Editor’s Note: This Civil War book review originally appeared at The Siege of Petersburg Online: Beyond the Crater earlier today.
Fox, John J., III. The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865. Angle Valley Press (April 3, 2010). 52 pages, 7 maps, 74 photos, 8 appendices, bibliography, index. ISBN: 978-0-9711950-0-4 $34.95 (Cloth).
One of the most amazing last stands of the Civil War occurred just west of Petersburg, Virginia on the afternoon of April 2, 1865…and no one has heard of it…until now. At Fort Gregg, a little over 300 Confederates fought against over 4,400 Union attackers in a bid to allow Robert E. Lee’s Amy of Northern Virginia to escape from Petersburg and Richmond. In The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865, author John J. Fox III has produced literally the first book ever written about the Battle for Fort Gregg, the last major action of the Siege of Petersburg. Using a wide array of primary sources, numerous photos of participants and detailed maps, Fox has produced a superb battle history sure to be the standard for Fort Gregg for the foreseeable future.
John J. Fox is the owner of Angle Valley Press and the author a Confederate regimental history, Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment, CSA. A veteran of the U.S. Army, Fox graduated from Washington & Lee University with a degree in history. The author has written several articles for popular Civil War magazines Civil War Times and America’s Civil War.
The morning and afternoon of April 2, 1865 was the end game of the nine month long Siege of Petersburg. Pickett’s Division had been routed at Five Forks on April 1 by Phil Sheridan’s cavalry and the Union 5th Corps, shattering Lee’s last hope to save his remaining supply line in the South Side Railroad and cutting off a portion of his army.
As a result, Grant ordered an assault along the lines south of Petersburg on the morning of April 2. The Union 6th Corps succeeded in breaking through and separated even more Confederate soldiers from the main body. The 6th Corps and supporting units initially moved away from Petersburg to the southwest. Soon, however, the 24th Corps joined the 6th Corps in an advance back towards the Cockade City. They ran into opposition in the mutually supporting Forts Gregg and Whitworth, located west of the main inner or Dimmock Line protecting Petersburg. Other than the remnants of Lane’s and Thomas’ Brigades from Wilcox’s Division and Harris’ Brigade of Mahone’s Division, no one stood in the way of this massive Union advance.
In order to buy time for Field’s veteran division from the Army of Northern Virginia to fill the western edges of the Dimmock Line, elements of the aforementioned Third Corps brigades and some artillery of the same corps were ordered to man Fort Gregg and Fort Whitworth and hold out to the last. As the 24th Corps approached the stage was set for a dramatic and bloody afternoon.
Ultimately Fort Gregg fell and its defenders were killed, wounded and/or captured save a single soldier. Their brave stand bought enough time for Lee to evacuate Petersburg, giving the Army of Northern Virginia one more week to live.
Fox sets the stage well, covering the strategic situation in the East in March 1865 and drilling down to Petersburg. The battle action is well written, entertaining, and ties in nicely with the regimental level maps scattered throughout the book. This is mostly a standard military history of the battle with some anecdotes from the citizens of Petersburg included. Chapters are broken down chronologically and by unit with alternating views of the action between the Confederate and Union perspective. This creates a growing tension in a desperate situation as the fort’s defenders are slowly whittled down in strength and ammunition. After the fort’s fall, Fox discusses the ramifications of choosing to defend these positions rather than making a stand in the Dimmock line.
There are 8(!) appendices in the book, many of which focus on controversies surrounding who participated in the fight (and who didn’t), questionable orders issued by commanders, and information on the men who defended Fort Gregg or won Medals of Honor in the attack. Directions to Fort Gregg along with present day photos and maps allow those so inclined to visit the battlefield. The Order of Battle is particularly noteworthy, going down to regimental/battery level for both unit strengths and unit commanders. Typically an afterthought in many books, the appendix section of this book provides real value to the reader.
Perhaps in part due to the lack of published secondary sources, the notes and bibliography in this book are filled with primary source accounts of what was to veterans a very controversial and important battle. Fox makes noticeable use of articles from the National Tribune
(now online at the Library of Congress). This newspaper was the postbellum mouthpiece of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest Union veterans’ organization. The number of unpublished manuscripts the author accessed is also noteworthy. Maps throughout the book routinely go down to the regimental/battery level, in some cases even more in the confined space of Fort Gregg.
The only book to specifically cover the battle for Fort Gregg, The Confederate Alamo is a model battle history with excellent maps, an exhaustive amount of research, and a well-told account of one of the most dramatic last stands in the entire Civil War. The Confederate defenders of Fort Gregg sold their lives dearly to buy time for Lee’s Confederates to be able to evacuate Petersburg and Richmond that evening. Had the fort fallen sooner the war in Virginia might have ended on April 2, 1865 instead of a week later. Those who enjoy straightforward battle histories, the Siege of Petersburg, and dramatic last stands will all enjoy The Confederate Alamo. This sole book on the Battle of Fort Gregg, well-written and an important contribution to the Siege of Petersburg literature, is highly recommended.
I would like to thank John J. Fox III, the author of The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865.
For detailed information and notes on this book, see BTC Notes: The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865.