SOPO Editor’s Note: Noah Andrew Trudeau found and transcribed several letters for the 15th New York Engineers page at the excellent New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs web site. I did further research and found this and other letters written by “D. C. P.” at the also excellent Old Fulton NY Postcards site. I transcribed this and other letters in the collection myself.
CITY POINT, Va., April 6, 1865
To the Editor of the Roman Citizen:
I had hoped to mail this letter in the late rebel stronghold, Richmond, but fate has decided against me, and I find myself compelled to place old Fort McKeon at the head of this letter, as has been my practice heretofore.
Throughout the loyal North has already, no doubt, been borne the glad tidings of the fall of both Richmond and Petersburg, and the redoubtable Lee in precipitate retreat for Lynchburg or Danville, and if he has not already surrendered his motley crew, the time of such surrender can not possibly be far distant.1
But I will refer more particularly to our own movements during the past two weeks, when it became evident that the investment of Petersburg would result in its capture in a short time.
AN AWAKENING OF CO. L.
One week ago last Saturday morning [March 25, 1865], the members of Co. L. went to work as usual, but at ten o’clock they were recalled and ordered under arms. (The night previous occurred the rebel capture of Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman], and its subsequent recapture by our forces.) Other preparations were also made to repel a probable onslaught of the Johnnies, but as a matter of course I am enabled to record “Nobody hurt.” At noon we received information of the rebel attack on Fort Steadman [sic, Stedman], and so soon as any confirmatory news was received of its recapture by the Federal forces, the men were ordered to their quarters and quiet once more reigned supreme.2
Nothing of special importance occurred until Wednesday night, the 29th of March . That night Co. L retired as usual at a seasonable hour, but at ten o’clock I was awakened by the heaviest cannonading that I remember to have heard since I have been in Virginia. I ran from my quarters rather precipitately for our post of observation, (in the parapet of our line of works,) and looking in the direction of Petersburg I beheld the most sublime but awful sight of an artillery duel. The constant flashes of the guns, followed by the reports, seemed to impress upon the minds of beholders a most intense feeling of awe. Words are wholly inadequate to convey a true idea to the minds of the readers of the CITIZEN of this artillery fight; and when I state that the discharges of the guns were nearly as rapid as the snapping of each fire-cracker, (only somewhat louder,) when a pack is ignited. I do not arrive to a point very wide of the mark. After witnessing this exhibition of cannonading a few minutes I returned to my quarter, but had scarcely “turned in” again before the drum was beaten for the men to fall in. We did so, and were marched into our fort, where we remained all night, but, as usual, seeing nothing of the Johnnies.—Again did Co. L repose in the lap of quiet.3
Last Sabbath morning [April 1, 1865] we appeared in our company street for the usual inspection, when we were ordered to cast our knapsacks into our tents and man our fort as well as that of Co. K, (which was ordered to the left of our line a few weeks since.) The order was obeyed, and we were assigned to our respective posts. Matters remained thus until about ten o’clock, at which time the City Point Brigade, (consisting of the 124th Pennsylvania (Zouaves), 61st Massachusetts, 90th New York, and which had stacked arms directly in front of our line of works,) was ordered to the front in light marching order. In a short time after the receipt of this order, came a similar one for Co. L, and in fact for all of the Engineer Regiment who were guarding this line of works. A Sergeant and ten men were left in each fort along the line as a garrison, and I chanced to be one of the ten who were left in Fort Graves, (otherwise known as the fort of Co. K. So soon as the men had gone, your humble correspondent was requested by Sergeant Downing to act as Corporal of the Guard, an honor which was fully appreciated.
Very little heavy firing occurred during Sunday night [April 2, 1865]. At three o’clock Monday morning [April 3, 1865] I posted the guard and was seated in the guard house, when at 3:15 a terrific explosion was heard apparently in the direction of Petersburg, which I ascertained afterward was occasioned by the blowing up of a stone bridge when Lee was retreating, to prevent a very close pursuit upon the part of our forces, and before sunrise two other explosions occurred farther to the right, and which were occasioned by the blowing up of two rebel gunboats.4 After these explosions had taken place, no more firing was heard at any point in our lines between Petersburg and Richmond.
Monday afternoon [April 3, 1865] six thousand rebels, under guard of sailors, marines and soldiers, passed through the gateway of Co. M, en route to City Point. A few Engineers and Artillerymen, who were left behind, crowded upon the parapet of the works near the gate, and thus obtained a fine view of the entire lot. Such a variety of dresses would puzzle the brains of the best New York customers to classify. Some of our men near me would amuse themselves vastly by taunting the rebs, but they usually received full as much in reply as they bargained for. One of our men made the remark to a Johnnie, that he was glad to see them. Johnnie remarked that he was “sorry that he could not return the compliment.” The same remark was made to another reb, who remarked that they were glad to see us too. One of them upon being taunted with reference to the result of the siege of Petersburg, remarked that several of our men were up there with their toes turned up. Still another said: “We will fight you four years longer,” and remarks of a kindred nature were made by different Johnnies as they passed through the gateway.
