Editor’s Note: The Soldier Studies web site (http://www.soldierstudies.org) collects and publishes 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.
Headquarters, 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Corps
Yours of the 24th of this month is just received and I reply immediately. I wrote you when I first arrived here and also have written Ursula since. I knew you would be anxious and so I sent a letter the second day but it must have been lost or miscarried. There was no money in it for I did not have the proper papers to obtain my pay from any but the regimental paymaster and he had just taken the cars for Baltimore as I reached Washington.
I had a pleasant trip down stopping in New York two days and Washington one and a half. Reached city point on the evening of October 8th. Took the cars and arrived at Hancock Station where I expected to find my regiment, about 8:00 P.M. But the colored troops had moved the day before across the Weldon [rail]road to near Poplar Groove Church and I hardly knew where to spend the night when by chance I found that Jerome was only a few rods from the station acting as Assistant Adjutant General on Gen. Pierce’s staff. I at once started for his quarters and stayed with him all night. He has since been mustered out of the service, his three years having expired. The next day I stayed with Dr. Jackson my regimental surgeon who is in charge of the Division Hospital.
On the 11th of October I joined the regiment and being senior officer had to take command of the Brigade, Col. Sigfried’s time having expired he has left the service. I have been in command all the time since but hope I shall be relieved before we get into a fight for I don’t care for quite as much responsibility as a person commanding from three to four thousand men has to bear. If everything goes off right why it’s very nice but if it don’t somebody’s got to take the consequences.
We have just returned from an expedition which came very near being a big fight but didn’t quite. Yesterday morning at 3:00 A.M. the 5th and 9th Corps made an advance toward the Southside railroad. The 2nd Corps taking the extreme left started the night before making quite a detour to avoid the enemy. We had six days rations, the teams with all surplus baggage and extra stores were sent within the entrenchments at city point and as our front lines were to be held by artillery we expected a “big thing”. As soon as our advance was discovered however the rebs commenced sending reinforcements from other points and just before night the 2nd Corps found itself in a pretty tight place. I have not heard the particulars but I know that this morning or about noon rather we all came back and the report says the 2nd Corps lost very heavily.1 The 9th Corps drove the reb skirmishers about a mile when we came on to the main line of works. It not being part of the program to attack unless the 2nd Corps had good success we escaped a fight. The brigade lost one officer and six men killed and six officers and about 50 men wounded. We advanced about half a mile in line of battle through the worst piece of woods I ever saw. The underbrush, briars, logs, etc. made it a part of the way almost impenetrable and when we halted in front of the enemy works a line of breastworks had to be thrown up and the timber slashed to prevent a surprise and be able to resist an attack if the rebs should undertake one. It was an awful
Letter of: October 28, 1864
job and I guess if I did it once I rode twenty times in front of the Brigade to see that the work was going on right. I tore my coat and pants, and scratched my hide besides running the risk of a great many stray bullets. Two horses belonging to my staff were shot. But fortunately the affair terminated without great loss to our division or corps. I presume Butler attacked on the right the same time we did at the left but I have not heard what he accomplished.2
As usual when we make a move it rained like fury all night. I got a little wet but feel no effects from it yet. My head gives me no trouble. I can eat very well and think I shall remain in the service a spell longer. So many officers have been mustered out this month that have been in three years, it takes a very strong case to get a resignation through. The weather today is pleasant. The nights are quite chilly but not half as cold as you had when I was home. There has been one very slight frost since I returned and the forest leaves are just beginning to turn. Write often.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Bates is discussing the left wing movement of GRant;s Sixth Offensive. While the Fifth Corps and Ninth Corps held the Confederates in their works along the Boydton Plank Road with demonstrations, Hancock and his Second Corps attempted to flank the Confederate line south of where the Boydton Plank Road crossed Hatcher’s Run. As Bates notes, the Second Corps found itself attacked form three sides on the afternoon of October 27, 1864, in the Battle of Boydton Plank Road. Hancock staved off the attacks, and retreated that night. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Bates presumed correctly. Butler’s attacks along the Darbytown Road and at Fair Oaks accomplished little on October 27. ↩
- Bates, Delevan. “Headquarters, 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Corps.” Letter to “Father” 28 Oct. 1864. MS. Near Petersburg, Virginia. 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. ↩