NP: February 25, 1925 Potsdam NY Courier and Freeman: Orlando P. Benson Diary, 92nd NY, Part 3

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SOPO Editor’s Note: The Civil War diary of Orlando P. Benson of the 92nd New York was found and published in The Courier and Freeman (Potsdam, NY).  I’ve chosen to publish the portion of the diary covering Bermuda Hundred, Petersburg, Salisbury prison, and his postwar experiences through the end of the diary.   Check out this installment below, and be sure to look over the other installments as they are published.  I’ve included a list of all published installments at the bottom of this and every post. MANY thanks to Jack Phend for transcribing this entire diary for me.  It appears here solely due to his help. Are you interested in first person accounts at the Siege of Petersburg?  Check out our Letters and Diaries page for more!

BACK UPON FIRING LINE

SERGT. BENSON RESUMES HIS SERVICE WITH THE 92ND.

The Courier and Freeman this week presents another installment of the diary kept by the late Orlando P. Benson, of Massena, while he was a soldier in the Union army during the civil war. He enlisted in the 92nd New York Volunteer Regiment and when 19 years of age. In this installment he tells of his return to the front after his furlough in Massena. During shelling a bullet penetrated his haversack, he escaping unharmed.

[SOPO Editor’s Note: In this installment, Orlando P. Benson begins at home in Massena, NY on his parents’ farm.  He was on a furlough given to the veterans of the 92nd New York.  By August 14, 1864, he had rejoined his regiment at the front.  They were still east of Petersburg at that point, but moved to the Bermuda Hundred front on the night of August 26-27, 1864.  There they remained until moving north of the James River on the night of September 28-29, at which point they attacked Fort Harrison in the September 29-30, 1864 Battle of Chaffin’s Farm.]

 

August 8th, 1864,–Take Emma to her school1. Bid her for ought I know an eternal good-bye. Again I am leaving home but if it be even to return no more I feel that I am doing my duty.

9th–At last that terrible and trying moment and thank God it is over for it took all my courage to bid good-bye. Reach Potsdam about 11:00 a.m. Leave Potsdam at 3:00 p.m. and ride all night and reach Albany about 6:00 a.m. of the 10th. Find that about 20 of our men have deserted. Shame to them.

10th—Reach Albany about 6:00 a.m. Take warm breakfast at a restaurant. Go into barracks about 1:00 p.m. Of all the days I have ever seen this has certainly been the longest. Fare rather hard. A few companies of the invalid corps (or veteran reserve corps) are here detailed to act as provost guard all over the state. Some are now in Malone etc.2

StJohnSteamerw1200

On his return from a furlough, Orlando Benson took the steamer St. John down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City . (NY Heritage Digital Collections)

11th—Leave Albany barracks about dark. At 8:00 p.m. get under way aboard of the St. John, the nicest American steamer ever built. She ranks only second to the Great Eastern. She belongs to the People’s Line with the Henry Hudson. Her length is 483 feet. She is a perfect palace throughout. Have some trouble among the men caused by whiskey.3

12th—Reach New York city at 6:30 a.m. March up to the Soldiers Home and get tickets for three meals. Call upon Dr. Perry Irish and have quite a visit. He takes me to Taylor’s saloon and calls on an excellent supper. He then goes with me to the armory of the Seventh New York Militia and shows me through. He also goes with me to the Soldiers Home. Leave New York at 7:30 p.m. Take boat for Jersey City and then the cars for Baltimore.

13th—Reach Baltimore at 6:00 a.m. March down to the Soldiers Rest to wait transportation. The fare here is rather hard. Not nearly as good as that of the Soldiers Home. This institution is wholly carried on by the government. All darky cooks. Leave for Fortress Monroe at 5:00 p.m. on the Adelaide. Ride all night. She has about 300 substitutes aboard. I never saw so much thieving in my life.4

14th—Reach Oak [Old?] Point [Comfort?] about 5:00 p.m. Take the cars to the front at once. Reach the [92nd New York] regiment tired and worn out about 8:00 p.m. Find them in good spirits but in rather a bad condition. All glad to see us. For a joke they call us their recruits.5

15th—Spend a pleasant day with the boys. Am going to tent with C[harles]. P. Gray and Alick [Alexander M. Stevens]. Have a terrible shower in the afternoon. Rains a perfect torrent. The ravine becomes a river, carrying before it tents, sutlers and soldiers, also a couple of piers of the railroad bridge above. Some 16 men lose their lives.6

16th—Sixteen dead bodies have already been taken from the ravine. Rains a little in the afternoon. Veterans go to the front. Enter upon duty. Once more hear the hum of leaden bees. Boys are all in good spirits. Pits are quite muddy.

