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NP: March 17, 1865 The Roman Citizen (Rome, NY): 15th NY Eng Letter, March 4, 1865

SOPO Editor’s Note: Noah Andrew Trudeau found and transcribed this letter for the 15th New York Engineers page at the excellent New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs web site. I found the newspapers in question at the also excellent Old Fulton NY Postcards site.

Army Correspondence

FORT MCKEON, – CITY POINT, Va., March 4, 1865.

To the Editor of the Roman Citizen:

Again Mr. Editor I take my pencil in hand for the purpose of keeping the people of Rome posted with regard to the sanitary condition, of the members of the Company of which I am proud to say I am a member. Company L is now, as it has been for nearly six months, one of the best companies in the 15th Engineers, and as proof of this I, would beg leave to state that it was recently assigned to the post of honor, viz: the right of the regiment. The privilege of being at the right of the regiment is one which is thoroughly appreciated by veterans, and it is in a measure also appreciated by each individual member of Co. L.

Last Saturday afternoon I procured a pass for the purpose of visiting the front and Capt Pond, took it to the Adjutant’s office to secure the approval of Col. [WESLEY] BRAINARD [of the 50th NY Engineers].—

Sabbath morning I again went to headquarters, ascertained that my pass had been approved, secured it, and walked down the railroad track to City Point Station to take the cars. A description of the manner in which we ride may interest the readers of the CITIZEN. In the first place it is customary to examine every pass before the passengers are permitted to enjoy a ride upon GRANT’S army railroad.1 This necessarily consumes, much time, and as the cars start at 10 A. M., it is necessary that a man should have his pass stamped so soon in the morning as he can conveniently. Our accommodations are ample, and we are not excessively annoyed by particles of dust or cinders, as we take a deck passage, viz: upon the tops of freight cars, which are usually heavily laden with forage, which, taken in addition to their human, freight, causes an almost unbearable and continual jarring, which, however, must be patiently borne with, in order to reach the front. But the pleasure-seeker having had these facts presented to him very vividly by constant observation, had determined to go [to] the front. I had clambered to the top of the car, had selected the soft side of a board for my post of observation, and sat waiting like MICAWBER for “something to turn up.” I had sat thus for perhaps five minutes, when my attention was directed towards a crowd of very indifferently dressed men whom I saw approaching. Upon a nearer approach I discerned the scarlet trowsers {sic} and white turbans of a squad of our Zouave troops. In an instant I comprehended all. The men before me were rebel deserters under a Zouave guard. There were apparently between one hundred and fifty and two hundred Johnnies, nearly all of whom wore light felt hats, destitute of any ornament whatever, gray or butternut pants, and the inevitable dirty gray blanket. But two or three of that entire squad wore overcoats, and it is a very uncommon sight indeed to see a Confederate overcoat. The article (according to the stories of the rebels who desert the sinking ship daily in squads of from ten to one hundred) seems to be extremely scarce in Dixie. These deserters were to be confined in the warehouse upon the dock, under a strong guard, until arrangements for their transportation to Fortress should have been effected. Nothing else worthy of special notice occurred while the train remained at the station; at last when the patience of the pleasure-seekers had become well nigh exhausted, the premonitory screech of the iron horse was heard, and the train moved from the depot. Within the space of fifteen minutes we were actually buzzing over-hill and dale, as any one acquainted with the peculiar feature of Grant’s army railroad can testify, viz: The fact that when a hill seemed to hinder the onward progress of the construction corps, instead of wasting precious time by grading the aforesaid bill down to a reasonable level in imitation of their brethren of the pick and shovel upon the Northern railroads, the track was laid directly over the hill, thus rendering a trip over the road rather disagreeable when taken under the most favorable circumstances; but when but when one is obliged to ride upon the top of a freight car with a strong gale of wind blowing, the situation is anything but satisfactory. I had a splendid opportunity of realizing in a marked degree the beauty of the aforesaid situation in my trip to Warren Station. But there are arguments in favor of as well as against this method of journeying to and fro upon this line of railroad. One can see the condition of the country through which he is passing much better by being thus exposed to the combined action of the elements, than if he were snugly ensconced within the narrow limits of a passenger coach. We passed many deserted mansions, nearly all of which were surrounded with beautiful evergreen trees. No smoke ascended from those old chimneys, and the indefinite something upon every side of those antique structures told of the desolation and ruin which pervades this section of Virginia. Scattered over the entire landscape, so far as the eye could see, were graves without number. Here are eleven graves side by side, and but a few feet from the track, while but a few yards beyond is a rude railing enclosing a mound of earth, beneath which repose the bones of an officer. Virginia is indeed one vast battlefield; her soil is saturated with the blood of the brave citizen soldiery of the ever victorious Federal army. And has this immense shedding of some of the noblest blood in the country amounted to nothing? Has not the blood of the gallant Christian hero, Rush P. Cady, called loudly upon a righteous God of battles for swift retribution upon the heads of his murderers? Not being able to divine the meaning of the mysterious workings of a just Jehovah, we can only point to the wonderful military operations of the past few weeks. It does seem that the Almighty had not turned a deaf ear to our entreaties for a reunion of the North and South. The reduction of Wilmington, following closely in the wake of that of Savannah and Charleston, to say nothing of the capture of Forts Fisher and Anderson, renders the Confederate cause rather insecure at present, at least that opinion prevails among the soldiers. My own opinion is that the soil of the Old Dominion will be the scene of the last conflict between the Federal and Confederate armies.

