Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by researcher and author Kathryn Lerch, who generously donated a large collection of material on the 8th New York Heavy Artillery for use at The Siege of Petersburg Online.
Lt. Joseph Willett expands on the Deep Bottom Operation (published Aug. 16, 1864) in the (Batavia, New York) Republican Advocate1:
After a short rest we crossed the River, ascended the bank, and there found a breastwork had been thrown up, in which we took position. It now became evident for what we had come, for looking about a half a mile ahead I saw a line of skirmishers advancing from the first Division, who had arrived in advance of us in the morning. They had not proceeded far before I could see the smoke curling in wreaths from their guns, and hear the rattle of musketry; I knew there was game ahead, and I had not long to wait before I found where it was, for at that moment the cannon poured forth its shot and shell. At first I thought it was our own battery, for they were distant no more than half a mile – but in a moment our cannon opened upon the Rebel battery which soon undeceived me. Meanwhile our skirmishers kept advancing and pouring into the “Johnnies” their rapid fire. – The Rebels, forgetting their love for “last ditches,” most ingloriously fled from the one they were on, and left in our hands four of the handsomest Parrot guns – twenty pounders– that I ever saw. So hasty was their retreat that they did not even take off their caissons, which were full of the finest kind of ammunition, and all fell into our hands, together with the first line of their works.
In the afternoon, we marched into the woods where we rested all night in full view of the Rebels who were fortifying upon a hill in front of us about a mile distant. In the morning we had the pleasure of witnessing the gunboats shell them. You would have laughed to have seen the Rebels leave their works when the gunboat fired about twice – they fled in perfect confusion. Indeed a gunboat shell is no pleasant visitor I assure you. The third shot from the boat struck right in their midst, and ‘to their speed added wings.’ Rebels captured afterwards in the day told me that shot killed one of their Generals. . . . Meanwhile our cavalry were going around the rear of the Rebels, and before long we were ordered out to support them. – About noon we marched out, and in about an hour met the cavalry coming back with upwards of three hundred prisoners. . . .
The picket line enclosed most of the battle ground, and I had a fine opportunity to see the effects of the battle. . . . One cornfield was literally covered with Rebels, lying some places in heaps. The Rebels were completely routed and they left their dead and wounded on the field. Five stands of colors and many prisoners fell into our hands. The whole affair was one of success . . . as it was, the boys felt that their long hard march had not been in vain – for the reward of our labor was in our possession.
. . . We dug trenches as if we meant to advance on Richmond that way; and before night the reinforcements were pouring in for the Rebels, from Petersburg and possibly Richmond. Having succeeded in diverting them from Petersburg, as soon as it was dark we packed our traps, and Hancock’s Racers were on the run for Petersburg to be there in time for the attack [the Mine Run], which everyone expected would take place the next morning. The march was quite as rapid returning as going. Six minutes an hour being allowed for rest – and it was impossible for those in the rear of the column to get that much. Before daylight we were again before Petersburg – that is, all but those who were unable to keep up with the advance.2