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 Second Battle of Petersburg: June 18, 18641
(BTC Editor’s Note: The following text describes the Second Battle of Petersburg, fought June 15-18, 1864. Charles’ regiment was a part of the Union Fifth Corps, and did not arrive on the battlefield until probably sometime on June 17. Charles covers the Fifth Corps attack on the afternoon of June 18, 1864.)
Well, I had a good night’s rest and it revived me so early in the morning we started to follow the regiment. We got to a little brook and stopped to cook some coffee and then some of our men came to get some water for the same purpose. I asked them where the regiment was. It laid several hundred yards from where we were, so they had stopped about a half-mile from where I played out and we rejoined them there. Several hours after that it was fall in ranks and forward march. Soon the bullets began to whistle death songs all around us and we lost a good many; saw and heard some of my comrades for the last time, poor mortals. Soon we got on a little hill and got orders to charge down and take a deep cut of railroad. We started and took the cut but while going down, some of us had to go thru where some buildings were burned down. There was still plenty of fire and hot ashes and I got some fire in my shoes. My one foot was burned considerable but I did not dare to stop to take the fire out as they were feeding us plenty of grape and canister all around. We took the cut; it was about twenty feet deep, and the boys went down pell-mell and quite a number got hurt by the fellow’s bayonet behind him. I stopped on top of the bank till they were straightened out and then I started out; just as I left the place, a shell struck and exploded everything to tinder. Had I stayed a minute longer, a few grease spots would have [been] all that remained of me. My guarding Angel must have been protecting me all thru or I wouldn’t be here now. Next, we charged to the creek and we lost a few more men, but the high banks protected us till dark and then we got all mixed with another regiment on the brow of the hill. We really lost almost all the officers and men in our company. Brother Frankie and J. Hoover and several others were all that was left. When daylight came we began to charge uphill but were stopped and started to dig in with our tin plates. If the boys ever tried to dig a hole for a little protection, they did there. We were relieved by other troops later in the morning and we were sent to the rear to get something to eat and rest up.