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LT: August 6, 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!

Camp 7th Wis Vet Vol
Near Petersburg Va Aug 6th/64

Dear Father

I received your letter glad to hear you were all well. We [the 7th Wisconsin] are once again in Camp we are encamped on the Norfolk & Petersburg RR about 2 Miles in rear of where our former position was. We were relieved in front by a portion of Burnsides Corps on the 1st of Aug [1864]. We are the extreme left of our line and to keep out a Strong Picket force in front it takes just half our Brigade on picket all the time but as the Saying is we are thankful for Small favors for now we can run round without fear of getting in the way of a Reb Shell or bullett. Only those that have lain under continual range of an enemys guns for 6 weeks can know the feeling of releif one experiences when they can travel round write eat & Sleep and know there is no danger of being Shot.

You will have heard of the blowing up of the fort on the 30th of July [1864] and the grand assault Made on the enemys lines. The blowing up of the fort and the first assault were all that was ever claimed for them they ammounted to the destruction of a large fort with its Garrison & guns and the carrying of the Reb lines for some distance on each Side of the breach. The whole attack was the most terriffick Sight & Sound perhaps ever witnessed but we lost the position after we had carried it. Ah?, that is the rub, we Should have held it, we should have taken the whole line then Petersburg, but instead we lost what we got. True we punished the enemy very Severe when he charged time & again on our line to retake it. I myself Saw two of his lines of battle almost annihilated and thoroughly repulsed by the Division of White troops in the Breach. Had there been no couloured troops in the assault I am confident we would have carried the entire line on the left, fortifications, and Petersburg into the bargain.1

And yet I have nothing to Say against the courage of the Negro Division but in Such a place as that where everything depends on quick Manouvres No troops should be pushed forward as Storming party without  thoroughly understanding What is expected of them, and then they Should be troops that can be handled and Manouvred on the run. Ferreroes Division of Negroes [4/IX/AotP] Made the first advance and carried the 1st line of the enemys works in good style but there was an inner line but a few yds from the 1st line from behind this line the Rebs Shot nearly all the white officers in the Division. The Negroes without their officers huddled together like a lot of Sheep and instead of charging over and carrying the next line became perfectly demoralized and run back right in the way of the Supporting column that had they had Sense enough to lay down behind the works five Minutes would have saved them and the works too, but in their hasty retreat they forced back the Supporting column  which was compelled to break to let the Couloured Division through, by this time the Rebs had got up Supports and our advantage was lost, an the order was given to Warren not to attempt to carry the line in his front.

Warren was ready to advance as Soon as Burnside Supported by the 10th Corps [specifically Turner/X/AotJ] carried his part of the line, and his disposition of his troops were such as to insure Success. We had been keeping the heads of the Rebs down in our front all Morning not letting them fire on Burnsides Storming party and we did it completely, and if old Burnys men had carried their front of both lines they could have fired along the works and kept down the Johnnys while we would have charged, and I can assure you if we had got their works in our front we would have held them.

I wrote you about the Mill do the best you can; to tell you the truth I am heartily tired & Sick of the Service but this is no time to whine or back down. I see and hear to(o) much of that and I almost get the blues Sometimes and yet I know that the true Soldier Should never get downhearted. Old Abe has given his ultimatum to the peace croakers its Style Suits Me exactly and I will Stand by it and fight for it and if the country dont Suppoart him in it those of us who remain true and loyal will go down with our coulours flying. It has been known to me for some time that the Rebs was Mining one of our forts, we counter mined the fort, and after they put the powder in our men took it out leaving just enough to Make an explosion without injuring the fort, when our Artillery and Men were Massed in the fort. Well the great looked for event came off last Evening [August 5, 1864] I did not see it but heard the firing. Those who saw it Say that after the explosion which was So arranged as to give the appearance of having blown up the fort, a brigade of Rebs Massed for the purpose charged forward with a yell to occupy the Supposed ruins our men let them come till they got within a few rods when they opened on them and just everlastingly , Slayed them.2

Our boys that were Slightly wounded are returning there has quite a No returned to my Co. I have 23 men for duty all in good health. We are getting Anxious to See the Paymaster. My good wishes to all.

Yours truly

H[enry] F Young3


Letters of Henry W. Young:


  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain Young is again describing the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater, just as he did in his last letter.  He also again comments on the Black soldiers in Ferrero’s 4th Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac.  As I always do when opinions of the USCT regiments are given, I’ve tagged this letter with the term “fighting ability of black soldiers.”  If you’re interested in these opinions and they run the gamut from high praise to utter disdain, check out the tag for much, much more.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: I’m delighted that Young commented on this little known event.  On August 5, 1864, the Confederates attempted to duplicate the Union feat of July 30, but their calculations seem to have been off.  Rather than exploding a Union fort, the fort which would come to be known as Fort Stedman, they were off by something like 40 yards.  They blew a hole in no man’s land and if the Confederates were serious about assaulting, they realized quickly nothing could be gained due to where the explosion occurred.  Colonel Griffin A. Stedman was killed in the fighting, ultimately giving his name to the fort the Confederates had hoped to destroy, and also giving his name to the future battle on March 25, 1865.
  3. Young, Henry F. “Camp 7th Wis Vet Vol.” Received by Dear Father, Camp 7th Wis Vet Vol, 6 August 1864, Petersburg, VA.
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