"Hill. It was decided at a council by the generals that its sapping and mining and the subsequent seizing and holding of the embrasure made by the explosion would be of tremendous moral and strategical value to the Union cause. The place was commanded by confederate artillery and by sharpshooters in a hundred rifle pits. It was known that if the explosion of Fort Hill were a success that few of the men who rushed into the crevasse could hope to come out alive. It would be what the Saxons called a deed of derring-do.
Owing to the limited space to be occupied only a single regi- ment was to be named to jump the great yawning hole after the explos- ion and to hold it against the hell fire of the enemy until adequate protective works could be thrown up.
There were as many volunteers for the enterprise as there were colonels of regiments in Grant's army. The choice fell on Jasper A. Maltby and his following of Illinois boys. Maltby had been wounded twice and had shown desperate valor in several of the engagements leading up to the final investing of Vicksburg. He had been tried as by fire and there was no dross in him.
The time came for the explosion. The Forty-fifth lay grimly awaiting the charge into death's pit. The signal was given; there came a heavy roar and a mighty upheaval. Silence had barely fallen before there was one great reverberating yell, and the Lead Mine Regi- ment, led by its colonel, Jasper A. Maltby, with his lieutenant- colonel, Melancthon Smith, at his elbow, hurled itself as one man into the smoking crater. The lieutenant-colonel was shot through the head and mortally wounded before his feet had fairly touched the pit's bottom. The colonel was shot twice, but paid little heed to his wounds.
A battery of confederate artillery belched shrapnel into the ranks and the sharpshooters seemed fairly to be firing by volleys. The question became one of getting some sort of protection thrown up before the entire regiment could be annihilated. Certain men in the pit were told off to answer the sharpshooters fire and to make it hot for the commanders in the rebel battery. They did what they could, but it availed little to save their comrades, who were toiling to throw up the redoubt. Men fell on every side. The colonel, making himself always conspicuous, received a third wound.
Beams were passed into the pit, and these were put into position as a protection by the surviving soldiers. The joists were placed lengthwise and dirt was quickly piled about them. Colonel Maltby helped in the lodging of the beams. He went to one side of the crater where there was an elevation. There he stood fully exposed, a shining mark. He put his shoulder under a great piece of timber, and, weak with wounds though he was, he pushed it up and forward into place. The bullets chipped the woodwork and spat in the sand all about him. One confederate gunner of artillery trained his great piece directly at the devoted leader. A solid, shot struck the beam, from which Colonel Maltby had just removed his shoulder, and split it into kindling. Great sharp pieces of the wood were driven into the Colonel's side, and he was literally hurled to the bottom of the black pit.
The action was over shortly, for the gallant Forty-fifth succeeded in making that death's hole tenable. Then they picked up their colonel. He was still alive, though the surgeon shortly after said that it would be hard work to count his wounds. They took him to the field hospital and before he had been there an hour there was clicking over the wires to Washington a message carrying the recommendation that