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Henry F. Charles Memoirs: Autumn Rest

Editor’s Note: Henry Fitzgerald Charles of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry (dismounted) wrote a short memoir based on his diary from the Siege of Petersburg in 1864/65. A transcription of this memoir was placed online in 2001 as a part of the web site The Civil War Diary of Henry Fitzgerald Charles, by the web site’s owner and Henry F. Charles descendant John Neitz. Mr. Neitz made the appearance of this memoir at The Siege of Petersburg Online possible, and I thank him greatly for his cooperation.  The transcription on this page is copyrighted by John Neitz as a part of his web site and may not be reproduced without his express written consent.  All rights reserved.

Autumn Rest1

(BTC Editor’s Note: The following text describes the convalescence of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry near City Point between the Battle of Poplar Grove Church in late September 1864 and the Stony Creek Raid in early December 1864.)

We stayed in this place two days longer; then there was an order came from the War Department to report to City Point to get rest. It was good news to us – Goodbye infantry and infantry drill, which I was glad to escape. When we got there, the first thing I tried to find was Hoover, my mess man who had just lost his arm. I went thru all the hospitals and could not find him. He had just been put on a transport to go north but at last I found him. He looked so good that you thought there was nothing wrong with him. He was joking all the time. He was sent to a hospital in Philadelphia and we heard from him now and then by correspondence. He brought my pistol along home. A little before the war closed he was discharged. He had been one of the bravest and hardest [hardiest?] boys I knew. He answered the last roll call in 1869.

Another instant about him was when he lost his arm and his things were too heavy on a forced march he threw his blanket away. The night got terrible cold and we almost froze. He begged me to get him a blanket so I gave him mine. It was Penna. Issue stained on it and when he got to the hospital they sent my blanket home with the other things he had about him.

Another soldier boy and I started over the battlefield and into the woods where men had thrown their things away or discarded it when they were wounded. Lots of dead were laying around with a few shovels of dirt thrown on them by the burial detail. We came unto a field where we sat down together on a log to chat awhile and to rest. All at once I heard a gun crack and at the same time my mouth was filled with another man’s brains. There was a sharpshooter in the distant woods somewhere and we were a too tempting bait for him. I studied for years why he took him instead of me. I reckon he waited till he had us both in line and was going to kill two birds with one stone, but my friend’s head was too hard – it reflected the bullet. If I swallowed any of it, it certainly came up along with everything else I had in my stomach. My whole body rebelled, and I pulled out of that place fast like a through train. I was also hit in the face by a piece of human flesh at Petersburg one night. With what part of the body I can’t tell, as at the time I did not wait to investigate, as there was more important business on the program.

I went over to see my father at Bunder; it was only about three miles from where we lay at City Point. I stayed overnight with him and we talked nearly all night. As he had enlisted only several months before, he told me all about home. The next morning I joined my company again.

Before we left City Point, several of us went to the town and got a ham and egg dinner. We paid 75 cents apiece and thought it was an awful price. It was for us – only getting 10 dollars per month. But what would the money be worth at the front line; reckoned maybe we could never spend it.


  1. The Civil War Diary of Henry Fitzgerald Charles. 2001. 17 May 2012 <http://www.dm.net/~neitz/charles/index.html>.  These memoirs are reproduced with the written permission of John Neitz, and may not be reproduced without his express written consent.  All rights reserved.
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