James A. Barrett began the war as first sergeant of the Brooklyn Union Rifles. He left that organization to join Company, 48th New York, as first sergeant, enlisting on 27 July 1861. He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant on 29 December 1862, as his excellent instruction in drilling the company caught the notice of the regimental staff. He was further promoted to 1st lieutenant on 31 July 1863, to captain on 16 May 1864, and then to major on 13 April 1865. He was wounded at Fort (Battery) Wagner and twice at Cold Harbor, Virginia.
Here is his personal account of the assault at Fort Wagner (10-11 July 1863):
"We lay on our arms all day, and just before dark were formed in column by companies, and advanced under a galling fire up the beach. It was a trying hour, our ranks thinning at every step. For much of the way the right of our column was obliged to wade in the water. On our left another column composed of the 54th Massachusetts colored regiment, under Colonel Shaw, also advanced on the fort. We waded the moat and scaled the parapet. Our loss was terrible, sometimes whole companies being mowed down at once. We jumped over the parapet into one bastion where there were two guns, but the firing was so hot that we were unable to turn them to any use. Darkness was upon us, aud we could see nothing. The supporting columns coming up in our rear, poured in a heavy fire, mistaking us for the rebels. Our killed and wounded kept piling up. A rebel officer for some purpose came among our men, and was seized by a private of the 48th, who called to Colonel Barton that he had a prisoner. To which the colonel replied: 'Take him to the rear.' 'But he won't come,' said the private, who was nicknamed 'Plucky.' 'If he won't yield, then bayonet him,' was the order; when a wounded man dragged himself up, and, with all his remaining strength, plunged his bayonet into the side of the rebel officer, and, falling back, expired. A retreat was ordered, but was not altogether understood, and some fifty of our men remained and continued firing. I was severely wounded in the thigh, but roused myself, and directed the fire of these few men as best I could, collecting ammunition from the dead and wounded. When this gave out, I ordered all who could to go to the rear. This section of the fort was literally full of dead and wounded, piled up even with the parapet. I crossed over their bodies, slid down the slope and crossed the moat, which was full of our dead. A rebel sentry was pacing up and down the beach, but by keeping near the bank I was able to pass him. My scabbard was shot away, my pistol bent and useless, and, leaning on my sword, I hobbled down the beach to camp. The 48th went into this assault with five hundred men and sixteen officers, and three hundred men and fourteen officers were killed, wounded, or prisoners." - 2nd Lt J.A. Barrett, Company H - from Perry's Saints 1886.While on duty in the Department of the South, the regiment formed the "Barton Dramatic Association" to put on plays for the regiment's entertainment. Lt. Barrett served as its president. He later served three years as president of the Association of the Forty-Eight New York Volunteers after the war.
Return to the 48th New York Infantry page.
Battle of Olustee home page.