Title: The Charge at Fort Hell
Date: 1899
Author: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Keywords: Joshua Chamberlain, Lawrence Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Petersburg, wound, battle, charge
Credit: William Henry Noble Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Permissions: Rights reserved by Duke University
Reproductions: Smith, Diane M. Chamberlain at Petersburg
The Charge at Fort Hell

The Assault on Petersburg would start on the 15th of June 1864. Though the Union troops greatly outnumbered Beauregard’s men, ground continued to be gained and lost from the 15th to the 18th. The 5th Corps would arrive near Petersburg around midnight of the 16th, but as Chamberlain points out, "we wasted the whole day, so that we lost the end for which this severe march was inflicted on the men."
    By the 18th Lee began to arrive with reinforcements. Meade, unaware of the reinforcements would later write,
"On the 18th I assaulted several times the enemy's positions, deliberately, and with the expectation of carrying them, because I had positive information the enemy had not occupied them more than twelve hours, and that no digging had been done on the lines prior to their occupation. Nevertheless, I failed, and met with serious loss, principally owing to the moral condition of the army; for I am satisfied, had these assaults been made on the 5th and 6th of May, we should have succeeded with half the loss we met."1
Attempts to coordinate a charge failed and many soldiers simply refused to try it, including several brigades in the Second Corps. Those who were brave enough to go in without support had fearful losses. The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, a new regiment, would suffer more casualties in a single day than any other Union regiment. After the attack their Colonel would berate the veterans, "There are the men you have been making fun of; you did not dare follow them." 2
    At the other end of the battlefield Kershaw and Field’s Divisions had reenforced the Confederate line near Rives’s Salient, a strong position that in subsequent days would become known as Fort Damnation.3 Having already gained ground for his guns at 3 pm, about an hour and a half before the 1st Maine’s attack, Chamberlain would lead his men forward again. His charge had one slight difference than that of the 1st Maine, Chamberlain went against the norm and chose to place his new regiment in the rear,
"I had formed two lines three regiments in the front line and the 187th in the second, a new regiment, full ranks, and stout hearts; with two regiments skilled marksmen as a special column on the left to guard that exposed flank in whatever way should be necessary. This now seems to me not the best formation; for it gave my new regiment the awful spectacle of the havoc made in my first line; my reason for this was, however, that none but experienced soldiers should try to go over works with the bayonet."
This charge would leave Chamberlain clinging to life. Word went up the chain of command of Chamberlain’s wounding, Warren describing it to Meade as a mortal wound "the ball having passed through the pelvis and bladder."4 This prompted Grant to promote Chamberlain by special order.
    On page 16 Chamberlain describes "extravasations which would end my life." The Medical and Surgical History of the War describes wounds to the bladder "causing extravasations and mortal peritonitis." (Extravasations meaning pooling of urine under the skin and peritonitis meaning inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity.) It advocates, "To restore the passage of the urine by the natural channel, to prevent consecutive distention of the organ, to evacuate blood accumulated in the cavity, and to diminish as much as possible the escape of urine through the tissues, were the objects held in view, and mainly sought by the aid of the catheter."5
    Attacking the intrenched line around Petersburg proved hopeless. On the evening of the 18th Grant would declare,
"Lee's whole army has now arrived, and the topography of the country about Petersburg has been well taken advantage of by the enemy in the location of strong works. I will make no more assaults on that portion of the line, but will give the men a rest, and then look to extensions toward our left, with a view to destroying Lee’s communications on the south and confining him to a close siege."6

Page 15 appears to be a piece about Lincoln that has gotten lost from the rest of its document.