November 26, 1864 Bermuda Hundred [Virginia] #15
I received your letter yesterday morning dated 20th of this month. I was glad to hear from you but was sorry to hear that Myron was not well. I hope he is not dangerous. I wrote a few days ago that I was not very well, but I have gotten well again. I only had a cold.
I will tell you how I took it and all about, for you will hear it at any rate, or see it in the newspapers. On last night a week ago [November 17, 1864] the Jonnies made a break upon our picket line about half past 8 o’clock in the evening, with a strong force of two brigades which was about five or six thousand, so says their own newspapers.1 They come slipping upon us, the night being very dark and our line of works or picket line running the whole length through the timber, or woods, made it rather dark, or just before the moon rose. Well, they came within ten rods of us before they opened fire, which they done rather briskly. Nearly half of our boys had laid down to sleep and some had gone to sleep. I had set down by a little fire we had—off it went, bang-bang-bang it went all along the line. We all was ready in an instant, for we was expecting some move for several days that they had made their brags they were going to gobble our picket line. We, of course, thought they would give us some signs of it, but at all events, the thing is over and God spared my life. I thank Him for it.
The Rebs took our line with fifty-three prisoners from us, that is out of our regiment. They took our lines for eight miles. They took, in all, about 600 prisoners. There was one killed in our regiment, 3 wounded etc. There was 5 men in our post, there are 5 men in every post, and the posts are about as far apart as from the front of our house to the upper end of our garden. We all sprang to our rifle pits and commenced the combat, but their number being so much greater than ours, we were obliged to retreat but not until we gave them six or seven rounds. A great many of our boys left their rifle pits altogether. I tell you the Balls [minie balls] flew thick for about two hours. We stood to our post until the Rebs made a charge. I saw them first—then they was within 1 1/2 rods of us. The word was fire—so we did. We gave them five well aimed shots, then ran for the woods. The balls came whistling some then, but we all escaped unhurt. So it went. I will tell you all about it when I come home, Dear Wife.
Since the above has been written our regiment has been ordered to march to where I cannot tell, but will let you [know] in a few days where we will be.2 Silence, you may buy a new stove if you think the old one will not stand, but if I were in your place, I should buy one a size smaller. Do just as you please, Silence. Be contented with these few lines. I will write again in a few days. God bless you and children. Your husband,
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Miller is here discussing a skirmish along the Howlett Line on Bermuda Hundred between his own Provisional Brigade, Army of the James, all high numbered Pennsylvania regiments, and Hunton and Steuart’s Brigades of Pickett’s Division. Union soldiers had captured a nice straight picket line back in June during the Second Battle of Petersburg when Beauregard had abandoned Bermuda Hundred to concentrate at Petersburg on June 16. This operation by the Confederates was meant to capture it back. They did so, and the men in Samuel’s regiment and brigade did not perform well. The Confederates also gained a lot of trees to cut down as fuel for the coming winter. The Union had gambled by placing the new soldiers to cover Bermuda Hundred while veterans served in what were regarded as more dangerous areas of operation, and this was the result. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Samuel K. Miller, the 211th Pennsylvania, and the rest of the Provisional Brigade were headed south to the Ninth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. General Butler wanted all of the Black troops in the Union armies facing Richmond, so he traded the Provisional Brigade for the all-Black Third Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac. These were roughly the same number of men. In early December, Butler took his Black divisions and formed the all-Black Twenty-Fifth Corps, putting the rest of the White divisions in the Army of the James in the Twenty-Fourth Corps. The Provisional Brigade, as the new Third Division, Ninth Corps, would fight at Fort Stedman in March 1865. ↩
- Miller, Myron M. The Soul of a Soldier: The True Story of a Mounted Pioneer in the Civil War. Xlibris Corporation(2011), pp. 153-154 ↩
- Editor’s Note: Samuel K. Miller of the 211th Pennsylvania wrote 46 letters home during his time in the Union army, almost all of it spent at the Siege of Petersburg in the Ninth Corps. Miller’s great-grandson Myron M. Miller recently edited these letters in his book The Soul of a Soldier: The True Story of a Mounted Pioneer in the Civil War. Check out the review here. Mr. Miller was kind and generous enough to offer the Siege of Petersburg Online the use of these letters for the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Siege of Petersburg. A selection of Samuel’s letters will appear here at the Siege of Petersburg Online 150 years after the date they were written. These letters are the private property of Myron Miller and are used here with his express written consent. All rights reserved. ↩