Category Archives: Siege of Petersburg

1865: Duncan O. Stowell to his Cousin Sarah

This letter was written by Duncan O. Stowell (1844-1929) of Ellisburg, Jefferson county, New York, who enlisted at age 20 in September 1863 to serve one year in Co. L, 6th New York Heavy Artillery. He mustered out of the service on 28 June 1865 at Petersburg, Virginia.

Duncan was the son of George H. Stowell (1811-1883) and Francis Derry (1812-1873) of St. Lawrence county, New York. After the war, Duncan married Martha A. Kelsey (1841-1934) and moved to Woodbury County, Iowa where he was a farmer.

Transcription

Sunday, March 12, 1865

Dear Cousin,

I received a short letter from you when we were at Winchester and have frequently thought to answer it but for some reason or other I have postponed doing so until the present. I have to ask your pardon for being tardy this time and if you will grant it, I will be prompt in the future.

We here in the army labor under one great disadvantage in writing to friends—that is this: We can tell them no news. However, I am glad to tell you one thing—viz: that Charley and I are both well. I have served a little more than a half of the time for which I enlisted and have been favored with the best of health and good luck. For this and many other things I thank the Great Ruler ad if it be His will, I hope to meet you all once more in a peaceful country.

It may be of interest to you to know where we are and what we are doing. We are on the line between the James and Appomattox rivers and are doing picket and fatigue duty. We are on duty the most of the time. When on picket we are quite close to the Johnnies and can talk to them with ease. There are deserters coming into our lines every night. They tell us that they are kept on half rations—that the Confederacy will “go up” soon, &c. How true this last statement is remains to be seen. God grant that it may be be so and that we may again have a prosperous and united country. I think that never since this rebellion broke out have our prospects been so good as at the present.

There are many things that I might tell you about connected with the army but it would require too much space and perhaps would not interest you. I will tell you as near as I can though the way we live when in camp like this. We have shanties about 15 feet long, 10 wide and 6 high covered with our tent cloths. There are four of us in a shanty. We cook our own food which consists of pork, beans, fish, coffee and sugar, and hard tack. Sometimes we get bread in the place of hard tack. We have had better rations and more of them since we came here than before.

The weather is getting quite warm and pleasant except a cold rain once in awhile. I have not seen any snow to speak of since we left the Shenandoah Valley last December but presume you have had snow enough and sleigh riding to your heart’s content. Wouldn’t I like to jump into a cutter and have a good sleigh ride—all alone of course. I think of nothing more this time. Now Sarah, I don’t want you to do as I did but return good for evil and write me a good long letter as soon as convenient. Give my love to your people and oblige. Yours, — D. O. Stowell

Direct to me, Co. L, 6th New York Heavy Artillery, Washington D. C.

1862-64: Heyward Glover Emmell to his Parents

Private Heyward Glover Emmell of Co. K, 7th Regiment New Jersey Volunteers (Madison Historical Society, Morristown, N. J.)

These Civil War letters were written by Heyward Glover Emmell (1841-1917) who served in Co. K., 7th New Jersey Infantry. Heyward’s given name is spelled variously in military and civil records but I have used the name that appears on the family headstone in Morristown, New Jersey, and the way it is spelled in the 1909 Morristown City Directory where Heyward was enumerated among the city’s booksellers & stationers. Heyward was the son of Silas Brookfield Emmell (1800-1883)—a Morristown merchant—and Elmina Campbell (1808-1869).

In 2011, Jim Malcolm discovered Emmell’s Journal in the archives of the Madison (Morris County, New Jersey) Historical Society and published it under the title, “The Civil War Journal of Private Heyward Emmell, Ambulance & Infantry Corps, A Very Disagreeable War.” In the preface of the book, Malcolm remarks that the journal contained daily entries of surprisingly good penmanship with few words that were not readable. Not so with Heyward’s letters and as a consequence, though I have not personally examined the original journal, my hunch is that it was a post-war production written partially from memory and based principally on either letters sent home or pocket notes kept by Emmell in the field. I don’t say this to diminish the value of Malcolm’s book—only to reconcile the differences between the neatness of the journal and the sloppiness of Emmell’s handwritten and penciled letters. Besides, Emmell states in the letter sent home to his parents following the Battle of Williamsburg that he lost his knapsack containing everything he carried with him except for what was in his pockets. Surely if he had been keeping a journal from the date of his enlistment up to that point of time, he would have mentioned such a loss.

