June 20-Aug. 2s, 1864.
- To the rear -- boot and saddle -- the Corps badly used on the Jerusalem Plank Road -- a dry time—‘where we dug the First well’ -- he Sanitary Commission -- by the right flank -- Deep Bottom -- rain at last -- the Weldon Railroad.
It is a well-known fact, that, inasmuch as the artillery of the army was abundant, and the opportunities to use it all had been limited, there were several batteries which had scarcely been called into action during the campaign, unless for siege duty at Cold Harbor, having been kept with the reserve artillery. As the Tenth Massachusetts had not been of that number, it was not unlikely, so we reasoned, that we were now to ‘lie off’ awhile, rest the horses and men, and give some one else a chance; and it was in this expectation that, having joined the Artillery Brigade on the following afternoon (Monday, June 21), we went somewhat to the rear and parked, in spacious order, in a large field skirted with woods. But we were doomed to disappointment. There was other business on hand. Scarcely were the harnesses off the horses ere ‘boot and saddle’ sounded, and away we went towards the left of the line. Our course took us to what was known as the Jerusalem Plank Road, a thoroughfare leading southward from Petersburg, and along this we pursued a northerly course to the farm owned by one Jones, and camped for the night near the ‘Jones  House.’ The next day was Tuesday, the 22d of the month, and shortly after dawn sounds of skirmishing were heard, continuing until about the middle of the afternoon, when the firing increased to rapid volleys, indicating hot work ahead—for it was up the road towards Petersburg. Orders soon came to harness and be ready to move without delay, which, under the circumstances, we obeyed with at least our accustomed alacrity, for the firing drew nearer and the road was bustling with couriers dashing to the rear, and other appearances indicating that all was not right. Soon came the explanation. The Rebels had broken our lines, taken many prisoners, and captured the Twelfth New York Battery. The remaining artillery of the corps was at once ordered up into position, and we planted our guns in the open ground around the Jones House, there to await and resist the expected onset. We had hardly taken position before shells, probably from the captured battery, came crashing through the buildings and ploughing up the ground near by. Heavy masses of infantry supported us on either flank, and stood awaiting the appearance of the enemy's columns flushed with their initial success and eagerly following up the advantage gained. But this they failed to do, for reasons of prudence, we judge, and withdrew as suddenly as they had appeared, taking with them four pieces of artillery, several stands of colors, and sixteen hundred prisoners.1 The history of this disaster to the corps is in brief as follows: The line taken by our army before Petersburg had been so strengthened that a small portion  of the entire force was sufficient to hold it. This left the remainder free to maneuver elsewhere. We were drawn out of the front line, then, because we were wanted elsewhere. On the 21st the Second and Sixth corps were dispatched to the left to extend the line towards the Weldon Railroad, with a view of enveloping the city more closely. The Second Corps having the advance, struck the Plank Road, and established itself on the west side, connecting with the Fifth Corps on the east. The Sixth Corps came up, taking post to the left and rear of the Second. Gen. Birney, then in command of the Second, was ordered to swing forward the left wing of the corps, so as to envelop the right flank of the enemy. This movement was making by the divisions of Mott and Barlow, who were pivoting on Gibbon's Division, which held the right. Just as the operation was nearly completed, a part of Hill's corps (Mahone's division) penetrated the interval between the Second and Sixth corps, throwing the flanks of both into great confusion, especially that of the Second.
