Editor’s Note: This letter to the Sunday Mercury appears here due to Bill Styple’s fantastic book Writing and Fighting the Civil War, which is where I first learned about these amazing soldier letters. You can purchase a copy of Writing and Fighting the Civil War at Belle Grove Publishing.
Twenty-fifth N. Y. Cavalry.
[Special Correspondence of the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]
CITY POINT, VA., July 3, 1864.
Castaway Horses—Shelling Petersburg—Works Mined—Popping Pickets—Sailors vs. Soldiers.
The [25th New York Cavalry] regiment still remains at this place, where it is now detailed to do provost duty. This is about the wisest disposition which could have been made with the regiment in its present depleted and undrilled condition. I should have mentioned before, that about sixty or seventy of the men have mounted themselves on horses which had been abandoned by the various raiding parties as broken down and unfit for service. Some of these had sore backs, others sprained joints, and more were merely ridden and starved almost to death. By good and careful treatment and feeding, and, in some instances, by judicious “swapping”, quite a passable lot of horses were mustered out of the unpromising material, and are now doing good service here, in guarding conscripts, skedaddlers, substitutes, et hoc genus omne1, to the front. I have just returned from one of these expeditions to Gen [Marsena] Patrick’s headquarters, which are about fifteen miles from this place. We started yesterday [July 2, 1864] from here at twelve o’clock, many of our prisoners being men just out of the hospital, who, of course, were quite unable to stand the fatigue of such a march in the sultry heat and dust and who were consequently dropped at intervals along the road, being handed over to the various division Provost-Marshals. The head-quarters of General [Marsena] Patrick, Provost-Marshal-General of the Army, are situated about three miles from Petersburg, which city we have to pass in going and returning, and which is in full view from several points around. Vigorous shelling was going on yesterday, when we passed, several shells from the Rebel batteries exploding in close proximity to our line of march. I will not attempt to give you any description of our works around the beleaguered city, but they are of the most stupendous character. One large Rebel work was pointed out to me as being mined2, and from all accounts there will be such an exhibition of fireworks on the morning of some day in July, as Petersburg has never before witnessed.
The troops whom we passed yesterday are all full of enthusiasm, and seemed to have carefully studied that book that Richelieu speaks of, “the bright lexicon of youth”, as they evidently know “no such word as fail”. Our pickets and sharpshooters are, in many cases, within two hundred yards of the enemy’s, and a constant interchange of either badinage or bullets is taking place between them. As soon as the sun goes down, the pop, pop of musketry from the pickets is incessant.
What has become of the committee which was being formed in New York to send vegetables, especially onions, to the soldiers? That would indeed be a grand act, and we all pray for its speedy consummation.
Is the Navy so full of seamen that the Secretary of the Navy and other high officials can treat with disdainful silence the application of able seamen for transfer from the Army? I know of several instances of the kind in this regiment. Applications have been made both to the Navy Department, in Washington, and to the Commissary of Musters, at Fortress Monroe, without eliciting the slightest response from either quarter. This looks strange in face of the fact that there are so many war-vessels now lying in our harbors which are unable to proceed to sea for want of men. B. O. B.3
Soldier Letters from the New York Sunday Mercury:
- July 10, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 48th NY Guards the 18th Corps Trains, June 1864
- July 10, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 12th NY Folded Into 5th NY Veteran
- July 10, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 12th U. S. Infantry at the Siege of Petersburg, Early July 1864
- SOPO Editor’s Note: et hoc genus omne is Latin for “and all this kind.” He’s basically saying they were guarding the types of wretches who generally do anything and everything to avoid actually getting into a fight and risk getting wounded or killed. By 1864, there were plenty of conscripts in the Union army who would desert if given any opportunity to do so. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This is almost certainly Elliot’s Salient, the future site of “the Crater.” ↩
- “Twenty-fifth N. Y. Cavalry.” Sunday Mercury (New York, New York). July 10, 1864, p. 7 col. 2 ↩
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