SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain Henry F. Young of the 7th Wisconsin wrote twenty letters while at the Siege of Petersburg from June to December 1864. Researcher Roy Gustrowsky transcribed this letter from the original at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. He is currently in the process of writing a regimental history of the 7th Wisconsin. “Delia” was Henry F. Young’s wife, and “Father” was his Father-in-Law Jared Warner, a prominent businessman of Grant County, Wisconsin. Gustrowsky has magnanimously made these transcriptions available to the Siege of Petersburg Online for publication, and we thank him for his generosity.
UPDATE: I recently learned that a new book has been published by the University of Wisconsin Press, entitled Dear Delia: The Civil War Letters of Captain Henry F. Young, Seventh Wisconsin Infantry, and edited by Micheal Larson and John David Smith. If you want to read all of Henry’s letters throughout the war, purchase the book!
Laying about loose one & half Miles from Petersburg Va
I set myself down on a cool bank of Sand with the Thermometer about 150 in the Shade to write you a long letter at least that was my intention when I took this Seat. If I should fail in interesting you just consider the Circumstances by which I am Surrounded. I am within point blank range of Rebble Musketry & Shell but that I have got So used to that if my next neighbor was hit I would not think of Moving for the reason that one place is just as safe as another. Then we have had no rain for about a month and the dust is about an inch thick on everything and the Rebble Shot & Shell pecking our breastworks keeps up a continual cloud of dust but not withstanding all these difficulties I feel fine this Morning for be it known that I got a clean Shirt & drawers on yesterday the 2d change I have had since the 3d of May  and I not only Shed my duty clothing but I sent off a good crop of lice with them, but as far as that is concerned by tomorrow I will have a new and more hungry Set for the whole country is covered with them.
We are behind breast works west of the Norfolk & Petersburg RR about 1 1/2 Miles from the City1. The Rebs are in our front behind strong fortifications the distance from their line to ours is about 300 yds on the right of our Division [1/4/V/AotP] & 500 on our left it is within easy range from one line to the other with our Rifles, and whenever a head is raised above the works on either Side crack go a dozen of Rifles at the unfortunate owner. For several days our Casualties have been Small as we keep pretty well under cover this Sieging is going to be slow work as the Reb position is a strong one and they have a large Army. We compell them to evacuate by cutting their RR but if they lose Petersburg Richmond is gone up. We have got a good base to operate from we can put cars on the Norfolk RR and having the James River we can ration our Army here with less expense than we could at Culpeper2. Then this is a better country than any in which this Army has been in in Va. If Grant Sieges them out of this place you must not get impatient for it will be a long job if they can get Supplies, but it is the only way to do it for I am perfectly disgusted with bucking their fortifications. I consider that we lost 2000 men of our Corps half of them of our division on the 18th [of June 1864] just uselessly that is we were bucked against fortifications that we could not take and we could not have held them if we had Succeeded in carrying them. Our Genls Some of them want to go to(o) fast. We had with Artillery & Musketry drove the Rebs from their first and 2nd lines and into their Main line of works, and I think the Genls should have halted & made a reconnaissance before rushing us on. had we accomplished anything I would have been Satisfide, but where we lost over 2000 men I don’t believe the Rebs lost 2003. Our Regt 2 Officers Lieut Thomas Co H Killed S Phillips Ajt mortally wounded Since dead Capt Pond Wounded My Co lost
Corpl J D Runion Killed
Wm B Pauley(Killed)
Sergt C Giles Parker Supposed to be Killed in fact I am Satisfied of it
Martin Calvert Shot down and left on the field Supposed to be dead. We were thrown forward after dark [on June 18th, 1864] to hold the ground while we got off the wounded 7 dead in that way in the dark men buried men without knowing who they were. One thing is certain the Rebs got none of our men for we lay down and formed a line after we found we could not carry their works So close to them that we kept their heads down till we got our own wounded away. The wounded are
Sergt F A Boynton Severe
” ” Geo Eustice Bruised by Shell returned today
Thomas Blunt Slight
Isaac S Miles” ”
Joseph Stonehouse leg amputated
H P Greenarm ” ”
A C MorseSlight Head
E WhitneySevere leg
O WeymouthSlight leg
No Casualties Since in My Co.
I have 15 Men for duty. I don’t know what they are going to do with these old Regts we have only 130 Muskets in our Regt the probability is that at the expiration of the first 3 yrs all those that did not reenlist will be Mustered out of the Service and all Surplus officers will also be Mustered out.4
So unless you get a chance to do well with the Mill don’t do anything till the 1st of Sept.
What do you Fremont men think of your favourite Now that you see him in his true Coulours.
I am Sorry they don’t Send the Wis 100 day Men down here they would of had a good chance to see the elephant5. Our Men that is the men of the old Army of the Potomac will charge rite over Beauregards or Breckinridges men they will take breast works or anything else from them, and it is just the Same with the Rebs they can’t get them to charge one of our old corps in works if there is only a single line, but they will Charge rite over Butlers or Smiths or Gilmores Men with a Yell.6
I was on out post one evening when they came up in three lines of Battle to Charge. As Soon as they got up on the ridge our Artillery opened on them and they all lay down their officers beg(g)ed coaxed & Swore at them to get them to charge but it was no go. They told them we had all gone but a Skirmish line and I heard one of them yell out he knew better for By g-d the Yanks didn’t have artillery on their Skirmish line.
