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The Boys of ’61

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The Boys of ’61
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Author(s): Charles Carleton Coffin
Date Published: 2011/03
Page Count: 560
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-514-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-513-1

A famous American writer's experiences of the Civil War

The title of this book, of course, refers to the men of the United States who rallied to their nation's flag and the cause of the maintenance of the union between all the states at the first trumpet call to arms in 1861. The dissatisfaction of the eleven Southern states which would form the Confederacy burst into violence in April of that year with the attack on Fort Sumter and these first shots heralded four years of appalling bloodshed and acrimony before the United States of America could once again be declared a whole nation. This is not a general history of the war, it is, in the person of Charles Carleton Coffin, an account of personal experiences by an expert observer who is now regarded as one of the most important journalists the American nation has ever produced—Coffin was also a fine author and accomplished politician. The term 'embedded correspondent' has become a familiar term to describe newsmen who accompany an army in the field. The nineteenth century was however a golden age of special correspondents, of various nations, who joined fighting forces at the sharp end of conflict all over the globe and not a few of them—as they do to this day—paid the ultimate price for their dogged persistence in placing the facts before the public. Coffin was determined to experience the Civil War at close quarters and in this substantial book he takes us on campaign, from the intimacy of the march and the camp, among ordinary men and officers—and close by the commanders of the Union Army, as momentous events unfolded and important decisions were made. All first hand accounts are invaluable source works irrespective of the skill in penmanship of their authors. They record events and the exploits of individuals long gone and are, quite simply, the lifeblood of history. Nevertheless, when history is seen by a keen eye and related by those with a vivid turn of phrase and command of language it is at its best. Coffin was such an observer, he experienced the war in full measure at Bull Run, the Tennessee Campaign, Pittsburg Landing, the invasion of Maryland and Kentucky, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Petersburg and the fall of Richmond and witnessed many other momentous events on land and afloat. Available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Let us look at Lee’s lines at midnight, Saturday, April 1st. Johnson, Pickett, Wise, and W. H. F. Lee’s cavalry are fleeing towards the Appomattox, beyond Hatcher’s Run; A. P. Hill is holding the line east of the Run; Gordon occupies the fortifications from the Jerusalem road to the Appomattox; Longstreet is hastening down from Richmond; Ewell is north of the James, and the citizens of Richmond are jumping from their beds to shoulder muskets for service in the trenches. Lee has not yet decided to evacuate Petersburg. He will wait and see what a day may bring forth.<br>
He had not long to wait. Parke, commanding the Ninth Corps, during the night, prepared to assault. It was precisely four o’clock when the divisions leaped from their entrenchments, and with bayonets fixed, without firing a gun, tore away the abatis in front of the forts, swarmed over the embankments, crawled into the embrasures, and climbed the parapet. It was the work of five minutes only, but four forts, mounting between twenty and thirty guns, were taken, with seven hundred prisoners.<br>
Grant began early on Sunday morning to draw the farther end of the net toward Petersburg. Sheridan, with the cavalry and two divisions of the Fifth, moved upon Sutherland’s Station on the South Side Railroad, eleven miles from Petersburg. Grant sent him Miles’s division of the Second Corps. Wright and Ord, east of the run, at nine o’clock assaulted the works in their front, and after a severe struggle carried them, capturing all the guns and several thousand prisoners.<br>
Humphrey, who was west of the run, now was able to leave his position and join Wright and Ord. By noon we see the net drawn close. Sheridan at Sutherland’s, with the Fifth Corps, then Humphrey, Ord, and Wright; all swinging towards the city, taking fort after fort and contracting the lines.<br>
In the morning I watched the movements on the left, but as the line advanced, hastened east in season to see the last attack on Forts Mahone and Gregg, the two Rebel strongholds south of the town. These forts were in rear of the main Rebel line, on higher ground.<br>
The troops, in columns of brigades, moved steadily over the field, drove in the Rebel pickets, received the fire of the batteries without breaking, leaped over the breastworks with a huzza, which rang shrill and clear above the cannonade. Mahone was an embrasured battery of three guns; Gregg, a strong fort with sally-ports, embrasures for six guns, and surrounded by a deep ditch. Mahone was carried with a rush, the men mounting the escarpment and jumping into it, regardless of the fire poured upon them by the Rebels.<br>
There was a long struggle for the possession of Gregg. Heth and Wilcox were there, animating the garrison. The attacking columns moved in excellent order over the field swept by the guns of the fort, and even received the canister without staggering. The fort was enveloped in smoke, showing that the defence was heroic, as well as the assault.<br>
The lines move on. The soldiers spring into the ditch and climb the embankment. The foremost, as they reach the top, roll back upon their comrades. They are lost from sight in smoke and flame; but from the cloud there comes a hurrah, and the old flag waves in the sunlight above the stronghold which, through all the weary months, has thundered defiance.<br>
Lee’s line was broken at the centre, and Petersburg was no longer tenable. <br>
It was inspiriting to stand there, and watch the tide of victory rolling up the hill. With that Sunday’s sun the hopes of the Rebels set, never to rise again. The C. S. A.,—the Confederate Slave Argosy,—freighted with blood and groans and tears, the death’s-head and cross-bones at her masthead, hailed as a rightful belligerent, furnished with guns, ammunition, and all needful supplies by sympathetic England and France, was a shattered, helpless wreck.
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