Editor’s Note: In the mid-1940’s the Baldwinsville (NY) Messenger reprinted a lengthy series of articles on the 185th New York and other New York Civil War units from 50 years earlier, originally published in the Baldwinsville Gazette, which detailed the history of the town of Lysander, New York. This article is one part of a sub-series in this set detailing the 185th New York and its experiences at the Siege of Petersburg. I found these articles while searching through the always fascinating Fulton NY Postcards site. This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
Augustus M. Rice, the original author, was a member of Company A, 185th New York. Rice enlisted at the age of 18 as a private on August 22, 1864 in Lysander, to serve for one year. He was mustered into Company A on September 19, 1864 and was discharged on June 3, 1865 in Washington, D. C.1
HISTORICAL REVIEW OF THE TOWN OF LYSANDER
Part 198: Story of 185th [New York] Regiment’s Action in Virginia is Continued
By Miss L. Pearl Palmer
[SOPO Editor’s Note: The previous entry in this series described the arrival of the 185th New York at the Siege of Petersburg on September 30, 1864. After a night’s rest, they took a train ride down the new United States Military Railroad just behind the Union front lines. After arriving at Meade’s Station, they were positioned as reinforcements for the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac as the Battle of Peebles Farm raged on October 1, 1864. This entry picks up at that point.]
Orders were given to make ourselves as comfortable as possible so while the rain still poured we sought shelter neath bales of hay and bags of forage.
Late that night [October 1, 1864?] we were issued tents and rations, as well as 40 rounds of cartridges. Our position was at the left of the Ninth Corps. The next evening [October 2, 1864?] we heard heavy firing on our right. We were ordered to fall in line, and lay on our arms the remainder of the night. Next morning [October 3, 1864?] some of our pieces were found loaded with the cartridges reversed.
Nothing of particular note occurred until the fourth [of October, 1864], when our regiment and the 198th Pennsylvania brigaded together, forming the First Brigade of the First Division of the Fifth Corps. Now we moved to Poplar Grove Church to camp upon ground that, at the time of our arrival in Virginia, had been occupied by the enemy. Here, a rebel spy, an engineer, who when searched was found to be carrying next to his person, a complete map of our lines and defences from City Point to our own extreme left—a distance of some twenty miles—was captured by our pickets, court martialed and executed.
An attack was made by the rebels on Saturday, October 8 , on our Ninth Corps [of the Army of the Potomac], and our regiment was ordered in as support. The enemy was repulsed, and for the following eight days we continued drilling and getting hardened to camp life.2 On October 16 , our brigade and division moved on to the Squirrel Level road, a fine pike leading to Petersburg. Now, finally, we were to take the place of veterans.
Our lines were perhaps forty to sixty rods from those of the enemy. My comrades will recall the rifle pit next to the road and the pine trees used for a vidette post, also the chimney in front which sheltered the rebel sharp shooters. Our main line was composed of breast works and redoubts, the breastworks constructed of logs, tiered up, with earth thrown against them to a thickness of six feet at the bottom and three at the top, about four feet high with a strong line of abattis in front. The limbs sharpened and faced out, were woven together so firmly as to present a secure defense against an enemy attempting to force his entrance. The redoubts were strong earthworks or forts built on commanding positions.
Outside of this was a line of rifle pits or gopher holes, as commonly called, some of which were so exposed that our men could be relieved only after dark. The rebel positions were similar except that theirs, being first choice, gave them the strongest fortifications in the best places.
On October 26th , our regiment was ordered to be ready to march, by three o’ clock in the morning.3 Rations were issued and we started, but after about two miles march, we heard heavy firing. Just at sunrise [on October 27, 1864] we passed over the brow of a hill and gazed down into the valley below upon thousands of uniformed men, a sight never to be forgotten. Reaching the rebel lines near noon, orders were given to halt and lie down. About this time [Lieutenant] Colonel [Gustavus A.]Sniper [of the 185th New York] came riding along the lines, commanding his men, whom he considered too venturesome, to “Lay low or you will get your head shot off.” We obeyed.
