December 14, 1864 Army of the Potomac, Petersburgh, Virginia #18
I received your letter of the 4th yesterday, which was the 13th also finding me in good health. The last time I wrote you we had marching orders. On Friday evening [December 9, 1864] about dark we all pulled up stakes, as we called it, and started, but not knowing where, but at ever [any] rate, we marched about 2 miles and encamped for the night. And just about the time we barely got at pitching our tents for the night, it began to rain and snow and kept it up until morning daylight, when it ceased. We lay there all day.
In the meantime there were two men executed for desertion from our army to the Rebs. They were out of the 137th New York Volunteers1. They deserted last July and [were] captured a short time ago. It was the hardest scene I ever beheld in all my travels. They were the boldest fellows I ever saw. One of them smoked a cigar upon the scaffold. The death warrant was read and then a prayer, then their faces were covered with white cloths, their hands and feet tied together and marched a couple paces to the front, and then the ropes adjusted about their necks, then the spring of the trap door was touched, which dropped quicker than flash. There they hung between Heaven and Earth. What a sight to see souls sent to Eternity! They never made any confession nor did they care where their souls went, for they were very wicked men. So that finishes that subject, with adding that there were about 13,000 present to witness the scene.
Now I will give you a full detail of our road we made, or were to have made. On Saturday evening [December 10, 1864] about dark we pulled up and started for Rebeldom. There were 6 regiments of us together.2 We marched 22 miles through the mud until 4 o’clock in the morning, where we halted for the night, where we encamped amongst the Rebs. But before we got started in the morning again the order was to counter march, that is, to come back. The reason we were sent there was to stand as reserve to build fortifications and hold them while the calebry [cavalry] of one thousand and two corps of old infantry were driving the enemy and capturing horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, turkeys, chickens, carts, buggies, sulkeys. Everything they could carry away with them. Some had looking glasses, chairs, trunks, dishes, everything you can mention. They also burnt every house, barn, out building. They came to one place—they got 30 barrels of apple whiskey, which they drank and destroyed and tore up 30 miles of the South Side railroad [sic, 17 miles of the Petersburg and Weldon Railroad], which was their only road they had of importance for transporting provisions.3
We took 400 prisoners, 21 hundred negroes, including women and children. I saw a great many of them myself. I tell you they were tickled to get into the Union Army. Our army that went out on the road was one hundred thousand strong. The raid was made across the Black River near the line between Virginia and North Carolina on what is called the South Side railroad. You can find where it is located by looking at the map (X). When we started back with our brigade at 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon, the army train had about half of them passed, that is, infantry, artillery, wagons train, ambulances, cattle, etc.4
The first house we came past on our road back was about half mile on this side—where we [camped] over Sunday [December 11, 1864]—[it] was a beautiful house which was lit on fire and burning nicely. When we came by, all the out buildings and Negro quarters were also set fire and burned and the whites had all left, but a few blacks. Then we came along a short distance farther where [there] was a beautiful house—as good a house as Robert McMichael’s house—was burned. I saw that burn. The next we come to was a meeting house that was burned. To make the story short, we burnt every house and building along the road for twenty-two miles and killed everything in the shape of horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, turkeys and chickens, and brought everything with us that we could carry. We got back to our quarters about 3 o’clock Monday morning [December 12, 1864]. When we came back our quarters were occupied by another regiment, then we marched two miles and encamped in the woods for two days and a night.
Since Sunday 3 o’clock the weather has been excessive cold, almost as cold as last New Year’s Day. We very near came perishing to death laying on the ground. I presume we would have frozen if we had not kept on log fire all night.
So it goes in the army. Although I am content and have stood the march better or as well as any of them. Our napsack and haversack with four days rations and harness and guns weigh in the neighborhood of 80 pounds, which we carried 44 miles in twenty-four hours. We have the praise of [Second Corps commander] General [Winfield S.] Hancock, the best regiment for traveling in the Division, or corps. So that closed our campaign raid. Night before last there was three companies of Rebs came across to our lines, so you see that is reducing the Rebellion at a fast rate.
Tell James White the war will be over by spring. Our box has not come, but it usually takes two weeks to come through. It may be here now but we just came back last evening to our camp. Now I think we will winter here. The box has only been 8 days on the road.
You wanted to know about preaching. We have preaching every Sunday when we are not on march. You said you were sorry that you did not send me cakes and pie. I am very well satisfied that you did not, although them that have had boxes sent to them had all such things, but they did not come through in very good order.
I got a letter from Enoch today. He is well. I wrote a letter to Jesse and one to John at Petersburgh. I am well and hearty and I hope you are enjoying good health. I am glad that you have your potatoes all dug and the cave fixed.—so they will keep. How many bushels did you have? You need not send me any more money. I sold my fine boots for 6 dollars, and that will last me until we get our pay. I think by the first of next month we will get our pay. I am glad that you have got a part of your relief money. I was afraid that you would not get it at all. I presume it is very acceptable to you if it is in small dribs. How will the hay hold out? Will you have enough?
Silence, send me a pocket handkerchief in a newspaper. The company has good health at present. Write all the particulars. My love to you and the children, also Mother. Take care of yourself and babies. Write when you can. Sometimes I think I write twice a week but I write when I can. May this find you well. From your best friend. May God guard you in your sleeping hours.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 137th New York was not at the Siege of Petersburg. The 117th New York and the 147th New York are the only two regiments from that state which were numbered in the hundreds, ended with a 7, and were at the Siege of Petersburg. The 137th New York was in the Army of the Cumberland. Clearly Miller was mistaken on the unit’s number. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: These Ninth Corps regiments were under the command of division commander Robert Potter. Grant and Meade, fearing for the safety of Gouverneur Warren’s raiding column, sent Potter and these regiments as a “relief force,” and ordered them to march all night to reach Warren’s forces, which were expected at the Nottoway River. Potter’s men had no relieving to do. Warren retired from in front of Hicksford, Virginia with no issues. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Miller is discussing the Stony Creek Raid, which occurred from December 7-12, 1864. Fifth Corps commander Couverneur Warren, his three infantry divisions, Mott’s division of Second Corps, and Gregg’s cavalry division, approximately 26,400 officers and men, proceeded to wreck the Weldon Railroad from the Nottoway River to the Meherrin River, just north of Hicksford, Virginia. Warren was completely successful, wrecking 17 miles of that railroad. The damage was so complete that it took the Confederates until early March 1865 to get this section of track back in working order. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Miller continues to refer to the railroad as the South Side Railroad, but he means the Weldon Railroad. The South Side Railroad ran west from Petersburg. The Weldon Railroad ran south. ↩
- Miller, Myron M. The Soul of a Soldier: The True Story of a Mounted Pioneer in the Civil War. Xlibris Corporation(2011), pp. 158-161 ↩
- Editor’s Note: Samuel K. Miller of the 211th Pennsylvania wrote 46 letters home during his time in the Union army, almost all of it spent at the Siege of Petersburg in the Ninth Corps. Miller’s great-grandson Myron M. Miller recently edited these letters in his book The Soul of a Soldier: The True Story of a Mounted Pioneer in the Civil War. Check out the review here. Mr. Miller was kind and generous enough to offer the Siege of Petersburg Online the use of these letters for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Siege of Petersburg. A selection of Samuel’s letters will appear here at the Siege of Petersburg Online 150 years after the date they were written. These letters are the private property of Myron Miller and are used here with his express written consent. All rights reserved. ↩
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