Editor’s Note: The Soldier Studies web site (http://www.soldierstudies.org) collects and published letters written during the Civil War. Owner/editor Chris Wehner was kind enough to grant me written permission to publish a selection of letters from his site which focus on the Siege of Petersburg. Look for letters to appear here during the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Petersburg and beyond. These letters may not be reused without the express written consent of Chris Wehner. All rights reserved.
DEAR FATHER, — Yours of the 23d ult. [July 23, 1864] is received. I thank you for writing a full account of the reception home of the Old Thirteenth1, and sending two papers that give all particulars of the occasion. Well, they fully deserve all the honors that the public may bestow upon them. I had hoped to have been among them, and might have been, but then I should have forfeited a reputation that I have paid dearly for, and should have regretted after the excitement of the moment was over. I am really glad that, as you and mother failed to meet me on the arrival of the regiment in Boston, you had the pleasure of meeting and taking by the hand some of the brave boys that I have tented and fought with for years. And mother actually took in her hands what was left of the dear old flag that was torn to pieces in the Wilderness ; no doubt she mentally blessed it and its brave defenders.
July 30th, at daybreak, the battle of the “Crater,” as some call it, came off. A rebel fort was blown up, it having been previously mined, and the garrison, with the guns, etc., blown a hundred feet into the air. It was in front of Burnside’s Corps. Soon after the explosion Burnside sent a division of troops forward ; they passed the ruins and made an attack on the next line of rifle-pits, but were only partially successful ; they were finally driven back from all they had gained with great loss. I was up yesterday to see the ruins ; all that remained of the fort was a misshapen heap of earth. Our dead and wounded were lying round quite thick. Yesterday the rebels refused a flag of truce, but to-day our men are removing the wounded and burying the dead. It is said there were about 300 rebels in the fort, most of whom were killed. The Fifty-ninth [Massachusetts] Regiment was engaged ; they were commanded by Colonel [Jacob P.] Gould, formerly a major in our regiment. I was up to see them yesterday. They have lost heavily in this campaign. There were less than 100 men present. Colonel Gould was mortally wounded.
My time is out sure on the last day of November ; my enlistment dates from December first, and I have drawn pay from that time. Four months from yesterday — quite a long time to look ahead ; but I have got to be quite contented here. The duty does not seem so hard as I become more familiar with it.
Three rebel deserters came in last night, and we sent them to the corps head-quarters this morning. But I must draw to a close, for it is very hot and sultry, and the flies do bite. Please give my love to all inquiring friends.
From your affectionate son, WARREN.
P. S. —
You say there were over 200 men in the regiment when they came home. I presume there were ; but there were less than eighty men left of those that went through the Wilderness fighting ; the rest had been detailed for various purposes, and joined the regiment after they left the front ; some came from hospitals, etc.2
- The members of the 13th Massachusetts who had served three years and whose terms of enlistment were up had left the Petersburg front on July 13, 1864 and had been received home as heroes. Men like Warren Freeman, whose term of enlistment was not yet up or who had signed on for more fighting, soldiered on. Freeman and the rest of the men in the 13th Massachusetts whose terms had not expired served in the 39th Massachusetts on July 30, 1864 during the Battle of the Crater. ↩
- Freeman, Warren H. “In Camp Near Petersburg, Va.” Letter to “Father” 1 Aug. 1864. MS. In Camp Near Petersburg, Va. This letter appears here due to the express written consent of Chris Wehner, owner of SoldierStudies.org and may not be used without his permission. All rights reserved. ↩