Editor’s Note: The Soldier Studies web site (http://www.soldierstudies.org) collects and published letters written during the Civil War. Owner/editor Chris Wehner was kind enough to grant me written permission to publish a selection of letters from his site which focus on the Siege of Petersburg. Look for letters to appear here during the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Petersburg and beyond. These letters may not be reused without the express written consent of Chris Wehner. All rights reserved.
Quarter Master’s Dept., 10th Conn. Vols.
My Dear Abbie,
It is two days since I last wrote you. Yesterday passed without my sending you a word. My time was so much employed that I could find no time to write. We received no mail last night or night before, but we received one this morning however. I received three letters, one from you containing stamps which I am very glad to receive, one from Lucinda, and one from William F. Mead. I should probably have received yours the night before had we received a mail but owing to the movements things are a little deranged at present. Probably will be for some days to come. Night before last 1 our Regiment went on picket under command of Major [Edwin S.] Greeley. During the night they heard the Rebs making a great deal of noise as though they were in very strong force. Our men mistrusted they were leaving and at daylight advanced their videttes to feel of them. They found they had left their picket. Our pickets advanced out cautiously. They soon found the Rebs had gone. They pressed on to their main works. A few men were still in the battery on the left, but as our men advanced out of the woods they supposed it was their own men and did not discover their error until seven of our men sprang on the breastworks and ordered them to surrender which they did immediately supposing from the motion of our men that they were in force, and that they had flanked them. They immediately threw down their arms and surrendered, chagrined when they found over twenty had surrendered to seven. The seven were from [Co’s] I & K. It was a splendid thing for which they should receive honorable mention. Afterward one [of] their number captured an officer and a private which he brought into camp. Four of the number afterward captured five men. Altogether our Regt. captured over thirty privates and three commissioned officers. Very well for seven men. As our men advanced they had to skirmish with the Rebs rear guard. We heard [it] in camp as soon as the movement was commenced. As they advanced we could hear the firing very distinctly. Before we were through breakfast, Col. [John L.] Otis received orders to go out and take command of his Regiment and push them. Col. started immediately. I got up my horse and followed. I found our Regiment in the Rebel works which they had apparently left in a hurry. Their works were very strong and I could not imagine what could have induced them to leave them. With the force we had here it would have been almost, or quite impossible, for us to have taken them if they had been manned worth a straw. All of their artillery they had removed. When I got there part of our Regt. was out in advance skirmishing. Some few bullets came whistling over where we were. One I think was intended for me. I was standing on their work when a bullet whistled past my ears. I thought I might as well get down. I sent to camp in a short time for my team to come up and take down the muskets captured from the Rebs. I took down between twenty and twenty five. In the afternoon I took seven or eight more. After giving some orders for the Colonel, I went to camp to look after some affairs and order the dinner sent up early. I staid in camp until after dinner when I went out again and staid until near night. During the afternoon I visited the Hewlet House, a very fine situation at the right of their work. It is situated on the bank of the river with a splendid view of [the] surrounding country as it was near the Rebel line of works and they had a battery near the house from which they shelled our pickets. Our gunboats took the house for a mark and they riddled it all to pieces. Rather a bad place to bring up a family of small children. It was sickening to see splendid furniture all smashed to atoms. Everything was completely torn to pieces. Towards night the Rebs began to press our videttes. They had evidently been reinforced. Just before sundown we received [orders] to fall back from the Rebel works and occupy our old picket line which we had before we were driven back by the Rebs the last of May. From the center of their works it was but a short distance, but in the rear of [the] line on the right was a ravine which was about impossible to get to that they had to fall back across a large open field or else follow the works up towards the center where the Rebs were pressing us the hardest. Before Col. Otis knew it, all the Regiments on the left had fallen back leaving us alone so that without difficulty they could flank and cut us off, but fortunately we just got off with the skin of our teeth. I rode through a perfect shower of bullets but was not harmed in the least. I had a lot of boards under my arms which I hung on to. Our Regt. had just got across the field when the Rebs charged the line of works with a yell, but they did not find any one there. Imbolden by that, they supposed we were retreating and they accordingly sprung right over their works and formed [a] line in front, and started to charge across the field. They were allowed to come well across the field when our forces opened on them a splendid volley which sent them scrambling back. After that they did not venture outside their works. Quite a sharp fire was kept up on both sides. We were held as a reserve to the picket line for some time until the firing ceased when another Regt. came out and relieved us and we came to camp. During the whole day’s engagement we only had two men slightly wounded, they but slightly scratched. We were remarkably preserved. I rode back and forth to camp several times just right when the firing was going on. I took a musket on my back every time during the day while we were holding the Rebel works on the right. On the left the cavalry and Ames division pushed right out on the R.R. and succeeded in destroying a mile or two of it. They took several prisoners who belonged to Lee’s army. They belonged to the right of his leading regiment, but a few moments before they were captured, Lee himself was riding at the head of the column. He was moving from Richmond down to Petersburg. As he was moving in the rear of his own works, he probably thought it unnecessary to have out skirmishers. He was also marching without artillery. If we had known it at that time and had had a good force here, we could have troubled him a good deal. Beauregard had probably informed him that he was going to Petersburg but he probably thought he would leave a strong enough picket line so that we would not find out that they were gone. The troops that pressed us back in the evening were Pickett’s division that crossed the river at Chapins Bluff that day. They crossed on pontoons. We have heard no cars running in the road since. It takes but a short time however to repair a mile and a half of track. We got in camp about eight o’clock.
