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NP: July 24, 1864 Sunday Mercury (New York): 5th NY Veteran Remains Separated at the Siege of Petersburg

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.

Fifth Regiment, N[ew]. Y[ork]. Veteran Vols.

[Special Correspondence of the N. Y. Sunday Mercury.]

BEFORE PETERSBURG, VA., July 17. [1864]

Changes Among Officers—Provost-Guard Duty—No Rain—The Dust—The Late Raid—Grant’s Grip.

Since the date of my last letter1, the detachment of this regiment [5th New York Veteran Volunteers] on duty at head-quarters, Fifth Corps [Army of the Potomac], has received an addition to the number of its officers in the person of Captain Paul A. Oliver, for many months on duty with the Army of the Cumberland, aid-de-camp to Major-General Hooker. Company E now has its full complement of officers, namely: Captain Oliver, and Lieutenants Woods and Thompson. Company F (late D) has only Captain Joseph Hilton, although it is probable that both vacancies will be filled in the course of a few days.

Information reached us a few days since, of the decease of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Winslow, commanding regiment, of wounds received at Bethesda Church, Va., on the 2d of June last; and speculation was rife for a time as to who would be his successor; all doubts are, however, set at rest on one point—Major [Henry W.] Ryder has been induced, from the imperfect state of his health, to relinquish his own claims to the command, and I understand that an application for the colonelcy has been submitted to the Governor, but by whom I am at present unable to state.2 From what I can gather, however, it is from one well qualified for the position, which is a matter for congratulation, and a tight rein and a steady hand are required in the work of reorganization. The present officer in command [almost certainly Captain George L. Guthrie] has the reputation of being a brave and gallant soldier, but hardly qualified for the absolute command of the regiment; while Major Ryder’s duties as a provost-marshal necessarily preclude the possibility of his devoting the required time and attention to the duties of a commander of a regiment in active service. An endeavor was made a few days since by the officer commanding to have these two companies relieved from duty at corps head-quarters, and returned to the regiment. This rather cool request, however, did not receive the sanction of the corps-commander. General [Gouverneur] Warren [commander of Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac], however, was alive to the necessity of some disposition other than the present being made of the regiment. Now, returning Companies E and F would have necessitated the relieving of Major Ryder from his position of Provost-Marshal. This was out of the question, the General being unwilling to dispense with the services of the Major, so long and efficiently rendered. As, therefore, Major Ryder could not be sent to the regiment, there appeared to be but one alternative, namely, to send the regiment to him, and this will, probably, be done; and the Fifth N[ew]. Y[ork]. V[eteran]. is expected to shortly report for provost-duty at corps head-quarters, where it will be under the superintendence and control of the Major, who, under the direction of Gen. Warren, will speedily effect a perfect reorganization.3

Doubtless, this is but a temporary arrangement, as should a Colonel be appointed, the regiment would of course be again returned to active duty; but it may remain sufficiently long to admit of reducing its present chaotic condition to something resembling order. It is, however, a safe calculation, that whatever disposition is made of it, the portion, till lately the Twelfth [New York], will retain its present position until the expiration of its term of service, now rapidly approaching.

We have been suffering greatly from want of rain, which has hitherto most persistently refused to descend and refresh alike vegetation and humanity. The heat, until within the last few days, has been intense, and the soil, consisting mainly of a fine whit sand, reflected it with redoubled force; a refreshing breeze has, however, prevailed for a day or two past, but still we badly want rain. Were it only on account of the dust that lies several inches thick, and rises in clouds with every breath of wind.

Nearly every morning, we awake to find the sky overcast with apparently heavily laden clouds, that threaten each moment to let fall a perfect deluge; but, unfortunately, they do nothing but threaten; in a few hours they pass over, and “Old Sol” once more holds undisputed authority, and pours down his beams with redoubled vigor, as if in revenge for his temporary exclusion. Toward night, thunder-clouds obscure the “ethereal blue”, while distant peals and vivid flashes of electric fluid give promise of the long-delayed storm, but invariably our hopes are raised only to be again dashed to the ground, disappointment once more “sits heavy at the heart”—the storm either expends its fury over the “Confederacy’s hope”, or passes over us with a few furious gusts of wind, to the imminent peril of slightly-erected arbors or imperfectly-fastened tents, perhaps letting fall in its hasty flight a few straggling drops of rain, serving to render our disappointment the more intense.

By this time, I suppose our Northern friends have recovered their equanimity, now that the invading hordes have withdrawn from their rather too close proximity to the national Capital. If the intention of this last raid was to induce General Grant to relinquish his hold on the “Cockade City”, it has met with a signal failure, for he still holds it in a firm tight grip—a grip that is becoming firmer and tighter day by day.4 The siege-works are rapidly approaching completion, and the day is not far distant when we may hope to see the national emblem proudly floating over the Rebel stronghold.     TWELFTH.5

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Soldier Letters from the New York Sunday Mercury:


  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: In that letter, “Twelfth” described the consolidation of his regiment, the 12th New York, into the 5th New York Veteran Volunteers.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: Colonel Frederick Winthrop would eventually command the regiment later that summer, with a commission on August 6, 1864.  See the New York State Military Museum page on Winthrop.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The hoped-for removal from the front lines did not occur.  The main portion of the 5th New York Veteran stayed in the First Brigade, Second Divison, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac. According to my research, it looks like the regiment was reunited at some point in early 1865.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Robert E. Lee sent Jubal Early’s Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia in the direction of Washington, D. C., hoping Grant would pull back to face the threat.  Grant held a tight grip on Petersburg where previous commanders may have faltered, and Early’s Raid ultimately did not change the situation around Richmond and Petersburg.
  5. “Fifth Regiment, N. Y. Veteran Vols.” Sunday Mercury (New York, New York). July 24, 1864, p. 7 col. 3
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