Saturday, March 7, 2009

Battle of Natural Bridge Anniversary - Part Three

The fighting escalated at Natural Bridge late in the morning of March 6, 1865, when the Union forces launched their main attacks.
Storming across the bridge from their positions on the east bank of the St. Marks River, the Federals attempted to strike the right flank and center of the Confederate lines. Union officers later reported that the grass and cane growing along the river was so high that they couldn't see their enemy and really had no idea of the situation into which they were charging.

The left attack column was led by Colonel B.R. Townsend of the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry and consisted of Companies A, B and H from his regiment. Its objective was to swing left after crossing the bridge (seen above) and strike the right flank of the Confederate line. The other column was let by Major Benjamin Lincoln of the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry and consisted of Companies E, G and K of the regiment. Each column consisted of around 240 men, who would strike the Confederate lines in two places at once.

Behind them, Lieutenant Colonel Uri B. Pearsall and the 99th U.S. Colored Infantry would wait to exploit a breakthrough by either of the assault columns.

The Union officers had no way of knowing it, but they would be attacking into the a brutal crossfire of musketry and canister from an estimated 1,000 Confederate soldiers and six pieces of field artillery. To make matters worse, they would come off the Natural Bridge in a compact column formation. This would make the fire of the Confederates even more deadly.

The attacks were carried out with great courage by the African American soldiers of the 2nd and 99th, but they were doomed to fail. The left column quickly encountered a body of water that they couldn't get past. The exchanged fire with the Confederate troops along the right of the Southern lines, but couldn't get close enough to assault the entrenchments.

The other column, led by Lincoln, charged straight up the road from the Natural Bridge into a brutal crossfire of shot and shell from all sections of the Confederate line. In fact, they launched five different attacks up the road, but never got close to the Confederate lines.

When the smoke finally cleared, the battered assault columns withdrew back across the Natural Bridge, leaving behind heaps of dead bodies.

I will continue to post on the anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge through the weekend. Keep in mind that the annual memorial service and reenactment will be held tomorrow (Sunday) beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern at the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park. (Remember the time change tonight!).

To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

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