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Vermont Artillery

Third Battery
Unit History

by Romeo H. Start, Captain

The Third Battery Light Artillery Vermont Volunteers was recruited by its commanding officer, Capt. Romeo H. Start, and was mustered into the United States service at Burlington on the first day of January, 1864. Under orders from the War Department it left Burlington, where it was in camp, January 15, 1864, for Washington, D., C., where it arrived on January 18, 1864, and at once went into winter quarters at Camp Barry, D., C., the artillery camp of instruction, a short distance northeast of the Capitol, and was attached to the Twenty-second Army Corps. On February 20 following, the battery was fully armed and equipped as a mounted battery of light artillery. April 2, 1864, it was assigned to the Ninth Army Corps and remained at Camp Barry for instruction until April 25, 1864, when it joined that corps at Washington, D. C., and immediately crossed the Potomac and encamped at Alexandria, Virginia, where it remained until April 27, when it marched for Bristoe Station on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, arriving there on the evening of the 28th of April. On the 29th of the same month it was ordered to, and returned to Manassas Junction, Virginia, for the purpose of guarding the railroad at that point, which was the line of transportation and communication with the Army of the Potomac. On the evening of May 4 following, it was ordered to join the main portion of the Ninth Corps, then moving toward the Rapidan, and on the afternoon of the 5th, it crossed the Rappahannock at Rappahannock Station, and on the morning of the 6th, the Rapidan at Germanna Ford and joined that corps in the Wilderness. From the Wilderness to the James River, with Battery D of the Pennsylvania artillery and a division of infantry and cavalry, it moved on the left flank and rear of the Army of the Potomac for the purpose of covering and protecting its base of supplies and the ammunition and provision trains, and on the 17th of June, 1864, crossed the James River at Wilcox Landing. On the 18th, it moved from the James and took up a position on the lines before Petersburg, Virginia, and remained upon the lines around Petersburg until October 25, 1864, when it was ordered to move to City Point, Virginia, for the defense of that important point on the James River, where it arrived on the morning of the 26th, and on the 29th it occupied Fort McKean, one of the principal defensive works, where it remained until the 15th of January 1865.

While upon the lines before Petersburg, previous to its removal to City Point, it served in Fort Morton, Fort Hell, Fort Michael, Battery 27, Battery 16, Fort Phillips, and also participated in the movement of the Second Corps on Reams's Station on the Weldon railroad, and in the movement around our left flank for the purpose of cutting that railroad.

It remained in the defenses of City Point, Virginia, and occupying Fort McKean until the 15th of January, 1865, when it was ordered to, and moved to Warrren Station, on the Weldon railroad, south of Petersburg, where it arrived on the evening of that day. February 6, following, it participated in the advance on the enemy's right towards Hatcher's Run. On February 9, it occupied Fort Fisher, some two miles from Hatcher's Run, toward PEtersburg and near Patrick Station. While occupying Fort Fisher, one section for a time occupied Battery Lee, a short distance to the left of Fisher. It remained in Fort Fisher until the 2d of April following, when it left that work and participated, with the Sixth and Twenty-fourth Army Corps, in the attack upon the enemy's lines South and to the West of Petersburg, which resulted in the evacuation of the latter and Richmond, and the surrender of Lee. On the morning of the 3d of April, this battery, with the reserved artillery brigade of the Sixth Corps, was ordered to take charge of the captured artillery around Petersburg, and move to City Point, where it arrived on the same evening, and went into camp, remaining until May 3, when it broke camp and marched to Alexandria, Virginia. On the 3d of June following, its guns were turned over to the Ordnance Department at Washington, D. C., and on the 5th it embarked by rail for Burlington, Vermont, where it arrived on the 9th, and was mustered out of service on the 13th, and on the 16th the officers and men dispersed for their homes.

