Editor’s Note: Bryce Suderow originally brought this source to my attention via 115th New York researcher and author Mark Silo. John Reardon, a member of the 115th New York, composed this memoir on his deathbed from wartime pocket diaries he kept. He died prior to finishing, but his daughter completed the work and it was published in 1908 editions of the St. Johnsville NY News. This and the other articles in this series listed at the end of this article are the existing segments covering the Siege of Petersburg, from June-December 1864. Transcribed by Brett Schulte.
MEMORIES OF THE CIVIL WAR.
From the Facile Pen of a Veteran of the “Iron Hearted” Regiment.
August 18th 2—Regiment is on picket. Five p. m., enemy charge our line. Some of our men are killed, some wounded or missing. Enemy followed our troops and are repulsed. We try to establish our pickets on the old line. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson of the 115th, commanding brigade. Blunders get the troops into an ambush where we lose men unnecessarily. Complaint is made to General Birney, commanding the division, that Johnson is intoxicated. He is immediately placed under arrest and relieved of command. At dark orders came to fall back which we did at midnight. Learn that my brother in the Second Corps is wounded seriously and sent to the hospital.
August 19th—Our line is formed about a mile to the rear.
August 20th—The night has been rainy. Nine a. m., quiet on the line, still raining. The object for which we crossed the river to threaten Richmond from Deep Bottom, having been accomplished by drawing troops of the enemy from the south side. We are ordered back to Bermuda Hundreds with the Second Corps in advance. We reach our old camp about eight a. m., of the 21st.
August 21st—We find things as we left them and take our tents. At dark we have orders to be ready to march in the night, light marching orders, one day’s rations. Eight o’clock I am detailed on picket with orders that we are not to sleep.
August 22nd—I am very much fatigued. I find at daylight that the enemy is very near us. We are relieved soon after dark. A heavy shower came up and we are wet through.
August 23rd—We are formed along the works three a. m., expecting an attack. Return to camp at sunrise. Learn that Grant has the Weldon railroad. Day is fine.3
Augus 25th [sic, 24th]—No news.
August 25th—Three a. m., we are startled from our bunks by the near discharge of musketry. On forming in line we learn that the enemy have charged and driven in our pickets on the right is kept up all day. We return to camp about nine a. m., and are ordered to be ready to move on short notice. Expect to go to Petersburg. Paymaster arrives and we are paid.
August 26th—Today is the first of our third year. I send home, by express, fifty dollars. Commence making out muster rolls for July and August. Have orders to march since the 25th, and are expecting to move.
August 27th—I am working at the rolls and books for the company.
August 28th—Are still in the old camp. Morning cool and pleasant. I am still occupied at the rolls. Four p. m., we are ordered to pack up and fall in line. Five p. m., we move, cross the upper pontoon on the Appomattox and move off in the direction of Petersburg. Arrive at our destination nine p. m., not far from “Baldy Smith’s” headquarters where he commanded the right of the line with Eighteenth Corps.
August 29th—Considerable shelling fore [sic] part of the night. The weather is rainy, no shelter. We camp a little to the right of the railroad. We go on picket to the right of position we occupied when here before. Heavy artillery work this morning, most of guns seem to be firing at the city.
August 30th—At daylight I return to camp to finish up the muster rolls which I do during the day. Day throughout is very quiet.
August 31st—Morning, we muster. I spend remainder of the day making out reports. Quiet all along the line.
September 1st—I finish reports. Heavy artillery work about noon. The regiment returns from picket duty at dark.
September 2nd—No news. Remarkable quiet.
September 3rd—I wrote a letter to the second auditor in regard to some ordinance over which there is a misunderstanding between the captain and the department. There is to be a military execution along to the left of our line at two p. m. A squad of us walked to the place where we found three regiments of infantry drawn up so as to form three sides of a hollow square. There was also quite a large crowd of detached soldiers present who filled a part of the open side of the square. The gallows stands in the center of the square. It is a rudely constructed frame; two posts about fourteen feet high stand apart about ten feet. A rickety platform fastened to it about eight feet from the ground. This platform has a trap fall, held in place by a T shaped post underneath. The troops in line are at open ranks, front rank faced to the rear. The prisoner under guard, enters the open side of the square in the following order: First, Major Stevens Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry (provost marshall mounted); second, six pall bearers carrying on their shoulders the coffin, a rough box; third, the prisoner and chaplain and guard of infantry, about twenty-five in number; fourth, a squad of cavalry, twelve in number, with sabres drawn. On entering the square the procession turned to the right and passed between the open lines around to the left, then to the scaffold. At the foot of the ladder the prisoner was stopped and the guard drawn up in line facing the scaffold. Here the chaplain talked to the prisoner. The provost marshal then read the proceedings and sentence of the court, after which the provost marshal proceeded up the ladder, followed by the prisoner, who is assisted by the chaplain. The prisoner being in irons could not move freely. On reaching the platform chaplain and prisoner kneel in prayer. After a lapse of five minutes they arise. The rope is placed on his neck and the manacles removed from his person, the cap is then put on after which the marshal and chaplain leave the scaffold. The scene is now most affecting, when we realize that a human being up there with the cap drawn, shutting out the light, left to his thoughts, far from home and friends. It is plain the movements are telling on him, his form sways and his limbs seem to be giving way. The suspense to him must have been terrible as it visibly affected those about. The pall bearers standing in rear of the scaffold, three on each side facing. The coffin in their hands, held the rope attached to the fall. At a signal from the marshal the rope was quickly pulled, landing the ill-fated man into eternity. The drop was about seven feet. After the fall thirty seconds elapsed before there was a move in the suspended body then one or two spasmodic jerks of the arms and all is over. We now return to camp deeply impressed with the scenes just witnessed. The crowd dispersed quickly. It is the most silent affair for a large crowd I ever saw. The charge against the prisoner for which he met death was the killing of a member of his own company, of one of the eastern states.
