Editor’s Note: Bryce Suderow originally brought this source to my attention via 115th New York researcher and author Mark Silo. John Reardon, a member of the 115th New York, composed this memoir on his deathbed from wartime pocket diaries he kept. He died prior to finishing, but his daughter completed the work and it was published in 1908 editions of the St. Johnsville NY News. This and the other articles in this series listed at the end of this article are the existing segments covering the Siege of Petersburg, from June-December 1864. Transcribed by Brett Schulte.
MEMORIES OF THE CIVIL WAR.
From the Facile Pen of a Veteran of the “Iron Hearted” Regiment.
June 16th —We make an early start. The country through which we are now passing is thickly settled. Most of the soil is well cultivated. Planted or sown crops look fine. We stop at noon to make coffee. After dining we start and soon come out on the road on which our troops are marching, having crossed the peninsula, then crossed the James on a pontoon bridge. We march very moderate, and reach City Point six p. m., when we take a boat for Point of Rocks on the Appomattox river, debark and rest until the brigade is all up. We then march two miles and rest until day.
June 17th—We march up to the entrenchments, put up our tents and remain quiet. The roadway passes through our camp. Going to the front several members of my company were delayed and arrived during the morning. Among them was Jacob B. Brown, an uncle of the former proprietor of the Sentinel. When just opposite us he was killed by a sharp shooter, the ball passing through his head and killing another man directly in his rear. Brown’s home was a couple of miles north of St. Johnsville. “Jakey” as he was called was a favorite with the boys and a worthy soldier. Eleven p. m., we are called out and brigade is moved to the right about one mile. After fixing bayonets we are advanced to the skirmish line prepared to make a charge. We lie down, the moon shines bright, everything still, the sixth corps pass in the rear to our right. Two lines of battery are formed in our rear as a support, when through some accident we are discovered by the enemy and a brisk musketry fire ensued. The troops in our rear are moved off to the right and we are ordered to crawl off and regain the protection of the trenches. All quiet remainder of the night.
June 18th—Wether [sic] is cloudy. Having time I wash my clothing. The day is quietly passed in camp. Heavy cannonading near Petersburg.2
June 19th—Thank God we have one good night’s rest. Weather pleasant. Company inspection at nine a. m. Two p. m., we have religious service. I am sent on picket with twenty men. While changing the men, S. Lenagar, Company A, of Fonda, who is coming off post is shot through the arm near the shoulder, wound very serious. I applied a tornaquet [sic] and had him hurried to the doctor.
June 20th—Comparatively quiet during the night. The weather is foggy. This morning little or no firing along the line. We are relieved and return to camp more to the left along the works.
June 21st.—Weather very hot. We form a camp. Five p. m., the regiment goes on picket relieving the 62nd Ohio. The enemy’s pickets and ours are in places not more than fifty yards apart.
June 22nd—All quiet on the picket line. The rebs. and our pickets exchange goods, papers, and pleasant greetings with each other all morning, so the time passed off finely compared to days when we are trying to kill each other. Our neighbors are of the 43rd Alabama regiment. The junior lieutenant of Company H. 43rd, came out and gave us today’s Richmond papers for coffee and sugar. His name is J. S. Boyd3. They remarked that they wished we could always meet in peace and hoping the war would soon end. We return to our respective posts. Six p. m., we are relieved by the 76th Pennsylvania.
June 23rk [sic]—We remain in camp. I sent a “Richmond Examiner” home to my sister Anna. Six p. m. we have orders to move at dark and are soon on the road to Petersburg. I am taken sick on the way and have to fall out. The troops march without rest until inside the works. I reach the regiment eight a. m., June 24th. I am not well and remain in the rear trench all day and night under the doctor’s care. The regiment is in the front trench. At dark the troops were got ready for a charge but were not sent out. Our regiment is relieved. There is continuous firing along the line. The ground is strewn with the dead between the lines that have been there for some days and cannot be buried as the rebels refuse a flag of truce several times. The bodies are decomposing and throwing off a horrible odor. On the 16th a charge was made over this ground, the bodies having lain here in the hot sun and in plain view since that date4. We later succeeded in getting them under the ground by calling for volunteers on a very dark and rainy night by digging a trench deep enough to receive the body, into which it was rolled, covered with a blanket and a few inches of earth constituted the last rites like the burial of Sir John Moore, not a drum was heard nor a funeral note.
June 25th—Weather very hot, regiment is in the trenches all day. Six-thirty p. m., the troops are again prepared for a charge. Artillery and infantry are very busy, the fire scarcely slacking for ten or twelve hours. For some reason the charge is not made. Heavy firing ceased about eleven p. m. Balance of night quiet.
June 26th—Weather very dry and hot. We have for dinner stewed apples, a large mess furnished by the sanitary department. The feast is thoroughly appreciated.
June 27th—I begin to make up the muster rolls. A little to the rear of the works is a small house and to get away from the noise on the line I take the first floor. The second story is occupied by a couple of brothers by the name of Snyder, middle aged men and were members of our drum corps. They were cozily fixed in the loft until an accident occurred while we were in the building. A chance shot from a rebel battery struck the chimney fairly, almost cutting it in two. Scattering brick and mortar all over the loft and passing out the other end carried a good share of the gable along. On looking over the ruins it had the appearance of having been visited by a cyclone. Well, I have never seen two more forlorn looking specimens of humanity during my service, than the old men. They were living along up to this in absolute faith that they were secure from danger and to have their faith so shattered was almost more than their nerves could bear. I consoled them by saying: It was only an accident and there was no danger of its recurrence and so long as the roof was uninjured the quarters were as good as before. I fear it took them several nights when artillery firing was brisk before they forgot the commotion of that day, I complete the rolls in a couple of days and decamp leaving the old fellows in full possession, that was the last accident of the kind they suffered. Many of the soldiers visited the ruins, the old men told the story over and over again with the pride of the only surviving heroes of a forlorn hope.
