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The Battle of Fort Walker, was fought on June 15, 1864, during the Siege of Petersburg. Originally known as Battery 35, Fort Walker was built for nine guns in Bailey's Woods on high ground east of present-day Willcox Lake. After the Army of Northern Virginia occupied it in June 1864, it was named Fort Walker for 3rd Corps Chief of Artillery Col. (later Gen.) Reuben L. Walker. According to one letter from Captain A. R. Arter, the battle ended with a massacre of all the surrendered rebel troops at Fort Walker by the United States Colored Troops who had been stationed at Fort Pocahontas on the James River. The previous slaughter of all black soldiers by rebel troops at the Battle of Fort Pillow had been a rallying cry of the U.S.C.T. troops, and at Fort Walker they killed all the rebels even when they begged for mercy.
Two letters describe the battle and its macabre results in great detail. The first is from Captain A. R. Arter, 143 Reg Ohio, who was stationed at Fort Pocahontas, then called Wilson's Landing:
On the heavy fortifications around Petersborough which the Rebs held, they put the negroes to work to take them. Fort Walker being the outside and strongest fort of the Rebs was taken entirely by the blacks. it is said by the knowing ones even Grant himself that at this fort was the hardest fight of the whole war. this fort was took on wednesday evening commencing the attack about 4 o'clock and was took about 8 & silenced. meanwhile the negroes were repulsedsome 4 or 5 times and would rally until they finally succeeded in reaching the top of the works. there the tug of war commenced. the Rebs yelling to them to come on and they would make another Fort Pillow case. the Blacks could not see it that way. on the taking of the fort the Blacks murderd every Reb that was left supposing to be some 4 or 5 hundred. I saw and talked with quite a number of blacks that was in that engagement they say when they took the fort the Rebs begged of them to spare their lives but their orders was to remember Fort Pillow. and that was the way they remembered it. this engagement I was in a position that I could see the whole thing. Fort Stephens the inside fort was taking the next evening. the gun boats and heavy seize guns plaid on it all day keeping up one continual volley along in the afternoon. The fort was silenced at which time the negros went over and took possession as they did the other which they now hold. they here also remembered Fort Pillow all in fact all of the heavy works around Petersborough was taking by the Blacks, the idea that the whites will not take part when the blacks are engaged is entirely plaid out. I find by talking with the white troops that they have no objection to the Black Troops taking a position with them in the field, and if necessary they lead the column and take all the Honor it is in this department Gen Butlers when the main portion of the colored army is.—Captain A. R. Arter, 143 Reg. Ohio
The second letter is from an Ohio newspaper that regularly published letters from the troops:
Wilson's Landing, Virginia
June 22, 1864The next day after we got there, General Grant arrived with the Army of the Potomac and the 18th Corps under General "Baldy Smith" who moved out to the left about three miles when the Battle of Petersburg commenced. By night the first line of works had been carried. It was the first battle I was ever near and I watched all I could see of it all day with intense interest. The artillery firing was very heavy and rapid. The infantry fighting was done principally by the black troops and nobly did they repel the slander that "Niggers won't fight." Men who were in the fight told me that they charged several times to the mouths of the cannon in a Rebel fort and had to fall back. At the fifth charge they carried the works. The fort was in plain view of where I stood and I watched the volumes of white smoke it belched forth all day. The last charge was made after dark and during the time the sides of the fort seemed to be a sheet of flame. In five minutes all was dark and silent. The blacks had carried the works and a well credited camp report says that its garrison, over 200 in number, shared the fate of the garrison of Fort Pillow.—I. P. Farmer, 143rd O.N.G., The Buckeye State, July 7, 1864
- ↑ Historical Marker: Petersburg Defenses (Batteries 35-38). hmdb.org. Historical Marker Database. (see also: historical marker)
- Official Fort Pocahontas Website
- High resolution scan of the A Arter Letter. fortpocahontas.org.
- Full text of the I P Farmer Letter. fortpocahontas.org.
- Historical Marker at Petersburg for Fort Walker. hmdb.org.
- VMI records of Reuben L. Walker. vmi.edu.
- 1895 Military Map of Petersburgs defences showing Fort Walker from the David Rumsey Map Collection. davidrumsey.com.
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