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.
Ninety-Fifth Regiment, N. Y. V.
[Special Correspondence of the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]
NEAR Petersburg, VA., August 14. 
Expected Brush—Misfortune of the Black Troops—Old Soldiers kept Back—Substitutes—Greenbacks Wanted—Little Mac.
Since I last wrote you, nothing of importance has transpired with us. We expected a brush with the Johnny Rebs the day Burnside sprung his mine [July 30, 1864], thereby forever emancipating a pretty tall number of our woolly-headed brethren of African descent; to those unfortunate colored individuals, “the whip is undoubtedly lost, and the shackle broke” forever. With something of the same feeling that prompted some one in the long-ago to exclaim: “Lo! the poor Indian!” I might cry: Oh! the poor nigger!” or any other man who fights with him. Yet, at times, I cannot help feeling, when reading this, that, or the other proposed plan for the darkey’s salvation, that it will be a large economy to save the like, as Byron said of the soul of George III.
Our division, the Fourth (Fifth Corps) [4/V/AotP], was under arms and in position to charge, but we were not put in; therefore we cannot boast of any laurels won in the brilliant move in question. The niggers can—that is, the few whose heels were sufficiently clean to enable them to regain the shelter of our friendly works. As it stands, we cannot say that we particularly envy Sambo the glory he won on the 30th of July last [July 30, 1864], although he will doubtless receive a place in that history of the Great Rebellion by Horace or some other philosopher.1 We have lately received some fifty substitute-recruits, and enough of our old wounded have come back to swell our number up to two hundred. Maj. Robert W. Bard is, at present, in command; Col. [James] Creney’s wounds still keeping him absent.2 We have a very pleasant camp, good water, and if that man with the greenbacks would call and settle with us, we would all be as jolly as “clams at high tide”.3 I hear no talk of re-enlisting for one, two, or three years—the one, two, or three hundred dollars bounty being considered by the boys generally not worth the taking. All of us old soldiers (and most of the new ones, too), are hoping that ‘Little Mac’ will be nominated for the Presidency upon a Democratic war platform. If he is, he can count upon our hearty support.4 Yours, truly,
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The first half of this letter discusses the fighting ability of Black soldiers, in this case the men of the USCT regiments of Ferraro’s Fourth Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac at the July 30, 1864 Battle of the Crater. As I always do in these cases, I’ve tagged this post with the tag “fighting ability of black soldiers.” Those interested in the various accounts of observers, both good and bad, are included. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Colonel James Creney was wounded twice on June 18, 1864 at the Second Battle of Petersburg. Creney was back with the regiment shortly after this letter was written. He is listed as the commander of the 95th New York in the Official Records on August 31, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The author is, of course, referring to the paymaster. Waiting for back pay seems to have been a pretty popular pastime in the vicinity of Petersburg, Virginia in 1864-65. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Sunday Mecury was a Democratic paper, and you often read accounts of men who are going to vote for George McClellan. Whether this was truly the case in August, but dropped off due to the victories of Sherman and Sheridan, or whether it was propaganda for the readers, one will never know. ↩
- “Ninety-Fifth Regiment, N. Y. V.” Sunday Mercury (New York, New York). August 21, 1864, p. 7 col. 2 ↩