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-September 1864. Transcribed by Brett Schulte.
MEMORIES OF THE CIVIL WAR.
From the Facile Pen of a Veteran of the “Iron Hearted” Regiment.
September 26th —Have guard inspection at nine a. m.
September 17th [sic, 27th]—No news of importance. Orders to move tomorrow at three p. m.
September 28[th]—We are ready at three p. m., and cross the river at Point of Rocks and march to Dutch Gap and cross the James and stopped to rest at Deep Bottom four a. m. of the 29th.2
September 29th—We form and advance on the enemy’s works. At sunrise the colored troops carry their first line3 after which we met but little opposition until after traveling about four miles toward Richmond, on the pike. We found them posted in a ravine, artillery and infantry. Their artillery was trained on the pike which they raked effectively, exploding their shells in our midst, killing and wounding many. We were drawn up and charged their position driving them out quickly. The enemy fell back to their second line which is a very strong one filled with redoubts in such a manner as to enfilade the front. At three p. m., our forces charge their works and are repulsed, after which we returned to the first line reaching there a little after dark.4
September 30th—In the morning we form along the works as if we would remain here. Soon an order came to draw two day’s rations after which we close to the left. About noon the “Johnnies” make a charge on the Second [sic, Eighteenth] Corps and are repulsed5 The enemy’s artillery is playing on us briskly. Heavy cannonading is heard in the direction of the rear. I am detailed with detachment to construct abates in front of our works.
October 1st—We pass a disagreeable night; rainy and cold, no protection. The morning breaks pleasant. Our artillery practice some and the skirmishers keep up a lively fire. Afternoon rains again.
October 2nd—This night was rainy, mud is plenty. This morning we kept as comfortable as possible by having fires along the line, the rebels have fires also.
October 3rd—No news. Not even artillery practice.
October 4th—I made out monthly returns of men. Later I walked down the line toward the left to get a view of the works. Weather rainy.
October 5th—Everything quiet along the line. The pickets exchange papers.
October 6th—No news, except that we are constantly busy strengthening our works.
October 7th—About eight a.m ., heavy firing began on our right which finally amounted to an engagement.6 We have to pack up and move to the right to concentrate our forces. We do not get far enough to the right to get engaged. Fighting last about two hours. Enemy made the attack and are repulsed. At four p. m., we are moved up to the scene of action and remain at rest until ten p. m. We are then moved into the trenches. Our right resting on the New Market road. Here we remain all night. Weather is cool.
October 8th—I am detailed with a detachment on picket duty. Have a quiet day and night. We suffer from cold; cannot have fire.
October 9th—I am relieved about noon. I returned to camp. Afternoon we pitch tents in rear of the brigade.
October 10th—The night has been very cold. The pay rolls come and we sign them. Afternoon the regiment goes into the trenches and relieve the Ninth Maine. All is quiet along the lines.
October 11th—A squad of fourteen deserters from the rebel line came in this morning. In fact it is a sight to see them coming every day, one two and three at a time. Yesterday there were forty at headquarters at one time. The troops are busy slashing down the timber in front of us.
October 12th—More deserters come in, the enemy firing on them, one is wounded. Afternoon the colored troops of this command and some other troops move to the right. It is raining. We are enclosing our votes today preparatory to sending them home. We are paid this morning for the months of July and August. I send thirty dollars home by Steve Fonda.
October 13th—Early this morning our troops are advanced on the right and carry the enemy’s works with some prisoners. Our brigade was under marching orders all day but are not called out.7
October 14th—Our troops are brought back from the right and assigned to their old position. I am on fatigue with a detail of the regiment, on a new redoubt. Recruits are coming in fast and are assigned to different regiments for duty.
October 15th—We have orders to drill five hours each day. We drill a short time. Weather fair. All quiet on the front.
October 16th—We are hard at work building new works.
October 17th—Work still continues on the trenches. I received a voting envelope from Samuel F. Smith. Spend most of the day on company’s books and papers. Weather is fair.
