The recruits for this regiment were almost exclusively from Pennsylvania, and were organized and equipped at Camp William Penn, with the following field officers:
- Stephen B. Yeoman, Colonel
- H. Seymour Hall, Lieutenant Colonel
- Horace Blumstead, Major
On the 18th of April, 1864, six companies of this regiment, the only ones then organized, were ordered, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Hall, to Annapolis, Maryland, where they were assigned to the First Brigade, Fourth Division, of the Ninth Corps. A few days later, the corps moved for the front, and in its march through Washington, these colored troops attracted special attention, from the fact that they were the first destined for duty with the Army of the Potomac. At Manassas Junction, the command halted for a few days; but when the army under General Grant, encountered the enemy in the Wilderness, it was hurried forward to his support, and performed excellent service on that desperately contested field. Lieutenant Charles Wickware was severely wounded on the second day of the battle, losing an arm.
Throughout the Wilderness campaign, these companies moved with the Ninth Corps, and proved by their steadiness and intrepidity their title to trust. On the 6th of June, when the corps was in the neighborhood of Old Church, Company G, which had been recruited at Camp William Penn, joined the battalion at the front. Immediately on arriving before Petersburg, it was employed in fatigue duty, in erecting fortifications and covered ways, under an almost constant fire of the enemy.
The Crater at Petersburg
Early on the morning of the 30th of July, Lieutenant Colonel Hall led his command through the covered way, up to the mouth of the mine which had been excavated on the Ninth Corps front, and was that morning to be sprung. The lot fell to Ledlie's Division to lead in the charge, though General Burnside had selected the Colored Division for that duty, but had been overruled in his choice.
The consternation created by the horrors of the explosion, enabled Ledlie's Division to advance to, and take shelter in the crater, without serious loss. The divisions of Potter and Wilcox were soon ordered up to its support; and finally, when the enemy had fully recovered from his fright, had brought supports to cover the threatened point, and was fully prepared to repel further assaults, the Colored Division was ordered to advance. It was a forlorn hope; but the division moved gallantly forward, in the face of a decimating fire, and passing to the right of the crater, charged towards the crest beyond. Here so deadly was the fire of infantry and artillery which it met, that it was soon swept back in disorder amongst the debris of the demolished fort, though it succeeded in bringing in some prisoners, Captain Albert D. Wright, taking, with his own hands, a rebel battle-flag.
Little protection was afforded even here, the enemy soon getting the range, and mercilessly slaughtering the helpless victims huddled together. A charge made upon them by the enemy, was bloodily repulsed; but it was madness to attempt to hold the position, and almost certain destruction to attempt to go back, every inch of the ground being raked by the enemy's concentric fire. Nevertheless, the attempt to retire must be made. By skillful manoeuvres along the Union line, the enemy's attention was for a moment attracted from the fatal ground, and taking advantage of this, large numbers escaped.
"In this battle," says Chaplain J. M. Mickley,1 "it would be difficult to enumerate particular cases of great bravery, where all seemed to vie with each other in the brilliancy and gallantry of their achievements. Colored non-commissioned officers fearlessly took the command after their officers had been killed, or borne severely wounded from the field, and led on the attack to the close. As each brave color-bearer was shot down, another, and another would grasp the National emblem, all riddled with balls, and plant it further on the enemy's line. In this terrific engagement, this battalion of the Forty-third had its colors almost entirely cut up by the fire, and the color staffs splintered and broken. Its casualties were one officer [Lieutenant James T. Hayman,] killed, ten severely wounded, including the gallant Lieutenant Colonel Hall, who sustained the loss of his right arm, and two taken prisoners, and twenty-eight men killed, ninety-four wounded, and twelve missing. It was afterwards discovered that the missing were men rendered helpless by reason of severe wounds, and whom the rebels deliberately put to death on the field by bayoneting. The following is an extract from the official report of the brigade commander, relative to that battle: 'The Forty-third regiment, United States Colored troops, charged over the crest of the crater, and right upon the enemy's works, carrying them, capturing a number of prisoners, a rebel battle-flag, and re-capturing a stand of National colors. Lieutenant Colonel Hall, commanding the Forty-third, lost his right arm, while bravely leading his regiment' Here, on this, as on many other fields during this war, for the sacred cause of our republican liberties, free institutions, and Union, the blood of the Anglo Saxon and the African mingled very freely in the full measure of devoted offering."
As yet, the regiment comprised only seven companies. The remaining three were recruited at Camp William Penn, and left for the front on the 11th of July. This was the occasion of the rebel invasion of Maryland by General Early, and upon the arrival of these troops at Havre-de-Grace, on the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, Company I was detached, and sent to guard Gunpowder Bridge. The remaining two companies, with others, all under command of Colonel Wagner, of the Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania, moved to Baltimore, and were posted at the Birney Barracks, for the defense of the city. These three companies soon afterwards assembled at Camp Casey, Virginia, opposite Washington, whence they proceeded, under command of Major Bumstead, to the lines before Petersburg, where they joined the rest of the regiment, the Major assuming command. For nearly three weeks, the Forty-third was industriously employed in fatigue duty, on the fortifications and field works, in which it rendered most efficient service.
