Me, standing at the Virginia state historical marker, at the site of the Quaker Road battle, outside Petersburg, VA.

Photo taken by Cheryl Pula.

This is me, standing by the marker. The moment Cheryl and I saw this marker, I became quite excited! If you look close, you can see Chamberlain's name on the fifth line down. Off to the right of the sign was the field of the Lewis Farm, where the fight took place. One could still see an old farm building, hidden by some trees in the middle of the field.

I shall let Chamberlain himself tell the story of the fight at the Quaker Road, March 29, 1865:

"...In the full crescendo of this, now, close to the sawdust pile, my horse, wild to the front....was exceeding the possible pace of the men following and I gave him a vigorous check on the curb. Resenting this, he touched his fore feet to earth only to rebound head-high to the level of my face. Just at that instant a heavy blow struck me on the left breast pocket just below the heart. I fell forward on my horse's neck and lost all consciousness. The bullet at close range had been aimed at my breast, but the horse had lifted his head just in time to catch it, so that, in passing through the big muscle of his neck (and also may I say, through a leather case of field orders and a brass-mounted hand-mirror in my breast pocket), demolished the pistol in the belt of my aide Lt. Vogel, and knocked him out of the saddle. This, of course, I only knew afterwards. The shock had stopped my horse, and I must have been for some little time unconscious."(10)

Chamberlain was covered with blood--both his own and his horse, Charlemagne's. He must have looked frightful to General Griffin, who came up and offered a supporting arm.

"'My dear General, you are gone', the kindly voice of General Griffin, who had ridden up beside me. At that moment also a very different strain struck my ear on the other hand--a wild Rebel yell. As I lifted my head a glance showed me the right of our line broken and flying before the enemy...This explains my answer to Griffin, "Yes, General, I am--" that is, 'gone in another sense'".(11)

The bullet had ripped through Chamberlain's sleeve to the elbow, and injured his bridle arm, and traveled around his ribs before going out the back seam of his coat. Had it not struck the field orders book and the hand mirror in his pocket, and had not Charlemagne reared up when he did, it would surely have killed Chamberlain.

"...The horse was bleeding profusely and my falling on his neck brought a blood-relationship of which I was not ashamed. Everybody around thought I was 'gone' indeed, and that is why a telegram went to the New York morning papers, reporting me as killed...I must have been a queer spectacle as I rose in the saddle tattered and battered, bare headed and blood-smeared..."(12)

Chamberlain did Mark Twain one better: he got to read his obituary TWICE! First, after his wounding at Petersburg in June 1864, and now at the Quaker Road, in March 1865!

Chamberlain saw what needed to be done--he and Charlemagne dashed into the fight, rallying his men and turning the tide of the battle. And then a strange thing happened...

"Aware of some confusion near the sawdust pile I thought it fitting to return to my place at the center. I was astonished at the greeting of cheers which marked my course. Strangest of all was that when I emerged to the sight of the enemy; they also took up the cheering. I hardly knew what world I was in."(13)

Chamberlain's dash had by now exhausted poor Charlemagne, so Chamberlain was forced to dismount. Moving closer to the front, he was suddenly confronted by Confederate soldiers, who wished to take him prisoner. He realized he had to think fast:

"The old coat was dingy, almost to gray; I was bare-headed, and rather a doubtful character anyway. I thought it warrantable to assume an extremely friendly relation...I replied, "Surrender? What's the matter with you? What do you take me for? Don't you see those Yanks right onto us? Come along with me, and let us break 'em!"...They did follow me like brave fellows--most of them too far; for they were a long time getting back."(14)

The battle for the Quaker Road was over--but at a great cost. In the course of the battle, Chamberlain lost one of his subordinates, a young man from Philadelphia named Major Charles Maceuen. In fact, he had been shot down literally before Chamberlain's eyes. After the battle was done, Chamberlain walked around the field, until he found the young officer's body:

"At length I kneeled above the sweet body of Maceuen, where God's thought had folded its wing; and nearby, where wrecks were thickly strewn, I came upon brave old [General Horatio] Sickel lying calm and cheerful, with a shattered limb, and weakened by loss of blood...I sat down by him to give him such cheer as I could. He seemed to think I needed the comforting...'General', he whispers, 'you have the soul of the lion and the heart of the woman'. 'Take the benediction to yourself', was the reply; 'you could not have thought that, if you had not been it'".(15)

For myself, I wonder what was going through Chamberlain's mind, as he surveyed the grisly scene before him:

"But we had with us, to keep and care for, more than five hundred bruised bodies of men--men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order--do we call it?--fraught with such ruin. Was it God's command we heard, or His forgiveness we must forever implore?"(16)

Me, standing at the Virginia state historical marker, describing the battle of the White Oak Road, outside Petersburg, VA.

Photo taken by Cheryl Pula.

It didn't take Cheryl and I long to reach this spot from the Quaker Road--probably no more than ten minutes. I was struck by how narrow the actual road was; and it was probably no wider now than it was in 1865!

