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Henry F. Charles Memoirs: The Crossing of the James

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.

The Crossing of the James River1

(BTC Editor’s Note: The following text describes the Crossing of the James in mid-June 1864 by the Army of the Potomac.)

The next place we stopped was Charles City Crossroads. We marched all night to get there and then I and some others were delegated for picket duty and were taken out in the woods from camp and kept for two days without any eats. During that time, the men marched to Harrison’s Landing and crossed the James River on a pontoon bridge. Then one of the boys I was with got a small pig somewhere. We killed it, gutted it, and quartered it in four pieces as well as we could with bristles and all. We did not have time to cook it so we stuck out bayonets thru it and marched toward the river in double quick time, that is, a dog trot. My load got too heavy and soon I dropped it by the wayside. Some of the others who were stronger than I carried it until they had to abandon it on account of the blowflies following them. We all failed to have fresh pork for dinner or anything else. When we got near the river, about a mile away, we could see the army on the other side of the river, some cooking and some bathing. We soon expected to get something to eat and be able to wash in the river, but how easy it is for one to be fooled and we surely were. Before we got to the river they had taken the pontoon bridges up and the army had all left but the rearguard and we had no eats. They finally took us across with a small steamboat and we started off on a fast march and a little before evening we caught up with our command. The boys then gave us something to eat, but it was too late to revive me much that night. We had no water but use of a stagnant pool that they had driven cattle through before. We went by way of Prince Cariet House. About eight o’clock I played out and told my messmates that I was done for and had to lay down. J. Hoover and my brother said they would stay by me. I told them to go on as I did not know what would become of me and it was not worth the risk for them to stay. Finally, Hoover said he would go; but my brother would not and he stayed with me. We went into a woods not far away and were surprised to find hundreds of others who had played out and had the same idea I had.


  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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