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NP: August 13, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 32nd MA Observes the Crater Battle


Line of Battle, Near Petersburg, Aug. 1st, 1864.

MR. EDITOR:—I have not written you for some time on account of the scarcity of envelopes and paper, but as the great bombardment of Petersburg came off yesterday, I will endeavor to give you a few items.1

On the morning of the 30th [of July, 1864] the lines were all complete, and everything ready; men in good spirits, and everything tending to show that we should meet with complete success. But a trifle here dashes all of a man’s hopes to the ground. At 5.30 A. M. [sic, 4:45 A. M.], the mine was sprung under the fort in front of the 9th corps, which was the signal for all the artillery to open. At the same time a part of the 9th corps, supported by the 18th corps, charged on the ruined fort, and got possession of it. After the enemy got over their fright they charged in three lines of battle to retake the fort, but were repulsed with very heavy loss. They tried it a second time, and were repulsed again. The fort was held by some white and some colored troops. When the rebels came down the third time they retook the fort. Now the question is, how did they do it? The simple facts are these. The colored troops were in the fort with their arms stacked, and the caps taken off their guns, and their officers would not let them fire, but told them that the Johnnies were coming, and that they must give themselves up. Our artillery was doing terrible execution among the rebels, who wavered. One good charge from the negroes would have driven them back, but the negroes were not allowed to fire. They stood it as long as they could, but knowing there was no mercy for them if captured, they took to their heels and run—what every man, under the circumstances, would have done.2

The public can say what they please, but the negroes were entirely blameless. Their officers are now in Richmond I hope, and may they stay there; it is the best place for them. This is the end of our two months’ hard work.

Too much praise cannot be given to our artillery. They kept the rebel artillery almost entirely silenced through the whole affair. We are on the extreme left, and on the flank of a fort. In front of our fort is a rebel fort with 18 guns, and after our fort opened the rebs could not touch a gun. Our boys dried them up in twenty minutes. Our artillery beats the world.

By the way, Mr. Editor, have you seen anything of a man down your way they call the paymaster? We have been looking for him a long time, and have come to the conclusion that he has made a mistake and gone east, instead of coming south. But I suppose he cannot be blamed much, for shot and shell are not quite so plenty there as they are here.

Gen. Grant sent a flag of truce over to the rebels yesterday [July 31, 1864], to see if they would allow us to bury our dead. They accepted it this morning. We buried 330 in all. There would have been many of our wounded saved, if we could have got them off before; but as it has been tremendous warm these two days, a great many of the wounded died. The rebels must have lost very heavily, for we can see them at work burying their dead now.

Our regiment never was in better health since they have been out than they are now. We have had a great quantity of pickles and vegetables from the Sanitary, and they have recruited the men right up; and now if the pay-master would come, the men would be in tip top spirits.

What are patriotic men worth in Gloucester now? I see they have paid as high as six hundred dollars for them, and got cheated at that.

I think you will hear something big from this army soon.

Yours,                   BOMB PROOF.3


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

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18640813CALGTP1C4 to5 32dMALetter


  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: “Bomb Proof”, the author of this letter to his hometown paper, is set to describe the famous July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater.  His Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac had a front row seat to this massive spectacle, being situated just to the left of the Union Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac.  The Ninth Corps, of course, was slated to lead the attack into the breach made by the mine explosion.  You’ll notice this White soldiers mentions the United States Colored Troops, and he has a good opinion of their fighting ability. He was less impressed with their White officers, however, as you will see.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: It is interesting to hear this soldier scuttlebutt about the USCT regiments not being allowed to fire their weapons.  There is no evidence this happened, but the 32nd Massachusetts obviously heard this rumor soon after the battle.
  3. “War Correspondence” Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph. August 13, 1864, p. 1 col. 4-5
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