Sunday, August 24, 2014

" Short is dead"

Wednesday, August 24, 1864, Weldon Railroad, south of Petersburg

It is good to be back with the rest of the army. It was shortly after we whipped the Yankees at Fussell's Mills that we we're put back on the road to Petersburg. The citizens cheered us as we marched through the city. The looks on some of the faces in the crowds signaled to us that they knew that Lee's army, is saving Richmond, had saved Petersburg, too. Not all of the faces were happy to greet us. We noticed not a few looked at us with scorn. They must side with the Yankees.

Once we passed through,  we continued until we reached this place. The Petersburg and Weldon Railroad is behind us. We are dividing our time digging new works here and watching for the Yankees to make another try to break these rails.

It is still quite hot and sweet water is difficult to come by. We sometimes use an old shirt and pour dirty water from a bucket through it to try and filter out some of the dirt. Bolton said that we should be saving the dirt as we need it for the works. Since we do not know if we will be here through the winter, we are not keen on building cabins lest others take over this part of the line and the cabins. Besides, it is so hot, there is nary a thought of the coming cold and snow. Many trees have been sacrificed to the alter of our breast works. There is not much shade so lean-tos have to do.

I very much like my new canteen. There are no holes in it. I gave my old one to Castles. I can feel through the covering that this canteen has rings like a bulls-eye. I hope that does not mean anything. My new shoes are doing well. I thank the previous owner for breaking them in for me. It is a certainty that before it snows here, that these shoes will need to be replaced with new ones.

When we are not digging, we are drilling, which all feel is a perfect waste of our valuable time. After being in the army this long, if we do not drill by this time, then wbeing in the army for this long, if we have not mastered drill, we never will. When we are not drilling, we pull picket duty. Last night was our last night to man the picket line for awhile. There was a fire to cook our rations for those of us who had anything to cook. Despite my best efforts to save something from the rations recently donated by the Yankees at Fussell's Mills, all have been consumed. All it took was one meal and my haversack was empty again. I was not the only one in such a plight.

Short is dead.The wounds he suffered in June caught up to him. He passed in Petersburg. We are sad that we could not have seen him one more time as we passed through the city. Terry is gone, away on medical leave. Blackmon is gone to a hospital. He has suffered a wound to his throat. Nelson has been given a medical discharge for disability. Terry is absent on a medical furlough.  Wilson Crenshaw is in a hospital in Richmond or Petersburg. There are so many absent that I cannot account for all of them.

We can hear firing all up and down the lines, whether we are on the picket line or back in our works. Some of the sounds come from quite far away. We suspect that Grant is probing our lines, looking for a weak place to make a push. He may push all he likes. Our Lee will always push back.

I Send You These Few Lines

There are indeed so many of Tooms' pards that are missing. In addition to those absent that are mentioned above are Colonel Bookter, the regimental commander, Medrid Caskey, Sergeant Major Joseph Steele, Julius Porter, James Porter, Ransom Plyer, John McKay, Lieutenant James Williamson,  John Neill, Hugh Steele, Troy Crenshaw and William Marshall. These soldiers, all in the same company as Tooms, are absent sick, absent furlough, absent detailed or just absent. There are others, absent as prisoners of war, such as John Plyer, Jefferson Mathis, and John Howell, all mentioned in previous diary entries. All of this material is sourced from the National Archives.

The Late Unpleasantness saw the first mass use of railroads in wartime. Transportation of men, munitions and material is now critical to the successful conduct of war. The Confederate troops defending Richmond and Petersburg, Atlanta and Wilmington, and all other places held by the Southern soldiery, are being supplied with beans and bullets by way of the railroads.

During the early part of the  the war, Richmond was served by several railroads, bringing supplies and manpower from all over the Confederacy to her defense. By the summer of 1864, the railroads are few and their carrying capacity is shrinking. The Petersburg and Weldon Railroad, often called just the Weldon, mentioned by Tooms, is one of the few railroads keeping Lee's army in the field, allowing him to defy Grant.

The Weldon ran from Petersburg to Weldon, North Carolina. From there, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad ran to Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the few ports left to the Confederacy where supplies can be run through the blockade from overseas.

Tooms has observed that some of the looks of the citizens of Petersburg are less than friendly. Tooms writes that these might be in league with the Yankees. While that might be somewhat true, it might be that those people see in the soldiers the fact that the war will continue. War-weariness has set in to a large part of the Southern populace, civilian and military. This sentiment has been in existence for awhile and, barring a monumental victory over the Yankees, this sentiment will grow. Some Southerners hold out hope for ultimate victory and some just want the war to end, no matter the outcome.

