211th Pennsylvania Volunteers


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Soon after its organization, it moved for the front, and on the 20th, was placed in the entrenchments at Bermuda Hundred, where it was incorporated with a provisional brigade in the Army of the James. It had scarcely reached its position, when it was ordered to mount the parapets, in full view of, and in point blank range of the enemy's guns. The sudden appearance of the long lines of men upon the sand-bags, of which the works were constructed, attracted his attention, and he immediately opened upon them with his batteries. Two men of company F, were instantly killed by a single shell. The object of thus exposing the command, was to divert attention from the storming party which was about to move upon Fort Harrison, and which gallantly carried that work. The picket line, which the regiment was required to hold, extended to the James River on the right, opposite Dutch Gap, through a dense pine wood to an open space, where was the regimental encampment. This space, a fourth of a mile in width, had been cleared of timber, by converting it into an impenetrable slashing, over which an unobstructed view of the enemy was given. The line after leaving the river was nearly straight until it reached this slashing, where it made an abrupt bend, leaving the apex of the angle close to the enemy's line. At this point, many rebel deserters came in to the Union lines. So common had this practice become, that is was proving a serious drain upon the rebel strength; so much so, that General Pickett, who was in command, determined to stop it. The most friendly relations has subsisted between the opposing picket lines, the men frequently meeting for social conference and banter. But on the night of the 17th of November, quietly massing a picked body of men, the rebel leader suddenly burst upon the Union pickets, and before they could rally, or supports could come to their aid, captured fifty-four of their number, seizing this projecting angle, and before morning, had built a redoubt, and so strengthened his lines, that General Grant, after a careful survey of the ground, deemed it expedient to attempt to retake it. This was the end of the truce on the part of the pickets, hostilities never ceasing afterwards for an instant, and so long as the regiment remained on that line, the men were obliged to hug the breastworks, or lie close in the bomb-proofs.

On the 27th of November, the Two Hundred and Eleventh, with other Pennsylvania regiments with which it had been brigaded, was relieved by a brigade of colored troops, and was ordered to join the Army of the Potomac, on the south side of the Appomattox. These regiments were subsequently organized into a division, which became the Third of the Ninth Corps, to the command of which General Hartranft was assigned, the Two Hundred and Eleventh, Two Hundred and Fifth, and Two Hundred and Seventh, under command of Colonel Matthews, forming the Second Brigade. During the winter, the regiment was thoroughly drilled, and made occasional expeditions with the troops of other corps, but without becoming engaged, though a considerable amount of fortifying was done in the movement upon Hatcher's Run, and the troops were there held in momentary expectation of bloody work.

Before the opening of the spring campaign, Colonel Trimble resigned, and was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Dodd. The camp of the regiment was located midway between Fort Howard and Fort Alexander Hayes, on the Army Line Railroad, to the extreme left of the division, which was posted in rear of, and acted as a support to the Ninth Corps line. At the moment when this line was broken at Fort Steadman, at early dawn, on the morning of the 25th of March, 1865, and the fort and a considerable portion of the line was captured, the Two Hundred and Eleventh was resting in its camp, nearly four miles away. The Colonel and Major were absent, and the Lieutenant Colonel was sick in hospital. The command consequently devolved on Captain William A. Coulter. It was quickly summoned to the scene of disaster, and marching rapidly, reached division headquarters at half-past six A.M. With little delay it was led by order of General Hartranft, to the high open ground about Meade Station, just in rear of Fort Steadman, where it was formed and awaited the order to charge. The other regiments of the division, which were all nearer the scene of disaster than this, had been gathered in, and having checked the enemy's advance, were holding him at bay. A strong line had been drawn around the fatal break, and the best possible disposition of the division for strength and efficiency, had been made. General Hartranft felt satisfied that the enemy could make no further advance, and that by a united assault, his division could re-take the captured works. His plan of attack was most ingenious. He already had five of his regiments posted in the immediate front, advantageously formed for a dash upon the enemy, who was swarming upon the fort, the covered ways, and bomb-proofs. The Two Hundred and Eleventh was a mile away, but on high open ground. It was a large regiment, and if put in motion, drawn out in line, would instantly attract the attention of the foe, and, as he believed, would draw the fire of his artillery upon it. His other regiments, thus relieved from peril, could rush upon, and overpower him. He accordingly sent word to their commanders to hold themselves in readiness to charge in fifteen minutes, and the signal to start, should be the forward movement of the Two Hundred and Eleventh, which was in full view of them all. General Hartranft determined to lead this regiment in person, and though he expected that it would be sacrificed by the fire which the enemy could bring to bear upon it, he was ready to share its peril, in order that his division might be victorious. The regiment was accordingly formed, with nearly six hundred muskets in line, and put in motion. In the most perfect order, and in the most gallant manner, it moved forward; but contrary to the expectation of General Hartranft, the enemy, at the sight of the advance of so fine a body of men, instead of turning all his guns upon it, as was in his power to do, began to waiver, and when the combined forces of the division rushed on with unflinching determination, he had little heart to offer opposition, and the fort, guns, small arms, and many prisoners were speedily taken. At the moment when all the plans had been perfected, and the columns were upon the point of moving, General Hartranft received and order from General Parke, in command of the corps, not to attempt to re-take the fort, until reinforcements from the Sixth Corps, which were on the way to his support, should arrive. But the order to move had already gone forth, and it could not be safely re-called. He accordingly decided that it was better to disregard, that to obey orders, and when the moment came, dashed forward with his men, winning a brilliant and most signal victory. The captures made by the division, were fully shared by the regiment. Fortunately, the loss was but slight, being one killed and ten wounded.

