chadsey and others that they did not camp on the way, but kept going as fast as they could until they had planted their flags on the breastworks, a few minutes before the last great battle of the civil war was over.
Col. Kinney was brevetted brigadier general for his share of this battle, and some of the rest of us were so glad that the war was over that we came home and up to this time have said very little about part in the civil war.
#1 photo of H. R. Hubbard (shown)