Editor’s Note: I would like to thank Chris Peck, the great grandson of Elias Peck, for granting me written permission to publish his ancestor’s letter. This letter is owned by Chris Peck and may not be reproduced without his written permission. All rights reserved. Chris is also the transcriber of this article. I added some comments and notes in brackets, but the rest of the transcription is due to Chris’ efforts. Elias Peck was a member of the 10th Connecticut, a regiment in the Tenth Corps, Army of the James which fought primarily on Bermuda Hundred and north of the James River during the Siege of Petersburg.
Note: Click to see maps of the Battle of Darbytown Road, which should help you follow along with the action.
Va Oct 14th 1864
The last letter I wrote home was to father dated Oct 10th . It had a ($50.00) fifty dollar bill in it, did you get it? About noon day before yesterday [October 12, 1864] we had orders to get ready to march with 3 days rations in light marching order.1 Our reg’t formed with the division out in an open field and then marched off towards the front it commenced to rain very hard so the movement was postponed and we went to camp. I was on guard at night. Next morning [October] 13th at 4 oclock we started again and marched to the front and threw out a heavy line of skirmishers 4 companys of them were from our reg’t we then advanced in a heavy piece of woods and the fireing commenced. We drove in the rebel pickets to their works. Our skirmishers kept up
a steady fire sometimes it was very sharp. We was formed in a strong line of battle behind them We all lay down The rebel bullets wher striking thick around us, while we lay there the mail came I got a letter from Julia & you dated Oct 8th. We lay there about an hour. The rebels had a cross fire on our whole line with their artillery. Our company which only had 8 men commanded by Serg’t Holmes and Co H was sent out to fetch in all the straglers that we could find to the rear and send them to their reg’ts which we did and then went back to the reg’t it had been taken away from our brigade and sent to the right of our division and put in another brigade for to charge the rebel works The position we had was the most responsible of the line. We was divided in 2 divisions one was put in the rear of the other which made us four deep. I was in the 1st division and next to the colors. We all knew that we was
to make a charge on the rebel works and we knew they was very strong as the rebels had had all day to bring up all the reenforcements they wanted it was then 3 oclock. We knew that a good many would be killed and wounded and each man was telling his comrad where his watch and money was and in case he should fall he wanted the other to take it. But I never saw a man flinch in the reg’t nor look scared. We advanced through the thick woods and bushes and as soon as we got to our skirmish line we commenced to holler and made a rush for the rebel works which was 150 yards off. Kautz cavalry which had dismounted and wher in the woods as skirmishers rushed through us to the rear and commenced to fire as soon as we commenced to holler the rebels opened on us one of the most destructive fire of musketing & grape canester that I ever saw. I got within
about 3 rods of their works so that I could see them plain they was just as thick as they could stand in two ranks and wher loading and fireing just as fast as they could and their works run so that they could get a cross fire on us they fired very low. I saw that it was impossible to get to their works with out nearly evry man being killed and wounded as trees was fell along in front. The bullets were flying thicker than hail. Major Camp of our reg’t who has just been promoted fell he was about 10 feet to the left of me. I think he was hit, I saw two or 3 bullets strike him after he was down. I and Wm Ritch & another man droped down behind a cotton stump in hopes the rebels would slacken their fire a little but they did not. I looked around but saw nothing but killed and wounded laying thick around. At first I thought it would be impossible for me to move without being hit and I thought I would lay stile and be took prisoner but the rebels could see us and they fired on us the bullets tore the ground all around us and I thought it would be shure death to lay there and I may as well die getting away as to lay there so I took my gun & started as I was agoing out I saw two men helping a wounded man off and all 3 fell dead together. The killed & wounded lay very thick and the ground looked like a
slaughter pen. We went back about 100 yards and reformed we staid there about 15 minutes but the rebels did not come out of their works. 3 or 4 of our largest companys being away on the skirmish line we only had a little over 100 men in the charge and only 3 commissioned officers. The colonel, leut colonel & major. The companys wher all commanded by Serg’t. Evry orderly sergeant in the reg’t but one was killed or wounded and he was on the skirmish line. They did not take the skirmishers that belonged to our reg’t from in front of the brigade when they did the rest of the reg’t so they wher not in charge. Our company went in with 9 men only 4 of the 9 came out unhurt. Sergeant Caleb Holmes was mortaly wounded and brought off of the field he died last night Charles Hoyt was badly wounded but could not be brought off we was left on the