17th—Another rain this afternoon, also some shelling. Cannedy [sic, Samuel Kennedy] Company B, killed. Shot through the head. Have a bullet put through my haversack. Find it a little difficult to eat government rations. Throw up a traverse to prevent a cross fire. The spirits of the boys rather down.7

19th—Rains continually. Things look rather dubious. The men are however in spite of the mud cheerful. At night discharge all our guns at the Johnnies.8

2[0]th—Rainy. Receive orders to move to the left but they are countermanded. Corp. L.W. Arms, Company B, slightly wounded by a spent ball in shoulder. Pits still very muddy. It is quite laughable to see the boys practice their tricks and crack joke upon one another.9

21st—This is the first day this week that it has not rained. Open a furious and sudden fire upon the enemy merely to divert their attentions. [William] Hentz, Company H, killed. He was shot through the head. Dore [sic, Greenleaf Dorr], [Jared] Chenette and Revier wounded.10

22nd—Feel quite unwell. Have a gathering in my head. Rain just dark as the pickets go out. Rumor that we shall be attacked in the morning. Commence to register in prisoners camp at Salisbury. 11

23rd—Gatherings in my head became quite painful. Sleep but little in consequence. Weather quite cool after the rain. Line very quiet.

24th—Captain [Charles B.] Church joins the regiment. Captain [Harry C.] Fay returns from camp and takes command.12

25th–Weather very warm until dark, when it rains. Feel anything but well. Expect an attack. Rumor move guns from the redoubt on our right. No attack.

DunlopHousePetersburgShelling

The Dunlop House in Petersburg shows the effects of Union shelling on the city. (Library of Congress)

26th—Enemy opens at daylight a furious cannonade, wounding so far as I know of but two.13 Rumors that we are to be relieved. And so we are about 9:00 p.m. by negro brigade of the Tenth A[rmy]. C[orps]. March all night through mud and darkness.14

 

[SOPO Editor’s Note: I wanted to take a brief moment to draw readers’ attention to the fact that the 92nd New York and other portions of the 18th Corps, Army of the James were now sent north of the Appomattox River and manned part of the lines on the Bermuda Hundred front. Here the lines were a little further apart and the duty was a little easier than what the unit had experienced east of Petersburg.]

 

27th—Reach Butler’s front at daylight. Have not slept a moment all night. See Captain Garvin. We are all well pleased with our change.15

28th—Move a few rods to the left. We are going to arrange camp tomorrow. The boys all in the best of spirits. How different here from Petersburg.

29th—Arrange a splendid camp. Fix up a nice little house and feel quite at home. Feel somewhat unwell.

30th—Feel tip-top. Am now enjoying some of the sunny side of a soldier’s life. Company good, pleasant weather and plenty to eat.

31st—Mustered by Captain Elder, a A[ssitant]. I[nspector]. G[eneral]., Help endorse the boys furloughs for ration money. Have our first dress parade since leaving New Berne.

September 1st [1864]—We are now having splendid weather. Alick sells his check to McChesney and buys old white horse at $40. Eat a piece of a very large watermelon just before going to bed.

2nd—Glorious news. The joy of the soldiers knows no bounds. Atlanta has fallen. Bully for Sherman. Truly there are a few bright spots even in the life of a soldier.16

3rd—Nothing further from Atlanta. Capture of Fort Morgan confirmed. Heavy and continual cannonading in the direction of Petersburg.17

4th—Have a chill in the afternoon. Generals Grant, Meade and several other officers of distinction pass around our lines. General Grant was very plainly dressed.18

5th—Feel as usual after drill. Have dress parade every evening. The whole division [1/XVIII/AotJ] turns out to clear a review ground for tomorrow.

