How to bring about an Armistice.
HEADQUARTERS CO. I, 21st P[ENNSYLVANIA]. V[OLUNTEER]. CAV[ALRY].,
ON THE CAPTURED BATTLEFIELD,
OCTOBER 4th 1864.
DEAR INQUIRER.—We have advanced on the enemy’s works; have driven them out at the point of the bayonet; have gained a grand, commanding military position; have placed our cannons in the rebel forts, and now set down amid the glory, as well as the horrors of the battlefield, to let our friends know the fallacy of the statement “that the experiment of war is a failure,” and that VICTORY and UNION shine upon the bronsed countenances of our brave soldiers; that it is belched forth from every cannon’s mouth; that it is hurled into the enemy’s ranks in bitter, indigestible pills of shot and shell, and that it spread a hallowed influence over our victorious army, and fills the bosom of soldiers with a glorious, unshaken confidence in the permanency of our government.1
The 5th Corps left camp on Friday, the last day of Sept. [September 30, 1864], and marched in columns of brigades on the enemy’s works, which lay between us and the Southside R[ail].R[oad]., the 1st Division [1/V/AotP] on the extreme left of the corps. We soon came in sight of their works which were built very strong and in a commanding position, and were protected by a fort, surrounded by an abatis.2 No sooner did our boys obtain sight of those works than a loud and prolonged cheer burst forth along the lines, and we pushed on to the charge, the men fixing bayonets on the run. We sped on through a deluge of shot and shells over the knolls, down the hollows, over the abatis, into the ditch, up on the fort, shot down the captain of the battery while in the act of discharging his gun, captured a major, the guns in the fort, another outside with the horses, about 150 prisoners, and sent the rest of the enemy running pell-mell out of the works.3
At this juncture Gen. Griffin rode up to the captured fort, and was cheered by the men; but shouted “On my brave boys, charge those other works.” Never was a command obeyed more cheerfully, and in five minutes more, those glorious American banners were planted on another line of Rebel fortifications.
Our strength was now exhausted and the 9th Corps took the advance and followed up the retreating foe, who fell back on other fortifications. About 4 P.M. a division of the 9th Corps was so hotly pressed by overwhelming numbers that it had to fall back a little so the 2nd Brigade of 1st Division, 5th Corps, [2/1/V/AotP] was ordered in to support them. Our Regiment volunteered to accompany them; so we marched at double-quick into the battlefield. This was the hottest place I was ever in, and never did men stand more firmly, fight more bravely or present a more sublime appearance than did those troops at this critical period.
The position was in an open field with dense woods in front; the enemy’s works were in the edge of those woods, while our men stood in open field without any protection from the showers of deadly missiles which the enemy hurled at them. But our men stood firmly up in line, not a man faltered while a cloud of smoke mingled with fire spread along the line from right to left. I have often seen artistic skill exhausted in portraying the battle scene, but this was the scene itself in living, sublime reality, surpassing description. The gallant Griffin soon rushed in his famous artillery and as usual silenced the enemy’s guns, while the dark shade of night shut out from view the foe, and brought the dreadful drama to a close. The enemy retreated, and a strong line of Federal earthworks and forts were now erected where our gallant braves resisted and baffled all the efforts of the foe to break our unprotected lines last Friday [September 30, 1864].4 But our armies are being strengthened daily; regiment after regiment is coming in every day (and) night; the sun of Liberty is rising and soon will reach the zenith of his glory, there to remain, forever shining forth his refulgent rays to rising generations.
Permit me before closing to say a word to our loyal friends at home. The soldiers are for the Union with ballots as well as with bullets. Think not for a moment that they will vote for any person with doubtful principles. In their own language “Little Mac is played out.” The army will go ten to one for the Union. I have but one doubtful person in my company, all the rest are strong Lincoln men.
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Roy Gustrowsky.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: Lieutenant Martin P. Doyle, the author of this letter, was a member of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, then fighting dismounted as infantry. The 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry were a part of Colonel Sickel’s 1st Brigade, Griffin’s 1st Division, V Corps, Army of the Potomac. Doyle is writing about the variously named Battle of Poplar Spring Church, Peebles Farm, Battle of Pegram’s Farm, and about a dozen alternatives, fought between September 30 and October 2, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was Fort Archer, thinly defended by Confederate cavalry. The infantry had been moved elsewhere in an attempt to keep the Union armies from capturing Richmond far to the northeast. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: For a map showing Griffin’s Division on September 30, 1864, just around this juncture of the story, see here. September 30, 1864 was the first day of the Battle of Peebles Farm. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Later in the day on September 30, 1864, the first day of the Battle of Peebles Farm, the Ninth Corps of the Army of the Potomac was nearly overwhelmed and suffered many captured, similar to other Confederate attacks during the Siege. But eventually the Confederate attack lost momentum, and Meade moved his attacking corps south a bit to form a better defense line over night. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: A quick glance at the roster of Company I, 21st PA Cavalry showed the author must have certainly been 1st Lt. Martin P. Doyle. Doyle was “wounded at Cold Harbor, Va., June 3, and at Boydton Plank Road, October 27, 1864. He resigned January 11, 1865.” ↩
- “Army Correspondence.” The Bedford Inquirer, October 14, 1864, p. 3, col. 2-3 ↩