At noon his mounted troopers charged the outlying Union pickets, who put up stiff resistance as they fell back. Then the horsemen dismounted and assaulted both the front and left of the Union position, where they ran into blistering infantry and artillery fire as well as a hail of shells from the gunboat.
About 1:30 p.m. Lee sent an aide under a flag of truce to demand surrender.
But as Simonton later noted, no one expected to be treated as prisoners of war after the grim Confederate slaughter of surrendered black troops at Fort Pillow in Tennessee just six weeks before.
"I declined," Wild wrote in his later report. But according to a Southern source, he also asked for better terms, leading to an angry ultimatum from Lee — who threatened to "put the garrison to the sword" — and a dramatic retort.
"Present my compliments to General Fitz Lee," Wild said, "and tell him to go to hell."
Gripping his pistol in his crippled right hand, Wild rallied his men as the Southerners stormed his right flank, only to be mowed down by a murderous cross fire from his infantry, canister and grape from his two cannon and still more shells from the USS Dawn.
"(They) came with a yell," Simonton wrote. "But our boys gave a louder yell … and poured so much lead among them, that they broke and ran like sheep."
At least once more Lee's men mounted a serious assault, pushing within 30 feet of the Union line before being forced back for good.
"The brave and determined foe rallied under the frantic efforts of their officers," Simonton reported. "(But) again their ranks were scattered and torn by our deadly fire."
By 6 p.m. the fight had ended. When Wild sent his men into the woods early the next morning, Lee's troopers were gone.
Behind them fewer than 30 Union men lay dead or wounded, including several outlying pickets who'd been shot at close range after being captured.
"This was a turning point for black troops. They'd defeated a larger, much more experienced force of Confederates — and they'd beaten them badly," Longacre said.
"It showed they'd be formidable opponents for the rest of the war."
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783. Find more Hampton Road history stories at dailpress.com/history and Facebook.com/hrhistory
Lincoln's Black Legion
From mid-1863 to the spring of 1864, Hampton Roads became a pioneering proving ground for the recruiting, training and operational use of the newly formed United States Colored Troops. This Black History Month series explores President Abraham Lincoln's black legion.
Feb 2: A Norfolk doctor with a gun tests Lincoln's resolve to protect black soldiers and their white officers
Feb. 9: Hampton Roads becomes the home and training ground for thousands of USCT soldiers
Feb. 16: A black Union cavalry regiment finds trouble on the Blackwater River
Today: The African Brigade shows its mettle in a battle with Confederates
For more Black History stories or to read the complete series, go to dailypress.com/blackhistory.