FROM THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA.
[Correspondence of the Petersburg Express]
Line of Battle, Near Gaines’ Mill [Va.]
June 11th, 1864.
The weather is so extremely sultry and hot to day, exposed in the open field as we are, that one’s brains almost becomes addled; but a few clouds lowering here and there in the horizon, not unlike the ominous silence pervading the military department at this moment, is portentous of a coming storm, and our dusty persons and clothing, made so by living like moles beneath the surface of the ground, may soon be deluged with rain. But that would be far preferable to the present moment of excessive heat from old Sol’s mid day rays, with no inviting shade near by under which to hide even the top of one’s cranium.
This is the eighth day that this Division1 has been holding this point, the left of the Division resting on the same field on which the battle of “Gaines’ Mill” was fought in ’62, and although there has been some pretty heavy fighting on the left and centre of the Division, and heavy skirmishing along the entire front of it, yet so far as I am able to discern, there has been no change in the enemy’s front during that time, with the exception of his being compelled to withdraw a small portion of his lines from the field in our front, owing to his having an angle over the brow of a hill, and which was made too hot by a concentrated fire from our batteries. It is not supposed that “the man on horseback” is remaining idle, but that he is preparing for some other desperate stroke at some point thought to be more vulnerable than this against which he has so fatally persisted in butting his hirelings, and consequently we would not be surprised at any moment to find ourselves swinging against the enemy’s sliding columns, or moving to the right, to anticipate any movement the enemy may make in that direction.
We were considerably startled yesterday [June 10, 1864] morning at the intelligence that our beloved home, the “Cockade City,” came so near falling into the grasp of the Beast [Major General Benjamin F.] Butler the day before [June 9, 1864], and at the sad news of the killing and wounding of so many of the relatives and friends of those of us here, but we were rejoiced to learn that by the gallant defence made by the home guards, and the timely interposition of some regulars, the homes and firesides of our beloved ones, were not reduced to ashes, and the women and children not insulted and maltreated by the base villains of the north, who would make desolate every dear and lovely spot in our beautiful “Sunny South.” Surely the authorities “that B” will no longer thus leave exposed this vital key to Richmond; at least the many in this army from Petersburg and its vicinity earnestly hope so, for surely the horrors and rigors attendant upon this life, are sufficient to endure, without our homes being unnecessarily torn from us, and placed under the despot heel of a lawless beast. Many are the anathemas uttered against the authorities for this negligence, and the feeling in every man’s bosom who claims that section as his home is, “only give us the privilege of defending it, instead of entrusting it solely to the care of our gallant gray-headed and beloved sires, (the blood of some of whom now cry unto us for vengeance,) and not all the host that Butler could hurl against us could procure an entrance to our homes until the fields were made to reek with the gore of every one of us.”
Several have been wounded in the 12th [Virginia] and 41st Virginia regiments by the shots from the enemy’s sharpshooters since my last. I enumerate: Lieut. Wm. Ferguson, of co. F, slightly wounded in right knee; privates Jas. C Birdsong, of co. B, slightly in upper right arm; Jos. Weller, of co. G, severely in left shoulder, and John Heffron, of co. K, slightly in hip; the abovenamed belonging to the 12th [Virginia]; while in the 41st [Virginia], privates R. H. Smiley, of co. E, has been wounded in finger and thigh, and James Sharp, of co. A, in side.
These sharpshooters continue to annoy us no little, and we have become so accustomed to the whizzing of the bullets over our head, that we can form almost a mathematical calculation as to how near our heads these visitors will approach, but one cannot refrain from giving away in the knees and bending the back as the bug like sound denotes the approaching of a ball; and it is no uncommon occurrence to see some one that is moving to and fro back of the breastworks, suddenly kissing mother earth, to give free passage to one of Grant’s leaden missives. But the enemy’s line of battle must be equally annoyed by our sharpshooters, who are almost continuously pelting at it.
Mr. Harrison, with an unusually large number of eatables and clothing, reached us last night, and I do not remember at any time in his many visits to us, that one was ever more opportune than at the present, for clothing was something much needed, and satiated as we have been since the commencement of the campaign with cold bread and fried meat (though thanks to the Government we have never lacked for these,) a change of diet was not more agreeable than wholesome and thanks to kind friends the inner man of many of us to day has been made glad with the delicious taste of fresh vegetables, accompanied with many delicacies which tender hands alone can prepare.
The enemy has commenced slowly shelling this portion of our lines with what is called a mortar, but what is in reality only a heavy howitzer, peculiarly arranged, so as to fire a shell similar to a mortar, but they are doing no damage. Occasionally our guns reply, but these demonstrations are only intended to feel the lines and annoy the infantry.
Rumors are afloat of some important movements on foot, which if true, will create a sensation somewhere; but as rumors are so little to be relied on, I place no credence in those now prevailing.
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I suspect that this anonymous correspondent is from Mahone’s Division, Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. I further suspect that he is from the 12th Virginia regiment, who were mostly from Petersburg, Virginia. It makes sense that a soldier would be writing as a correspondent to his hometown paper. He mentions the 12th and 41st Virginia regiments by name later in this letter. If you can show me proof of his identity, please Contact me. ↩
- “From the Army of Northern Virginia.” The Daily Express (Petersburg, VA). June 14, 1864, p. 1 col. 2 ↩