near their works. Wm Edgar was slitely wounded and brought off. Wm Hages was badly wounded through the thigh he also was brought. Wm Ritch who was behind the sam stump with me. He was not hurt when I left him but I gess he stayed there and so got took prisioner. Elias Ringrose, Floyd T Pugsley, Samuel Lyon & myself wher the only ones belonging to our co that escaped unhurt. After we marched out of the woods, the chaplain came to me and wanted me to go back with him and try and get Major Camps body. We went back in the woods but our skirmishers had fell back some and he being so near their works it would be impossible to get him. we would be shure to get taken prisoners or killed He has just gone out now with a flag of truce to get him. The rebels did not follow us up out of the woods after we came out the 1st Conn battery gave them a good shelling. we got back to camp a little before night. I think we was only
sent out there to recon. I dont believe but what if we had taken those works we would have fell back at night and left them. Put us behind those works and we would defy Lees army to take them by chargeing on them in the place we did. one of our colonels who had seen them before the charge told the general that that they could not be taken by a charge with such a strong force of rebels behind them. But the general said that he could not help it and that it was Gen Butlers orders. The idea of our waiting all day for the rebels to bring all the reinforcements there that they wanted and then charge on them. The rebels came down on us hear the 7th in just as strong line as we had there and we repulsed them with heavy loss, and we did not have any brest works to fight behind eather.2 they had just as good ground to fight on as we. Even when the 100th N.Y. reg’t broke and run and left our little reg’t alone we drove the rebels
back. From all I can learn about half of our reg’t that went in the charge got killed or wounded. If those works could be taken by chargeing there we would have taken them. When I started to come out I expected to get hit and how I missed it I dont see only that God protected me. I thought I was wounded once when a splinter of a tree struck me. It was the hottest fire that our reg’t ever was under. The serg’t that carry the battle flag got wounded but one of the other men brought off the flag. The commander of the brigade had given orders for us to fall back before I left but I did not hear it. You wanted to know who sleeps in the tent with me now Sergant Holmes did & Ed Moe & Gus Robbins. I did not miss the old men much when they went away becaus we was moveing around so much then that I did not notice it much If we had been in a camp. I suppose I should have missed them a good deal. The time I enlisted for is out today 2 years & two monts that is what I was swore in for. I am out of 3 cents stamps again. James Burns and Wm Chapmberlain of our co who got taken prisoners at St Augustine have been exchanged. I am well and by the help of God escaped unhurt. I have got the New York times hear of the 12th it has got an account of the fight we had on the 7th[.]3 Tell Paul I have not got any letter from hin yet.
Elias S Peck4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Peck is describing the October 13, 1864 Battle of Darbytown Road. It came about as a result of new Confederate entrenchments being erected from the Confederate inner defense line to counter the old Confederate outer defense line, now held by the Federals after the October 7, 1864 Battle of New Market and Darbytown Roads. In order to interfere and reconnoiter, Grant sent the First and Third Divisions of the Tenth Corps, Army of the James, now under Alfred Terry, to reconnoiter and attempt to break up the Confederate work on their new line of entrenchments. Peck’s 10th Connecticut was part of Plaisted’s Third Brigade, Ames’ First Division, X Corps, Army of the James. Plaisted’s Brigade, including the 10th Connecticut, faced elements of Charles Field’s Division, First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia during the battle. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads was fought on October 7, 1864. Robert E. Lee launched an offensive north of the James River east of Richmond in an effort to roll up the Army of the James’ right flank. He hoped to take back Fort Harrison, lost in an audacious Federal assault on September 29, 1864. Lee sent the infantry divisions of Robert Hoke and Charles Field along with Gary’s cavalry brigade in a sweeping movement to come in on the Federal right. Gary’s Cavalry and Field routed Kautz’s Cavalry division, but when they moved south to the New Market Road, elements of the Army of the James, including the 10th Connecticut, repulsed Field with heavy loss. Hoke, who was supposed to come in on Field’s right, never really got into the fight. The result was a severe repulse accompanied by losses the Confederates couldn’t really afford. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Peck is again referring to the October 7, 1864 Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads. ↩
- Peck, Elias S. “Before Richmond, Va.” Letter to “Mother” 14 Oct. 1864. MS. Before Richmond,Va. ↩