FROM THE 91st REGIMENT, P.V., BEHIND BREASTWORKS, 13 MILES FROM RICHMOND, JUNE 13th, 1864
I gave you an account of our brigade up to the afternoon of the 10th [sc. 10 June]. We were encamped, resting, and had been for five days--the first rest we had from the 28th of April. On the 11th, at 2 o'clock, a.m., reveille beat, tents were struck, and we marched away from Richmond; halted about 7 o'clock for breakfast, then on again; very warm; halted about noon, twenty-one miles from Richmond and one mile from Bottom Bridge on the Chickahominy. Encamped and put up tents in a large woods, close to a church, called Prospect Church.
12th.--At 6 o'clock, p. m., we marched again, went almost six miles and stopped in a wheat field to wait for the pontoon bridge to be laid over the Chickahominy.
13th.--At day-light we crossed; It is about as wide as a canal, with swamps extending for a considerable distance. It is the most dismal looking place I ever saw; the Rebs are about. Two of the Pontoon Corps were wounded while laying the bridge. After we had crossed, we marched up the river towards Richmond, but did not get very far. At 8 o'clock we formed in line of battle. The Rebs it was said were about to attack us; we have just finished throwing up breast-works, so you see we are at it again. The cannon on our left is thundering away, the pickets and skirmishers are all quiet, but in an hour we may be engaged in an awful fight. No fight to-day, we left our breast-works at 6 o'clock and marched until the moon went down about 2 A. M. 14th marched from St. Mary's Church to within 2 miles of Charles City Court House and encamped. 15th--Laid in camp waiting for rations until 5 o'clk, P.M. when we marched to within one mile of the James River and lay down. 16th--Started for James River and crossed on boats.
The river is nearly as wide as the Delaware (at Philadelphia) where we crossed, our division all got over by 9 o'clock, we halted for about two hours waiting for the rest of the Corps, when we started for Petersburg, distant about 25 miles, so it is said. It was one of the hottest of days, the sun was blood red and not one breath of air stirring, and the dust so thick that you could not see ten yards ahead of you, and you can think what we suffered. Water very scarce, and bad at that; hundreds gave out, and laid by the road side, I kept up pretty well, the perspiration nearly blinding me. We marched until about 9 o'clock; when we halted an hour for supper; started again and arrived within a mile of Petersburg about midnight, laid down on the ground and slept until daylight of the 17th of June. I have just finished my breakfast, and thought I would write a little. Yesterday, Butler and Gilmore's forces were fighting all day for the possession of Petersburg, and we were ordered here to reinforce them. The 2nd Corps is also here, and was fighting yesterday.--Rumor says we have beaten them so far. We expect to go into battle this morning. If you take the map you can see that we have marched nearly around Richmond. We are now 23 miles from it, the same distance that we were when we left Charles City Court House. I can not understand Grant's movements, but have great confidence in him. I have just heard that our forces have taken two lines of the rebel entrenchment. They have been fighting all night. We awoke this morn[ing to] a heavy fire of musketry and artillery, the[Reb (?)]s trying to retake their entrenchments. No letters yet. We have been transferred back again to the 1st Division, and 2d Brigade. The negro troops of the 18th Corps (Butler's) took the fortifications yesterday. They fought like devils crying remember Fort Pillow. We have been short of rations for a few days back, and to-day we have had full and plenty, and such cooking you never saw, I am afraid I have eaten too much. I have got pretty well again, and come to my appetite. I have been very sick, but could not get to the Hospital, there are so many that sham sickness, but I have got into the good graces of our Assistant Surgeon [Probably George S Oldmixon] ; he attends very faithfully to me. I have been taking the Tincture of Iron and it has nearly cured me; the Doctor says I was completely exhausted; I am nothing but a skeleton, but I think now I will mend.
