NP: June 30, 1864 Petersburg Daily Express: A Captured Yankee Letter from the 19th Massachusetts

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in June 1864

SOPO Editor’s Note: In this rather extraordinary article, Captain Smith G. Davenport of the 10th Georgia Battalion wrote a short covering note explaining that the letter he was sending the Petersburg Express was captured from a Union soldier of the 19th Massachusetts on June 22, 1864.  The 19th Massachusetts was captured almost in its entirety during the June 22, 1864 Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road.

YANKEE CORRESPONDENCE NEVER REACHED ITS DESTINATION.

We are indebted to the courtesy of [Captain?] S[mith]. G. Davenport, of the 10th Georgia Battalion, for a letter written to the Boston Transcript, but which owing to the vigilance of the “rebels,” was not permitted to reach its destination. We give this letter below, prefacing it with Capt. Davenport’s note, which explains how the correspondence and its gallant author fell into our hands:

CAMP 10TH GA BAT[TALION], WRIGHT’S BRIG[ADE].
In Line of Battle, near
Petersburg, June 24. [1864]

To the Editor of the Petersburg Express:

DEAR SIR: I send you a short communication from a correspondent of the Boston [Evening] Transcript, who is a member of the Yankee army, now operating near your city. I obtained it inside the breastworks of the enemy, when our Brigade [Wright/Mahone/Third/ANV] charged the Yankees on the evening of the 22nd instant [June 22, 1864], and would have sent it to you sooner, but have been on the move ever since, defending the Weldon Railroad, and have not had an earlier opportunity. I will add that the gallant Massachusetts Twe[?] [sic, Nineteenth Massachusetts], which the writer extols so highly, was captured entire on the evening of the day upon which the letter was written.

Very Respectfully,

S[MITH]. G. DAVENPORT
Capt Com’dg Co. E,
10th Geo[rgia]. Battalion.

 

BearssJPRMap3CLOSEUP

The 19th Massachusetts was part of Pierce’s Brigade on the far right of the Union Second Corps line on the Jerusalem Plank Road. It didn’t save them from mass capture by the 10th Georgia Battalion and other portions of Gibson’s Georgia Brigade. (Ed Bearss Troop Movement Map, Petersburg National Battlefield)

[For the Transcript.]

19TH MASS[ACHUSETTS]. VOLUNTEERS,
NEAR PETERSBURG, June 22. [1864]

The Second Army Corps [II/AotP], to which this regiment is attached, moved from the position we occupied before Petersburg on the 20th [of June, 1864], and now occupy the extreme left of the city. In our last position, we were within a half mile of the city, having driven the enemy from several of his entrenchments. The rebel works are very formidable, and show that they were erected by no novices, and intended to stand a desperate attack. We have had considerable fighting of late, but fortunately our regiment, always in the post of danger, has met with but few casualties. Yesterday [June 21, 1864], a forced march brought us to our present location, and this morning we are hard at work entrenching ourselves before the enemy, separated from us by a wide corn field only. The enemy keep up a steady fire on us, but our boys have become inured to danger, and pay no respect to the leaden messengers. The whiz of the bullet seems music to their ears. The forced marches, and continued watchfulness and fighting the 19th [Massachusetts] have had to endure of late, has greatly exhausted the men; but they are no way dispirited, and go into every new and dangerous movement with a zeal and energy which gains them the admiration of the army, and reflects credit on the State they represent.—The flanking movement followed by Gen. Grant may be a matter over which some folks may endeavor to make capital, but they should wait the final issue. So far, it has not proved a failure.1

Yesterday [June 21, 1864], we crossed the line of railway from Suffolk to Petersburg, and the object of this expedition is to cut railway communication between Petersburg and Hicksford, thereby depriving the rebels of all means of transportation with the South, and materially damaging the cause of the rebels—a consummation devoutly to be wished for, and which must be accomplished.2

Yesterday [June 21, 1864] we captured a number of rebel prisoners, and to-day [June 22, 1864] the boys are giving the rebels a specimen of sharpshooting. The friends of Mr. Frank Osborne [possibly Francis Osborn of Co. B?], of Newberry, will be pleased to learn that this gallant and amiable gentleman is now acting as a Lieutenant in this regiment—an appointment agreeable to all his comrades in arms, and worthy of the man, and which we hope will be confirmed. On the 19th [of June, 1864], private Timothy O’Connell, of Salem, was killed, and today [June 22, 1864], privates Earnest Nichols [Ernest A. Nichols] and Forsides [sic, John Forsight], of Company C, were killed by a ball in the head. Sergeant Macfarlane [sic, Hugh McFarland], of company F, was severely wounded in the arm, and also John Mitchell, of company H, in arm and hip this morning. We expect some lively times here very soon, but of one thing you may rest assured, the 19th [Massachusetts] will not disgrace its colors, but as usual add another laurel to its many deeds of bravery. Since giving you a list of our wounded above, a new recruit, Walter Leonard, was wounded in the head.3

Yours,                                            D.

POSTSCRIPT.

DEAR SIR: I write you this, the first of some letters I will send when anything occurs, and want you to send me some papers, as they are a very scarce article. You will not know me by any regimental name, as when I worked on the [Boston Evening] Transcript I bore my own name. Direct to J. Douglass, Co. B, 19th Mass[achusetts]. Vol[unteer]s.

[It would appear from the foregoing postscript, that the writer entered the army under an assumed name, and Yankee like, is now sailing under false colors.—ED. EXPR]4,5

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July 30, 1864 PEtersburg Express newspaper article

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Those who have studied the Overland Campaign and the early Petersburg Campaign have I’m sure been exposed to the train of thought which states the Army of the Potomac, especially the hard hit Second Corps, had lost its willingness to fight on the offensive.  This first paragraph offers the perspective of a man who was there. Douglass, the man who wrote the letter, also asks would be readers not to judge Crossing of the James and subsequent failure to immediately take Petersburg too harshly, stating presciently that it was still ongoing.  He and I’m sure no one else on the ground at the time could have ever guessed this effort would take nine and a half months!
  2. This was Grant’s Second Offensive against Petersburg, which resulted in the June 21-23, 1864 Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road.  Douglass and his fellow members of the 19th Massachusetts, along with the entire Union Second Corps, were about to have an all caps BAD DAY.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Shortly after this letter was written, the 19th Massachusetts and other members of the Second Corps were caught in a devastating flank attack delivered by several brigades of William “Little Billy” Mahone’s Third Corps division.  All but 40 men of the regiment were captured, including the author.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: It would appear the Editor of the Express was a bit hard on poor Douglass.  Many soldiers used a pen name when writing in to the local paper, including scores of Confederates.  I cannot find any Union soldier in the roster of Company B of the 19th Massachusetts whose first name started with ‘J’ and whose last name was Douglass.  I found several men fitting this description in Company H, including John E. Douglass and Joseph B. Douglass.  Maybe the Express read his handwriting wrong and he really was from Company H. I also wonder about how accurate the Express’ rendering of the letter is, and whether or not they made any changes.  At least some portion of the letter appears real, because the names of the men in the various companies and their woundings and deaths do match up.  I cannot help but think the letter may have been altered in some ways for propaganda purposes.  If anyone knows more or if you know this man’s real name, please CONTACT US.
  5. “Yankee Correspondence Never Reached Its Destination.” The Daily Express (Petersburg, VA). June 30, 1864, p. 1 col. 6

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