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LT: June 6, 1864 “F. B. W.” (50th NY Engineers)

Editor’s Note: This item is part of a collection of letters from New York engineers written while their units were at the Siege of Petersburg.  Researcher and Engineer enthusiast Dan O’Connell generously donated all of the items in this collection for use at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  These transcriptions are copyrighted by Brett Schulte and may not be used without my express written consent.  I do not have images of these letters so some errors could be from transcription or in the original.

From the 50th (Engineer) Regiment.
June 6th, 1864.

We are not yet in sight of Richmond, and perhaps may not be for a month or two yet, but feel confident some of us will see it ere the summer is past. The campaign has been progressing satisfactorily for a month, but we have met with a “snag” which it is thought will require seiging [sic] before we can proceed to Richmond. Our regiment and the regular Engineers were to work yesterday and to-day, making gabions and sap rollers, so you will see there is something in the road.

The 50th [New York Engineers] are doing good service during the present campaign. The regiment has constructed and removed all the pontoon bridges used by the army since leaving the Rappahannock, and they were always in readiness for the passage of the army and trains as soon as needed. Besides this we have built corduroy bridges, laid miles of corduroy roads and cut numerous roads through the woods. On the 5th of May [1864] the battalions of the regiment reported to the 5th Corps headquarters and went to work fixing roads and throwing up entrenchments. They had just got through work and were preparing their supper, when Griffin’s Division of the 6th Corps broke. Our regiment was quickly formed and in the rifle-pits ready to receive the rebs. The regiments that broke rallied in rear of the 50th. The latter were in front all night but the greybacks did not trouble us. The next morning [May 6, 1864] the battalions marched to their respective corps headquarters and hare remained with them since. The regiment, like the rest of the army, have seen hard times, working or marching night and day. Hard-tack and coffee have failed to connect at times, but we are not in the habit of finding fault. Our loss has been slight—only two or three wounded. Shot and shell fly around us thick and fast, which makes it rather unsafe.

Our battalion have frequently been out working at night, in front, erecting field-works, &c. On one occasion the rebels made a charge on our lines, and the companies were between the two lines all the time, but did not get hit; they laid low. The rebels made a desperate charge last night, but were repulsed. The deadly missiles made unpleasant sounds, above and around us, but all escaped unharmed. We are nearing the old ground made familiar to us two years ago; but instead of fields of waving grain greeting us, we find earthworks of every description confronting us, resisting, if possible, our onward march. However, we can dig them out; which is much better than taking their positions at the point of the bayonet.—What a pity it is we did not have a Grant at the head of our army two years ago. Had such been the ease, thousands of precious lives would have been saved, the country less burdened with taxation, and we could now be rejoicing in a restored Union. But who is to blame? The verdict of the army is, “McClellan.” The young Napoleon, who should have been long since with every other Northern traitor banished forever from this country. But we can and will put down this rebellion, Copperheads to the contrary notwithstanding. Perhaps there are some who have an idea that the Sanitary Commission is but little benefit to the army, or that the funds entrusted to their care are used for purposes other than those for which the Commission was originated. To know what ‘Sanitary’ has done for our wounded heroes, you must be where you can see something of War as it is. Our wounded in the battle of the Wilderness can tell you what ‘Sanitary’ has done for them. Thousands of them had been without food for several days when they arrived at Fredericksburg. This was partly caused by their being ordered to the Rappahannock Station and then ordered to Fredericksburg. Two companies of our battalion were sent from the front to the latter place with a pontoon train, which was laid for the wounded to cross to Belle Plain. When we arrived at Fredericksburg, nearly every house was filled with wounded, besides the sidewalks, which were crowded. Their wounds had not been dressed—only wrapped up—and they had not tasted food for several days. As soon as the bridge was laid, they crossed. Arriving at Belle Plain, they were fed and cared for by the Sanitary Commission. The Government had no supplies for them, and had it not been for ‘Sanitary’ they would have been nearly starved. Agents of the Commission soon arrived at Fredericksburg with supplies; also female nurses, who went to work dressing the wounds and giving the men something to eat. Ask the recipients of their kindness, and you will learn that ‘Sanitary’ is appreciated, and the loyal North need have no fears that their contribution ….

I see there are some objections made because ‘Sanitary,’ having by the generous aid of fairs, received into its treasury immense sums, portion of which they cannot find use for at present, propose to collect of the Government the just dues of discharged and deceased soldiers, without expense to the latter. Now what are the claims of the soldier upon the people of the North, who live amid peace, plenty and safety, hundreds of miles from the field of strife?—Could some of these civilian grumblers be placed for an hour in our front line of battle, hotly engaged with the rebels, they would undoubtedly be willing to return home and never say a word about what is done for the benefit of the soldiers; and when thousands are pouring out their life’s blood nearly every day, it is no time to write anything detrimental to those who think enough of their country to fight for it. There will probably be thousands who will be minus a limb or be otherwise disabled, who cannot work after receiving their discharge, who have families depending upon them for support, and the Sanitary Commission, by collecting their dues from the Government, would be doing them great service in time of need. I have never received a cent’s worth of Sanitary stores, or any other contributions of the North, since being in the army, but am aware that there are thousands who owe their lives to the timely assistance rendered them by the Sanitary Commission.

The health of the army is remarkably good. Providence seems to favor our brave army, and the cause for which we are fighting. The weather is splendid—it could not be better.—The army has entire confidence in their Generals, and feel confident that victory will crown their efforts. But all are willing to await the result, and the North must not expect Richmond to fall without a severe blow. We shall undoubtedly find it worse to take than Vicksburg was. If any of you get out of patience at our slow progress, and think it could be done much sooner, just step down and lend us a hand. You will then have a chance to offer your valuable suggestions to Gen. Grant.

F. B. W.1


Potential “FBW” Candidates:

WELCH, FREDERICK B.—Age, 18 years. Enlisted, September 3, 1861, at Elmira; mustered in as private, Co. D, September 6, 1861, to serve three years; transferred to Co. B, November 1, 1861; promoted artificer, date not stated; re-enlisted, January 4, 1864; promoted corporal, March 1, 1864; sergeant, March 20, 1864; mustered out with company, June 13, 1865, at Fort Barry, Va.; also borne as Frederick Welch.

WILLIAMS, FRANK B.—Age, 21 years. Enlisted, August 20, 1861, at Rochester; mustered i n as private, Co. E, August 29, 1861, to serve three years; transferred to Co. G, November 1, 1861; promoted corporal, August 1, 1862; mustered out, September 20, 1864, at Elmira, N . Y .


  1. “F. B. W.” “From the 50th Regiment.” Letter to (not stated). 6 Jun. 1864. MS. Headquarters, 2nd Army Corps. This letter, which looks like it was copied out of a newspaper, appears here courtesy of Dan O’Connell, who has a large collection of letters from Union Engineers during the Civil War.
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