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NP: July 8, 1864 The Bedford Inquirer: 55th PA at Second Petersburg, June 14-21, 1864

HEADQUARTERS 55th [P[ennsylvania]. V[olunteer]’s.
June 25, 1864


Thinking a short communication from this quarter might interest some of the readers of your valuable paper, and more especially those who have friends in this regiment [55th Pennsylvania], I shall give a short sketch of the operations of the regiment since our return from Cold Harbor. We reached Point of Rocks on the Appomattox on the evening of June 14th [1864]. After landing and taking supper, we spread our tents upon the ground, and covering ourselves with our Indian [sic, India]-rubber blankets, we were soon enwrapt in that sweet repose which none know better how to appreciate than the weary soldier.1

At 2 o’clock A.M., June 15th we received orders to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. At daylight we took up the line of march, crossing on the Pontoons, to the south side of the [Appomattox] river and moving in the direction of Petersburg. Our Division, the 2nd [2/XVIII/AotJ], moved direct toward Petersburg, while the First [1/XVIII/AotJ] moved off to the left2. The object of this was not then understood by us, but was afterward fully and satisfactorily developed. Skirmishers were thrown out and we moved forward slowly and cautiously, our Brigade [1/2/XVIII/AotJ] taking the advance3. We came up with the enemy’s skirmishers at 9 o’clock A.M. [on June 15, 1864], and drove them about two miles, or until we were within range of the enemy’s batteries, and in sight of Petersburg. Here we halted and lay in line of battle until near sundown, when the First Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Brooks came around our left and, flanking the enemy’s right, drove them from their works. The whole of their first line was then in our possession. Fifteen pieces of artillery, two hundred and fourteen Prisoners together with three or four colors and quite a large number of small arms were captured.4

Night set in, and all the troops of the 18th Corps Bivouacked for the night except the 55th P[ennsylvania]. V[olunteers]. and the 23rd. Mass[achusetts]. Vol[unteer]s, which were deployed in front of our lines as pickets. The next day June 16th, everything was quiet until near sundown when we received the order to advance and engage the enemy. We moved forward until within two hundred yards of the enemy’s second line of works and held our position under a heavy fire till 10 o’clock P.M., when we were withdrawn and went into camp for the night. The 2nd Division rested on the 17th [of June 1864]; on the night of the 17th the enemy evacuated his 2nd line on our front and left.

At early dawn on the 18th [of June 1864] we again received orders to advance. But orders come generally a few hours previous to moving. So it was this time; we did not get started till about 8 o’clock A.M., moved slowly and halted at intervals, still following our skirmishers, and still looking for decisive orders. Such orders came at last; we were ordered forward in a charge under the most terrible fire. Our brave boys fell thick and fast, but they still pushed stubbornly on, and established a new line nearly a quarter of a mile toward Petersburg. Here despite the heavy fire of the enemy, we went to work and entrenched ourselves and held the position. The loss of the 55th in this charge alone was 95. The other regiments engaged suffered proportionately.5

At daylight the next morning June 19th we were relieved by fresh troops and moved back to the 2nd line where we remained until 9 o’clock P.M., when we marched back across the Appomattox and rested on the 20th [of June 1864]. On the 21st we re-crossed the river and moved up to the front where the regiment is still lying. Nothing of importance going on now. We are in full view of Petersburg. The City is at our mercy, and could be blown to atoms by our batteries; but Gen. Grant’s object does not seem to be to destroy but to capture.

Enclosed I send you a list of the Causalties [sic, casualties] of Co. H since coming to Virginia and also a congratulating order issued by Gen. Stannard, previous to his taking leave of this Brigade to take command of the First Division.

Yours &c., [1st Lieutenant] Ja[me]s. H. Miller.”6,7

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Roy Gustrowsky.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: After the Battle of Cold Harbor, while Grant’s Army of the Potomac marched southeast overland to the James River, Baldy Simth’s Corps had marched east to White House Landing, on the York River, and had taken vessels from that point, down the York, over to the James River, and up the James to Bermuda Hundred, landing on the evening of June 14, 1864.
  2. 1st Division-18th Corps, commanded by Brigadier General William T.H. Brooks; 2nd Division-18th Corps, commanded by Brigadier General John H. Martindale. OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Serial #80, PP. 235-236.
  3. OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE UNION & CONFEDERATE ARMIES, Serial #80, P. 236. 1st Brigade-2nd Division-18th Corps, commanded by Brigadier General George J. Stannard.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: 1st Lt. Miller here describes the first day of fighting at the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 15, 1864, with the combat being carried out by Baldy Smith’s Eighteenth Corps, Army of the James.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: By June 18, 1864, the fourth and last day of the Second Battle of Petersburg, the Confederates had pulled back to quickly prepared lines closer to Petersburg. In addition, the veterans of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia were helping to man these lines.  The Union stumbled forward looking for the main Confederate line, and ultimately attacked, as 1st Lt. Miller mentions, receiving in some cases quite heavy casualties.
  6. 1st Lieutenant James H. Miller, Company H, 55th Pennsylvania Infantry. Company H was recruited in Bedford County PA. HISTORY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA VOLUNTEERS(Samuel Bates), 1861-5, VOL. 2, P. 205.
  7. No title. The Bedford Inquirer (Bedford, PA), July 8, 1864, p. 3, col. 2
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