The animus of a majority of these men showed that they considered the Confederacy a well nigh played out institution, but in case there was even a possibility of a continuance of the war one year longer, with the assurance that at the expiration of that time Lee’s condition would be as critical as at present, I firmly believe that a majority of these men would re-enter the army of Robert E. Lee. They, one and all, seem to cling to Lee as the Army of the Potomac did at one time to little “Mac.” They admire him full as much for his qualifications as a man and a gentleman, as for his soldierly qualifications. They will curse Davis and praise Lee in one breath, and while acknowledging the total failure of the Confederacy, they seem to cling to Lee with wonderful tenacity.
Tuesday [April 4, 1865], at noon, two thousand additional Johnnies passed through the same gateway en route to the Point. They appeared to better advantage, and were more friendly and communicative than the crew that passed through Monday.
But the crowning event of the week thus far was the return of Co. L from the city of Petersburg. Many were the stories told of hair-breadth escapes while in dangerous proximity to the enemy, which were certainly not without some foundation in fact, as the sequel will show. The City Point Brigade, including the 15th [New York] Engineers, marched to Meade Station, (a few miles from which station are the fortifications of Petersburg,) and our troops were then engaged in making and repelling charges, and so soon as they arrived there they went into action, with the exception of the Engineers, who were held in reserve. The Engineers were hurried hither and thither during the day [April 2, 1865], and towards night they were marched into a ravine near the enemy’s works, were drawn up in line of battle, and the order to load was given. Here our men remained until the wee small hours of the morning, expecting every minute to be ordered to charge the enemy’s works, when quite early in the morning [of April 3, 1865] the second division of the 6th corps charged the rebel works, (a general attack at four o’clock A. M., having been ordered,) and found them entirely deserted.—They then pressed on and entered the city of Petersburg without encountering any opposition, planted the colors upon the Court House, and had a general jollification. The bells of the churches were rung, salutes were fired, and in fact a day of general rejoicing was observed by our troops.
Monday morning [April 3, 1865], between the hours of 8 and 9 o’clock, the 15th [New York] Engineers entered the city for the purpose of repairing bridges, &c. They were marched to a tobacco warehouse, the third story of which Co. L occupied as barracks during their stay in the city. The negroes especially were quite lavish in their praises of the Yankees.
The stores were generally found to be pretty well supplied with goods of every description. Guards were placed near the stores, and the secesh merchants felt safer than they had before for many months.—About noon the next day, (Tuesday) [April 4, 1865] our men started for their respective camps, where they arrived with considerable plunder in the shape of Confederate money, (which they bought there at the rate of fifty cents for sixty-five dollars,) plug tobacco, &c., highly pleased with their trip to Petersburg.
We expect to go to Richmond in a short time, if so our joy will know no bounds.—This morning Cos. L and G of our regiment marched to the Appomattox, and manning six pontoon boats, we started down the river for City Point, (where the other boats and the appurtenances thereto are kept,) for the purpose of having a pontoon drill. We had an exceedingly pleasant time indeed laying a portion of a bridge, and at 2 o’clock we started homeward in the boats, far as we could go in them, and then disembarking we marched to camp. I hear this is to be repeated each day for a week; if so, it will gratify us exceedingly.
But it is getting late and I must close.—Hoping that my next will be written in the Spottswood House in Richmond, I would remain,
Yours, &c., D. C. P.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: Noah Andre Trudeau believes this soldier is probably Darwin C. Pavey of the 15th New York Engineers.]5
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Petersburg and Richmond fell on April 3, 1865, and at the time Pavey was penning this missive back to the Romand Citizen in Rome, NY, Lee was indeed only three short days from surrendering at Appomattox. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Fort Stedman was located east of Petersburg, several miles to the northeast was City Point, and the forts the 15th New York Engineers were guarding. I’m sure they had quite a lively time on the morning of March 25, 1865, as they prepared to face a possible Confederate onslaught after the surprise assault on Fort Stedman. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: By March 29, 1865, Grants Ninth and final offensive against Petersburg was underway. Several times over the next five days the Union artillery would open up all along the lines in preparations for a final assault. Only on April 2, 1865 did that final assault occur. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Pavey likely heard the massive explosions accompanying the scuttling of the three large ironclads of the Confederate James River Squadron, the CSS Virginia II, the CSS Richmond, and the CSS Fredericksburg. ↩
- “Army Correspondence.” The Roman Citizen (Rome, NY). April 14, 1865, p. 2, col. 2-3 ↩
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