Word came that rebellious elements had seized and occupied Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, on Friday, May 23, 2003.
Captain Danny Hill sent out a call for loyal Union men.
Determined to restore the fort to its rightful loyalties, men of the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry congregated
at a local boarding house on Saturday, May 24. Pvt. Tim Mountford, our newest soldier, and Pvt. Cleon Plunk were first
to arrive. Cpl. Rex Griffin and Pvt. Glen McClain followed shortly. Unfortunately, the horses pulling Capt. Hill's
wagon broke down. He and 1st Sgt. Claude Lamoreux, Quartermaster Sgt. John Miller and Pvt. Daniel Lamoreux were delayed
as replacements had to be foraged. Originally scheduled for mid-afternoon, it was almost 6:30 before the 77th Pa
finally came together.
While waiting for Capt. Hill's group to arrive, a strange, futuristic group of soldiers and sailors--even women soldiers--came
into the boarding house. They seemed as curious about us as we were about them. They told us the biggest yard
about a "Second World War,"--not a first mind you, but a second--which they described as the Paul Bunyan of wars. With
those costumes we figured they must have been putting on some kind of minstrel show.
When we told them of our intention to seize the fort from the Secesh, two of them, a soldier and a sailor, volunteered
to help us. The sailor was actually the 2nd Sgt. of the 6th US. We decided on a plan whereby the men
of the 77th Pa would meet at the top of the hill, behind the bakery, while our new compatriots, who were unknown
to the Rebs, would scout the stockade and the enemy dispositions.
Our compatriots reported that the Johnnies, spearheaded by the 16th Arkansas Infantry, numbered about 15 men.
Though they had been alert for attack, the day was getting late and our scouts told us they were relaxing in one corner with
their arms stacked at a distance.
Corey, the 2nd Sgt. of the 6th US, was given a coat, hat and musket and fell in with us as we took up the march.
His friend, in some dark green uniform with a steel pot on his head--he looked like a giant olive--came along to watch.
We marched down the hill and through the town to screen our movements. Dogs barked, civilians peered out their houses
and we were in high feather as we approached the fort. Capt. Hill stopped us at the edge of town to load and await our
final orders. When we crossed the road, we were to hit the grass at the double quick and charge through the northeast
gate into the fort without stopping regardless of casualties. Pvt. Plunk, with experience in these matters, was detailed
to seek and seize the Rebel flag.
Our movements were as smooth and precise as the inner workings of a Swiss clock. The plan worked to perfection.
Our hearts racing, charging at the double quick with Capt. Hill in the lead, we burst into the stockade. Outnumbered
nearly 2 to 1, we took the lounging Confederates totally by surprise. In a flash we had overrun their stacked arms and
had taken their flag. They skedaddled like rabbits for any available hiding hole. Only one even got off any shots
at us, our attack was so quick. Within moments the fort was secure and we were rounding up the Secesh. So rapidly
did we take the fort that there were no casualties on either side, only Reb prisoners.
Hostilities ceased as a truce was called for the remainder of the evening. Old friends, now on opposite sides,
sought each other out to exchange greetings, tobacco and coffee, as well as stronger spirits. Capt. J.R. Lister, Lt.
Richard Frazier and 1st Sgt. Todd Mowery visited the headquarters of the 77th Pa. During the meeting, amid
high and liquid spirits, they complimented our attack. Capt. Lister said it was such a surprise he was genuinely frightened.
But we knew, amidst the high spirits and friendly feelings, that the Rebs' pride had been stung and they would be out
for revenge the next day. Sure enough, regardless of the liberal amount of libations consumed, the Johnnies were up,
dressed, 'coutered and loaded by first light. Their numbers had dropped to a dozen, ours to seven during the night.
(Pvt. McClain had other duties at his home while Sgt. Correy of the 6th US only stayed for the initial raid.)
They marched out fo the fort to the hills beyond while most of our men were still waking up. But we were quickly
alert because we knew we were to be hit hard. Sgt. Lamoreux posted Pvt. Mountford at the northeast gate, Pvt. Lamoreux
at the east gate and Pvt. Plunk to patrol between the south and northwest gates. Others were to be in reserve, ready
to reinforce any threatened point. Capt. Hill and Sgt. Miller were having a little difficulty become alert. (When
Capt. Hill shook Sgt. Miller to wake him up, Sgt. Miller, still dreaming, pulled his pistol thinking he was being attacked.)
While awaiting the expected attack, Sgt. Lamoreux thought he might have time to cook some salt pork for breakfast.
Unfortunately for the salt pork, things began happening fast.
Pvt. Plunk discovered a cache of muskets left for a sneaky Reb who tried to work his way into the compound. But
Pvt. Plunk saw the Johnny coming and waited till he was straddling the back gate. Pvt. Plunk stepped out from the corner,
pointed his musket at the Reb and said, "Come on over, boy."
Almost immediately fire broke out as the Rebs attacked the northeast gate. Pvt. Mountford held on as reinforcements
ran to his aid. The Secesh were driven back in a hail of fire as intense as a swarm of angry hornets.
Simultaneously the Johnnies attacked the south gate. Capt. Hill with his pistol and Pvt. Plunk with his musket
kept up such a steady fire that the attack evaporated like snow in the sunlight.