There are fifteen letters in this collection, most of them brief and what I would call, “Thank God I’m still alive!” letters that were written after each of the major engagements of the 7th New Jersey.

A book review published on-line by William R. Feeney makes the following observations about Emmell:

Jim Malcolm’s Book, published in 2011 & avaiiable on Amazon

Emmell’s service is distinctive not only because he fought in almost every major battle of the war but also because of his transfer to the Union army’s Ambulance Corps in September 1863. Having served as a stretcher-bearer for fourteen months, Private Emmell provides historians with a unique view of the difficulties in dealing with wounded soldiers.

The information in Emmell’s journal is most helpful to the academic when viewed in its entirety rather than in smaller segments. The pages are littered with interesting anecdotes that raise numerous questions from the reader but are rarely insightful in themselves. However, when these stories are woven together, they compose a rich tapestry of material for the historian to analyze. At first glance, for instance, Emmell’s writing appears to comment on race as if he were a third-party reporter. Interactions with “contraband” or “darkys” occur around him, but he never directly takes part. However, Emmell’s feelings on race are evident when snippets of information are strung together. His terse observations on the rebel “darky sharpshooter,” the use of a large black bear to “chase down and squeeze” contraband because the bear was “down on darkys,” and the nightly minstrel shows in camp reveal Emmell’s prevailing views of African Americans, despite his reticence in giving a personal opinion (19, 27, 106).

Emmell’s insight into camp life is equally rich when contextualized broadly. His remarks on arsenic cake, soldier suicide, wedding ceremonies, barrel punishments, burning “sculls” to brew coffee, masquerade balls where men dressed as women, and even one instance of two Union soldiers dressed as rebels who snuck into Petersburg during the siege to attend a dance tell us much about how soldiers coped with the stress and boredom of camp (3, 42, 55, 88, 109, 106, 119). When viewed as a whole, Emmell’s diary is useful for a wide range of Civil War topics, such as race, fraternization, camp life, battles, military organization, medical services, and injury.

The Civil War Journal of Private Heyward Emmell, Ambulance and Infantry Corps: A Very
Disagreeable War. Ed. Jim Malcolm. Madison: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-61147-040-6, 150 pp., cloth, $75.00.

The national flag of the 7th New Jersey bears the battle honors the regiment won during three years of hard campaigning with the Army of the Potomac. (New Jersey State Museum)

Letter 1

Camp near Williamsburg, Virginia
Wednesday, May 7th 1862

My dear Mother,

I expect Mother has read in the Times by this time that the Jersey Brigade were badly cut up, as is the whole of Hooker’s Division. The Jersey Brigade was on the advance after a long march [when] near this place we found ourself near the enemy. We unslung knapsacks and went in action right away and fight five hours. We drove them back twice and then stood our ground when our ammunition give out & they came up and with the Stars & Stripes & said, “Don’t fire on your friends!” and at the same time asking what regiment we were. When told the 7th New Jersey, they said they were [a] Pennsylvania regiment & then fired volley after volley in our ranks so that we had to fall back.

Captain [James M.] Brown 1 & his company was the last to leave. I don’t believe the captain would [have] left until taken prisoner but got shot through the jaw and was carried a ways as we left. It seemed [as] if I was running through a shower of bullets but I was never touched by one. How thankful I do feel.

When we retreated, Sickles Brigade arrived and they and the New Hampshire & Massachusetts & the rest of our division fought until cut to pieces when just then arrived another division which fought & then arrived another division. At 7 o’clock it ceased.

The rebels left. Our troops went in pursuit of them. They were strongly fortified and they had the woods all fixed to suit so as to annoy us. Big trees laid crossways.

The Jersey Boys fought ten times their number after [a] long & tiresome march. The dead in our regiment is about 40, 100 wounded, and about that number missing. Our company [had] 8 or 9 wounded in the fighting & Joe Watkins 2 & Calvin Nix’s 3 [wounds] are the only dangerous ones. Our boys brought Joe off the field yesterday. The rebels took his revolver, watch, and money and called him a damn Yankee. Two other rebels came up to him and fixed a blanket under his head & gave him a drink. After that two others took hold of him & were carrying him across to their lines & were frightened & dropped him & run. None of our company were shot dead and these are the only dangerous ones. The rest are mostly flesh wounds. Three or 4 got balls through coats, hat or haversack without hurting them.

