Editor’s Note: George Gove of the 5th New Hampshire wrote a series of letters from the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 to his sister. These letters were placed online in 2012 as: “Parsons Family Papers, Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire, N.H.” Gove’s descendant Doug Parsons worked diligently to make these letters available for The Siege of Petersburg Online and we thank him greatly for his effort. The transcriptions of the letters collected on this page are copyrighted by the Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the University of New Hampshire. All rights reserved.
July 19, 18641
Near Petersburg, Va.
Tuesday July 19, 1864
I feel like writing a few lines to somebody this eve & will write to you. I got a Harpers from you a few days ago it has whiled away many otherwise dull moments. Many thanks to you for the pleasure I derived from it.
Since writing to you last we have moved around some. On Saturday night the 9th we packed up & moved to the left over a mile and relieved a part of the 6th Corps. our whole brigade was put on picket & kept there 48 hours. we were their [—-?] in and fell back to the breastworks. That evening marched out 3 miles on the plank road to where our cavalry were engaged with the enemy but finding nothing serious marched back again and went to work & tore down all the breastworks.
In the morning marched to our present camp, we lost the road & marched 7 miles to get 3. it was very hot & dreadfully dusty. We could hardly see our hands before us for the dust.
This movement places us temporally in reserve, being about 1½ miles in rear of the 9th Corps. All this part of one line formerly held by the 2nd & 6th Corps. has been abandoned and the breastworks torn down.
Our division is all camped here in one place. the other two Divisions are near us.
Last Tuesday night, Friday & Friday night our whole corps was at work throwing down the rebel earthworks which formed their first line & which we captured when we first came
here. There were earthworks from 10 to 15ft high & 20 to 30ft thick each long enough to mount 3 to 5 guns. They were placed at short intervals apart for a distance of two miles and connected together strong rifle pits. These we had to shovel down level with the ground. The works were very strong & the position a strong one, and had they been fully manned with veteran troops, we could not have taken them by all assault as we did. It is quite evident that Grant was ahead of them but not quite quick enough. While we were taking these, Lee got his whole army here and was ready for us in his 2nd line, which is much stronger as regards position than the 1st. Had the 2nd Corps got here 24 hours sooner from [—?] [—?] we should have taken this city and all the fortifications.
We are now making a regular siege, digging our way into the city. In the 9th Corps in some places the two lines are not even 25 yds. apart and that in an open field too so that it is impossible for either side to have pickets out.
They keep up a slow but continuous shelling and the same in the 18th Corps. both sides using mortars, in the evening the firing is generally a little more brisk. Sometimes quickening into a rapid fire from many pieces, then dieing away again to its usual rate. In the evening I can see the mortar shells from both sides as they rise up in the air, describe a short curve & fall generally bursting in the air. the fuse of the shell leaves a stream of fire behind, ending in a great shot of flame. When the shell explodes it is a very pretty sight. The last
sound at night & the first in the morning is from these shells. I have never yet been under the fire of mortars. I think they must be rather unpleasant. ordinary breastworks are no protection from them. They are thrown up & then they come down almost straight like this & are just as liable to drop right behind a breastwork as any where else. but the men get used to this after a while & don’t seem to care much for them. The rebs are not near so expert in their use as we are. they never have used any till we came here. Our people first used them in field operations this summer. They are very small & light–four men can carry one any where. They throw a 24 pd shell.
We have been somewhat amused in reading newspaper accounts of the war around Washington. This little affair eclipses the whole summer’s campaign in Va. Well I am willing some of those “fine people” should be just a little scared tho I didn’t want any one hurt.
But Gen. Lee failed to draw Grant away from this place. Grant is like a bulldog if he once gets a hold he never lets go. he is not to be diverted by any little side squabbles. It is thought now that Lee will attack us here as it is absolutely necessary for him to get us away somehow. As it is now he can’t help Johnson any & Sherman will soon cut his confederacy in two, cutting him off from his great source of supply [—?] the Gulf States, also separating him from Johnson. When this is done Sherman can let Johnson alone & come up and help us capture Lee’s army. Then we can all hands go down & finish Johnson gobbling up Wilmington, Charlston & Savannah by the way. We are at work
now around the edges & underneath. bye & bye the whole concern will fall in one mass. So don’t be impatient if you don’t read of great things at present. You will be satisfied ere[?] long.
One thing is absolutely necessary to the final success of this war & and the future glory of this country and this is “Old Abe” must be reelected. The next four years will be devoted to reconstruction or whatever else it may be called, and we don’t want a “[—?] Man” or “Copperhead” to let the seceded states back on their own terms. In every new camp we go into we have to fix it all up as though were going to stay there six months. Bunks have to be built in all the tents &c &c. Gen. Barlow, our Div. Commander is very particular about everything. I think he is much too much military. He rides all around thro. the camps nearly every day in his shirt sleeves, no coat or vest. Nothing escapes his observation. Several times we have worked two days fixing up a new camp & just as it was done have to go somewhere else.
This morning it commenced to rain & has rained all day steadily. It is the first we have had since Jun 2nd. It will be a great blessing to the army.
My health is most excellent.
I hope to hear from you soon & trust you all are well. I suppose Mother is with you yet. I don’t think I shall go home next Oct. when the old men do. I enlisted “for the war” & am bound to see it out.
I can’t give up till the work is done.
- Parsons Family Papers, Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire, N.H. The transcription of the letter on this page is copyrighted by the Milne Special collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire and may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the University of New Hampshire. All rights reserved. ↩