GENERAL GRANT’S ARMY.
The Weather and Roads—Scarcity of Water—A Night Alarm—No Damage Done—A Reconnoissance—General Smith Busy.
Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.
NEAR PETERSBURG, VA., SUNDAY, June 26th , 8 P. M., via Washington, by telegraph.
Affairs to-day [June 26, 1864] have been very quiet. Men must keep quiet in such weather, for under such an intense heat as we are now enduring existence itself seems a task. The light sandy soil, pulverized fine as flour by the tread of numberless feet of men and beasts, seems to have exhaled the last particle of water from the surface, and has become as light as ashes. A perpetual dust cloud floats in the atmosphere, impregnating it so thoroughly that it is almost impossible to get a single inhalation of pure air within a quarter mile of any road.1
This evening [June 26, 1864] I noticed a belt of what appeared to be a white mist stretching over the dark tops of an extensive tract of pines, and contrasting strongly with their deep and somber green. It marked the courset of a road through woods. A column of troops in motion is absolutely concealed from view by the dust which its many feet stir up. Imagine what a march must be under such circumstances. We have the population of a large city, its constant whirls and motion, but neither its sprinklers nor its hydrants; and under such circumstances dust is, of course, inevitable, and we may make up our minds to suffer this, one of the Egyptian plagues, for an indefinite period.
To add to what the army suffers from heat and dust, there is a great scarcity of water. Men take their horses to water frequently one mile, but fortunately this trouble is not irremediable, for although there are few springs, and little surfaced water of any kind can be found the earth is a cool fountain, which needs only to be tapped to yield abundantly. At a depth of only six or eight feet from the arid surface you strike a layer of pure white sand from which water at once oozes, clear, cool and refreshing. To-day [June 26, 1864] I have seen men digging everywhere, and henceforth there will be no lack of good water so long as we remain in this vicinity.
Late last night [June 25, 1864] we were startled by the sudden opening of heavy volleys of musketry. It was after ten o’clock when it commenced, and a continuous roll was kept up for nearly an hour, with considerable artillery firing. We are accustomed to night alarms, however, and never judge of effects by the amount of noise we hear. It turns out in this instance that notwithstanding the tremendous fusilade, which did not entirely cease for some hours, scarcely a man was hurt. It occurred at a point where two lines of intrenchments are very near together, and the firing was from behind breastworks on both sides. Our men were constructing an abattis in front of a portion of the Ninth Corps [IX/AotP], and the object of the enemy in opening fire was probably to bring their labors to a close.2
The firing commenced on the left of the Ninth Corps, and gradually extended along its entire line, and to the next division on the right of it. It is, of course, known on either side, that whatever is done in the way of posting new batteries, constructing new works, &c, must be done at night, and if any sound indicating work is heard by the enemy, it immediately draws their fire.
Yesterday [June 25, 1864], General [David A.] RUSSELL, First Division, Sixth Corps [1/VI/AotP], sent out Lieutenant-Colonel [William H.] LESSIG, with about two hundred men of the Ninety-Sixth Pennsylvania, to reconnoiter in the direction of the Weldon Railroad, near the portion which was destroyed on the 23d [of June, 1864]. He found a strong skirmish line of the enemy on this side of the road, and was not able to penetrate to it, but was near enough to ascertain that parties of men were busily at work repairing the damages done.3
The enemy cannot afford to lose the use of that [rail]road, and will, of course, make every effort to get it in running order again as soon as possible. To-day, General [William F. “Baldy”] SMITH [of the Eighteenth Corps] has been very busy, and we may shortly look out for active work in that quarter.
About 5 P. M. we had thunder and lightning, and the gathering of clouds gave promise of a drenching shower, but the clouds have passed away without dropping any of their moisture, and the parched earth and we must make up our minds to endure the heat and dust for a while longer.4
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: The early summer of 1864 was one of the driest and hottest on record to that point. For the first portion of the Siege of Petersburg, men suffered severely in the heat. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This “Skirmish in Front of the Ninth Corps” on the night of June 25, 1864 is also mentioned in OR XL, Pt. 2, pages 409, 417-418. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: For more on this recon mission by the 96th Pennsylvania, see OR XL, Pt. 2, pp. 412-413. Although the 96th PA is NOT mentioned by name, the “infantry recon” sent out around noon seems to fit the bill here. More research is needed. ↩
- “General Grant’s Army.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). June 29, 1864, p. 1 col. 2 ↩