Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by researcher and author Kathryn Lerch, who generously donated a large collection of material on the 8th New York Heavy Artillery for use at The Siege of Petersburg Online.
Our Army Before Petersburg.1
City Point, Va., July 17, 1864
D. D. Waite, Esq.:—Dear Sir, I have now labored near City Point over a week, and have in prospect a permission to go to the front about next Tuesday. I find it a judicious arrangement to keep fresh hands in the hospitals back from the front until they become initiated into their labors in various respects. In the first place, fresh hands are introduced to the sick only, where they witness all grades of sickness, and occasionally a death. Their labors consist in distributing clothing, delicacies, with many little articles, such as combs, pens, thread, tobacco, pipes, &c. &c., &c. Aside from these labors, special attention must be given to their own health. . . .
There was considerable shelling going on yesterday by the rebels upon Bermuda Hundred, but nothing serious I imagine.
Almost daily a move is predicted by someone, but when it comes we shall probably know it. I shall make it my duty to go to the 8th Artillery, 2d corps, on the extreme left as soon as permitted to go to the front. The Railroad extends about six miles to the 18th corps, but I take it that the extreme left is about as much farther. Very respectfully, N. W. Wright
City Point, Va., July 23rd, 1864
On Wednesday morning last, I took the City Point and Petersburg Railroad, and passed about six miles to the Field Hospital of the 18th Army Corps. This is as far as permission is granted to travel by Railroad on this route for the present. Just ahead of this Hospital, on a car, is placed on the Railroad a large mortar of 18 inch caliber. It throws a shell weighing 240 lbs. when loaded. When loaded it contains 4 lbs. of powder and 204 bullets. The mortar itself weights 17,000 lbs., and throws a shell three miles.
From the Field Hospital, I went to the Head Quarters of General Smith, passing the Dunn House, where I had a good opportunity from its roof to take a view of Petersburg by means of a telescope. The distance is about two miles, and I could read the signs on the stores, see the time of day on the town clock, and see women passing in the streets. Petersburg is beautifully located, and in many respects a delightful city.
In going to Gen. Smith’s Head Quarters I passed the forts on the left, taken by the colored troops, and on the right was battery B, in which the Parrot guns, by which our men occasionally threw into the city a Petersburg Express. Gen. Smith is at present absent at New York, and Gen. Martindale is commandant of the station in his absence. I had quite a chat with Gen. Martindale, and during my stay at his quarters, I witnessed the shelling of a rebel fort. Our guns were distant 2,700 yards, yet I saw many shells plunge directly into the fort, and explode. I pronounced the deed a specimen of tall firing.
From Gen. Martindale’s Head Quarters I went to the Convalescent Camp, where I found my friend Dr. Mandeville, of Rochester, N.Y.
In the afternoon I traveled about two miles to the 2d Corps, where I found the 8th Heavy Artillery, (Col. Porter’s Regiment.) I found the fellows in that Regiment quite well although the Regiment has been fearfully decimated by death and disease. The day previous to my arrival Adjutant Cooper [“Jack”] had been thrown from his horse and severely injured. His recovery was considered somewhat doubtful. I tarried and took supper with Capt. Sherwin, Lieut. Parker, and Lieut. J. Willett. I returned and took lodging in the test of Surgeon Mandeville. During the evening I was regaled with the usual pyrotechnics of the front, and during the night the crack of the rifle among the pickets occurred on an average as often as once for every two seconds. I was situated about a mile from the rebel front, but could frequently hear the whiz of bullets through the pines.
On the morning of Thursday I went the rounds with Dr. Mandeville, and was shown all the places which were the scene of the most striking events of that region for the four previous weeks.
The 8th Heavy Artillery for the present lies about a half a mile south of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, and the 2d Corps is in the rear of the 5th. I am now back at City Point, where I expect to labor for a few days longer in the Port Hospital, Convalescent Camp, and Bull Ring.
Yours, truly, N. F. Wright2