A second command followed shortly to entrench our position and hold it at all hazards. Consequently was proceeded to throw up light works and, as the timber was thick in front of us, a squad from our company, under the command of Lieut. Brooks was detailed to cut trees in front of our position. The job was not a desirable one, for at the time, there was a sharp skirmish fire, but Brooks with his cool courage, worked with his men until ordered under cover by Colonel [Edwin S.] Jenney [commander of the 185th New York].
Now, shells were continually whizzing into our lines, but owing to defective fuses, they seldom burst. One, however, did explode above the company, a piece striking Anthony Hoslet on the shoulder, causing a severe contusion, and subsequent paralysis, the first man wounded in our company. We held our position until morning [October 28, 1864], when our officers, not wishing to bring on a general engagement at that time, ordered us to fall back to our former positions, and here again, we followed the regular routine of camp life, roll call, details, guard mount, company drill, dress parade, then dinner. After dinner the first in order was battalion drill, then company drill, dress parade, roll call and taps. Camp guard and picket duty in addition, kept us very busy, and thus the time passed until election day when we cast our ballots at the captain’s headquarters where they were sealed, and sent home to the proper authorities.4
This November  we built our winter quarters. Boxes of delicacies from home began to reach us, and just as we began to believe we were settled for the winter, orders were issued to draw three days rations, a pair of shoes and prepare to move. On December 6  we broke camp, and marched out upon the Jerusalem plank road. Some of the men thought we were going to City Point, others believed we were headed for Harrison’s Landing to relieve the 184th [New York]. All guesses were wrong, for we had started southward on what proved to be Weldon raid.5 The exceptionally fine weather we had been enjoying changed to rain. We scarcely halted until we struck the Nottawa[y] river where we were obliged to wait for the engineer corps to lay the pontoon bridge for a crossing. This gave us opportunity to cook coffee before climbing the long muddy, slippery hill on the opposite bank, and finally, with an extra effort, dragging ourselves to its summit.
We continued our march until late that night [of December 7, 1864] when we made a short halt to rest and cook coffee. Next day [December 8, 1864] we passed through Sussex Court House, striking the railroad in the afternoon and immediately beginning the work of destruction. The railroad was pried up and tipped over into the ditch; the ties were torn loose, made into piles with the iron on top and fires lighted. The rails warped by the heat, became useless.6
The Baldwinsville NY Messenger 185th New York Series, 1945:
- NP: October 4, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 1
- NP: November 22, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 3
- NP: November 29, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 4
- NP: December 6, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 5
- December 13, 1945 Baldwinsville NY Messenger: 185th New York at Petersburg, Part 6
- 185th Infantry CW Roster. The NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 26 July 2016. Accessed Augustus M. Rice entry from the 185th New York Roster. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This particular engagement doesn’t seem to be represented in the Official Records, so I presume it was a fairly small affair. More research is needed to find an official name (if there was one) and the details of the action. If you have any information on this little fight, please contact us. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The 185th New York was part of the Federal advance against the Confederate Boydton Plank Road line. Most of the Fifth Corps, the 185th’s parent unit, was assigned to probe the Confederate defenses just north of Hatcher’s Run. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The article’s author Augustus Rice does a good job of describing the “feeling out” of the Confederate defenses along the Boydton Plank Road on October 27, 1864 during the Sixth Offensive. This was part of the Battle of Boydton Plank Road. The notoriously cautious Fifth Corps commander Gouverneur Warren did little more than hold the Confederate defenders in place while Hancock’s Second Corps tried to outflank those defenses. In this particular case, that’s really all that was expected of Warren and his men, including the 185th New York. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: The “Weldon Raid” of December 1864 has many names, including the Applejack Raid and the Stony Creek Raid, among others. Gouverneur Warren’s Fifth Corps, a division from Second Corps, and a division of cavalry headed south from the Union entrenchments and moved onto the Weldon Railroad between Stony Creek and Hicksford, Virginia. The raid managed to wreck most of the Weldon Railroad between those two points, further stressing the Confederate supply system. The 185th New York participated on what was probably a frigid but exciting experience for a new regiment. ↩
- “Historical Review of the Town of Lysander.” Baldwinsville Messenger. October 25, 1945, p. 3, col. 1-7 ↩