The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865
John Fox III, Angle Valley Press 2010, ISBN: 978-0-9711950-0-4
In his new book The Confederate Alamo John Fox takes a look at one of the least-known but most important battles of the Petersburg campaign—the defense of Fort Gregg and its associated works, Forts Whitworth and Owen. The action there ranks as one of the bloodiest and desperate of the war, and allowed the ANV to successfully retreat across the Appomattox that night. Although it has been mentioned in previous works, notably Will Greene’s Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion, this is the first book to treat only this intense action.
Earlier on the morning of April 2, 1865, the Union VI Corps had shredded the lines of the Confederate Third Corps and, supported by the XXIV Corps, was by mid-morning in the process of rolling up Lee’s line toward Petersburg. Only the forts of the inner line, virtually unmanned, stood in their way. Fox sets the stage for the action without a lot of preliminaries and soon gets the to main action at Fort Gregg. The makeshift Confederate defense there was thrown together on the fly from Mississippi and North Carolina infantrymen and whatever other units could be found on short notice. It was always a forlorn hope, but any available time had to be bought with blood.
Fox, who has a history degree from Washington and Lee, has done an excellent job tracking down quite a number of unpublished primary sources on both sides and alternates between a tactical overview and the soldiers-eye perspective. Tactically it was a confused battle—the Confederates withdrew some artillery pieces early in the action that might have made a major difference (an action that no one would later take credit for) and the Union assaults were poorly organized and—even thought their numbers were overwhelming—delivered piecemeal. Even after gaining the moat around the fort the bluecoats were unable to climb the muddy parapet and the boys in gray repulsed several attempts. Eventually, the Union numbers, Confederate ammunition shortages, and a fatal weakness in the fort itself (an unfinished wall), led to its fall and the bloody aftermath in which the maddened attackers spared few of those inside. Many of the men who fought there considered it the most desperate fighting of their entire service.
The narrative moves swiftly and finishes in only 217 pages. The writing is tight and concise and though the prose sometimes veers toward the purple it never quite gets there, and as a historian Fox is scrupulously fair to both sides. There are several useful indexes including a driving tour, an order of battle (no small feat to sort out the mixed Confederate units), the casualties (811 Union, 413 Confederate), a listing of all the Confederate soldiers at Fort Gregg, and an examination of the controversial artillery withdrawal. There are copious footnotes and a useful index, and in all this handsome volume is a great example of the sort of polished, professionally done book that is coming out of some of the better small presses today. Highly recommended.