Lieut. Colonel [Ezra A. Carman] shot through the wrist, sword in hand. Major [Francis] Price is in command now. Most all the line officers wounded. Lieut. [Joseph H.] Johnson killed of Company H—he was pierced after dead. Lieut. [Thomas C.] Thompson of Co. A was taken prisoner. All of the division the same way.

I lost my knapsack of course. The rebels got them all & all my things but one handkerchief. Testament and my dear Mother’s picture & a comb & pocket knife. Merritt [Bruen], 4 I just telling that I was writing home, he is well. Of course he did not have to be in the battle. Bob Lambert is not hurt. I believe he was in it but not hurt. I have a blanket I picked up. I do not feel bad losing my knapsack but am thankful not my life. I am well [and] in good spirits. I have to write on anything I can get. I picked this paper dropped by some Con[federate] soldier likely.

I forgot to say that it rained all Monday while we were fighting & we laid flat and fired a good deal of the time. It is horrible to tell of the sights of things around here. 1,000 of dead bodies of ours and the enemy dead around. A good many have been buried. It was horrible to go past a surgeon’s place & see the piles of arms &c. and to see men with legs taken off by shells &c.

I must close. Love to all. Your affectionate son, — Heyward

1 Capt. James M. Brown survived and was later promoted to Major of the 15th New Jersey.

2 Corp. Joseph S. Watkins died at Chesapeake US Army General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, on 31 May 1862 of wounds received in the Battle of Williamsburg.

3 Calvin Nix survived his wounds and lived until 1928.

4 Sgt. Merritt Bruen later served as regimental quartermaster.


Letter 2

Near Williamsburg [Virginia]
May 8, 1862

Dear Father,

I wrote a few lines to Mother yesterday. I thought that as I could get chance to write a few lines today and make sure of one of them reaching Morristown. It was last Sunday morning that we were ordered to go & work in number 1 mortar battery but we had just got there & what was to be seen but the Stars & Stripes floating over Yorktown. The rebels had evacuated from out of their stronghold. If they had only stayed until 2 o’clock Monday morning, McClellan would have commenced the battle. Our course we got orders to go back to our camp but soon got orders to march towards Williamsburg. We marched through Yorktown but had to move very slow for they had torpedoes fixed all over the road with wires. When anyone would step on a wire, it would explode [and] kill everyone near it. As there had been 100 hundred killed by them before, our division was very careful not to step on them. I saw a number of them.

About dark we reached the halfway house & so tired & thirsty we could hardly move. We unslung knapsack, got our canteens filled & slung knapsacks and marched until 11 o’clock at night when we rested until daylight and woke up and found it raining very hard. We started again mud knee deep passing muskets, wagons, &c. left by the enemy. About 8 o’clock, we arrived to where our artillery and the 2nd N. H. & 1st Mass. were engaged. We unslung our knapsacks and marched in line of battle, throwing 4 companies out as skirmishers.

Pretty soon, bang, bang, went the rebel’s sharpshooter rifles when Lieut. Colonel [Ezra A.] Carman give the order to drop & lay down. Then was when I first begin to see the horrors of war. Down fell one after another of the skirmishers of Company A who were a few yards before us. It was too hot. Our skirmishers had to come in. The whole regiment laid flat, firing when they could see anything, but the enemy were all hid behind the brush. Pretty soon the firing became general—we driving them back twice.

Well, it went on so until near 1 o’clock when they came out in sight with Stars & Stripes & saying they were our boys. [But] when they got near us, fell on their knees & fired, cutting our brigade badly, when we were driven back. Capt. [James M.] Brown was the last to leave & I do not believe he would have left until taken prisoner if not had got shot through the jaw. Joe Watkins is pretty bad. [Calvin] Nix & [John] Slingerland is pretty bad. I hope all will get well. We had 7 or 8 wounded was all in our company. In the regiment about 30 killed, and 80 wounded. I do not know how many missing. There must be about 2,000 killed & wounded in the whole fight, I should think.

The boys go to see Joe [Watkins] often & say he is better. He is in a house near here. It was the awfullest sight could be thought of to see the dying and wounded. Some in their struggles had handfuls of dirt in their hands, some were found ramming the balls in their guns. I could get lots of things but I could not take care of them such as secesh rifles & canteens. Some of our boys got the rebels’ pocketbooks but I could not do that. It was bad enough for me to see the dead let alone take the things out of their pants. I see a lot of rebel postage stamps. They were just like ours except Jeff Davis’s picture instead of Washington’s. They were not like those I saw at home.

