Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Bryce Suderow and is included in a collection of articles from the Quincy (MA) Patriot. His transcription of this article is published here with his written permission.
NEAR PETERSBURG, VA.
Camp of 56th [Mass] Reg.
July 28, 1864
As I now feel sound and well and have my usual run of good health, thank the Almighty God for it, I am going to write you a letter about the charge which we made on the memorable 17th of June.
I intended to give you a description of it before, but I was afraid it might make mother feel uneasy, but now that the excitement which it caused has [?] away, I am going to give it to you in its true colors. On the night of the 16th of June after a forced march of three days we arrived at what is commonly called in the army “the front.” We formed in line of battle and advanced about five hundred yards when we laid down and waited for break of day. About an hour before sunrise, we rose up and advanced to our second line of breastworks, where we again laid down, expecting every moment to be called upon. But no! they were saving us for a better fate. We lay there all day until about 4 o’clock when we got orders to rise up; and down we went on the double quick into a long ravine. About this time the boys began to smell a rat. After we had laid there about fifteen minutes, the Colonel came and spoke the following words to us. Men, said he, it is now about five o’clock; within one hour you have got to make one of the grandest charges this Regiment has ever made. Boys, said he, you have got to run over three hundred yards of a level plain, and I want you to do it with a will. Men, said he, if you will only do as I tell you, I know we can accomplish our object. Now, said he, let every man look to his musket and be ready the moment I give the order.
In about ten minutes we got the order – rise up and forward. We advanced over the brow of the hill to our outer lines of pickets, where we waited for the favorable moment; within the next ten minutes we made two attempts to advance; but it was of no use; they kept up such a deadly fire that the men could not stand it. But the third time never fails. Just as the watch was on the tick of six, we charged — and such a charge — the whole line seemed to move on wings. I do not think in all my boyhood days I ever ran so fast. We were about five minutes in reaching the rebel works — and such a sight I saw in those five minutes. Three different times I fell on my face and hands over dead bodies; the field was covered with them. When we got possession of the rebel works, the order was given to cheer; and such a cheer as was given for three miles along that line was enough to wake the dead. As soon as we got into the pits we commenced firing, and kept up a steady fire for half an hour, when the cry ran along the line — ammunition! But it was of no use — fate was against us — before they had got half way back with the ammunition, the rebels came down on us like an avalanche, driving every thing before them. We never wavered until we had fired the last round of ammunition, when we got the order to fall back; as soon as the order was given to fall back, the men turned and ran; and those that were not shot never stopped until they got down in the old ravine, where we first started from. For the first half of the distance back, there was not much firing; but as soon as the rebels got in their old pits again, they poured in a deadly volley; our men fell like leaves before the wind. I have been in six severe battles, but I never heard such a roar of musketry before — it was beyond description. We were rallied in the ravine by Gen. Ludley, and after securing ammunition we advanced up on the hill, laid down our guns, and went to digging breastworks; they kept up a steady fire all night, but they could not hurt us, as the ridge of the hill gave us protection. As soon as we got the breastworks finished, which was about 4 o’clock in the morning, we were told to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. in the morning the second corps advanced over us, but they had nothing to do, the enemy had fell back during the night. The second corps advanced up as far as possible, and threw up works, and these same works we now occupy. Often when I go for rations, and pass over the ground where we charged, and see the graves of my comrades, it makes me think of Old Readville, where there was no bullets flying. But never mind; I hope some of us will get home to tell the tale.
- “Camp of 56th (Mass) Reg.,” Quincy (MA) Patriot, August 27, 1864, p. 1 col. 6 ↩
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