18th.--Up at daylight and had orders to be ready to move at a moment's warning; started at 5 [perhaps 3?] o'clock and moved to the front; passed over the battle-field of the day before--the dead were not all buried yet; it was a ghastly sight. I saw one whose head was shot off, and others wounded in all parts of the body; we all knew now what was coming, formed in line of battle, and marched to our front breastworks, halted for a short time, and then the order was given to charge on the enemy's skirmishers, which we did in gallant style, and drove them back to their line of rifle-pits, onward we charged driving them from their rifle-pits; but the balls did fly thick and fast all around us. Some fell at this point, but not many. We still continued on the double quick, when we came to the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. Here the cut was between 40 and 50 feet deep, and very steep; we faltered for a moment; but at the order forward down the steep we went; most all slide down without stopping. [Walter also mentions this cut, but says it was 14-15 feet deep; perhaps the height varied greatly.] Indeed we could not help it when we were all down, the next job was to get up the other side. We tried to climb up; would get a piece way there, slide down again. At last some got spades and dug steps. We got up in that way and formed on the top of the hill. Here the enemy had a raking fire on us and we lost some six or eight killed and wounded. We returned the fire and forward was the word again. We now had to cross a hollow, and up a steep hill for about 600 [??] yards, then about 100 yards over a level field was the enemy's fortifications. How many batteries I do not now recollect. They had been shelling us all the time since we started. Well we started across the hollow under a heavy fire and reached the foot of the hill pretty safe. Here was a stream of water, and we were ordered to all fill our canteens and climb to the top of the hill, but not to show our heads above the crest, until we were ordered. We rested a short time, and after the whole Brigade were in a line. The charge was ordered, we started at a full run and halloeed like so many demons--Now we had to run some 300 [?] yards under a fire of Grape and Canister, shell and Minnie balls. I never expected to come out alive. The air appeared full of flying bullets, and still I was not shot. Missiles of all kinds were flying all around me. The dead and dying were lying everywhere, and amid the awful screaming and groaning of the latter, and the never ending rattle of musketry, still onward we went and got to within one hundred yards of the breastworks we were to take, when both the colors went down. A young man named SWEENEY [apparently Samuel Sweeney, Corp, Co.H, but Advance the colors identifies him as James C Sweeney, Private, Co. D] seized one of the flags and in a moment he was shot and is since dead. [According to Bates, Samuel Sweeney was killed in action.] Another took them up, but by this time we were compelled to fall back, though stubbornly and reluctantly, to a little slope about ten yards distant, where we lay down. We soon found ourselves utterly alone, not another regiment being up with us. We were without support, which accounted for the heavy fire which we bore. On our left was a dismounted cavalry regiment [the 21st PA Cavalry], which halted fifty yards behind us. Their officers drove them up at last, on a line with our regiment. We loaded and fired lying on our stomachs, as fast as we could, our fire being directed principally at their artillery, to keep them quiet, and with the desired effect. Here we lay for some time, not daring to raise our heads except to fire. Spades were brought, however, and we erected breastworks, in which we were in comparative safety. We were now only a little more than one hundred yards from the enemy. We had driven them nearly two miles and had taken one of their principal railroads. The city of Petersburg was plainly visible. This was accomplished with great loss, our regiment losing over eighty men, killied and wounded, nearly half the number we took into action. Our company (G) only lost one wounded, D. FOLTZ. The ball which struck him first passed through a man's head, killing him instantly. A large number of the wounded will die, very few being slightly wounded. I do not know the loss in the whole brigade. The rebels did not lose as heavily as we. I suppose the papers call it heavy skirmishing, but it was severe fighting. The firing ceased, to a great extent, after we had finished our breastworks. We only fired when a head popped above the line, and the rebs treated us as courteously. Night at last came on and brought orders for us to creep quietly as near to the rebels as we could, at 12 o'clock, midnight, and when discovered to rush on them and take the place at the point of the bayonet. This was not calculated to make us sleep very soundly. About 10 o'clock, an officer came around and ordered us to cease firing, as the rebs were leaving, he having seem them moving in heavy columns to the left. This was good news to us, but I scarcely got into a sound sleep when I was awakened by a deafening volley of musketry. I sprang to the breastworks and found that the rebels had made a charge on us, having crept to within forty yards of our works. We loaded and fired as fast as we could. The rebels were now only about twenty yards distant. Our men commenced yelling and shouting terrifically and our artillery played over our heads, sending volley after volley into their ranks with deadly effect. In half an hour we had repulsed them and driven them back to their works. It was an almost successful piece of strategy--that marching to our left--but after a desperate fight they didn't do it. The charge came near creating a panic, and as it was half of our men ran to the rear, but came back as soon as they understood the situation of affairs. If they had succeeded in driving us the slaughter would have been terrible and we should have lost all we had gained by the hard fighting of the day. After we had repulsed them we had to sit in the woods the balance of the night, and at daylight we were relieved by fresh troops. We then went to the rear to get someth[ing to] eat and some rest. The two rough sheets of paper which I send you I got out of a book that belonged to a young man named "Jersey" (a nickname.) He was the life of the regiment, a good mimic, and full of innocent fun. He was resting on the breastworks, having just put his spade down, when a ball struck him, passing through his side. He exclaimed "Good bye, boys; I am going. It is all over with me." And so ended the 18th day of June, a day I shall never forget.
19th.--We rested all this day. The troops that relived us are holding what we took yesterday, and have advanced in some parts of the line. It is understood that the colored troops are to charge on the rebel works to-night. They make a better charge than the white troops. I have just read an account of the Great Central Fair at Philadelphia. It must be a fine sight--such a one as can be seen only once in a life time. I am happy to see that Lincoln & Johnson have been nominated at Baltimore. The ticket is an excellent one and must surely receive the support of every loyal man and I hope the people of the North will leave nothing undone to secure the defeat of everything opposed to Old Abe and our Union.