Fort Magruder is about 200 yards from me, It was a strong, fortified place here & so was Yorktown forts upon forts. Some of our boys have been up to Williamsburg. It is a town like Morristown. The boys have boughten [ ] & went in a eating house & got dinner. Williamsburg is a mile and a half from here. I wrote again this morning so as to make sure of getting one letter home & let the home folks all know that I was well. I lost my knapsack and all my things. My paper envelopes & everything. I found what I am now writing on. I had my letters, testament, Mother’s picture, my knife, pocket book, and in my pocket is all I have left.

Lieut. [Thomas C.] Thompson was left at Williamsburg by the rebels wounded. They could not carry him in their hurry. We are still encamped on the battlefield. I do not think we will be put in action right away for most all the officers are wounded in the division. Heaps of love to Mother, sister & heaps to Father. Your affectionate son, — Heyward


Letter 3

The 7th New Jersey Monument near the Trostle Farm Barn south of Gettysburg

[Note: The writing on this letter is so faint that it is barely legible.]

Battlefield near Gettysburg, Penn.
July 4th 1863

My Dear Father,

Having passed through another battle of which I have a great deal to be thankful I was not killed. The loss is awful in our [ ] company [ ] Capt. [William R.] Hillyer [ ] Lieut. John’s wounded but Lieut. Millen dangerous and of the boys killed and wounded I cannot say—only that we had about 16 in our company. Tom Campbell is at our Corps Hospital wounded. He sent for some of to come and see him. Merritt is going. I could not go or I would. Merritt had seen [ ] First Lieutenant of the Macon Co. & he says Blankie is out west—a signal officer—so Cl___ is not hurt….

Merritt will see Louis. Capt. Logan is killed. The rebels have fallen back a little. Gen. Meade is ….

I must close….I will write first opportunity again…I close, your affectionate son, — Heyward


An 1863 cdv of Heyward Emmell from the family photo album (Charles Joyce Collection)

Letter 4

On the Field
May 7th 1864

Dear Father,

I write you a few lines to let you all at home know that I have come out safe so far, hoping everything will turn up right. We have had hard fighting now for 3 days. No more boys injured in our company. I have been helping get off our wounded.

Please give bushels of love to Mother & Sisters & I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward

Merritt wishes to be remembered to all at home


Letter 5

In the field
May 15th 1864

Dear Mother,

I have written once & Merritt [Bruen] wrote once for me to let all at home know that I am not hurt & well, but I do not know as they have reached home. Neither do I know that this will, but there are doctors going to Fredericksburg with wounded every few days and I shall try to send this by of them.

We have been fighting since May 5th. The loss of life has been dreadful. It is estimated killed & wounded at 50,000 in the Army of the Potomac. Our Corps (the 2nd) made a charge a few days ago [and] took 8,000 prisoners and a great many cannon. The battlefield where the charge was made is just heaped with the dead of both parties. The dead bodies are just riddled like a paper box with shots. We stretcher carriers are busy all the time & I cannot write as I would if I were in the regiment.

Yesterday where our Corps were was quite still and we had to get those wounded rebs out that there was some possibility of living. We put them under shelter from the heavy showers [that] have fallen every hour or two for the past 5 days. This morning we left them & changed our front. The rebs followed us up pretty sharp & for a little while we thought we would likely go to Richmond as the roads were blockaded but after a little we got the wagons a moving & am now safe again behind our troops.

I have never witnessed such a scene in my life as in this battle [see The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House]. Gen. Sedgwick, 6th Corps, was killed. 1 There are some killed in Co. K but none from Morristown. Tell Carrie the Major [Frederick Cooper] of the 7th got wounded in two places. I helped carry him off.

I must now close for we are going to leave. Another shower will get this wet. Please do not worry. I am not exposed—nothing to what I would be in the regiment. I feel thankful that I got out safe so far & hope for the best & send bushels of love to Mother, Father, and Sisters. I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward

1 See The Killing of Uncle John by Fred L. Ray, November 2019 on HistoryNet.


Letter 6

In the field
May 19th 1864

Dear Mother,

I head this “in the field” for I know not nor can I find out any name for this place. We moved from the extreme right of our line last night where our division was forming a strong picket line, to here which is on our left—that is the Johnnie’s right. I see some of the boys writing home so I thought I would do so to let all at home know that I am well.

Everything is very quiet today along the line. Merritt is well. Em’s just returned from Fredericksburg where he took a train loaded with wounded.

