Near Petersburg, Virginia, in the frosty pre-dawn hours of March 25, 1865, a Union sentry in front of Fort Stedman could hear the faint rustle of dry cornstalks quite clearly. ‘I say, Johnny,’ he shouted as he brought his weapon to full cock, ‘what are you doing in that corn?’ Sharpshooters might rule the daylight hours, but at night the opposing pickets, separated by less than 500 feet, often became quite chummy.
‘All right, Yank, I am just gathering me a little corn to parch,’ came the answer.
‘All right Johnny, I won’t shoot.’
A bit later the Federal asked, ‘I say, Johnny, isn’t it almost daylight? I think it is time they were relieving us.’
‘Keep cool, Yank; you’ll be relieved in a few minutes.’
The relief the Confederate had in mind, however, was not the kind the Union private would find to his liking, for all that rustling in the corn had been caused by Rebel pioneers dragging aside sections of chevaux-de-frise — spiked wooden barriers chained end to end — to create an opening through which their infantry could attack the Federal lines.