December 5, 1864 Headquarters Army of the Potomac [Virginia] #17
I received your most welcome letter this morning, which found me in good health. I also was very glad to know that you and family were enjoying the weather. I am very glad that Myron has gotten better. I was afraid that he might be sick so long that he would be a great charge upon your hands, for I know that you would have enough to attend to, without any sickness, but we must take things as the Lord orders them.
Now you have asked me a few questions in regards to how we tent and wash, etc. Where we lay at present the shanties were built 7 by 10 feet, about 18 inches of ground dug out. First, the timber built up the same as a log house and the cracks dabbed up. We use the ground for floor and generally 4 to 5 in a tent. They are very damp and dirty. We are also damp and dirty. A very bad place for a man to be sick. There are a great many in our company that have the ague. John Henry chills every other day, but does not want his folks to know it, etc.
You wanted to know how much I owed John Rodgers—35 cents. I also owe McKee School Tax $2.95. I think that is what you wrote.
I received a letter from Hiram this morning. He writes that they are all well. He thinks this war will soon end because Abraham [Lincoln] was reelected. I think so myself, providing the Rebs accept old Abe’s proposition. He gives them to the 8th of January next to do it in. If not, he intends to make another draft of one million more soldiers. I think that the way things are working at present it will come to a close soon. I think more than likely we will go to North Carolina if we move again.
I do my own washing. We made wash boards. There are plenty [of] camp kettles in our company, that we can have at any time to heat our water, then we take a pork barrel and cut or saw it in two pieces, which makes very good tubs. Then we go into it up to our elbows. Our shirts are easily washed but our drawers are cotton flannel, which get very dirty.
I am glad you have sent me a pair of socks. My socks that I brought from home are good yet, but those I got from the government are about worn out. I don’t need any undershirts, the weather is so warm . . . . Oh, such lovely weather I never saw in my life! The roads are dusty.
Silence, how is Hiram’s wife? Is she on the road for Boston again? How is it with you? All right, don’t take no offense I must have a little sport with you! Myron, I will bring you a nice present when I come home for sending me those chestnuts. We will probably get the box next week if it does not go astray. There has been some 10 or 12 of our Company got boxes from home. Preacher Rodgers received one last evening Sabbath day.
I received a letter from Enoch yesterday morning, making inquiry whether I was taken prisoner. He had heard so. I did come very near being taken. The Rebs came so close to me that they halted me and four others, that we had to give leg bail [run] for our safety. The Rebs threw some 10 or 15 balls after us but fortunately did not take effect, but they came very close to our heads.1
I was up to the sutlers [men contracted by the Army to sell merchandise to the soldiers] to buy some potatoes. I got two pounds, which cost me 20 cents. You wanted to know how we slept. When our two hours were off picket, we take our rubber blankets and spread them on the ground. We generally wear our overcoats then we lay down and snooze by the fire. Down where we came from we had to go on picket every other night, but where we are now we do not have anything of that kind to do.
The pickets where we are now fire at each other day and night. Their rifles are telescope seven shooters [rifles capable of shooting seven bullets without reloading], and all the way [the only way] they can get to their posts is through ditches dug in the ground 6 feet deep so the Rebs cannot see them going to and coming. We are drilled 3 hours every day. That is all the work we have to do until further ordered.
I lay around the shanty, read my Book, and write. The brass band is just playing a mournful piece—how solemn it sounds. May God bring this rebellion to a close and convert every soldier now in the field, for there are some awful wicked souls. I believe I have written all the news that would be of interest to you. I hope you and babies are well. I am well, also. If I have time I must answer Hiram’s letter. Myron, get that ague shaken off you as soon as you can and be a good boy. To Milo and Mother and then I will bring you all something nice. Write as soon as you [can]. From your very affectionate friend,
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Samuel is here discussing the skirmish on Bermuda Hundred on November 17, 1864. Two brigades of Pickett’s Division, those of Hunton and Steuart, surprised and captured a large number of men on the Union skirmish line belonging to the high numbered regiments of the Provisional Brigade, Army of the James, including Samuel’s own 211th Pennsylvania. ↩
- Miller, Myron M. The Soul of a Soldier: The True Story of a Mounted Pioneer in the Civil War. Xlibris Corporation(2011), pp. 156-158 ↩
- 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. ↩