Monday, June 05, 2006

Walking the Charge


Pictured above is Don Troiani's The Forlorn Hope, 1989


One of the highlights of my recent trip happened on Sunday morning. I got up early and left the University of Richmond and drove down to Petersburg. I was there early and wanted to get to the site of the First Maine Heavy Artillery Monument. I parked my car and walked over to the remains of the of Prince George County Road. For those of you who don’t know the story this is where the First Maine Heavy Artillery formed up in 3 Battalions of about 300 men each. Each Battalion would have been about 375 ft across and 2 ranks deep. From this position in the road the First Maine Heavy Artillery was ordered to charge across what would have been an open field to the opposing Confederate works. Using the roadbed as my starting point a I walked over the embankment that would have provided the last bit of cover for the men who went forward on that day. Moving through the woods I noticed that from where I was my left flank would have been some what sheltered by the small hill at the top the Hare House would have stood, however my front and my right flank would have been wide open. About 100 paces in the ground started to slope upwards ever so slightly. At this point my I was thinking how many men would have fallen by now. In another 20 to 40 paces I began to move beyond the front slope of the Hare House hill. If I was here in June of 1864 I would now have been wide open to artillery and musket fire on the on my right, center and left. How many more men fell in those twenty steps. At 180 paces I found a small gulley and wondered how many men fell here or tried to seek cover? Still the charge proceeds, on ward and forward, towards the top of the opposing hill. In 1864 along the crest of the hill would have been thousands of muskets firing and tearing holes in to the entire line. At 255 paces I found another small gulley and again wonder how many fell to this point how many refused to push on and who many still went further. By 289 paces I am now in front of the First Maine Heavy Artillery Monument. Placed here in June of 1894 and dedicated in September of that year it was recognized as the point in the charge where most of the men fell. For those that had not fallen is this the point where they decided to turn back. Almost 300 paces in and I have yet to start climbing up the incline of the opposite hill. Since I am not facing a writhing fire of artillery and muskets I decide to push on. At 315 paces I find a large depression and I could feel how those who made it to this position would have clung here to the earth counting their blessings they were still alive but dreading the thought of having to back track over the same ground that had already claimed so many of their comrades. After this depression which is still a good 3 feet deep it is another 30 paces before the ground really begins to slope up to the crest that would have been the Confederate line on that day in June 1864. At this point in reflection of what happened to the men of the First Maine Heavy Artillery I turned back…..

There are 212 names of those killed or mortally wounded on June 18, 1864 listed on the monument of the First Maine Heavy Artillery. This does not take into account the additional 400 plus wounded on that day. The monument to me stands as a stark reminder not only of the wastefulness of war but also a reflection on the true cost of freedom.


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