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LT: August 4, 1864 Henry F. Young (7th Wisconsin)

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!

Aug 4th 1864

Dear Delia

I received your long and interesting two days since. Sorry to hear of your indisposition but hope this will find you better. My health is good that of the boys the Same. We moved day before yesterday [August 2, 1864] from the center of the line in front  of Petersburg to the extreme left of our line where we are at present doing Garrison & picket duty. I tell you it is quite a relief to get out of reach of the enemys bullets once more after laying exposed to them continually for Six weeks. We have a pleasant camp with plenty of good water and although we have heavy picket details and have to be very vigilant to guard against a Surprise by a flank Movement it Seems almost like freedom again when we can walk round Sit up and eat our Meals lie down to Sleep without crawling into holes without fear of being Shot.

The men are beginning to Show their old life and animation last evening they had a game of ball; I must Say that never till this Campaign did I know what Men under Such circumstances could Stand. When I have read in history of Men going through what we have this Summer or something like it I did not believe it.

On the 30th [July 30, 1864] we made a grand assault on the Enemys works it commenced by us Successfully blowing up a large fort in the Enemys works.1 The blowing up of the fort was a perfect Success and was the (most) thrilling Sight perhaps ever witnessed. Our line was just 800 yds from the fort that was blown up that is the line occupied by our Brigade. We were in the front line of works and our orders were to open Musketry fire on the line in our immediate front. As soon as the fort went up, the time had passed and a knot of officers of us were Standing on one of the Parrapets of our forts discussing the probable reason of the failure when we felt the ground tremble then Saw the fort guns men raise in one Mighty Mass of ruins Some two or three hundred ft in Air. It looked for a moment like a Vast column of Muddy Water then all was Shut out by dust & Smoke. At the Same moment two hundred canon opened from our Side and thousands of Musket. Amidst this terriffick din & confusion a Division charged and carried both lines of the enemys works where the breach was made. Up to this time everything was a perfect Success and we were all Jubilent over the taking of Petersburg which we looked on as ours certain but the next division thrown forward to Support the division already established were Negroes they went forward in good order till they came to the first breast work when they met a Stuberon resistance instead of overcoming which they broke and fled like a flock of Sheep or huddled together behind the enemys breast works to be cut to pieces by the enemys Grape & Cannister. The enemy seeing their demoralized condition charged them in front and although they had to fall back themselves from under our terrible Artillery fire they Succeeded in Scaring away the Coloured Division. The White Division held their ground for Several hours during Which time the enemy made three unsuccessful Assaults on them and not till they were almost Surrounded did they fall back. thus was lost the fruits of Near a Months labour, had Burnside kept his Negroes away we would have carried Petersburg. My opinion is that Negro troops with white officers will not do for the following reasons. Now this couloured division advanced to the first line of the enemys works in good order, but as soon as they came in close quarters the enemy Shot nearly all their white officers knowing that the Negroes would be worth nothing without their officers and so it proved. As soon as their officers were not there to lead them the Negroes were no better than a lot of Scared Sheep. We cant blame the Negroes for they will go wherever their officers lead them, but an officer of a couloured Regt is a conspicuous Mark to what the Same officer would be in a White Regt and the Rebs have learned that all that is necessary to defeat the Couloured troops is to Shoot down their officers and they will act upon it.

Our Regt had 1 officer Wounded 4 Men Killed 3 Wounded on the 30th none of which belonged to My Co. We are expecting the paymaster Soon and we need him very much for every officer is heels over head in debt it costs Something to live in the Army. Uncle Sam has raised his prices almost equal to Sutler’s prices. I will feel anxious about you till I get another letter. Keep in good heart when we get that other 500000 Men we will make Short  work of the Rebellion.

The 38th [Wisconsin] & 37th Wis[consin] were in the Storming Division on the 30th [of July, 1864] & lost heavily particularly in officers. New Regts will suffer terribly in officers as long as officers will persist in going into a fight in full dress; after they have been in a year or so they will adopt the fatigue Suit to fight in.

Give my love to Jared Laura May & Janie and accept the same.

Ever Yours



Letters of Henry W. Young:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: This is the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater.  Young and the rest of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, had a close up view of the fighting.  They were just to the left of the Ninth Corps, which made the main assault.
  2. Young, Henry F. “No title.” Received by Dear Delia, LOCATION, 4 August 1864, Petersburg, VA.
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