6th—Generals Grant, Meade and Gibbons pass around the lines. Rains a little.19

JohnGibbon

John Gibbon commanded the 18th Corps in early September 1864. (Library of Congress)

7th—[Eighteenth] Corps reviewed by divisions by General Gibbons [sic, John Gibbon, commander of the 18th Corps, Army of the James]. It was a splendid affair. Feel a slight touch of a chill in the afternoon.

8th—Weather cool and delightful. Feel quite unwell. Rains in the afternoon. Read Seward’s speech in Auburn. Sound every word of it.20

9th—Spend all day aside from brigade drill in repairing my tent. Make the walls of logs set endwise. Captain Fay and squad get back with baggage.21

10th—Lay floor for tent. Suffer from heat. Baggage reaching the regiment in rather bad state.

11th—No preaching on account of brigade dress parade at 4:00 p.m.

12th—Very windy. Write to mother. C.P. rather unwell. Lieutenant Thompson, Captain Davis, Sergeant C.A. Mosher and others come in to sing. Have a very pleasant time.

14th—Fix the front of my tent with logs. Heavy cannonading on the left. Rebels throw a few shells at our signal station.22

15th—Draw clothing for the regiment. Draw for myself one cap and sash. Sergeant McFerran returns to the regiment from hospital at Fortress Monroe.

16th—Have our general monthly inspection by Captain Elder. Sergeant Fuller, Corporals Selick and Osgood reduced to the rank Corporal. Hamlin promoted to sergeant. Privates Foote and Gadbou promoted to corporals.

18th—Preaching by chaplain. Text—Proverbs 23:23. Rains a little in the afternoon.  Have headache, etc, I need mother now.23

19th—C.P. Gray detailed at brigade headquarter as clerk. One Babcock a recruit, joins the regiment. Glorious news reaches us from Sheridan. Tremendous cheering among the troops. 24

20th—Our good news from the valley fully confirmed. Where now the cowardly peace faction?

21st—Weather very pleasant. Write to Perry Reid.

22nd—Received letters one from Uncle Mike and other from —— Weather cloudy.

23rd–(No entry)

24th—Captain Fay gives a farewell supper to the officers. Colonel Roberts present and Lieut. Partridge. Ride with Alick to Point of Rocks hospital.25

25th—Preaching by chaplain from John 5:39. Get our new mess to running beautifully. Have brigade dress parade. Have conversation with Captain Davis with reference to transfer. 26

26th—Receive letter from Capt. S.J. Arnold requesting me to send him his official papers. Read a stirring speech delivered by a Mr. Arnold of Illinois.

27th—Rumors that the enemy are evacuating Petersburg. It is rumored that we have several corps off on the left on an expedition.27

BattleAtChapinsFarmWmWaudHarpersWeekly

Orlando Benson and the 92nd New York helped capture and defend Fort Harrison near Chaffin’s Farm on September 29-30, 1864. (William Waud sketch in Harper’s Weekly)

28th—Go to the James river and wash with Alick. Receive orders to move. Are now at this writing waiting orders to start. Have two days rations. No one of us knows where we are to go. Take up the line of march about 8:00 p.m., march all night.

29th—Cross the pontoon bridge. About 10:00 a.m. storm a strong redoubt on Chapin’s farm called Battery Harrison. Capture some 26 guns. Our brigade attacked and driven from redoubt on the left with heavy loss. Our little regiment loses about 30 men in killed or wounded or captured.

30—Throw up entrenchments during the night. Hardly have them done before the enemy charges us twice most desperately. We repulsed them most easily, killing, wounding or capturing nearly every man who charged. Sixteen prisoners come into our regiment. Capture on our brigade four stand of colors. Joseph Minor of our regiment killed.28

(To be Continued)29

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jack Phend.

If you are interested in helping us transcribe newspaper articles like the one above, please CONTACT US.