October 18th and 19th—No news.
October 20th—News comes of Sheridan’s victory and salutes are fired by shotted guns.
October 21st to 25th—Drilling and ordinary camp duty.
October 26th—Third brigade reviewed by General Foster. After returning to camp we have orders to move.
October 27th—Troops are in motion early. I am ill and am excused by the doctor. The Corps makes a reconoisance [sic, reconnaissance] to the right. They have some skirmishing through the day.8
October 28th—All quiet. The troops return to camp at dark. Our company lost three men, wounded.
October 29th to 31st—Routine duty only.
November 1st—Weather cold. All quiet.
November 2nd—Order comes to build winter quarters.
November 3rd—We go to the woods and split our own timber and fit it together, after which we carry it to camp. The day is rainy, but we do not stop. All anxious for more comfortable quarters and work on. By the time we have our stockade up it is dark. We are wet and tired enough for a good rest.
November 4th—I feel very sore this morning, having caught a heavy cold through the night and from working hard yesterday. I am hardly able to move but to cap the climax of our trouble, as usual, orders come this morning to be ready to march.
November 5th—I am on picket. Troops were called out early this morning and remain in line two hours until daylight. Weather very cold.
November 6th—There seems to be some apprehension of an attack by the enemy as our men are cautioned to be constantly on the alert. Today is Sunday but there does not seem to be anything outside the calendars to indicate it.
November 7th—We are again out early waiting for something to turn up. Rain continues all day.
November 8th—This morning we are fixing up our quarters. Afternoon brigade drill. No news.
November 9th—We are on fatigue duty on the New Market road, covering the low spots with logs.
November 10th—No news. Are continually on the alert. Afternoon brigade drill.
November 11th—Some uncertain news of election is received but the papers generally concede Lincoln’s election.
November 12th—Some firing on the picket line. No papers today. We still drill every day.
November 13th—Afternoon have general inspection. Weather is cold; have snow squalls in evening.
November 14th—No news.
November 15th to 18th—Only routine duties and drills to keep the men in working condition.
November 19th—Heavy firing in the direction of Bermuda Hundreds. I spend nearly all my spare time in keeping the company’s books and papers up to date.
November 20th—Sunday. Weather is rainy. Began Friday night and still continues. We were called out last night owing to heavy musketry on our left.
November 21st—Still raining. There was more fighting to our left in the night.
November 22nd—Rain continues.
November 23rd—We receive orders to reports at Bermuda Hundreds and be ready to march tomorrow at seven a. m. Weather is cold.
November 24th—We are astir early. Have breakfast and pack up. Fall in line and start at eight a. m. The morning is very cold, ground is frozen ha[r]d, also very rough; hurts the feet to march. We arrive at church about three miles south of the landing at noon. Here we rest while the major reports at headquarters. The return in an hour and we march up to the front and bivouack [sic, bivouac] for the night near Battery Four. Night is very cold; have no shelter but rest on the ground for the night as best we can. We are at the point where the firing was so heavy a few nights last week.
November 25th—Weather is quite fair; sun comes out warm. Have coffee and hard bread for breakfast. Men feel stiff and sore from the march.
November 26th—There is a rumor in camp that we are to march soon again.
November 27th—Early the order comes to be ready to march at eight a. m. We get our grub and pack knapsacks, then sit around the fire chatting over the news of the day. Some conjecturing as to our probable destination. Usually a very interesting theme when marching orders are received. The guesses are many but may all prove amiss. Weather lowery. At ten a. m. the colored troops file in and take our places. We move a half mile to the rear where we occupy the camp just vacated by the 205th Pa. Vol. They leave very good huts which I suppose they disliked leaving.
November 28th—I am making out some company papers. There is considerable firing in front caused by the enemy attacking our picket line. Just after dark they again began to fire very fast when changing pickets. The rebels resent the appearance of the colored troops whenever they come on the line. There is no visiting or exchange of papers and friendly chat. Then nothing but war. They use every means to annoy and make life unpleasant for the colored men.
