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NP: July 10, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 12th U. S. Infantry at the Siege of Petersburg, Early July 1864

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.

Twelfth U. S. Infantry


An Early Wash—In the Wood—Burnside and His Blacks—Laying Off—Mustered for Pay—French Soldiers and Tobacco—Railroad Building.

I was up early this morning, about break of day, and went about two miles to find a little water to wash any clothes in.  I was obliged to be up with the lark, or somebody else would have taken possession, and the water would have been too dirty for use.  After washing shirts, drawers, socks, and pocket handkerchiefs, I took a bath myself, and finished off by emptying two canteens of cold spring-water over my head, and having a military shower-bath; after which, I returned to camp and cooked my breakfast, consisting of a piece of fresh beef, roasted on a stick; a cup of coffee, and a few hard tack roasted on the ashes.  Our boys are in excellent spirits; they have had two or three days to clean themselves up, and our rations have been much better lately. Only fancy sour krout and dried apples. We are encamped in a pine-wood, about three-quarters of a mile from our old position in the trenches—which position we expect we will have to take again, either to-night or to-morrow night. Our regiment [the 12th United States] is very small now, we have lost very heavily; a good many of the veterans have been knocked over. We have lost twelve officers since the campaign commenced. Brigadier-General [Joseph] Hayes has command of our Brigade [1/2/V/AotP] now, and General [Romeyn B.] Ayres is in command of the Division, with Capt. F[rederick]. Winthrop, of ours, for his Adjutant-General (Capt. Winthrop, of Co. B, Twelfth U. S. Infantry). He is a brave and dashing officer; he had charge of our regiment after Major Bruin was wounded, and the boys think there is no one like him; in fact, he is the pet of the whole Brigade. The Volunteers think the world of him. Major [Matthew M.] Blunt is now commanding; he is a very nice officer, and much respected by the men in the regiment. Picket firing still continues, night and day, and there is some heavy cannonading going on on the extreme right; it sounds like very heavy guns, it may, perhaps, be gunboats. [Ninth Corps commander Ambrose] Burnside is having a terrible hard time of it—his works are so near the Johnnys that they are obliged to fight. He keeps his niggers hard at work, either digging chopping, or fighting, and if the Johnnys make a break to him he opens upon them with artillery, and makes them hunt their holes I double quick time. We were mustered on the 30th [of June 1864] for four months’ pay.  It went rather hard to hear the names of so many comrades called who will never answer their names again. The company clerks are busily engaged filling out the rolls; and all we want now is, the sutler and paymaster to make their appearance, and we will be all right. These are, indeed, melting moments; and our boys may be seen laying off in the shade almost in a state of nudity, striving to keep themselves cool; after sundown, they will be round, brisk as bees, some playing cards, others reading, and some skylarking, and most all smoking. What is the reason the Government will not supply the soldiers with tobacco? They could do it as well here as they do in the French Army; a French soldier can get his weed from his commissary at about thirty-two sous per [killo?], and the American soldier has to pay $2 to $2 50 a plug, for the commonest of Navy tobacco full of molasses and stalks. I wish some of the big-bugs in Washington would take this matter into consideration, and confer a boon on the whole Army.

Our men are hard at work on the railroad from City Point to this place, and in fact the Army is getting comfortably settled, but I suppose by the time everything is in good working order we will be moved off to some other point, and I sincerely hope it will be to march into Richmond with trumpets sounding and banners fluttering in the breeze.                WILL.1

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Soldier Letters from the New York Sunday Mercury:


  1. “Twelfth U. S. Infantry.” Sunday Mercury (New York, New York). July 10, 1864, p. 7 col. 1-2
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