‘Barlow's division’ [says Swinton] ‘rolled up like a scroll, recoiled in disorder, losing several hundred prisoners. Mott on his right fell back, but not without a like loss, and the enemy still pressing diagonally across the front of the corps struck Gibbon's now exposed left flank and rear, swept off and captured several entire regiments and a battery, and carried Gibbon's intrenchments. The shattered corps was re-formed on its original line when the enemy made a brisk attack on Miles' brigade, but was easily repulsed.’2  Now a season of comparative inactivity set in and continued for some weeks. Not that we were enjoying a state of absolute rest, for we were kept moving from point to point, but there was no fighting going on in this interval. There was, however, a long list of casualties reported every day at corps headquarters, for the pickets were most inimical to each other, and hundreds of lives were thrown away in this branch of warfare that might have better served their country's cause. The season was an unusually dry one, and the slightest movements were attended with considerable bodily discomfort, for by the continuous passage of troops, animals, and army transportation in general, the surface of the ground had been pulverized into such an impalpable powder that a newspaper correspondent, writing home at this time, stated, with not much exaggeration, that whenever a grasshopper hopped it raised such a cloud of dust, the lookouts of the enemy immediately reported our army to be on the move. No rain had fallen for several weeks, and moving columns were enshrouded in dust. It settled on everything alike. Trees and shrubs were coated with it, making the aspect of nature dreary indeed. Men were absolutely unrecognizable who had marched a mile. The air seemed freighted with it, and breathing under these conditions was uncomfortable. Water became scarce. Soldiers would scoop out small holes in old watercourses, and patiently await a warm milky-colored fluid to ooze from the clay drop by drop. Hundreds wandered through the woods with their empty canteens, and could barely find water enough to quench thirst, to say nothing of getting a supply for coffee. The horses were ridden two miles to slake their thirst with warm, muddy, stagnant  water yet retained in some hollow. Even places usually dank and marshy became dry and baked under the continuous drought. But such a state of things was not to be endured by live Yankees. It was ascertained that water was abundant some twelve or fifteen feet below the surface of the ground, and forthwith picks and shovels were diverted from their warlike business of intrenching to the more peaceful pursuit of well-digging. These wells were dug with shelving sides, broadest at the top, to guard against caving, for stoning a well was obviously out of the question. Old-fashioned well-curbs and sweeps were then erected over them, and we were supplied with an abundance of excellent water. To the present day the expression, ‘where we dug the first well,’ brings back to the mind of every member now alive and then in the Company, the camp in the woods where we spent a few days of tolerable enjoyment. Having made a trough by hollowing out a log twenty feet long, the horses were also provided with water in camp. But our enjoyment of this luxury was short-lived, for in two days we were ordered out from our cool retreat to go, no one knew whither. Rumor sent us in various directions: a trip to the Shenandoah Valley looked the most plausible, for Gen. Lee, wishing to relieve the pressure upon him by our army, thought that by detaching a corps to menace Washington, the authorities of that city would be seized with such trepidation as would compel Grant to send a large part of Meade's army to protect it, and possibly would result in raising the siege of Petersburg.3 In accordance with this theory, about the 1st of July, he dispatched Gen. Early's corps in that direction, which resulted, as is  well known, in exciting quite a commotion in the capital city, and Grant sent the Sixth Corps to meet the emergency. We were evidently not included in any party destined for detached service just then, and after moving up towards the right of the line (we had been at the extreme left), in rear of the Fifth Corps, we went into camp in the edge of a tract of woods skirting an extensive opening, once divided into fields by fences now ‘lent,’ and proceeded to make ourselves comfortable after the method employed at Sulphur Springs. This camp will be remembered as ‘where we dug the second well.’ And now we began to receive contributions front the Sanitary Commission. An extract from a private letter, dated July 19, says:
We are living quite well to what we did last year. We draw cabbages, potatoes, turnips, and sometimes onions, soft bread, pork, canned meats, pickles, beans, etc These are not all drawn at one time or in large quantities, but by saving up two or three rations, we finally get a fair mess of any one article.To appreciate the luxury of the above variety of vegetables, one needs the experience of a two months campaign in hot weather, on a diet of hardtack, beef, and pork. For two weeks we lay here enjoying a respite from active work, watching the shells of the enemy as they burst over our lines, at a safe distance in our front, and reading war news from Northern papers. We occasionally heard rumors of forts to be blown up, but nothing tangible in this direction could be learned. Finally reports of another move came floating in the air, and at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of July 26th, definite orders were received to be in readiness for that event, and not long after 4 o'clock we started. Our march was rapid and unimpeded  by wagon trains, and a regular ten minutes rest every hour seemed to indicate that there was a certain distance to be made in a given time. As our movement was well to the rear of the lines, and under cover of darkness in the main, its object was evidently intended as a surprise. We crossed the Appomattox and its contiguous swamps on a pon-