For the moment, things are quiet. Well, at least quieter than it has been for awhile. There's no more shooting. Well, at least no more shooting that is so close that it requires someone to shoot back. Tooms and his pards have been around long enough to know that, no matter how quiet it is now, this is just the time in between one period of chaos and another. There's a war on. It is certain that this time is just the calm before the storm.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"...those d-----d gunboats"

Wednesday, August 17, 1864, North of James River, Virginia

We are so very frustrated. There is not a man in the company or regiment who is not desperately anxious to wade into those Yankees and soundly whip them to the far, far north. While it is true that we lack decent clothes and full bellies, as long as our cartridge boxes are full, we are content that we can whip any number of Lincoln's hirelings.

For some few days we had guessed that something was afoot. We were instructed by our officers to give our muskets a good going-over and to render our uniforms into a proper military presentation. It was not necessary to say anything about our muskets. We have been in this war long enough to know that our muskets are our lives. A good cavalryman puts his horse before himself. We infantry take care of our muskets better than we take care of ourselves. We did the best with what we had.

There was a lively trade in buttons and thread. Brass buttons are preferred but anything will do. Old shirts and drawers were consigned to the alter of cleanliness. For some of us, we are now wearing the only drawers and shirts that we have. We said that we would get new ones from the Yankees. We sharpened out bayonets, unaware of just how useless they were to be against our intended enemies.

It was an evening march this time and we were glad of it as it was cooler. This has been a very warm summer and Old Sol has sent not a few of us to sick call. We marched with the thought that on the morrow, we would heat up the Yankees. It has been too long since we have dealt them a blow.

On Monday, we were told of our mission. We were going to advance to the James River and attack the gunboats that threatened  to go upriver to capture Richmond. There are still a few of us left who remember the regiment's first encounter with gunboats. At Port Royal Ferry back in '61, they handled us badly. Now was our chance to pay them back. We would sink the lot of them. O, how we cheered.
We did not get much sleep that night. We were too excited at the idea of attacking the gunboats.

The next day, Tuesday the 16th, we heard the sounds of many muskets towards our left. As we marched to the sounds of the guns, we could see in the sunlit hours that this move was more than just our regiment or brigade. We could see so many of our flags in all directions it seemed. We thought that our Lee and his entire army was part of this great movement.

For awhile, the firing died down but we did not slack our pace. Before too long, the musketry increased as did our pace. The weather was very unfriendly to us and not a few fell off to the side of the road. When we formed into line, the picture of what lay before us became more clear. The Yankees had captured a line of advanced works near Fussell's Mill. It was odd that they were not advancing. They looked to be reforming their lines before making another assault. That allowed us enough time to throw up some crude breastworks.

When they were ready, they came at us. They had to advance across open ground to reach us. We poured it into them and many fell. Perhaps they thought that we would be overwhelmed by their numbers and that was why they advanced in the open.

Whatever the reason, it nearly worked. As one fell, it seemed as three filled his place. The Yankees came up to our works and we met them with the bayonet. I regret to write that we were pushed back but we were certainly not defeated. As the Yankees advanced, our own troops on either side of them who remained firm and were not pushed back were able to fire into both flanks of the enemy. The enemy staggered and then they fell back. When it was all over, we had retaken our works, a good number of prisoners and gathered up a fair amount of, well, plunder. I am well-supplied with two new shirts, a new pair of drawers, a new canteen and pokes of sugar, crackers, rice, and some salt horse. The best thing is a not-too-worn pair of shoes.

We never saw any of those d-----d gunboats.

It is rumored that we will return to Petersburg.

I Send You These Few Lines

This battle, Fussell's Mills, was one of the hardest I've written of since I've started this blog. Fussill's Mills is not one of the, "sexy", battles of the War Between the States. No historian will ever write a multi-volume or even single work on this battle. The Official Records have little to offer by way of documentation.

There is a history of the brigade written by the adjutant of one of the brigade's regiments. His version differs from what little material I can find coming from more modern sources. The author, J.F.J. Caldwell, writes that he was wounded about this time and he cannot vouch for the history of the brigade at this time. Perhaps that explains some things.

Fussell's Mills is north of the James River, a bit west of Malvern Hill, between New Market Road and Charles City Road.

The previous encounter with Union gunboats mentioned above was mentioned in the January 6, 1862 diary entry. It was the Battle of Port Royal Ferry.

Once again, Tooms has it wrong. They are not going after any gunboats. At this time, a part of Lee's army, under Jubal Early, has been detached from the main body in order to advance through the Shenandoah Valley and attack Washington. Grant was curious if enough forces had left Lee that an assault on Richmond might be successful.

To test this, Grant sent Winfield Scott Hancock, "Hancock the Suburb", to feel out the works southeast of Petersburg, probe the enemy lines and, if possible, take Richmond. It was this threat, not the gunboats, that the brigade was responding to. Lee had come up from Petersburg with substantial reinforcements to turn back Hancock's force.

But now, the lines protecting Petersburg are weakened. Lee is gambling. Will he win?