June 28th—Firing is continuous at the front, making life tedious, as the least exposure is liable to cost a life.
June 29th—Same conditions prevailed.
June 30th—The same.
July 1st to 4th—No news of importance.
July 5th—Weather continues sultry. Rumored we will move soon. I am on picket. Much firing during the night. None of our men hurt.
July 6th—I am feeling quite ill. We are relieved from picket by the 76th Pennsylvania.
July 7th—After a good night’s rest I feel better. After breakfast, with some others, we take a walk to the rear and right, where we get a fair view of the city of Petersburg. We return at noon and remain in camp. Weather is very hot.
July 8th—Early a detachment of us visit the second corps to see acquaintances. I meet my brother, Edmond, in which I was surprised, as I supposed he was in the hospital. He does not look well. We met many old friends, returned to camp about three p. m. We are located in the third line. At dark we move to the first line, relieving the 76th Pennsylvania.
July 9th—Night was very quiet. The enemy send an occasional mortar shell over to remind us that the war is not over yet. One of our mortar batteries got in a duel with a rebel battery and during that half hour they kept us busy guessing where the shells would land (if they did not explode in the air), so we might be absent. Received a fine lot of canned tomatoes of the Sanitary Department today.
July 10th—Are aroused early, a deserter having come in and reported that the enemy is about to attack us. At day light all is quiet. Day is hot. At dark are relieved by the 76th Pennsylvania.
July 11th—We remain in camp. Weather is too hot to run about much. Evening it rained.
July 12th—Night was quiet. No news.
July 13th—Artillary [sic] fire opened brisk this morning and mortar shells are dropping about us very lively. Lieutenant Colonel is in command of our brigade, Barton being absent.5
July 14th—Night passed off without anything of interest occurring. We remain in the trenches all day.
July 15th—We return to the second line. Artillery opened lively and a hot duel ensues.
July 16th—Brother Edmond came to see me. We are in the second line all day. I go on picket at night.
July 17th—We have but little firing directly in front of us. Lines are only apart twenty to thirty rods. Picket line consists of what looks like an ordinary ditch possibly three feet deep, the earth being thrown up to the front making a protection about five feet high. At intervals we have bags filled with sand laid on top of the bank. Two bags are laid cross-wise and one on top. The top bag protecting the head while we look through or fire through the aperture formed by the bags. A man can pass along in the ditch comparatively safe, if he retains a stooping position, but woe be unto the man who thoughtlessly raises his head above the bank. As we are usually watching through these holes formed by the bags with a loaded and cocked gun pointed through the opening, John J. Becker of my company, is on picket with me today. He and I were sitting down reading. He was sitting on the slope of the bank with his back toward the enemy. I was sitting on the opposite side facing him. I started to read a short article aloud which interested him. He arose as if to sit over beside me and without thinking of the danger he raised up to full height. He was tall and instantly a ball shot through his body a little to the right and above the heart. He fell into the ditch. I raised him in a position that he could breathe as freely as possible. He was in great distress and to add to his suffering the heat of the sun was oppressive. I called to Billy Flint, another member of company who was in the line a short distance to the west of us. He came up and after looking over the situation, asked what could be done. I told him there must be a stretcher brought to remove him or he would die before night. I said the rebel who shot knows he hit his man and I did not believe they would shoot at a man trying to go to the rear as they would know what he was after. He said he would take the risk, he could not see him suffer here. He sprang out of the ditch and away like a scared rabbit. It was but a few rods to a grove where he would be safe, but as I expected he was not fired at. In a few minutes he and “Billy” Lampman, also of Company B, returned and walked boldly to us. Flint feeling assured they would not shoot from his experience going up. They were out with him without delay and were again unmolested. I cautioned Flint to not attempt to return before dark as the enemy were not bound by any obligation to grant him safe passage to come back to fight them. Becker did not recover. His home was at Ames, town of Canajoharie. Flint was a native of Canajoharie and Lampman’s home St. Johnsville.
(To Be Continued.)6
John Reardon 115th New York Series from the 1908 St. Johnsville NY News:
- NP: May 6, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): June 16-July 17, 1864
- NP: May 13, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): July 18-August 17, 1864
- NP: May 20, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): August 18-September 25, 1864
- NP: May 27, 1908 St. Johnsville NY News: John Reardon Diary (115th NY): September 26-December 5, 1864
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 115th New York was part of the second and third brigades, Second Division, Tenth Corps, Army of the James during the early portion of the Siege of Petersburg. The unit was stationed on Bermuda Hundred and opposed the Howlett Line. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon and his comrades were hearing firing associated with the last day of the Second Battle of Petersburg, fought from June 15-18, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I could not find a J. S. Boyd in the compiled service records for the 43rd Alabama at Fold3.com. A John Boyd was the nearest match but was only a private and his records lasted only into 1862. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: There was a sharp action on the Bermuda Hundred front on June 16, 1864, while the larger Second Battle of Petersburg was ongoing to the south. I don’t know much about this action. If you have sources where I can find further details, please contact me. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Lieutenant Colonel Nathan J. Johnson was temporarily in command of Second Brigade, Second Division, Tenth Corps, Army of the James in place of Colonel William B. Barton of the 48th New York, the usual brigade commander. ↩
- “Memories of the Civil War.” St. Johnsville NY News. May 6, 1908, p. 2 col. 2-4 ↩