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NP: August 13, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA Observes the Crater Battle


In front of Petersburg, Va.,
Aug 2d, 1864.

MR. EDITOR:—Once more has our regiment [23rd Massachusetts] been in battle. It happened on the morning of the 30th of July [1864]. On the night of the 29th the cooks had orders to cook up two days rations, and about one o’clock that night the regiment started. There were many surmises as to where they were going, but no one seemed to know. They shortly found out however, for they started for the left, arriving at their place of destination about three o’clock.1 Here they bivouacked till daylight, when, at a given signal, a rebel fort was blown up, which our forces had undermined, burying a large number of rebels. Some say there were two regiments in the fort, and that there were only a few who were got out alive.2 Among those who were rescued were two colonels and two majors; they were taken prisoners, as well as quite a number of privates who escaped destruction.

Simultaneous with the explosion of the fort, the artillery opened; and it is said it was the heaviest cannonnading there has been since the war commenced, not excepting Gettysburg or Fredericksburg. The cannonnading was kept up for about two hours along the entire line, but on the centre and left it was the heaviest. At the same time, our forces (infantry) charged through the passage made by the undermining, carrying everything before them, the negro troops taking the lead, supported by a body of white troops. They charged on the first line, carrying them handsomely; rested a short time and then charged on the second line under a very heavy fire of artillery and musketry, carrying that as well as the first. Again they rested a few minutes, and then charged on the third and last line. Here they did not succeed, but were repulsed; in fact, they broke and ran, creating a panic. The reason of their breaking was on account of the rebels making a counter charge, coming over their breastworks with a yell, when the negro, or colored troops (I suppose I should call them) run. They could not be stopped, and it was said the negroes run into their support at a charge bayonet, which started the support. The rebs. came on after them, capturing their second line back again. They then charged the first line, but were repulsed with large loss. At night our forces fell back to their original position, which the Johnnies tried to force but could not; so they gave it up, after making one grand charge.

The loss on both sides was very heavy, and I think ours was the heaviest in killed and wounded; but we took the most prisoners. The fort had seventeen guns and mortars. We captured some of them, but the most part were buried in the ruins, and of course will not be of any service.3

The rebs. had no idea they were soon to be blown into eternity, as they were all asleep at the time, and had nothing on but their pants and shirts; that is what the prisoners stated.

Our regiment did not take an active part in the fight, but were held in reserve, and had only one man wounded, who was struck in the mouth and lost a small piece of his tongue. We returned that night, and at three o’clock the next morning [July 31, 1864] were ordered to fall in again, and go out where the tenth corps had been, and relieve them, or that part of them that were there, and hold that line. It was here that James Saville was killed. He was detailed with some other men to guard a magazine; and as he was at work filling a bomb-proof, a stray bullet struck him in the head, and passing through, killed him instantly. On the next day, (Sunday) [August 1, 1864] a member of Co. D was wounded in the leg, slightly; he was detailed to guard the magazine.

There is something else going on, to judge from appearances; but what it is, is not for us to know. Time will develop all things, so we must rest content till such time comes. There are some things that have been done, that it will not do to publish at this time; but you can bet that Gen. Grant is all right. Bully for him! Both he and Gen. Meade were at the front all, or the larger part of the day, directing operations themselves.

The rebels have very formidable works in front of Petersburg, and the blowing up of that fort is a big thing. The number of prisoners taken by us is estimated at two thousand; but I hardly think it will reach as high as that.

Yours,                             GUARD.4


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

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18640813CALGTP1C5 23dMALetter


  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The 23rd Massachusetts, part of the Eighteenth Corps, Army of the James, had been stationed to the left of the Nonth Corps, which was scheduled to make the main attack of the day.  Portions of the Eighteenth Corps, including the 23rd, were moved into a support role behind the Ninth Corps on the night of July 29.  They would have a front row seat for the chaos and slaughter at the July 30 Battle of the Crater.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: This talk was surprisingly accurate.  Portions of the 22nd South Carolina and 23rd South Carolina, along with Pegram’s Petersburg VA Battery, were stationed in Elliott’s Salient at the time of the mine explosion.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Elliott’s Salient in fact only had the four guns of Pegram’s Virginia Artillery battery stationed there at the time of the explosion.
  4. “War Correspondence” Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph. August 13, 1864, p. 1 col. 5
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