Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Bryce Suderow and is included in a collection of articles from the Detroit Free Press. His transcription of this article is published here with his written permission.
FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH
Two Miles From City Point, Va. June 19
My last letter closed as we lay temporarily drawn up by the roadside near Fort Powhattan on the 16th, after crossing the James River during the night previous. The teams had been hitched up early, and we lay waiting for the right or foray. The day was hot and dry. Line upon line of wagons kept continually passing, and the clouds of ethereal dust floated eastward, filling the air with a yellowish whiteness, the heavier particles finally settling upon the wagon tops, mules, harness, saddles, horses, and men; everything in fact, even the green leaves, blades of grass, and every square inch of space being filled and covered with the circulating medium. Water, too, was in abundance, but it was in the great James, and rather unpalatable, warm and brackish. The few “runs” within reach were but a solution of clay and sand, and any endeavor to wash the dust from one’s throat only aggravated the trouble, and made a bad matter worse. A little spring, yielding about five gallons an hour was after a while discovered near our train. but was quickly drained and rendered muddy as the muddiest. It was then placed under guard, allowed to settle and fill up, when each person presenting himself was permitted to take “just one drink and no more,” no canteens or kettles being suffered to come within less than hailing distance. Growls, both fierce and muttered, came from habitual grumblers, but an instant’s reflection ought to have shown them the wisdom and necessity of this arrangement, without which the blessing of a clear drop of water would have been out of the question.
Away up the James could be seen from our location a fleet of steamers and barges, plying between Wilcox’s Landing and Windmill Point, conveying the troops from the northern to the southern shore, the long pontoon bridge being crowded with the passage of trains and artillery. The tall chimneys of the steamers, the pouring volumes of black smoke, and the screaming of their whistles vividly bringing to mind the busy scenes of peace and commerce, formed a mighty contrast to the scenes of far different nature so familiar to us for these many months. The yawning mouths of hungry cannon, the thin sharp spires of thirsty bayonets, the rolling volumes of sulphurous vapor, and the scream of shot and shell are the sights and sounds familiar to us.
But to proceed with our train, which we did just at nightfall. The saffron sun went down behind the still floating clouds of dust, and just as the moon lighted her silvery lamp we pulled out into the road. We were to have a night march, and ere an hour had passed we proved how much it was to be preferred to the hot, stifling sweltering day. The night damp prevented the dust, and the coolness was exceedingly refreshing, rendering almost an equivalent for almost three night’s loss of sleep. The roads were excellent and running through the finest section of country thus far seen. Except in the vicinity of Powell’s Creek the way is almost level, but here the road descends some sixty to one hundred feet, winding into the crooked valley, then across for half a mile or more, and up the steeper western bank till we reach the level of the surrounding country, and move on to the northwestward. An hour and a half past midnight, the train drew into a large luxuriant field of clover, flanked by wheat and corn and woods, the property of Mrs. Martha Coke, half a mile from the river, and little more than halfway from our crossing of the James at Powhattan to City Point. Here we rest.
Next day, clear and hot but not dusty, for we are off the road, which is still full of passing trains; the teams are grazing till noon, when orders are to call them in, and be ready to move in the afternoon. The grateful waters of the river, here nearly two miles and a half wide, are instrumental in many a needed ablution, entered into and enjoyed with a zest none can better feel than we. The banks and ravine are lined with cherry trees growing wild, but bearing luxuriant loads of fruit, which soon however disappeared. The trees too for the most part were ruined, either cut down entire or lopped of their branches, for who among us has a thought or care but for the present hour. Wantonness still is one of our ruling characteristics. It could be seen last night in the smoking ruins of a nice fine dwelling house or two, a mill on Powell’s Creek, and other evidences of self-appointed confiscator’s work. . .
Here we remained until 6 o’clock in the evening, then in rear of the 2nd Corps train, pulled out on the road towards City Point, arriving and parking at 11 p.m. within two miles of the place so blended with the history of flags of truce and the exchange of prisoners during the war. The face of the country is more uneven and hilly than before and the water poor. Here came the first mails that have reached us since we left Tunstall’s Station on the 11th inst…
- “From the Twenty-Fourth,” Detroit Free Press, June 28, 1864, p. 3 col. 5 ↩