 

Other Posts from Orlando P. Benson’s Diary While at the Siege of Petersburg:

 

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Source/Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The 1860 US Census shows that Emma was his little sister.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Invalid Corps, later changed to Veteran Reserve Corps due to the initials “I.C.” also meaning “inspected-condemned,” consisted of men who were no longer able to serve on active military duty for a variety of reasons.  The performed light duty behind the front lines to allow active duty regiments to move to the front.  Here is an excellent article on the Veteran Reserve Corps (just click on the PDF icon).
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Great Eastern was a massive iron-hulled British steamer which made trans-Atlantic voyages during the Civil War and bankrupted company after company in so doing.  She was THE steamer to which everything else was compared, as Benson does here.  The great ship was nearly 700 feet long with a displacement of nearly 20,000 tons!  There would be nothing like her for 40 more years.  After the war she laid a trans-Atlantic cable in 1866, connecting the New and Old worlds from that time forward, and continued in that line of work off and on for a decade.  See here for more on the Great Eastern. The St. John was a 2,028 ton Hudson River steamer with, as Benson mentions, the People’s Evening Line, plying her trade between Albany and New York City.  She had just been built in 1864.  Just after the Civil War on October 29, 1865, she suffered a massive boiler explosion which killed fifteen people. The Hendrick (or Hendrik) Hudson was a 1,185 ton steamer also owned and operated by the People’s Evening Line during the Civil War.  Living in upstate New York as he did and having almost certainly traveled previously through Albany and on to New York City due to the Civil War, Benson was probably fairly familiar with these boats.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Adelaide was a Chesapeake Bay steamer belonging to the Old Bay Line but which was utilized by the Us Government to make runs from Baltimore to Fort Monroe, just as Orlando did here.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: The 92nd New York was still in the trenches east of Petersburg in August 1864. Benson had missed the Battle of the Crater, but the Eighteenth Corps had been mainly spectators in that fight.  He arrived just as Grant’s Fourth Offensive against Richmond and Petersburg was kicking off.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: As I mentioned in the first installment, “Alick” is almost certainly Alexander M. Stevens.  In a diary entry on February 2, 1863, Benson writes: “A.M. Stevens acts sergeant major. He is a noble boy and is of great assistance to me I could not get along without him.” If you look at the roster for the 92nd New York, page 1034, this must be Alexander Stevens. Page 961 of the same roster identifies Charles P. Gray.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: Nothing shows you the indifference of veterans to life in the trenches better than Benson casually mentioning he came extremely close to being killed or wounded with no further explanation. Page 978 of the roster for the 92nd New York shows Samuel Kennedy was killed in action on August 17, 1864, making me certain I’ve found my man.
  8. SOPO Editor’s Note: I wonder if this was part of a larger effort and happened due to orders from above during the Fourth Offensive to keep the Confederates from weakening this part of the line, or if someone just got a little trigger happy on the skirmish line, or even if this was simply to make sure they fired off their guns to make sure they didn’t have damp powder due to the rain.  I could find no corroborating evidence in the Official Records.  If you can shed any details about a small action on the Eighteenth Corps front east of Petersburg on the night of August 19-20, 1864, please CONTACT US.
  9. SOPO Editor’s Note: From August 18-21, 1864, the Petersburg portion of Grant’s Fourth offensive resulted in the Battle of Globe Tavern.  Warren’s Fifth Corps established itself on the Weldon Railroad in the vicinity of Globe Tavern, and the Confederates spent August 18-19 and 21 trying to drive them out.  An all-day rain on the 19th worked to the Federal’s advantage and prevented attacks on that day.  As a result of various fighting, portions of the Union line east and southeast of Petersburg were repeatedly called on to shift around to provide more troops to go to Warren’s aid.  The two White divisions of the Ninth Corps and some of the Army of the James’ Cavalry Division under August Kautz were the principal reinforcements sent.
