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, — Our corps, the Fifth, General Warren, has had several severe engagements since I wrote last, for the possession of this railroad, where we are now encamped.1 The fighting began [August 18, 1864] two or three days after my interview with Colonel Pierson2, mentioned in my last. The colonel is supposed to be mortally wounded. The battle was very sharp for some time along the whole line, and our regiment was in the hottest of it and lost several officers and quite a number of men; and we were obliged to fall. back. But a stand was soon made and the enemy driven back. The line was again advanced, temporary works built, and held through the night.
The next day, the 19th, the enemy made a heavy attack on our position and we had a severe battle, and our lines were broken and the rebels came near doing a big thing ; they almost got our whole corps, besides several batteries. We were deployed out across an open field, the rebs got into the field within 500 yards of where we were deployed, and we were between two fires ; we had to bug the ground mighty close to keep out of the way of the bullets. But the Ninth Corps came up just in time and drove the enemy back. The loss of our regiment in these two days was eleven killed, thirty-two wounded, and 245 taken prisoners. There are but two of the transferred men3, besides myself, that were in the fight, now left. Little Eddy Hays, whom you knew, was killed ; he was from my company.
August 214. — The enemy made several attacks in force on our position but we succeeded in driving them back in great disorder. I think they will not attempt it again. I went over part of the field where one of our brigades charged, and within the space of less than an acre I counted twenty-six dead rebels ; they were all killed by our shells. I saw six of them that were apparently killed with one shot ; they lay close together.
I think mother must be about sick of these tales of blood —certainly I am ; but what can I do ? I say as little, and endeavor to describe in the least revolting manner the horrible scenes around me. I trust I may be spared the task of speaking of or participating in any more such conflicts. My tooth does not trouble me now ; it was a rotten one. The doctor that undertook to extract it only succeeded in crushing the top off. It was ulcerated, and I had to have my gums lanced twice, but that did not hurt much ; one side of my head was swollen some.
I still remain in the guard as sergeant, and expect to for the present. I shall not sign the pay-roll, or anything of that kind, as private, and if I have a mind to stand out I cannot be reduced without cause, and that has got to be proved. But then I do not care much about it any way.
I have seen Captain Graham since last week’s fighting : he came out safe. I had a long conversation with him : he said while he was in West Cambridge he called to see you : was interested in viewing the relics Eugene and I have sent home, etc. But I will close with kind regards to all the loved ones at home.
From your affectionate son, WARREN
P. S. —I forgot to mention that in the fight of the 21st we captured 400 prisoners and three battle-flags.5
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Freeman is talking about the Battle of Globe Tavern, fought from August 18-21, 1864. After three sharp sets of attacks on the 18th, 19th, and 21st, Warren had managed to dig in and hold the Weldon Railroad around Globe Tavern. A Confederate attack against the Second Corps south of Globe Tavern at Ream’s Station failed on August 25, 1864, and a key Confederate supply line had been cut all the way south to Stony Creek. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Peirson of the 39th Massachusetts, Freeman’s commanding officer. Peirson had been severely wounded at Globe Tavern on August 18, 1864, not mortally as Freeman assumed. However, he was wounded so badly that he never returned to active duty. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Warren H. Freeman had been in the 13th Massachusetts until July 13, 1864, when those whose enlistments had expired left the front for home. At that point, Freeman and others who had reenlisted or whose time was not yet up were transferred to the 39th Massachusetts, where they were at the time of the Battle of Globe Tavern. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the last day of the Battle of Globe Tavern. Hagood’s South Carolina Brigade was cut to pieces when they mistakenly made a frontal assault rather than a flanking attack against the left end of Warren’s line. ↩
- Freeman, Warren H. “In Camp on the Weldon Railroad, Va.” Letter to “Father” 21 Aug. 1864. MS. In Camp on the Weldon Railroad, 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. ↩