With the corps, it marched for the Weldon Railroad, and in the action at that point, on the 19th and 20th of August, and at Poplar Grove Church, on the 29th and 30th of September, it was engaged, but fortunately suffered little loss. In the battle of Hatcher's Run, on the 27th and 28th of October, it held the position of skirmishers in front of the Ninth Corps, and gallantly assisted in repulsing the repeated charges of the enemy. Two lines of breast-works which served an important purpose in the fight, were constructed in the face of a severe fire, by this regiment, for which it was highly commended. It was the last regiment to leave the field, covering the retiring movement. Its loss in the action was one officer, Lieutenant James Roantree, and seven men killed, four officers and eighteen men wounded, and one taken prisoner.
Soon after its return from this movement, it was sent by a forced march, to the Bermuda (Hundred) front, to assist in re-gaining some ground which had been-lost. This was successfully accomplished. Nettled by the triumph of the colored troops, the rebels attempted every stratagem to annoy, and gain some advantage over them, massing men and charging, masking their operations by the most incessant firing, by night and by day, for nearly a month. But the colored troops everywhere met their assailants with equal courage and daring, preserving an unbroken front, answering shot for shot, holding resolutely their ground, and inflicting great slaughter upon the foe.
The Forty-third was here assigned to the Third Brigade, First Division of the Twenty-fifth Corps. Colonel Yeoman, soon after his appointment as Colonel of this regiment, had been detailed by order of the War Department, as superintendent of recruiting service at Camp Casey, Virginia, where he remained until near the close of November, when he joined his regiment, and assumed command. At an inspection held by the Inspector General of the corps, this regiment acquitted itself so well in every particular, as to call forth a complimentary general order, in which it was mentioned as the best drilled and disciplined in the command.
On the 24th of January, 1865, the enemy's gunboats proceeded down the James River, to a point in the bend, just below the upper end of the Dutch Gap Canal, with the design of silencing the Union fleet, and capturing City Point, the base of supply for the entire army. The Forty-third was posted on this occasion, along the river bank, from Cox's Landing to Dutch Gap, and when the enemy's boats came within range, it opened so hot a fire upon them, as to prevent the opening of their port-holes. A detachment was also sent across the canal, which skirmished through Farra's Island, to within a short distance of the Hewlett House Battery. Until the fall of the rebel Capital, and the victorious entrance of General Weitzel's command, it was actively employed on the front lines.
After the surrender of Lee, it returned to City Point, and on the 30th of May, embarked with other colored troops, for Texas. Upon its arrival, it was posted on the Rio Grande, opposite the city of Matamoras, Mexico. Early in November, it was ordered north, and returning to New Orleans, embarked on the steamer Merrimac, on the 9th, bound for Philadelphia. The boat had not been long out, before it sprung a leak, and it was only by the almost superhuman exertions of officers and men of this regiment, that it was lighted and kept afloat until it could be run upon the bar, at the mouth of the Mississippi. All on board were saved.
"After a gratuitous issue of clothing," says Chaplain Mickley, "by order of General Sheridan, to supply, in part, the loss incident to this perilous trip, it embarked on the steamer Costa Rica, arrived at New York, November 26th, and was finally discharged at Philadelphia, November 30th. 1865. Its casualties in the service were, officers killed three, wounded eleven, and three discharged by reason of wounds; men killed, died of wounds and disease, three hundred and six, and missing, one hundred and ninety-six."
1 A pamphlet of eighty-eight pages, published by J. B. Wible, Gettysburg, prepared by Chaplain J. M. Mickley, containing an account of the regiment, and biographical sketches of its officers, furnishes most of the facts contained in this record.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 , Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
Organized at Philadelphia, Pa., March 12 to June 3, 1864.
Moved to Annapolis, Md., April 18.
Attached to 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac, to September, 1864.
1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Corps, to December, 1864.
3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to January, 1865.
3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps and Dept. of Texas, to October, 1865.
Campaign from the Rapidan to the James River, Va., May-June, 1864.
Guard trains of the Army of the Potomac through the Wilderness and to Petersburg.
Before Petersburg June 15-19.
Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond June 16, 1864, to April 2, 1865.
Mine Explosion, Petersburg, July 30, 1864.
Weldon Railroad August 18-21.
Poplar Grove Church September 29-30 and October 1.
Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher's Run, October 27-28.
On the Bermuda Hundred front and before Richmond till March, 1865.
Moved to Hatcher's Run March 27-28.
Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9.
Hatcher's Run March 29-31.
Fall of Petersburg April 2.
Pursuit of Lee April 3-9.
Appomattox Court House April 9.
Surrender of Lee and his army.
Duty at Petersburg and City Point till May 30.
Moved to Texas May 30-June 10.
Duty on the Rio Grande opposite Mattamoras, Mexico, till October.
Mustered out October 20, 1865, and discharged at Philadelphia, Pa., November 30, 1865.
Regiment lost during service:
3 Officers and 48 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
188 Enlisted men by disease.
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