  10. SOPO Editor’s Note: It would appear that the men of the Eighteenth Corps in the trenches east of Petersburg were being asked to stay active to prevent reinforcements from being sent to the Confederate units assaulting Warren’s Fifth Corps lines on the Weldon Railroad. See the roster of the 92nd NY, page 969, for Hentz’ Christian name. There is no “Revier” in the 92nd New York, at least according to the roster.  The closest I could find is Prentiss N. Pevier, but his roster entry mentions no wound on August 21.   Perhaps he was so slightly wounded as to not have been recorded as wounded.
  11. SOPO Editor’s Note: “Commence to register in prisoners camp at Salisbury.” is an odd statement for this date.  Although Benson WOULD later be captured and get sent to Salisbury POW camp in North Carolina, he was nowhere near that place in August 1864 and had no way of knowing he would be sent there.  I wonder if he might have written this sentence in his diary after his capture.  Why he wouldn’t write it on the correct date is beyond me.  If you know what he might be referencing here, please CONTACT US.
  12. SOPO Editor’s Note: Both Church and Fay commanded the 92nd New York at various points in the Siege after Major Merriman was wounded on Juned 29.  It appears that Fay ranked Church if he took command here when both were present.
  13. SOPO Editor’s Note: I could find no one mentioned as having been wounded on August 26, 1864 in the entire roster.  Perhaps these wounds were slight and not recorded.  Perhaps the wounded were not in Benson’s regiment but some other regiment near his in the lines. As for the “furious cannonade” at daylight on August 26, 1864, OR XLII, Pt. 2, page 535 and page 536 show an exchange between Eighteenth Corps commander Edward O. C. Ord and Andrew Humphreys, Meade’s Chief of Staff, around 5:30 in the morning as well one after 10 am with George Meade himself.  Both men asked Ord what the firing meant in his front.  Both times he said it was nothing, just the usual!  What a difference your location makes in your perception of the seriousness of artillery fire.
  14. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Official Records, XLII, Pt. 2 again offers an explanation.  On pages 534 to 535, General Ord explains that General Birney’s Tenth Corps is moving south of the Appomattox to relieve his Eighteenth Corps men east of Petersburg.  However, he has fewer men and feels uncomfortable holding the old Tenth Corps lines on Bermuda Hundred and at Deep Bottom without being given extra men.  General Grant allows him to make whatever arrangements he wishes. Benson’s Division was relieved by Tenth Corps troops.  He mentions a USCT Brigade coming to relieve his own unit.  This brigade was either the First or Second Brigade of William Birney’s 3rd Division, Tenth Corps (1 or 2/3/X/AotJ). From this point forward in this installment, Benson and the 92nd New York would be stationed on the Bermuda Hundred peninsula in a MUCH more serene sector.
  15. SOPO Editor’s Note: “Butler’s Front” is the Union line created at the end of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign between the James and Appomattox rivers. It was maintained throughout the entire Siege of Petersburg and had a reputation and the reality of being a much more quiet sector than the lines east of Petersburg, which were extremely close together.
  16. SOPO Editor’s Note: As any good student of the Civil War knows, Atlanta DID fall on September 2, 1864.  What makes me doubt the veracity of the information Benson was receiving is the communication technology during the war.  If Sherman took Atlanta on September 2 and sent a telegraph message to the War Department in Washington, D. C. confirming said feat, the news would have still needed to be carried to Ulysses S. Grant at City Point. That said, the Official Records, XLII, Pt. 2, page 654 show that Grant DID know Atlanta had been taken by the end of September 2, 1864, and that kind of news spreads fast once released to an army.
  17. SOPO Editor’s Note: The good news kept rolling in.  Fort Morgan guarded Mobile Bay, Alabama.  Admiral Farragut had “damned the torpedoes” on August 5, 1864 and had defeated the Confederate Navy and caused Fort Gaines to surrender.  That left Fort Morgan as the last remaining Confederate obstacle to completely sealing Mobile Bay.  Union forces took the fort on August 23, 1864 after a short siege.