18th: After arriving in camp and getting supper, three Co’s were ordered out to sleep on the parapet of the breastworks. Things were pretty quiet during the night with the exception of one of our gunboats which kept up a fire all night much to my discomfort. They were firing 15 in. shells and by the sound you would have thought they were throwing whole blacksmith shops. Just daylight quite a lively fire was opened on the picket line on our front and our Regiment was ordered to the breastworks immediately. It amounted to nothing however, but part of our Regt. remained out all day. During the day there was considerable firing. In the afternoon the Rebs drove the pickets in on Hawley’s front, the 6th & 7th Conn. I understand they fell back without any resistance. It has got so that the Rebs can take them or their rifle pits just as they choose, any time they like. During the night and morning, Wright’s Corps, the 6th, arrived here. It was said they were going to shove right out but they remained here all day and are here this morning. Col. Otis went on [as] Genl. Officer of the day last night. I went out to him with his breakfast this morning. He took back the works last night that the 6th & 7th [Conn.] lost. Early yesterday morning I went down to the Landing. I started and returned early so that if anything was going on to be on hand for it. The day was very warm. For two or three days before yesterday afternoon we did not hear very much firing from Petersburg. That is not very heavy, but yesterday afternoon the firing was more rapid. Just evening it was terrific. We are unable to get anything definite from them although it is but a short distance, but from what we had been able to learn, everything is going on finely. There has been very heavy firing since day light. Part of the time it has been very heavy indeed. We have taken a number of guns and prisoners. I saw some of the guns yesterday morning. The heavy firing last night was occassioned by the Rebs charging on the works. They were repulsed with heavy loss. We took prisoner citizens of Petersburg who had never fired a gun but who were pressed in by the Provost Marshal. We have just heard that every thing is working finely. Genl. Grant has possession of a very commanding position close to the city on which he is planting one hundred and fifty guns. His smallest pieces will throw right into the town. Lee’s whole army is there. It is going to be the greatest fight of the war and its results will be the greatest. [With] Petersburg our own, Richmond cannot hold out long. I shall not be surprised to hear that Petersburg is ours before tomorrow night. The 6th Corps is going over and the 18th is coming over this side. Q.M. Fowler and I think about taking a ride over to Point of Rocks on the Appomattox [River] to see what can be seen and heard. Our Regiment is out to the front today. Things have been pretty quiet here since morning.
6 P.M. I have just come in from Point of Rocks on the Appomattox. Could get no reliable news from Petersburg. Any quantity of rumors afloat. You ask if I want another pair of woolen socks. I don’t care anything about them at present. I got some good cotton ones at Beaufort on my way here. I prefer them in summer. They will come in good next winter if we live. Had some sharp artillery fire on our front this afternoon. I don’t think it amounted to much, but it is about time for the mail to close and I have been called to supper. Will therefore close. Love to all.
Ever your Affectionate,
- SOPO Editor’s Note: June 15, 1864. Beauregard pulled Hoke’s Division out of the Howlett Line on Bermuda Hundred to oppose the Federal forces then gathering east of Petersburg. ↩
- Wright, Benjamin. “Quarter Master’s Dept., 10th Conn. Vols.” Letter to “Abbie” 17 Jun. 1864. MS. Quarter Master’s Dept., 10th Conn. Vols., Bermuda Hundred, Virginia. This letter appears here due to the express written consent of Chris Wehner, owner of SoldierStudies.org and may not be used without his permission. All rights reserved. ↩
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