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NP: July 30, 1864 Richmond Examiner: Executions and a Promotion in Pickett’s Division, July 1864

July 2[7?]th, 1864.


No news except the execution of two men for attempted desertion to the enemy.  No sympathy and little curiosity was excited.  The crime produced only loathing with the division, and the punishment was regarded as merely a necessary police measure, ridding us of offensive intruders.  Their names were McDonald [sic, Demarcus L. Daniel]  and [John S.] Mitchell, and belonged to the Fifty third Virginia Infantry, Barton’s brigade.  I did not attend the execution, and do not know the particulars of the last act.1

In our regiment, (Eighteenth Virginia) Lieutenant-Colonel H[enry]. A. Carrington has been formally promoted to Colonel by the retirement of Colonel R. E. Withers for disability from a wound incurred at Gaines’ mill in 1862.2  Colonel Carrington has been Lieutenant Colonel of this regiment from its organization, and been with it constantly, except when absent from being wounded or sick.  He is a native and resident of Charlotte county, in this State, and a graduate of the Lexington Military Institute.  As an officer, he is vigilant, and sees to the business of the regiment as if attending to his private matters, while, in leading his men into action and handling them under fire, all concur in according to him both cool judgment and self-possessed courage of a decided character.  His whole heart is in our struggle, and he willingly submits to separation from family and peril of an independent fortune in his behalf.  Upon taking command, he issued the following order:


On assuming command of this regiment as your colonel, allow me to give you a few words of friendly counsel.  Heretofore the Eighteenth regiment, known as “Withers’ regiment,” has won for itself, on the records of the War Department, by its prowess on many a hard fought field, an imperishable renown.  Now that it will be known as “Carrington’s regiment,” let not its fair fame be tarnished, but let us resolve that, under the blessing of Heaven, we will win new laurels.  To this end I shall expect the cordial support of the tried officers and the co operation of the gallant privates who have borne, without murmur or complaint, the severest trials and faced the most appalling dangers.  I shall try to prove myself worthy the high honour of commanding you, and all my energies of head and heart shall be devoted to the promotion of the honour, the welfare and the reputation of my command.

H[enry]. A. CARRINGTON, Colonel.

Colonel Carrington has commanded the regiment since the battle of Gaines’ mill and Frayser’s farm, when he was laboring under a severe wound received at Seven Pines.  He was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, but exchanged in time to lead eight companies of the regiment in the[battle?] near here on the last 16th of May.3

Everybody is laughing at the Clay, Holcombe, Greeley, &c., peace correspondence.  It was thought, after the explosion of the North Carolina member of Congress last winter in Richmond, who got bothered up in some way with another member of Congress of the same name and from the same State, that the height of ludicrous meddling with matters which had passed beyond intervention of self-assumed friends had been definitively reached.  But peace overtures have sprung up suddenly at the Clifton House.  This is all appropriate.  Some years ago Burlingame, of Massachusetts, it will be remembered first brought this place into publick notoriety by naming it as the place of a duel with Brooks, of South Carolina—The notoriety was ludicrous then, and Messrs. Clay, &c, seem resolved that the Clifton House shall hold its own.  By the way, is it not strange that a Government, which nobody recognizes, should have so many agents in foreign countries in its “confidential employment?”  We here in the trenches, not caring particularly about either Hons Clay or Holcombe and, not informed that their aspirations or gifts are supposed to be military, even by themselves, are willing to be amused by reading their struggles to get into notice, and laugh at their repulses.  But we do not like to see REPRESENTATIVES of our Government travelling about foreign courts like PARVENU snobs, humiliatingly begging even court lacqueys to get us introduction.  The two armies at Atlanta and under Lee are the only Peace Commissioners likely to be recognized by Lincoln and a really sensible (illegible) of honourable peace should prompt to efficient aid of these army negotiaters.  Fishing about all round the canoe by intermeddling children who do not know even how to bait their hooks, has always been regarded a great annoyance by successful anglers.  We have no doubt General Lee looks upon them in this light, if he thinks at all about the lilliputian efforts of these ANIMALCULA.4

We are sorry that the fight at Atlanta was not productive of more important results.  We all hope for the best, as the administration would not have ventured upon the removal of General Johnston without probability of military success to sustain the injustice, and the knowledge that measures to make reasonably certain had been consummated before the deed was done.5

As regards Grant, we know nothing—most probably because he is doing nothing.  The general impression in the higher military circles, I hear, is that he is waiting the result of Sherman’s expedition, when, if successful he will receive from it immediate reinforcements, and proceed vigorously to reduce both Petersburg and Richmond.  If unsuccessful he is strong enough to hold his present lines until he can get all the hundred days men and a portion of the drafted men, when he will give us a lively time—say in October—to influence the Presidential election, and give opportunity to Yankee lying to improve itself still more by converting repulses into victories, and the capture of stragglers into the capture of regiments.  In the meantime, it is regarded as not improbable that he may vary the monotony of a siege by a dash either upon the north side of the James, or attempt to break this line.  I think these speculations are as reasonable as most others.6

We had a hard and windy and cold rain night before last.7


SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: I went through the Compiled Service Records of the 53rd Virginia at Fold3.com, but found no one by the name of McDonald.  I searched for names close to this, such as McDowell and McDaniel, but I turned up no one who was shown as being executed.  Mitchell was an almost immediate hit, however.  Private John S. Mitchell was executed for desertion on July 25, 1864.  After some deliberate searching online, I also found the second man on a page detailing the Civil War dead of Pittsylvania County, and Danville, VirginiaDemarcus L. Daniel was also executed on July 25, 1864.  The second number of the dateline above is smudged out, but this letter had to have been written on July 25 or later, assuming the date from the CSR is correct.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: According to the 3rd Edition of Lee’s Colonels, Henry A. Carrington was promoted to Colonel on July 2, 1864. See Krick, Robert. Lee’s Colonels: A Biographical Register of the Field Officers of the Army of Northern Virginia. Third Edition, Dayton, OH, Morningside Bookshop, 1992, p. 84 for Carrington’s entry.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff occurred on May 16, 1864 not too far from where the 18th Virginia was stationed in July 1864.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Horace Greeley’s attempts to find a way to peace embarrassed the Lincoln Administration.  If I remember correctly, this incident is discussed at great length in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: Given that this was probably written on July 27, 1864, the author is probably writing about both the Battle of Peachtree Creek on July 20 and the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864.  Hood’s Confederate army attacked in both instances, and suffered heavy casualties they could not afford to lose.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: If this letter was written on July 27, 1864, Grant had indeed just launched “a dash…upon the north side of the James” River near Deep Bottom, northeast of where Pickett’s Division lay in the trenches.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: I strongly suspect this letter was written on July 27, 1864, for two reasons.  First, the date had to be July 25 or later due to the July 25, 1864 execution of the privates from the 53rd Virginia.  Second, in looking at mentions of a hard rain, the July 27, 1864 Richmond Examiner mentions just such a hard rain on the night of July 25.  Working forward from July 25, this letter would have had to have been written on July 27 in order for the “night before last” comment to fit. If you know more or think I am incorrect, please Contact Us.
  8. “Pickett’s Division, In the Trenches.” Richmond Examiner. July 30, 1864, p. 2 col. 5-6
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