Editor’s Note: This article was provided by John Hennessy and transcribed by Jackie Martin.
LETTER FROM THE 32D MASS REGT.
Camp 32d [Massachusetts] Regt. Co. D, Capt. Rich,
On the Weldon Railroad, Va.
Aug. 22d, 1864.
EDITOR.—Your readers will see by the heading of this letter that our regiment [32nd Massachusetts] has made another move, and I should say an important one, judging from the way it has troubled the rebels.
On the evening of the 17th [of August, 1864] we had orders to be up and ready to move at four o’clock next morning. Early on the morning of the 18th [of August, 1864] we were awoke from our sound slumbers by an unwonted reveille, being nothing less than the roar of our artillery, which seemed to be at work all along our lines, throwing their destructive missles over among the sleeping chivalry of the South. What occasioned the uproar none could tell, but it was supposed to be designed to draw the attention of the rebels while the old 5th corps [of the Army of the Potomac] could make a move unknown to them.1
Shortly after the firing ceased we struck camp and made everything ready for the move. About half past four we started, and took the route leading toward the Weldon railroad, which was about four miles distant. Our regiment being the advance of the [Fifth] corps acted as skirmishers, and were the first to reach the railroad, at about nine o’clock in the forenoon, having met with nothing to dispute our advance but a few cavalry whom we drove like so many sheep.
After the skirmish line had crossed the railroad a suitable distance the support came up and began the work of destroying the track. At about ten o’clock the first [1/V/AotP] and second [2/V/AotP] division began advancing, the first [Griffin’s] division taking the left of the road, and the second [Ayres’] on the road towards Petersburg.
The second division had advanced but a little way when they came upon the rebel infantry pickets, strongly posted, as usual, in the woods. This put a check to our further advance, and a fight began, to see which party should hold the railroad. The rebels were the attacking party, making a charge on the second division, pressing them back a short distance, but the pressing back arrangement was soon reversed and the rebels driven back over the lost ground to their old position in the woods. This ended the first day’s fighting.2 The loss on our side was light compared with that of the rebels. The day was very warm, causing a great many cases of sunstroke, but toward night fortune smiled on us, and a refreshing shower set in.
There was but little firing in front of us during the night, but heavy cannonading heard to the right, supposed to be in front of the 9th corps. Early on the morning of the 19th our regiment was relieved from off the skirmish line and went to the rear to rest. It rained much all day, which made it very disagreeable for those who were trying to rest, but to make everything complete at four in the afternoon the order came for our regiment to go on picket again, which movement was accomplished during the hardest shower we had during the day. It was lovely I can assure you. After we were established on the picket line the rebels made another attack on the right. They did not accomplish anything, but lost a great many prisoners and some flags.3 Heavy firing was again heard during the night, but little fighting occurred the next day, (20th) the pickets being the only ones to disturb the peace, by firing at each other in the rain.4
Early yesterday morning (21st) [August 21, 1864] the rebels opened their artillery on us in earnest, as though they intended to drive us right along without a fight. At the same time they advanced their infantry in line of battle, driving in our pickets. Just to the right of us they advanced in three lines and charged our works, but received a handsome repulse, leaving their dead and wounded on the field for us to look after. They also lost heavily in prisoner and flags. Our regiment was attacked on the left and was forced to fall back into the breastworks. It was not long before they advanced out on the old line again. Our whole line is now far stronger than it was before the attack.5
We have lost another of our company, one who was beloved by all who knew him, Richard Powers. He was just in the act of aiming his gun when a bullet struck him in his left eye, and he fell and never moved again. Samuel Bean was wounded severely in the leg, but is doing well in the hospital.
The fighting ceased about eleven o’clock in the forenoon. Late in the afternoon our regiment was relieved from the picket line and are now in the breastworks. To-day [August 22, 1864] there has been no fighting. Everything is quiet along the line. It has been very pleasant to-day, the sun coming out and giving us a chance to dry our goods once more.
As the mail is on the point of leaving I will close, informing your readers that we have captured one of the greatest railroad communications between Richmond and the South.6
Yours, SIEGE. 7
Other Massachusetts’ Soldier Letters in the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph
- NP: July 9, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 59th MA at Second Petersburg, June 17, 1864
- NP: July 16, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 13th MA, Last Days at Petersburg
- NP: July 16, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: Co. D, 32nd MA at Petersburg, Late June to Early July 1864
- NP: July 23, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: Co. D, 32nd MA Fourth of July
- NP: July 30, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA, Mid-July 1864
- NP: July 30, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: Co. D, 32nd MA, Mid-July 1864
- NP: August 6, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA And Shelling Along The Lines
- NP: August 13, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA and Confederate Countermines
- NP: August 13, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA Observes the Crater Battle
- NP: August 13, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 32nd MA Observes the Crater Battle
- NP: August 13, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 32nd MA, the Crater, and a Feud
- NP: August 20, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA and the City Point Explosion
- NP: August 27, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA Feuds with the 32nd MA
- NP: August 27, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: Co. D, 32nd MA Shelling and Explosions at Petersburg
- NP: September 3, 1864 Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph: 23rd MA at the Siege of Petersburg, Late August 1864
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 32nd Massachusetts and the rest of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, was about to participate in the Battle of Globe Tavern, from August 18-21, 1864. This was the left hook to Hancock’s right jab at the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, August 14-20, 1864, which was just winding down north of the James River as Warren’s Fifth Corps started in the direction of the Weldon Railroad. Grant wanted to get astride that vital supply line to cause Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia even more dire supply problems. These battles, part of Grant’s Fourth Offensive against Richmond and Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The first day of the Battle of Globe Tavern, August 18, 1864, was much as the author describes here. A Confederate attack on the Fifth Corps drove back the Union troops, but determined counterattacks regained most of the lost ground. Warren’s Fifth Corps began digging in as best they could, knowing the Confederates would do more to prevent their permanent occupation of so vital a supply line. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This time, perhaps because he was not an eyewitness, the author gets the results of the second day’s fight on August 19, 1864, somewhat wrong. There WAS an attack on the right of the Fifth Corps against Crawford’s Third Division, but as happened so many times during the Siege of Petersburg, this was a devastating flank attack by William Mahone, a man who knew the ground well. The end result was a great many Union prisoners captured by Mahone, perhaps 2,500 or so. Despite the initial success, counterattacks by the Ninth Corps, newly arrived, as well as the rest of the Fifth Corps helped to somewhat stabilize the situation. Warren was still astride the Weldon Railroad after the second day. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The third day, August 20, 1864, saw little fighting due to the rain. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: On the fourth and last day of the Battle of Globe Tavern, August 21, 1864, the Confederates launched one final assault to drive away the Fifth Corps, but Warren’s men had entrenched heavily and could not be budged. The Union had won a strategic victory by severing the Weldon Railroad south to Stony Creek Depot, from which point the Confederates would have to haul supplies by wagon on a roundabout route to Petersburg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The Weldon Railroad connected Petersburg with Weldon, North Carolina to the south. It wasn’t a fatal blow, but it made Lee’s supply situation even more difficult than it had been previous to the battle. The noose was tightening. ↩
- “Letter from the 32d Mass Regt.” Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph. September 3, 1864, p. 1 col. 5-6 ↩