Joseph J. Scoggs was 2nd lieutenant in charge of the 5th USCT at the Battle of New Market Heights and Fort Gilmer. In his diary he gives an account of the day's action.
Sept. 29-To give a full history of the incidents of such an eventful day would require more space than it would be convenient to spare in a small note book: then I only recorded what came under my immediate observation. The 10" and remainder of the 18" Corps had all arrived during the night of the 27th and following day a portion of the forces crossing at Aikens Landing and the rest at Deep Bottom. Our Division (3rd Div. 18" A.C. Gen. C. J. Paine) was in line at 3 A.M. and left camp just at daylight. All the troops were in motion moving off in various directions to the part assigned them in the day's bloody work. The Div. SS were thrown forward as the advance skirmishers and before we had got a mile from camp they had found and engaged the enemy. Assisted by skirmishers from the 2nd Brigade (Duncan's) and supported by the whole brigade they drove the enemy behind their main line of works, following them up closely, but on arriving within easy range of the works a withering fire created considerable confusion in the ranks which it was impossible to correct under fire. However, they bravely advanced, some even as far as the abatis in front of the works until Col. Duncan Comdg. Brig. fell severely wounded, when they retired precipitately. At 8" A.M. our Brigade (3d Colonel Draper) was ordered over the same ground. When we received the order we were lying in column by battalion in a deep ravine. The column was immediately deployed in line of battle, formed in double column by division and advanced within 500 yds. of the works. At the word "Charge" we moved forward at a double quick in good order: a thick jungle in our way deranged our ranks slightly and the loss of Lt. Col. Shurtleff and Capts. Fahsion, Cock and Marvin all severely wounded tended to discourage the men of the 5th but they pressed forward bravely following their colors. I being in command of the 1st Div. had the uncoveted honor of leading the column, and by virtue of necessity [was] the first officer on the enemys works. The Color bearer was killed on one side of me and my orderly Sergt. wounded on the other, two of my Sergts killed and my company seemingly annihilated, yet on we went through the double line of abatis, and over their works like a whirlwind. The rebels retreated rapidly and we secured but few prisoners. We continued the pursuit a short distance then halted to inform [re-formj the battalion. On getting my Co. [H] together I found I had lost 18 in killed and wounded, that cut [to] 50 the number I started with in the morning. My O.S. Wm. Strander scarce 20 years of age and as brave a boy as ever wore the diamond refused to go to the rear on being wounded: but with the blood streaming from his neck followed me over the enemys works. Lt. D. L. Way 5th Reg. And A.D. Co. on Drapers Staff was severely wounded. After resting half an hour we marched "on to Richmond." Three miles from the first line of rebel works we came to another line which were unfinished and had the appearance of not having been occupied for some time previous. Another mile and we halted a few minutes and were here made aware of our proximity to hostile forces by them opening on us with artillery. A spherical Case ricocheted a few feet from where I was at the time standing and struck a soldier a few rods in rear of me severing his right leg from his body. We filed to the right into a forest of dense undergrowth where after much figuring around, we rested until 3 P.M. We then advanced in line of battle about a mile coming out in plain view of the enemy's works. We scarcely halted but in obedience to orders advanced at once to the assault. Looking over the ground from where we started no correct idea of its nature could be formed, but we soon found that great obstacles were to be surmounted. We crossed one deep ravine before the rebels opened on us and two afterwards, each one a morass and covered with heavy slashing. A battery to our right raked these ravines from end to end and our progress through them being necessarily slow we lost a great many men before gaining solid ground. We finally struggled through the last swamp and up the last bank, to find ourselves alone and unsupported, exposed to an enfilading fire of artillery and musketry in front which now for the first began to tell upon our ranks with murderous effect. The 118" N.Y. formed a light skirmish line in front of us and they with the 5th were expected to carry the formidable works. We were ordered to lie down for a moments rest before the final exertion. The bullets rained among us and our laying down was no protection. We could not remain there, and the order to "Charge" was given. On we went passing near a house behind which the shattered bleeding remnant of the 118" N.Y. had sought a refuge from the storm of death raging around us: on through the pitiless hail of lead and iron: On, on, with a blind desperation: seeming to, have but one idea in view, one purpose, one end to accomplish, and that, to die an honorable death. For myself, I can truly say, I was oblivious of all danger. I had given up the hope of returning alive from this "very jaws of death," and thought that it was only left for me to die facing the enemy. Within one hundred yards of the works the men instinctively halted as if to take breath and that moment saved the remnant of the battalion. The utter hopelessness of succeeding prevaded the mind of every one when they had time to think. I did not lie down as that position offered no security, and I seen the companies one by one commencing on the left to rise to their feet run a few yards and then as if recollecting themselves, walk deliberately from the field. I seen a man of my own Co. (Fleming Taylor) get up, step out a dozen yards in front of the line and cooly fire his piece at the enemy, then slowly follow the Co. from the ground. I seen a Sergeant who had received three different wounds crying because the battalion would not go farther. I seen men tenderly and slowly carrying their wounded captain (Wilber) off that field of death, and also their wounded comrades, from where to delay was almost madness. I seen all this and more, and no man dare hereafter say aught in my presence against the bravery and soldierly qualities of the colored soldiers. I was the last officer to leave the field except Lieut. Viers and he was captured. I was completely exhausted being very unwell in the morning to start on the severe exertions of the day had used me up and I was twice compelled to sit down and rest in going from that field where life was the exception to the general rule. Indeed it was only the fear of being captured alive which urged me on and brought me to a place of safety. Ten men gathered around me all that was left of the 50 noble brave boys I had brought out with me a few hours before. I was carried to an ambulance and taken back to Deep Bottom arriving at our old Camp sometime during the night in a state of delirium. So closed that day, a parallel to which I never wish to experience. Capt. Wilber and Lieuts. Johnson and Viers were wounded in the afternoon making our loss seven officers during the day and about 330 men.
Last updated: February 26, 2015