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NP: August 6, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA And Shelling Along The Lines


In front of Petersburg, Va.,
July, 27, 1864.

MR. EDITOR:—Once more l seat myself to pen, or rather to pencil you a few lines, to let you know how we get along. There is nothing new transpiring here, as everything remains the same as when I last wrote.

Once in a while we have considerable shelling by both armies, and at times it is almost deafening there is so much artillery firing. But we manage to shut them up in a short time. There is one gun which the boys have styled the Petersburg Express, and another the Peace Maker, both of which are stationed near the headquarters of our [Eighteenth] corps [Army of the James]. The reason they are styled so is because they silenced a battery that the Rebs have on Fort Clifton, and they silence the rebel sharpshooters in a very short time–very often after firing only three or four shot. The aim is very accurate on both sides, but our gunners are rather the best as far as I can ascertain.

I saw in the Advertiser a piece from a correspondent in the 32d [Massachusetts], that they had seen quite a number of the boys of Co. C, of the 23d [Massachusetts], and that our boys said they had begun to find out what fighting was. Now I would say to that correspondent, that before we ever came into Virginia we found out what hard marching and fighting was. To be sure we had not had much hard fighting, but we had had some—enough to learn what it was. I suppose he will admit we have had the hardest marching. We admit they have had hard work and hard times, but they did not have to march from one hundred to two hundred miles at a time, and do it in eleven days, fighting four days out of that. This we had to do in winter while they were in, or going into winter quarters. Again in summer, it was march and fight, after the army of the Potomac had fallen back and would be laying still. I do not know but what we have seen as much hard times as they, though they have had a little more fighting.

Capt. [John W.] Raymond, of Beverly, is in command of the regiment, Col. [Andrew] Elwell being on the sick list.

It is strange the papers should report our corps in Baltimore when we did not know it ourselves. I think, from the appearance of things, we are likely to stay here some time. The second corps [of the Army of the Potomac] was ordered off yesterday, but where they are to go is only a matter of conjecture. We suppose they have gone to reinforce Gen. Butler, as he had quite a fight yesterday morning. It was reported here that the 19th corps charged the enemy’s works, capturing them, together with six pieces of artillery but we do not know how true it is. There was some heavy firing in that direction again this morning, but we have not heard anything from there yet.1

We have a mortar planted here that weighs 17,000 lbs., and carries a shot weighing 200 lbs., which makes the Johnnies seek their bomb proofs on the appearance of one of our Dutch ovens.2

Yours,                     GUARD.


Near Petersburg, Va.,
July 29th, 1864.

MR. EDITOR:—Last night [July 28, 1864] there was some pretty tall shelling in these parts, with twenty pound parrots, and the mortar batteries. They were shelling the city of Petersburg with pretty good effect, I should think, from the appearance of things. After a short time spent in shelling, the city appeared to be all on fire; there was undoubtedly a large conflagration in that direction. There were some large buildings on fire, I should judge. It was a splendid sight to see the heavens lit up, and to hear the screeching of shells, and to see them going through the air, which one can do in the night time on account of the fuse. I say that it is a splendid sight to stand on the hill that is in our rear, and watch them, and to see the flash from the different guns, and hear the reports one after another, and see the shells going in different directions, both from the rebs and our own, but ours manage to get the best of them. It was pretty heavy firing for a while, the mortars throwing their shells at the rebel works, and the twenty pounders throwing theirs into the city. But such things must be seen to be appreciated. I wish that you could look on sometime and see for yourself, for pen and ink cannot do it justice, as regards explanation.

Co. B, of our regiment, had a man killed this morning in the breastworks; he was standing up, shaking his blanket, when a rebel sharpshooter saw him, and fired at him, killing him instantly; he was shot through the neck. His name was [George T.] Morrill.[SOPO Editor’s Note: See the roster in this history of the 23rd Massachusetts for confirmation of Morrill’s first name and middle initial.  The date and location match the letter’s description.]

The cars were running from Richmond to Petersburg all night, but what it was for I do not know; probably they thought we were going to make an advance and so sent down reinforcements; and probably they were moving such articles as they could to Richmond, as the cars seemed to be heavily loaded each way, that is, judging from the sound.3

As I write, there is some little shelling on our left, but nothing of any consequence, nothing more than happens every morning. Capt. [Addison] Center arrived here night before last.4 Our paymaster has not made his appearance yet; the boys would like to look on his smiling countenance, but rather on his box that he carries the greenbacks in. Our venerable uncle seems to be a little backward about paying the nephews that he has in his employ. There are five months due us at present, and the boys are getting to be rather clamerous for their pay.

I have no more to write at this time, so I will close,

I remain yours truly,                   GUARD.5


Other Massachusetts’ Soldier Letters in the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph

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18640806CALGTP1C4 23dMALetters


  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: Hancock’s Second Corps, Army of the Potomac was indeed headed toward, and beyond, Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James on Bermuda Hundred.  Hancock would lead the First Deep Bottom Campaign, and the heavy firing the 23rd Massachusetts heard was in all likelihood the July 27, 1864 first engagement of the First Battle of Deep Bottom.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: GUARD was of course talking about the famous “Dictator,” a 17,000+ pound Seacoast Mortar, the largest weapon in the Union arsenal.  For a good article on the Dictator, see The Iron Brigadier.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Grant’s master plan for the Third Offensive was to entice Lee to send men north of the James River to defend Richmond, leaving Petersburg relatively under defended when the Mine was exploded on July 30, 1864.  It worked well, and the sounds of trains running between Petersburg and Richmond was to send men to help the Confederates north of the James beat back the advance of Winfield Hancock’s First Deep Bottom Expedition.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Captain Center is listed as in command of the regiment on July 31, 1864 per the Official Records.  It is likely he took command on July 28 or soon thereafter as he ranked Captain John W. Raymond.
  5. “War Correspondence” Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph. August 6, 1864, p. 1 col. 4
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