Great activity all along the Union lines was soon after inaugurated, and on the night of the 30th, preparations were made by the division to assault. It was, however, deferred until the morning of the 2d of April. At a little before midnight on the 1st, the regiment moved to the camp of the Two Hundred and Seventh, where it remained until half-past three of the following morning. It then moved to he front, passing around the right of Fort Sedgwick, and was formed with the brigade, in column by regiments, the left resting on the Jerusalem Plank Road, the First Brigade standing in like formation, just in its rear. A strong force of pioneers was detailed from the leading brigade, well provided with axes and spades, all under command of Lieutenant Albert Alexander, of the Two Hundred and Eleventh, to open the way for the movement of the column. When all was in readiness, the word to advance was given. The pioneers, closely followed by the division in close column, and joined on right and left by other troops of the corps, went forward, and in an instant the heavy blows of the axe-men upon the well adjusted abatis and chevaux-de-frise, were heard. The work of destruction was scarcely begun, when a fearful discharge of grape and canister was brought to bear upon them, before which the stoutest might well quail. But closing up where their ranks were swept away, they soon broke the obstructions, and, assisted by the ready hands of the troops which followed, had ample opening for the advance of the column. With a rush, the ground in front of the rebel works was cleared, and pushing up the steep and slippery of the forts, the troops were soon in complete possession, the enemy either captives or in full retreat, and the rebel main line of works, from a short distance beyond the Jerusalem Plank Road on the left, to a point four hundred yards to its right, was triumphantly carried and held by the division. The guns were immediately turned upon the foe, and with his own ammunition, death and destruction was dealt upon him. Not without a fierce struggle was the ground held, for the enemy, intent on re-gaining his lost ground, made repeated charges. But hastily throwing up lunets, for the protection of the gunners, and rifle-pits for the infantry, the division succeeded in repulsing every assault. But this signal victory was not gained without signal loss. Of the Two Hundred and Eleventh, four officers and seventeen enlisted men were killed, four officers and eighty-nine men wounded, and twenty-one missing, an aggregate of one hundred and thirty-five. Lieutenant Charles M'Lain, and Lieutenants Andrew J. Sparks, Albert Alexander, and John P. Tarr, were killed, and Major Elias B. Lee, and Lieutenant John M. Pelton, mortally wounded. Captain James D. Gourlay, and Lieutenant Thomas C. Gilson, were severely wounded. Few more desperate assaults, and none more successful, were delivered during the war, than this.

During the following night, the enemy quietly withdrew from the front, and evacuating the city under cover of darkness retreated rapidly. The division entered on the following morning, with little opposition. The Two Hundred and Eleventh was immediately ordered forward to the Appomattox, to picket the riverbank. The railroad bridge and footbridge, were both found on fire. By vigorous efforts the former was saved, and part of the latter. Towards noon, the regiment marched back to camp. The remainder of its history is quickly told, for hostile operations were now at an end. It followed along the South Side Railroad, in charge of trains, until it reached Nottoway Court House, where news of the surrender of Lee was received, and where it remained until the 20th, and then proceeded via City Point to Alexandria. Here it encamped, and here, on the 2d of June, it was mustered out of service.

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