August 26 to October 24, 1864.
- Our Parrotts -- to the front once more -- Battery XIV -- Artillery as Sharpshooters -- warlike Pyrotechnics -- a six-gun Battery again -- marching orders.
As there must come an end to all things earthly, so we found our season of rest no exception to the rule, and the camp began to wear a business-like aspect. By the 11th of September we were once more supplied with the requisite number of horses and harnesses, rubber buckets, tarpaulins, and all the paraphernalia of a battery completely equipped. September 20th a detail went down to City Point and brought back four 3-inch Parrott guns. They were beauties and gained our regard at once, completely usurping the place the Rodmans had held there. We were now ready for active service again, and having been made happy by a visitation from the paymaster, who left us two months pay and settled our annual tailor's bill with the government, we were relieved from further expectation and delay by receiving marching orders. They came Saturday afternoon, September 24th, and in the evening we moved from camp up into the main trenches before Petersburg, relieving Battery D, Fourth Regulars, of the Tenth Corps. The same evening eight recruits arrived from Massachusetts. The light of morning revealed a novel and interesting  sight We were in Battery XIV,1 a few rods to the right of Fort Morton. The works we had left three months before, so hastily and rudely constructed, had given place to a fortified line so elaborate and strong that it scarcely needed defenders. The special portion we occupied was seven or eight feet high, and constructed of logs smoothly jointed, with several feet of earth piled against them outwardly. The embrasures were shaped with gabinos;these were cylinders of basket-work the size of a barrel, woven of green withes, filled with sand and set up on either side of the openings to give them sharpness and regularity. Before each embrasure a matting of rope six inches thick was hung to keep out bullets, with an aperture left in it just large enough to pass the muzzle of the piece through when a charge was to be fired. Directly in front of the line was a deep ditch, and a rod or more outside of that ran the fraise,a defence consisting of large, pointed stakes set firmly in the ground about six inches or more apart, their points projecting outward at an angle of perhaps thirty degrees with the ground, and all fastened firmly together by telegraph wire. To troops advancing against them the points would come about breast high, and as one might not crawl through them below, and could scale them only with great difficulty, they were an efficient defence. Outside the fraise, deep trenches and covered ways led to the picket line, itself a strong fortification, where the pickets kept watch of the Rebels. Beyond this again lay the ‘Middle Ground;’ then the Rebel pickets; and on the ridge beyond, the enemy's  main line. Still farther up towards the crest of Cemetery Ridge, for so it was called, another strong line had been erected since the Mine failure, to guard against the possible issue of another such attempt. In full view at our left front, opposite Fort Morton, were the ruins of the ‘Elliott Salient,’ the undermined fort, much as they were left on that memorable July 30th. Since the catastrophe the Rebels had straightened their line, and the rifle-pit of their picket line now crossed the front of the ruins.2 Returning within our own lines, the view was most unique. To the rear the ground fell off rapidly to the bottom of a gully, and rising on the opposite side even more rapidly, stretched away in a level tract of land. But our immediate surroundings were such as to warrant one in the belief that an army of huge moles had been building a city. All passing to and from the rear was by deep trenches, in which the passers were shielded from bullets. Some of these led to the dwelling-places of the troops, which toward the enemy showed simply as hemispherical domes of earth. These structures and others similar in form, built to hold the ammunition, were the bomb-proofs. Passing farther to the rear beyond the region of bomb-proofs, every sutler's establishment, every stable, every tent of any kind or size, was protected on the side towards the enemy either by a pile of earth, or by barrels filled with sand; for, during the days of continuous  picket-firing, all this territory lay open to the chance bullets of the enemy, and many a life was lost in this manner by persons unsuspicious of danger, as the graves scattered about the plain at brief intervals bore testimony. In fact, this rear ground was generally considered the most unsafe part of the whole line until the abatement of picket-firing, and even then after dark, when such firing was most active, few cared to come out of their shelter to pass to or from the front. About a mile to the rear, and beyond this dangerous belt of territory, out of reach of bullets, and generally of shells, headquarters of the Battery was established. There were the drivers, spare men, horses, caissons, and company property generally. With the guns were Lieut. Granger in charge, and eight men of each gun detachment.3 Some of these men took up their quarters in the bomb-proofs, while others stretched their tents and built bunks close under the breastwork to enjoy the open air. The guns were separated by very solid traverses, thus giving each detachment, as it were, a distinct apartment. We made it our business by day to watch the red or yellow heaps of earth which marked the enemy's lines, and whenever any of their guns opened, or any number of men showed themselves at work on their fortifications, we sent them our customary Union compliments as an admonition that we were cognizant of all their acts, and should hold them accountable. But in artillery they were no match for us, either in the number of guns or their calibre, and whenever their pieces, in position directly opposite Battery XIV, opened on our line, they drew upon themselves not only our attentions, but those of the  guns in Battery XIII, and Fort Haskell on our right, and of two 32-pounders in Fort Morton. These latter sent