  18. SOPO Editor’s Note: According to the Official Records, XLII, page 682, General Meade was not present at the front at this time.  Major General Jonathan G. Parke, Ninth Corps commander, was temporarily in command of the Army of the Potomac.  Meade had hurried home to be with his ailing eldest son John Sergeant, who was dying of tuberculosis.  See Meade: The Price of Command, 1863-1865 by John G. Selby, pp. 251-252. Perhaps Benson saw Grant and Parke and assumed the officer accompanying Grant was Meade.
  19. SOPO Editor’s Note: Meade was still absent on this date. See the previous note.  Perhaps this was again Parke. Meade returned on the afternoon of September 10, 1864.  See The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Vol. 2, page 226.
  20. SOPO Editor’s Note: Secretary of State William H. Seward gave a speech in Auburn, NY on September 3, 1864 on “the Occasion of the Fall of Atlanta.”
  21. SOPO Editor’s Note: Benson never mentioned when Fay left.  He had returned and taken command of the regiment on August 24, 1864 according to Benson’s diary entry of that date.
  22. SOPO Editor’s Note: Given that the 92nd New York was on the Bermuda Hundred lines and the cannonading occurred “on the left,” that places the event near the Appomattox River.  The Official Records, XLII, Pt. 2, pp. 829-830, shows that Tenth Corps commander Major General David B. Birney had grown tired of incessant Confederate skirmish fire on his lines.  He retaliated by opening with heavy artillery fire on enemy positions and even the city of Petersburg itself around 10 am on the morning of September 14, 1864.  He was sharply reprimanded by Meade for starting such a heavy fire without Meade’s express written consent.  Butler’s Army of the James had multiple signal stations: one near Point of Rocks, just behind the left end of the Union breastworks on Bermuda Hundred anchored on the Appomattox River, one on the right end of the line called the Crow’s Nest. And possibly others as well.  See this 1867 map of the Bermuda Hundred lines for the location of the Point of Rocks Signal Station. See also this excellent page on the Signal Towers at the Siege of Petersburg, including maps and images. In addition, the Howlett House Battery sent some shells into the Dutch Gap Canal on this day.  That would have been o the right end of the Bermuda Hundred line, however, north even of the Crow’s Nest Signal Station. If you know more about which specific signal station was shelled on September 14, 1864, please CONTACT US.
  23. SOPO Editor’s Note: The King James version of Proverbs 23:23 reads “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.”
  24. SOPO Editor’s Note: Perhaps Union communications had grown extremely fast due to the semipermanent nature of City Point.  Sheridan had won a great victory at The Third Battle of Winchester on Sepember 19, 1864.  He would quickly drive Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley up the Shenandoah Valley. See Scott Patchan’s excellent book The Last Battle of Winchester (only affordable on Kindle now), for details.
  25. SOPO Editor’s Note: I’m unable to decipher if Captain Fay is bidding farewell to unnamed officers or if Captain Fay is leaving himself.  In either case, he was present and commanding the regiment on September 24, 1864.
  26. SOPO Editor’s Note: John 5:39 reads “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and it is they which testify of Me.”
  27. SOPO Editor’s Note: The rumor was only slightly premature.  In fact, Benson’s own 18th Corps and other elements of the Army of the James would strike first, moving north of the James to attack the Confederate fortifications on New Market Heights and at Chaffin’s Farm.
  28. SOPO Editor’s Note: The September 28, 1864 movement precipitated the start of fighting at the September 29-30, 1864 Battle of Chaffin’s Farm.  The 18th Corps managed to capture and successfully hold Fort Harrison against Confederate counterattacks. The Union held a much larger foothold north of the James for the remainder of the Siege of Petersburg as a result.
  29. “Back Upon Firing Line.” The Courier and Freeman (Potsdam, NY). February 25, 1925, p. 2 col. 2-4

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen Shea February 5, 2021 at 12:00 pm

My Great X2 and 3 Grandfathers fought with 80th NY at Petersburg when it fell. Thank you for this account. Really shows what they were dealing with.

Brett Schulte February 5, 2021 at 12:16 pm

Thanks for commenting! I’m glad you enjoyed it. If you are interested, here is my page for the 80th New York at the Siege of Petersburg: http://www.beyondthecrater.com/resources/units/union-u/union-inf/ny-inf/080th-new-york-infantry/

They are an interesting unit, having been attached to the Provost Guard, Army of the Potomac throughout the Siege.

Brett

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