In the last days of the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was fighting with its back to Richmond. These battle-weary but determined Confederates were facing overwhelming odds. A section of guns from the Third Company, Washington Artillery of new Orleans, "...the most famous of the confederate volunteer artillery organizations," was posted at Fort Gregg, a critical portion of the thin line of defense close to the Appomattox River. If the fort fell, the Union forces could break the Confederate line. On April 2, 1865, the Union forces attacked Fort Gregg. The 270 defenders had to hold until Lieutenant General James Longstreet's men could occupy new positions. Assault after assault broke against the walls of the fort like a rising blue tide against a rock. One of the assaults swept over the parapet of the fort. Lieutenant McElroy's guns of the Third Company, Washington Artillery barred the way. Three-inch Parrot rifled cannon, loaded with canister were aimed at the attacking Federal soldiers at point blank range. A Union soldier called to Private Lawrence Berry, who had the firing lanyard in his hand, "Don't fire that gun! Drop the lanyard or we'll shoot!" Berry yelled back, "Shoot and be dammed!" and fired his cannon into the faces of his assailants. Almost immediately Berry went down with multiple wounds. The tenacious defense of Fort Gregg gained precious time for Confederate forces to solidify their lines. The courage, dedication and self-sacrifice of the Washington Artillery is carried on today by the 141st Field Artillery, Louisiana Army National Guard.
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