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 Seventieth Regiment, N. Y. V.
[Special Correspondence of the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]
NEAR PETERSBURG, VA., August 1. 
The Late Assault—One Hundred and Seventieth N. Y. Vols.—Encounter at Deep Bottom—Captured—Gunboat Shells—Sheridan at Work—An Appeal.
Here we are, resting on our oars, after four days’ hard marching, skirmishing, and fighting, in which four pieces of cannon, a fort, and two lines of breastworks were taken from the enemy, and over a thousand of them put hors de combat1; and yesterday [July 31, 1864], enjoyed the luxury of a shower of shot and shell for over twelve hours before Petersburg. Since my last, which appeared in your edition of the 24th instant, we have been ordered to pack up, with four days’ rations in our haversacks, and on last Tuesday evening started at almost double-quick tramp for […] and had scarcely time to rest when, the Johnnys opened a shell fire on us. Sleepers’ renowned [10th Massachusetts] Battery, which was on our regiment’s right, replied promptly, and detachments from Barlow’s Division [1/II/AotP] were thrown out in line of battle, and advanced upon the enemy, skirmishing as they advanced; a brisk musketry fire soon followed, then a shout and charge from our boys, and the Rebel fort and four thirty-twos are ours.2 Now, the One Hundred and Seventieth [New York] and One Hundred and Fifty-fifth [New York] regiments, under command of Col. J[ames]. P. McIvor [of the 170th NY], are advanced as skirmishers. They follow up the Rebels, and drive them back through a dense wood some two miles. Here we halted, nothing occurring further than some skirmish-firing, and the massing of our troops to repeal any demonstration that might be made in the morning. Early next morning [July 28, 1864], it was evident that the enemy were bent on some mischief, and, of course, we were alive to the emergency. Re-enforcements were evidently arriving to them, and as they came they were drawn up in line of battle, a sorrowful t[?] pack up. Next morning [sic, July 30, 1864] found us at the foot of a hill, to the right of Petersburg, and within easy shelling distance. We had barely time to be drawn up in line of battle, when one of the most furious cannonading of shot and shell, witnessed during this campaign, opened from our lines, and that of the enemy, almost simultaneously. This continued without abatement for over three hours, dealing death and destruction on all sides. Suddenly an immense volume of smoke is seen to rise from Petersburg, and it is evident the city has been fired from our shells. The shelling continues intermixed with volleys of musketry; then charges, both sides manfully contesting their positions, until finally our boys drive the Rebs at the point of the bayonet, and take possession of their front-line of breastworks. Now the small cannon is brought into play by the Rebs, firing of musketry continues—the large guns again belch forth their venom—immense volumes of smoke arise from every direction—shout after shout pierces the air, evidently coming from those engaged in charging; and thus continued one of the most fearful contests, until dusk, when, as it were, both sides came to the determination that carnage enough had been done for that day, and all again was quiet. I have not learned the amount of casualties, but it must have been fearful. It is wonderful how small the mortality was among those in reserve, for shells were continually bursting over them. The result of the day is unknown. One thing is certain, we have gained more ground, and the destruction to their stronghold, Petersburg, must have been tremendous.3 The only casualty our regiment sustained, was Private Markey, Company C, being shot through the lungs, on the skirmish-line. He will probably die. Although our brigade [2/2/II/AotP, aka Corcoran’s Irish Legion] have gone through four days of hard marching, and fighting, they are in the best of spirits, and apparently fresh as if they were doing garrison-duty. Our ranks have been terribly thinned. I might say that there is only a fraction of it left. Would it not be well for the Government to allow us to recruit. Certainly, no brigade in the service has done such good service to our common cause, or has suffered so much in this campaign. Having recently noticed the name of Lieut. Hunter in one of the dailies, among the casualties, I have only to state that he is alive and well—never having been absent from his regiment during the campaign.
Yours, etc., A. O. P.4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The writer is describing the First Battle of Deep Bottom, fought from July 26-29, 1864 north of the James River. Winfield Scott Hancock took his Second Corps, Army of the Potomac and some cavalry north of the river to try to launch a cavalry raid. His actions ended up drawing quite a few Confederate troops north of the James, and the North nearly broke through near Petersburg during the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater as a result. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The preceding few sentences describe the fighting at First Deep Bottom on the morning of July 27, 1864. Four twenty pound Parrott rifles of the 1st Rockbridge VA Artillery were captured early in the day. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The letter writer is, rather erroneously, describing the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater. ↩
- “One Hundred and Seventieth Regiment, N. Y. V..” Sunday Mercury (New York, New York). August 7, 1864, p. 7 col. 4 ↩