Captain Charles Gould at the Battle of Petersburg
Last week, I wrote about how much I've been enjoying Blood and Fury: America’s Civil War on the American Heroes Channel. This six-part series tells the stories of some of the biggest battles from the Civil War. What I find most captivating is the way that each episode focuses on a few individual accounts of soldiers who participated in these engagements.
The final episode of Season One focuses on the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia. Petersburg was only 23 miles South of the Confederate capital of Richmond. By the end of the Civil War, it was one of the last obstacles standing in the Union’s way of achieving victory. Confederate entrenchments made it difficult for Federal troops to gain the upper hand, but after a prolonged siege and repeated attacks, the rebel defenders were close to defeat.
On April 2, 1865, Captain Charles G. Gould led Company H, 5th Vermont Infantry as they spearheaded an attack against a section of the Confederate lines during the Battle of Petersburg. Under the cover of darkness, Gould and his men crept their way forward to the Confederate position.
This clip from Episode 6: Battle of Petersburg mentions one of Captain Gould's officers and describes the conditions that the 5th Vermont Infantry were facing in their attack against the Confederate entrenchments. (YouTube: American Heroes Channel)
Some confusion of movement occurred as the Vermonters were getting close to the Confederates. Despite being separated from the advancing Union Brigade, Gould pressed forward with a handful of officers and around 50 men.
An account from a fellow Vermonter describes Gould’s actions during the ensuing attack. “Capt. Gould rushed into the fort all alone, with nothing but his sword. The Rebels came at him with swords, bayonets, and clubbed muskets. One bayonet was thrust into his mouth and through his cheek, and while in that position he killed the man with his sword. An officer struck him on the head with a sword, and he was struck in the shoulder by a bayonet and pounded all over with clubbed muskets; but he gave as good as he got, until a corporal rushed in and pulled him out.” Corporal Henry Recor is credited with pulling Gould into a ditch. As that happened, a Sergeant rushed forward and planted the state colors on the Confederate position.
Captain Charles G. Gould. (Photo: emergingcivilwar.com)
Inspired by the relentless sprit of their Captain and the sight of their flag, the Vermonters pushed forward and managed to secure a vital foothold. The Confederate defenders were forced to either surrender or retreat as Union soldiers overwhelmed their position.
Captain Gould managed to regain consciousness and walked a mile back to the Union lines to ask for reinforcements to assist his storming party. Emerging Civil War writes, “After receiving a guarantee that help was on the way for his men, Charlie then asked for some medical assistance for himself.”
Two days after the battle, Gould wrote to his parents describing his wounds, “The wound in my back is nothing at all as it hit the backbone and stopped. The cut on my head is very slight and in fact all my wounds are.” Although Gould may have been playing down his injures to prevent his parents from worrying, for someone of his tenacity, it's very possible that he regarded his wounds in this way.
The Battle of Petersburg by Currier and Ives. (Photo: en.wikipedia.org)
25 years after the Civil War ended, Charles Gould was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Petersburg. His citation states, "Among the first to mount the enemy's works in the assault, he received a serious wound in the face, was struck several times with clubbed muskets, but bravely stood his ground, and with his sword killed the man who bayoneted him."
The Union's breakthrough at Petersburg would not have been possible without the courage and relentless fighting spirit of men like Charles Gould of the 5th Vermont Infantry. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.