To spead out our defenses, the Rebs attacked at different points around the fort. The east and northwest gates
came under fire as they again attempted to storm the northeast gate. But Cpl. Griffin and Pvt. Mountford kept up
a murderous fire which broke up the assault. Two Johnnies tried to go around the east side and fire through the fence
on the gate guardians from the rear. Griffin and Mountford protected themselves by flattening against a stone wall,
then were able to emerge to fling back still another frontal assault against the gate. That assault, too, was broken
up by our deadly fire. The remaining Rebs were pinned behind stone walls on either side of the gate. Any head
that peered around a wall would be looking directly into a Union musket barrel.
The Secesh tried another attempt to shoot the gate guards from the east side. Pvt. Mountford was hit in the gluteus
maximus, our first casualty of the attack (besides Sgt. Lamoreux's breakfast). But there were no more attacks at the
Knowing it was sure death to attack the northwest gate and probably death to retreat from it, the Reb Captain offered
his surrender. When the gate opened for him, he threw it back and called for his men. But none came and he meekly
put up his hands. Soon, their 1st Sgt. surrendered, too.
Stripped of their weapons and accoutrements and marched to the center of the compound, we expected the rest of the Johnnies
to be rounded up, too. Instead, regardless of the lives of the men we already held, they made two final assaults before
they were done.
One Johnny vaulted the northwest gate and shot Pvt. Plunk, then ran into a nearby room that had no way out. While
the man was reloading, Capt. Hill bravely walked into the room with two pistols, his own and the one he took from the Reb
captain, and took the man prisoner. (Capt. Hill later credited our victory partly to the fact that he and both Sgts.
had pistols. Capt. Hill himself loaded and emptied his six-shooter three times.)
The final group of Rebs charged through the east gate and were quickly surrounded by Sgt. Lamoreux, Pvt. Lamoreux and
Sgt. Miller, and compelled to surrender.
Once the carnage was over, we broke for breakfast. The Johnnies were headed for town while we stayed in the fort.
In the intereim, Pvt. Glen McClain returned from his all night duties at home, along with Pvt. Ron Frisby who arrived for
his first battle of the weekend. While we received reinforcements to bring our total number to nine, we did not know
that four of the Rebs took off, reducing their number to eight. For the first time, our numbers were about equal.
Fearing the Secesh might take us by surprise, we had a light breakfast and marched into the hills behind the stockade.
Keeping a sharp eye peeled for the Rebs, we scouted the terrain until we found a suitable position behind a low hill with
a slight depression in front. From that spot we could lie unseen with a clear field of fire and observe any movement.
Deceitful as well as disloyal, the Rebs sent a man out under a flag of truce to discover our position. After allowing
him to enter our lines, we realized what he was up to and took the man prisoner. As the Secesh came onto the field,
the prisoner began hollering to give away our position and fighting to escape. After a lengthy struggle, he managed
to get away. We were surprised to see him shot by his own troops as he approached their lines.
Our position compromised by the dead Reb, we fell back into the trees. It wasn't long before the Secesh, marching
up a road that ran through the woods, attacked. Capt. Hill, Pvt. McClain and Pvt. Frisby fought off the first assault
practically by themselves. Expecting to be flanked by a second group of Rebs (we were unaware their numbers had fallen)
Sgt. Miller, Cpl. Griffin and Pvt. Mountford moved out of the treeline to fight off the expected flankers. When no flank
attack materialized, we reassembled inside the woods, setting up a defense line.
The Rebs came on again, this time through the trees. A storm of lead greeted them. Unable to clearly see
the enemy, we were firing at their sounds. Like punch drunk fighters, we kept flailing away. the firing grew so
hot the trees to our front were stripped of their leaves. Suddenly, we could hear no more firing. They had skedaddled.
We moved forward slowly, cautiously, unbelievingly seeking out the Johnnies. Capt. Hill, when he realized they
were actually gone, ordered us across the road and down a path through the woods to our right. When we emerged
from the trees we were parallel to the road that ran beside the fort. There were no Secesh in sight. In a skirmish
line we moved forward, across the road, over the fence and onto the grounds. Still no Secesh.
We wheeled left to sweep up the hill when we came under fire from the trees. We had completely circled the Rebs
and were now between them and the fort. Hugging the ground and the remains of an old chimney, we worked our way up the
hill as the bullets screamed around us. The Secesh were obviously desperate as we moved to flush them out. In
a burst of brave and foolish fury, several Johnnies came running out of the trees towards us. Screaming that high-pitched
devilish Rebel Yell, they took down Pvt. Plunk. But their efforts proved futile as we shot them to a man.
A second group came running through the trees, yelling at the top of their lungs. Strangely, we admired them as
they came on even as we were shooting them. They were brave, daring men giving their last full measure of devotion to
a cause in which they believed, though that cause may well have been one of the worst for which men have ever fought.
In the end, they were slaughtered. It was their last effort. Their suicide charges had left them all dead, and
Fort Gibson returned to the arms of the Union.
Author's note: If my battle observations have centered on my own participation at the expense of others,
it is not for personal glorification but because I was deeply involved in certaijn areas of the battle while at the same time
unaware of the details of struggles that were happening simultaneously elsewhere.
I have the honor to remain your most humble and obedient servant,
Cpt. Rex Griffin, Coy. E, 77th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry