SOPO Editor’s Note: The Civil War diary of Orlando P. Benson of the 92nd New York was found and published in The Courier and Freeman (Potsdam, NY). I’ve chosen to publish the portion of the diary covering Bermuda Hundred, Petersburg, Salisbury prison and his postwar experiences through the end of the diary. Check out this installment below, and be sure to look over the other installments as they are published. I’ve included a list of all published installments at the bottom of this and every post. MANY thanks to Jack Phend for transcribing this entire diary for me. It appears here solely due to his help. Are you interested in first person accounts at the Siege of Petersburg? Check out our Letters and Diaries page for more!
BACK AT HOME AFTER THREE YEARS
SERGT BENSON OF THE 92ND TAKES WELL EARNED REST
The [Potsdam, NY] Courier and Freeman this week presents another installment of the civil war diary of Serg[ean]t [Major]. O[rlando]. P. Benson of the 92nd N[ew]. Y[ork]. Vol[unteer]s raised here. Sergt. Benson is left in this installment for home on a furlough.
June 1st, 1864—Take up the line of march [to the Cold Harbor battlefield] about 6:00 a.m. Weather hot and roads very dusty. Have a forced march only halting once for a little supper. About 4:00 p.m. come up to the enemy. Form line of battle at once. Our regiment sent out as skirmishers. Our corps charges and fights until after dark. Our regiment charges across a large field. [Lieutenant] Colonel [Hiram] Anderson killed. Shot through the head. Bravest of the brave. Capture the enemy’s out works and hold them. Men fortify cups and bayonets. Fourteen killed and three wounded.1
2nd—Lie in the woods all day but a few rods from the enemy. Men strengthen their work with cups. Several killed by one of our shot. We have several men wounded. Continual firing on both sides but no general engagement takes place. Feel very unwell but dare not complain. See mortality on every side. After dark send out in front and bury the dead. But little firing during the night. Colonel Anderson’s death I fear is the death blow of the regiment. The men feel terribly. We have no confidence in the major [Truman A. Merriman]. All admit that he is a perfect coward.2
3rd—At daylight all troops massed with great care in the woods and make a terrible charge. The assault was almost unresistable. We take the enemy’s first line of rifle pits and advance upon the second but no living column could meet the terrible fire. Our brigade acted as reserve but were all the while under a most galling fire. Never saw such bravery before. Lose several men, including H. Lyon, Company A. Have a terrible chill and go to the hospital. Rains nearly all day. Men now four days without coffee. Three killed and ten wounded.3
4th—Very sick all night. Get some pickles. Appetite begins to revive. Have two men wounded. Join the regiment ab[o]ut 12:00 m. very sick. Sleep all night with no covering amid a drenching rain. Trenches terribl muddy. Catch but little cold. Balls fly pretty lively. All half sick.
5th—Weather pleasant. See Charles Talcott, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Charles W. Parmeter Company B shot through the heart while writing a letter home. Dennis Maher, Company G, shot through head while eating breakfast. Both die almost instantly. Crawl out and relieve the entrenched outposts. Flag of truce sent out. Both armies mount their works, advance and converse freely. Strange to see deadly enemies so jovial.
6—Lie close in our entrenchments until about 1:00 p.m. Flag of truce sent out. Rebs and Yanks mingle together and converse freely. The above is wrong. It was the 6th instead of the 5th that the flag of truce was sent out. Many exchange papers and bid one another good-bye, saying, “Take good care of yourselves for we know not where nor when we shall meet again.” Relieved after dark by the Tenth New Hampshire. I have today had the best sight of untamed Rebs that I ever had. They appear to be very friendly. Several run in and give themselves up to the Sixth Corps.4
7th—Considerable artillery firing. Flag of truce sent out. Yanks and Rebs have another chance of having a short friendly conversation. Weather very pleasant. Our army seems to be swinging around to the left. The position of our troops seems to be in the shape of a wedge. Men all in good spirits, [s]ee a newspaper correspondent rode in front and one in rear upon which were marked, “Libel Through the Press.”5
8th—Weather pleasant. Were it not I do not know what we should do. Another bridgade [sic, brigade] of two heavy artillery regiments assigned to our division. Said to number 3,700 men. Galbreath, Company H shot through the leg at roll call. Our brigade goes on picket after dark and find the line advanced. Quiet all night.6
9th—Weather pleasant. The line quiet. Our videttes (sentinels) through the night are within ten yards of one another. One officer in a New Hampshire regiment shot through the head by a sharpshooter in a tree. Behan and Pierce do good execution silencing sharpshooters. Eighth Maine on our right. 25th Massachusetts on their right. Relieved by Second brigade after dark.
10th—Sorry to hear that Alick is hurt by a fall from a horse. Pleasant. Several men wounded. One man in a buggy shot through the heart and killed instantly in front of my tent. One of Colonel Henry’s orderlies wounded through the leg. Get a chance to buy his cans of preserved blackberries. Tout with Bugbee and Howard.7
11th—Pleasant. Major [Truman A. Merriman] makes application for veteran furloughs. Feel very unwell. Our brigade again moves out and takes the outer trenches. Our regiment and the 40th Massachusetts take the second line. Some cannonading in front. The men in good spirits considering the circumstances.
12th—Relieved about 8:30 p.m. by Second Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery. Rebels shell us occasionally. Our brigade under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bowen of the 188th march all night without a moment’s sleep. Haul up at White House Landing about 6:00 a.m. of the 13th. Men all very tired and shook up as the roads were very dusty.
13—Go aboard of transport about 12:00 m. Our regiment and the 21st Connecticut take the Helen Getty a very good boat. Get under way about 1:00 p.m. Anchor sometime during the night off Newport News. No acco[m]modations whatever aboard. Hot water ten cents a pint. Rather dear.
14th—Get an early start and reach Bermuda Hundred about 11:30 a.m. We are then ordered back and to Appoma[t]tox. Land at Point of Rocks about 1:00 p.m. Lie in two hours to make coffee and then move about one mile and camp on the same ground that we did once before.8
15th—Rou[s]ted about 1:00 a.m. March about six miles and at 11:00 a.m. haul up in front of the fortifications of Petersburg. Lie two hours in the woods under fire when our regiment is sent to strengthen General Bur[n]ham’s skirmish line. At 5:30 p.m. charge and capture the enemy first line of works. Am in command of Company A. We all do well. Take five pieces of artillery and a few hundred prisoners, one stand of colors, camp and garrison equipage.9
16th—Dig all night and move about 8:00 a.m. to the rear, where we first formed. Twenty first Connecticut charge on a fort and lose 40 men in ten minutes. Lie in the wo[o]ds until 7:00 p.m., when terrible fighting begins and we are ordered out to support the line. Lie on our arms all night. Adjutant left behind sick. Act as adjutant. Also in command of Company B.10
17—At daylight without breakfast move about one half mile to the front and lie over a ravine for two hours when we move back and remain for the day in the hot sun. A solid shot goes across passing through tents breaking several guns and killing a first sergeant in the 40th Massachu[s]se[t]ts. Take up the line of march about 7:00 p.m. and reach Point of Rocks and camp about midnight.11
18th—Arrange camp and once more enjoy a quiet wash and a sound sleep. Many of our sick join the regiment. Hear heavy firing in the direction of Petersburg. Rumor that the place is captured. Alick quite sick. Another application sent in with names of veterans.12
19th—Another day of rest and quite [sic, quiet]. Have preaching by chaplain. The former adjutant of the 188th [Pennsylvania] drummed out of service. A terrible warning for cowards. The fate of a coward in the hands of General Butler is worse than that of death.13
20th—Still another day of quiet. The boys begin to fix up and some of the tents already present quite a neat and tidy appearance. Quite a joyful excitement about veterans furloughs. Received a letter from William Clark. Have dress parade.
21st—Rou[s]ted at 3:00 a.m. Make coffee and take up the line of march at day break. Instead of taking boats for home we move up to Petersburg where we halt about 8:00 a.m. and wait until night when we crawl into the second line of trenches in front of the town.14
22nd—Lie quietly in our holes all day. The enemy shell us considerably. Several shells burst among the caissons but do no damage except to scare the horses. Draw rations. Fill up the holes in front of the main pits. Heavy firing.
23rd—Move at daybreak a little to the left. Weather very warm. One man in the Fifth Maryland just on our left killed by a shell bursting in his pit. Move at dark and take the front line. We have already lain so long in the trenches that our limbs are numb.
24th—Weather still very warm. Rebels charge upon our works about 10:00 a.m., but get repulsed. Take about 164 prisoners and kill a good many. Our loss not a man. Only one man wounded. Davis S. Billings, Company B, killed by a sharpshooter. Hit through the neck. Sprague, Company A, wounded in the wrist.15
25th—Sharp cannonading from 3:00 p.m. until dark. William McKinney, Company D, killed by a sharpshooter while on picket. Hit through the neck. Rather unwell in the afternoon. Relieved by the 21st Connecticut at dark. March back 1½ miles and camp. A great relief to once more stretch our limbs.16
26th–Weather extremely warm. But little shelling during the day. Lively expectations of soon going home. Expect our furloughs every hour. How will it seem to once more sit beneath the old paternal roof? A rich thought for the soldier.
27th—Some sharp firing last night but guess it amounted to nothing. Weather still extremely warm. Thermometer must stand about 110. Officers all drunk as fools as usual when the poison can be had. All our bright visions of home and good night’s rest broken by an order to move to the front. Reach the front line about 10:00 p.m.
28th—Weather a little cooler. But little firing during the day. Hitsmond, the drummer killed by a sharpshooter. Hit through the neck. Poor fellow. Heavy guns coming up. Everything seems to indicate a siege.
29th—The warm weather tells upon us terribly. Considerable cannonading. Major Merriman wounded by a piece of shell. Arm shattered. Edmeston, Company A, wounded also Hammond. Relieved at dark by the 21st Connecticut.17
30th—Mustered. Weather cool and nice. Ordered to the front about 3:00 p.m. Expect to charge but do not. Never was under a severer nor more peculiar cannonade than for about two hours. Lie in the second line all night. No one hurt. Our men charge on the left. Do not know the result.18
July 1st —Lie in torturing sun all day. But little firing. None hurt in our regiment. Four killed in the 188th [Pennsylvania] and several wounded. Relieved at dark by the First brigade [1/1/XVIII/AotJ]. March back to the old camp. Expect furlough this time sure.
2nd—Lie in camp. Get a chance to wash and cook, etc. Orders come that the veterans go no more to the front until after they have received our furloughs. Captain Church to go to Norfolk to make out the papers. Our brigade goes to the front about dark.
3rd—Weather warm. Lie all day in camp. Captain Church receives his permission to go to Norfolk, Va. But little firing in front. The days pass off drearily. The hours drag.
4th—Oh Another Fourth of July. This is the third I have spent in the service. Weather beautiful and pleasant. All hail the birthday of our independence. Orders come to go home.19
5th—Start for home about 6:00 a.m., a set of glad boys, indeed. Reach City Point about 9:00 a.m. Miss the 10:00 o’clock boat and lie over night. Some of the men intoxicated. Purchase from a private in the Ninth Vermont a little flag for Freddie. Price $3.20
6th—Take transportations aboard the U.S.N. boat Key Port [sic, civilian steamer Keyport] and reach Fortress Monroe about 4:00 p.m. Get aboard of the John A. Warner for Norfolk and reach there about 6:00 p.m. Stop all night in an old church.
7th—Leave Norfolk at 11:00 a.m. on the John A. Warner and reach Fortress Monroe at 12:00 m. Take transportation for Baltimore on board the Georgia Ann. Reach Baltimore next day probably. Very unwell.
8th—Reach Baltimore at 6:00 a.m. Take cars for Phil[a]delphia, Pa., and reach there bout 12:30 p.m. Stop and get dinner at the Volunteer Union refreshment saloon. Then cross over to Camden and take the cars. Get under way about 8:00 p.m. Reach Amboy at 11:00 p.m. and take boat for New York.
9th—Get under way for New York city at 2:00 a.m. and reach New York at 6:00 a.m. March up to the Soldiers Home, Nos. 50 and 52 Howard street and take up lodgings. This is a splendid establishment and is an honor to the state of New York.
10th—Do not go to church as I expected. Get considerable rest. Take boat at 6:00 p.m. for Albany. Many of our men drunk. Sleep below on the carpet. Have splendid lodgings. Beautiful scenery along the Hudson.
11th—Reach Albany at 5:00 a.m. Lie over all day. Get no bounties as we expected. Get furloughs and start on the night Lightning Express train at 10:45 p.m. Reach Rome at 3:15 a.m. on the 12th.
12th—Change car and leave Rome at 4:00 a.m. Change again at Dek[a]lb Junction about 12:00 m. Reach Potsdam about 1:00 p.m. Get dinner at Nightengale’s and take the stage for home. Reach Massena at 5:00 p.m. and go home at once.
13th—Help some in the hay field. Find that it does not exactly agree with my conscience and that my hands especially rebel. Makes two blisters which of course are honorable. Drive to town at dark. Enjoy myself quite well.21
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jack Phend.
If you are interested in helping us transcribe newspaper articles like the one above, please CONTACT US.
Other Posts from Orlando P. Benson’s Diary While at the Siege of Petersburg:
- Diary of Orlando P. Benson, 92nd New York
- NP: February 11, 1925 Potsdam NY Courier and Freeman: Orlando P. Benson Diary, 92nd NY, Part 1
- NP: February 25, 1925 Potsdam NY Courier and Freeman: Orlando P. Benson Diary, 92nd NY, Part 3
- NP: March 4, 1925 Potsdam NY Courier and Freeman: Orlando P. Benson Diary, 92nd NY, Part 4
- SOPO Editor’s Note: On the first day of major infantry fighting at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant sent in the Sixth Corps and Benson’s Eighteenth Corps to attack the Confederate lines. Lieutenant Colonel Hiram Anderson lost his life in this charge, depriving the 92nd New York of an experienced and respected leader. The men did not like or respect the Major of the regiment who replaced Anderson, Truman A. Merriman. The Union gained some ground in this assault, and its success led in part to the decision to launch the notorious June 3, 1864 attack. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: A quick look at the roster of the 92nd New York, page 995, shows that Truman A. Merriman was the unnamed major of whom Benson had such a low opinion. Here is a short bio of Merriman from a New York magazine called The Journalist. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Any student of the Civil War in the East is familiar with June 3, 1864 at the Battle of Cold Harbor. Many myths have grown up around the Federal losses that day, and even the losses suffered in the first 30 minutes of the assault. Fortunately, Gordon Rhea provides a comprehensive analysis of the Union casualties in his book Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26–June 3, 1864. Also, click here for a nice map of the action by the American Battlefield Trust. The 92nd New York was in Henry’s Brigade, Brooks’ Division, Eighteenth Corps. You can see that brigade in column in reserve near the northern end of the Union assaults by Beulah Church, just as Orlando Benson mentions in his June 3 diary entry. ↩
- SOPO editor’s Note: The controversial request for a flag of truce left many wounded men to suffer and die in the heat while army commanders argued over rules of etiquette and what it meant about who won this fight. For more, we again turn to Gordon Rhea, this time in his next and last volume in the Overland Campaign series, On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-15, 1864. He offers his thoughts on this discreditable affair. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Edward Cropsey of the Philadelphia Inquirer was the gentleman of the press having a bad day on June 7, 1864, to the amusement of soldiers like Benson. Cropsey had published an article in the June 2, 1864 Inquirer to which Major General George G. Meade took exception. He called Cropsey into his tent and read him the riot act, ultimately issuing an order to dish out this humiliating punishment. Professor Jennifer M. Murray at Oklahoma State has much more detail on this controversy. Meade’s order can be read in full in the Official Records, vol. 36, pt. 3, page 670. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Based on heavy artillery regiments which were present with the Eighteenth Corps just a week later, I suspect these two regiments are the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery and the 10th New York Heavy Artillery. The Pennsylvania unit is mentioned directly by Benson just a few days later. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: As I mentioned in the last installment, “Alick” is almost certainly Alexander M. Stevens. In a diary entry on February 2, 1863, Benson writes: “A.M. Stevens acts sergeant major. He is a noble boy and is of great assistance to me I could not get along without him.” If you look at the roster for the 92nd New York, page 1034, this must be Alexander Stevens. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: From June 12-14, 1864, the 92nd New York and other regiments of William F. “Baldy” Smith’s 18th Corps marched east to White House Landing on the Pamunkey River, boarded steamers like the Helen Getty, and were ultimately taken to Point of Rocks on the Appomattox River. They would march on Petersburg the following day, kicking off a major battle. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: June 15, 1864 was one of the greatest “what if” moments in the war. William F. “Baldy” Smith’s Eighteenth Corps, of which Benson’s 92nd New York was a part, marched on Petersburg and was present by the middle of the day. Smith wasted hours looking over the Confederate defenses in detail. The Union assault which kicked off the four day Second Battle of Petersburg went forward in the early evening and was entirely successful, but night prevented the follow up which would have almost certainly taken Petersburg. There are two GREAT books which cover this topic. Gordon Rhea’s On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee June 4-15, 1864, pages 271-303, looks at Smith’s approach to Petersburg after sweeping aside Confederate cavalry at Baylor’s Farm and also the battle in front of Petersburg. In addition, Volume 1 of A. Wilson Greene’s Petersburg trilogy, pages 90-112, covers the same topic. Both books have excellent maps of this fight. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: A. Wilson Greene’s book A Campaign of Giants, pages 133-34 and 140-41, covers a morning skirmish involving Martindale’s Division and an evening attack, again by Martindale’s Division. Brooks’ Division, to which both the 92nd New York and 21st Connecticut belonged, is shown as in reserve in the evening on page 140. Benson’s description of events makes sense for his whole division. His description of the 21st Connecticut making an attack does not, until you read the report of Captain James F. Brown in the Official Records, in which he states, “Next morning this regiment was detached from the Third Brigade and deployed as skirmishers to feel the enemy’s line in our front. After ascertaining his strength and position all but two companies were withdrawn and rejoined the Third Brigade in the position it occupied the previous night.” A regimental history of the 21st Connecticut simply seems to skip over the latter half of June entirely! So it looks like the 21st Connecticut was detailed to act as skirmishers before finally being relieved later than the rest of its brigade. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: On day 3 of the Second Battle of Petersburg, June 17, 1864, the Union Ninth Corps make attacks south of the Eighteenth Corps, which was still holding the line along the Appomattox River. In an effort to reunite both Union Armies, Grant ordered the Eighteenth Corps north of the Appomattox River to Bermuda Hundred, where they replaced the Union Sixth Corps. The Sixth Corps in turn moved from Bermuda Hundred and took the Union left in front of Petersburg which the Eighteenth Corps had held from June 15-17. Point of Rocks was both a prominent rocky point and a house named for it on the Appomattox River. Pontoon bridges near there allowed Union troops to easily move to either side of the Appomattox River. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: By the fourth and last day of the Second Battle of Petersburg, the 92nd New York was away from the Petersburg front and close to or on the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula. The rumor Benson heard about Petersburg’s capture was incorrect. The fighting would settle into a methodical Siege punctuated by bursts of greater violence. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Adjutant Matthew Keck appears to be the unfortunate individual after consulting the Field and Staff of the 188th Pennsylvania. He appears to have been dismissed on June 4, 1864, with the final ceremony kicking him out occurring several weeks later. Perhaps the constant moves and fighting prevented this event from occurring earlier. If anyone knows more about the specifics of Keck’s case, please CONTACT US. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Grant’s Second Offensive against Petersburg began on this date. The Union Second Corps pulled out of trenches east of Petersburg and moved south to the Jerusalem Plank Road. They were to move west against the Weldon Railroad, Lee’s supply line to North Carolina. The Sixth Corps was to join them. As a result, the Eighteenth Corps was again called up to Petersburg to take the place of Sixth Corps. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the June 24, 1864 Action at Hare’s Hill. It occurred east of Petersburg, where Benson and his 92nd New York were lying in the trenches. Since Grant had pulled men out of these works, Lee decided to test them for any sign of weakness. A misunderstanding between Confederate division commanders Hoke and Field left Hagood’s South Carolina Brigade to charge unsupported, resulting in the one-sided affair here described by Benson. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I can find no reference to this “sharp cannonading” in either Part 1 or Part 2 of the Official Records, Volume XL. It may have been due to part of Turner’s Division forming up for an attack which was later called off. If you can provide sources or details on this artillery firing, please CONTACT US. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: And so the Major who was thought of poorly by his regiment, or at least by Benson and some others, was removed from command by what sounds like a very serious wound. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the June 30, 1864 Skirmish Near Hare’s Hill. Portions of Turner’s Division, Tenth Corps demonstrated and drew the fire of the Confederates along Gracie’s Salient between the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and Taylor’s Branch. Another portion of Turner’s Division was supposed to charge to right but Turner and/or his brigade commander bungled forming for the attack, and it was called off. Robert E. Lee referred to this as a “feeble demonstration.” ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The veterans of the 92nd New York who had signed on in 1861 were overdue for furloughs. These men were kept behind while the rest of the regiment went to the front. They would get a chance to go home briefly and escape the hell on earth that had engulfed them at Petersburg. For the remainder of this diary installment Benson discusses his and the other veterans’ journey home, NOT the affairs of the remainder of the 92nd New York at the front. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Either Benson got the unit name wrong or the member of the 9th Vermont was on detached duty. That regiment would not reach the Siege of Petersburg until September 1864. ↩
- “Back at Home After Three Years.” The Courier and Freeman (Potsdam, NY). February 18, 1925, p. 1 col. 1-5 ↩