This battle is being very skillfully carried on. Gen. Lee & Gen. Grant are just like two persons playing chess & are a good match for each other. I hope & think we will be victorious in the end. I hope Gen. Butler will be able to take Richmond while Grant holds all Lee’s forces here and fights him. I hope for the best & will [ ] to close this short letter hoping it will get home and also the two I sent before & also one Merritt sent. The last letter I had from home was dated the 3rd of May.

Please accept overflowing measure of love from Heyward and give the same to Father, Sister Kate, & Carrie, and I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward G. Emmell


Letter 7

Camp 5 miles South of Pamunky [River]
May 29th 1864

Dear Mother,

It has been most two weeks since I have had a chance to write home & now I have not much prospects of this getting off as there is no communication. This will let Mother know I am well. Needn’t be worried if I do not write in some time for I hardly have time to eat & lose my sleep most every night.

I now close. Accept bushels of love from your ever affectionate son, Heyward, and give the same to Father, Kate & Carrie.

I close.

P. S. I have had the ginger some time which Dempsey brought. It is very nice. Merritt is well.


Letter 8

Cold Harbor
June 2, 1864

Dear Sister,

I seat myself on my rubber blanket, my only protection from the storm cold, &c. as it is all I carry except my haversack of hardtack which is not always got rations in it, I am sorry to say.

We are now again on the Peninsula about 11 or 12 miles of the long-looked for Rebel capitol. Part of Gen. Butler’s force are here. As I write this, I can hear the skirmishing & cannonading which has not been still for a month nearly now. We have just been in 3 hours from a tiresome march of 14 or 15 [miles] from the extreme right to the very left. I have had my coffee and feel a little refreshed & as it was most two weeks until I wrote on the 29th & I am afraid that letter did not reach home, do Iborrowed paper and made up my mind to write again & send it by the next chance to let all at home know that I am well.

We stretcher carriers are to the front and my knapsack is with the wagon so I had to borrow paper of course. I have a quantity in the knapsack in the ambulance.

No Morristown boys in Co. K killed. In the 15th Regt., Sergeant Vanhouten was killed and in the 8th Regt. Sergeant Evans—a son of a man that used to plow Auntie’s garden when I was very small.

Gen. Grant works on Gen. McClellan’s plan—fortifies every inch as he takes it. The base of supplies I believe is now the White House [Landing]. I received a letter of May 20th. Please give our dear mother bushels of love from Heyward and give the same to Father and Carrie & accept the same for yourself. Please excuse my dirty paper. It dropped in the creek & my hands being dirty helped to soil it.

I now close and remain your affectionate brother, — Heyward G. Emmell


Letter 9

Near Cold Harbor, Virginia
June 10th 1864

Dear Mother,

I have received a letter from home every few days & hope mine go too through. We lay where we did when I wrote on the 7th. Our brigade is just in front of a mill pond with a fine breastwork in front. The John[nie]s shell us a little every day but do not do much injury. Our pickets are out front. The breastworks a couple hundred yards & in front of them lay the South Carolina sharpshooters who go to the same stream for water to fill their canteens & talk together, trade, &c.

One of our boys in the brigade got a Richmond paper of the same day as it was printed. They do not fore a shot at each other in our front until one or the other side advances, but one didn’t keep his word and killed an orderly to the Colonel of the 11th [New] Jersey tonight.

They is talk of us changing base to the James River & that we will move tonight so if we do, I will not have chance to write in a week or more likely. I received a letter from Father tonight. I would have written Father this but I had bit one envelope with me that is on my person & that was directed to Mother. It is my turn to write Father but I thought it made no difference as long as I write where it was directed.

Please excuse all mistakes & heaps of love to all at home including a large share to my dear Mother & I close & remain your affectionate son, — Heyward


Letter 10

Near Petersburg, Virginia
June 20th 1864

Dear Father,

Michael Mullery (1842-1864) was originally in Co. K until promoted to Captain of Co. I. He was killed at Petersburg on 16 June 1864.

I will take a few moments to write Father and let all at home know that I am alive. It has been a very hot place since we come here across the James River. The men have been killed by hundreds. In our Co. K, there is 3 killed and about 10 wounded. [Jabez] Beers is killed. Allen [H.] Pierson mortally wounded. Capt. [Michael] Mullery [of Co. I] killed. [Francis E.] Kane is wounded, [Corp. Andrew C.] Halsey has his arm broke with a ball & will have to be amputated. I have no chance to hear about the boys after they go to the hospital so there is no use of wring me to find out for there is no time to do so now.

