Letters from the Army.
From the 45th Pennsylvania Regiment.
CAMP NEAR PETERSBURG, Va.,
July 4th, 1864.
Friend Cobb—Contrary to the general expectation of the army, and perhaps of the public, nothing exciting or of interest has transpired at the front to-day. On the contrary, there is if anything, less firing than usual between the pickets.1
The weather is dry, sultry and exceedingly hot. The constant discharge of small arms and frequent cannonading, which has been in progress since the beginning of the siege of Petersburg, together with the great heat and uncommon drouth which has prevailed during the past two weeks, have given to the atmosphere a sulphurous smell, and parched the air to a degree really oppressive, as well as reduced our supply of water in and around camp until it has become an inconvenient scarcity. Roads are fearfully dusty. Symptoms of rain have been frequent, but with the exception of a few inconsiderable showers, we have thus far been doomed to disappointment. The health of the army is surprisingly good under existing circumstances. The daily arrival of convalescents more than equals the number of those disabled by disease. Our rations have been increased in quality and quantity until we are faring better than ever before. Besides our usual government allowance we get daily issues from the [United States] Sanitary Commission, such as pickles, cabbage, onions, radishes, dried apples, tea, condensed milk, lemons, &c., while the sick get still greater delicacies. None can relish these luxuries as well as the soldier, who for months has been dieted exclusively on fresh beef, hard tack, and coffee as an army invariably and necessarily is during a vigorous campaign such as the army of the Potomac has passed during the last two months. The knowledge of this should, and I am confident will encourage the friends at home in their efforts to attest their devotion to the cause of the soldier, by contributing to those beneficent institutions—the Sanitary and [United States] Christion Commission.2
Many a war-worn veteran as he sits down on his knapsack to feast and indulge his stinted stomach on these luxuries thinks of home, and that perhaps the dish he is eating was prepared by his own mother, wife, sister, or sweet-heart, which I assure you makes it taste none the worse. We also get ½ gill of whiskey to a man as a daily item of rations, which while it is not sufficient to intoxicate, proves a valuable stimulant and does us more good than harm, particularly while on duty in the pits.
By going on the skirmish line any desirable quantity of good ice can be got, but the ice-house is commanded by the rebel sharpshooters, and whenever a blue jacket appears a shower of bullets, or perhaps a shell is sure to follow. Several have been killed in attempting to reach it, but ice is a great luxury in such times as these, and scarcely a day passes but that we feast on the cooling beverage, or drink ice cool lemonade as good as our city saloons afford.[SOPO Editor’s Note: This is one of many accounts of an ice house near Baxter Road that the soldiers found interesting and enticing. See Julie Steele’s site The Petersburg Project for their page on the Ice House. Many Federal daredevils ran the gauntlet to go get ice in the early summer of 1864.]
The siege progresses uninterruptedly. The pickets on other parts of our line have generally ceased firing and are living in comparative peace and quiet with their southern neighbors. Along the front of our corps the rattle of musketry is incessant night and day.3
Occasionally the rebels run out a battery and attempt to shell our lines, but are invariably silenced in a few moments by the unerring aim of our gunners. During the night shelling with mortars is freely indulged in on both sides. Some of the rebels’ shells in the dead of night burst in fearful proximity to our pits but have as yet inflicted no considerable damage. When awake, these monster visitors can be easily dodged, as they are visible for miles before they strike or burst. The greater part of our casualties is caused by the fire of the rebel sharpshooters, who with unerring aim, make it almost invariably fatal for us to elevate our craniums above the parapets. Three of our company have been wounded to-day, namely:
Corporal Jasper R. White, in the head,
Private Morris Smith, in shoulder,
Private Peter Bellinger, in head.
Neither of them are dangerously hurt. They have been sent to the hospital. The advance line of our [Second] division [of the Ninth Corps] is not more than 100 yards from the rebel works, which are very formidable and being daily strengthened as the glimmer of picks and shovels in the hot sun in front of us plainly show. While this is going on, Grant’s army is not idle; our engineers and strong details from different regiments are constantly digging, daily increasing the magnitude and strength of our fortifications. Since the destruction of the Weldon railroad by our forces the whistle of the cars, which a few days since could be distinctly heard has ceased to taunt us and defy our approach.4
You may not be surprised to hear of a fearful collision of the armies at any time, but let the future speak for itself. When Grant moves it will be with a purpose and when he is fully prepared, and judging from the past we have no grounds for fears in the future. The boys are feeling well, the majority of them are on picket to-day, celebrating the “fourth” and picking off the “Johnnies” at the same time.
Capt. Richards returned from the hospital where he had been temporarily detained by an attack of fever and ague, on the 2d instant in good health. Hoping we have not been forgotten at the celebrations and picnics held in the familiar groves of old Tioga, to-day, I remain,
Letters from VETERAN in the Tioga County Agitator:
- NP: June 29, 1864 The Tioga County Agitator (Wellsboro, PA): The 45th PA Moves on Petersburg, June 12-20, 1864
- NP: July 27, 1864 The Tioga County Agitator (Wellsboro, PA): The 45th PA at Petersburg, Early July 1864
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Dan Eyde.
If you are interested in helping us transcribe newspaper articles like the one above, please CONTACT US.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Ahh, the old “Grant will attack on the Fourth of July” rumor. This was extremely prevalent on both sides in the days leading up to our nation’s birthday. I even did a blog post on this “Phantom Fourth attack” during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The two commissions were civilian organizations devoted to helping the soldiers’ bodies and souls, respectively. For a good microhistory of the ways in which these organizations helped the soldiers at the Siege of Petersburg, see Jeanne Marie Christie’s book The Women of City Point, Virginia, 1864-1865: Stories of Life and Work in the Union Occupation Headquarters. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 45th Pennsylvania was in the First Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Corps, Army of the Potomac. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Union forces had gotten onto the Weldon Railroad during the Wilson-Kautz Cavalry Raid of late June 1864, destroying enough of the Weldon Railroad to briefly stop the follow of supplies into Petersburg from the south directly by train. ↩
- The identity of “VETERAN,” who as you can see is a very skilled writer, has thus far eluded me. If you can tell me who this man was, please CONTACT US. ↩
- “From the 45th Pennsylvania Regiment.” Tioga County Agitator (Wellsboro, PA), July 27, 1864, p. 1, col. 6 ↩