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Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865 edited by J. Gregory Acken

Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865

edited by J. Gregory Acken

Cover of the book Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-186 edited by J. Gregory AckenBTC’s Take: In Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865, Editor J. Gregory Acken refreshes and enhances the descriptive and insightful letters of Union staff officer Charles J. Mills during the last year of the war with a new second edition.  Acken builds upon the first edition by Gregory Coco, which had a small print run in 1982 and is relatively hard to find today.  Charley Mills, a Harvard-educated Boston Brahmin from an old and distinguished family, believed strongly in preserving the Union. So strongly did he believe, in fact, crippling wounds did not keep him out of the fight.  Through it all, Mills wrote home to his mother diligently, describing from his staff officer vantage point the actions of the Union Army throughout the Overland and Petersburg campaigns of 1864-65.  Greatly increased notes describe the soldiers and civilians with whom Mills interacts, new maps add to readers understanding, and additional letters provide even more of Mills’ thoughts.

Through Blood and Fire: The Civil War Letters of Major Charles J. Mills, 1862-1865 is a must have reference work for anyone interested in the Civil War, but especially students of the Siege of Petersburg.  Charley Mills served for a time under James Ledlie, the most incompetent division commander in the Army of the Potomac from 1864-65, and possibly the entire war.  He knew intimately of Henry Pleasants’ mine well in advance of its explosion on July 30, 1864.  He observed the failed Ninth Corps assaults at the Crater and commented unfavorably about the USCT Division’s behavior.  He was involved in lesser-known battles at Globe Tavern, Pegram’s Farm, and Boydton Plank Road.  And through it all, he provided his observations about the men making key decisions which greatly impacted the outcome of the campaign.  Over half of this book contains letters written from and about the Siege of Petersburg.

This second edition of Through Blood and Fire improves upon the original version by increasing reader understanding of the people, places, and events in Charles J. Mills’ letters home.  The youthful Harvard graduate turned staff officer provides insightful commentary about the inner workings of Civil War era divisions and corps level staff.  He witnessed and helped make history at the Battle of Antietam as well as in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns of 1864-65.  Mills’ determination to help his cause is nearly unequaled in the annals of Civil War history.  By all rights his Antietam wound should have knocked him out of the wat permanently.  For Mills, however, the bloodiest single day of battle in U.S. history was but a precursor of even bloodier campaigns to come.  Anyone interested in Civil War first person accounts, the Army of the Potomac, the Overland Campaign, and the Siege of Petersburg will want to own this book.  At $55 for a new hardcover, the price is steep for average students of the Civil War. In this case, however, the book is well worth it.  The only original available at the time of this review was selling for nearly as much and in just “Good” condition.  The letters of the “intelligent…literate…refined” Charles J. Mills provide a brilliant first-person account of Grant’s campaigns against Lee from a man who was well-situated and more than literate enough to record what was happening around him at Division and Corps headquarters. Lucky for us he did, and lucky too his letters have been ably edited by Greg Coco and Greg Acken.


Book Summary/Review:

BTC Siege of Petersburg Book Notes:

    BTC Siege of Petersburg Book Sources:


      Publisher Info:

      About the Book

      The insightful letters of a Harvard-educated staff officer’s experience in the Army of the Potomac

      Charles J. Mills, the scion of a wealthy, prominent Boston family, experienced a privileged upbringing and was educated at Harvard University. When the Civil War began, Mills, like many of his college classmates, sought to secure a commission in the army. After a year of unsuccessful attempts, Mills was appointed second lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts Infantry in August 1862; however, he was seriously wounded at Antietam a month later. Following a nearly yearlong recovery, Mills eventually reentered the service as a staff officer, although he remained physically disabled for the rest of his life. He was initially with the Ninth Corps during the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns and later at the Second Corps headquarters.

      During his time in the army, Mills served under seven different generals and witnessed some of the most intense fighting of the war. Mills’s letters to his family offer enlightening insights about the Civil War in the East as seen from the perspective of an educated, impressionable, and opinionated Bostonian Brahmin.

      Compiled, edited, and privately published in a limited edition in 1982 by the late Gregory A. Coco, Through Blood and Fire did not achieve widespread attention and has been out of print for decades. This new edition of the Mills letters, extensively revised and edited by J. Gregory Acken, incorporates additional letters and source material and provides exhaustive annotations and analysis, revitalizing this important primary source for understanding a crucial era of our history.


      About the Editor

      Gregory Acken is an independent historian whose work has focused on telling the stories of Civil War soldiers through their letters, diaries, and memoirs. He is the editor of several books, including Inside the Army of the Potomac: The Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson and Blue-Blooded Cavalryman: Captain William Brooke Rawle in the Army of the Potomac, May 1863–August 1865.

      Hardcover Edition:

      ISBN: 978-1-60635-454-4

      PublisherThe Kent State University Press

      Release Date: 2023

      Pages: 312

      The Siege of Petersburg Online: Beyond the Crater Pages Which Mention This Book:

      { 2 comments… add one }
      • Roy William Agnew III March 20, 2023, 6:47 pm

        The Amazon description of the book indicates that when Mills came back as a staff officer he served with the Ninth Corps initially through the Overland and Petersburg campaigns but then served with the Second Corps. Do we know when he made the switch?

      • Brett Schulte March 20, 2023, 7:55 pm


        He served initially as a staffer with the First Division, Ninth Corps, under Stevenson, Crittenden, Ledlie and White. Then he moved to Ninth Corps staff under Parke after Burnside left. And he joined the Second Corps staff in October 1864 in time to be present at the Battle of Boydton Plank Road on October 27, 1864. Mills was in the thick of things that day.


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