Rumors are rife in camp nearly every day of the evacuation of Richmond or Petersburg, and sometimes both. These rumors have proved false thus for, but we expect to retire some night in our quarters at Fort McKeon, to awake in the morning in the city of Petersburg. But I have wandered far from my subject. I had commenced a description of my visit to the camp of the 50th [New York Engineers], near Warren Station, to which, however, I will return.

I arrived at Warren Station about noon, and at once posted off to the camp of the 50th, which I found to be about two miles from the station. The 50th is encamped in a beautiful grove upon a slight elevation which commands a fine view of the surrounding country. The men have erected the most elegant quarters for Col. Spaulding that I remember to have seen since my advent into Virginia. A spacious and elegant chapel has also been erected, the finest one (with the exception of the Christian Commission chapel at Meade Station) to be seen in this part of the country.

I had an opportunity of conversing with several Romans 2; members of Co. C, among whom were Sergeants Charles and William Eddy, Wesley Remington, Harvey Wright,

John Brown, George Wright, George Ruby and his father, all of whom are in excellent health. I remained in camp until 3 o’clock P.M., at which time I returned to the station, highly pleased with my visit to the 50th. I seated myself upon the platform of the depot awaiting the arrival of the train, when, chancing to look up, I beheld Othello Amidon, of Co. B , 146th N.Y.S.V., an old Roman3, passing by, I hailed him, and ascertained that he was upon his way to City Point upon business. As a matter of course topics of conversation were not lacking and [were only] interrupted by the whistle of the approaching train which soon entered the station. We jumped aboard as speedily as possible, and were soon upon our way to the Point. The train halted at Parks’ [sic, Parke’s] Station a moment, and upon the platform stood nearly one hundred rebel deserters who were awaiting transportation to the Point. I also noticed a Lieutenant in the squad, and with but one or two exceptions, they were an extremely fine appearing body of men. Not having means of transportation for them the train moved on, and in a short time we reached City Point.

Large bodies of deserters are constantly coming within our lines, the majority of whom admit that nothing remains with which to prop up the cause espoused by Jeff. Davis and his fellow anarchists. The private opinion of your correspondent is that the resistless march of Sherman may have had something to do with the constantly increasing number of deserting Johnnies.

One night particularly, but a short time since, five hundred (would not be) Confederate Soldiers came into our lines. I ask, is it possible that a cause can maintain itself upon paper which is daily losing from ten to three hundred of its past supporters? It may be possible that they have an inexhaustible supply of men upon whom they can call in the hour of danger to fill their sadly depleted armies. But the day of retribution is surely drawing nigh, when Jeff. Davis and his fellow-workers of iniquity will be consigned to the tender mercies of foreigners.

A terrible accident, by which a member of the 1st Maine sharpshooters lost his life, occurred a few days since. It seems that a sharpshooter found a gun-barrel, which he secured in his fireplace in such a manner that it would serve as a beam upon which to suspend kettles, &c. A few days after he had made this arrangement he started a fire as usual, when a charge of powder that was in the barrel ignited, exploded the barrel, and sent a piece into an adjoining tent, which lodged in the forehead of the occupant of the same, killing him instantly. What renders the matter sadder still is the fact that the man was writing to his wife at the time he was killed. This is but one of the accidents which, are of almost daily occurrence in the army.

Col. Brainard’s quarters were removed to a suitable locality a few rods from our camp, a short time since, by order of [Engineer Brigade commander] Gen. [Henry W.] Benham. Details were made from each company to beautify the new quarters, which now present a very pleasing appearance

The weather here, the principle part of the time, is delightful. The boys have indulged in the healthful pastime of playing ball nearly every day for two weeks. This morning we had a heavy shower, accompanied by a furious gale. But about noon the sun appeared, and the weather this afternoon has been delightful.

In my last letter I omitted entirely to notice the principal celebrity in our company, and the one whom the boys are compelled to respect. I refer to our obliging Commissary Sergeant, Mr. James A. Baker, who, in addition to fulfilling the functions of a Commissary, employs his time in sketching for Frank Leslies Illustrated paper. He recently received a full set of artist’s material from Frank Leslie himself, which he proposes to use to the best advantage. Success to our special artist, Jim Baker. But I must close this extremely uninteresting scrawl at once, and would remain,

Yours, &c., D.C.P.

[Noah Andre Trudeau: “NOTE: Probably Darwin C. Pavey”]4

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  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: The U. S. Military Railroad was built from City Point, Virginia, Grant’s supply hub on the James River, directly to the lines besieging Petersburg. Soldiers were able to ride, but the main use of the railroad was to deliver supplies to the various “stations” regardless of weather, allowing the Union soldiers around Petersburg to eat well during the winter months of 1864-65.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: A “Roman,” in this instance, is someone who hails from Rome, NY.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: A “Roman,” in this instance, is someone who hails from Rome, NY.
  4. “Army Correspondence.” The Roman Citizen (Rome, NY).  March 17, 1865, p. 2, col. 3-4
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jim Myers May 18, 2016, 10:09 am

    What a great and complete letter. Although not a fan of his remarks concerning the Southern leadership i certainly understand it. He also did not care to mention the Blood of the Confederates that filled that soil. I can not imagine the horror of this war but a little compassion and understanding of the enemy who in this case truely was your brother seems to be lacking. I would bet the average soldier on either side truely knew little of the nuances of what they were fighting for and the ramifications 150 plus years later. How prophetic are his insights as the War was soon over.

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