It rained the night of March 29, 1865--so much so it turned the unpaved roads to thick goo, making it impossible for either army to move. The fight resumed March 31, and grew in intensity. At one point, the Fifth Corps' Second and Third Divisions were hit hard by a surprise Confederate attack:

"...General Griffin and General Warren came down at full speed, both out of breath, with their efforts to rally the panic-stricken men...Griffin breaks forth first, after his high-proof fashion: 'General Chamberlain, the Fifth Corps is eternally damned'. I essayed some pleasantry: 'Not till you are in Heaven'. Griffin does not smile nor hear, but keeps right on: 'I tell Warren you will wipe out this disgrace, and that's what we're here for'. Then Warren breaks out, with stirring phrase...'General Chamberlain, will you save the honor of the Fifth Corps? That's all there is about it'...I mention[General Joseph] Bartlett, who had our largest and best brigade, which had been little engaged. 'We have come to you; you know what that means', was the only answer. 'I'll try it, General; only don't let anyone stop me except the enemy.'"(17)

In the ensuing action, Chamberlain's small brigade not only took the lost ground back, but also a little extra. But the battle proved to be the beginning of the undoing of Fifth Corps commander General Warren. Due to many conflicting communications (and some bruised egos), matters were coming to a head, and the next day would bring personal disaster to a brave officer.

Me, at the marker for the battle of Five Forks, outside Petersburg, VA.

Photo taken by Cheryl Pula.

When I first heard about this pivotal battle--sometimes called the "Waterloo of the Confederacy"--I thought it was fought near a town called "Five Forks". But it's not--it's a place where, literally, five roads come together! I couldn't get over that....

This battle, which marked the real "beginning of the end" of the Confederacy, also marked the beginning of an ongoing controversy: General Philip Sheridan's removal (with General Grant's apparent approval) of General Gouvernour K. Warren, as commander of the Fifth Corps. (Warren would be replaced by First Division commander General Griffin, and subsequently Chamberlain, as First Brigade commander, would step up and take Griffin's place as First Division commander.) Sheridan did not want the Fifth Corps as his cavalry's infantry support; he really wanted the Sixth Corps. But the latter was too far away to be recalled, so "Little Phil" had to settle for the Fifth Corps.

"...Somewhere near the angle of the 'return', I met Sheridan. He had probably seen me putting my men in, and hence I escaped censure for appearing. Indeed his criticism seemed to be that there was not more of me, rather than less. 'By G--, that's what I want to see!', was his greeting, 'general officers at the front. Where are your general officers?' I replied that I had seen General Warren's flag in the big field north of us, and that seeing [General Romeyn] Ayres in a tight place I had come to help him, and by General Griffin's order. 'Then', cried he...'you take command of all the infantry round here, and break this dam-' I didn't want to hear any more. That made good grammar as it stood."(18)

The fighting intensified in front of Chamberlain's First Division, near the 198th Pennsylvania, commanded by Major Edwin Glenn. Chamberlain saw him and Colonel Gustavus Sniper, of the 185th New York, on the flank of Rebel guns at the Five Forks works. What happened next would haunt Chamberlain for the rest of his life:

"I rode up to the gallant Glenn...and said, 'Major Glenn, if you break that line, you shall have a Colonel's commission!' It was a hasty utterance, and the promise unmilitary, perhaps...Glenn sprung among his men, calling out, 'Boys, will you follow me?', wheeled his horse, and dashed forward, without turning to see who followed...The sight so wrought upon me that I snatched time to ride over and congratulate Glenn and his regiment. As I passed into deeper shadow of the woods, I met two men, bearing his body, the dripping blood marking their path...I could only bend down over him from the saddle and murmur unavailing words. 'General, I have carried out your wishes!'--this was his only utterance. It was as if another bullet had cut me through. I almost fell across my saddle-bow. God in Heaven, no more my wish than Thine, that this fair body...should be smitten to the sod...?"(19)

The thought that he had ordered Major Glenn to such a needless death cut through Chamberlain like a knife:

"What dark misgivings searched me as I took the import of these words? What sharp sense of responsibility for those who have committed to them the issues of life and death? Why should I not have let his onset take its general course and men their natural chances? Why choose out him for his death, and so take on myself the awful decision into what home irreparable loss and measureless desolation should cast their unlifted burden? The crowding thought choked utterance. I could only bend my face low to his and answer: 'Colonel, I will remember my promise; I will remember you!'...War!-nothing but the final, infinite good, for man and God, can accept and justify human work like that!"(20)

After the battle, Chamberlain kept his promise: he sent, by special messenger, his recommendation for Glenn's brevet promotion. Glenn died three days later, a Brevet Colonel of U.S.Volunteers.

With the Union victory at Five Forks, the way was open for the capture of both Richmond and Petersburg. General Grant ordered an all-out attack on the Confederate lines at Petersburg, which broke through, and forced the evacuation of Richmond by the Army of Northern Virginia. Thus began the great last pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia--or what was left of it. Chamberlain and the rest of the Fifth Corps joined the AOP in that pursuit, but fought no major battle, missing the action at Sailor's Creek. There was one amusing incident, involving Chamberlain and his faithful, battle-scarred horse Charlemagne, that happened on April 8th:

"This morning I received a wholesome lesson of the results of inattention. In crossing Buffalo River, my horse had a pardonable desire to take a drink. I let him advance half his length into the water, knee-deep or more--which I thought enough, but with the unaccountable instinct of a drinking horse (or other fellow) to get further in, to 'take another', my horse kept creeping forward, and I was stupid enough to let him--until suddenly stepping over a steep bank of the channel his whole body was forced to follow, as also his master,--or who should have been. Decidedly all was not over--mostly the reverse; two emergent heads absurdly trying to look dignified marking the vital center...The horse, not being a Saurian, could neither walk nor swim in that mire...I got out first--having only two feet to hold me fast...two or three of my went to the rescue of the crest-fallen, but still-admired, Charlemagne. What they had to do for us both afterwards, official dignity prevents explaining."(21)
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