The first letter for Beers we received & he told me they thought him dead. The next one come I sent to Jim [ ] Beers being dead. I hear. I did not see him. There is no use in having letters directed in my care for they come no better.

[Hugh] Roden is well & says it is very queer that his Father gets no letter from him.

I must now close. Please give bushels of love to my dear Mother & Sisters. I fel very thankful that I have got through safely so far. Merritt is well. I must close & remain your affectionate son, — Heyward


Letter 11

Before Petersburg, Va.
July 29, 1864

My Dear Mother,

I received sister Carrie’s letter of the 22nd a few days ago with much pleasure & was very glad to hear that all at home were well.

On the 26th, about 5 o’clock, our Corps started on a tramp, We marched all night and went over 20 miles. I was the nearest played out that I ever have been I think. The route we took was to Point of Rocks where we crossed the Appomattox and then after marching about ten miles further we reached the James River & crossed it the same way on pontoons. Here we found our monitors and gunboats and with the aid of them, we drove the John[nie]’s back who had been firing in transports that bring our provisions to us and captured 4 guns of them.

We crossed the James at Turkey Bend which is a few miles I believe from Malvern Hill. Last night after dark ew started for Petersburg & we are now [ ] along with the 18th Corps after a hard march all night.

I received the handkerchief the afternoon we left for the march & also the stamps, They must have been delayed somewhere.

Mother, I must now [ ] sleepy. Please excuse the shortness. I feel thankful that I have been preserved so far & hope for the best. Please give bushels of love to Father, Sisters Kate & Carrie, & accept overflowing [ ] for my dear Mother & I close & remain your affectionate son, — Heyward


Letter 12

Before Petersburg
August 1st 1864

Dear Kate,

Your kind epistle arrived safely this morning & a package of papers. The letter was dated the 25th & I was very glad to hear that all at home were well. I saw Mr. Mills—the one we boys use to call Monkey Mills that use to be in Mr. Johnson’s store and was in our church choir. He is well. He wished to be remembered to Father…I received the handkerchiefs & stamps a few days ago.

About 5 p.m. July 26th we started on a march & marched to the Appomattox River and crossed it on pontoons at Point of Rocks & then marched to Turkey Bend—or some call it Deep Bottom—on the James River & crossed it also. Here we found the gunboats & all the monitors and a small force of the 19th Corps. on bank and it was now morning and we had marched about 22 miles, having marched all night long. Our force consisted of the 2nd Corps under Gen. Hancock and Sheridan’s Cavalry. Our line was formed & a charge was made into the Rebel works (he meantime our monitors hurled in shells from the river) and we captured four Parrott cannon. There was then a new line formed & there was nothing but sharpshooters firing. We lay all the next day also until night when we started back & marched until morning, reaching the right of Petersburg where our division halted until dark when it relieved the 18th Army Corps which were in rifle pits for 24 hours. It was a warm place. If you stuck your cap—whiz–whiz—would come over a ball at what they would think was your head.

The day we was there, all the batteries opened & it was a splendid sight to see from a good place and shells of ours explode in & around Petersburg. Most of our shells were thrown at Fort [ ]. A few struck in the city & it soon became full of smoke so that you could hardly see the spires of the churches. A few of the houses burnt up.

At the same time, in front of Burnside’s Corps, the niggers made a charge & were successful first but afterward were driven back & a great many of them were captured which the rebels are making build up the forts which we blew up or if they refuse, kill them. That is the report here. They use mortar for dropping shell in the trenches here now which are not very pleasant. They sound just like a locomotive coming & in the night you can see them come.

I wrote Mother on the 29th. Please give bushels of love to Mother & Father & Sisters Carrie & accept the same yourself from Heyward.

I must now go for my 4 months pay as the regiment is getting paid which I will enclose in this.

P. S. The chaplain has no checks but will have them in 3 days. I give him 50 dollars and will send the check next letter for 50. I received 58 today.


Letter 13

Near Deep Bottom on James
August 17th 1864

My Dear Mother,

I will try and find a way to send this if possible. On the 12th we left Petersburg & marched to City Point & imboarded the sick of the 24th Corps. The troops marched there too but the ambulances went back after unloading to Point of Ricks & crossed the Appomattox River & parked 2 miles from here on the other side of the James. We stretcher carriers were ordered to leave the ambulances & go back to City Point which made it a tiresome march for us. We got on transports & sailed to Deep Bottom, just across the river from where we left the ambulance train.