There are thirty men under Comd of Lieut Brooks 6th Wis all of our Brigade gone on a raid to burn the Bridge across the Staunton River at Roanoak Station. I am getting uneasy about them as they were to join Sherredin [Union Cavalry Corps command Philip H. Sheridan] but he failed to get to Danville.7 Lorenzo Taylor of My Co is one of the(m) they were all volunteers and are good Men and are all Mounted and have each a grey uniform to put on in case of necessity they all understand that if taken they would pull hemp. J L Taylor John Folk James Evans & Robt Blakely of My Co are in Locust Grove Hospital wounded and doing well the Rebs permit our own Surgeons to attend them and they get plenty Supplies through the Sanitary Com.
I have just learned that we are building a railroad from City Point here8 and one half our line is to be relieved every 48 hours, that is we have two lines of battle one will lay in the trenches 48 hours and the other will rest in rear within Supporting distance. This looks as if Grant was going to Seige them out. Well I suppose we will have to Seige them Somewhere and this is the most convenient place for us. We are out of Paper Ink and everything else. This is Paper Perry Gilbert stole out of Prince Georges Court House. Just where our line of battle crosses the RRoad is a large Ice house full of Ice, it was put up for Market. There is quite a Stream and by daming it up at different points they had Succeeded in packing quite a quantity of ice this house is 30 x 40 with from 5 to 6 ft of ice it is in layres about 4 in thick. Our boys go for ice every day and when there is many of them got in the Rebs will open on them with Artillery. They are at it Now and the boys climb up the Steps with a big chunk of ice and Shake it at them and when they See the flash run down where they of course are perfectly Safe.
By thunder I’ll quit I am Sweating like a horse and my feet are both asleep and more the Sun has flanked Me.
My good wishes to all
H F Young 9
Letters of Henry W. Young:
- LT: June 20, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: June 27, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: July 2, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: July 15, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: July 26, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: July 29, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: August 4, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: August 6, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: August 23, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: September 2, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: September 5, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: September 15, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: September 19, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: September 27, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: October 6, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: October 13, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: October 21, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: October 22, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: October 30, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: November 5, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: November 7, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: November 10, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: November 13, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: November 20, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- LT: November 23, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad ran, naturally enough, from Petersburg to Norfolk, Virginia. It had ceased to be a viable supply line the moment the Union army approached from the east, and now the railroad line crossed both lines of fortifications on its way into the Cockade City. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The James River allowed the Union Army to be supplied by sea rather than railroads, though by the end of the Siege of Petersburg a military railroad would be built as well. Grant’s headquarters was at City Point, Virginia, which was transformed into a major port during the Siege and functioned as the supply hub for the two Union armies operating against Richmond and Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Young is discussing the last days’ fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 18, 1864, in which the 7th Wisconsin took part. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Using Steven Newton’s method for converting effectives to Present for Duty strength, we take (130/.93) x 1.065=~149 officers and men present for duty. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: “Wis 100 day Men” refers to units which were mustered into service to serve for only 100 days, often due to a state of emergency. Looking at Dyer’s Compendium Online at Wisconsin infantry regiments, it looks like Young was referring to the men belonging to the 39th, 40th, and 41st Wisconsin regiments, all of which were 100 day units and which disbanded in September 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Young appears to have some unit pride at the army level, and holds his adversaries in the Army of Northern Virginia as formidable adversaries. He is saying that the men of the ANV and his own Army of the Potomac were superior to the “lesser” units in the Union Army of the James under army commander Benjamin Butler and Corps commanders William F. “Baldy” Smith and Quincy Gillmore; as well as the Confederate units in P. G. T. Beauregard’s Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. Breckinridge had gone back to the Shenandoah Valley with Jubal Early’s Second Corps, though at the time he was writing, Young had no way to know this just yet. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Young is referring to the Wilson-Kautz Raid of late June 1864, in which two Union cavalry divisions rode well behind Confederate lines, trying to burn the railroads supplying Richmond and Petersburg. After doing moderate damage and behaving badly in destroying civilian property, the two Union Cavalry divisions were nearly trapped and destroyed at Reams Station on June 29, 1864, only two days after Young wrote this letter. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: A US Military Railroad was indeed built from the Union supply center at City Point down the Union lines surrounding Petersburg. Both troops and supplies could be quickly shifted to varous points on the line. Stations named after Union army commander George Gordon Meade as well as Union Corps commanders popped up along this railroad. ↩
- Young, Henry F. “Laying about loose one & half Miles from Petersburg Va.” Received by Dear Father, One and a Half Miles from Petersburg, Va, 27 June 1864, Petersburg, VA. ↩
Your posting of the Henry Young letters is very much appreciated, perhaps more than you might be aware.
Though my specific interest lies with the 36th WVI and their position in the line of battle on the afternoon of 18 June, 1864, I read with great interest anything pertaining to units, particularly Wisconsin, involved in the fighting on that day. The Young letters offer an insight to what conditions and life was like during that period. My son and I visited the battlefield during the 150th anniversary of 2nd Petersburg, and the weather was nearly as hot on June 18, 2014 as it was in 1864.
I eagerly look forward to more information as it is forthcoming. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.
I appreciate the note, James! I first and foremost do this as a hobby, but I’ve come to appreciate that this kind of detail helps others interested in the same units or battles or dates in history. If there is one thing I’m always looking for, it is detail. Thank Roy though first and foremost. He graciously offered up his own transcriptions of the letters. If I recall correctly, these letters go through November 23, 1864. They’ll keep appearing once a week on the same time and day. Stay tuned!
The ice-house mentioned in Young’s June 27th letter, is mentioned by quite a few others in the early weeks of the siege. We think we have located it. See http://www.petersburgproject.org/the-siege-landscape-through-fire-and-ice-at-petersburg.html and http://www.petersburgproject.org/the-ice-house.html for more information about this interesting battlefield feature.
Thanks Julie! And let me also enthusiastically encourage my readers to go visit your site. I follow it with great interest. And I’m also jealous…you guys get to walk the ground!