their ponderous projectiles with a rattling crash, beside which our 10-pounders seemed as muskets,—and with a precision that almost invariably closed up the business on the part of the enemy with little delay, although they were ever ready to open again when a good mark was presented. We remember with what constancy Lieut. Granger remained by the first piece hour after hour, and day after day, availing himself of every opportunity to send a shell into some unwary group of Rebels. He always sighted the gun himself, and ere we left this place became most expert in gunnery. It came to be the standard remark among the cannoneers whenever this gun was heard, that the Lieutenant was at his old tricks of shooting off Rebel buttons. He always took careful note of the result of each shot, with his field-glasses, by stepping to the right of the piece and looking over the top of the works, which at this particular point were partially screened by a few scattering trees. But he had proved such a nuisance to the enemy by his close watch and his unexpected introduction of shells among them, that one day a Rebel sharpshooter, who had undoubtedly been awaiting his appearance, put a bullet through the top of his army regulation hat,—a circumstance which elated the Lieutenant immensely, so unmindful was he of his own personal safety. On the picket line there was now comparatively little firing by day, but when darkness came on it began, and, safely ensconced behind the works, we were often lulled to sleep by the music of bullets flying harmlessly overhead.  A few days after our arrival in this position we heard heavy firing down at the left. It was a movement of parts of the Fifth and Ninth corps4 and Gregg's cavalry westwardly from the Weldon Railroad, with a view of preventing reinforcements being transferred to the right against the Army of the James, which, under Butler, was advancing upon the fortifications of Richmond.5 It resulted in a loss of more than twenty-five hundred men, and the extensions of our lines to Poplar Spring Church, in whose neighborhood tile Battery was afterwards located. Butler, it will be remembered, captured and held Fort Harrison in this movement. One evening, just before sundown, at a time when our line was very thin, an infantry officer came along to say that the Rebels were intending a tremendous assault on this part of the line, which, if they had by any means become aware of the paucity of its defenders, did not seem in the least improbable. When night had well closed in, the assertion seemed about to be verified. The pickets increased their fire; the main line, both infantry and artillery, joined in; and the familiar Rebel yell swelled louder and louder with the increasing din. There was uproar sufficient for a first-class battle; but soon the yelling, the musketry, and the artillery subsided, and then the mortar batteries, with which each fort was supplied, took up the contest, and the sky became brilliant with the fiery arches of these more dignified projectiles. The attack, if there was one, had failed, and as the mortar shells described their majestic curves through the heavens, every other sound was hushed, and the two armies  seemed to stand in mute admiration of these instruments of destruction. Sometimes a single shell could be seen climbing the sky from a Rebel mortar, and ere it had reached its destination, as many as half a dozen from Union batteries were chasing each other through the air as if anxious to be first in resenting such temerity; for in this arm of the service, as in the artillery, our army was vastly the superior. It should be stated, however, that the enemy could not afford to be as prodigal of their ammunition as the Unionists, had the guns not been wanting, for the beginning of the end was at hand, and they were finding themselves somewhat crippled in this respect. These evening fusillades rarely resulted in injuring any one on our side, and were a ‘feature’ of our experience here. So harmless were they considered, and at the same time so brilliant to view, that officials frequently came on from Washington to witness then. No less a person than President Lincoln himself was present at one of them. They were expensive displays to the government, and served no practical purpose, so far as known, except to assure the enemy from time to time that our works were still occupied in force. We have said these fusillades rarely did any damage. They nevertheless often succeeded in enlisting our warm personal interest, for the Tenth Battery was several times the mark of their particular attentions. At such times we would watch the shells closely as they mounted the sky. If they veered to the right or left from a vertical in their ascent, we cared nothing for them. If they rose perpendicularly, our interest increased. If they soon began to descend, we then knew they would fall short; but if they continued climbing until  much nearer the zenith, and we could hear the creaking whistle of the fuse as the shell slowly revolved through the air, business of a pressing nature suddenly called us into the bomb-proofs, and it was not transacted until an explosion was heard, or a jar told us the shell had expended itself in the earth. Thus time rolled away for four weeks. The heat of the long weary summer was yielding to the clear and frosty nights of autumn. At Battery headquarters the airy tents gave way to substantial huts, and at the guns we were erecting new bomb-proofs, which would be more habitable than our present ones, the design being to combine safety with comfort and convenience. This we did, thinking the prospects were good for several weeks' further stay. Two additional Parrott guns were furnished us, thus restoring us to the dignity of a six-gun battery, and giving, as we reasoned, still further promise of our continued stay. But, alas! our nice calculations miscarried sadly, for on the morning of Monday, October 24, orders came for us to draw out quietly at dark, at which time the limbers. were driven up to receive the ammunition chests once more, another battery6 appeared to relieve us, and we took our final leave of Battery XIV.
|Lieut. G. Fred Gould|