Posted on by fobbnc
Civil War battles were often the breeding ground for incredible and noteworthy stories. The battle of Bentonville was certainly no different! The fighting during the three day battle that erupted near the small crossroads village of Bentonville was exceedingly heavy at times, especially during the engagement’s first day, March 19, 1865. Many acts of courage and heroism were recorded that day but the actions of four United States soldiers went well above and beyond the required duty to aid their men and comrades. For their deeds of valor, these four soldiers were awarded with the Medal of Honor. Sadly, three of the four had to wait decades for their awards.
The first to be honored was Peter T. Anderson, a private in Co. B 31st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. He enlisted at Prairie du Chien on September 8, 1863 at the young age of 16. On the afternoon of March 19th, the 31st WI was sent to fill a huge gap in the Union line on the Cole Plantation and to support Lt. Samuel Webb’s Indiana artillery battery deployed near the front lines.
The 31st Wisconsin arrived on the Cole Plantation just in time to be overwhelmed by the main Confederate assault, but they were not alone. All nine US infantry regiments north of the Goldsboro Road were forced to beat a hasty retreat to keep from being cutoff and captured. Knowing that he too would soon be caught in the onslaught, Webb ordered his four 12-pounder Napoleons to be limbered up and evacuated. The gunners were able to get one cannon ready before the fast-approaching Confederates mortally wounded Webb. Seeing their commander fall was enough to send the artillerists fleeing on foot for their lives.
As the 31st Wisconsin retreated Private Anderson heard someone cry out “For God’s sake bring out that battery. Anderson knew he couldn’t save the entire battery, but he was willing to try to save the gun that had already been limbered up. Finding the saddles on the artillery horses rendered useless by Confederate bullets, Anderson used his ramrod to drive the horses while he followed on foot. Forced to fight off a contingent of Confederates, Anderson had the tip of one of his fingers blown off but successfully drove the gun to safety. He was met at the Reddick Morris farm by a thankful Major Charles Houghtaling, the 14th Corps chief of artillery. Shortly after the battle Anderson received the personal thanks of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and a captain’s commission, a huge financial boost for the former private. He was issued his Medal of Honor on June 16,1865, nearly three months after the battle. His official citation reads as follows:
Entirely unassisted, brought from the field an abandoned piece of artillery and saved the gun from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Anderson may have had to wait three months for his medal, but the other Bentonville recipients had to wait over thirty years. The second Medal of Honor from the battle of Bentonville was awarded to Henry E. Plant, but not until 1896. Plant enlisted during the war’s first year as a private in Company F, 14th Michigan. Staying with the regiment throughout the war, Plant found himself in the thick of the fighting on March 19 at Bentonville.
During the battle for the “bull pen,” south of the Goldsboro Road, the 14th was under withering fire from two Confederate brigades. Before long the regiment’s entire color guard was either wounded or killed. Plant, seeing the flag fall, rushed forward and took it from the hands of the mortally wounded Sgt. Ezra Davis and held it high to rally his wavering comrades.
For his bravery, Plant was awarded the Medal of Honor which was issued to him April 27, 1896. Plant was also promoted to Color Sergeant and made the 14th Michigan’s color bearer for the remainder of the war. He was given the honor of carrying the flag at the Grand Review in Washington, DC. It is interesting to note that the diminutive Plant was only five-foot-three, making him one of the shortest men in the regiment. The privilege of being color bearer was often given to taller men so that the flag would be more visible above the smoke of battle. Plant had certainly earned the right to bear the colors of his regiment. Plant’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:
Seized the regimental flag upon the death of the standard bearer in a hand-to-hand fight and prevented it from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Two years after Plant was honored with the Medal of Honor a fellow member of the 14th Michigan, George W. Clute from Company I, also received the award for his actions in the “bull pen” on March 19. Clute had enlisted on December 23, 1862 in Marathon, Michigan as a 19 year old private. By 1865, he had risen to the rank of corporal. While Plant was courageously saving the regiment’s flag Clute, not far away, had his eyes on a set of Confederate colors.
One of the Confederate regiments locked in desperate hand-to-hand fighting with the 14th was a converted artillery unit, the 40th North Carolina. Clute recalled after the battle, “in the midst of the struggle, I saw a Confederate flag and made a rush for it.” After a brief hand-to-hand fight with the Confederate lieutenant guarding the flag, Clute was able to wrestle it from his hands. He held the flag triumphantly above his head and returned to the safety of his own lines. When asked why he did not kill the Confederate officer, he revealed that he had no ammunition at the time. Later the same Confederate who previously guarded the flag emerged from a cloud of smoke and shot Clute in the right arm before disappearing again. For his bravery, George Clute was awarded a Medal of Honor that was issued August 26,1898. His citation reads as follows:
In a charge, captured the flag of the 40th North Carolina (C.S.A.), the flag being taken in a personal encounter with an officer who carried and defended it.
The only foreign-born Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Bentonville is Allan H. Dougall. A native of Scotland, Dougall joined the 88th Regiment, Indiana Infantry on August 22, 1862 as a Quartermaster Sergeant. Around noon on March 19, 1865, the now Lt. Dougall found himself advancing across open ground as a part of a reconnaissance-in-force whose objective was to find the right flank of the Confederates blocking the Goldsboro Road. This task was not expected to be overly difficult as it was assumed the Confederate force only consisted of dismounted cavalry and militia.
In reality the 88th and the five other regiments in this “probing assault” stumbled into the well positioned battle line of the Army of Tennessee, which was hidden by the thick woods. After taking heavy fire, the 88th Indiana was repulsed and pulled back, only to be attacked by the same Confederates less than two hours later. Dougall recalled, “they came at us like an avalanche”. It was in this melee that Dougall saw the color bearer of his regiment fall wounded. He rescued the flag of his regiment, though there was less than 100 feet between himself and the Confederate line. For this act of bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor which was issued February 16, 1897. His citation reads:
In the face of a galling fire from the enemy he voluntarily returned to where the color bearer had fallen wounded and saved the flag of his regiment from capture.
Civil War history is full of colorful stories that deserve to be told, but these four men stand out as being especially incredible. Without a thought for their own lives, each of them took an additional risk to serve their country and comrades. Each of their stories are unique to them, but similar in the way that they chose to act for the benefit of those around them above their own well-being. The fact that all four of them were awarded for actions taken within a couple hours and thousand yards of each other attests to the ferocity of the battle on March 19. Their acts of courage and devotion deserve pride of place in the history of the battle of Bentonville.
Written by: Anna Kulcsar
Bradley, Mark L. 1996. Last Stand in the Carolinas : The Battle of Bentonville. Campbell, Ca: Savas Woodbury Publishers.
Moore, Mark A. 2001. Moore’s Historical Guide to the Battle of Bentonville. Da Capo Press.
“Civil War (a – L Index) of the Medal of Honor Recipients for the United States Army.” n.d. Www.army.mil. Accessed July 25, 2022. https://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/citations1.html
“Civil War (M – Z Index) of the Medal of Honor Recipients for the United States Army.” n.d. Www.army.mil. Accessed July 25, 2022. https://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/citations2.html