There has been some hard fighting. Our regiment has not been engaged. I helped get some of the 8th New Jersey Volunteers out yesterday who were wounded. Gen. Birney with the 10th Corps & [ ] of our corps are on the [ ] & it is reported are near Malvern Hill. They brought a rebel General dead in yesterday. His name was Chamberlin [John Randolph Chambliss, Jr.], I believe, a cavalry general. 1

Our gunboats help very much where we are.

It has been some time since I have got a letter from home. The last was dated July 29th. I send bushels of love to Father & Sisters Kate & Carrie & overflowing measures to my dear Mother & hope for the best. And I will now close & remain your ever affectionate, — Heyward

P. S. I put in this one of my friend’s photographs for sister to keep for me. I sent a check on July [ ] for $50.

1 “Promoted to brigadier general, [John R.] Chambliss continued in command of the brigade, through the cavalry fighting from the Rapidan River to the James, gaining fresh laurels in the defeat of the Federals at Stony Creek. Finally, in a cavalry battle on the Charles City Road, on the north side of the James River, Chambliss was killed while leading his men. His body was buried with honor by the Federals, and soon afterward, On Wednesday the 17th of August 1864, a detachment of confederate soldiers came across the union lines under a flag of truce to retrieve Chambliss’s body. Thereafter, he was exhumed and delivered to his friends. It was buried in the family graveyard in Emporia, Virginia. Robert E. Lee wrote that “the loss sustained by the cavalry in the fall of General Chambliss will be felt throughout the army, in which, by his courage, energy and skill, he had won for himself an honorable name.” [Wikipedia]


Letter 14

In the entrenchments before Petersburg, Va.
August 21, 1864

Dear Carrie,

Sister Kate’s letter of August 15th arrived on the 18th & I was very glad to hear from home once more & that the directions was right, for I will now receive them regularly. We left Deep Bottom—that is, the 3rd Division—on the night of the 18th and marched all night through the rain and got to Petersburg by noon the next day where our division relieved a division of niggers belonging to the 9th Corps in the entrenchments. Every morning about 3 o’clock the rebel batteries opened on us and we lay low in deep holes which we dig with piles of large logs front of us to screen ourselves from the flying missiles. We will be relieved from this position tomorrow. It is very filthy here. The ground is all littered with old meat &c.

I wrote at Deep Bottom to Mother. We went in a flag-of-truce when we were there with the rebel general Chamberlin’s [Chambliss’s] body & at the same time some of the stretcher carriers went in between the lines after some of the 8th New Jersey dead. They were mortified & it was very disagreeable even to have them carried near you. It was very disagreeable on board the transports. We expected to go to Washington but I was glad to get off so soon for we had hardly room to stand.

At dusk the whole 2nd Corps moved down the James river, bands a playing, to White House Point & laid at anchor & at 10 o’clock a tug boat come up with orders for the fleet to move to Deep Bottom. The going on transports & going down the river was of course just a blind for we could have marched it in half of the time it took to embark. I will not undertake to tell what we accomplished while there for you can read it in the papers before this, & all that I know would just be what took place just around our brigade.

The 5th Corps took 1100 prisoners yesterday and a train belonging to the Johnnies. I can now hear very heavy fighting on the left of us. We have had rain every day for the past 5 or 6 days.

I must now close. Please give bushels of love to my dear Mother & Father, Sister Kate, & accept heaps for yourself & I close & remain your ever affectionate brother, — Heyward G. Emmell


Letter 15

Before Petersburg, Virginia
September 11th 1864

Dear Father,

I received sister Kate’s note of the 5th this morning with great pleasure but am sorry to hear that Carrie has so bad a cold. The 5th, 6th, and 8th Regiments have gone home. Next goes the 7th [New Jersey] who are to go between this and October 1st. The clerks are busy making out muster rolls.

We stretcher bearers have something to do again as we advanced a part of the line of pickets who were too close to our fort & it has occasioned picket firing again. Just think a few days ago their pickets & ours would play cards together & some of theirs & our officers were drinking & playing together & now shooting [at] each other—but so it is. We use to get Richmond papers every morning.

Stephen Bruen is now Quartermaster and Tim Burroughs is Quartermaster Sergeant. Merritt’s [Merritt Bruen] death was very sudden. He had a great many friends in the army.

