Editor’s Note: John Vautier of the 88th Pennsylvania wrote a regimental history of his regiment, History of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War for the Union, 1861-1865, which was published in 1894. Tucked at the back of the book in Chapter 29, almost as an afterthought, were excerpts from the letters of Captain Charles “Charlie” McKnight. The two excerpts dealing with the Siege of Petersburg have been reproduced here. These excerpts are in the public domain and may be freely used elsewhere. All I ask if you copy and paste my transcriptions is that you credit this web site and link back here.
CAMP NEAR PETERSBURG, VA., July 29, 1864.
. . . We have fought seventeen battles since this campaign began, on May 5, 1864. . . . All night of June 17  we pressed the rebels back, and at daylight had taken two lines of works. Then [on June 18, 1864] we advanced through a woods into a wheat field, when they opened on us with artillery and made us hug the ground until the word came, “Forward!”when we went across a field and into an orchard, where the Minie-balls whistled around us, but we had to take it all in fun. We were then ordered to the railroad cut, and away we went on a run, the rebs dosing us with canister and musket-balls, but nothing could stop us.
We formed on the railroad, and presently were ordered forward again, over two fields, across two ditches, to the slope of a hill about 200 yards from the reb works; so again we started, every man for himself, and by the time they had fired three rounds of canister I was safe under the hill. I tell you a man can run when it’s for a place of safety.
We were in a thick woods, and I lay down to cool off, lying here a couple of hours, when we were ordered to walk right over the enemy s works, a thing easier said than done. Well, we fixed bayonets and charged out of the woods with a yell, but after going about fifty yards, I looked around and could only see our regiment in the opening, and in about a minute I did not see one of our men standing, the field was covered with them, and all who were not down were running back to the woods, and as I knew it was useless to remain there, I turned and ran into the woods also, where I found nearly all our officers and many of our men, besides all the rest of the brigade, their commanders calling to them to go to the support of the 88th [Pennsylvania], but it was no use.
I felt ashamed of myself, and getting up, asked who would go out. A man of my company and myself went and saw the colors with about eight or ten men out near the rebel works, and amidst a shower of balls we safely reached them. We were now under the shelter of a hill where the enemy’s artillery could not reach us, and only seventy-five yards from their works. We called to the rest of the boys who were back that we were safe, and they came out one at a time, until we had fifty men. The Johnnies tried to load their cannon, but every man who was plucky enough to try it was shot. One gun had a swab in it, and there it remained until we left the place. We had only one man killed and two wounded while there, but lost about twenty-five in getting there. While in that position we fired 250 rounds to a man. Our brigade had given us up for lost, until we went back on the 19th [of June 1864]. . . .
- Vautier, John D. History of the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers in the War for the Union, 1861-1865. Philadelphia: Printed by J.B. Lippincott, 1894, pp. 226-227. ↩
What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.