Report of Col. Charles A. Gilchrist, Fiftieth U. S. Colored Infantry, of operations April 3-9
HEADQUARTERS FIFTIETH U. S. COLORED INFANTRY, Blakely, Ala., April 13, 1865.
LIEUTENANT: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the siege of Blakely and the assault of the 9th instant:
On the 3d of April I moved with my command from the rear to the front in obedience to orders, and took my position as then and there directed, sending out at once two companies, C and D, as skirmishers, covering my front and relieving two companies of the Forty-eighth Regiment U. S. Colored Infantry. I found that a parallel had been commenced, but no approaches had been constructed. Under cover of the night I advanced with a working party detailed from each company sufficient to work all the spades, shovels, and picks at my disposal, and commenced work on a new parallel 230 yards in advance. soon after arranging my men as I desired my adjutant brought me the verbal order of Colonel Scofield to return to the first parallel, stating that the order to advance had been countermanded. I then commenced working on a sap, approaching from a ravine about seventy yards in the rear, to the first parallel, and before daylight had a safe passage way for my men, which was used during the siege by the whole brigade and portions of other commands. I also completed the trench already commenced that night and during the next day. As soon at it was dark on the evening of the 4th instant I again advanced my working parties to nearly the same position they had occupied the night previous, and worked vigorously all night. On the morning of the 5th the work of this second parallel was so far progressed that the men were protected sufficiently to work in the daytime, and as soon as practicable I moved four companies out and occupied it, working by reliefs under charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Tuttle and Major Barnes, who relieved each other. On the 6th and 7th the work was pushed forward, a sap dug connecting the right of the first and second parallels, the other companies brought forward, and on the 8th nearly all the men had safely burrowed themselves in the ground and were well protected against shells. Previous to this time my officers and men were exposed to a constant fire from the enemy's sharpshooters, skirmishers, and batteries and his gun-boats to our right.
Sunday, April 9, I had two companies engaged during the day constructing an approach from my second parallel, which was at that time 612 yards distant from the nearest battery of the enemy, which was the first on his left. The approaches had formerly been constructed during the night, but owing to our coming upon some torpedoes, and the fire of the enemy's skirmishers being slack, I decided to work during the day. Two companies were on the skirmish line, a part of each being held as reserve. Lieutenant Jarvis, of Company D, had charge of the advanced line, and it appears had received orders from Lieut. Col. M. H. Tuttle, Fiftieth U. S. Colored Infantry, and brigade officer of the day, to advance his skirmishers in the same line with those of the Forty-seventh U. S. Colored Infantry. The skirmishers advanced about 4 p.m., and it seems moved up at that particular time on account of an advance being made by troops farther on the left. The line advanced as if to make a charge instead of a line of sharpshooters, firing their pieces and cheering loudly. I was at the time near the first trench at the battery recently constructed, and on bearing the rapid firing I instantly ran out into the trench, and upon seeing Major Barnes, Fiftieth U. S. Colored Infantry, asked him what was the matter. He said no orders had been received by him, but that the major of the Seventy-sixth U. S. Colored Infantry had just informed him that he had orders to advance at 5 p.m., and as they were at that time forming I concluded to follow the example of other regiments, as I had no orders, and at any rate I could with propriety advance to the support of my own skirmishers and hold the ground they had so gallantly won. The companies were moved out in the advance sap and marched up to the first line of rebel rifle-pits, from which our skirmishers had already driven the enemy, and as the line was considerably broken by the heavy firing of the enemy's artillery and the fallen timber, it was halted and reformed under cover of the rifle-pits, fallen timber, &c. I then sent an officer to the rear to procure 100 spades and picks for the purpose of intrenching. Before they arrived an officer came up and said that it was General Steele's order that we were to advance no farther at present, but to hold the ground we then had. About the time the tools arrived, Colonel Drew, commanding Third Brigade, came up to my right, and in a very ungentlemanly and unofficer like manner ordered some of my companies' officers to take their companies forward, and when informed that they were there by my orders, and could not move without orders from some of their superior officers, he still continued in a perfect tirade of abuse and finally went to the rear. About this time the white troops on the left of the colored division opened fire and commenced cheering, which relieved us from most of the enemy's fire, and when they advanced and my adjutant arrived with a verbal order from Colonel Scofield to advance, if I thought it expedient, and hold all the ground I could, we ceased digging and soon moved forward, but before we had passed over half the remaining distance to the fort my skirmishers, together with the skirmishers of the Forty-seventh U. S. Colored Infantry, had entered it, but not till after the white troops had taken the batteries farther to our left. Lieutenant Jarvis, who had charge of the skirmish line, was killed within about 100 yards of the fort. The abatis in front of and near the fort where we entered it was almost impassable, and could not have been overcome had we attempted it under fire. The enthusiasm of the men was unbounded, and they manifested their joy in every conceivable manner. The siege of Blakely was ended and we returned about 7 p.m., picked up our wounded and buried our dead. A complete list of the casualties* from the 3d to the 9th, inclusive, is forwarded herewith, and foots up 25 killed, and wounded, including two officers, Lieutenant Jarvis, killed, and First Lieutenant Hall, wounded. During the siege I am happy to be able to state the officers and enlisted men under my command did their duty nobly. The conduct of none could be criticised to their discredit, and the behavior of the men when constructing trenches under fire, than which there could scarce be a more trying position, was a convincing proof that the former slaves of the South cannot be excelled as soldiers.
I am, lieutenant, very respectfully, yours,
CHAS. A. GILCHRIST,
Colonel Fiftieth U. S. Colored Infantry, Commanding Regiment.
Lieut. T. SUMNER GREENE,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
*Nominal list (here omitted) shows 1 officer and 5 men killed and 1 officer and 18 men wounded.
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.