Editor’s Note: This article was provided by John Hennessy and transcribed by Jackie Martin.
OUR ARMY CORRESPONDENCE.
NEAR PETERSBURG, VA., July 21, 1864.
MR. EDITOR:—Those of our sanguine friends at the North who, last winter, predicted that the war would end in the defeat or conquest of every rebel army before the 4th day of July, now last past, must be convinced by the depreciation of the Federal currency and the President’s last call for half a million more men, that that nice little job is not quite yet completed. If they are still indulging in the delusion that their predictions are fulfilled, let them take a trip to Petersburg via Harper’s Ferry, the Shenandoah valley and Gordonsville, or, if they happen to be under forty-five years of age, remain at home and draw a prize in Uncle Sam’s draft lottery, and I am of opinion that their delusions will very suddenly vanish.
It is just three years since the first Bull Run battle was fought, and even Virginia is not conquered, Richmond is not taken, nor the “back of the rebellion” so badly broken as to produce much of a paralysis of its lower extremities.—We are yet confronted by large armies well armed and equipped, well fed and led by able and experienced generals. If any of your readers still indulges in the belief that we can STARVE the rebels into submission he had better come out this way, traverse some of the counties our troops have marched through and see the magnificent cornfields waving in every breeze and wafting to every passer by constant promise of a golden harvest. There is food enough and to spare, such as it is, in the South, and if any variety is wanting an annual raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania will supply all deficiencies.
The North has already lavished blood and treasure enough to have extinguished this rebellion and conquered a peace that should prove enduring. Then, you ask, why have we not succeeded? I answer: 1st, because there is at the North a very large class of men who are interested in prolonging the war. They seem to care very little whether the rebellion is subdued, the Union restored and our dear old flag made again to wave over a united country, provided they can get fat contracts, make money out of the necessities of the government, or by gambling in the necessaries of life. These men are ready to support this or any other administration, to talk patriotically and to subscribe largely to encourage volunteering, just so long as a war can be carried on; they are always ready to pass resolutions thanking “our brave soldiers;” they attend Sanitary Commission Fairs and pay liberally; but when it comes to a draft to replenish the thinned ranks of our regiments they throw every possible obstacle in the way. In all their thief operations they strive to block the wheels of government, cripple its resources and delay its military operations. They are patriotic after their fashion, but their patriotism and all like it will never conquer the rebels nor restore peace. “We are in favor of putting down the rebellion,” they will say, “but we can’t subscribe to the Emancipation Proclamation; we don’t like this making soldiers out of negroes; we are opposed to a draft;” and, they might add with equal truth and more pertinency, “we don’t want to volunteer ourselves.” Thank God this class of men is quite small in Vermont.
2d, Another, and probably the controlling reason why the North, with its great resources and population has not been more successful in this work may be found in the fact that her people have engaged in this work as an occasional job that they could despatch at almost any time that suited their convenience, and without interfering in the least with their other and ordinary business, while the rebels have made it the work of their lives. Our officers and soldiers are brave and fight with intelligence and enthusiasm. But I think to-day a majority of both officers and men would like to get out of the service and go home. And why? Because in nearly every letter they get from home they are encouraged, urged and besought to get out of the service. Fathers and mothers, wives and sisters are not content to give up to the service of their country their sons and husbands and brothers. On the other hand nearly every man in the South capable of bearing arms is forced into the ranks not more by the relentless proscription employed than by the influence of his relatives, and especially by the female portion of his family. Our Northern women are patriotic; they do more than the world ever saw done before for the sick and wounded soldiers who have been fighting the battles of their country; but too many of them yet hesitate in making the greater sacrifice, or, having made it, render it practically a nullity by the discouragements they in their well-meant anxiety occasioned.
Again, there is a spirit of determination, which is half in any cause, in the South that we look in vain for at the North. Let any Northern army invade any part of the South as populous as was the region around Gettysburg last year, or as is Maryland from Hagerstown to Baltimore this year, and see if every man would pack up and run without any attempt to turn the tide against the invader! Such facts suggest their own conclusions.
The conscription law recently passed by Congress and under which the President has called for half a million more men looks like business; and if it is carried into full effect it will furnish pleasing evidence that our people are in earnest in this work. If men can be procured by honest volunteering all the better, but to fill the ranks of our soldiers with insane, cripples, fools, jail-birds and bounty-jumpers—and within two months all these classes have been represented in this brigade by recruits from Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine—is an insult to officers and a fraud on government. Every citizen of the proper age owes his first and highest earthly duty to his government.—There is no questioning this statement, it is an axiom. A draft, which is neither more nor less than deciding by lot who shall go, is the most impartial and just way to determine who, if but a part is wanted, shall save his country. Its operation is equal and fair and no one can reasonably complain if the steps to put it in force are fairly taken. It is hoped out here that under the call sufficient men will be raised to fill our thinned regiments and enable Gen. Grant to finish up the job in hand. The South have now every one of their available men in their ranks. I have not met nor seen in Virginia a single sound man under sixty years of age except in battle or a prisoner of war. Those of our cavalry who have been out on raids have the same experience.
I cannot write you any military news. The 9th corps with others of the army of the Potomac is in the trenches before Petersburg, substantially as it has been for a month past. We have erected forts and mounted big siege guns, and so have the rebels. There has been daily artillery and mortar practice and constant picket firing on some portions of the extended line, and there have been slight losses daily on both sides. Some other things have been done looking to the great result, but these are contraband of publication.
The weather has been hot and dry, the surface of the ground one mass of impalpable dust, and water very scarce. From the 2d of June to the 19th of July not a single shower wet the parched earth in this region, while every day the sun shone with melting fervor. We have since had a beautiful rain which has temporarily quieted the dust, but not increased the supply of water. Yet this dry weather has been favorable to our earthy operations.
A large portion of the army is on the sick list of diseases due to a malarial origin. But thanks to the Christian and Sanitary Commissions they are well cared for and supplied with all that can conduce to their recovery or comfort save the pure air and water of Vermont and the kind attentions of loving kindred.—Those on duty also are greatly benefitted by the supplies of fresh vegetables, pickles, etc., received through the same sources. If any one has doubts of the usefulness of these agencies in relieving the needs of our soldiers, he has only to visit City Point hospitals and our camp to have his doubts dispelled.
The 17th Vt. Regiment now numbers but 150 men present for duty, and its roster of officers is proportionately small. Of Co. A, Captain Brown and 2d Lt. Gilman are at home wounded, and 1st Lt. Brown recently died of fever. Of Co. B, Capt. Davis died of wounds, Lieut. Danforth has resigned from disability, and Lt. Hibbard has not joined the regiment yet but is daily expected. Of Co. C, Capt. Kenfield has returned to duty, Lieut. Guyer was killed on the 17th ult., and Lieut. Randall is reported absent without leave. Of Co. D, Capt. Eaton is aid-de-camp on Gen. Griffin’s staff, Lt. Gibson died of wounds, and Lieut. Pierce is with the company. Of Co. E, Capt. Robinson has not yet returned to duty. Lieut. Martin is at home on leave of absence from wounds, and Lieut. Burbank is on Gen. Stannard’s staff.—Of Co. F, Capt. Knapp is detailed on Court Martial, Lieut. Hicks is acting Adjutant, and Lieut. Kingsbury is at home wounded. Of Co. G, Capt. Hartshorn and Lieut. Bingham are with the company, and Lieut. Branard is at home wounded. The officers of Co. H, are all on duty. Co. I has not yet arrived.
- “Our Army Correspondence.” Vermont Phoenix. July 29, 1864, p. ? col. ? ↩