November 20th [sic, 29th]—No news.
November 30th—All quiet. At night the regiment go on picket.
December 1st and 2nd—No news.
December 3rd—I received a letter from brother Ed. in which he says he thinks he is permanently crippled from his wound in the leg. All quiet.
December 4th—We move up to battery No. 7 near the works and occupy a camp there just vacated. We clean it up and have good, warm quarters.
December 5th—We are just congratulating ourselves on our nice location, for a time at least, not expecting to move before night. Four p. m. orders come to march across the James river. Again we pack up and start at five. We march fast and reach our destination at ten p. m., and halt for the night. We expect to find the Second Corps here, as that corps with our division of the Tenth corps had been a flying column for the Army of the Potomac. All summer, every time Grant or Mead[e] wishing to squeeze the rebels south of Petersburg in their effort to gain the Weldon railroad and other points of vantage on the south end of the line, we were sent across the James to stir the rebels up and threaten Richmond on the north end though the extreme ends are thirty miles distant from each other there is a solid army throughout which the enemy is unable to break. The attack on Richmond each time necessitated the withdrawal of troops and weaken the rebel lines at the south end but this seems to be a different situation.
(To Be Continued.)9
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 Third Brigade, Second Division, Tenth Corps, Army of the James during this portion of the Siege of Petersburg. The unit was stationed on Bermuda Hundred and opposed the Howlett Line in late September 18864. The 115th New York accompanied its brigade during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on September 29-30, 1864, a part of the Fifth Offensive against Petersburg and remained in new fortifications north of the James River, participating in several engagements along the new line in October 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon, the 115th New York, and the rest of the Tenth Corps were headed for New Market Heights as the right wing of the Army of the James’ assault on Confederate fortifications guarding the southeast approaches to Richmond. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon is referring to the Battle of New Market Heights, where the United States Colored Troops regiments of Charles Paine’s Third Division, XVIII Corps, attacked and eventually drove off the Confederate forces there under John Gregg. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon here describes the Tenth Corps efforts to capture Fort Gilmer on the northern end of the greater Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. Although the XVIII Corps had managed to capture Fort Harrison, the Tenth Corps attacks against Gilmer ultimately failed in bloody and uncoordinated assaults. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Robert E. Lee organized an effort to retake Fort Harrison on September 30, 1864, but poor coordination between the divisions of Hoke and Field led to a bloody repulse for the Confederates. Grant’s stranglehold had just grown tighter. The Federal capture of Fort Harrison led the Confederates to construct a new line connecting Fort Gilmer to the roads further north which could be used to threaten Richmond. That construction led to several new battles along the Darbytown Road on October 7 and October 13, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads. Robert E. Lee was again looking to drive the Union Army of the James back from the old Confederate Outer Line by flanking the Tenth Corps from the north. Lee’s divisions managed to drive Kautz’s Cavalry Division into the main Union infantry, but the presence of Spencer Repeaters in some Union regiments held firm on the New Market Road. Lee’s last major offensive action prior to Fort Stedman had failed. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon is referring to the Battle of Darbytown Road. The Tenth Corps was to feel the Confederate lines only, but Pond’s Brigade made an ill-advised assault near the Charles City Road which resulted in a bloody failure. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Reardon missed the Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road. Reardon and the Tenth Corps were to hold the Confederates’ attention while Godfrey Weitzel’s Eighteenth Corps tried to get around the Rebel left flank at Williamsburg Road. James Longstreet, newly arrived from his Wilderness wound, suspected what was occurring and bloodied the noses of the Eighteenth Corps at Williamsburg Road. An attack against Confederate cavalry by USCT regiments near the old Fair Oaks battlefield to the northwest also failed. The Army of the James had prevented Lee from sending troops south to Petersburg, but had not done much else. ↩
- “Memories of the Civil War.” St. Johnsville NY News. May 27, 1908, p. 2 col. 2-4 ↩