September 4th—Sunday. We have company inspection nine a. m., after which I write some letters. Two p. m., we have services by the chaplain. All quiet.
September 5th—Eairly [sic, eerily) quiet, some artillery work.
September 6th—The night has been very disagreeable in the trenches. Heavy showers occurring at intervals. Weather lowery today. We have news that Sherman takes Atlanta. A couple of deserters from the enemy last night report that Hood has retaken it. We don’t take any stock in that. I have charge of a fatigue detail for the night.4
September 7th—Lively firing along the lines. Afternoon I am again on fatigue. Things pass off as usual.
September 8th—I get time to bathe and wash my clothes.
September 9th—Sergeant Peacock and myself talk a walk to the right of our line. Grant sends a dispatch that Sherman is in quiet possession of Atlanta and orders that all the bands along the line play and the troops cheer at seven p. m., to which the troops responded with pleasure.
September 10th—No news of importance. At dark the regiment again moves into the trenches.
September 11th—Sunday very quiet. We have papers to exchange but the “Johnnies” say they have none, probably on account of the discouraging news from Atlanta. Heavy showers at night.
September 12th—Weather rainy. Rebs open with artillery but only for a short time. Our thirteen inch railroad mortar throws out a few shells into the city.5
September 13th—The night has been very cold. We are pleased when morning dawns; the day is very pleasant. Are relieved and return to camp this evening.
September 14th—I suffered from the cold last night, at midnight had to go to the fire to warm up. We are short of clothing through some deficiency in the quartermaster’s department. I am on fatigue all night on a new fort.
Septembe 15th—We draw clothing and issue them to the men, they come in good time as we need them.
September 16th—We have general inspection at nine a. m. After which I do some writing. At dark we again go in the trenches.
September 17th—Just daylight after the videtts [sic, videttes] come in, a rebel was seen coming through the cornfield in front of us waving his hand, we called to him all right come ahead. He came on a run until he was safe inside our works. He said he never was as happy in his life. His regiment is the 49th North Carolina. He says: I really feel joyful to think my fighting is over for a hopeless cause. The day is generally quiet.
September 18th—The night passed off quiet. At daylight a deserter came into our line. He is a boy about sixteen years of age and is of more than ordinary intelligence. Says he belonged to the 34th Virginia.
September 19th—Nothing important. We are relieved from the trenches at dark.
September 20th—I received a letter from brother Edmund from the hospital saying his wound is doing well. News that Sherman [sic, Sheridan] his [sic, has] signally defeated Early in the Shenandoah Valley.6
September 21st—We are awakened by a tremendous roar of artillery which we learn to be a salute of 100 shotted guns in honor of Sheridan’s second victory in which he follows up the enemy and captured sixteen pieces of artillery. Three p. m., we get marching orders, we fall in line at midnight.
September 25th—We move a couple of miles to the rear, the first and third divisions of the Second Corps are here. The other corps arrive during the day. We expect there is active duty ahead.
(To Be Continued.)7
John Reardon 115th New York Series from the 1908 St. Johnsville NY News:
- NP: May 6, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): June 16-July 17, 1864
- NP: May 13, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): July 18-August 17, 1864
- NP: May 20, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): August 18-September 25, 1864
- NP: May 27, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): September 26-December 5, 1864
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 115th New York was part of the Third Brigade, Second Division, Tenth Corps, Army of the James during this portion of the Siege of Petersburg. The unit was stationed on Bermuda Hundred and opposed the Howlett Line. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The last few days of the Second Deep Bottom Campaign are described here, from August 18-20, 1864. By August 18, Warren’s Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, was on and firmly held the Weldon Railroad south of Petersburg. Reardon’s 115th New York had helped distract the Confederates and hold many men north of the James River, allowing Warren’s force to take and hold another of Lee’s supply lines into Petersburg. The Battle of Globe Tavern was fought from August 18-21 before Warren ultimately prevailed. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: It took several days, but the Army of the James finally received word of Warren’s success against the Weldon Railroad at Globe Tavern. ↩
- William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union army group had taken Atlanta, Georgia on September 2, 1864 after a four month long campaign. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon is referring to the famous “Dictator”, a 13 inch mortar mounted on a railroad flatcar and used against Petersburg and the “Chesterfield battery” which enfiladed the Union lines facing Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon is referring to the Third Battle of Winchester, the opening battle of Sheridan’s final devastating Valley Campaign against Jubal Early and his Confederate Second Corps. ↩
- “Memories of the Civil War.” St. Johnsville NY News. May 20, 1908, p. 2 col. 2-3 ↩
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