Editor’ Note: Greg Taylor sent along another of William Beynon Phillips’ letters, this one found in the July 14, 1864 issue of the Pittston (PA) Gazette. Greg doesn’t own an original copy of this letter as he does others of Phillips, but he has posted it on his web site and has graciously pointed it out to me and has encouraged me to publish the article as well due to its Petersburg ties. Greg is presumably the transcriber of the article as well.
We have been permitted to publish the following letter received by Mr. David T. Richards, of Hyde Parke, from a very intelligent young man, formerly a clerk to Mr. R’s store.
Head Qrs. 3d Brigade, 1st. Div. 9th A.C.
Battle Field of Petersburg, Va.
June 18th, 1864
Dear [Mr. David T.] Richards,
Thanks to a merciful God I am permitted once more to write to you. Since daylight of the 17th we have been under the severest fire of the war. We took up our march from Cold Harbor across the Peninsula to James River, below Harrison’s Landing, made the crossing and marched here in a roundabout manner, without any rest scarcely, arriving to repel an attack made on our center. This was the night of the 16th.
Union troops assault Petersburg Fortifications
On the following morning before daylight, we advanced on the enemy, across a field of thick underbrush, commanded by a galling fire of two batteries on a hill in front. We gained the ravine and laid there, under a severe fire for some 10 or 12 hours. At 5:30 last night our Division was formed in the ravine to carry the enemy’s works in our front. It is impossible for me to begin to describe to you the terrible charge attended with enormous loss, but we drove them and occupied their works to be driven out and again retaken by us. Our ammunition gave out and we held our ground at the point of the bayonet all last night.
Our ammunition gave out and we held our ground at the point of the bayonet all last night.
This morning the enemy is retreating along his whole line. We also gained the R.R. The 2nd. Pa. Artillery is under the command of a Captain, 3 of the companies under command of Sergeants, and one Company even under a Corporal.—- Our color bearer was shot, and two more who succeeded him were shot also.
Our loss last night in the space of some 40 minutes (in the Regiment,) is 6 commanding and 207 enlisted in killed, wounded and missing. But I cannot see how any one of us lived in such a perfect hail storm of shell, grape and canister, as we received in the charge. I felt while our Brigade was forming for this charge that I would never write old Hyde Park again, and farewelled with all that was dear to me.
Our boys advanced at trail arms double quick with a loud cheer, across a corn field of some seven hundred yards, and in all that distance the rebels poured into us like hail. The air was thick, but we fired not a gun, until within dead range, one volley, then the dry, hard bayonet; they left then I can tell you. They again advanced on our flank, but only gained their ground to be driven out of them. I am just now Asst. Adj’t. Gen. of the Brigade. Our Lieut. Col. commands it.
I could hardly keep from crying this morning at the terrible sight across the cornfield to see so many of my dear old comrades killed and wounded — to see men who were talking with me last evening, this morning thrown into the trenches. Davis was not present in the charge; he was detailed on duty with the ammunition train. Very lucky was he indeed.
The scene of our Division starting off in this charge was indeed a glorious sight. When we all lay on our bellies in the field out of the worst fire, the bursting of shells and hissing of shot by the thousands was enough to make any man think seriously of running 700 yards on an enemy entrenched (on) the other side, but when attention was given, up goes every one of us at once, then trail arms, double-quick, march and a cheer, the officers all in front, waving their swords and rallying the men. Now and then the line would make a break, but the glorious example set by the officers brought them right up to their work, and they did it handsomely. The Rebels lay in their works 3 and 4 thick.
I send herewith some papers I picked up on the field. I am too fatigued to say more now than good bye to you all, hoping that again, in the battle of the morrow I shall be spared to write you again. My love to all of you.
Yours, with much regard, – William B. Phillips1
- “Interesting Letter.” Pittston (PA) Gazette. July 14, 1864, p. ? col. ? ↩