“Black bellied Yankees” at The Battle of Fort Blakely
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A Union colonel, in command of the 48th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops, writes to his friend, Col. Julian E. Bryant, of the 46th Regiment of U.S.C.T., recounting his regiment’s part in the Battle of Fort Blakely. “We have had hard marching & hard fighting. A week in trenches & a successful charge. The ‘Black bellied Yankee’ made their mark … everyone gives us credit for doing well & I think we did excellently well. … My loss was not very heavy, not over thirty all told. The other Regts in my Brigade suffered much more severely on the last charge, I being held in reserve & not being under fire but a few moments, they did gallantly…” FREDERICK MORTIMER CRANDAL.
Autograph Letter Signed, to Julian E. Bryant. “Up the Alabama,”
April 25, 1865. 4 pp.
“I recd your letter as this craft was sailing from Mobile. I was glad to hear that you still survive & that the ‘Bloody Old 1st Arkansas’ was running still … I saw by the New Orleans papers that there is an occasional row with the police & knew that your Regt had not forgotten entirely its early & excellent training. We have had hard marching & hard fighting. A week in trenches & a successful charge. The ‘Black bellied Yankees’ made their mark … everyone gives us credit for doing well & I think we did excellently well.… My loss was not very heavy, not over thirty all told. The other Regts in my Brigade suffered much more severely on the last charge, I being held in reserve & not being under fire but a few moments, they did gallantly… We are part of an expedition going into the upper country. We are now about 200 miles up the Alabama … I got 125 recruits in Blakely more than the whole division beside. This puts my aggregate something over 800 … I intend to have a thousand men before we get back. I don’t suppose there is any chance of you getting along, for [Gen. John P.] Hawkins tried hard enough before he left New Orleans, but Canby has no respect for persons. Gen Hawkins can get no favors from him any more than anyone else & I don’t think he would favor any body if he knew it … I came near being drowned the other night, falling over board from a small boat as I was coming from Gen. Steeles boat. I went under a steam boat & came out on the other side & had to do some rapid swimming to catch the boat. I saw two men drowned about an hour ago & no one could help them. There have been 6 men drowned that I know of since we started. The current is very swift & there is little chance for a man with his clothes on. I have no doubt you find your self led off by the fascinations of the fair Cyprians now & then. Virtuous as I am I found my self no match for their seductive arts when I was in the Crescent City … May you live a thousand years…”
The Siege and Battle of Fort Blakely (April 2-9, 1865) was a significant aspect of the campaign, led by General E.R.S. Canby, to capture Mobile, Alabama. Crandal commanded the 48th U.S. Colored Troops in General Hawkins’s Division, as part of Frederick Steele’s column that moved west in support of Canby in the late winter of 1865.
Crandal’s official report (April 12, 1865) states: “…the Forty-eighth Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry arrived in front of Blakely on April 1. Went into camp and remained until Sunday morning, when skirmishing commenced in front. The regiment was ordered into line of battle, forming the left of the brigade, with one company of skirmishers in front covering the battalion. We moved forward, the skirmishers driving the enemy within about 500 yards of their works. The regiment lost fifteen men killed and wounded by the explosion of shell in the ranks. The regiment being in an exposed position was moved to the right into a ravine … Sunday night this regiment commenced work on the first parallel … Tuesday afternoon the regiment moved back a short distance into another ravine as a reserve, and remained there until Saturday, the 8th, with very heavy details working on battery for 30-pounder Parrott guns. Saturday moved up to the original position to support a battery, and remained there until Sunday afternoon at 5 o’clock, when the regiment was ordered up to support the Seventy-sixth and Sixty-eighth Regiments in the charge on the enemy’s works. The Forty-eighth participated in the charge with but slight loss, as it was not brought up under fire until the last rush was made… The men and officers deserve great praise for the cheerfulness with which they did hard and disagreeable work. All did well, and there was less skulking than is usual in actions of as great severity.”
Confederate commander General John R. Liddell, with only 4,000 men, held out against Canby’s superior force until Spanish Fort fell on April 8, after which Canby concentrated his men for the assault on Fort Blakely, described here by Crandal. It was the last major battle of the war, and African-American soldiers played a critical role. In General Steele’s column from Pensacola, besides the 48th U.S.C.T., there were eight other regiments of U.S.C.T.
Sadly, and ironically, given Crandal’s discussion of the danger of infantrymen drowning, Julian Bryant himself drowned in Texas on May 14, 1865. He was the nephew of famed editorialist and poet William Cullen Bryant.
Frederick M. Crandal (1831-1911). At the start of the Civil War, Crandal became adjutant of the 33rd Illinois Infantry under General Charles E. Hovey. When the 48th United States Colored Infantry was established, he became its colonel. He led his unit during the assault and capture of Fort Blakely, Alabama in early April 1865. For this he was brevetted brigadier general. In May he was given command of the 1st Brigade (1st Division) U.S. Colored Troops.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies(1880-1901), Series 1, Vol. 49,
Part 1, pp. 108-109, 297.