Editor’s Note: This letter to the Sunday Mercury appears here due to Bill Styple’s fantastic book Writing and Fighting the Civil War, which is where I first learned about these amazing soldier letters. You can purchase a copy of Writing and Fighting the Civil War at Belle Grove Publishing.
One Hundred and Forty-sixth Regiment, N[ew]. Y[ork]. V[olunteers].
[Special Correspondence of the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]
IN FRONT OF PETERSBURG, VA., August 2. 
The Late Attack and Repulse—Plenty of Water—Greenbacks Scarce—Plenty of Vegetables and Tobacco—That “Five Hundred Thousand More”.
Contrary to my expectations, we have not captured the Cockade City [aka Petersburg] yet, though we have blown up some of the principal works of the enemy, and lost the ground we gained by the cowardice of the black troops.1 The sky toward the city was illuminated to such an extent that it was believed the whole place was burning. At the same time our mortars kept up quite a lively time. Our two-hundred pound shell are not acceptable to Butternut. The One Hundred and Forty-sixth [New York] is continually on detail with pick and shovel, building and strengthening the works in our front; and all we wish is that Bobby Lee will give us a chance to show him how the “Tigers”2 can fight behind breastworks. A rumor was in circulation that Johnny Reb intended to make an attack on us. To hold ourselves in readiness to move at a moment’s warning was our last order at retreat. For some reason or other, Johnny did not come.
According to reports from Petersburg papers, the Yanks are short of water, and have to draw it in barrels from the Appomattox River. The best advice to Johnny is to come over; we will show them plenty of wells, from fifteen to thirty feet deep, in every regiment in the Fifth Corps, and all full of good cool water.3
The Clerk of the Weather has accommodated us with some rain, which has cooled the air to a considerable extent.
Can you inform us what has become of the greenbacks? Did Chase carry them all off with him, or is the Government waiting for this campaign to end, thinking, no doubt, that it would take less to pay off the troops then at the present time, as a good many of us have families depending on us for assistance. Hurry up the greenbacks.
The news of camp is, that Hunter has been whipped again, with Johnny at his heels.4 It is to be hoped that the “On to Richmond” crowd will now mass together and smite them hip and thigh, and drive them so far they will not think of coming back again.
We have had a good supply of vegetables from our Commissary and the Sanitary Commission; also, a pretty good share of tobacco. It is to be hoped they will be continued.
How is that last call, only five hundred thousand more? It has cost a big pile of men to get here and yet have twenty-two miles to go to get to Richmond; plenty of works to get over; any quantity of room for this last pile to find a resting-place in Virginia. So they had better hurry up, or they will be too late for the fray.5
I am, as usual, Yours, J. O. E.6
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The author is talking about the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater. Ferrero’s Fourth Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac was composed of United States Colored Troops regiments commanded by white officers. They played a significant role in the fighting, and the opinions of the white soldiers who witnessed them fight were mixed. I always tag these observations so that those interested can explore those opinions free of interpretation. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The nickname of the 146th New was “Garrard’s Tigers.” ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: There had been very little rain for the first six weeks of the Siege of Petersburg, so water, or lack of it, was on everyone’s mind at this point in the fighting. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: UPDATE: Siege of Petersburg researcher Bryce Suderow passed along his take on this portion of the letter:
“In the letter of August 2, 1864 the New Yorker soldier mentions that Hunter has been defeated again. I believe he is referring to the July 24, 1864 defeat of Crook at Kernstown. Crook was under the department commander, David Hunter at this time. Sheridan had not yet taken command. As for the Confederate advance after Kernstown, I believe he is referring to McCausland’s Raid into Pennsylvania.”
ORIGINAL COMMENT: I’m not positive as to what the writer means here. David Hunter had been beaten by Jubal Early’s Second Corps, ANV way back on June 17-18, 1864 at the Battle of Lynchburg, after which he tucked tail and ran for the mountains. By the time this letter was written, Hunter no longer factored into the equation in the Shenandoah Valley. He had just been relieved of command, with Phil Sheridan taking over for what would be a memorable campaign. That said, news often traveled slow at this time. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: President Lincoln had just issued a call for 500,000 more men to end the rebellion once and for all. Needless to say, at this point in the war, there was plenty of healthy skepticism and sarcasm about the call itself and the potential results. ↩
- “One Hundred and Forty-sixth Regiment, N. Y. V.” Sunday Mercury (New York, New York). August 7, 1864, p. 7 col. 3 ↩