This battery was on the field and in position during the battle of the Wilderness, but was not actively engaged, as, owing to the character of the country, it was impracticable to user artillery. The first baptism of fire which it received, was after it had crossed the James River at Wilcox Landing on the 17th of June, 1864. After crossing the pontoon bridge at that place it moved up the bank of the river about a mile and went into camp for the night, after a long and wearisome march.

Shortly after going into camp on the bottom lands the enemy took possession of the high bluffs on the opposite side of the river, with its artillery and cavalry, and opened fire with several guns upon it. Owing to its position being so much lower than the enemy's batteries it could not reply, but was compelled to strike tents, hitch up and move out under a well directed fire of shot and shell, which it did without the loss of a man. After going into position on the lines before Petersburg, and from Jun 20 to July 30 the battery was almost daily and nightly engaged in artillery duels with the enemy's batteries, so that during that period it was almost one constant artillery engagement. On the 30th of July, 1864, when the great mine explosion took place in front of Petersburg, the battery was occupying Fort Morton directly opposite the mine and the enemy's redoubts which were blown up by its explosion. The battery was hotly engaged with the enemy's artillery from 3:50 a.m. until 10:30 a.m., during which time three hundred and ninety-five shot and shell were thrown upon the enemy's columns, which were within easy range. The battery, being protected by the heavy embankments of the forts, suffered no serious loss. During the time it occupied Fort Morton, which was some forty days first and last, a day or night without an engagement with the enemy's artillery was an exception; indeed the artillery fire was almost constant, and the mortar fire was a regular nightly occurrence.

The night of August 18, 1864, witnessed one of the most furious cannonades with occurred during the entire siege of Richmond and Petersburg. This battery was then occupying Fort Morton. The night was very light, with almost a full moon. About half-past nine o'clock in the evening, the enemy opened fire with all its batteries and mortars from to the Appomattox to their extreme right. In the vicinity of Fort Morton they seemed to concentrate the first of several batteries and redoubts upon that work. Their firing, although in the night, was very accurate. This tremendous cannonade lasted until nearly daylight of the following morning. During most of the time this battery was engaged in returning the first as best it could, and several men in this fort, of other organizations, were killed., but none of this command. The battery was ordered Reams's Station to assist the Sixth Corps during that fierce battle, but arrived on the field just at the conclusion of the principal engagement, but took part in covering with its guns the retirement of our forces. From August 30 to the 6th of September, 1864, the battery occupied the hottest place on the entire line before and around Petersburg, known to the artillery as "Fort Hell." The lines were the nearest together at this point, and the first was more incessant and dangerous than at any other point. During this time the first of the enemy's mortars and field guns were almost continuous, and must of the time the battery was engaged in replying, so that during these days it may be truthfully said, that it was one constant battle.

