About ten o’clock, on the evening of March 29, 1865, a tremendous shelling broke out to the left towards the Appomattox River. It was immediately followed by a heavy volley of musketry which ran down the picket line like a wave. The men of the 5th Alabama and the Yankees opposing them had a hot exchange for a few seconds and then it subsided. The men were quite startled and thought at first that the Federals were about to make a general advance. Although mortar fire continued to the left for the next hour or two, the Union advance never occurred. Perhaps it was due to the rain that poured down throughout the night and into the following day. It remained quiet on their front through March 31, 1865.
On the afternoon of April 1, 1865, the men were moved about one hundred yards to the left, having to leave a good, safe position, for a less safe miserable one. Dinner that night was Dodgers Cabbage, soup, stewed fruit, bread and coffee. Shelling occurred to the left again and there was some firing to the right as well. Much of the recent actions had been occurring west of Petersburg; consequently, the Confederate strength east of Petersburg was considerably weakened. At 9:00 P.M., a heavy bombardment of the Confederate positions commence once again. As this went on, 100,000 Union troops prepared for assault.
The men of the 5th Alabama Infantry had now taken up a position at Fort Mahone. It was a salient on the Petersburg line, built of pine logs and red clay. Its southern parapet was advanced some five hundred feet to the front of the main works, and the whole structure rested on a ridge which ran out at right angles to the general direction of the main line. To the right and left were small ravines that provided some protection from infantry assault. While the guns mounted in the fort were mainly field pieces, so accurate was the fire of the trained artillerists who worked them and so destructive to the Federal forts in their front and to Grant’s military railroad in the rear of their lines that the Federals dubbed the Confederate salient “Fort Hell”. The Confederates in return for the compliment named the opposite works, which for months had rained so many big shells on them from their mortar guns, “Fort Damnation”.
The Brigade formation was, from right to left, 61st, 12th, 5th, 6th, and 3rd Alabama, with the 61st connecting to the left of the North Carolina Brigade (Lewis’), and the 3rd Alabama connecting with the right of Cook’s Georgia Brigade. The early slumbers of the men were disturbed by the thunder of “Fort Damnation”, and the capture of the picket line by the Federals, called the men to the breastworks, where they spent the night awaiting an attack that could have come at any moment. The picket line was a mud wall several hundred yards in front of the works. The picket posts, about fifty yards apart, were encircled by a mud wall and covered with a tent-fly, with a gangway for entering and exiting. Each post was occupied by three men, one always on the lookout, and the other two awake with guns in hand. It required half of the Brigade (less the Sharpshooters who did breastwork duty) to man the line.
Just before daylight on April 2, 1865, the Federals made a heavy charge on the works of the Alabama Brigade. The Confederate defenders were spaced about ten yards apart in the works and could offer only a feeble resistance to the dense columns of attackers. By some means, a body of Federal soldiers gained the rear of the picket line and marched from post to post, capturing in detail the men whose attention had been drawn from the point of danger by the firing in front. Nearly half the Brigade was captured on the picket line. The attack quickly carried the fortress and the trenches around the Jerusalem Plank Road, however it slowed down once the Federals occupied the captured trenches. General Gordon rallied the troops and planned a counterattack to drive the Yankees out of his lost trenches. With the complete disintegration of the Confederate army around Petersburg just hours away, the Union General sent for reinforcements to simply hold his current position. Late in the afternoon in the midst of all other Confederate fronts collapsing, Gordon launched his counterattack and nearly drove the Yankees out.
Leading the Alabama Brigade was Colonel Edwin Hobson. They were positioned in the centre of General Grimes’ line along the Plank Road. The reinforced Union counter-attacks drove back the Confederates to a reserve position, where modest reinforcements joined the defenders. Grimes then ordered a series of hard-hitting counter attacks of his own. Many of the men were crouching by the works and firing their guns, but at angles which sent the balls far above the heads of the attackers. Colonel Hobson, wearing a new, tight fitting, Confederate uniform, which was a rare sight at that point in the war, sprang to the top of the parapet and there strode, without a suggestion of excitement in his movement, back and forth over a stretch of eighty feet through the hail of bullets from Grant’s assaulting troops. His rallying cry was,: “Alabamians, stand up! Aim low and fire like men!” Tall and graceful he was, a very Apollo he seemed in physical beauty. The effect was magical. Within minutes, the volume of rifle fire from the Confederate line was increased about fourfold in response to this wonderful and dramatic exhibition of patriotic courage. Colonel Hobson returned to his starting point with the same firm, measured step, where he stepped deliberately down to a less dangerous position to the soul-felt cheers of his men. “The fight was from traverse to traverse as we slowly drove them back,” according to one Confederate. “The Yankees would get on top of them and shoot down on our men. And as we would re-take them our men did the same thing.” Much of the fighting was done by small units acting on their own initiative. Developments were so sudden and rapid that to await general direction was to invite disaster, so each small unit reacted as the conditions dictated. The vicious bloodbath ended at sunset, with the antagonists almost hopelessly intermingled in the labyrinth of trenches filled with dead and dying men. Fort Mahone was to be remembered by all participants in the battle, as Fort Hell.
The men of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment continued fighting to the end, but were finally overpowered. They killed more than double their number before they were forced to surrender. Over two thirds of the regiment was captured! The twelve wounded were among the 150 men captured from the Regiment. Private Thomas K. Rogers of Company C was one of the men wounded near Petersburg, Virginia, by Federal Cavalry on April 2, 1865. A sabre struck the left side of his forehead, fracturing the frontal portion of the skull. After being captured, he was taken to a Union field hospital, then to City Point, then by ship to Lincoln Hospital in Washington, D. C., arriving there on April 8, 1865. A photograph of his wounds was taken. When on April 20, 1865, he began to experience symptoms and signs of brain swelling, Surgeon John Cooper McKee performed trephination. He drilled a hole in the skull just above the forehead: he placed a tool into the hole in order to remove or elevate depressed skull fragments. After the operation, he recovered rapidly. He took the Oath of Allegiance and returned to Alabama on June 14, 1865.