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Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 31.djvu/37

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Gordon's Assault on Fort Stedm.an. 29

I remained in Fort Stedman after the main body of the division had left it; watching and admiring the gallant fight the skirmish line was making, and until there was no one in the fort except an occas- ional Confederate passing through.

Suddenly I heard a shout, and looking in the direction of the sound, I saw a body of Federal infantry coming over the wall of the fort on the opposite side. A few jumps .on a double-quick put the wall of the fort between the enemy and myself, and then with a few other belated stragglers I found myself crossing the stormswept space between us and our works. At first I made progress at a tolerably lively gait, but I wore heavy cavalry boots, the ground was thawing under the warm rays of the sun, and great cakes of mud stuck to my boots; my speed slackened into a slow trot, then into a slow walk, and it seemed as if I were an hour making that seventy-five yards.

Not only the artillery now, but the enemy's infantry had remanned the front wall of Fort Stedman, and the deadly minie balls were whistling and hurling as thick as hail.

Every time I lifted my foot with its heavy weight of mud and boot, I thought my last step was taken. Out of the ten or a dozen men who started across that field with me, I saw at least half of them fall, and I do not believe more than one or two got over safely.

When I reached our works and clambered up to the top, I was so exhausted that I rolled down among the men, and one of them ex- pressed surprise at seeing me by remarking: "Here is General Walker; I thought he was killed! "

In this affair the Confederates lost heavily in killed, wounded and prisoners. Nearly all my gallant skirmish line was captured, for when they fell back to Fort Stedman they found it occupied by the enemy, and there was no alternative left them but to surrender as prisoners of war.

There are many minor incidents and details of this bold attack, which I would like to weave into this narrative, but it has already grown too long.

The reader may ask what was the object of this rash sally, this seemingly hopeless attack on overwhelming numbers, strongly en- trenched and supplied with every appliance known to modern war- fareĀ ? I can answer the question. The situation of the Confederate Army around Richmond and Petersburg was fast becoming desper- ate, and unless something could be done, and done quickly, the fall