From September 19 to October 3, 1864, it occupied Fort Michael between Forts Morton an "Hell, " and from October 3 to October 19, 1864, it occupied Battery 27. During the occupancy of Fort Michael the battery was engaged in several sharp artillery duels with the enemy's guns. From October 12 to October 25, 1864, this command occupied Battery 16, on the immediate right of Fort Morton, Which was one of the points subject to the severest artillery and mortar fires of the enemy's batteries. During the time the battery occupied this redoubt, the firing on it was terrific and very annoying, and during that time the men were usually engaged in returning the artillery fire. As the lines were but a short distance apart at this point, the firing was very accurate and destructive, and made night and day hideous. March 2, 1865, while the battery was occupying Fort Fisher, it was decided to advance our picket line on this front, which advance was stubbornly resisted by the enemy with artillery and musketry. One section of the battery was ordered out upon the skirmish line to assist in this movement, which was under the command of Lieut. William R. Rowell. As this section moved out to take position it met with a severe artillery fire from the enemy's batteries on the left of Fort Fisher, and from a battery in front. It took up its position within some six or seven hundred yards of the enemy's batteries in front, and at once opened fire, which was vigorously replied to by the enemy. After an engagement lasting some thirty minutes, the enemy's troublesome guns were silenced by Rowell's well directed fire, and our troops moved forward and occupied the desired position, after which the section returned to Fort Fisher. During this day the section occupying Fort Lee was also engaged under the command of Lieut. Eben Taplin and did good execution. On the night of April 1, 1865, this battery was ordered by the commanding officer of the Sixth Corps to fire a signal gun from Fort Fisher at four o'clock in the morning of April 2, as a signal for a general movement upon the enemy's works South of Petersburgh. At the appointed time the signal gun was fired, but owing to some misunderstanding on the part of the division commanders, the infantry failed to advance, at at 4:15 a. m. it fired another signal gun, when the advance was made, carrying the first line of the enemy's works. At eight o'clock of that day the battery left Fort Fisher and moved out to the front on the line occupied by the infantry under Major-General Gibbon, to assist in the attack on the first line of the enemy's works defending the approaches to Petersburg on the West, and it accordingly moved and took up a position some three hundred yards in front of the Confederate batteries, Owen and Gregg. Owen was occupied by the enemy's sharpshooters, and Gregg by the artillery and infantry.. The battery at once opened fire on Fort Gregg, which was returned by the enemy with great spirit. After an hour's severe and well directed firing, the Rebel guns were silenced, and the works were carried by assault.

The battery was then moved forward and took up a new position some two hundred yards in front and on the right of its first position, in order to attack the enemy's second line of works, and from which he opened a severe artillery fire on our infantry in the captured works. After half an hour's heaving firing from this position it again moved forward and occupied a position immediately in front of batteries Owen and Gregg, which protected it partially from the enfilading firing of the enemy's guns on our left, and again opened fire on the works commanding the heights, their second and last line of works. This was about 11:30 a. m. The battery occupied this position during the remainder of the day, in the open field, and kept up a vigorous fire in reply to the enemy's artillery, which continued with but brief intervals, until night-fall put an end to the conflict. It remained in this position ready to renew the conflict at day-break on the following morning, but the dawn of April 3 found no enemy in the formidable works along our front, they having retired during the night, and at daylight we pushed forward and entered Petersburg without opposition.

The battery during its entire period of service was commanded by Romeo H. Start, its Captain, in person, except during the time of the skirmish in front of Fort Fisher, above referred to, and while it took no part in the great battles of Spotsylvania, North Anna, or Cold Harbor, it was almost within cannon shot of all those engagements; and while it escaped many of the trying scenes of battle, its hardships and exposures were none the less severe, its position and service being such that it was often compelled to make forced marches over roads rendered impassable by the march of the opposing armies. Marching and counter-marching, moving first to the front and then to the rear, then from right to left, and wherever the enemy's cavalry showed itself, ready for a dash or raid, protecting the line of communication and supplies, constitutes its history from the Rapidan to the James, and it never failed to promptly and effectually discharge any and all duties require of it.

Captain Start, the commanding officer, in whom the officers and men of his command had the fullest confidence as a brave, cool and discreet commander, and Lieutenants Rowell, Taplin, and Perrin, and Sergeants Parker, Thomas, and Clay, and Corporals Kelly, Gillman, Libby and Private Washburn, received frequent special mention and commendation for conspicuous gallantry and coolness in action. Nearly all of the men of this organization were native born Vermonters, and a majority of them still are citizens of this State; and nearly all are in independent circumstances. But one of the number, so far as is known, has become an inmate of a soldier's home.

The total number of officers and men belonging to this organization was four hundred and sixty-six. Of this number forty-seven have died since their muster out. At the time of enlistment there were forty-seven over thirty, two hundred and nine under thirty, one hundred and forty-seven under twenty-two and seventy under nineteen years of age. With only half a dozen exceptions, the entire number are substantial and highly respected citizens in the community in which they reside, and many of them have attained to offices and posts of honor and responsibility at the hands of their fellow citizens.

Source: Revised Roster, pp 643-646