Luther Rice Mills to John Mills
Trenches Near Crater
March 2nd, 1865.
Something is about to happen. I know not what. Nearly every one who will express an opinion says Gen’l Lee is about to evacuate Petersburg. The authorities are having all of the cotton, tobacco &c. moved out of the place as rapidly as possible. This was commenced about the 22nd of February. Two thirds of the Artillery of our Division has been moved out. The Reserved Ordnance Train has been loaded up and is ready to move at any time. I think Gen’l Lee expects a hard fight on the right and has ordered all this simply as a precautionary measure. Since my visit to the right I have changed my opinion about the necessity for the evacuation of Petersburg. If it is evacuated Johnson’s Division will be in a bad situation for getting out. Unless we are so fortunate so as to give the Yankees the slip many of us will be captured. I would regret very much to have to give up the old place. The soiled and tattered Colors borne by our skeleton Regiments is sacred and dear to the hearts of every man. No one would exchange it for a new flag. So it is with us. I go down the lines, I see the marks of shot and shell, I see where fell my comrades, the Crater, the grave of fifteen hundred Yankees, when I go to the rear I see little mounds of dirt some with headboards, some with none, some with shoes protruding, some with a small pile of bones on one side near the end showing where a hand was left uncovered, in fact everything near shows desperate fighting. And here I would rather “fight it out.” If Petersburg and Richmond is evacuated—from what I have seen & heard in the army—our cause will be hopeless. It is useless to conceal the truth any longer. Many of our people at home have become so demoralized that they write to their husbands, sons and brothers that desertion now is not dishonorable. It would be impossible to keep the army from straggling to a ruinous extent if we evacuate. I have just received an order form Wise to carry out on picket tonight a rifle and ten rounds of Cartridges to shoot men when they desert. The men seem to think desertion no crime & hence never shoot a deserter when he goes over—they always shoot but never hit. I am glad to say that we have not had but four desertions from our Reg’t to the enemy. I enjoyed my trip to the right very much indeed. Saw Royall, Cooke, Satterwhite, Dr. & John Cannady, Prof. Wingate & the “immortal T. H. P.” Cooke’s Brig can scarcely be said to be in service. They are in the pride, pomp & circumstance of a glorious war. Had no idea that any of the army of N[othern]. V[irginia]. was doing so well.Saw 12th Regt Va. Infantry yesterday. It had only about two hundred men & I feel sure that you could not two hundred officers—no not one hundred—out of Johnson’s Division who would look as neat & as clean. I felt ashamed to go among such a neat bandbox crowd as Cooke’s Brig was. Prof. W. & T. H. P. assisted by Dr. Cannady were trying to “fland” some sliding elders. Sliding Elders had decided advantage in position. Sorry I did no see Baldy Williams. Did no see the Parson. I sent you this morning “Five months in a Yankee prison” by a Petersburg Militiaman.
- Mills, Luther R., and George D. Harmon (ed). “Letters of Luther Rice Mills—A Confederate Soldier.” The North Carolina Historical Review (4.3). (July 1927): 307-8). Print. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Luther Rice Mills apparently belonged to the sharpshooter battalion of Wise’s Brigade until he was wounded at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. When he returned in November 1864, he took over as the acting captain of his company, Company K, in the 26th Virginia, Wise’s Brigade. The previous captain, Captain Poindexter, had been killed at the Crater. These letters of Mills to his brother John written during the Siege of Petersburg were originally published in The North Carolina Historical Review, Volume 4, Number 3 (July 1927), pages 301-310. ↩