I continued holding the line during the 29th with the remaining divisions of my corps,6 Barge's brigade of the Tenth Corps,7 and Sheridan's cavalry. Having attracted to my front so large a portion of Lee's army, Lieut. Gen. Grant thought it a favorable  time to assault at Petersburg, and I was therefore instructed to proceed to that place with the remainder of my command. Soon after dark on the 29th, . . . . I withdrew the entire command from Deep Bottom, and reported . . . . at Petersburg, on the morning of the 30th, in time to witness the explosion of the “Mine.”The casualties of the corps in this movement were 192. Of these, 57 were missing. As we drew near Petersburg in the gray of morning, the rumbling sound of cannonading was perceptible.8 When we reached the Eighteenth Corps hospitals, on the City Point Railroad, distant two miles from the main lines, we went into park. From this position the roar of artillery was something tremendous. The ‘Burnside Mine’ had been exploded, and now every gun and mortar that could be brought to bear was concentrated on the enemy's lines. A 15-inch mortar called the Dictator, whose carriage rested on the railroad near us, was dropping its ponderous messengers into a Rebel fort at brief intervals. But the history of what Gen. Grant has fitly characterized in his report as ‘This miserable affair,’ is too well known to need repetition here, did it come fairly within the domain of this narrative; and the interested are directed, for full particulars of this sad chapter in the history of the Army of the Potomac, to the volume devoted to it in the ‘Report of the Committee on the Conduct of the War.’ The wounded were brought in in large numbers, and orderlies coming from the front were beset to tell the news; but little satisfaction was derived from this source, for whereas one told us with positiveness that our troops had been forced back, badly beaten, another would affirm the contrary with  equal decision, and declare that Petersburg lay at our mercy. However, the fact of a large number of men lying inactive in our vicinity was sufficient evidence that we had gained no decided advantage; for, in such an event, every man would have been needed to retain it. Whatever doubts we may have entertained as to the result of the assault were set at rest by our being ordered back to our old quarters. These we found occupied by a battery of another corps. They were forced to acknowledge our priority of claim, however, and the next day we settled down in them once more. The fortunes of war left us in peace a fortnight before a new draft was made upon our services. This time, according to Dame Rumor, we were surely destined for the Shenandoah, but away we sped again over our old course up to the right flank, crossing the Appomattox at Point of Rocks as before, and ending our rapid and fatiguing march at a point near Bermuda Hundred, within Butler's lines, where we parked to await transports, it was said.9  But we waited in vain, although we knew that the infantry had embarked. The synopsis of Hancock's Report of Operations, appended, sufficiently indicates the cause of our inaction. Sounds of battle were wafted to our ears across the river, and the clouds of smoke that rose from the combat were occasionally visible; but we were destined to have no part in the fray, finding ourselves for nearly the first time out in the cold. While we lay here the drought was broken. The clouds gathered blackness, and with thunder and lightning accompaniments, discharged such torrents of rain as only southern and western climates ever witness. What a delicious sense of purity and cleanness now pervaded everything! The air was once more clear, the foliage, stripped of its burden of gray, became green again, and the sky exchanged its coppery hue for pure azure. This movement of the corps on the right, though not intended as a feint,—for, owing to the supposed weakness of the enemy north of the James,  substantial fruits were expected to be reaped in that quarter,—yet had every appearance of one, and had compelled Lee to detach a considerable force from before Petersburg. Advantage was taken of this fact to make an advance from the left flank, which was now distant but three miles from the Weldon Railroad. By the time ‘Hancock's Foot Cavalry’ had returned to Petersburg, the Fifth Corps was across that road, holding to it like good fellows. It was Sunday morning, Aug. 21. That day the batterymen will remember as the one on which we returned to our camp to find it a pond of water. As we lay waiting, we listened to the fierce struggle making four miles distant by Heth's and Mahone's divisions of Hill's corps, to dislodge Warren from his position; but they were repulsed at every point, and finally left the Fifth Corps in quiet possession of their prize, which had cost our army four thousand four hundred and fifty-five men—killed, wounded, and captured.10 In the afternoon we moved down to within supporting distance of the above corps, and remained till the next day, when, leaving battery wagon, forge, and spare men behind, we marched through dense woods to a position quite near the railroad, to be in readiness for another attack which was expected. At night, as we were going into park, a second hard shower came on, drenching us to the skin. After it was over, a crowd of men, cannoneers and drivers, assembled under a tree, and woke the evening echoes in their attempts to drive away discomfort by singing with unusual unction, ‘John Brown's Body,’ ‘Marching Along,’ ‘Rally 'round the Flag,’ and every other song of kindred character generally familiar; and the success manifestly  rewarding these efforts clearly demonstrated how philosophical the martyrs were who sang while enduring tortures at the stake. But that is an all-wise provision of Providence which keeps the future a sealed book till, leaf by leaf, it becomes the present, for some of the voices that rang out clear and cheerful in the gloom of that Monday evening were hushed, ere the week was closed, in the solemn stillness of death.