I must now bringhis to a close but not before giving heaps of love to my dear Father, Mother, and Sisters & please remember me to the Aunties & I close & remain your ever affectionate son, — Heyward G. Emmell


The following photographs are in an album recently purchased by a friend of mine at the Gettysburg Show (June 2022). It is clear the album once belonged to Heyward G. Emmell.

Emmell Family Photos

1864: Alburtus H. Peckham to Asahel G. Eggleston

A post-war image of Alburtus H. Peckham

This letter was written by Alburtus H. Peckham (1841-1919), the son of William Robinson Peckham, Jr. (1816-1886) and Maria Schermerhorn Kettle (1819-1887) of Cortlandville, Cortland county, New York.

At the age of 23, Alburtus enlisted on 1 September 1864 as a private in Co. F, 185th New York Infantry—a one-year regiment. He was wounded (gun shot through left thigh) on 29 March 1865 in the fighting at Quaker Road (see Battle of Gravelly Run) and transported to the Lincoln Hospital in Washington D. C. where he was discharged on 8 June 1865.

After the war, Alburtus was a merchant in Virgil, New York. He married Lydia Ann Smith (1842-1903) in 1870 and moved to Michigan prior to 1900.

Alburtus wrote the letter to Asahel G. Eggleston (1813-1897) and his wife, Louisa Kenney (1818-1897) of Cortland, New York. Asahel was a farmer in Cortland county. Alburtus does not appear to have been a relation but perhaps he had been previously employed by Asahel as a farmhand.

Transcription

Addressed to Mr. A. Eggleston, Cortlandville, Cortland county, New York

Camp on the front
October 15th 1864

Mr. and Mrs. Eggleston,

I have a little time this morning and I do not know that I can spend it more agreeable than to write a little. The Army of the Potomac is at present rather inactive—or at least it is not in fighting activity. But how long this quiet will last is something only the future can develop. Very soon indeed may the deathly missiles of war be put in motion and the rebellious soil of Virginia be saturated with the blood of our American people. We heard heavy firing all night and we understand this morning that it was gunboats down on the James River. We think there must be a move somewhere pretty soon.

We were the witnesses of rather a solemn affair yesterday. At about half past nine, a member of the 2nd Maryland was marched to the rear of our camp to be shot for desertion. 1 Four men carried his coffin and the 9th Brigade Band played the “Death March” as thousands moved to the place of death. Many hearts beat in sympathy for the poor victim but from the history of his military life all were assured that he ought to die. We have too many men of such character in our army and doubtless many patriotic hearts have bled in consequence of them.

Our camp at present is located on the farm of a rebel officer. It does not look much like farming here now. Not a building except the house nor a fence is to be seen. The ground was the past summer covered with tobacco and cotton. We find occasionally a cotton plant standing now. I have not seen a stone of any kind since I have been in Virginia. Some of the company have seen one or two. The principle timber here is pine and the boys use it too, just as if it was not worth anything.

October 18

I did not have time o finish and mail this letter last Saturday and today finds us in a different location. Sunday we were ordered to march so we took our house and furniture on our backs and started for some part, we knew not where, but we soon found out for we only moved about a mile farther toward the front.

We now again occupy the front line of breastworks, over which the Rebs take the privilege to boost a shell once in awhile. We have not been troubled any yet but the old troops that were here before us used to get “woke up” once in awhile. Along the front of our breastworks was once a large piece of woods but now they are all cut down and present a wasteful appearance as they are mostly large pines, and appear to be of much worth—at least to northern people.

The regiment went almost wholly for “Old Abe” as most sensible people do. There was some deserters came into our camp the other day from the Rebs and they said if Lincoln was elected, they would have but little hope and it would be a hard matter to get many of them to fight anymore.

—A. H. Peckham, 185th New York, 18 October 1864

Maj. Waters has been at our regiment and taken their votes. The regiment went almost wholly for “Old Abe” as most sensible people do. There was some deserters came into our camp the other day from the Rebs and they said if Lincoln was elected, they would have but little hope and it would be a hard matter to get many of them to fight anymore. The coming election is looked to with a hope of its having something of an influence for the better, and such we think will be the case, but of course we cannot tell. No more at present for I have no time to write.

Shall be glad to hear from you at anytime. My love to all. Yours in Dixie, — A. H. Peckham


1 The soldier from the 2nd Maryland who was shot for desertion on 14 October 1864 was Charles H. Merling.